Brett Favre helped his agent Bus Cook land another big-name quarterback … Despite receiving heat, the Vikings were in the majority when it comes to how they set up their front office … A look at the 4-3 defense and Cover-2 scheme rarities in the playoffs … An interesting quote from another white running back … And more doomsday labor rhetoric.
So what's Brett Favre
up to these days, given that he has opted to retire, and that this time his departure from the game seems official? One of the things occupying his time, besides riding the tractor around the farm in Hattiesburg, Miss., was the recruitment of Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Newton chose Bus Cook, who represented Favre during his entire 20-year NFL career, as one of his two agents. Favre was part of the interview process when Newton met with Cook, and reportedly spent about 20 minutes talking with the Auburn star. It's a pretty good bet the two weren't swapping fishing tips.
Generally speaking: There will be seven new head coaches in 2011, including two who assumed control of their respective teams as interim head coaches during the '10 season (Jason Garrett of Dallas and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier), and that's about the average over the past decade and a half. What's notable is that there will be no new general managers, or management officials who wield GM-type sway. There is the promotion of Trent Baalke in San Francisco, but the onetime personnel director for the 49ers has essentially functioned as a general manager since Scot McCloughan was dismissed in March. The 49ers' brass, of course, went through the motions of interviewing candidates for the position, but the understanding around the league was that it was Baalke's job to lose. And he didn't. Unless there are any surprise front-office moves yet to be made, the coming season will make the first since 2004 that there were no GM changes.
No silver lining: At the league meeting in Atlanta on Tuesday, there wasn't a lot of happy-talk rhetoric about getting the new CBA with the players association anytime soon. Sure, commissioner Roger Goodell and lead negotiator Jeff Pash insisted that it's still possible to hammer out an accord by the March 4 deadline at which the old one expires, but only with round-the-clock bargaining, which doesn't appear likely to occur. And in the hallways and corners of the airport area hotel at which the NFL owners huddled, the private mood pretty much mirrored the gray rain clouds that scudded overhead.
"If you follow the thing blow-by-blow, you can get nauseated," Irsay said. Dallas owner Jerry Jones agreed that clubs are beginning to "re-assess" their financial models, to account for the possibility of a strike. Three of the five owners surveyed by The Sports Xchange for non-attribution acknowledged that the preseason could be lost to a work stoppage. One said he felt the league could miss "some early regular-season games" because of the labor situation. It certainly wasn't pretty stuff.
Cover up: There's no doubt the Chicago Bears are throwbacks. The Bears are the only one of the four franchises still playing that relies on a 4-3 defensive front. And Chicago still makes liberal use of the Cover-2 defense, a look that is beginning to fade some from the league landscape. Two general managers to whom The Sports Xchange spoke this week about the NFC championship game suggested, without any statistics to support the claim, that Chicago likely played a much higher percentage of Cover-2 than any of the team's left in the Super Bowl tournament. That makes sense, given coach Lovie Smith's background with Tony Dungy, who used so much Cover-2 at Tampa Bay.
But Smith took some umbrage during the week with what he perceived as criticism of the Cover-2, even though the coverage has been good to the Bears, who haven't been as susceptible to the deep ball in 2010. And ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, who watches more film than a Hollywood critic, told ol' friend Dan Pompei of The Chicago Tribune/National Football Post that the Bears played a single-safety high look against the Packers in the first meeting of the teams this year. Back in 2006, when the Chicago-Indianapolis matchup in Super Bowl XLI was touted as a game pitting two Cover-2 defenses, tape study revealed that the Colts actually played more Cover-3 down the stretch and the Bears more single coverage than advertised.
The Bears certainly will deploy in the Cover-2 on third-and-long, and they won't blitz very much, but they will vary some the manner in which they try to counter red-hot Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. "You can't just sit back there in the same (stuff) all day long, not the way he's playing," said Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.
Missing Finley: As good as Rodgers has been, one player he could miss Sunday is tight end Jermichael Finley, who has been on injured reserve since after the fifth game of the regular seasons. The athletic Finley had the skills-set – size, speed, the ability to split the safeties deep – that makes for a touch matchup for Cover-2 looks. In his three starts against Chicago, Finley had 15 receptions and averaged 12.7 yards per catch. In the Sept. 27 game between the teams, he had nine catches for 115 yards. The Green Bay tight ends are adequate, but Finley might have been a nightmare for the Bears' secondary.
White-out: When the Miami Dolphins invested a second-round choice on Pat White in 2009 (the 44th selection overall), everyone figured the former West Virginia quarterback was a natural fit for the club's "Wildcat" formation, a player who would add a passing dimension to the formation. It didn't happen and White, who rushed for a quarterback-record 4,000-plus yards in college, was released last summer.
After a flirtation with baseball, White is ready now to give the NFL another shot, but is the league ready to afford him an opportunity? People close to White have been phoning personnel directors to gauge interest in bringing White to camp, The Sports Xchange has learned, but they are getting a mixed message in response. The consensus is that White, who told us in the summer of 2009 that he was "committed" to playing the quarterback spot in the NFL, might have to switch positions to get a second chance. White is "still pigeonholed" as a Wildcat-type quarterback, an AFC personnel man said, and hasn't "demonstrated he can pick up the nuances" of playing quarterback at the NFL level. White does have decent quickness, and there is a growing body that believes that, at 6-feet-0, 197 pounds, he might have to try a switch to wide receiver if there is to be an NFL reincarnation.
One other note about banished quarterbacks, this one a little bigger (both name-wise and physically) than White: The reps for former Raiders'starter JaMarcus Russell, the top overall pick in the 2007 draft, are calling around to teams as well, trying to sell their client. There has been zero positive feedback to date for Russell's official agents or for the friends and acquaintances he also has making inquiries.
Punts: Referee Terry McAulay, whose crew flagged Green Bay for 18 penalties and 152 yards in the Packers' first meting with the Chicago Bears this year (Sept. 27), has been chosen to work Sunday's NFC championship game. The Packers, even with the flag daze of that contested, still were called for only 78 penalties for the season, third-fewest in the league. . . . Longtime friend Vic Ketchman, editor of the Jacksonville Jaguars' web page for 16 years, is leaving the team to accept a similar position at Green Bay. Not a good sign for the longevity of the franchise in Jacksonville, it seems. . . . Another: The team has not granted contract extensions to its coaching staff. So the staff will enter 2011 essentially as lame ducks. Jacksonville officials have apprised the coaches they can look around at other positions, but recently denied permission to offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to interview with the Rams . . . . New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who had 11½ sacks and 10 forced fumbles in 2010, underwent hip surgery this week for a labrum injury, and will likely be sidelined for three months.
The last word: "They say, ‘You white boy, you ain't going to run on us today. This is ridiculous. Why are you giving the offensive lineman the ball?' All kinds of stuff like that you hear on the field, but I just used it to my advantage. I kind of soaked it in, ate it up a little bit, but I enjoyed it." – Cleveland tailback Peyton Hillis, who with 1,177 yards in 2010 became the first white player in the NFL to rush for 1,000 yards since Craig James of New England ran for 1,227 yards in 1985.