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Ask Vic

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Young speed will fix the defense

Posted Jun 14, 2012

Eric from Washington, DC

As a lifelong Jaguars fan, I was tempted to follow you over to the Packers to read your daily “Ask Vic.” In the process, I have gained a second favorite team. Go Packers!

This is a good second favorite team to have, especially if your No. 1 team is in the AFC. Having the Packers as a second favorite team, especially for someone whose No. 1 team is one of the youngest teams in the league, can help give you a feel for the history of the game. The Packers and their fans are good teachers and role models.

Dan from Columbus, OH

Vic, at the one-minute mark of your video on the minicamp practice, I noticed some guys with blue caps and one guy with a red cap over the top of his helmet. What's the purpose of those hats?

They’re meant to designate specific players and their roles. Special teams coaches, for example, use those designations in “film” study to point out key players in a particular scheme. You’ve probably heard the expression, “get a hat on a hat.” Well, the different-colored helmet covers help coaches teach whose hat players need to get a hat on.

Rob from Champaign, IL

With discussions about players holding out for bigger contracts, you don’t often hear anyone talk about the salary cap and the fact that the more money one player gets paid, the less money there is to distribute to his teammates. That, to me, is a bigger issue. I understand these men want to make all they can while they can, but wouldn’t it be better for the team to spread the wealth to keep a better average level of talent?

The big problem with holdouts is they come as a surprise to the team, which hadn’t planned to need more cap room for a particular player. It did its cap with the idea its players would honor their contracts and now, all of a sudden, one of them wants to eat up a bigger portion of the team’s cap. That’s a big issue that’s rarely mentioned in these player vs. team holdout debates. Yeah, the team can probably find ways to make more cap room, but it might mean having to do things to which the team is philosophically opposed. Cap management is central to a team’s success and the management of a team’s salary cap goes way beyond the current season. Good teams have a strategy that’s pushed well into the future, and good teams are disciplined cap managers that stick to their plan. In short, good franchises see the big picture. Coaches focus on the next game, but franchises focus on the long-range future.

Dave from Glenview, IL

Thanks for providing my lunchtime entertainment. Who would you say had the strongest arm of all time? I say Bradshaw, but a friend of mine says Pastorini.

First, I’d like to congratulate your friend for accurately giving credit to Dan Pastorini for having one of the strongest arms in NFL history. He had a beauty, and I’m not just talking about his wife. He could throw with the best of them; Pastorini’s problem is that he wasn’t very mobile and he took a beating at a time when quarterbacks were viewed by defensive linemen as “the trophy.” Was Bradshaw’s arm better? I would say it was because Bradshaw is the only quarterback I’ve ever seen that could throw a deep ball, I mean a legitimate deep ball, flat-footed. Bradshaw was so thick and powerful in his lower body that he could throw a deep ball with the flick of his hips. Early in his career, he struggled with touch passes. Throwing flat-footed became something he did to help him take something off his throws. He liked it so much he started doing it even on some of his deep passes. Here’s a story that’ll give you an idea of how strong his arm was. The Steelers had an undrafted guy in camp, a college basketball player making the transition to wide receiver. He looked great. Then, one day, he missed practice due to a hand injury. His hand was heavily bandaged. I asked Chuck Noll what happened. Noll said the guy had split the webbing in his hand. I figured it would be a two-day injury. Two weeks later, he was still out. Yeah, he split the webbing in his hand, nearly up to his wrist. You see, the guy had real big hands, and one of Bradshaw’s passes found its way between the guy’s fingers. That was the end of his pro football career.

Jim from Cedarburg, WI

In the past, I've noticed more than a few times where a coach would be highly praising a drafted player, or free agent. Then, in training camp, you'd find out they were cut. It seems to be a method of pushing the buttons of other players at the same position to get them to improve their game. Is this common in the league?

