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The Packers’ Good, Bad, and Ugly: Ugly Personnel Edition

After a superb preseason, expectations for the Green Bay Packers could not have been higher. Three weeks into the regular season, the team stands at 2-1 after wins over the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, and a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In those three weeks, there have been many positive things to get excited about, some struggles that need to be fixed, and some ugly things that are getting the Packers by in easy games, but will not as the season goes on and games become tougher.

Today, we will look at the Packers ugly personnel through three weeks.  After that, we will look at schemes and intangibles that have been good, bad, and ugly for the Packers. Enjoy and make sure to check out all parts of the segments!

Monday: Good Personnel Edition

Tuesday: Bad Personnel Edition

The Ugly

Let me preface this by saying that the “ugly” players include performances that have not helped out the Packers much this season and have played below expectations.  However, these performances have not hurt the Packers enough to warrant putting them in the “bad” category.

Greg Jennings: Fresh off an off-season that saw him work out with Larry Fitzgerald and receive a contract extension, Jennings has had a tough time being a consistent target to Aaron Rodgers.  As a proven number one receiver, he has received double coverage looks often and has seen his receptions and yards dip.

For now, it has not hurt the Packers as much because Donald Driver has stepped up his performance and seen more targets from Rodgers because he is usually in single coverage.  However, if the Packers’ offense is going to get back to where it was last season, Jennings is going to have to work to get open and spread the field.  He has made the big play when necessary but over the course of a season that it not going to work.

Ryan Grant: For whatever reason, Grant has not looked the same as he did in 2007 over the past two seasons, and it has hurt the run game considerably.  The Packers have committed to Grant as their starter, but currently injured Brandon Jackson is looking over his shoulder at that starting spot.

He is a combination of a power back and a speed back, but lately that speed has disappeared from his game and he does not cut back like he used to.  When he hits holes, there is hesitation and you never get the feeling that he is going to break off a huge run.  His long rush is just 17 yards and he is averaging just 3.7 yards per rush.

Some of the blame can be put on the consistency of the offensive line but Grant still needs to step up.  It has not killed the Packers because Grant has not had an atrocious season (14th in the league in rushing) but getting him back to that 2007 form will be key for the run game moving forward.

Jeremy Kapinos: Kapinos punted his way onto the roster but the punt team unit as a whole has been less than stellar this season.  His average punt is 45.4 yards, ranking 15th in the league, but his net punt is just 35.9 yards, ranking second to last in the league.

Some of those woes can be attributed to bad coverage, but Kapinos’ hang time is an issue as he has induced just one fair catch.  On average, the Packers’ punt unit is giving up the second most yards per return at just under 17 yards a return, and it must change so that the defense does not always have such a short field.

Jermichael Finley: After a spectacular preseason that saw him slice up defenses at will, Finley has been quiet to start the year.  He has seen a fair amount of snaps as the Packers have gone with two tight end sets this season, but his targets and receptions have not added up.

Starter Donald Lee had caught nine passes and been targeted 11 times to Finley’s five receptions and nine targets, although Finley has more receiving yards (62) than Lee (46).  When Finley went on his tear in the preseason, everyone seemed to forget about the value of Lee, who has the highest catch-per-target on the team.

Still, Finley becoming a vertical threat in the Packers’ offense would do wonders for what the offense could do.  Finley can line up wide against a cornerback and use his size, or can set up on the line and use his speed on a linebacker. Because of the great depth the Packers have at wide receiver as well as Lee’s strong start, his performance has not hurt the Packers as much.  If he can pick things up like he did in the preseason, it would be a huge lift.

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September 30, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , | Leave a comment

The Packers’ Good, Bad, and Ugly: Bad Personnel Edition

After a superb preseason, expectations for the Green Bay Packers could not have been higher. Three weeks into the regular season, the team stands at 2-1 after wins over the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, and a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In those three weeks, there have been many positive things to get excited about, some struggles that need to be fixed, and some ugly things that are getting the Packers by in easy games, but will not as the season goes on and games become tougher.

Today, we will look at the Packers bad personnel through three weeks, followed by the ugly personnel. After that, we will look at schemes and intangibles that have been good, bad, and ugly for the Packers. Enjoy and make sure to check out all parts of the segments!

