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Defense remains Packers' main issue as season approaches

Posted Jul 30, 2014

Remember the 2008 Packers?


Don from Peoria, IL

Do we have a strong enough defense to take us to the Super Bowl?

That’s the $64,000 question, Don. I wish I had the answer for you. I think the answer is going to be yes, but we can’t know that much before midway through the season. Julius Peppers’ new role must be defined and he must achieve comfort in it. Clay Matthews is still playing with a wrap on that right thumb. There’s a competition at safety. Datone Jones is trying to win a starting defensive end job. Nick Perry is trying to recover from knee and foot injuries that linger from last season. I see talent and depth. Can it stay healthy? Can the rush complement the coverage, and vice versa? Is this the year the rebuild on defense comes to maturity? I think the answer is going to be yes, but there are no guarantees. What I will guarantee is that the defense must get stronger for this team to go all the way.

Adam from Cocoa, FL

Vic, how easy is it for you to recollect particular seasons from the past?

When you live those years day by day, they’re easy to recall. You don’t remember plays as much as you remember the moments and events that accompanied them. You remember moments that trigger your memory of other moments. For example, I can remember covering a game in Chicago on a cold day late in that very forgettable 2008 season. The Bears decided to erect a warming tent along the sideline, which was a clear violation of NFL rules. I think I saw Robbie Gould take a TV in there. I was doing a live in-game blog in those days, and I remember writing, “Mr. Gorbachev, take down that tent.” I think it’s the only fond memory I have of that season. It was so bad I had to entertain myself.

Brett from Green Bay, WI

What’s your favorite part of training camp?

Half-line drills, blitz pick up drills, one-on-one linemen drills, or anything with the sound of pads thumping in it. When I started covering the NFL, training camp was all about hitting. The Oklahoma was more than a tone-setter, it was a teaching drill. There’s footage of it in the Lombardi “A Football Life” documentary. I acknowledge the game must change to suit this new player-safety era, but physical confrontation will always be at the heart of the game for me. It’s what first attracted me to football and it’s what continues to attract me to it. When it’s gone, so am I.

Jesse from Santiago, Chile

Vic, love the column. I’m a nearly daily reader. I may have missed this response, but what skill set does it take for someone like Hyde to transition from corner to safety? What skills differentiate the two positions and why don’t these switches happen often?

Guys that can play corner are usually left there because corners are usually more difficult to find than safeties. Again, if you can play cornerback, you can probably play safety, if you can tackle. Not all corners are physical enough to be last-line-of-defense tacklers, just as not all safeties can flip their hips in coverage, as a corner needs to be able to do. Those are often the skill-set divides between the two positions. A safety needs to be fast enough to get to the sideline, smart enough to communicate the coverage, instinctive enough and athletic enough to play the ball in the air, and big enough and tough enough to take on big backs with a head of a steam in the open field. Micah Hyde can do all of that. We talked about this all last winter. This was a no-brainer.

Mark from Stewartville, MN

Vic, as a wordsmith, do you ever get frustrated by the English language? For example, if the lead in a race is spelled lead, why is the lede of a story spelled lede?

Because lead was also a metal used in typesetting, and newspaper terminology created the difference to distinguish one from the other.

Jonathan from Collinsville, IL

It seems Packers players don’t get themselves into trouble very often. Is this the result of good franchise leadership or is there another reason?

It begins with the scouting process, which begins with strong leadership.

James from Martinez, CA

While I do pay some attention to the competition that takes place during camp, bottom line is as long as the injury list doesn’t add any new members, I’m happy. What do you think is more important, preparing with intensity for the season or escaping any major injuries?

You have to do both. I’m not dodging your question, but what good does it do to stay healthy if you’re not prepared to play? We’re not good but we’re healthy? That’s worse than we’re not good but we’re hurt. The question is how do you do both? The answer is by careful planning. For example, Mike McCarthy scheduled half-line drills for early in Monday’s practice. Half-line drills are the new Oklahoma. They’re outstanding tone-setters, and that’s something coaches love to do on the first day of full-pads practices. So the Packers did half-line drills, but Clay Matthews didn’t. You don’t send your star linebacker and his recovering right thumb into a risky drill just to set a tone. You prepare, and in the process you accept risk, but you don’t invite unnecessary risk.

Mark from Indianapolis, IN

Vic, you introduced us to one of your favorite pieces with Jim Murray’s amazing column on losing his old friend. Do you have a piece you have written you feel is your best?

