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I agree: Watch out for Bears and Lions


Patrick from Plymouth, MN

Steve Rosenbloom thinks Matt Forte was overpaid because running back is "the most fungible" position in football, and "running backs get hurt the way Forte did last season." If what Rosenbloom says is true (it sounds true to me), is this just another example of running back being phased out?

As the game moves more decidedly in favor of the pass, the run and its star player, the running back, become less important. In Jim Brown's day, the running back was the star of the team. Bart Starr was the heart and soul of the Packers, but Jim Taylor was its star player on offense. Johnny Unitas was one of the exceptions of his day, but he still had Lenny Moore behind him and Moore was a true star-quality player. Running back was a premier position and you didn't dare get caught without one. It was such a premier position that Cleveland traded with Washington for Ernie Davis at a time when Brown was at the peak of his career. Those days are over. The Packers are as wise as they come in personnel matters and they've shown no signs of panic at running back, even though the position is manned by three guys that have a combined 708 yards rushing in their NFL careers. Hey, it's a passing game; it's that simple. That's why the position is "fungible," I guess, although I would've used the word undervalued. It also seems running backs get hurt more often than they did in Brown's day, when backs were treated as workhorses. Heck, Brown didn't start warming up until he got 20 carries under his belt. So why do backs seem to get hurt more often in today's game? I think it's because the era of the big back has passed. Today's backs have to fit into the passing game, which often means they have to be built more like receivers than pounders. Brown was 6-2, 225. Franco Harris was 6-2, 230. Marion Motley was 6-1, 232. Cookie Gilchrist was 6-3, 251. Larry Csonka was 6-3, 237. They would be considered big backs even today. They were pounders and they could take a pounding.

William from Knoxville, TN

The only sting left from last year, as I see it, is not the playoff loss, but rather the memory of LeGarrette Blount running over the entire defense for a touchdown. I sure hope tackling will be a major focus in camp this year, as that was really embarrassing. Do you think the rookies will have addressed this issue?

I think Mike McCarthy is going to address the issue. He was pretty emphatic about it in his final press conference of OTAs. He said the Packers will practice tackling in this training camp, and it sounded as though it will be to-the-ground stuff, and not just that falling-into-a-pile-of-pads-at-half-speed stuff. I can't wait to see what the coach has in mind. It might make me feel young again.

Paul from Ossian, IN

Vic, I've been looking at pictures of the construction and it's very impressive. I know the seating for the upper deck won't be available until 2013, but my question is will the structure in place still impact the stadium noise in 2012?

Great question. I would think the answer is yes.

Ben from Madison, WI

Do the coaches start prepping for the first regular season game more than a week before that game, like during preseason? Or are they solely focused on that week's preseason game?

The major advance work for all of this season's games was done in the offseason. It's a little more difficult for games against teams that have new coaches, but they're preceded by their work with other teams, so even they have track records and tendencies that have been identified.

Dan from Vancouver, WA

You said Jim Brown never missed a game in his career and averaged 104 yards rushing a game. What backs in the past 20 years can boast never having missed a game in their career?

I don't know the answer to your question, Dan, and it's difficult to imagine that any back in recent history hasn't missed a game due to injury, but when I look at the list of all-time rushing leaders, I see some durable guys and one guy in particular jumps out at me: Curtis Martin. Martin is the least likely running back to have built an NFL career on durability, because he couldn't stay on the field in college. He only missed four games through the first 10 years of his career, and Martin wasn't a big-body pounder; he was a 210-pound slasher. He's the No. 4 all-time leading rusher with 14,101 yards and, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in history.

Tom from Woodstock, GA

Vic, I returned to my native Green Bay the week of the Fourth. I sat in awe of the renovations going on at Lambeau Field. It got me wondering what the field of play will look like on Sunday afternoons. Do you think anyone took into consideration if there will be a huge shadow on the field of play from the scoreboard?

Later in the season, as the sun sinks in the southern sky, I would think the new seats in the south end zone might cast a shadow. I don't think that's going to be a big deal, but it might give Lambeau Field a new look. I think the wind might be a bigger issue. How might the new structure impact wind currents in Lambeau Field? This is an exciting time in Packers history. I'm glad I'm here to witness it.

Parvati from Santa Monica, CA

How talented do you think Brandon Saine is? I know the coaching staff likes his blocking and receiving, but how effective do you see him as a runner? Could he carry the load if Starks and Green are slowed by injuries during the season?

At this point, I think Saine is a complementary back, and every team needs one, or maybe even two.

John from Palatka, FL

Where do you rank O.J.?

