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Will there be any surprises?


Dan from Little Suamico, WI

Vic, I've read that Zombo may be ready in Week 5 or 6. That may make him an option for the PUP list. How many players can a team carry on the PUP list going into the season?

Frank Zombo's PUP eligibility was extinguished the moment he participated in a training camp practice. A player is eligible to be placed on PUP only if he hasn't practiced. The Packers' options with Zombo are to carry him on the 53-man roster, place him on injured reserve or waive him. They certainly won't waive him; my expectation is they'll carry him on the 53, with the idea he'll only miss a few weeks of the season.

Gabe from Bloomer, WI

Morgan Burnett seems to be hitting and tackling with greater authority than I've ever seen him do. How important is it to have a safety that instills fear in opposing wideouts?

Does the intimidation factor exist any longer? Hasn't the "defenseless receiver" rule pretty much taken fear of going over the middle out of the game? Where a safety can still assert an element of physical intimidation is in run-support. Did you see how Burnett came flying up against the run in the Cleveland game? Burnett is a big guy and he's showing he can bang with the big backs.

Robert from Mishawaka, IN

Seems like injuries, minor and major, are much more common in the last 10 years. I am 43, played organized football from fourth grade thru 12th, plus un-padded, full-contact sandlot ball almost every week and never had an injury bad enough to keep me from playing. What's the deal these days? Athletes are bigger, stronger and much better conditioned. So why so many?

Un-padded, full-contact sandlot ball? They didn't even do that in "The Longest Yard." Was this part of a work-release program or anger-management class? I've never heard of un-padded, full-contact sandlot football. And you didn't get hurt? You might be the toughest man on the face of the earth.

Kale from London, Ontario

You said "even coaches go soft at times" in regards to keeping players around for too long because of loyalty and history together. Keeping the same concept in mind, in your opinion, what has to happen before you think a coach should be replaced?

Losing, in my opinion, isn't a good enough reason to fire a coach. Chuck Noll was 1-13, Bill Walsh was 2-14 and Jimmy Johnson was 1-15 in their first seasons as coach, and their teams went on to become the team of their decades. Noll was 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8 in his first three years as coach. Would he have made it to year four in today's culture? No chance. Everything about sports since then has been compressed. I was covering the Jaguars when Tom Coughlin was 4-7 in his second year as the expansion team's coach. The "fire him" drums were already beginning to beat, but then Coughlin won seven games straight to take his team to the AFC title game. Why are we so angry? Why are we so quick to vilify? I wish somebody would figure that out because we really do need to chill out. You don't fire a coach for losing early in his time as coach because the very reason he was hired in the first place is because the team was no good; what did you expect he was going to do, wave a magic wand and make it instantly better? When you hire and fire coaches in knee-jerk fashion, you send a message that your franchise lacks commitment. When do you fire a coach? When you sense hopelessness. It's unmistakable. It permeates every fiber of your team and franchise and that's when you know a change has to be made. I've covered losing teams that had the strong feel of a team whose arrow was pointing up. That's when you know you have the right coach; when he can keep a losing team focused and playing hard. I think the Packers had that in 2008. Sometimes you have to look past losing to find winning.

Michael from Milwaukee, WI

What do you think Rodgers has to do to become the league MVP this year? I know the first thing would have to be to win games but, other than that, what do you think makes an MVP candidate?

Stats make for MVP candidates. Aaron Rodgers will need lots and lots of stats. He'll probably need 35 or more touchdown passes, a passer rating of 100 or higher, 4,000 yards passing or more. Winning isn't the most important thing; stats are. Records are good, too.

Jeremy from Cornell, WI

I've recently heard some negative comments on Rodgers letting the play clock going down to one second all the time. I've always thought it as being a good way to read the defense, but the comments were saying that the defense can watch the play clock, too. Is that true? Can both the offense and defense see the play clock?

I guess so. I can see it from the press box, so I imagine the defense can see it, too. Is this a trick question?

Lewk from Davenport, IA

What do you see the Packers' 53-man roster looking like? Any big surprises?