Yes, coaches use the media to send messages to their players, fans and opponents. I’ve even known a coach to use the media to send a message to his owner. Coaches are wordsmiths, and that includes Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest wordsmiths in coaching history. They’ll use words to motivate a player, without really believing in the words they’re speaking. One of my all-time favorite NFL Films clips is of Sid Gillman while wired for sound during a game. He was the coach of the Oilers at the time and one of his receivers had just dropped a pass. Gillman walked up next to the player and offered strong encouragement. He told him there’s no reason for someone as talented as the player is to drop passes. He told him they would work on his hands and he’d catch everything thrown to him. Gillman then walked down the sideline to his receivers coach, and said, “Get rid of him. He has no hands.”

Michael from De Forest, WI

I see that people are starting to get on players for holding out and not honoring their current contract. They seem to forget that teams do the same thing. They also, at times, cut players before a contract is fulfilled. I understand both sides but I don't like it. Any thoughts on what a better system might look like?

What you’re saying is not true. The contracts to which you are alluding provide for termination in the event of the player’s release. Those are the terms with which the team and the player agreed, therefore, the team is honoring the terms of the contract when it releases a player before the contract runs its full length. The team is also complying with the terms of that contract by allowing the player to keep all of the signing bonus money it paid him, even though the contract is being terminated before it runs its full length. I don’t want a better system. I like this system. The team accepts the jeopardy of wasting bonus money on a guy who might not be worth the contract he signed, and the player accepts the challenge of proving he’s worth the contract he signed. That’s the edge that makes this game good. Both player and team are gambling on their abilities, to play the game and evaluate talent, respectively.

Troy from Delano, MN

Players have short careers and want the most guaranteed money possible. What would happen if their contracts were guaranteed instead of breakable at any time?

Reckless abandon? Forget about it. Football must be played on the edge. Guarantees soften the edge.

Hansen from Waukesha, WI

There have been a number of NFL stars that got their start in the Canadian Football League, namely Warren Moon and Jeff Garcia. Do NFL teams send scouts to CFL games and practices to find talent?

NFL pro personnel departments scout the CFL, mostly from watching game tape of a player in whom a team might have interest.

Chad from Stratford, WI

Mason Crosby is a great tackler for a kicker. Who is the best tackler among kickers of all time?

Here’s your CFL player, Hansen: Cookie Gilchrist. He was the CFL’s leading rusher and field goal kicker. He boomed kickoffs and was a bone-crushing tackler as a defensive back. Gilchrist was a rare specimen, a huge running back with phenomenal speed and athletic ability.

Tommy from Milwaukee, WI

In my opinion, Charles Woodson does best in a sort of wild-card position on the defense near the line of scrimmage, letting his instincts determine what he does, much like Troy Polamalu does in the secondary. What do you think is the best way for the Packers to utilize his unique talents?

First things first: Determine who the best two cornerbacks are. Those are the most critical positions in the secondary and you want your best pass defenders playing them. You can’t start moving people around until you know who your cornerbacks are. Once that’s determined, the rest will be easy.

Bill from Tampa, FL

Vic, back in ’60s and ’70s, the players had their day off on Monday instead of Tuesday. Why did this change?

I think it was decided that it made more sense to do film study of the previous game, corrections, medical evaluations, etc., and put that game up on the shelf as quickly as possible. Hence, the 24-hour rule was born. Making Tuesday the off day allowed coaches a full day to dedicate to game-planning for the next game, instead of having to spend Monday reviewing the previous game and game-planning for the next one, too. It just seemed to make more sense, in terms of completing one cycle and beginning another.

Andrea from Parma, Italy

Everybody's talking about Perry's translation, Worthy’s effectiveness, Woodson’s position in the secondary, but what about fourth-rounder Mike Daniels? What can you tell us about him?

He hasn’t practiced due to a shoulder injury he’s rehabbing for the start of training camp.

Rob from Denver, CO

It seems like last season the defense spent a lot more time in nickel and dime formations than in base formation. Is that a result of the shift towards a passing league, or was it to cover up weaknesses in the defense?

