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Development of young talent will improve the defense


Don from Torrington, CT

I'm having some T-shirts printed up with "Hug Me, I'm Winsome" on the front. Do you want one?

Yeah, it sounds cool.

Bart from Sanibel, FL

I recently watched "Who Killed the USFL?" again. It might have survived had Donald Trump not pushed them into playing in the fall and competing directly with the NFL. Personally, I wish it were still around. Do you think a spring football league could ever work?

We have a spring league and it's working. Really, that's what free agency/draft/rookie camp/OTAs are. It's a separate season with its own identity and its own intense following of fans. It concludes with what I refer to as the "Underwear League," which is OTAs practices, and we even crown mythical "Underwear League" MVPs. I know it's not real football, but it's a defined season and fans love it. Next year, the NFL is going to move its dates to further define its spring season.

Jeff from Seattle, WA

My biggest concern with signing an aging free agent is not so much the cliff, but the cost of not developing another young player and the possibility that the young player may be a home run.

Every once in a while I get a letter such as this that warms my heart and lets me know this column has depth of thought to it. This is why I love my readers. They get it.

Hans from Tucson, AZ

For all the NFL draft "experts," and those who hang on their every word, I give you this timeless quote by former Colts GM Bill Tobin, "Who the hell is Mel Kiper?"

He's the man who invented the draft as we know it today. He's the man who helped make ESPN the powerhouse it is today and the draft one of the NFL's most popular events. Mel Kiper is the man who glued millions of eyeballs to their TVs in the middle of the offseason. He's the man who made the draft a three-day event. Mel Kiper is "Mr. Draft." Who the hell is Bill Tobin?

Dennis from Sheboygan, WI

I was told once many years ago that a third of first-round choices will be great, a third will be good and a third will wash out. Does that sound about right?

Yeah, that sounds about right. It reminds me of the university president's address to my freshman class. He said, "Look to your right, and now look to your left. One of you will be gone by next semester. Two of you will be gone by next year." My roommates were on each side of me and we all graduated, so the president's remark didn't apply directly to me, but two-thirds of that freshman class never graduated. The point of the story is that we don't know who won't make it, but we know a percentage of the class can't make it, because that's how we define the success of those who do make it.

Kary from Sheboygan, WI

Lots of guys improved their stock by playing in the Senior Bowl. Was anyone negatively affected this year? I mean, if one guy is looking really good, doesn't someone have to be looking really bad?

Not necessarily in that kind of controlled practice environment. The game is not the thing; the practices are the thing and the practice regimen at the Senior Bowl is designed for individual evaluation. For example, Alex Okafor had his butt kicked by Eric Fisher. In the process, however, you could see Okafor's quickness, athletic ability and command of technique. He just wasn't big enough and strong enough to beat Fisher, but that doesn't mean Okafor can't be used in ways that won't make him go head to head with massive tackles. If there was one group that was impacted negatively at the Senior Bowl, it was the quarterbacks. They were just flat bad and I think that lowered the stock of all of them, except E.J. Manuel. That remains a mystery.

Mark from Stewartville, MN

Vic, is Datone Jones versatile enough to be an end in either the 4-3 or the 3-4?

Yes, I believe he is. I think he's a natural strong side end in a 4-3 and, in my opinion, his talent lends itself to the weak side end position in a 3-4.

Oscar from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, what does "possession receiver" mean?

A possession receiver is a big guy who provides a big target for quarterbacks to use on conversion downs. He's the catch-and-fall-down guy who catches the third-and-seven pass, moves the sticks and allows his offense to retain possession of the ball. He usually lacks speed. If he had speed to go with his size, he'd be an X receiver, which is a true No. 1 receiver.

Steve from Lodi, WI

Maybe this will help illustrate the players, not plays concept. You can put the pieces anywhere on the chess board, but if your opponent is playing with the more capable pieces and all you have are pawns, you're probably going to lose.

Here's an easier way to describe it. I'm the quarterback of my team and Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback of the other team. Vince Lombardi is the coach of my team and Howdy Doody is the coach of Rodgers' team. Who wins?

Zachary from Normal, IL

Why did the NFL lower the number of rounds in the NFL draft from 11 to seven, and when did this take place?

The draft was 12 rounds long until 1993, which was the first year of the salary cap era. The draft was eight rounds long in '93. It went to seven rounds in '94, which is where it's been since. The reduction in rounds is a result of the new CBA that ushered in the salary cap era. An extra round was added for the first year – I forget exactly why, other than it was a transition year. When I began covering the NFL, the draft was 17 rounds and there were no roster limits until the mandatory cutdown dates in training camp, which was nine weeks long and included a six-game preseason.

