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There's just one need on offense


Alex from Long Beach, CA

Vic, how do you feel about fights during training camp?

When they're real, and I can remember a few Oklahoma-drill battles that were so real that they spilled over into future practices, they can set a tone. When they're just I'm-hot-and-tired temper tantrums, they can disturb the flow and pace of practice. Football is an emotional game and allowance for real intensity must be made. Discipline, however, is a professional football player's true calling card.

Phil from Lollar, Germany

It blew my mind today when I heard Aaron Rodgers is now the second-most tenured player on the Packers roster (behind only Donald Driver). This means the Packers have turned over every spot on their entire roster in six years. I know NFL careers are short, but is this also normal for other NFL teams?

It is for the good ones because the good ones stay young. This is not a game of maintenance, it's a game of replacement. One of my favorite football slogans is: Get 'em good or get 'em gone. It's that very insecurity, that fear of being cut, that drives players to excel. It's the law of the football jungle. "This is a tough business. You don't get a free pass," Ted Thompson said on Tuesday.

Bart from Zenia, CA

What does the prototype inside linebacker look like in the era of the passing game?

He looks like a one or two-down player, unless he can drop into coverage. With the increased use of nickel defense, he may not see the field but for a few plays a game. Today's middle and inside linebackers are two parts Jack Ham and one part Dick Butkus. D.J. Smith is an inside linebacker that appears capable of dropping into coverage. As I've written, I didn't expect that of him. He's showing me a side to his game I didn't think he had.

Jim from Winterville, NC

What can be noticed about Harrell's play since many of the results will depend on the supporting cast? What can we at home see?

Don't worry about the route tree and the progression and all of that technical stuff. Let the coaches worry about that. What we need to see is completed passes, yards gained, touchdowns and, hopefully, a win. If Graham Harrell can move the ball, score and win, then it's very likely he did all of the technical things well, too.

Duke from Edinburg, TX

I am a minister to young adults at my church. I was recently honored by them for my service and dedication to the ministry. Well, they gifted me with four tickets to the Packers vs. Texans game. As it will be my first pro game ever, what kinds of things should I keep a lookout for in attendance at the game?

I think you should expect to see a lot of passes. I hope you like shootout-type games. Being that this will be your first pro game, I think you should also spend some time observing God's children in the stands. Football fans are an interesting breed.

David from Manchester, England

Vic, this may explain why I'm not married, but what is Earl missing from his fiancé's Packers experience? I've been over to Green Bay once from England but suspect I missed it, too. My next planned trip is the Indianapolis game, and I don't want to miss something again.

It's not something that can be explained. It just comes to you naturally. I think Earl's on the verge of getting it. You might be next.

Rich from Nashville, TN

We keep hearing about lots of defensive players coming away with big plays in camp, but who's been the defense's "Mr. Consistency"?

It's B.J. Raji. I've seen him take no plays off, and he's been dominant in everything he's done.

Kerri from De Pere, WI

It's a long plane ride to San Diego. Does the mood and feel on the team plane seem different in the preseason as compared to the regular and postseason?

This is a question I've gotten from fans through the years, and they're always disappointed when I tell them you wouldn't know if a team won or lost, or if it was a preseason game or a postseason game, based on the players' demeanor on the plane. It's on the bus headed to the stadium on the day of the game that you sense a change. You can feel the game face. After the game, the mood is one of surrender. Everybody spent a week putting everything they had into winning that game and, win or lose, it's time to let it go and get ready to do it again for a different opponent.

Kashan from Virginia Beach, VA

I'm 18 and not too long ago I was pushing a five-man sled. One time, five of my coaches got on the sled and we had to push them across the field after a loss.

The five-man sled is the mutant brother of the seven-man. It's a more affordable version, but it can be effective. It's all about what's riding on the sled. I've known coaches to put everything from cement weights to cheerleaders on the sled. Coaches will put helmets of that week's opponent on the sled. How about a sled full of teachers? How about a sled on a hill? I've even heard of a coach who claimed to have installed an odometer on his team's sled. I love sled stories.

Jim from Monroe, WI

Vic, the other day, you told about Nitschke limping into the end zone. I just wondered if you ever saw the clip of him in the "Ice Bowl". As the offense is going onto the field for the last time, Ray yells, "Don't let me down, don't let me down." I saw it once on a replay and if that doesn't send chills down your spine, you're dead. One of my favorite moments in Packer history.

I've heard about it, and it doesn't surprise me. The old guys didn't baby each other. You know how in basketball a player's teammates rush to shake his hand after he's missed a free throw? That's not something the Ray Nitschke's and Alex Karras' would've done. Today's perpetual glad-handing didn't exist back then. They challenged each other. If a receiver dropped one of Johnny Unitas' passes, he got a hard stare from Unitas as he returned to the huddle. When Don Shula became the head coach of the Colts, he sent a play into the huddle, causing Unitas to call time out, walk to the sideline and ask Shula if he wanted to play quarterback. Nobody usurped Unitas' authority in the huddle, and he made sure everyone knew that. His was the only voice in that huddle. Nitschke and the players of his era had a hard edge to them. They instantly turned angry when they walked onto the field. Football was their vehicle for expressing their aggression. Had the Packers not scored on that final drive in the "Ice Bowl," they would've let Nitschke down, and I have no doubt that some of the members of that offense feared Nitschke's wrath. Most of all, they feared failure. Great players of esteem, as Nitschke was, can challenge their teammates and not be resented. I wish we had more of that in today's game. Sometimes, it's a little too cozy for my tastes.

