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Packers must buy time for defense to grow


Jeff from Agat, Guam

What's your secret, Vic? Some Green Bay fans think you're a homer, and others say you're too hard on the team.

I guess I'm a homer who's too hard on the team.

Nathan from Shakopee, MN

Can you explain the difference between a 4-3 linebacker and a 3-4 linebacker?

There's really no difference for three of the four linebackers in a 3-4. The two inside linebackers in a 3-4 are little more than middle and weakside linebackers in a 4-3, and one of the two outside linebackers in a 3-4 would be a strongside linebacker in a 4-3. The difference is the rushbacker in a 3-4. He would be a defensive end in a 4-3, except he's either too small to play with his hand down and tight to the tackle, or he's too good in space to waste those talents by putting him tight to the tackle. The rushbacker and the nose tackle are the two players that define the 3-4. One must labor in anonymity; the other must be a star.

Mark from Milwaukee, WI

In light of the news that Maurice Jones-Drew is willing to consider a trade offer, how do you feel an elite back like MJD would fit into the Packers lineup? What would it take to snag MJD?

Mo would fit in any backfield on any team because he can do it all. He can drop his pads and run between the tackles, and he can get out in space, catch the ball and make defenders miss. He's also one of the best pass-blockers I've ever covered; ask Shawne Merriman. Before Mo became too important to overuse as a kickoff returner, he was one of the game's best return men. He's the whole package, and he's tough, too; you don't win the NFL rushing title in any era by being soft. He plays hard, he plays well and he plays hurt. So why will there be a reluctance to trade for him? Because he wants a big contract and teams determine their salary cap structures in the offseason and tend to stick with those plans. In terms of the salary cap, Mo would fit best with one of those teams that played it safe during the uncapped year, 2010, and has an abundance of cap space it needs to eat up. I hope he patches his differences with the Jaguars. He's a great player.

Gil from Atlantic Beach, FL

Vic, who pays the travel expenses for NFL teams? Does the NFL pay for all travel, or does each individual team have that responsibility?

Each team pays its own travel expenses during the regular season. In the postseason, the NFL pays the travel expenses of the visiting teams.

Hansen from Waukesha, WI

Which players in the league would you say are the preseason favorites for defensive player of the year?

Jason Pierre-Paul immediately comes to mind. I think Clay Matthews is nicely positioned to challenge for the honor.

Mike from Schertz, TX

NFL coaches have a wide array of personalities. In your years of covering the game, who would you say had the most comical personality? Who was the most serious?

Two guys immediately come to mind: Bum Phillips and Don Coryell. They were fun guys to interview. I doubt that Bum ever told a lie, and he told the truth in a way that was entertaining. I wish we had more guys in the game like him. A fan once stole Bum's trademark cowboy hat off his head as the teams left the field, and Bum then made a public appeal for the fan to return his hat because it was Bum's favorite hat. The fan that took the hat then had the hat cleaned and blocked and returned it to Bum in a ceremony that made you feel good about the game. Coryell was one of those mad professors of offense. He was always deep in thought and wore a look on his face as though he just found a mouse in his soup. He was the antithesis of Bum, but I can remember a conference call with Coryell before a game when he was so surprised by the number of questions he was receiving and the level of exchange between himself and the reporters that he didn't want to end the call and asked reporters to ask more questions. "My conference calls usually don't last this long. This is fun," he said, and he sounded so innocently genuine. Most serious? Bart Starr would certainly qualify, and in a very good way. He was all about respect. He gave it to the media and he expected it in return. I've told this story before, so forgive me for telling it again, but it certainly fits what I'm trying to convey. During a conference call when he was the Packers' head coach, Starr asked that each of the reporters identify themselves by their name and their newspaper before asking their question. I was a young reporter and when it came time for me to ask my question, I identified myself and my newspaper, and he said, "Hi, Vic." I don't remember what my question was, but I remember Starr calling me by my first name. Strong personalities are a good thing. They help define the game. We need more of them.

Kent from Eagle Grove, IA

What is going on with all the rookie and second-year quarterbacks starting in the NFL? It's like experience doesn't matter.

There are a lot of things going on in this answer. First of all, the spread-offense craze in college football has decreased the supply of pro quarterback prospects. We are entering the era of the "New Age" quarterback in the NFL, and the game is being adapted to fit his talents. The quarterback position is of such importance that it has always been overdrafted, and that's been especially true in recent years. Quarterbacks that wouldn't have been drafted as high in previous eras are being drafted high in this era. Why? Because you have to have one and these are all there are. When they inevitably fail, they have to be replaced, so what we have is rookie quarterbacks replacing second- and third-year quarterbacks on whom the teams that drafted them have already quit. Once upon a time it was said that it takes five years to develop a starting quarterback. That kind of patience doesn't exist in today's game. So I think the primary answer to your question is that because the supply of legitimate pro quarterback prospects has been reduced by spread offenses, and because there's a growing lack of patience in today's game, the number of young starting quarterbacks is increasing.

