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It ain't easy to be a perennial playoff team

The future of the NFL is in the middle of the field


Ben from Menomonee Falls, WI

Last year the offense seemed to struggle when Jared Cook was injured, but when he came back the offense was on fire. The Patriots have always had dominant TEs. Do you think the addition of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks will help the Pack get over the hump and make it to the Super Bowl?

The issues early in the season were bigger than just one player. Along with Cook's absence, Jordy Nelson wasn't back to form yet and the running game was riddled by injuries. Still, everything seemed to click once Cook was back on the field. He made life easier on everyone with the pressure he placed on defenses. I expect the trio of Bennett, Kendricks and Richard Rodgers to make a similar impact. The future of the NFL is in the middle of the field.

John from Bloomington, MN

McCarthy talks about attacking the middle of the field on offense. Is it the same thing for defense? We got stronger on paper in my opinion replacing Julius Peppers and Datone Jones during passing downs with bigger men to push the pocket like Mike Daniels, Clark, Lowry and rookie Adams. We also added better blitz options from ILB near the line of scrimmage with Burnett/Jones. If we get better at CB look out! Or am I too much of an optimist?

It works both ways. You have to be able to attack the middle of the field and also defend it, which is why the Packers have put such a heavy emphasis on tight ends and safeties in recent years. Not only can Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett be valuable on the back end, but they also hover in the box. It's the way the league is trending.

Matt from West Bend, WI

Who will most likely be the Packers' most productive pass-rusher?

Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are the two easy answers, but I'm curious to see how the Packers choose to deploy them. Do you start them across from each other or rotate the young outside linebackers next to each of them? I'm sure Dom Capers will do both, but the ratio will be key.

Dean from Leavenworth, IN

McCarthy said last week he thought the quality and depth at OLB might be the best he has seen with the Packers. I'm skeptical. Matthews, Perry, Elliott, and Biegel seem to top the list. I'd guess there might be a couple more spots available and I see a huge opportunity for Reggie Gilbert. I'm not sure who the other candidates are and who have you seen that might make a big splash?

Fackrell's added weight should help. He looks more comfortable in the 250-pound range. His frame**screams a 3-4 outside linebacker**. Elliott is a guy I expect to take a significant jump with more playing time. He needs to stay healthy, but everyone has seen the flashes. The Packers don't have established vets such as Julius Peppers and Mike Neal on the depth chart, but there's reason to believe this group could be a strength for the defense. Keep in mind all the years the Packers were forced to start undrafted free agents at outside rusher.

Matthew from Fort Collins, CO

Josh Jones is drawing a lot of early comparison to Micah Hyde because of his versatility in the defensive backfield. It seems that Jones brings a more specialized skill set to the table with his tenacity, athleticism, and size where he can be used similar to Deone Bucannon, Su'a Cravens, and other safety/linebacker hybrids across the league. Thoughts on this, and the growing popularity of that position? It is one of the most exciting positions in football in my opinion.

I'm always careful with drawing comparisons between two players, but I see what you're saying. Hybrid players are all the craze these days. It's exciting and brings a new wrinkle to the game. At the same time, it's important to keep expectations modest for a rookie like Josh Jones. Before he can run at every position, Jones needs to learn how to crawl at his primary spot. You have to like his eagerness, though. He's doing all the right things.

Jay from Land O'Lakes, FL

The most surprising thing by far in the 2016 season was the sudden demise of Carolina and Arizona, despite strong rosters and previous success. Will either AZ or Carolina make the playoffs and win a game this season?

I didn't anticipate either the Panthers or Cardinals falling as far as they did, but there always seems to be at least one Super Bowl contender that drops out of the playoff picture for one reason or another each year. That's kind of the beauty of what New England and Green Bay have accomplished. It ain't easy to be a perennial playoff team.

Vincent from Seattle, WA

While covering the Packers, who was the best UDFA you covered for the team?

It's a toss-up between Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. If forced to choose, I'd say Williams because he was such a wonderful underdog story. You want to talk about a completely self-made man? This guy started as a walk-on at Louisiana Tech, working toward a computer science degree. After starting on the practice squad, Williams turned into one of the team's greatest success stories.

Matt from Fort Collins, CO

2016 produced some truly special moments. One that stuck out to me was against Washington when Aaron Rodgers nearly got his helmet ripped off by Su'a Cravens, scrambled, and delivered a strike to Jordy for a TD. Even though we got thoroughly stomped in that game, it was the last loss before the historic late-season run. To me, that play showed a familiar spark from Rodgers that signaled something magical was on the horizon.

The Week 11 game in Washington was a turning point. It was the game where Cook produced 100 yards in his first game back from a two-month layoff. While the rally fell short, the Packers' offense started looking like itself again. Looking back, you can see why Rodgers talked about the team's potential to "run the table" after that game. Pieces were in place for a late-season comeback.

Brandon from West Allis, WI

First off, thank you to all the Insiders, your columns are great all year but especially great for helping get through the offseason. My question is what FA signing do you think will have the most impact this year?

