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Players, game must both be protected


Jon from Lynchburg, VA

You've commented that McCarthy has assembled a good coaching staff. There are 20 listed. Does the NFL limit the number of coaches? How many assistants did Lombardi and the teams of old have before so much specialization?

Vic: The NFL doesn't limit the size of coaching staffs and, yes, they have grown exponentially through the years from the size of staffs during the Lombardi years, which was about seven or eight coaches, which included the head coach. In those days, position coaches would often double as offensive and defensive coordinators, and there were no special teams coaches, strength coaches, assistant to the position coach or quality-control coaches. It's all a matter of keeping up with the Joneses. Head coaches are vigilant about not being outworked.

Roger from Cherryville, NC

Trading draft spots to position your pick where value and need meet seems difficult doing it on the fly on draft day. What are the processes, considerations, challenges, etc? Is there any advance communication, negotiation or whatever that is part of the process?

Vic: Personnel directors are all trying to do the same thing: Fit themselves to the pick they wish to make. They've all targeted guys they'd like to draft, but some of those guys may not fit where they're picking and that's where they're going to need help to move up or down so they can pick that guy where he fits. In cases where the team's pick is too high for the player they've targeted, the team will need to trade back. Remember, we're not just talking about recouping the value of your pick, we're talking about money. You don't wanna pay a guy according to a slot at which he doesn't fit. So if you want help moving around in the order, you've got to be willing to give help, too, and that's why you'll see that certain teams seem to trade with the same teams every year. The personnel departments have developed relationships and they help each other move to where they need to be.

George from Aracatuba, Sao Paulo

I've noticed a lot more helmets coming off players' heads. Is that because of the new helmet design?

Vic: I've talked to players and equipment people about that and the answer seems to be that it's a result of the helmets being oversized. It's not that the helmets don't fit properly, it's that their size and weight make them easier to knock off. I have a feeling that, given the huge concern for protecting the head, we're going to see changes in helmet design. I have no information along those lines; that's just a thought.

Dan from Raleigh, NC

Vic, you're a romantic. Sorry to break the news to you.

Vic: Yes, I tend to have a romantic view toward football. I don't like comparisons to war or battle – that's why I don't like the term "pro combat" – but I find great romance in the courage and valor required to play this game. I'll always treasure the old days, when training camp was long and live – two-a-days in full pads every day – and young men chasing a dream lived in fear of the "Turk." Cutdown days were some of the best writing days of my life. There was always a kid who had a story. They are stories I'll never forget.

Bob from DeMotte, IN

Maybe I'm from the old school, but I thought a college diploma was essential. I know players have a hard time to pass up all that money, but I believe a player should not be eligible for the draft until he has finished college. What are your thoughts?

Vic: Even when it was like that, it wasn't like that. I'll explain: When I started covering the league, the rule was that a player wasn't eligible for the draft until he had completed his college eligibility or, if he wasn't playing college football, until four years after his high school class graduated. A good name to look up and read about is Cookie Gilchrist, who went from high school to the Cleveland  Browns but had his contract with the Browns voided. Anyhow, I liked the old rule because I thought it protected college football and the player. I thought it was good for everybody, including the game. That rule, however, didn't include in any way shape or form any language about getting a college diploma. It was common for players, even back then, not to have graduated from college when they began their pro careers.

Deighton from Waterloo, IA

Do you think what Rodger Goodell is doing to the game is a positive or a negative for the future of the NFL?

Vic: It's something that has to be done. Commissioner Goodell is just the guy that came around at the wrong time; the measures that are being taken are unpopular but necessary. If we don't make these changes, we're going to lose the young players to soccer and other sports. No mother wants her child to participate in an unnecessarily dangerous sport.

Michael from Omaha, NE

Do you think the NFL will ever be able to take the ethical high ground on injuries? I believe the league has a positive and serious agenda but I also fear that at its core football's contact nature may never be appropriately addressed with simple rules changes. What are your thoughts?

Vic: Ethical high ground? I think the league is doing everything it can to protect its players without sacrificing the integrity of the game. It angers me when I hear players accuse the league of being hypocritical. So, what has the NHL done for its players? The NHL has a real head-injury issue right now. One of its two brightest stars has been lost for most of the season due to a head injury. There are concerns for his career. Head injuries in the NHL have become every bit the issue they are in the NFL, but the NHL has done little to protect its players. It has elected to continue to allow head shots. Ethical high ground? Yeah, I think the NFL has taken it and I think the players should thank the league for trying to protect them from injury and, in the process, lengthen their careers.

John from Austin, TX

I think the strategy of kicking off high and short would have been much more attractive had the proposal to return touchbacks to the 25 been adopted. Keeping it at the 20, I think most coaches will be satisfied with a boot into the end zone.

Vic: I agree. I was surprised they didn't move the touchback line out to the 25, to help discourage beer-can kicks (nonreturnable). Then, after I thought about it, it dawned on me that the league might be attempting to use kickoffs as an experiment in player protection. In other words, how many injuries will be avoided by decreasing the number of kickoffs returned and how might that be applied in other ways?

John from West Bend, WI

What is it that separates Ted Thompson and his staff from others in the NFL at evaluating talent? Or what is it that Ron Wolf taught this group that puts them a step ahead on draft day?

Vic: I think you're accurate when you say "evaluating talent." That's where the difference lies; it's not in the picking, it's in the evaluating. Obviously, the Packers have a top staff of evaluators. We know that because the Packers have done so well in the late rounds; that's where the depth of your personnel staff shows itself. I've been here less than two months so I'm not qualified to make a sweeping analysis of the Packer way, but Ted Thompson and John Dorsey and their scouts seem to ascribe to something in which I heartily believe: You find football players where you find football players. That means you find them at Iowa and Buffalo and Bethune-Cookman. You find them in the Big Ten, the SEC, the PAC-10 and at all of the little schools in all of the little conferences across the country. When I see a team dip into the same school or the same conference repeatedly, I'm suspicious of its thoroughness. You don't draft the school or the conference, you draft the player, and there are good players all over America.

Nathan from Khost Province, Afghanistan

Being a huge fan of the Packers, I often tell people Don Hutson was the best wide receiver ever (and not too bad of a safety, either). Game for game he has better stats than any receiver who played the game. Despite the lack of game film because of the time he played in, why do so-called expert commentators fail to give the late legend the respect he deserves?

Vic: It's because they didn't see him play. The feeling is that if it didn't happen in my lifetime, then it couldn't have been any good. I never saw Hutson play but if you do any homework on him, I think you have to acknowledge that he might've been able to play in any era. Let's start with this: At 6-1, 183, he had the size to play in any era. That's the first thing I look at when trying to decide if an old-timer could've played today. Jim Thorpe, for example, was 6-1, 202. What do you think he would've looked like given today's training regimens and techniques?

Cory from Ashland, WI

If there is no resolution to the CBA issue before April 28th, how much different do you see the draft with an inability to trade players for picks?

Vic: Most of the trades are picks for picks, and that won't change. I don't see any reason for doing anything differently. In fact, I think any team that changes its draft or scouting philosophy as a reaction to the lack of a CBA would risk regret. How can you change something when you don't even know what the future will be? If ever the philosophy of picking the best available player should apply, this is the year, if there's no CBA in place at draft time.

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