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Inbox: A whole new challenge lies ahead

Let’s not plow over the proving ground that is special teams

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine

Markus from Aurora, CO

Insiders, on this Memorial Day 2020, whose sacrifice are you remembering?

My Grandpa Norman, who served in the Navy during World War II, helped instill in me the importance of Memorial Day and honoring those who have fallen in service of this great country. I had those individuals and their families in my thoughts yesterday, and the responsibility we all share to carry on their memory. They're the real heroes whose stories must continue to be told. As Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, "It is for us the living … to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced." Good morning!

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

I can't remember a time when the Packers had three running backs all apparent locks to not only make the roster, but also carry the ball. How do you see them splitting the carries this season?

They'll be able to play with matchups a lot more. That's what New England, San Francisco and Baltimore have done so well over the past few seasons to keep defenses on tilt. Defensive coordinators can't zero in on one specific player when you have four or five potential threats. I also believe we'll see the real emergence of Aaron Jones as an all-around playmaker – not just a great running back.

Bruce from Appleton, WI

How good a mentor will Aaron Rodgers  be to Jordan Love?

Really good. He's a living, breathing football encyclopedia who has seen and done it all. Rodgers knows what it's like to be in Love's position as a first-round pick backing up a future Pro Football Hall of Famer and appreciates how difficult it can be to sit in that seat.

Doug from Eugene, OR

Hello gentlemen, I'm fascinated by the onside kick rules discussion. Two observations: Firstly, the kickoff changes have been justified on the basis of player safety. But are there statistics specifically with onside kicks we can cite? If so, the formation rules should suffice. Secondly, the strategic element of surprise is gone (Saints in SB) if the play must be "declared." An onside kick is chaotic by nature, preordaining it is antithetical, aye? Will we soon have to declare play-action fakes?

To the first part of your question – not that I've seen. It's my understanding the real danger on kickoffs is players running at full steam and colliding with one another. I'm open to being corrected on this, but I have to yet to read anything about those changes having anything to do with the onside kick itself. So that's why I've touted "declaring" an onside and having the option to overload again. And if teams want to try to "surprise" the opponent, then they can do it out of an even-sides kickoff.

John from Belleview, FL

Say you're a good running team and start the game with a long 15-play opening drive and score a touchdown. Then, do the fourth-and-15 onside attempt and convert. Another long 13-play drive. Repeat with your second onside opportunity, and convert. Another long drive. The opposing defense would never recover. A risk? Yes. But talk about dominating a game.

This is why it made news last week when the "trailing" prevision was taken out of the language of the proposal. It's unlikely the scenario you presented would play out like that – it's not easy to convert fourth-and-15 against any NFL defense – but it's another risk-and-reward strategy coaches would need to consider.

Matt from Frisco, TX

How about making kickoffs optional? It would give the option of a short high kick and potentially pinning the offense inside the 20. Keeps the onside kick as an option. Or give the opponent the ball on the 25. Everything else sounds like gimmicks.

I feel we need to find more ways to safely innovate on special teams rather than pulling the offense and defense into the play. Special teams are often called the forgotten phase for a reason but they've also produced Super Bowl-winning head coaches and Pro Bowlers, too. I don't want to plow over that proving ground.

Chris from Eau Claire, WI

How about with the fourth-and-15 "onside kick," all defensive penalties count as five yards and replay the down? That requires three strikes for an automatic first down, and still doesn't reward them for poor play.

It's a noble idea, but then what do you do when cornerbacks start tripping or dragging receivers to the ground whenever they get beat on a stop-and-go route? Therein lies the problem. I've been saying this for years – it's a subjective game that cannot be played with objective rules. You can't officiate the game of football with absolutes.

Joshua from Appleton, WI

If there is a sky judge with a sky camera, will he or she have lasers to point out the penalized player?

Now Joshua is using his noodle.

Gabor from Budapest, Hungary

Wes, I think the perfect solution as the onside kick replacement is the following: the kicker kicks off from the 25, and if the ball is cut by the laser goal post, then the kicking team gets the ball at the 20. Otherwise it is the opponent's ball at midfield. What do you think about the idea? (Of course until we don't have the technology, it is enough that the ball hits the post).

The laser revolution has gone international. I'll take it.

John from Green Bay, WI

In an interview shortly after signing with the Giants, Blake Martinez said that in GB's scheme he didn't have any gap responsibilities and his job was to "to be the cleanup guy." Coach Pettine's recent interview alluded to his aggressive "knock back" scheme up front, saying "the distance that we've created with the knock back gives the linebackers a chance to overlap it. That's a concept that takes some linebackers a little bit longer to learn..." Were they talking about the same thing?

I'll leave the reading between the lines stuff to the comments section. I took Pettine's words to mean you can't expect a rookie to walk in the door, especially in this environment, and just slide right into that critical post. Christian Kirksey is a veteran who can react to what's happening in front of him. He's a great fit for what Pettine wants out of an inside linebacker in his scheme.

