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Defining moment in Sunday's practice


Paul from Farnborough, England

In most sports, preseason is a way of getting players fit for a new season. With most key players playing a quarter at most, and a team not showing its hand as far as plays and formations are concerned, can you tell me just what is the point of preseason games?

Preparation and evaluation are the objectives in the preseason. To fully understand the subtleties of the NFL preseason, however, you need to know of its origins. In the old days, NFL teams played a lot of their preseason games at non-NFL sites. I've covered preseasons games in places such as Akron and Knoxville. The intent was to expose the product and access an un-tapped revenue source. It gave the preseason a kind of carpetbagging feel to it, and Pete Rozelle changed that. He wanted preseason games played in NFL stadiums and he wanted the preseason to become part of the NFL TV schedule, which it has. The Hall of Fame Game is a perfect example of what Rozelle intended. The game is the centerpiece of an entire weekend of TV coverage. The only problem with Rozelle's intent is that preseason games lack meaning, so they would always be a tough sell for the teams that aren't sold out on a season-ticket basis. For the teams that are sold out, the preseason games are part of the ticket package and they produce regular-season like revenue. Does the NFL have an obligation to provide a regular-season like product? I think it's unrealistic and naïve to answer that question with a yes. For starters, the price of tickets can be massaged. The cost for a season is the bottom line; does it matter how the cost is divided? For the sold-out teams it doesn't. For the teams that aren't sold out, it does. Once again, we see the advantage teams that are sold out have over teams that struggle to sell tickets.

Jacob from Eyota, MN

Because the Packers charge admission to the Family Night scrimmage, are scouts from other teams allowed to attend?


Danny from Jacksonville, AR

Vic, I know that in the preseason coaches care a lot more about evaluating young talent than they do about winning, but do coaches still call plays as if they were trying to win the game, or do they call specific plays tailored to evaluate certain players?

They call plays to win the game, but not from a regular-season script of plays.

Erin from Dubuque, IA

As a former sports writer covering high school and college athletics, I watched football plays develop from the offensive guards out. I learned that from my father (a former high school football coach) and John Madden. In today's NFL, is that a proper way for a journalist like yourself to watch a play unfold? Or has the NFL game changed in a way that forces you to watch differently?

I can remember it being said: Watch the right guard; he'll take you to the ball. That was from when football was first and foremost a running game; Vince Lombardi was wrong, it did change. In pre-snap now, I count the wide receivers, notice where the safeties are positioned and determine what the coverage appears to be. At the snap of the ball, I count the rushers. If the ball is run, I won't miss anything because it's unlikely the blocking scheme will be anything more than push and shove; if there's a trap or a counter, I'll be able to pick it up quickly enough to look for it on the replay. The days of elaborate blocking schemes are over. Football is a seven-on-seven game now. Look at college recruiting; it's loaded with seven-on-seven camps.

Ryan from Algonquin, IL

Who has been the best running back in practice so far and why?

I think it's been James Starks. He continues to flash talent. There was a screen-type pass to him in last night's practice, and after Starks caught the pass he turned up field with authority and I thought to myself, "I wouldn't wanna be the poor guy that has to tackle him in the open field." Starks does big-time things. When he does them consistently often, he'll become a star player in this offense.

McQuade from Riverton, UT

What improvements do you think the Packers have made to their defense this year compared to last year?

Let's start with Nick Perry. We had a defining moment at practice last night. In a one-on-one drill between Perry and Bryan Bulaga, Perry put Bulaga on his back, and that wasn't a rookie undrafted free agent Perry was working against, that's one of the best young tackles in the game. Bulaga was reacting to Perry's speed when, all of a sudden, Perry turned to power. That's the skill set that should make Perry a star rusher. Tackles can overplay to the speed of a speed rusher, or to the power of a bull rusher, but you don't dare overplay a guy who's fast and powerful. It appeared to me that most of the crowd was watching the one-on-one passing drills when Perry engaged Bulaga, because I didn't detect much of a reaction. What the crowd may have missed is one of the most important moments in this training camp. That singular thrust is reason to believe the Packers defense will be improved in 2012. Jerel Worthy or Casey Hayward won't hurt the effort, either.

Charles from Statham, GA

What are your thoughts if the league were to replace the first and second, or just the first preseason game, with scrimmages against opposing teams. I know income is a concern, but with the attendance the Packers get for Family Night and colleges get for their spring intrasquad scrimmages, I wonder how much of a drop off there would be.

It would be significant enough to make 31 rich men cry.

