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Rodgers always finds his edge


Alex from Centreville, VA

After reading your article, I was wondering what your stance is on coaches' apparel on the sidelines. Personally, I prefer the old Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi in a suit to Belichick and his hoodie.

I'd like to see the head coaches have more freedom to dress as they please, which would require Nike to offer a head coach's line of clothing for the Landry/Lombardi types. You can't have an exclusive apparel contract with a company such as Nike and then have the head coach wear the apparel of another manufacturer; I understand that. I'm not offended by Bill Belichick's hoodie. If that's what fits his personality, then I want to see it. If another coach wants to wear a coat and tie – I always thought Dan Reeves was the best-dressed coach in the game – then I want to see that, too. I would love to see Reeves standing on one sideline in a coat and tie and Belichick on the other sideline in his hoodie. I think it would make for a stark contrast and I really do believe variety is the spice of life. Frankly, I think the NFL's sideline gear could use a little seasoning.

Jeff from Janesville, WI

If the Packers keep both of the suspended players, will they count against the 53-man roster on Week 1?

They won't count against the 53 until they have been cleared to play and the Packers have brought them back from the "reserve/suspended" list.

Kylon from Ipan Talofofo, Guam

Vic, who would you say was the greatest play-action fake quarterback?

Boomer Esiason.

Justin from Rochester, MN

I remember reading back in 2009 how Aaron Rodgers' biggest knock coming out of college was his arm strength, and how much he worked to get that up during his time under Favre. Then I remember reading last offseason how much Flynn had improved his arm strength since coming out of LSU. Has Mike McCarthy discovered a secret that no one else knows about?

There were shoulder concerns about Rodgers when he was coming out in the draft. It's what dropped his stock, as it was told to me by a general manager. I'm inclined to believe Rodgers regained his arm strength as he recovered from his shoulder injury, because you don't manufacture the kind of arm strength he has. That's natural. I wasn't here to observe Matt Flynn's development, but I have witnessed Graham Harrell's and I would agree with Mike McCarthy's statement on Tuesday that "it's a credit to what he's done since the end of last season until now," because Harrell is a different quarterback now than the one I saw last summer. Let's not overplay this. This is only an observation made on a beautiful spring day in OTAs. I think we need to take that into consideration.

Justin from Rochester, MN

If the NFL required coaches to wear suits and ties on the sidelines, would Bill Belichick cut the sleeves off?

He'd probably have a tie and lapels painted onto the front of his hoodie.

Mark from Stewartville, MN

Vic, I enjoyed your story about Graham Harrell's workout during OTAs. To me, Harrell's continuing development is a tribute to the Packers coaching staff and the entire Packers organization. Your story showed they truly care about this young man, and that the little things really matter. Did you sense this, too, as you covered and wrote the story?

I'm not sure the word "care" fits in this story. I think it should be replaced by the words "believe in" and "committed to." They saw something in Harrell no other team saw. The Browns had him in two minicamps as a tryout player and signed him to a contract neither time. So what did the Packers see in Harrell they liked? My guess is the answer to that question is quarterback aptitude. Mike McCarthy has a great sense for quarterbacks that have a natural feel for the position. The first one he ever coached, his new running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, was such a quarterback. He was a late-round draft pick that was cut, largely because he didn't possess an NFL-type arm, but his instincts and feel for the position kept him in the league as a backup for 10 seasons. Could that be Harrell's future? I'll tell you, 10 years in the league as a backup quarterback is a good life. You'll earn a lot of money and leave the game healthy. It's also a good deal for a team, to have a guy who's a committed backup. It's nice to know you have that guy for the long haul.

Bill from Raleigh, NC

How much do NFL teams know about what happens in the training camps and OTAs of other NFL teams? Do they know if one of our players is doing really well, so they might get a shot at him?

That's the only interest in what other teams are doing in their OTAs and camps. Personnel departments keep a close watch on roster transactions, to see who's been put on PUP and who's been put on injured reserve and, most of all, who's been cut. If you liked a guy in the draft and the team that drafted him or signed him as an undrafted free agent cuts him, you might want to bring him in for a closer look. I suspect Jarrett Boykin is an example of that. He was signed by the Jaguars in undrafted free agency but cut during their rookie camp. The Packers signed Boykin for their rookie camp. One team wants one thing and another team wants another. It's about what a team envisions as a role for a player.

Jory from Atlanta, GA

Why does cutting back work better for a running back in a zone-blocking offense?

The signature play in a zone-blocking scheme is the stretch play. That's the one in which the quarterback reaches out to make the hand-off. The idea of the play is to get as wide as possible as quickly as possible, as the line is moving laterally to create a wall, behind which the running back will cut when he sees daylight. It's a one-cut-and-go play and you need a back that, when he sticks his foot in the ground, creates a burst.

Tim from Denver, CO

I understand all sideline wear needs to be approved by the league because of the deal they have with Nike. Does the money the NFL gets for this go into the pot the players and owners split, or is it all to the owners?

The current CBA provides for an "All Revenue" model for distribution of money. The contract with Nike is part of that "All Revenue" model, which means the money the league receives from Nike is distributed according to the percentages of the CBA. The percentage of the revenue the players receive is distributed to them in the form of the salary cap.

Kary from Sheboygan, WI

Vic, you've stated several times that teams fire coaches too quickly and yesterday you mentioned it again in regards to how long it takes players to learn new terminology. While I agree that 1-2 years is too quick, 3-4 years seems like enough. So what, in your opinion, should be the measuring stick of when to fire a coach?

