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Midseason bye will be a breath of fresh air

There's greater balance in the Packers' 2017 schedule


Derek from Eau Claire, WI

What do you like and dislike about the schedule?

There's greater balance to this year's slate. It's a plus not having any extended road trips like last November. The Week 8 bye also will be a breath of fresh air for the Packers after being dealt Week 4 layoffs in 2013 and 2016. A few players made reference on Twitter Thursday night to how important that is. The Packers face a tough gauntlet early in the season and have three of their last four games away from Lambeau Field, but the general layout should allow the team to get into a better rhythm than last year.

Josh from Desert Hot Springs, CA

What do you think will be the toughest game? Which came by most surprise? Which are you most excited to see?

After being in Minnesota for the opening of U.S. Bank Stadium last year, I'd imagine it's going to be a raucous crowd for the Falcons' opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Two things surprised me – ending the regular season again in Detroit and no Thanksgiving game this year. I was mentally prepared for that. I'm most excited for the Pittsburgh game in primetime.

Nathan from Baltimore, MD

The schedule-maker has given us a season finale for the NFC North title four years in a row (five if you count 2012 at the Vikings, which wasn't for the division title but had major playoff implications). Do you think it will come down to Packers-Lions again this year?

The NFL altered the schedule process in 2010 to have division teams square off in Week 17 and create more drama. Time will tell what the exact scenarios will be, but the Packers' Week 16 and 17 games against Minnesota and Detroit likely will have major implications. That's been the case in the NFC North over the last five years.

Ryan from Madison, WI

Well Wes, my initial thought on the schedule is we're going through a meat-grinder the first seven weeks of the season, but the good news is all of those teams are just as worried about playing the Packers.

It appears to be a very challenging slate early on. At the same time, weren't the Packers supposed to have the "easiest" schedule in 2016? The Cowboys, Giants and Falcons quickly changed that narrative. We'll see what each team looks like once the regular season starts. On paper, the Packers should be battle-tested by the bye.

Allen from Birmingham, AL

So we're opening with Seattle. Now they have Eddie Lacy and we have Christine Michael. This reminds me of growing up playing backyard football and swapping players if the teams were unbalanced.

It is funny how that worked out with the Packers drafting Lacy at No. 61 and then the Seahawks taking Michael No. 62 overall in 2013. That matchup also will feature the Bennett brothers playing each other. The Packers-Seahawks matchup has been riveting to watch the past few years. I would expect nothing different in 2017.

Josh from Denver, CO

Does seeing the schedule order have any influence over who a team drafts?

I doubt it.

Joe from Appleton, WI

The only non-QB to throw a pass in the Rodgers era was punter Tim Masthay. I remember telling my friend before the fourth-and-26 play, "You know, they probably wouldn't expect a fake here." One of the greatest fake field goals I can remember.

That pass to Crabtree on the fake field goal is still one of my favorite memories from my time on the beat. The Bears never saw it coming. It was the perfect play and execution.

Darrell from San Antonio, TX

Edge pass-rusher should be the top priority in Round 1. However, if Sidney Jones is still available when we pick in Round 2, is he worth taking at that spot knowing he may not play until late in the season or in 2018?

It depends on what the prognosis is for his Achilles. That's a tough injury. Like Jaylon Smith last year, NFL teams will need to gain as much information as possible to determine what his long-term forecast looks like. If there are no huge red flags, you can't argue with his talent. He was one of my favorite players coming out of the combine.

Ana from Brasilia, Brazil

I loved the videos showing the players back, great to see them healthy and (apparently) happy to be practicing again. Clay Matthews looked great; he was missed last year, when his injury not only kept him from playing, but also from being the energetic leader he seems to be on the field. Did you guys have the same impression?

My biggest takeaway from Matthews' meeting with the media this week is his shoulder injury didn't require surgery. That's vital for his participation in the offseason program. The Packers are banking on that Matthews and Nick Perry combination to lead the pass rush. When both are healthy, there are few better combos in the NFL.

Braden from Brookfield, WI

What all happens at the offseason program? Is this when players get the new playbook?

The offseason program runs in three phases. The first consists of two weeks of strength and conditioning, and physical rehabilitation. The second phase is three weeks long and may include individual player instruction and drills with no "live" contact or offense vs. defense. That's when I believe players receive playbooks. The third phase is four weeks long and includes organized team activities and minicamp.

Jay from Land O Lakes, FL

In last year's draft there was a plethora of D-lineman available and we picked one because B.J. Raji left. This year there is an abundance of cornerbacks and Sam Shields left. Logic says we pick a corner No. 1. Agree or do you think we should wait on a corner because there are so many?

I did a speaking engagement with Pro Football Weekly's Hub Arkush earlier this week. He believes there are six or seven first-round caliber cornerbacks in this draft and I don't disagree with him. History has proven nobody knows what Ted Thompson is thinking on draft night, but there likely will be an available cornerback worth taking at 29.

