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Cut back and run to daylight


Russell from Stamford, Lincolnshire

Love the column and I'm really impressed that you keep it going all year round. With regards to the question about what the coaches wear, did you know Jack Del Rio made a special request to wear a suit on the sidelines and Reebok made one for him, then allowed him to wear it for two games that season? I like the respect for the old school.

Yeah, I was covering the Jaguars when Coach Del Rio did that, and I was with him in public once when a couple of female fans expressed to him how much they loved the suit-and-tie look. I thought to myself, "Hmmm, this is gonna turn into something." I figured the apparel company would seize the chance to dive into a new line of clothing, which I thought they would dub "sports formal," but it never happened and that tells me the potential to market that line of clothing wasn't what I thought it was. Not every man wears a suit and tie as well as Coach Del Rio does.

Bart from Sanibel, FL

Watching the locker room interviews with the new Packers talking about getting the playbook down baffles me a bit in that getting their mind around the scheme could be so overwhelming. Not to oversimplify it, but how many things could a 3-4 defensive end, for example, conceivably do on a given play?

It's not the plays that overwhelm the rookies as much as it is the terminology. Play design is universal; terminology is radically different from team to team and coach to coach. Imagine having to learn a new language and having to do it very quickly to have any chance of competing against other players that already know the language. That's what overwhelms young players. I think there's a tendency for high picks, guys who know they won't get cut, to not feel the pressure to learn the new language as quickly as the undrafted guys have to learn it. I think that's one of the reasons you have to give rookies a full year before you can see what they can do. New terminology doesn't just apply to rookies. A new coaching staff means new terminology for veterans, and that's another thing about continuity that's good for a franchise. Teams that change coaches every three years or so constantly force their players, their quarterbacks, to spend much of their careers learning new playbook terminology and, in some cases, technique. It can become frustrating. It can cause players to go into survival mode. The thing I like the most about the way the Packers do business is that they commit to young players, they give them the time they need to learn the terminology and the playbook, and then they let them grow their games and express their talents in a system that breeds confidence and security that it won't change. That's a winning formula.

Chris from Appleton, WI

Vic, I can't understand some of the hatred expressed in the column. I know you like to give everyone a voice but the negative comments really bother me. My mother always taught me that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Sending a nasty email to me is a form of cowardice. I also don't feel that you should give the haters the satisfaction of seeing their garbage in print. If they don't like the forum, then they should just leave. Making an argument is one thing but personal attacks are uncalled for. Aren't we all on the same team here?

Balance is a good thing. An artist needs to show dark to be able to show light. Why are we the way we are? Why are we different? I think contrast makes us think. Some people like "American Idol," some people like "America's Got Talent." "American Idol" has better singers, but they all sound alike to me. My wife likes "American Idol." I prefer "America's Got Talent" because it offers contrast. It gives you someone singing opera, and then a guy juggling knives as he sings "Yankee Doodle." It's the difference between the sublime and the ridiculous. That was the mantra of the sports writing profession when I started in the newspaper business: Give the reader the sublime or the ridiculous, because that's what sells. I try to give my readers a little of each.

Richard from Neenah, WI

Hey, Vic, I noticed yesterday at the practice that you probably didn't have the best view of the action. Why don't you come sit in the bleachers with us fans? It's a great view from there, and I'd enjoy talking about who has stood out thus far. I watched House all day and I must admit he impressed me quite a bit, and then the strip at the end of practice was like the icing on the cake. Who has stood out to you thus far?

Maybe I will come over and sit with you guys. I gotta tell you, I don't enjoy standing through the whole practice. Yeah, I would agree that Davon House is one of the players who has distinguished himself in OTAs and has put himself in a strong position for the start of training camp. He impressed me the most last week when he broke on a pass intended for Diondre Borel; House displayed a kind of explosiveness he didn't have last summer, which I think might've been the product of an ankle injury that dogged him throughout his final season in college. Then came the hamstring injury and that more or less brought the curtain down on House's rookie season. M.D. Jennings had a strong first OTAs practice. Sam Shields has made several strong plays on the ball. I saw Jerel Worthy flash some quickness yesterday. The offensive line is the group that has impressed me the most. I've spent more time watching them than any other group – I don't know why, but I've always tended to do that in camp-type practices – and I am thoroughly impressed by the collection of young talent on the Packers offensive line. I see a lot of young big guys worthy of development. I see "jars on the shelf."

Dave from Lafayette, NY

Can a quarterback improve his arm strength by playing long toss with a football, like many baseball players do with a baseball.

You're right when you say long toss is a way of building up the arm. Mostly, however, it has been thought to build arm endurance. The fundamental belief has been that you can develop a player's arm endurance, but it's not likely that his arm strength will improve significantly. In other words, he's not likely to throw significantly faster or farther; he has anatomical limits. Graham Harrell is challenging that old-school belief. The guy I watched practice on Tuesday has enough arm strength to play in this league. That was not the belief when Harrell went undrafted in 2009.

