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The 'Wildcat' wait is nearly over


Paul from Spencerville, IN

You've mentioned several times that you love old-fashioned, smash-mouth football. Have you had a chance to watch the Badgers play? I have to believe their style brings a smile to your face.

Yeah, it does, and they play it. When Michigan went to the spread under Rich Rodriguez, Wisconsin became the new Michigan. They've got a strong tradition of turning out big, powerful offensive linemen right now, a la the old Michigan, and the current group might be their best ever.

Andrew from Minneapolis, MN

You described your change this year as waking up to find out your head is sewn to the carpet. Are you a "Christmas Vacation" fan?

Wait until Thanksgiving. Drum roll.

Brian from Scottsdale, AZ

You suggested that it may be time for the NFL to get into the business of minor league football. I'm all for this idea, as the NFL has had what amounts to a free minor league in the NCAA for quite a while. The NCAA has had exclusive rights to the best football players without having to pay actual salaries. A minor league would allow working-age players to earn a wage, and the NFL could move even more toward a draft-and-develop strategy. My question is this: How did the NFL and NCAA avoid having a bona-fide minor league system in which 18-year-old adults can enter a draft and earn a wage, when all the other major sports could not?

The NBA hasn't had it? Baseball and hockey haven't had it to the degree football and basketball have because baseball and hockey weren't big-revenue sports for the colleges so they didn't go into either as aggressively, which caused the need for minor league systems in baseball and hockey. Those two sports, however, also found ways to make minor league teams profitable, or at least pick up a major share of the cost. I have long been opposed to the NFL subsidizing a minor league football system, because I love college football and I think it has done a great service to the NFL in developing talent and advancing men to professional football, and that should be respected, but changes in recent years, in my opinion, might cause the NFL and college football to each benefit from a minor league football system. First of all, the styles of the two games are so extraordinarily different these days that the preponderance of college quarterbacks aren't even NFL prospects at that position. The NFL, in my opinion, would benefit from a farm system that would train players to play the NFL way. From the college perspective, it wouldn't hurt for those players, whose only reason for going to college is to play football, to avoid college and go directly into pro football; a minor league system would allow for that. College isn't for everyone. It bothers me that a lot of players are taking up space in a classroom, with no intent of applying that course toward a degree. Getting those kids out of the classroom would help clean up college football. Getting those kids into a play-for-pay league would help prepare them for the NFL. Putting money in their pockets in an honorable way would help everyone. I think such a league, structured and marketed properly, would be profitable. America's appetite for football seems to be insatiable.

Eric from Sunnyvale, CA

What is the difference between releasing a player and waiving that same player? Why would a team choose to do one or the other?

They are merely different ways of describing the same thing. There is no difference.

John from Fairchild, WI

Maybe there's something I've missed in the years I've been around football. What is the "Wildcat?"

What is the "Wildcat?" Are you kidding? The "Wildcat" is the greatest, most ingenious football strategy in the history of the game. Everybody should run the "Wildcat." It's instant offense. Here's how it works: A player lines up in a shotgun-type formation behind the center, as you might in a backyard pickup game. After that player receives the snap from center, he runs forward, as you might in a backyard pickup game. Are you excited, yet? Is your heart pounding in anticipation of the "Wildcat?" Well, it won't have to pound much longer. Soon we'll find out if Randall Cobb is going to run the "Wildcat."

Darrin from Plymouth, MN

I once sent Bob McGinn a question about why he only values talent and never talks of work ethic, dedication, propensity to learn and focus. His response was that those things are a given at this level, talent is not. The opposite point could be argued, too; they are all big, fast and strong (all elite college-level players). Not all of them have the intangibles that make them great. What is your view on this?

I would tend to agree with Bob on this one. Fans love the heart and soul and fight and will and want to win; it makes for a nice feel-good story. I'll take Aaron Rodgers' quick release, Clay Matthews' speed off the edge, B.J. Raji's pad level, Charles Woodson's ability to flip his hips and run, Jermichael Finley's size and speed, etc. Take those tangibles away from those players, and they're not the same guys. First comes talent, then comes heart. You need both, but there's no sense even looking for the heart in a guy if he doesn't have talent. I love the game and I love to romanticize it, but part of its romantic allure, for me, is the cold, hard truth that it's a king-of-the-hill game, and big and good is better than small and good.

Jesse from Fort Atkinson, WI

Does Vic So'oto have the skill set and speed to be the starting outside linebacker opposite Matthews before this season is over?

I don't know when, but I don't think there's any if about it. He's got the physical tools it takes to be a long-term player in this league. When I see a guy with his size and speed, I wonder how everyone missed it.

Rick from Rio Rancho, NM

There was a "Turk" in The Godfather, but the term predates that film, I believe.

Yeah, it does. "The Turk" we're talking about has its roots in the Ottoman Empire. I wish I could remember the movie in which "The Turk" is portrayed. I can picture him and his scimitar, but I can't remember the movie title.