Monday: Good Personnel Edition

The Bad

Allen Barbre: To start any discussion about players that have performed poorly and also hurt the team, it would be wrong not to mention Allen Barbre.  In the pre-season, Barbre beat out Breno Giacomini for the starting right tackle position and excelled in the run game in that span of four weeks.  Making his first start next to Josh Sitton, the fourth rounder from Missouri Southern State struggled mightily and allowed two sacks and constant pressure from Adewale Ogunleye.

He has fared better since his awful first half against the Bears but still remains a concern.  The Packers have worked out veteran Levi Jones but it does not appear that he will sign with the team.  If anything, it should be a wake up call to Barbre that his position is hardly set in stone.

Barbre has been just average, along with the rest of the offensive line, in the run game but will need to improve on pass protection if quarterback Aaron Rodgers is ever going to have time to pass.  He has not extended his arms well and his feet have been slow against speed rushers.  Bull rushers do not seem to give him as much problem due to his raw strength, but when defenders get outside him he struggles.

Nick Barnett: Before you go and rip this selection of Barnett as players that have been bad this season, realize that he has just 12 tackles on the season and was yanked in the second half of the Rams game last weekend.  Recovering from ACL surgery, Barnett missed significant time in the pre-season and it is showing now.

In the 3-4 defense, Barnett’s position asks him to shed blockers to make tackles instead of the traditional 4-3 defense, where he would shoot gaps to make plays.  He looks rusty on the field and, while the surgery can be an excuse, he is still playing poorly and needs to step up.

Right now, the Packers’ best combination on defense inside is A.J. Hawk and Brandon Chillar.  Argue that they might not be the two best, but their styles of play compliment each other well.  Barnett still plays well against the pass so there’s no need to think Desmond Bishop will take much more time from him in the future, but he needs to get back to his 2007 form quick.

Deshawn Wynn: I can’t remember the last time I wanted Brandon Jackson to be healthy this badly.  One of the biggest position battles in the preseason was who would take over as the third running back on the roster.  In the end, Deshawn Wynn beat out rookie Tyrell Sutton and Kregg Lumpkin for the spot.  With Jackson still out with a bad ankle, Wynn was expected to fill the third down role and compliment Grant in the backfield.

Three games in, Wynn has four rushes for nine yards and one reception for eight yards.  The expectations for Wynn were low because no one thought he would have to take the second string duties, but amazingly Wynn has performed below his already small expectations.

He is not a threat on screen passes and, despite his solid pass blocking, has not done much on third downs.  When Jackson comes back (no timetable) Wynn will go back to spelling both, but as for now he needs to step up and at least pound the ball on occasion.  The coaching staff has little confidence in him after he looked slow going through the line on his runs, something he must change.

All those fans who wanted Sutton as the third back are looking pretty smart right about now…

Brady Poppinga: For the life of me I can not understand how Brady Poppinga is still a starter in the National Football League.  He has outstanding size and strength that he uses when he makes plays.  Unfortunately, he rarely makes plays…The Packers have struggled against the run and even though all the linebackers are to blame, Poppinga has not helped the cause one bit.

He gets caught in the wash on just about every play and has a hard time shedding blockers to contain on the outside.  In pass coverage he struggles to stay with tight ends and just looks too slow to play any kind of zone.  The answer lies in Clay Matthews III, who has shown a great knack for getting to the football and creating pressure on the offense.

Matthews has registered just four tackles on the season due to lack of major playing time, but he has a sack and two passes defended to go with.  His pass rushing skills are much better than Poppinga’s and he can cover more ground as well.

As the season goes on and Matthews continues to get his feet wet, I expect him to overtake Poppinga at some point.  Poppinga was a border-line cut this pre-season and has done little to show why the Packers were correct in keeping him.

September 29, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , | Leave a comment

The Packers’ Good, Bad, and Ugly: Good Personnel Edition

After a superb preseason, expectations for the Green Bay Packers could not have been higher.  Three weeks into the regular season, the team stands at 2-1 after wins over the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, and a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.  In those three weeks, there have been many positive things to get excited about, some struggles that need to be fixed, and some ugly things that are getting the Packers by in easy games, but will not as the season goes on and games become tougher.