Zach from Hartford, SC

Hey, Vic, just wondering how much the Packers are looking to get out of Cedric Benson.

I don't think there's an expectation or a ceiling for Benson at this point in time. He hasn't played in a game for the Packers, yet. Maybe we'll have a better idea of how he'll fit and what his role might be after Thursday's game. I'll tell you this: Third-and-one is one of the most critical plays in the game today, and teams are struggling more than ever to convert it. Why? Because the rules don't allow them to practice it. In my opinion, you can't practice converting short yardage if you can't hit in practice. The Packers didn't have a player among the league's top 35 third-and-one rushing leaders (that's as far as down as the stats page goes) last season. I think Benson is the kind of pads-down runner that can get that yard. If he does nothing more than that, he'll be worth his salary.

Sam from Swindon, UK

Do you think the Packers will ever be involved in the international games at Wembley Stadium?

It could happen in 2016, when the Packers will be next scheduled to play the Jaguars, provided the Packers were to be the visiting team in that game.

Ty from Roanoke, VA

I would be intrigued if you could enlighten me on your years covering the Steelers, Jaguars and now the Packers. What were the highlights of your times there?

I was a very young reporter covering the Steelers when they won four Super Bowls in six years. I was lucky and blessed to cut my teeth on a team loaded with personalities, all of whom were great with the media. They taught me how it should be. In Jacksonville, I was given the opportunity to see a franchise built from scratch. The highlights were many, but the upset win in Denver in the 1996 playoffs will always be No. 1. Unknown to the team, a crowd in the team's stadium was waiting in the middle of the night to welcome the Jaguars' return, and the pilot dipped the plane's wing to acknowledge the crowd as the team's charter flew overhead. I can still remember being low enough to see the fans' faces. The highlight of my short time in Green Bay has been the opportunity to observe the unique bond that exists between the Packers and their fans. This is truly a love affair; I've yet to hear a boo or a discouraging word. The fans at training camp are the most well-behaved fans I have ever seen. The other day, they applauded appreciatively and politely when practice ended. All of this has been an unexpected joy for someone whose only goal was to not spend the rest of his life working in that sintering plant.

James from Edmonton, AB

I think we might need to start our rookie cornerback. I was just wondering what your opinion was?

I can't remember a practice in this training camp that I haven't observed Casey Hayward doing something impressive. I can't imagine a rookie cornerback in the league having more passes-defensed in practice than Hayward has. I don't think you have to worry about Hayward being held back.

Rene from La Habra, CA

When the team roster gets cut to 75 this Monday, can they immediately start putting players on the practice squad that they would like to keep?

Players can't be assigned to a practice squad until after the cut to 53 and the players a team wishes to assign to its practice squad have cleared waivers. Remember, at all times, practice-squad players are free agents.

Hans from Front Royal, VA

Vic, do you think the Super Bowl season of 2010 and the 15-1 record last season have made fans a bit unrealistic in their expectations? I seem to sense an expectation of a dynasty in the making, which seems very presumptuous. Do you sense this?

That kind of sustained winning can spoil any team's fans. I think one of the reasons the Super Bowl XLV win was so glorious is because it came out of nowhere. Fans didn't have to bear the season-long pressure of high expectations because late in the year the Packers weren't likely to even make it into the playoffs. When you're 15-1 and you're home for the playoffs, you truly do expect to win and that's when the pressure can make the pursuit unenjoyable. We all need to fight off the urge to project. Just enjoy it, folks.

Paul from Salem, OR

You've probably covered many general managers and their press conferences over the years. Are all GMs as tight-lipped and guarded with the media as Ted?

Nowadays, I would say the answer is yes. It's very definitely a stealth business. In the old days, scouts were great talkers, but the nature of the business was such that scouts needed to use the media to acquire and advance information, so developing relationships with reporters was beneficial to both. Plus, pro football was still trying to sell itself on the American sports landscape. Back then, it wasn't a business of stealth as much as it was a business of intrigue. Scrutiny wasn't as intense, either. Times have changed. The personnel business is much more sophisticated these days, and the relationship with media can be more volatile.

Bill from Cypress, TX

How good will the Packers defense be this year?

By the end of the regular season, I think we'll all feel good about where this defense is. The question is: Can the Packers play well enough early to buy time for the young players on defense to develop?

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