Mike from Moorpark, CA

Earl Campbell recently said he sees modern backs as nothing but average. I admit before reading your column I was huge on modern players being bigger, faster, stronger, however, I must apologize. I watched some footage of Campbell and Jim Brown and they wowed me. Do you see modern backs as average compared to the likes of Campbell and Brown?

Adrian Peterson is not average. He is an extreme talent and he'd be a star in any era. When Campbell played, running back was a featured position. Running backs were stars of the game. Look at the backs in the game when Campbell played: Walter Payton, Franco Harris, Tony Dorsett, John Riggins, Billy Sims, George Rogers, Eric Dickerson, Ottis Anderson and more. What a collection of running back talent that is. I would agree that the bulk of today's backs are average by comparison. One of the reasons, of course, is that the game has turned to the pass and backs aren't featured for their running ability. I always thought of the running back as being the symbol of the game. He was the dominant physical player on the team, a big, fast, powerful, elusive athlete that ran over and away from tacklers. These days, wide receivers are becoming the symbol of the game. The quarterback, of course, has always been the game's No. 1 star.

Mike from Ft. Myers, FL

Do you think we have a linebacker who can cover a tight end within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage?

The Packers have several linebackers that can do that. Do they have a linebacker that can cover a tight end down the deep seam? I've seen D.J. Smith do it in this camp. His range surprises me.

Alec from Marshall, MI

We had a blocking sled at my high school way back in the '90's. At one practice, our coach slipped off the platform and we ran over his leg. He limped around a little but got back on the sled. In November, after our season was done, he let his doctor put a cast on it. "Tough game for tough men."

I love sled stories. We had a coach who held up pictures while we drove the sled, so we'd keep our heads up.

Daniel from Newcastle, Australia

With all the talk about passing yards, what are your thoughts on the number of total sacks teams are going to get this season, in particular our Packers?

I think 40 sacks is a realistic goal. The Packers had 29 last season, which left the Packers at last in the league in sacks per pass play. Forty sacks would probably put them at 10-12. That's how dramatically the ranking can change with a few more sacks.

Steven from Gilbert, AZ

Vic, out of every QB attribute Rodgers possesses, which is his strongest?

He's got a special talent for throwing a football. You have to acknowledge that. Beyond his physical skills, one thing that has impressed me about Aaron Rodgers is his awareness. He seems to be aware of everything that's happening around him. For example, he has a penchant for detecting defensive penalties and knowing he has a free play. When a guy is that in tune with what's happening around him, it means he has a fearless regard for the pass rush. Rodgers' mind is on his job and the execution of the play, and his eyes are surveying the field, not the rush.

Julian from Kingman, AZ

So how do teams prepare to get hot heading into the postseason? I realize it's not a given, but surely coaches try to prepare for that, correct?

It's been my experience that coaches hold a little back for late in the season. Maybe it's a little corner of the playbook they hold in reserve, or a subtle shift in philosophy or use of personnel, or maybe they just know when to ratchet up the intensity. Whatever it is, teams that get hot at playoff time usually shift into a higher gear.

Tom from Woodstock, GA

Am I the only one growing concerned of Nick Perry's comments of not setting specific goals? Setting specific goals and striving to achieve them equals success. I get the feeling he is overwhelmed and not making much of a splash at camp. I would love nothing more than to see him succeed, but should I be worried?

Setting goals and announcing goals are two different things. When you announce goals, all you achieve is a standard by which others will taunt you.

Kevin from Omaha, NE

Speaking of consistency, your love of the throwing offense is diametrically opposed to your profession of old-school sensibilities. What gives?

What you're sensing is surrender, not a betrayal of my old-school sensibilities.

Nick from Water Mill, NY

Vic, Mike McCarthy said Herb Taylor is raw, even for his third year and fourth team. Is this typically because of a lack of physical skills, mental focus, difficulty of position or all three?

It's because he hasn't played much. Taylor only has one start in his career. He played in 16 games in 2008 for the Chiefs, but his playing time was mostly on special teams. Since then, Taylor hasn't played in an NFL game. Taylor has been one of those bottom-of-the-roster players during his career, which is to say he's been a guy perpetually trying to make a roster. He's been waived four times and now he finds himself on a team that drafted offensive tackles in the first round of consecutive drafts, and whose starting left tackle is another young player on the rise. Taylor is an example of how difficult it is for most players to catch the dream they're chasing. As I wrote in my story on Sunday, Taylor is one of the players for whom the preseason is so critically important.

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