Letters To LeRoy Butler


LeRoy, what do you think has been the key to the suddenly improving defensive line play? Early in the season it appeared the D-line might be a weakness all year, but now they stepped it up. - Bob (Milwaukee, WI)

I think there are several factors that have led to the improvement of the defensive line. First of all, the midseason acquisitions of Grady Jackson and Larry Smith have given the D-line more playmaking ability and increased depth.

Also, Aaron Kampman missed a few games early but is healthy now and is playing a huge role.

Most of all, the new guys and the old guys have been together for enough time now that they're really starting to play as one unit.

Also, defensive line coach Jethro Franklin is doing a good job of subbing guys in and out to keep them fresh, and that helps too, especially when you have an injured player like Gilbert Brown playing through pain week after week.

What steps will the Packer defense need to take to stop phenom LaDainian Tomlinson? How similar is his style to Ahman Green? - Bob (Shorewood, WI)

Let's compare the two runners first: Ahman Green runs with more power and probably has a better cutting ability, while LaDainian Tomlinson does the bulk of his damage with his outstanding speed.

There's also a difference in how the running backs are used. San Diego's entire offense is built around Tomlinson, who is also asked to make a lot of plays in the passing game -- that's why he leads the AFC in total yards.

But it's hard to suggest that Green isn't the key to the Packers offense this year, too. However the Packers have won more games than the Chargers because they have more weapons after Green than the Chargers do after Tomlinson.

As far as stopping L.T., the Packers will use eight-man fronts in running situations and rely on the speed of their linebackers to track Tomlinson down in the passing game.

Ed Donatell will also add some new wrinkles that the Chargers haven't seen yet...but I can't reveal those.

Hi Leroy!!! Any time you beat the Bears it is a great win. It's been great reading your column this year. We all hope you continue it in the future. I was wondering if you could comment on how hard it is for a defensive back to have a short memory and forget about the last play. It seems that is what Mike McKenzie did Sunday. - Ben (Eau Claire, WI)

For a cornerback, it's a two-way street. You want to remember the play that you got beat on to learn from it, but you don't want to let it affect your confidence or cause you to doubt your natural instincts.

You're right: Mike McKenzie got beat on the touchdown play to Marty Booker, but put it out of his mind so he could remain focused on the tasks at hand and responded with two interceptions.

If you worry about the previous play, it doesn't help you. In fact, it's like getting beat twice.

Every time you line up, you have to expect that you're going to win the battle. Otherwise you've already lost.

It seems that Donald Driver hasn't been used as the No. 1 receiver this year. He was the go-to guy last year for third-and-long plays or for long bombs down the field. But after his injury early in the season, Driver's number seems to have been called less. Have the passing schemes changed or are the coaches and/or Donald himself playing conservatively because of the prior injury? - Sue (Bethesda, MD)

I know it might look like the Packers are using Driver differently this year because his numbers are down compared to 2002, but it has nothing to do with the injury in Week 1.

First of all, the Packers are just passing less than they did last season. They're a running team now and Driver continues to block well in the running game and run aggressive routes as a receiver.

The difference is that the opposition knows that Driver is a Pro Bowl talent, so they're shifting coverages his way.

There were a few times in the Chicago game where Favre looked to Driver first, but he had double coverage so he went to Robert Ferguson or Javon Walker.

On the one hand, the Packers do need to find a way to get Driver the football so he can make plays. But unlike the Minnesota Vikings, who often force the ball to Randy Moss, the Packers feel they can do just as much damage with Ferguson and Walker.

Look for the Packers to move Driver around, putting him in motion or lining him up in the slot, to get him more involved. But remember that the Packers only have one football to move around.

The Packers just need to make plays. It doesn't matter who makes them.

How come the Packers won't use Antonio Freeman? After all isn't he one of Brett Favre's favorite receivers? - Ali (Wilmette, IL)

Going back to the Chicago game, it was actually amazing Antonio Freeman was even on the field. He was very sick last week with a case of the flu, but still managed to gut it out and made the first reception of the day.

But, like I said in the previous answer, you have to remember the Packers only have so many passes to spread around.

Brett Favre has actually thrown a few interceptions this season when he's tried to force it to Freeman, so at this point they have to take what's there in the offense.

