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Injuries help build depth


Tou from Eau Claire, WI

I've heard Alex Green described in many ways: speedster, pounder and even lacking power. How does he look campared to other running backs in the league? Is his only real downfall a fumbling issue?

Green is a pounder; that's how I'd describe him. He's a between-the-tackles runner whose calling card is power, but he also has strong screen-pass capability, and when you can get a big guy out on the wing and into the secondary running downhill on defensive backs, look out. Not every back has a knack for the screen game. I think Green does. His No. 1 challenge right now is to make a full recovery from knee reconstruction. I think it's amazing that he's come as far as he has in such a short time. That tells me football is important to him, and that's a very good thing. The fumbling issue will be resolved one way or the other. It's a fact of life in this league for running backs that they either stop fumbling or they don't play. Holding the ball high and tight has to become a habit, and developing proper habits requires time.

Cody from Carlisle, PA

Has Bishop had his surgery yet? And what is the state of House's injury?

Bishop has undergone surgery and House is giving his shoulder injury time to heal before a decision is made as to whether or not he'll need surgery on it.

D.J. from Bristol, WI

Vic, I just got all of my wisdom teeth removed, so I am low in the wisdom category now. Share some of the wisdom you have gained over the million years you have walked this earth.

OK, here's an undeniable fact from my time watching and writing about football: Whenever a coach wants his team to become more physical in its play, he turns to the running game. It's always been that way and it still is. The running game requires blocking and tackling. It requires that linemen come off the ball low, hard and together. It requires that everyone drop their pads, and being physical begins with proper pad level. When teams stop running the ball, they invariably play higher, and blocking and tackling suffer. As long as football is a physical game, there will always be a place for the running game. Its place is being diminished in value, but it will not be eliminated.

Ian from Fort Worth, TX

Are people forgetting the Lions in the 2008 preseason went 4-0, and then lost all their regular-season games?

Clearly, they peaked too early.

Vince from Las Vegas, NV

Any teams that match up well with the Packers you're looking forward to as the season's about to unfold? Other than our division foes, I'm excited how we match up with the 49ers.

Matchups? I don't know. The opening month of the season is a mine field. A win over the 49ers to begin the season would be huge and leave Packers fans feeling wonderful on Monday, Sept. 10, but they'll have to flip the switch quickly because the Bears come to town a few days later for a critical Thursday night game. Why is it critical? Because it's an NFC North game. All division games are critical. So, as we head into game three of the preseason, the likely last time the No. 1 offense and defense will get significant playing time before the Packers tee it up against the 49ers, I'm sure it would give us all peace of mind should the Packers play well in Cincinnati on Thursday. I think we all want to know this team is ready to go.

Paul from De Pere, WI

Seems to me the injury bug has bested Coach McCarthy, or that is what many of your emails suggest. From what I have seen, this coach turns circumstances into his advantage. That is my take on the preseason. It's not about one game, one snapshot; it's a body of work. When we are coming out of the first quarter of the season, then we can evaluate training camp. Would you agree?

That's an awfully measured and lucid opinion for this column. Nevertheless, you are correct. Injuries allow a team to build depth. Marshall Newhouse's injury necessitated finding a replacement at left tackle, and I think the Packers were in the process of doing that with Andrew Datko until he sustained a concussion on Sunday and is now out of action. Who will take advantage of the opportunity Datko's injury has provided? Desmond Bishop's injury provided an opportunity for D.J. Smith. James Starks' and Brandon Saine's injuries have clearly provided an opportunity for Cedric Benson. Davon House's injury has opened the door for Casey Hayward. The charm of replacing players lost to injury is that when they return to health, you've got depth. The numbers are now squarely in your favor. It's not a game of maintenance, it's a game of replacement. Good teams replace talent.

C.J. from Edinboro, PA

Vic, you've documented how you feel for the undrafted/late-pick player who gets cut and you know they might not play again. But do you feel worse for the journeyman veteran who gets cut?

His name is Reggie Harrison. He was a journeyman running back who blocked a punt in Super Bowl X; it was one of the big plays in that game. Reggie was a really good guy. He was one of those players you hated to see get cut. Well, one day I was walking back to the dormitory from the cafeteria when the PR guy stopped me to tell me Reggie had been cut. I walked directly to Reggie's dorm room. Hey, it was a story; one of the stars of the Super Bowl was cut. When I got to his room, I said, "Gee, Reggie, I'm sorry." He said, "About what?" Both of our hearts sunk. I quickly realized "The Turk" had yet to arrive. That's about as bad as I've ever felt covering this game.

Mike from Plover, WI

Vic, I haven't seen any sign of a pass rush, yet. Have you seen anything in camp that gives you hope? Pass rush is the key to the defense.

Erik Walden seems to be a forgotten guy on this team, and that's a mistake because he has had an outstanding camp.