Today, we will look at the Packers good personnel through three weeks, followed by the bad and ugly personnel.  After that, we will look at schemes and intangibles that have been good, bad, and ugly for the Packers.  Enjoy and make sure to check out all parts of the segments!

The Good

Aaron Rodgers: As is the case for most teams that have two or more wins so far, Rodgers has excelled at the quarterback position and is the main reason for the Packers’ success.  His stats are not as flashy as they were last season, but through three games he has thrown for just 82 less yards than he did in 2008 (which included a game against the Lions) and has thrown just as many touchdown passes (four).

Along with Kyle Orton, Rodgers is one of two quarterbacks who have played in all three games and not thrown an interception or lost a fumble.  Life has been easy on Orton as the Broncos have rushed 102 times through three games, third in the league, compared to the Packers’ 77.

Rodgers has managed games beautifully and let the action come to him instead of pressing.  Things may change next week when the Packers take on the Vikings Monday night in what is surely the biggest game of the year for both teams.  As for now, the Packers’ signal caller has been outstanding  running the ship that is the Packers offense.

Charles Woodson: Anyone looking for a drop off in the 12-year veteran should probably start looking for something else, because it is clear Charles Woodson is here to stay.  Through three games, the Pro Bowl cornerback has 18 tackles, ranking second on the team, two tackles for a loss which is tied for most on the team, a team-high three interceptions and a touchdown to go with it.

For as good as he has been in pass coverage this season, Woodson has done a fantastic job against the run near the line of scrimmage.  Teams rarely throw to his side, but when they do there is trouble to be found.  Dom Capers’ pressure-filled 3-4 scheme has been golden for Woodson who preys on jumping routes.

The Packers lead the league with seven interceptions and opposing quarterbacks have a 66.3 quarterback rating against Green Bay, good for fifth in the league.  Woodson has been the main reason why and is in line for another Pro Bowl visit this February if he keeps this type of performance up.

Donald Driver: Much like Woodson, Driver has shown zero signs of slowing down and is poised to have one of his better statistical years if he continues on the pace he is at.  Teams have clearly labeled Greg Jennings the team’s number one receiver and Driver has reaped all the benefits.  Driver has been targeted by Rodgers 23 times this season compared to Jennings’ 16, and has the advantage 14-8 in catches.

Donald Driver, the ageless wonder, has 14 catches this season.

Donald Driver, the ageless wonder, has 14 catches this season.

Also, Driver’s catches have not just been short slants and check down passes.  He leads the team with five catches of 20 or more yards and has also rushed one time on an end around for 13 yards.  With Rodgers’ slow start, Driver’s fast start has been key in keeping the passing game alive.  Jennings will end the season with more targets and receptions than Driver, but for the time being the two are complimenting each other perfectly.

Cullen Jenkins: For the die-hard Packers fan, we knew how much we were going to miss Jenkins when he was lost for the season last year, so to see him out on the field wrecking havoc is that much more enjoyable.  Never a big name, Jenkins has quietly become the Packers’ best lineman and disruptor in the backfield.

His stats, ten tackles including two for losses, two sacks, and two forced fumbles do not even tell the whole story of how valuable he has been.  As a defensive end, Jenkins has required two blockers on occasion which has completely freed up the outside for rushers.

He is constantly in the backfield and has provided great emotion on the all-important defensive line in the 3-4 defense.  While his stats are above average for a defensive end, his best work of taking up blockers goes unnoticed for the most part but has been key in the success of the Packers’ defense thus far.

Johnny Jolly: Staying with the defensive line theme, many expected first round pick B.J. Raji to come in and be the answer to all of the Packers’ defensive line issues as they transitioned to the 3-4.  Raji missed the first two games and left the Packers thin on the line, something no defensive coordinator likes to see.

However, the presence of Johnny Jolly at the defensive end/nose tackle position has made things much easier on the Packers defense.  Jolly has the ability to play both line positions, shifting to nose tackle on passing downs.  On the season, Jolly has 12 tackles, a tackle for a loss, two passes defended, an an interception on a screen pass in what was one of the more athletic plays you are ever going to see a 325-pound human being make.

His versatility has helped with Raji sidelined and he seems to have found his 2007 swagger again, when he performed well as a defensive tackle in the Packers’ old 4-3 scheme.  Linemen need to be constantly rotated in the 3-4 defense, but Jolly’s ability to play both positions gives the Packers an added body to use in specific situations.  His continued success is necessary for the Packers to continue getting to the quarterback with a great pass rush.