I don’t. What I do have are a few favorites. They’re favorites because they were written 100 percent from the heart. Two immediately come to mind: My goodbye columns in my hometown and in my next hometown. Leaving is an emotional event. The last one will be the big leave before the really big leave, unless the big leave and the really big leave happen unexpectedly and at the same time.

John from Brussels, WI

I love your perspective on the Packers and life in general. To say football should complement life is genius. All sports memories, both good and bad, are precious and make for some fun discussions years later.

They help us tell time.

Wes from Boone, IA

Vic, your comment about the 2008 season made me go back and take a look at the overall standings for that year. I remembered the Packers finished 6-10, and then I looked at their roster. It’s still hard to believe they went 6-10 based on the personnel they had. Does that speak to how important chemistry is for a football team? It’s not much different than the team that won it all two years later.

It speaks to the need to be patient and allow for development. I covered a Packers game that season. It was the only game the Jaguars won in their final seven games, but I had no trouble seeing what the future held for the Packers. Aaron Rodgers blew me away. What I saw that day was a young quarterback, coach and offense whose arrows were all pointing up, and a defense in need of a complete makeover, which is exactly what happened in the offseason.

Jim from Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Is there one question you wished you would be asked but no one has asked yet?

We all want to be asked the same question, and have it asked sincerely, not just as a greeting: How are you? When we’re asked, the answer is usually “Fine,” because we instantly are.

Zach from Franklin, WI

Vic, I understand fans should be careful with expectations, but my expectation for this year is to go 19-0. Bear with me for a second. Before training camp, I look at the schedule and, in my opinion, I don’t see any game that I give us less than a 51 percent chance of winning (the Seattle game being the toughest on the schedule). So my expectation going into each game would be that we will win. As the year goes on and injuries and individual/team performances dictate otherwise, I can and will adjust my expectations, but at this point, that is how I feel. Is this a bad perspective to have? I fully intend to enjoy the season as I do every year, regardless of how my expectations pan out.

Yeah, sure you do. You got it nailed. I can tell you’re one of those Packers fans that brush off a loss with a laugh and “We’ll get ’em next time.” Who’s your hypnotist?

Sean from Saint Paul, MN

I think it’s gross when people attack your integrity just because you think differently than they do. Maybe you’re high on the Packers because the Packers are good, and have been lately. Not too many teams have a chance for a divisional four-peat.

There’s a difference between doing a hatchet job on a team vs. acknowledging its weaknesses. When during this offseason haven’t I acknowledged the Packers need to improve on defense? When hasn’t Dom Capers acknowledged that need? I think we need to define the word: “Criticism is the practice of judging the merits and faults of something or someone in an intelligible (or articulate) way.” Criticism is distinguished in its presentation, not vulgar. Do you want critical commentary, or something vulgar? This is the wrong place to go for vulgar.

Nick from Oakland, CA

What does the players’ day off entail? Does the CBA mandate what can and can’t be done on these days?

It’s a day off!

Austen from Toronto, Ontario

Ah, the first towing-the-company-line question of the new football year. Brace yourself, Vic, the season is coming.

I love the edge. It helps me keep mine. When you lose your edge, it’s over.

Kalib from Wichita, KS

Has your assessment of Adrian Hubbard changed or is he just tall?

This is not the time for assessments; it’s far too early for that. Today is the second day of full-pads practices. The players are coming off a day of rest. I’m hoping half-lines are in the practice regimen today. If you’re an in-the-box defensive player and you want to make an impression on me, half-lines are the time to do it. It’s a thump drill and I listen for the thump and take note of who did the thumping.

Jeff from Scranton, PA

Vic, when the wear and tear of the season starts to grind on you, just remember it could be the sintering plant you have to get up for.

When you grow up to the sound of the whistle – 10 to eight off, eight on; 10 to four off, four on; 10 to midnight off, midnight on – you never have to be reminded for whom the whistle blows. It blows for somebody else, not me, Edgar. No way, baby. Blow that whistle for somebody else.

Matt from Appleton, WI

I want to apologize. I was mad at you when you posted your original answer about cheering in the press box. I was fooled along with the others, so my immediate reaction was shame on you for playing a prank on us when you knew how gullible we were. Now that this debate has continued to rage on, I’m glad I fell victim to it because it’s allowed me to gain proper perspective about your profession and your love of the game. I may not always like you, Vic, but I respect you.

My revolving yellow light is spinning like a top.

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Vic Ketchman

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Do you have a question for Vic? Your question could be posted on packers.com. Vic has covered the NFL through 42 seasons, including 23 years covering the Steelers and 16 years covering the Jaguars.

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