A team's arrow should be the "measuring stick." As long as a team's arrow is pointing up, the team should stay the course with the coach it has. When that arrow points down, it's time for him to go. You'll know which way the arrow is pointing; it has an undeniable feel to it. I've been with teams in the midst of terrible seasons, but there was a strong sense that it would only be a matter of time before the team's fortunes were reversed, and it was. I've also been with teams in the midst of winning, but it didn't feel right and there was a palpable sense that it would end, and it did. What a team needs most is a man at the top who's capable of logical thought. He has to be someone who can block out the noise from the outside and focus on the truth. Emotions will lie to you; logic will tell you which way the arrow is pointing.

Tim from Albuquerque, NM

Is there a correlation between the size of the playbook and success on the field?

No. Lou Holtz won a national title at Notre Dame with six plays. Bill Walsh's reputation is for grandiose scheme and design. Truth be known, his playbook wasn't built on size, it was built on adaptability. The Cowboys of the Jimmy Johnson era were built on the lead draw with Emmitt. They ran it over and over and nobody could stop it. The Packers sweep, the Steelers trap, the 49ers' "sprint right option" are some of the most predictable, yet, unstoppable plays in football history. Find something that works and do it. That's what wins. Great teams don't take what you give them; they take what they want.

Greg from Bellevue, WA

Was there ever a year when you went to OTAs and minicamps and thought they don't have a chance; there just isn't enough talent here? Or, perhaps you thought the coach/scheme and the players are mismatched?

I've never believed a team wouldn't win because the scheme was bad, but there have been occasions when it was easy to see before the season began that it was going to be a long season. Usually it was the result of an imbalance of young and old players on the roster. If a roster gets too old or too young, it's usually symbolic of a team that's either about to begin rebuilding or has already started. When you look at the Packers roster, you see a blend of young and old, with an emphasis on young, emerging players.

Russ from Iron Mountain, MI

After re-reading some books on Vince Lombardi, it seems to me his "run to daylight" approach to the running game, in which the offensive linemen were to move the defensive linemen where they were headed and letting the running back find a hole, is basically the same as today's zone-blocking scheme. Was Vince way ahead of his time?

Yes, he was, and he doesn't get enough credit for it. Understand this, however: The Packers sweep was not a zone-blocking scheme. Lombardi introduced zone-blocking concepts at a time when stunts and twists were all the rage in defensive innovations. Defenses were starting to get away from two-gapping and experimenting with gap-control stuff. That's what Don Shula used as the Lions' defensive coordinator to sack Bart Starr 11 times in that 1962 Thanksgiving Day game. Lombardi's response to stunts, twists and gap-control schemes was a blocking scheme in which his offensive linemen were to use the defender's momentum against him by continuing to block him in the direction he had taken. It was then the back's responsibility to run to daylight. Against two-gapping teams that played it straight, however, the Packers ran their sweep.

Rafe from Brentwood, TN

I keep reading that draft-and-develop is a winning long-term strategy from a management of players point of view and that is what separates the Packers, Steelers, Giants and Pats from the rest of the league. Why don't other teams do it?

Trying it and doing it aren't the same. Everybody tries it, but the teams you cited have the patience and commitment to do it. So what else do those teams have in common? They each have waiting lists for tickets. That's what allows them to be patient. The Giants went through a dry spell in the 1970s. It was no coincidence that it occurred as Giants Stadium was being built and the Giants were in the process of relocating from The Bronx to Jersey. Wellington Mara said the mistake the Giants made was failing to trust their fans' loyalty. There was a fear of estranging the fan base because of the move across the Hudson River, so the Giants began doing desperate things, instead of committing to young players. They signed Larry Csonka at the end of his career, for example. They began trading draft picks for older players that would win now. They didn't win now and the Giants' woes deepened until the team realized it had made a mistake and recommitted to building a team the right way.

Lawrence from Missoula, MT

Aaron Rodgers made some interesting comments the other day about how the loss to the Giants drives him. All of us Packers fans hope the team plays with greater determination this year, driven in part by that playoff loss, but is that realistic? Do pros really use or need that kind of motivation to perform at their highest levels? In other words, does a tackle or a cornerback feel driven in the same way a quarterback does?

Every player needs an edge. That's why I say football is an edge game. There has to be something gnawing at you inside to be good at this game. A player needs some kind of personal irritation or obsession for success, to be the best he can be. Rodgers will always make sure he has that edge, even if it's about something as frivolous as an irritation for the exaggerated importance of players-only workouts. That's what good players do: They find something that increases their will to win, and coaches have always tried to help players find that edge. As Tom Coughlin once told me when he fined a player for talking to me in the hallway outside media time, "I don't want these guys walking around here with smiles on their faces." You want them to be a little angry. Weeb Ewbank played on that theme in his pregame speech to his Colts for the 1958 title game. One by one, he reminded his players of their shortcomings and how they were rejected by other teams. He reminded Ray Berry that he was too slow, and Johnny Unitas that he was cut by his hometown team and was discovered on a sandlot. For the 1974 AFC title game, Chuck Noll told his team that everyone was saying the Raiders-Dolphins game was the real Super Bowl. Good teams, good players have an edge to them. You don't think the Giants came to Green Bay last January with an edge for the loss they suffered in New York to the Packers a few weeks earlier? Didn't the Giants have that same edge for the Patriots in 2007? Whatever does it for you, find it, because you won't win without it. Football is not a game of peace and tranquility.

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