Bryce from Milwaukee, WI

A while ago I mentioned I had made a bet with the girlfriend that if the Packers made it to the Super Bowl, I'd finally marry her. Well, the wedding's Saturday. Any tips?

Marriage is a learn-as-you-go proposition. School starts in four days.

Mark from Menasha, WI

I don't know the politics involved with the NFL referees enough yet to form an opinion as to who is right and who is wrong in this dispute. I'm not sure I care. All I do know is that even with all the criticism we heap on the officials during the season when calls don't go our way, the game will suffer greatly without these true professionals.

They'll get it fixed. My position on these labor matters remains the same: Don't pick sides because when the dust clears, they'll be standing in front of the TV cameras hugging each other and you'll be left with the angst.

Bryan from Callender, Ontario

Vic, what's with the Giants' love fest you seem to be on? The Giants are not a great or even a good team. They never got the Packers' best shot in either game and we gave them a short field twice in the playoff game in the fourth quarter. Versus San Francisco, they were just lucky. If they're so great, why is it the Packers beat almost the same team 45-17 (in 2010)? I think you should work for the Giants since you like them so much.

It's not a love fest, it's just an opinion. I think they're a worthy champion. I think the Packers got the toughest draw of the playoffs, and I expressed that opinion before it happened.

Kyle from Riga, Latvia

What do you think of D.J. Williams' chances to make an impact this year? I was excited when he was drafted, since he was a great receiving threat in college and a Mackey Award winner, but he didn't get too many chances last year.

He made an impact in practice yesterday and I think he'll make an impact this season. He's another one of those players from the draft class of 2011 who is going to show fans the value in committing to the development of the players you draft.

Helmut from Lalling, Germany

What kind of stuff makes running backs successful?

In the Packers offense, running backs must be able to block in blitz pickup or they won't get a chance to show what they can do with the ball in their hands. Once they build trust that they can protect the quarterback, then they'll get the ball. At that point, they need to be able to do two things to be successful in a zone-blocking scheme: cut back and run to daylight.

Zach from Woodstock, IL

In this era of replay and over-analysis, could replacement officials manage calling fewer penalties while avoiding belittlement at the hands of analysts after every missed holding call?

Yeah, they could do that, and they did that the last time there was a labor dispute between the league and its officials. It was, however, for only one regular-season game. Replay review is the tough part, especially if a lockout lasted for any length of time. It's a very involved and highly sophisticated process. Management of the "coach's challenge" and replay review process has become the most high-profile and difficult aspect of the officials' jobs. You can't just pull some guys off the street, give them zebra outfits and tell them to go stand on the field and not call anything. Replacement officials would have to be of a very high order and they would require extensive training, especially in the replay review process, for their work to match the standard of the play on the field. My hope is that an agreement will be reached.

Brett from De Pere, WI

I think the left tackle job is going to go to Andrew Datko. He was predicted to be a first- or second-rounder going into his senior year until he got hurt. If he can get over his injury, I think he will have been a huge steal. What's your opinion on him?

Mike Spofford said something interesting to me yesterday as we watched the offensive line drills. He said that if Datko plays well and stays healthy through training camp and the preseason, the Packers would likely have to keep him on the active roster because he wouldn't last long on the practice squad. I completely agree. Good big guys, and Datko played at a high level in a big-time program for a lot of years, are at a premium. He would not be viewed by most teams as a developmental guy.

John from Conway, AR

Fans of the Packers (and "Ask Vic") are a geographically diverse bunch. Is this typical of most NFL teams in the Internet era, or do the Packers have a broader fan base than normal?

The Internet has given each team a national and even international following, but the Packers have an extraordinarily large worldwide fan base. It's a delight to cover this team because of that fan base.

Colbie from Castle Rock, WA

You covered Jacksonville when Mark Brunell was the starting quarterback. Do you feel he was underrated?

He was about to become one of the stars of the league when he suffered a major knee injury that cost him his scrambling ability, which I thought was the equal of Steve Young's. What if that knee injury had never occurred? What if Brunell had been drafted by the Packers in, say, 1991, if you know what I mean? He was perfect for Mike Holmgren's offense. Brunell was ideal in a "West Coast" attack. Makes you wonder, huh?

Augie from Iron Mountain, MI

Vic, I was just wondering, what is the difference between OTAs and training camp? Is one more intense than the other?

The obvious answers are pads and yes, but your question interested me when I considered the difference the years have meant to the answers. Back in 1978, I was covering the Steelers when they violated a rule that forbid players to wear pads during minicamp. The Steelers wore shoulder pads during that minicamp, ostensibly to protect against injury, and lost a draft pick as punishment. The incident was dubbed, "Shouldergate." What interests me is that in those days coaches wanted to make minicamp resemble training camp, and now training camp is starting to take on the look of minicamp, which is how I interpreted your question.

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