He was the back of his day. He was sensational, an amazing blend of size, speed and power. He could pound out the tough yards and he could take it to the house from 80 yards away. I saw him shred the vaunted "Steel Curtain" in Week 2 of the 1975 season. I think he's greatly underrated, but a lot of that is the result of his late-life issues that have caused people to eliminate him from their lists. He ruined his image and stained beyond repair a great career.

Lewk from Davenport, IA

What could Jerry Rice do that Don Hutson couldn't?

That's a good question. I can't help but wonder if there was anything Rice could do that Hutson couldn't. I think a lot of receivers could've been Rice had they played in the "West Coast Offense" and Joe Montana was their quarterback. How much of Raymond Berry's success is attributable to Unitas? Wes Welker wasn't much of a player until he joined Tom Brady. I'm not a big wide receiver guy because I think their ranks are large. You can find them and you don't have to spend a first-round pick to do it.

Richard from Davis, CA is doing an analysis of the salary cap situation of the teams, and it includes the adjusted cap number of each team. The difference between teams is huge. Why are these cap numbers so different?

It's probably because of the uncapped year in 2010. Some teams, many of them low-revenue teams that needed to approach the uncertain economic landscape with caution, put a hold on spending until the league got a new CBA and those teams knew what the future held for them. When that happened last summer, those teams were caught far beneath the minimum, and now they have to catch up. That's easier said than done because catching up means spending real money. It'll even soon.

Wayne from Dubuque, IA

I've got many Bears-fan friends who tell me to watch out for the Bears after their offseason pickups. The same with the Lions. I tell them their starting teams do indeed look very foreboding, but the quality of the guys that can step in after key injuries is a very telling factor and the Packers have excelled in that regard. Do you agree with that or is it the superstars that make the big difference?

In my opinion, your star players define you, and one of those players that defines you better play quarterback. I also think your Bears-fan friends are right: Watch out for the Bears and the Lions.

Jimmy from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, I have a feeling we are entering a period of football that will go down in history as the era of the absurd passing stats. I say this because there has to be a limit and we have to be approaching it. The game will adapt and the offensive firestorm will placate. No 6,000-yard seasons. Thoughts?

I'm not sure about that. I think passing yards will continue to climb. I don't think this is a cyclical movement. I think this is a permanent shift toward passing the football. I think this is an era that will be remembered for its shift to the passing game, but I also think this is an era that will be known as the "game-softening" or "player-safety" era.

Aaron from Louisville, KY

Jim Brown, Johnny U, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice as the most often in the first two spots? As a young pup who is looking more into the history books and less at Madden and fantasy points, why isn't Terry Bradshaw up there? If we judge the greats by how many rings they have, you would almost have to include him, right?

What do Brown, Unitas, Montana and Rice have in common? They're all offensive players. Those are the players that are candidates for greatest player of all time. Bradshaw isn't a candidate because he played in the 1970's and it would be very difficult for any offensive player from that decade, clearly a time of defense, to be a candidate for greatest player of all time. I'll tell you this, though: Bradshaw had the best raw tools of any player I've ever covered. His athletic ability was off the charts.

Andy from Denver, CO

Maybe it's because it's July and there's nothing else going on, but it seems like there's been a recent spike in players with off-the-field issues and negative encounters with law enforcement. While the Packers players aren't perfect, I'm proud to call myself a fan of a team that tends to stay out of the kind of trouble that has created those headlines. Do you attribute that to the strong leadership of the franchise? How do the Packers create a culture where that kind of behavior is less common than it is elsewhere?

It's because of orange dots, which are assigned to draft prospects that have character issues. You don't change troubled players, you avoid them.

Paul from De Pere, WI

Vic, when does nasty become cheap? When does physical become dirty?

When you get caught.

Aaron from West Allis, WI

With all this talk about running backs, it reminds me of a tale I hear every now and again about how on one play Barry Sanders made every player on the defense miss twice. Have you heard this story and is it true?

I haven't heard that story but I don't doubt its validity. I know a guy that got run over twice on the same play by Mike Ditka, on the greatest run after the catch "nobody" saw.

Steve from Neenah, WI

Since you believe the Packers draft well, manage the salary cap as well as anyone, and have a good coaching staff, where do they need to improve to maintain the level of excellence they have obtained? In other words, what are they doing wrong?

When you employ a philosophy as simple and as fundamentally sound as the Packers do, which is to say identify, draft and develop talented football players, your mistakes are usually limited to identifying that talent. That's the difficult part. Drafting is a crystal ball business and sometimes the ball gets cloudy. The big mistakes usually occur when a team signs a player to a big free-agent contract, or damages its future salary caps by spending recklessly, or drafts according to need instead of talent, or trades picks for older players. Those mistakes have long-term negative effects. The Packers don't make those mistakes.

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