I don't think they would qualify as surprises to anyone who's been attending practices. By now we have a pretty good feel for the depth chart, according to reps in practice and with whom players take those reps. I'll use Vic So'oto (pictured) as an example. He's an undrafted player, so would he qualify as a surprise if he makes the team? It wouldn't surprise me because So'oto has been getting a lot of quality reps in practice lately. What he does over the next two games will determine whether or not he makes the team, but based on where he stands right now, it wouldn't surprise me if he made it to the 53. For the most part, I think it's kind of obvious right now. There's a question at tight end: four or five and who goes if they keep four? Two or three quarterbacks? I say three. Five or six wide receivers? I say five. It has been my experience, however, that there's always at least one surprise. There's usually one vet that gets released that surprises everyone. You have to look at the salaries of those guys because their worth to the team needs to be the equal of what their performance in training camp projects to return.

Ryan from Irvine, CA

What's the difference between a 3-4 defensive end and a nose tackle? It seems like they're the same thing, just at different spots.

The difference is that the nose tackle is getting double-teamed on nearly every play. Once upon a time, the nose tackle had to deal with high-low combination blocks, but those days are over. It's still a rugged position to play because a nose tackle can get caught in the wash and twisted around. Ends play in space. Yes, their primary responsibility is the same as the nose tackles, which is to hold the point and keep the blockers off the linebackers, but the end has to be mobile enough and athletic enough to do it in space, whereas a nose tackle is banging with blockers in a confined area.

Evan from Baltimore, MD

Last year, the Packers attempted a fake punt in which Flynn attempted a pass to Andrew Quarless. To my disappointment, Quarless dropped it. Is a play like this something we could see again? Are trick plays only one-time use?

The ones that work get recycled, especially the ones that have a couple of options in them or are part of a trick-plays tree, as "Slash" plays are. The one you're describing, however, is probably a one-timer, because future opponents would identify it by formation or personnel. Once upon a time, football was a game of imposing your will on your opponent. Coaches didn't like using trick plays because they feared their players would begin to rely on them, instead of relying on their fundamentals and the execution of their bread-and-butter stuff. Using a trick play was regarded as a sign of weakness. It was, to a degree, a source of embarrassment. This is a different game today. Today's game definitely has a Madden-like quality to it. Beating a team with a trick play is a source of pride. It means we're smarter than you. Coaches are obsessed with pencil-whipping each other. Even at that, however, it's still players, not plays, because Xs and Os don't move, only players do. Players make plays work. That part of the game will never change.

Eric from Wausau, WI

Can you give us some insight on what it's like to travel with a professional football team? What are the hotels, the food and the travel arrangements like? Any crazy stories?

It's a two-day trip; fly in the day before the game, fly out immediately following the game. You get on the plane, off the plane and into a bus, out of the bus and into a hotel, into the bus the day of the game, watch the game, get back into the bus and go to the airport, get on the plane and go home. That's the truth. It's not real glamorous. Crazy stories? Oh, yeah, I got a million of them. Let's see, there was a blown engine in takeoff from Tampa, and taking off on a darkened runway after curfew in San Diego, and a backup quarterback breaking his throwing arm punching one of those meter bags in a country western bar, and a mid-air scare that caused a few big, tough players to whimper and forever lose their dignity. My all-time favorite road trip story is from 1984, following a game in San Francisco that would be the 49ers' only loss that season. A rookie tight end named Chris Kolodziejski made a big play in that game but, in the process, blew out his knee so badly he would never play football again. He was in terrible pain the whole way home. First, departure was delayed in San Francisco. Then, after flying across the country, the plane had to land in Cleveland because of fog east of Cleveland. Making matters worse, the Bills had to land in Cleveland, too, because of the fog, and they took an extra bus, leaving us to crowd onto what was left of the fleet. Anyhow, poor Kolodziejski's moans and groans were filling the bus when the trainer orders the bus driver to pull off the road and under a street light. The team doctor them comes up the aisle with a very long needle extended upward and from that position came straight down into Kolo's outstretched leg. I remember hearing, "Ahhhh." I don't think anyone spoke the rest of the way home. That was the night I came to fully appreciate what a tough game this is.

Jake from Madison, WI

How much longer is Donald Driver going to be playing football?

At the ring ceremony in June, he told me he wants to play until he's 40. Obviously, he's in great shape. Obviously, he can still run and catch. Can he avoid injury? The answer to that question will determine how long he can play. Driver is a gifted athlete and an accomplished football player. He also possesses a panache and charisma that helps make football fun for the fans. I really respect him and I'm glad for the opportunity to cover him.

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