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Here's why Benson can have a big year


Trent from Orlando, FL

"Dan Marino and Ben Roethlisberger are the only ones I've known to be instant hits." I think Cam Newton was an instant success.

You're right, but I was thinking in terms of a rookie quarterback taking his team to the playoffs, as Marino and Roethlisberger did, which made them unique in the game's modern era. The guy I missed is Matt Ryan. He took the Falcons to the playoffs as a rookie and enjoyed a great year in doing it. The other rookies to take their team to the playoffs as a quarterback that started multiple games are: Bernie Kosar, Jim Everett, Shaun King, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and Andy Dalton. Dalton had a respectable rookie year, but he faded late in the season. Everett and King were part-time starters and none of the others had Marino/Roethlisberger-like rookie seasons. In the vast majority of cases, a team with a rookie quarterback as its starter doesn't make it into the postseason and the rookie quarterback experiences ups and downs that might put him on the bench. The list of those quarterbacks, many of them Hall of Famers, is too long to include. That's why I think it's too early to say Matt Flynn's future in Seattle has been determined. Newton certainly was an instant hit as a rookie, especially in his first few games, though I might add that he cooled considerably as the season wore on and the Panthers settled for a 6-10 record.

Paul from Williston, FL

Do players make a full year's salary while on the injured reserve or PUP lists, while receiving a year of service credit, even if they were an undrafted player?

Yes, they do, unless they have what's known as a "split contract." If they are an undrafted rookie, they are likely to have a split contract.

Sean from San Diego, CA

Vic, I don't understand why everyone gets down on preseason? I realize the games are not as exciting as the regular season or playoffs, but I'm not ready for the regular season in August. It's still summer and I want to be out enjoying my weekends. It is also a chance to get to know the new team, such as the rookies with high expectations, the undrafted guys you've never heard of, and the second-year players that are progressing. Then I enjoy one last weekend of summer for Labor Day, and the next Sunday I am ready to shut myself inside some dark bar all day to watch the start of the regular season. It's perfect!

You are a well-adjusted man, which concerns me.

Brown from Ashland, WI

"Actually, six-wide would be a legal formation, but who's going to catch the snap from center?" So we could trot out Aaron, Greg, Jordy, Donald, James and Randall, then shift Randall in motion and get the snap. He could run, throw or hand off to Aaron on a reverse, and he can chuck it. Sign me up.

Put down your Madden and spend some time with a loved one.

Casey from Lynchburg, VA

Vic, I just read an interview with Greg Jennings where he said players would choose not to wear a safer helmet because they don't like how it looks. I totally understand players' willingness to endanger their health for a paycheck and an opportunity to play the game they love, but to endanger your health because a helmet looks different?

I agree. I mean, if my head gets dented, my hair just isn't gonna look right.

Davy from Chetek, WI

I was expecting a comment dealing with Tarvaris Jackson being traded, but I figured it would focus on Vince Young being cut, and remembering all those fans that wanted to give up a draft pick for him. You get another attaboy for your patience reminder.

A team with a draft-and-develop philosophy must treat its draft picks as pieces of gold. If you start trading them away for stop-gap talent, you will effectively be trading away your team's future. That's not to say a team with that philosophy can't ever trade for a player; it's just to say that trading picks for players has to be kept to a minimum and it must be executed as cost-effectively as possible, and that usually means waiting until cutdown time to make a trade. Trade prices tend to decrease dramatically at cutdown time.

Andre from Port Austin, MI

What say you of the pistol formation?

I like it because it allows an offense to run the ball out of the power sets, as opposed to positioning the quarterback seven yards deep in the shotgun, which makes most or all running plays draw plays, which are finesse plays. The pistol is a formation a dropback team that wants to run the ball can use without sacrificing its intent to run the ball.

Jim from Des Peres, MO

Is anything ever discovered when a scout team is running a particular formation against a certain look?

There are probably examples of a scout team play resulting in a design adjustment, but I think it's more likely that a player's particular talent for doing something extra has been discovered in a scout team practice session. I wonder how many linebackers standing in as a scout team tight end, for example, have become tight ends, or vice versa. If I discover that I have a linebacker that can catch the ball, as Mike Vrabel could, or a wide receiver that can play defensive back, as Troy Brown did, I'm likely to find a place for that guy on my roster.

Joe from White Plains, NY

More McCarren, less Vic. I don't care for Vic's personal opinions peppered with few facts.

Isn't that a personal opinion peppered with few facts? Huh, Joe? Wadda ya say, Joe, baby?

Michael from Denver, CO

Vic, couldn't we see a six-WR formation with Cobb at QB, like he played his freshman year at Kentucky? Not a great idea to take Rodgers off the field, but that could actually be a six-WR formation.