Make no mistake, Freeman can still make plays. But more plays for Freeman means fewer passes to guys like Driver, Ferguson and Walker.

How does Coach Sherman address the issue of false start penalties? They seem to be happening a lot. I would like to think he gets all over you guys for making fundamental errors. - Bob (Hilbert, WI)

The Packers make note of false starts throughout the week, but they get an extra examination on Saturday walkthroughs.

If the Packers had young players on the offensive line, I'd be more concerned, but they've got a great group of veterans and when they make mistakes it's just a mental thing.

Sometimes players just anticipate the snap count a bit or react accidentally to even the slightest movement by a defensive player. The Packers were lucky the false start penalties didn't hurt them too much last week, but I don't see it being a major problem.

Yes, Sherman will address it.

LeRoy, when do you think we will get a kicker who can put the ball in the end zone instead of the 10- to 15-yard line every single kick? That is before the returner runs it back another 20 to 25 yards. Isn't field position important? - David (Las Vegas)

Field position is important, but after the Chicago game the last thing you should be complaining about is Ryan Longwell's distance on kickoffs.

First of all, that kickoff return for a touchdown had nothing to do with Longwell's kick. Secondly, Chicago's Paul Edinger wasn't exactly driving the ball into the end zone either.

Kicking in Lambeau Field is tough. I've played with Longwell and I can promise you that all the guys on that team would rather have an automatic field goal kicker than a guy who puts it deep on kickoffs.

Some teams can afford to have two kickers, but that's eating up a valuable roster spot. The Packers already have two specialists in Antonio Chatman and Rob Davis. With only 45 guys on the game-day roster, there isn't room for another one.

You're just going to have to live with the fact that Longwell doesn't have the biggest leg in football. But he does have one of the most accurate ones. If not for that, the Packers might have lost to Chicago.

You have to keep it in perspective. Also, only four NFC teams have more stops inside the 20-yard line on kickoff returns than the Packers' 8.

Why do you think Coach Sherman called a timeout as the clock was about to expire in the first half? His call gave the Bears an extra chance to score, but luckily Darren Sharper was able to intercept the ball in LeRoy Butler-style fashion. This seems a risky call, as we all remember the famed Hail Mary from Kordell Stewart against Michigan. What was Sherman thinking? - Eric (Madison, WI)

Coach Sherman addressed this in his post-game press conference. He was simply trying to be aggressive and see if the Packers could block a Chicago punt like they did at Soldier Field this year.

However, the plan almost backfired. Coach Sherman admitted it was a mistake and a risky call.

The good news is Sharper came up with the interception and nearly broke it for a touchdown.

LeRoy, I lived in Ashwaubenon in the special years of 1995-1997. As a resident it was always an honor to see the players at local places (grocery stores, car washes, restaurants, movies, malls, etc.). From a professional athlete's view, did this make life harder or easier knowing that you were always in the "fishbowl"? Finally, what road stadium did you enjoy to play at the most/least? Thanks and GO PACK! - Jon (La Crosse, WI)

I'm a pretty personable guy, so for me living in the fishbowl wasn't hard at all. Of course it helped that I was living in a special place like Green Bay, where you know the fans always have your back.

One of the bad things about football is that we play the game with helmets on. For me, I though it was great when I could talk to fans and let them see my personality a little bit.

Many times I enjoyed meeting them as much as they enjoyed meeting me.

In fact, in my book, The LeRoy Butler Story, I describe how a few fans rescued me from a ditch after my car slid off the road in a storm. In other NFL cities, fans might have just left me there, but not in Green Bay.

As for NFL stadiums, I always enjoyed playing the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park, probably because it was such a great rivalry and we won the majority of those games there.

As far as my least favorite stadiums to play in, that would probably be at Minnesota and at Oakland.

Playing the Vikings was tough because the Metrodome gets so loud, especially with the music they play right behind the bench.

At Oakland it's tough to concentrate because the fans throw things at you and yell things that have nothing to do with the football game. It's pretty nasty out there.

Thank goodness I didn't have to leap into the arms of Raiders fans!

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to Packers.com with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website, leroybutler36.com.*

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