Brandon from Girard, FL

We keep talking about how converting the fourth-and-15 is a way for a team to keep possession, but what about when the team making a comeback scores with five seconds left? They then have a free play to try to score again, without needing to accomplish anything beforehand. That doesn't sit well with me unless it is benefitting the Packers, of course...

Teams would need to sharpen up on how they execute, and defend, the lateral.

Jeff from Milwaukee, WI

How many games will Rashan Gary start this season?

I couldn't care less how many games Gary starts. What I look for is how many games he plays in and how many snaps he sees. Five hundred snaps over a full slate of games would be a great target for Gary in Year 2. He is still playing behind two Pro Bowl-caliber outside linebackers, after all.

Brian from Pensacola, FL

Can we just say Gary was our first-round pick this year and be done with it?

My good friends who run the Packer Ranter Twitter account said it better than I ever could this weekend in response to critics of Gary – "I, too, say I'm sending my food back before the server even brings it." I don't know what Gary's ceiling is as a player. I just know we haven't reached it yet.

Jeff from Seminole, FL

Are we making too big of a deal of the run defense? Take away the 49ers game and it was average. I also think when you have a dominant defense like the Niners it gave their offense more opportunities to run.

You're not making too big of a deal out of the run defense but some folks are making too big of a deal out of the outcome of that one game. Remember when Colin Kaepernick ran over the Packers in the 2012-13 playoffs? Of course you do. Do you remember when Green Bay played the 49ers in the opener the following season? He only ran for 22 yards…but then threw for 412. You can't replay 2019. You can only move on to 2020. As Pettine said, the run defense needs to learn from what happened but not dwell on it. Because a whole new challenge lies ahead.

Scott from Noblesville, IN

Am I mistaken thinking the NFL needs to acknowledge not all coordinator jobs are equal? For example, I would imagine there might be serious career advancement in being able to move to an offensive coordinator position which includes calling plays from one that does not. Sometimes a lateral move, for geographic, economic, family considerations or perhaps from a well-established team to an up-and-coming team might actually be a better stepping stone for a coach seeking to someday be a head coach.

Totally. That's why Matt LaFleur left his OC post with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 to become the OC and offensive play-caller with the Tennessee Titans. Still, an OC job is an OC job and you have to strike when the iron is hot. If I'm the NFL, I want to give the best and brightest position coaches the easiest ascension possible to those jobs.

Jeff from Brooklyn, WI

Will the players be allowed to enter Lambeau today?

Not yet. As has been the case all offseason, the only players permitted in the facility are those under contract who have been getting treatment for injuries suffered last season.

Sandy from Green Bay, WI

How much if at all might the interruption to the usual schedule of offseason programs affect the momentum that the Packers seemed to be exhibiting last season? Do you think the team can pick off where they left off while also evaluating new assignments due to the changes in personnel in the absence of the offseason protocols?

I don't think this downtime will stymie any perceived momentum the Packers had after last season. Because everyone is playing on the same chess board. I think teams with a new head coach are at the biggest disadvantage. Those teams usually can start the traditional offseason program two weeks earlier than the rest of the league.

Robert from Hillsboro, WI

How many quarterbacks do you expect the Packers to carry on the 2020 roster?

Three. I think it's going to be a prerequisite for most teams when you factor in the truncated offseason and how COVID-19 is still looming over us all.

Sean from Boulder, CO

Ah, I think the questioner wasn't referring to the Cowboys and Packers meeting in a Super Bowl but rather Mike McCarthy having a shot at winning a title with each. I believe a coach has never won with multiple teams. The list of coaches to even make it with two different teams isn't very long, either – Shula, Reeves, Vermeil, Parcells, and Reid.

The things you guys latch onto. This was the most popular comment in the Inbox by far. I took it to mean winning a Super Bowl with two different teams, though my reply could also work the other way, too. Make of it what you want.

Charlie from Waukesha, WI

Backfired call? The Bears coach throwing the red flag for believing his player got into the end zone. The ruling: The player fumbled through the end zone, Packers' ball at the 20!

Speaking of guys who coached teams to multiple Super Bowls…I'm guessing John Fox still wants that one back.

Simon from Leeds, England

How long should I leave it before I'm sure my question won't be answered in II?

If we didn't catch it in the first 48 hours, you might want to consider giving it another go. If it doesn't happen a second time, that might be game, set, match on your attempt.

Tom from New Berlin, WI

I had a moment of pause when I read John McCain gave the Vietnamese the names of Packers offensive linemen. Do you think Vince Lombardi was whispering in his ear?

Amazing. A truly great American.

Mike from Las Vegas, NV

Gentlemen, I have a confession to make. I watched NASCAR last night. Vic would not be proud I'm sure. I need live sports and I need it soon! Thanks for all you do. Keep safe.

As someone constantly searching for that next step to get me through this ordeal, I'm cool with whatever keeps you entertained. I'm counting down the days to the next UFC show this Saturday night – and hopefully the NBA at some point.


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