Brian from Little Rock, AR

Clear your calendar, Vic. Toad Suck Daze in Conway, Ark., begins today.

I'm gonna miss it this year and it's killing me.

Colton from Indianapolis, IN

I feel like maybe people have forgotten that we will be getting a healthy Nick Perry back in the lineup this year. What impact will he have on our defense?

He'll give it another great athlete. That's what wins in today's game.

Jeff from Saint Paul, MN

Your answer about the fullback getting most of the carries during the initial years of the pro set gave me an epiphany. When Lombardi first came to Green Bay, he told Paul Hornung, "You are going to be my left halfback or you won't play in Green Bay." I always thought that was a strange ultimatum. Yesterday, it occurred to me that halfback was the least glamorous position, by far. Hornung was a celebrity, so it was not obvious he would be willing to play there. Hornung accepted the assignment and, to his credit, made the most of it.

Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, Larry Csonka, Franco Harris and Earl Campbell were all fullbacks in the pro set or split backs formation, which was invented by Clark Shaughnessy in 1949. They're all in the Hall of Fame and it's not for their blocking ability. We've been over this before. Brown, Taylor, Csonka, Harris and Campbell could've just as easily been designated halfbacks. Don't concern yourself with designation, concern yourself with function. Bill Walsh designated Roger Craig the halfback and Tom Rathman the fullback, but Rathman was the blocker and Craig was the feature runner. It could've been the reverse, but Walsh always felt a need to reinvent the game. Maybe that's why his peers mockingly referred to him as "The Genius."

Keith from Jacksonville, FL

May you have a day of peace tomorrow as you remember what happened 43 years ago.

Thank you. As I do every year on May 4, as noon approaches I'll keep an eye on my watch, and at 12:24 I'll stop and reflect. I was too young to understand then.

Dwayne from Freeport, Bahamas

Have the Packers had or do they intend to have joint practice with an opposing team? What are your thoughts on joint practices?

I loved them. I thought they were great teaching platforms for both teams. Unfortunately, due to the new kinder, gentler training camp regimens, I think joint practices have gone the way of two-a-days, the Oklahoma drill, grass drills and interviews with players in their dorm rooms.

Ken from Honolulu, HI

The Packers couldn't stop SF's run game in the first game of the season last year when SF was not using the read-option. They couldn't stop the Vikings run game with Adrian Peterson and no read-option. Do you think the Packers have improved enough to stop the elite run games of the 49ers and Vikings, as these are two of the teams standing in the way of the Packers getting to the Super Bowl?

Clearly, scheme wasn't the difference. The additions of more defensive talent, and the development of young players such as Nick Perry, Mike Daniels, Jerron McMillian, Datone Jones, etc., are going to make the difference. As those players grow into their roles, the Packers defense will improve. I understand that the final game of the season left a very bad taste in everybody's mouth, but there's no denying the improvement the Packers made on defense last season. They went from No. 32 in the league in total defense in 2011 to No. 11 last year. That is a huge move up the rankings. It's the kind of move that is usually a precursor to something very good.

Jack from Jacksonville, FL

I'm confused. Were the "experts" upset because the Bills took Manuel, or because they got it wrong? I've never seen a QB bashed so hard before he took a single snap.

Maybe the Bills got it right. Maybe Manuel will become the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Even if that happens, however, the Bills still made a terrible mistake: They drafted Manuel out of order. He didn't fit where they drafted him. I think that's the criticism of most. If they had moved back to where Manuel fit and acquired the full value of their original position, I think the "experts" would be more accepting of this pick. I would be more accepting of it. I just refuse to believe the Bills couldn't have picked Manuel a lot lower.

Fred from Waterloo, WI

Vic, I am hearing zero, one, two, three as positions on the defensive line. Can you explain where each number lines up?

Fred, I'm going to leave this answer for the folks who provide the comments at the end of each "Ask Vic" column. They are learned fans in the science of football strategy and I think they'll have some fun playing with this one. I'll let them tell you about three-technique defensive tackles and what their function is, and five-technique defensive ends and what they do, and the wide-nine defense the Eagles made popular a few years ago. I'll kick off the comments with this: The nose tackle plays zero technique when he plays on the head of the center. Take it away, commenters.

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