Honorable Mentions: Clay Matthews III, Donald Lee, Tramon Williams, Aaron Kampman, A.J. Hawk

September 28, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Why the Twins Can Catch the Tigers in the AL Central

With just under two weeks remaining in the 2009 MLB regular season, the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers find themselves locked in a race to the finish line in the American League Central.  As of today, the Tigers (82-71) have a two game lead on the Twins (80-73) with just nine games to play.  Broken down, here are five reasons why the Twins have a very good chance to catch the Tigers and steal the AL Central.

Remaining Schedule

Outside of the four game series the two teams will have starting on Sept. 28th, the Tigers will match up against the White Sox five more times, with two of those coming on the road and a three game home series to end the season.  The Tigers are 7-6 against the White Sox this season but Chicago is sure to be up for these games.  Ozzie Guillen always wants to play for something and since his team has been mathematically eliminated, this is like a mini-playoffs for him.

On the other side, the Twins will play five games against the Royals to close out the year.  The twins have won eight of 13 games over the Royals this year, and while Kansas City will be trying to help Zach Greinke make his case for the AL Cy Young, there is clearly less for them to play for.  Greinke will get two starts against the Twins to make things interesting, but the fact remains the Twins have an easier path.

Pitching

While the Twins’ pitching staff has won more games (58) than the Tigers (57) have, it’s clear that the starting pitching edge still goes to the Tigers.  However, baseball is a game of what have you done for me lately, and it’s clear that the Twins are rolling right now.  In September, Minnesota pitching has sported a 3.53 ERA, good for third in the AL.  On the other hand, Detroit’s September stats include a 4.66 ERA, which is ninth in the American League.

Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, and Rick Porcello make for an outstanding trio in the Tigers’ rotation and each will make two more starts before the year is over, but Jarrod Washburn’s status is up in the air and the back of the Tigers’ rotation is in question.

The Twins have stayed afloat with their starting pitching but their bullpen is what has really kept them close in the AL Central.  Joe Nathan is as good as it gets in the ninth inning and the Twins bullpen ranks fifth in the AL in ERA from their bullpen.  Minnesota has blown 15 saves this season compared to Detroit’s 23.

Joe Mauer

Baseball is a team game and it is hard for just one player to completely take over a game, but if there was one guy who was going to accomplish that, my pick would be Joe Mauer.  The Minnesota catcher has been unbelievable this season after missing time to start the year, and is the number one reason the Twins are in position to creep up on the Tigers.

Joe Mauer is, without question, the best all-around catcher in the game.

Joe Mauer is, without question, the best all-around catcher in the game.

The All-Star has hit .378 in the month of September and, since Aug. 1st, has struck out just 15 times in 216 plate appearances.  If the Twins are able to make the post season, Mauer has to be considered the front-runner for the AL MVP.  Against Kansas City this year, Mauer is batting a gaudy .457 (21-46) with two home runs, ten RBI’s, and 11 walks.  Look for him to have huge success the rest of the way as he leads the Twins down the stretch.

Head to Head Matchup

As important as the remaining schedule is for both teams, the fact of the matter is whoever comes out on top during the four game series is going to have the head up on the division.  Three wins in the series means two games in the standings, while a four game sweep would mean four games in the standings and more than likely a division win for whoever completed the sweep.

This season, Minnesota has won nine of 14 matchups between the two teams and will look to add to that total.  The series will take place in Detroit which has to help the Tigers who are 48-26 at home, while the Twins are just 35-40 on the road.

In the season series, the Tigers have won three of five games at home and are scheduled to have Porcello and Verlander get starts in the series.  If the final game of the series is an important one (it more than likely will be), then the Tigers will have the option of bumping Edwin Jackson up a day and pitch in the series finale.  For the Twins, all starters but the struggling Francisco Liriano will make starts.

Momentum

So many times in baseball, the team playing better baseball at the end of the season will take down a team that has more talent.  The Twins have gone 14-8 in September while the Tigers have gone 13-10.  That difference is less than two games in the standings but for a team like the Twins who are chasing, it means everything.  For the Tigers, every loss is another day they do not pick up more ground.