Charlie from Misawa AB, Japan

What does an ideal guard look like in today's game?

A tackle.

James from Carlsbad, CA

I was wondering about the sixth WR spot. Who has been more impressive this preseason, Gurley or Borel?

Diondre Borel was having an exceptional training camp until he sustained a hamstring injury in the San Diego game. I thought Borel was on his way to winning the sixth WR spot, making a strong argument for keeping six wide receivers, when injury put him on the shelf. He returned to practice this week and he'll have two games to resume his pursuit of a roster spot. He's a guy I want to watch in these next two games.

Josh from Vermillion, SD

Who was the most interesting longshot, no-name player chasing his dream that you ever saw cut?

It's a guy named Rick Kirk, a ninth-round pick from Denison in 1979. What's interesting about Kirk is that he's the first guy I knew to create his own highlight film. He wasn't on the draft radar at all, until he created a highlight video of himself and sent it to select teams. It got him drafted. I can't remember if he was cut or quit, but those were the days of two-a-days in full pads every day for nearly nine weeks, and Denison had not prepared Kirk for the beating he was to take. I'll always remember him, however, for being the video man. Isn't it funny what we remember?

Andrew from Jacksonville, FL

Most first-year players are not ready to jump right into a large role on the team. The Packers draft-and-develop philosophy takes this into account and often keeps younger, raw, jars-on-the-shelf rather than a journeyman of similar skill. This time of year, right before cutdowns at the end of camp, I sometimes wonder if injuries are reported that may not actually have happened, in order to keep a developing player on the team's IR list and protect him from waivers. Is there any league system that verifies team injuries, especially at this time of year?

Once upon a time, what you're describing happened a lot, and everybody knew it was happening because everybody was doing it. I've told the story of a young defensive lineman with a knee injury. When we asked him about his injury, he put his hand on his right knee. When we said we thought it was his left knee, he said, "Yeah," and then put his hand on his left knee. Everybody laughed. If that happened now, there'd be a full-scale investigation and we'd call it "Kneegate." Do these things happen now? I doubt it. The league employs a medical examiner to oversee such tricks. Beyond that, all of these guys have some kind of injury that can legitimately put them on injured reserve.

George from Hutchinson, MN

Why are some people wanting the leather football laces to be made of synthetic material? What's next, foam footballs?

The synthetic laces controversy isn't doing it for me. I just can't get into it. Maybe I will at a later date but, frankly, I don't care what they use to lace up the ball. Controversy is a purely personal thing. For example, "Bountygate" has caused most fans to become enraged. I think it says something about my misshapen personality that it hasn't had that effect on me. "Spygate," however, really lit me up. So did the piped-in crowd noise stuff. Now I'm hearing rumblings about an extra frequency in a certain quarterback's helmet, and it's making me grit my teeth.

Jason from Reedsburg, WI

I have always been amazed that teams can shuffle players in and out on both sides of the ball. The shuffling is even greater during the preseason. How do players and coaches keep track of who should go in and who should be out so well?

It's all scripted and part of the game plan, which is presented to the players and for which they are responsible for executing. Coaches want players who are alert. When the personnel-package call is made on the sideline, players are expected to respond quickly and definitively.

Ryan from London, England

Whilst I am not worried about the Packers' form in the preseason, it seems a lot of people are worried. Have all the team's fans you've covered been this paranoid about the lottery that the preseason is?

Yes. They've also had a tendency to overreact to success.

Mike from Bussey, IA

Could part of the reason for the 0-2 preseason start relate to the other teams' increased emphasis on beating the team that went 15-1 last season? Granted, it's only preseason, but it appears a win against the Packers is still a feather in the cap.

If I'm the owner of a team that has difficulty selling tickets, and my team is playing the Packers in a preseason game, I'd likely express to my coach that beating the Packers would help sell tickets.

Blaine from Madison, WI

Can we expect Cedric Benson to play this Thursday? I am kind of excited to see what he can bring to this offense.

I'm expecting him to play and I, too, am interested to see what he can do for this team.

Marcone from Natal, Brazil

How do you think Sean Payton's absence could impact the Saints' performance?

The concern for a team with a lame-duck coach is a lack of accountability. In other words, if the coach is just temporary, then the players ultimately won't be accountable to him. In the Saints' case, the acting head coach might be interim, but Payton will be watching and the players know they will ultimately be accountable to him, so I doubt the lame-duck coach status fits here. They'll miss his presence, but this isn't something they can't overcome because, ultimately, he's still the coach and the coach is watching.

Mark from Moline, IL

After the extension signed by T.J. Lang last week, every interview I heard him in he mentioned straightening out his private life, but never expanded on what he did. Any info on your side?

No, I was surprised by that, too. I never figured Lang to be an after-hours guy. I want to hear more.

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