Samantha from Onalaska, WI

Vic, I've got to say that I love your column; I read it every day. I have been growing up a Packers fan in the middle of the NFC North and because of that it has made me a huge football fan. Someday, I aspire to be a sportswriter. My question is how hard was it for you to turn from fan to professional? Are you still a fan of the game or do you view it as a job?

I'm a fan of the game and I'm a sportswriter. You don't have to stop being one to be the other, you just have to know what the rules are for being one and the other. It wasn't difficult. You watch; that's all. Fans cheer; sportswriters don't. We watch and we enjoy, but we understand that we are in a place where people are working, and distractions are not tolerated. This keeps coming up in my column. The average fan doesn't understand how it is possible to watch and not talk. I went over this and over this in this column a few years ago, and then it sunk in when, during Super Bowl XLIII, Larry Fitzgerald scored the go-ahead touchdown and the TV camera turned to Fitzgerald's father in the press box, where he was sitting quietly, almost as though he was disinterested. Hey, that was his son that just made that play? Do you think his father might've been feeling something inside? Of course, he was, but he's a sportswriter and he understands that when you walk into that press box, you agree to a code of behavior. Larry Fitzgerald's father had long before learned how to watch a football game in silence. It's the only way I can watch a football game. I would never go to a Super Bowl party; the chatter would drive me nuts. I'm a sportswriter. I like to watch.

T. from West Bend, WI

You've given us plenty of insight on McCarthy in your articles and in "Ask Vic." Can you do the same with Dom Capers?

He's one of the two most prominent defensive strategists of the past 20 years; the other one is Dick LeBeau and they are the best of friends. The seeds of Dom's philosophy of defense were planted while on Jim Mora's staff with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL. What a great staff that was. It also included Vic Fangio. They experimented with the zone-blitz; did more with it when Mora got the head job in New Orleans and took Fangio and Capers with him. Then Dom got the coordinator's job in Pittsburgh, where Bill Cowher also had LeBeau on his staff. Cowher turned Capers and LeBeau loose and the zone-blitz became "Blitzburgh." It got Dom the head job in Carolina, and success followed Dom wherever he went. Here are some stats on Dom's career: In his final year with the Saints, they were No. 1 in points allowed and takeaways, No. 2 in yards allowed per game and No. 3 in sacks. In Pittsburgh, his defense in 1994 was second in points allowed and yards per game and first in sacks. I always tease him about the final regular-season game that year, in San Diego. Cowher played it fast and loose in a game that meant nothing, and it caused Dom to lose the top overall defense ranking by a few yards. "Merry Christmas to me," Dom said on the bus after the game, as he looked at the stats and knew what they meant. In Carolina in 1996, his defense was second in points allowed and first in sacks. In Jacksonville in 1999, he took a defense that was 17th, 25th and 26th in points allowed, yards per game and sacks in the previous season, and made it first, fourth and first respectively in those categories. In Green Bay, Dom turned a defense that was 24th in points allowed, 20th in yards, 12th in takeaways and 26th against the run in 2008, and made it seventh, second, first and first in those respective categories the following season. The man is a magician. He turns bad defenses into good defenses.

David from Chetek, WI

The 2010 Panthers vs. the 1966 Packers would depend a lot on which rules were being played with. If they played by 1966 rules, I don't know if it would be quite so sure of a result. I'd also like to see how long they'd give Lombardi to game plan.

It would depend on nothing. This is a ridiculous debate. You don't compare one of the worst teams in NFL history to one of the best simply because you like the way the players of today's muscles look. That's all it is. It's visual. It's all based on this bigger, stronger, faster mantra of young fans and media that feel threatened by that which they never witnessed. The '66 Packers would beat the brains in of the 2010 Panthers. You're gonna compare Jimmy Clausen to Bart Starr? Clausen was last in the league in 2010 with a 58.4 passer rating; he threw three touchdown passes and nine interceptions, in a game that treats the quarterback as though he was made of glass. Compare Clausen to Starr? Who is this hack? Somebody tell him to please put down his Madden and do a little research on the subject. Wadda ya think Herb Adderley would've looked like in one of today's uniforms? Put those little bands that make the players' muscles stick out on Willie Wood's arms? How about Dave Robinson? He was 6-3, 245 and he ran like a wide receiver. Do you think he could've played in today's game? The guy that started this debate should be banned from the press box.

Leonardo from Las Vegas, NV

Nike says they plan to aggressively change many of the jersey designs for 2012. How much say do NFL teams have in the design of their uniforms? I think a drastic change could make sense for struggling teams with little fan support, but a huge mistake for the historic teams, such as the Packers, Bears, Steelers. Teams have final say in the design of their uniforms and I don't think I'll see, in my lifetime, the Packers significantly alter the design of theirs. It's part of their mystique. I think the "third jersey" concept is perfect for a team such as the Packers. It introduces jersey sales without causing a shift in the standard uniform's design. The Packers Pro Shop, of course, sells the Packers' "third jersey."

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