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Who are the tough guys?

Posted Feb 6, 2013

It's not about finding them, it's about drafting them

Bryce from Iron Mountain, MI

A player’s character can be defined in the moments of greatest intensity and passion. That’s my only rebuke with Kaepernick. Would Donald Driver ever spike a ball in an opponent’s face and kiss his own bicep? I would be a terrible GM/coach because I would take character over talent any day.

I agree.

Clint from San Jose, CA

Now that the Super Bowl is over, I am excited about free agency and the draft. Are there any standout defensive free agents that could help the Packers? I know we aren’t active in the free agency market, but we did get Charles Woodson and Reggie White that way.

Those were different times. Teams then weren’t nearly as good at protecting their good players from free agency. Teams are much better at protecting their rosters today, and one of the ways they accomplish that is by effective use of the tags and tenders. We can’t know what free agency will offer until the deadline for tagging players expires. At that point, we can take a look, but until then it would be an exercise in futility. After the tags deadline expires, I think you’re going to find the free agency market slim pickings.

Mark from North Bay, WI

Your comment about Bart Starr and Jim Taylor looking like ordinary guys was interesting in the context of Jim Brown. He had natural size and strength and didn’t need augmentation from weight training, better nutrition, etc., and put up great numbers against mostly ordinary guys. Would you say his numbers would be the same today or that he would also have to enhance his ability through modern training techniques?

Everything is relative. Had Jim Brown played in today’s game … actually, I don’t even want to think about what he might’ve looked like had he played in today’s game.

Keith from Chicago, IL

Vic, I felt the hot topic of the Super Bowl was not Ray Lewis or Kaepernick, but was actually Flacco’s contract situation. OK, he won a Super Bowl, but I don’t think I would consider him elite and place him in the same conversation as Rodgers, Brady or Manning quite yet. I see it as he’s in the right place at the right time. Thoughts?

I saw the Cowboys shove the ball down the Ravens’ throat. The Texans clobbered the Ravens defense. Charlie Batch moved the ball right down the field at crunch time to beat the Ravens at home. The Ravens were not the Ravens this year. They were old and slow on defense, and they couldn’t win the way they had always been accustomed to winning. There’s no doubt in my mind that John Harbaugh knew that, and that’s why they changed styles. They put their fate in Flacco’s hands and he put that team on his shoulders and carried it to a championship. In my mind, that absolutely makes him an elite quarterback.

Frank from York, PA

After watching the Super Bowl and the Ravens’ offensive formations, I have to ask when they changed the rule that the offense had to have seven on the line of scrimmage? It looked like Flacco’s shoulders were in line with his guards when he was under center. What exactly is the rule?

The rule is that seven men have to be closer to the line of scrimmage than the Ravens were. If there is one valid criticism of Jerome Boger’s officiating crew, I think it’s that it allowed the Ravens’ tackles to drop way too far off the line of scrimmage, which gave the Ravens tackles an advantage in pass blocking against speed rushers such as Aldon Smith. It got worse as the game went on. The Giants did it last year in the playoffs. Hey, I called them out on it and the league put an emphasis on not allowing it this season. Well, they allowed it again on Sunday.

Gary from Hope Mills, NC

I really agree with you on the necessity of the pep talk week in and week out. Shouldn’t need that. It brings to memory a story about Johnny Unitas when his coach, Weeb Ewbank, begged him to give a speech before a big game. Unitas was reluctant to do that but did. His speech was talk is cheap. Let’s go play.

There’s a time for words, but it’s not very often. Once in a while, when delivered at the right time, some pregame words can touch a nerve. Ewbank gave one of the most famous pregame pep talks in football history. It was for the 1958 NFL title game. He went around the room and reminded several of his stars how they had been rejected. He reminded Unitas that he was cut by his hometown team and was signed by the Colts scout off a Pittsburgh sandlot. He reminded Ray Berry that he was a 20th-round draft pick. Did Ewbank’s words lift the Colts to victory that day? I doubt it, but it sure makes for a good story. After we would say a little prayer before we left the locker room, my high school coach would always say, “They’re praying over in the other locker room, too, boys.”

Jacob from Appleton, WI

Is there any possible way you could post a video of Donald Driver’s retirement stuff? I have class from 11 to 12:30.

We’ll have lots of coverage for you, but packers.com is also going to live stream the event for those that can’t attend but want to feel like they’re there.

Kim from Omaha, NE

I’ve wondered for years why the option hadn’t made the jump from college to pro ball, and I’m wondering why it’s beginning now? Is it because Kaepernick and Griffin execute so well?

It’s because we’re running out of pocket passers. They are at an ever-increasing premium, and there aren’t many the caliber of Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck available. What that means is that teams that don’t have that guy can’t win. They can’t contend for a championship. So the Redskins decided that if they can’t get Luck, they’ll move up and take a risk on the next best thing, which is RG3. It required a tremendous leap of faith, but they realized it was either that or keep losing. I’m not against this “New Age” movement. I’m a pocket guy all the way, but the game must continually evolve. Maybe this is the future of the game. I know from watching college football that there seems to be an endless supply of guys that can run a lot and throw a little. Colin Kaepernick, RG3 and Cam Newton are the exceptions. They can run a lot and throw a lot, too, but there aren’t a lot of those guys, so if you want to commit to that kind of offense, you probably have to back them up with guys that can run a lot and throw a little. It’s a deep pool of players and college football is turning out more of those types every year.