Dale from Dodgeville, WI

With the draft coming soon, I'm wondering with what you have heard as to which side of the ball is Ted looking to bolster the most? Is Ted done with free agency?

If Ted has made up his mind on who he's picking next Thursday, he has yet to slip it into my mailbox. Eight picks give him plenty of ammunition to address both sides of the ball. Free agency never ends, though unrestricted free agents no longer count towards the compensatory process after May 12. That could spur some more signings throughout the league.

Andrew from San Diego, CA

Were there any players you can think of who went on to have successful NFL careers who had the dubious distinction of Mr. Irrelevant?

I'm going to go with current Titans kicker Ryan Succop, the 256th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. Kid's got a leg.

Phil from Tampa, FL

T.J. Watt. No Matter What.

Jot it down after breakfast and slip it in your pocket. That's what legends like Sonny Weaver do.

Gunars from Ames, IA

I know it is early, but if you had to guess the order of depth chart for the Packers at TE, what would it be?

The Packers will need all of them if the offense is going to accomplish what it's out to accomplish. Martellus Bennett, Richard Rodgers and Lance Kendricks each bring something different to the table.

Don from Cedar Rapids, IA

Can you please clearly explain what an offensive "pick" is? Is contact with a defensive player required for an illegal pick? Is there such a thing as a "legal" pick? Do officials usually just call blatant picks or are there more subtle versions than can be called?

As former V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino explains it, an illegal pick occurs when a receiver seeks out a defender more than a yard downfield and makes contact with the intention to block the defensive back in press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. Determining whether contact is intentional can be subjective, but that's up to the judge and field judge to decide.

Lucas from Stevens Point, WI

I was reading up a bit on Ethan Pocic out of LSU. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, he may be a little large for an interior lineman, but he knows tackle, guard, and center (#Oxford). Versatility seems to be key to our O-lineman. I'd keep an eye out for a late-round flyer on him.

The Packers value across-the-line versatility. It also seems NFL teams are becoming less and less concerned with guards being too tall for the position. All they want to know is whether the lineman shows enough knee bend and uses proper leverage to play inside.

Joachim from Kassel, Germany

Do any Packers players, past or present, have a personal connection with England or anywhere else in Europe?

This question actually was included in a postcard I received at the office this week. Thank you for the kind words, Joachim. We appreciate you following our coverage and hope to be in London someday soon. I don't know of any direct connections to Europe, but I know a few players, including Bryan Bulaga, are fans of the Premiership. Davante Adams also took a trip to Paris this offseason where he recorded an awesome workout video on Instagram.

Malte from Odense, Denmark

Do you guys read all of the hundreds of questions you get each day, or just read until you have found 20 good ones? And how long does it take for you guys to write one column?

I'm pretty sure Spoff reads them all. I'm probably batting 80 percent. On my Inbox morning, I usually try to read all of the new submissions since Spoff's or Vic's post.

Paul from New Richmond, WI

With A.J. Hawk retired now, in my opinion, he is a sure thing for the Packers Hall of Fame. I remember when he was drafted, he was regarded as a "safe pick" which this team needed at the time. What is the criteria to make the PHOF?

I'm not a part of the selection process for the Packers Hall of Fame, but there's no doubt in my mind Hawk will get in. I believe there will be a lot of good players from the past 10 years who will probably be joining him in the decades to come. There isn't a set criteria for induction, but his resume (nine seasons in Green Bay and all-time leading tackler) certainly qualifies him.

Chris from New Canaan, CT

An A.J. Hawk story. It was Sept. 13, 2009, first game of the season, Packers beat the Bears, 31-23. Prior to the game, my three kids and I put on our No. 50 jerseys (yes, we have four of them in the family), took a picture and watched the game. I liked the picture, blew it up, and sent it to A.J., in care of the Packers with a note and return envelope asking if he would please autograph it and send it back to me. Kids were all excited; I was excited. Then, nothing ... for months. Huge disappointment. About three weeks after the end of the season, an envelope posted marked with an Ohio city address I did not recognize appears in the mailbox. I open it up, and there it is. A.J. autographed the picture, addressing it to each of my kids. We were elated. In retrospect, made sense that he was focused on football. But when the season was over, he came through with a keepsake that we treasure and ceremoniously affix to our refrigerator before the start of each season. In our minds, he never left Green Bay. Delighted to see he is retiring as a Packer. Thank you No. 50!

That's a neat story. Thanks for sharing. Hawk was one of a kind.

Etienne from Sainte Anne des Monts, Gaspe Coast

Insiders, I've been waiting 30-plus years for the high-speed internet. I finally got it and my computer can't handle it. It makes me feel like doing a Gronk spike with it.

Hang in there, Etienne.

Bart from Chicago, IL

Rocky ran the steps. The east side of the building has three separate sets of steps. If Vic, Mike, and Wes would run the steps, who would win?

The onlookers.

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