Detroit has played well in the season but Minnesota is now starting to play just that much better.  Pressure is on both sides, but Minnesota is playing somewhat of a Cinderella-type role while the Tigers are trying not to choke away the season.  Advantage: Minnesota.

September 26, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Detroit Tigers, MLB | , | Leave a comment

Packers-Rams: Q+A With Rams Examiner Tim Klutsarits

This week, I tried a new theme out by agreeing to do a Q+A with Rams Examiner Tim Klutsarits.  We both asked each other questions about the opposing teams to get a grasp on the matchup that will take place on Sunday in St. Louis.  Up first are Tim’s questions on the Packers followed by my questions on the Rams.

Tim Klutsarits: I think there are a lot of Rams fans who were shocked by what happened to the Packers against the Bengals.  What happened?

Mark Strotman: The Bengals seem poised to have a resurgent year.  Minus Carson Palmer’s mistakes, they looked very good on offense and their defense looks much improved.  The combination of Leon Hall covering other team’s number one receiver and Antwan Odom getting to the quarterback at will is a darn good one.  The Packers are ready to get back on track and simply had a bump in the road that was going to happen at some point this season.

TK: Should that loss give Rams fans hope that they will pull off the upset on Sunday?

MS: It should give your defense a lot of hope that if they get to Aaron Rodgers, it will make things interesting.  Cedric Benson reminds me a lot of Steven Jackson so the run game will be key, but Rodgers is due for a breakout game so the Rams will need to score points early and often.

TK: Aaron Rodgers has had a relatively quiet start when you compare what he did last season to this year.  Is he struggling because of his offensive line or should we be expecting a breakout game from Rodgers soon?

MS: Rodgers has been good (zero interceptions) but not great (two touchdowns) and a game against one of the weaker NFC teams is what he needs.  He has noted the concerns of the offensive line and I believe the Packers will adjust to that this week.  Look for short passes and lots of slants to back the defense off.  Rodgers will not throw for a ton of yards but his completion percentage will be very high.

TK: The Rams have had problems stopping the run in the past few seasons and it continues this season.  How has Ryan Grant looked and what do you expect on Sunday?

MS: Grant has looked alright but certainly not anything spectacular.  Some can say it is due to the lack of production on the offensive line, but that extra burst that Grant showed in 2007 is still nowhere to be found.  Brandon Jackson will be out once again, so Grant will produce yards because of the touches he gets, but as of now the Packers are still relying heavily on the passing game.

TK: The Rams have also had problems stopping the tight end.  Is Donald Lee capable of having a huge game?

MS: Lee might not be the one to look at here, but rather Jermichael Finley.  He was touted as a breakout player coming into this season but has not benefitted at all from Rodgers’ lackluster start.  If what you say is true, look for Finley to become a vertical threat on your linebackers.

TK: Defensively it looks like the Packers secondary is really beat up.  Is this something the Rams can exploit?

MS: Thankfully, Nick Collins will be back in action and recently acquired Derek Martin will get the start for the injured Atari Bigby.  The way the Rams will be able to exploit the secondary is through the run game.  Bigby was by far our best run support in the secondary and so there will be a big hit there.  With Collins back and Woodson playing like an MVP, I wouldn’t expect a big outcome from the passing game.  If the Rams are going to win, it will be because Steven Jackson had success on the ground.

TK: What is your prediction for Sunday?

MS: Packers 31, Rams 17

Mark Strotman: Steve Spagnuolo took over as head coach this season.  Have you noticed an attitude change on the team and is there a sense of resurgence on the horizon in the city of St. Louis?

Tim Klutsarits: There has definitely been a change in attitude under Steve Spagnuolo although the results have not shown it.  He wants to be a tough hard nosed football team that plays smart.  They have been hard nosed but lack talent at a lot of positions.  There is definitely a plan in place and people do believe that the Rams are going to be better….at some point.  No one is believing in any miracles in 2009 but there is hope to be much more competitive this season.

MS: Steven Jackson has been relatively quiet in the first two games.  The Packers gave up a ton of yards against the Bengals by running outside the tackles.  Do you expect them to try to run the ball or finally get the passing game going?