Ben from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, how would you grade the 49ers four goal-line play calls?

I wasn’t crazy about the first-down call, which I felt was more of an attempt to get to the two-minute warning than to score a touchdown. I didn’t like that because I thought it was a 25-percent waste of the 49ers’ opportunities to win the game. The middle throw for Michael Crabtree made sense because it’s been a bread-and-butter play for the 49ers, especially in the playoff win against the Packers. I kept waiting for Kaepernick to run the quarterback draw; I was surprised it wasn’t called. If you want to take it to the extreme, with a sense of urgency the 49ers might’ve been able to stay outside the two-minute warning and lengthen the game. They could’ve turned the ball over on downs to the Ravens at the 5-yard line with more than two minutes to play, which would’ve meant they could’ve gotten the ball back with more than a minute to play. I doubt the Ravens would’ve taken a safety in that circumstance. You can look at the play by play and do a lot of things differently and come up with a potentially better result, but my guess is the 49ers ran their best stuff. The first-down call is the only one that really bothers me. I thought it was timid.

David from Maineville, OH

What did you think about the quality of long throws Flacco made during the Super Bowl? How would you rate his arm? I thought his receivers had to wait on his long throws, so I’m wondering what experts think of his arm. His arm does not seem to be a strong as Rodgers'.

It is. It’s as strong as anybody’s arm. Flacco has a cannon. He proved that at his combine. That’s when everyone stood up and took notice of Flacco. He’s one of the combine stars, along with Jason Pierre-Paul, that succeeded. Not every combine star turns out to be a Mike Mamula.

Glen from Melbourne, Australia

Can you explain why you feel Kaepernick had a better game than Flacco?

I didn’t say he had a better game. I said that at the end of the game I felt Kaepernick was the best player on the field. Why? Because Flacco can’t run like Kaepernick, but Kaepernick can throw like Flacco.

Aaron from Eau Claire, WI

I recently saw that Dwight Freeney will be a free agent this year. I’ve always loved his motor and heart to play and get after the QB. After a year in the 3-4, do you see him as someone the Packers could bring in for a year or two and finish out his career?

Sometimes those things work, but mostly they don’t. Mostly a team finds itself right back where it started a year later. In the case of Jeff Saturday, the Packers needed a patch. It was a stop-gap measure and I’m OK with that, as long as it doesn’t damage the cap, and Saturday didn’t. Not only might Freeney put a big hole in a team’s cap, but he was a very poor fit in Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme.

Daniel from Milwaukee, WI

What college players have you seen on tape or in person that possess the mean, nasty and tough quality we are looking for? Are any of these players going to slip to the Packers’ draft position?

Some of them have to slip to the Packers’ draft position. There are tough guys in every draft. It’s not a matter of finding them, it’s a matter of placing a greater value on toughness than you do on 40 times. I saw tough guys at the Senior Bowl. The running back from UCLA, Johnathan Franklin, looks like he’s got a taste for contact. I can say the same about the Stanford running back, Stepfan Taylor. He’s the classic example of toughness vs. 40 time. The defensive end from Texas, Alex Okafor, showed me something in his battles with Eric Fisher. Okafor never backed down. Getting whipped had to have been a bitter pill for a star player from a big school to accept, but he showed me he wasn’t above losing and trying again. The cornerback from Washington, Desmond Trufant, was whacking wide receivers in jam drills. He wasn’t just jamming them, he was smacking them. After one such smack, I turned to Tony Pauline with a smile. He said, “You like that stuff, don’t you?” I nodded my head. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who was ultra-productive at Penn State but is a little on the short side, is a mauler and looks like an all-day sucker to me. He’s the kind of guy who wins for you in the fourth quarter. The tough guys are out there, but they might be a step slow or an inch short, and you have to accept those deficiencies if you want them. It’s all in what you want. You want tough guys, or do you want athletes. They’re not always mutually exclusive, but often they are.

Parvati from Santa Monica, CA

Vic, I see in the years to come that San Francisco and Seattle are going to become the new Pittsburgh-Baltimore. They both have that smash-mouth mentality; they’ll both be good for a while with their young quarterbacks, and there’s no love lost between the two head coaches. I think their matchups will be must-see TV for years to come. What do you think?

I think the NFC West is poised to become the new power division in the NFL.

Paul from De Pere, WI

If we focus on defending the “Pistol” for next season, are we susceptible to other teams and other schemes?

Again, it’s not the “Pistol” that’s the problem, it’s the read-option. The “Pistol” is nothing more than a conventional set with the quarterback a few steps behind center. The Steelers ran the “Pistol” in the second half of 2010, after Ben Roethlisberger broke his foot and had to play wearing an oversized shoe with a metal plate in it. He lacked mobility and the Steelers wanted to get him away from center but still be able to use their power running game, which requires that the backs set themselves behind the quarterback. That’s what the “Pistol” allows. The read-option is a different animal. It’s success, when combined with a spread formation, is predicated on creating a numbers mismatch, which usually requires that the quarterback be a runner. Can defensing it make a defense susceptible to other offensive schemes? Yes, it can, because defensing the read-option might require lighter-in-the-pants personnel, and that could make a defense vulnerable to a power running attack. It’s interesting stuff.

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