OK, I see we're going nowhere with this conversation, and that this insanity will also never end until I agree that all teams should use a six-WR formation. I won't do that, but I will do this: I think we're headed there. I think the league's efforts to soften the game will eventually litter the field with wide receivers. In time, I think the seven-men-on-the-line rule will be changed to require fewer men on the line of scrimmage, allowing for more receivers, which means smaller people playing in space, instead of bigger people playing in a compressed area. Hang in there, Michael, it's coming.

Cole from San Diego, CA

What's the most compelling story you've covered?

The first thought that comes to my mind is the 1987 strike. It was both a reporter's nightmare and dream. We were left to our own devices. In many cases, teams had moved their "camps" out of town, to get away from labor union demonstrations. They were secreting replacement players into those camps, and we were camped out at the hotel that was the team's headquarters, asking every big guy that walked in the front door who he was and what position he played. It became outrageous fun, but it also had its tense moments. The striking players were bitter, and their story had to be told, too. I remember flying into Atlanta for the first replacement game, and as the team charter was descending toward the runway, an Air Force jet flew up tight to each wing and escorted the charter onto the runway. Apparently there had been some kind of threat made on the plane. Hey, you're working in the union capital of the world and you're flying with a plane full of scabs. What makes the story the most compelling I've ever covered is what resulted from it. The 1987 player strike, in my opinion, was the turning point in the game's modern history. It spawned a strong players union, Judge Doty, unrestricted free agency and the salary cap. I often think back to that year and that story, and I can't help but remember how much fun those replacement players were. I remember one guy in particular, who worked for the telephone company, which gave him an ultimatum: Come back to work or you're fired. He wisely decided his future was with the phone company, not the NFL, and the team threw a retirement press conference for him. With apologies to Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Michael from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, If you were not able to be a sports writer anymore, what would you do and why? I am not talking about retirement, either.

I'd like to be a motivational speaker, because they get a lot of money for yelling at people.

Max from Hudson, WI

Do teams gradually cut players as the 53-man roster limit approaches, or do they cut all the players at once?

This Friday's final cuts are a one-day event, so teams don't have a lot of time to stagger their announcements. In the old days, cuts didn't have to be announced until Monday, Labor Day, so teams would stagger their announcements. They'd announce on Saturday that they cut five, then delay the release of the others so they could try to trade a few players for late-round picks. We hung around the offices asking players what they had heard, or maybe we'd see a guy heading out the front door and he'd nod his head or make the out sign with his thumb, and he'd stop and give us an interview, and we'd say goodbye. There was a lot of intrigue in those days. I covered a team that didn't put the numbers on the front of its helmets until final cuts were made, so a young player found out he made the team when he walked into the locker room and his helmet was hanging on its hook and he saw that his number was on the front of his helmet; welcome to the majors, Mr. Hobbs. I had a young player tell me it was the greatest moment of his life. It was dramatic, but it became a bulky process, especially when the practice squad came into existence and teams needed to wait for players to clear waivers before they could sign them to their practice squads. This is a better way to do it. Teams know what they're doing. Get it done and let's move on to the regular season. I'd be lying, however, if I said I didn't miss the drama.

Dale from Raytown, MO

Vic, I keep hearing that college quarterbacks aren't ready for the pros because they come out of schools that feature the spread offense, then they get to pros and all the teams do is spread out the defense. That's what the Packers do best. Am I missing something? Why is learning to spread the defense in college bad?

College teams spread their formations for the purpose of running the ball. NFL teams use the spread to throw the ball. Denver did it the college way last year with some success, but you saw what John Elway thinks of it. It's not the pro way.

Geno from Chicago, IL

I've noticed some good and poor qualities of every defense, and was curious to see which defensive scheme you prefer and why?

I prefer the 3-4 for a variety of reasons. I think it allows teams to draft pass rushers from a larger pool of prospects. It deepens the need for run stuffers, and that's where the pool is deepest in defensive linemen. It loads the roster with linebackers, and they tend to make the best special teams players. Most of all, the 3-4 promotes creativity.

John from Madison, WI

You said in a question about allowing all 53 players to be allowed to play in a game vs. being inactive that fans always request more players. One question is why not keep the 53-man roster and add two redshirt type of positions, where if you want to develop them and not risk losing them on the practice squad, that would allow you to do so?

Because it means owners would have to spend more money for players that wouldn't be used. How many players that don't play do you need to pay? If you're not sensitive to the owners' costs, then think in terms of your cost.

Scott from Wausau, WI

Chris from Ontario asked whether teams would put eight men in the box against the Packers due to Cedric Benson in the backfield. Is there any running back in the NFL that would convince any defensive coordinator to load up against the run and take their chances against A-Rod with three pass defenders?

No, and that was my point. It's unlikely an opponent is going to load up to stop the run with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and Mike McCarthy calling the plays. Edgerrin James was a very good running back, but nobody loaded up to stop him; they loaded up to stop Peyton Manning. The reluctance to load up against the run is one of the main reasons I think Benson can have a big year for the Packers, and I think he knew that when he signed with them.

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