TK: Steven Jackson is the Rams entire offense and the Packers should expect a heavy dose on Sunday, especially because of what Benson did to the Bengals.  The Rams underutilized Jackson in Seattle and it showed with a 28-0 loss.  The next week against the Redskins they used Jackson more, he had over 100 yards, and the game was 9-7.  The Rams know they have to get Jackson a lot of touches and that will increase as the season goes along.

MS: Speaking of the passing game, where has Donnie Avery been?  Is this a matter of the Rams not having a number two to compliment him (so he is doubled) or has he just been unproductive?  It seems like he is they key to the Rams’ offense being able to get going.

TK: Avery has been horrible in the first two games.  He committed a fumble inside the Redskins 5 yard line on Sunday which was arguably the reason the Rams lost the game.  He had two drops in D.C. and committed another costly penalty.  In Seattle he had drops as well and had penalties.  He in all reality lost his #1 receiver job to Laurent Robinson.  The Rams are still high on Avery but they have put him on notice that he better get better….real quick.

MS: Entering the 2009 Draft, the three players I wanted the Packers to look at were Jason Smith, B.J. Raji, and Brian Orakpo.  How has Jason Smith looked early as your left tackle of the future?

TK: Jason Smith has been a project thus far.  He is getting better and better but has not dominated like you would hope a number two overall pick would do.  He has played almost exclusively at right tackle during the regular season and will remain there for 2009.  The plan is to move him in 2010 when Alex Barron is done with his contract.  Smith will not play on Sunday vs. the Packers due to a knee injury.

MS: Will the Rams be able to stop Aaron Rodgers after giving up 240+ yards to both quarterbacks in the first two games?  Rodgers seems to be poised to break out this week and a dome only makes it that much more likely that he will.  How do the Rams plan to stop him?

TK: Stopping Rodgers will be a very interesting project this week.  The Rams have not been good at getting to the quarterback (only 1 sack this season) but they are not giving up the big play in the secondary.  The Rams have been picked apart by the running game and short passes to the tight end.  Rodgers may have a big game but his stats will reflect a high completion percentage with low yardage.  The Rams number one concern this week has been about getting to the quarterback.  We’ll see how it plays out on Sunday.

MS: What are the top three things the Rams need to do in order to upset the Packers this Sunday?

TK: If the Rams get to Aaron Rodgers multiple times, get Steven Jackson close to 150 yards rushing and can protect Marc Bulger then the Rams will pull off the upset.  Being 0-2 and with the situation the Rams are in here in St. Louis they can’t afford to lose this one.  Going 0-3 and having another “lost season” is not something this organization can afford.  Jobs are on the line for the players and the organization desperately needs to sell tickets for the remaining 7 games.  This game is a sellout but most are not.  If the Rams can win the season becomes interesting again.  If not the Rams will fall off the radar completely because the Cardinals will be in the playoffs and the Blues will be starting their season.  This is as close to a must win game as the Rams are going to have this season.  Be aware Packers fans.

September 25, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , | Leave a comment

What Chance Do Marquette’s “Big Three” Have at Making the Pros?

After the 2009 NBA Draft had been completed, 60 players from across the world had NBA teams to call homes after hearing their name called.  None of those 60 were Marquette Golden Eagles.

Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Dominic James all had their names planted in the Marquette basketball history book as McNeal led all players in scoring and games played, James finished second all time in assists, and Matthews had made more free throws than anyone else.

However, measurements were not on the “Big Three’s” list of attributes, and subsequently none of them were drafted.  McNeal was dubbed as more of a point guard because of his size (6’2″) and inability to consistently knock down outside shots, Matthews had played more of a small forward position in college and needed to shoot better to become a shooting guard, and point guard Dominic James’ foot injury slowed him down considerably in pre-draft workouts.

As much of a shock as it was to see the Big Three be shut out on draft day, all three have been presented the opportunity to make an NBA roster this fall.

Matthews played for the Kings in the Summer League but was picked up by the Jazz and was invited to their veteran’s camp.  Prior to the draft, Matthews saw his stock rise a fair amount with good workouts and a solid showing at the Portsmouth Invitational.

Wesley Matthews has an outside shot at making the Jazz roster this fall.

Wesley Matthews has an outside shot at making the Jazz roster this fall.

The 6’4″ guard has the best chance of the Big Three to make a squad this fall.  The Jazz have major question marks at the shooting guard and small forward position, and Matthews might be able to sneak on the roster.