Davon House. He has all the physical tools to carve out a significant role on the defense this year, but his experience and leadership will be invaluable for those young cornerbacks. As Joe Whitt said, he's already been helping young cornerbacks study at the team hotel. It's not just the young guys, either. He was talking after a red-zone period with Martellus Bennett during practice last week.

Jerry from Kansas City, MO

Given what you know of Jordy's skill set, do you see him having a drop off like Jennings, or playing well late into his career like Driver?

Barring injury, I expect Nelson to play at a high level for a number of years. His versatility should allow him to be effective well into his 30s, especially with how passing games are evolving.

Doug from Eugene, OR

One of the great luxuries us fans have is the "sentimental favorite" player. Donald Driver's story made him my favorite Packer during his time, then James Jones' story caught me and he was my favorite for years. Eddie Lacy's story of the list he had tacked on his wall, "how to get out" of the circumstances. With our incoming draft class this year, are there any great personal stories for us sentimental types?

My favorite part about the incoming rookie class is all the stories that come with it. Be sure to check out**Spoff’s story**on Devante Mays if you missed it. If you also have time, I wrote about Aaron Jones'**unique upbringing in football**alongside his fraternal twin brother, Alvin.

Matthew from New Berlin, WI

In regards to the discussion around the 90-man cutdown, wouldn't keeping players that you are sure you won't keep stop other young players from seeing a number of valuable reps?

There's plenty of reps to go around during the last week of camp with most teams not playing their starters during the final preseason game. This gives undrafted free agents and players on the bubble another game to show NFL teams what they can do. It's a positive for all parties involved.

Richard from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

Enjoy your chats and really liked the discussion on the all-time Packer QB list. Noticed that Tobin Rote received no mention. His stats weren't great, but he was dynamic in his own way. Rote, Howton and Dillon helped keep the team competitive in the miserable '50s.

I debated mentioning Rote when I singled out Dickey and Isbell for the fifth spot on that list. I'm partial to Isbell because of what he accomplished with Hutson during a time in which nobody was throwing the ball like Green Bay. I still maintain he would've been a Hall of Famer if he hadn't stepped away from the game so early. While the '80s Packers had their ups and downs, the offenses were prolific with Dickey at the wheel. You give credit where it's due, though. Rote provided a little silver lining during a tumultuous decade.

Joe from Milwaukee, WI

I enjoy listening to the position coaches speak and am fond of what Joe Whitt Jr. has to say. My fear is he will eventually take a head coaching job elsewhere. Are there any Green Bay coaches/assistants that you could see becoming a head coach in the future?

There are several coaches on this current staff who could be head coaches in the NFL or college someday, including Whitt. What I appreciate about Whitt is how candid he is in his responses, but he does it in a respectful manner that encourages development and growth. On the field, Whitt's track record with late-round and undrafted free agents speaks for itself.

Lucas from Stevens Point, WI

With all the worry about OLB depth, what are your thoughts on Joe Thomas moving outside in an emergency situation? Of course, we don't want to expect this, but hypothetically speaking. He seems to be able to turn speed into power extremely well. I think he'd be interesting to watch on the outside.

*Thomas is an inside linebacker in this defense. He showed last year he can blitz on occasion, but you typically want those outside backers to be at least 250 pounds to defeat 320-pound tackles. *

Tony from Appleton, WI

I had the privilege of meeting Johnnie Gray last night at the bar I work at. My brother was his bartender. He seemed like a very nice guy. Any stories on him you can share?

I don't have any great Johnnie Gray stories, but he is genuinely one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. He's also a brilliant football mind. He can contextualize the game incredibly well.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

Brett Favre comes out of college in 2017 instead of 1991. Do you think his style of play would be different? Would his gunslinger mentality work in today's game?

Absolutely. His arm talent, competitiveness and durability would make him a Hall of Famer in any era. I think he also showed in 2009 the ability to protect the football when needed. There will never be another Brett Favre.

Gordon from Newport Beach, CA

Who is the "football-smartest" player you have witnessed?

Aaron Rodgers or Charles Woodson.

Steve from Minocqua, WI

In yesterday's column, Vic said, "Football movies stink." I agree. The best football movie ever was "North Dallas Forty" and that's really not saying much.

*Vic raised many fine and valid points, but there are several football movies I still enjoy. *

Kent from Appleton, WI

Vic, your neighbor didn't pass on you. He was waiting for value and need to meet. You were off the board by that time. Never fall in love with a guy, even if he's the neighbor kid.

I can relate. I typically played the role of an undrafted free agent whenever it came to drafting teams when I was a kid. I've carried a chip on my shoulder ever since.

John from Smithwick, FL

Being just a couple years older than Vic and growing up near Akron, I can relate to you about being snubbed in your Little League draft. So was I. In fact, after the draft I was sent to the minor leagues. Can you believe our little league had a minor league? Now that is something I will never forget.

I never realized there was such a thing. All right folks, Spoff has a few extra things on his plate this week, so you'll get another dose of me Wednesday. Look forward to seeing y'all then.

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