Looking back on it, it sure seems Coach Capers was sending us a message that he had pass-defense concerns, which would include concern for the pass rush, too. I remember a comment he made about the opener against the Saints. Coach Capers knew he was going to use his two-lineman nickel defense in that game, and his big concern was that the Saints would gash the Packers with the run and force the Packers out of that defense. It didn’t happen, but the Saints still threw for more than 400 yards in that game. That should’ve told us something. The Packers were loaded up to stop the pass and still couldn’t do it. It would become a theme for the season.

Adam from Hortonville, WI

Vic, I was perusing the comments section of a Packers article and noticed some of the fans are starting to use some of your phrases. In particular, “players, not plays” is being used a bit. Congratulations. Your plan to take over the world is slowing starting to take its course.

I’d like to target a small nation next, one with good golf courses.

Jeremiah from Los Angeles, CA

Do you think the Packers really like what they have at running back or is it more of a let's wait and see what happens kind of attitude?

Teams never stop looking for talent. If the Packers believe they can add a running back that’ll upgrade what they have, they’ll do it. I think they legitimately like what they have, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like somebody more, if that player could be acquired.

Dan from Charlotte, NC

The Packers took the day off Wednesday to do team-building by shooting clay; the Saints took the day off to go golfing. I know another team that went paint-balling. Do pretty much all teams in the NFL take these team-building days? And isn't there a way to do something recreational like that without having to lose a practice to do it?

The answer to your question is very involved. First of all, if the team-building was during OTAs, it would be considered an organized team activity. There’s no specific language in the CBA that addresses this situation for a mandatory minicamp, but there a couple of things to bear in mind: 1.) You’ve got a window for getting this stuff in, and rescheduling the practice might not fit into that window. 2.) You’re trying to create a positive feeling within your team; the players aren’t going to like it if you reschedule the practice.

Anthony from Portage, WI

Over the years, the Packers have been relatively good at avoiding contract holdouts by their star players. With so many great players on the roster from year to year, how have they stayed clear of the situations the Bears (Matt Forte) and the Saints (Drew Brees) are currently in?

They’ve done it by being good cap managers. It’s all about having a long-range cap plan and being disciplined in executing it. Jermichael Finley could’ve become a problem, had the Packers not managed their cap in a manner that allowed them to avoid that problem by signing him to a contract, instead of franchising him. Fans think in terms of now. They see a player come free and they yell, “Sign him!” To do that, however, you might have to compromise your long-term cap strategy, and that could mean not having the room to sign a Finley, and then problems begin.

George from Hutchinson, MN

As I listen to the TV pundits, they express their opinions with a sense of freedom where it seems they are not emboldened to a particular team, as I sense you are with the Packers. I guess this comes with the territory of your continued employment with the organization. Get too critical and you might be asked to leave. I can understand your stance on balancing the topics on how you proceed to write your opinions and articles. We, the people, want you around, nonetheless.

Gee, thanks, George, but I just don’t understand why anyone would continue to read this column or anything that bears my name if they think I’m being disingenuous with them. I wouldn’t read it if I felt that way.

Charlie from Lubbock, TX

Vic, where is your favorite place to watch a game?

I’ve lived a sports writer’s life, Charlie. The press box is where people like me belong.

Aaron from De Pere, WI

Do you think a coach can properly handle the responsibilities of a GM position while keeping an objective opinion on a player? Who would you say was the best coach/GM in the history of the NFL?

Yeah, I think he can do the job and remain objective in evaluating talent, but I just don’t think coaches in today’s game can effectively do both jobs. There’s too much to do. The best at it has to be a tossup between Curly Lambeau, George Halas and Paul Brown. They were owner, coach, GM, the whole bit, and their teams were dominant.

Chase from Grand Rapids, MI

What are the Packers trying to do to reform their defense?

They’re trying to add young speed. Nothing fixes a team faster and longer than young speed.

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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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