Kyle Korver, Andrei Kirilenko, Ronnie Brewer, and C.J. Miles are the only listed twos and threes as the Jazz have three point guards (Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, rookie Eric Maynor) and three centers (Mehmet Okur, Kosta Koufos and Kyrylo Fesenko) on their current roster.

One roster move that could substantially help Matthews’ chance is whether or not veteran Matt Harpring decides to come back and play a 12th season for the Jazz as constant ankle and knee problems have slowed him down.  Indications right now are that Harpring will not play which opens up another forward spot for Matthews.

Matthews claims the Jazz have liked him from the start, and if a spot is open they might just take a chance with him and put him on the roster.

As much room as there is for Matthews on the Jazz roster, Jerel McNeal finds himself bunched together with a group of young guards in Los Angeles with the Clippers.  He has been asked to attend camp as well and finds himself in a position to make the team, but will have his work cut out for him.

The Clippers have stocked up on point guards in the last couple of years, adding veteran Baron Davis and Sebastian Telfair to join Mardy Collins.  At shooting guard, the Clippers have one of the game’s better young shooters in Eric Gordon to go along with recently traded-for Rasual Butler, and Ricky Davis who is listed at small forward, but plays a fair amount of shooting guard.

If McNeal is able to establish himself as a shooter that can also handle the point, he may garner a look.  Odds are that McNeal will make his way overseas for the next couple of years before trying to make his case in the Association.

Reports say that Dominic James’ foot injury is nearing 100 percent and that should help him as he makes his case to join the Milwaukee Bucks this season.  James looked to be in good position entering the Summer League with the Bucks, but he sprained his knee the day before the team was to leave for Las Vegas.

Now, he will go up against Brandon Jennings, veteran Luke Ridnour, and recently acquired Roko Ukic to try to make the roster.  Fellow point guard Salim Stoudamire was cut from the team after an average showing in the Summer League, so James has already one upped his chances.

The Bucks lack depth in the front court and are looking to add size at all costs, so they will probably not keep four point guards on the roster, but if outplays Ukic in preseason he may get a look.

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles, NBA | , , , | 2 Comments

Preseason Expectations of the Packers Are Blinding Some

Ask just about any media outlet who the breakout team of 2009 would be before the season started, and odds were you were going to hear the Green Bay Packers.  After all, they had absolutely dominated all four preseason games and looked pinpoint accurate on offense.  Their defense had stayed pretty much vanilla on the playcalling yet still forced turnovers left and right.

Everyone was ready to crown the Packers kings of the NFC before the season had even started and one got the feeling that there was no way this team could be stopped.  Their defense was now healthy, the offense had too many weapons then it knew what to do with, and the special teams was starting to rise up to an average standard.

After Week one, fans cited a tough, grind-it-out game against a solid Bears defense as the reason the Packers did not put up 30 points.  However, they still won the game and did so by making good on the one thing they failed to do last season: win the close game.

A week later, the Packers had just been defeated by a suddenly resurgent Bengals team that should be 2-0 (see Stokley, Brandon) and all of a sudden the majority of Packers fans were seen heading for the nearest bridge to jump off or seeking shelter due to the sky falling.  As is typical with most sports fans early in the season, good outcomes are overvalued and bad outcomes are undervalued (Jay Cutler, anyone?).

The fact of the matter is the Packers are a better team than what they trotted out last Sunday afternoon against the Bengals, but aren’t as good as what they showed in the preseason.

The Packers finished their 2008 campaign with a 6-10 record which slotted them in the ninth spot in the draft.  Say what you will about the close losses and how they were in just about every game they played in, you are what your record is and the Packers were plain bad last season.

In the offseason, they brought in Anthony Smith, a former back-up safety from the Steelers that was known more for his smack talk to Tom Brady than his on the field play.  The Packers also drafted a slough of defensive players that included first-rounders B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews III.  Raji has yet to play in a game and Matthews III has seen limited time, but looked good.

The Packers also instilled a 3-4 defense with new coordinator Dom Capers that was expected to take time to work.  Running the scheme with players used to set up a 4-3 defense was not the most ideal of situations, and a learning period was going to need to occur.