Augustus from Humboldt, CA

Vic, Jennings being out for Thursday's game with a concussion makes four different players with concussions this training camp, by my count. Should I be worried or is this just erring on the side of caution in our new safety-first league?

We're in a concussion-sensitive time in football history. We all know that. I'm not sure that marginal concussions can even be accurately diagnosed, but any bump on the head, especially in the preseason, is likely to earn a player time off.

Denny from Mosinee, WI

People work jobs every day that can maim, paralyze or kill them, and they do this because that is how they feed, clothe and put a roof over their family's heads. If current players make enough money that allows their kids to do a different sport or job, there are still millions of people who say it's worth doing to make a better life for their families. They are taking a calculated risk with their health for the chance to make millions of dollars. We have people in construction, farming, fishing, mining, oil drilling, etc., industries that make the same choice for $25,000 to maybe $100,000 a year. I apologize to the people who work jobs I failed to mention and thank you for doing these jobs because without you people's lives would be far more difficult. Some in our society do not have a clue or understand that in order for some things to get done, somebody every day has to do things they might deem insane or dangerous. I grew up on a dairy farm. By the time we were seven or eight years old, we working next to 1,000-pound animals and machines that could maim or kill you. We had no choice if the work was to get done. The George Wills of the world should just say thank you to the people who shelter them from ever having to experience these types of risks.

You have artfully represented the other side of the argument. Are you willing to accept the risk for the reward? Some jobs are dangerous. America wasn't built on safe, and neither was baseball, George. Tony Conigliaro is evidence of that.

Ben from Fort Wayne, IN

Being a run-first purist, what stat line do you remember the most? Mine has to be Jerome Bettis rushing for 1 yard, on five attempts, with a .02 yards-per-carry average, but scoring three touchdowns.

What a wonderful role: touchdown specialist. It's worked for John Kuhn, right? I can remember watching a game toward the end of Bettis' career, when he had become a touchdown specialist. It was at the end of the game and the Steelers had moved the ball on a long drive and we're now at the one-yard line. In came Bettis and two tight ends and out went the running back and two wide receivers, and the crowd instinctively rose to its feet. There wasn't even a huddle. The Steelers just came to line, all bunched up against a Cowboys defense that was shoulder to shoulder and ready to strike. I sensed a kind of fear, as though something terrible was about to occur. There would be no pass, only a collision between a mass of humanity assembled in a very tight area. Bettis got the ball, bounced to the outside and walked into the end zone. I was terribly disappointed. I wanted to see the collision.

Ben from Columbus, OH

Vic, I know we love the game because of the players and coaches, but what took the game to the next level (popularity) was Ed Sabol, giving the viewers better views and sounds than ever before. Have you seen the Thursday Night Football promo the NFL Network made? It makes me get butterflies when thinking about the Packers Thursday Night matchup vs. the Bears. I'm so ready for some football.

Pete Rozelle knew NFL Films would have that effect on fans. That's why Rozelle gave Sabol the carte blanche he needed to achieve Rozelle's vision. Sabol gave football a noble feel to it. He found the game's true quality, which is to say its heart and nerve. At a time when baseball was still trying to sell stats, Sabol sold emotion and entertainment. It was his and Rozelle's combined vision, and the freedom Rozelle gave Sabol to express it, that made NFL Films what it is.

Bret from Mililani, HI

Is barely drafting any offensive players going to hurt our offense this year? If you're not getting better, you're getting worse.

The Packers are getting better on offense because they're maturing. T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse are young linemen in ascent. The same can be said of the Packers' receivers and running backs. Is Aaron Rodgers not a young quarterback on the rise? I only see one need on the Packers offense, the need for Graham Harrell to establish himself as a true backup-caliber quarterback. He can do that in this preseason. I think it's one of the storylines of the preseason.

Tony from Saint Paul, MN

Vic, the Chicago Tribune reported that Nick Perry has had a difficult time in training camp transitioning to OLB, however, you have stated that Perry has done well in camp. Why the discrepancy in reports?

I just tell you what I see. He put Bulaga on his back on Sunday night. When you see something like that, you know what a guy can do. It then becomes a matter of doing it again. I saw Perry execute a classic pass rush in the Family Night scrimmage. He drove the tackle into the pocket, forcing the quarterback out of the pocket and flushing him to his right, where Perry ran him down and caused the pass to be thrown away. As far as I'm concerned, that's a pass-defensed. I saw Perry overwhelm Andrew Datko in pass-rush drills. Perry has extreme athletic ability and he has a coach with a passion for teaching Perry how to play. That's what I see, and I've been there for every practice.

Will from Boscobel, WI

Watching training camp, how do you think Graham Harrell is looking so far?

His defining throw of training camp was a back-shoulder toss to Jordy Nelson on Monday night. Harrell got a big cheer this week for dropping a pass of 50 yards or so into a net. In other words, he's had his highlight moments, and he's been workmanlike at most other times. Practice is practice, however, and now we're ready to play the games that will truly define Harrell's summer. The games are what count. I invite Packers fans to follow my in-game blog on Thursday night. I'll give you my thoughts on how I think Harrell and the Packers are doing in their preseason opener against the Chargers.

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