After an outstanding preseason, optimistic Packers fans seemingly threw that learning curve out the window and expected results right away.  So when the defense struggled against the Bengals and everyone wondered why all of a sudden the 3-4 wasn’t working, it didn’t make any sense.

Not everyone on the Packers is as experienced as Donald Driver.

Not everyone on the Packers is as experienced as Donald Driver.

Any way one slices it, the Packers still have the exact same personnel that won them six games last season and have not made a huge improvement or change in a big part of the system that would expect immediate results.  Last season, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan came in and took over the helm at quarterback along with brand new coaches and saw results.

That’s not to say the Packers need to fire head coach Mike McCarthy and trade Aaron Rodgers, but what it means is the process is going to take time.  Everyone knows that Rodgers is going to be just fine this season with all the weapons he has, but the defense is still getting their feet underneath them.

Unlike the situations of the Ravens and Falcons last season, a whole new scheme is taking place on defense that is going to take more time than an NFL-ready quarterback does.

In a way, their performance against the Bears was like a pitcher making his first start in the major leagues.  He has made starts in Double-A, Triple-A, just as the individual players on the Packers’ D have played the 4-3 defense their whole careers.  Once that pitcher comes to the big leagues, there is a huge change in how you approach batters and how fast the game moves.

The one caveat is that when that starting pitcher makes his first start in the Bigs, no team has a good enough scouting report to figure out what is going to come.  The first time through the order he torches the offense who have never seen him before.  As the season progresses, teams will pick up scouting reports but that pitcher will also become better.

Much is the same for the Packers defense.  True, they have been with Capers since July and have been working on the defense, but there is no replacement for the real thing and the Packers are still figuring out the defense at game speed.

There are going to be growing pains with the Packers this season, but the hope is they figure it out at a fast pace so they can continue to win football games.  The offensive line is extremely young and inexperienced for the most part, and has struggled to date.  Experts who chose the Packers to win the NFC might have been pre-mature because they looked at it with Fantasy Football goggles on.  The Packers have the skill positions on offense and defense down pat.

But the little things like fluidity on defense and consistency on the offensive line are going to take time, so being confused as to why the Packers had a bump in the road against the Bengals is nonsense.  Dom Capers did not make the Packers the second coming of the Steelers in one night, and Aaron Rodgers is not Tom Brady just because he led one fourth quarter comeback.

All the pieces for the Packers to be successful are in place, but this isn’t Madden 2010.  Give the team some time and let them work out the kinks as the season moves along.  For what it’s worth, the Packers are again the youngest team in the NFL, and it has shown to some extent.

As long as they stay healthy and keep progressing under Capers, there’s good reason to believe the Packers will be in contention come December.  However, the preseason made the Packers out to be the 2007 Patriots before they had even taken one snap in the regular season, so the Bengals game came as a shock.

It’s how the Packers respond to them that becomes important.  Take Allen Barbre, for example.  He had a very rough game against the Bears, allowing two sacks and constant pressure from the right side.  Against the Bengals, he fared much better and was stellar in the running game again.

The Packers are a much better, more disciplined, and better coached team than they were last year so it’s not as if six wins should be expected again, but growing pains and inexperience are going to creep up during times this year, and Packers’ fans need to understand that they are there.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , | Leave a comment

Brewers’ Looper In The Process of Making History

Take a look at Braden Looper’s record this season and you will see 13 wins and just seven losses.  The wins constitute a career high for the 12-year veteran and also put him 12th in the National League.  But to say that Looper has had a career year or even that he is in the top 20 National League pitchers this season would be misleading.  In fact, it would be historically misleading.

Dig a little deeper into Looper’s 2009 campaign and you will find that his ERA sits at 5.12, he has walked 61 batters, given up a league high 37 h0me runs, and his BAA is the worst it has been his entire career.  He has struggled mightily to get batters out and has had a less than stellar season.  Because of the Brewers’ shallow pitching rotation, they are expected to pick up Looper’s option next season that will keep him in Milwaukee for another season.

You might be asking yourself right now, how in the world has Looper won 13 games, lost just seven, and still been able to have an ERA over 5.00?

Well, Looper leads all of baseball in run support, receiving an average of 7.05 runs in games he pitches in.  The next closest in the National League is Jorge de la Rosa at just 6.39.  The outburst of run support for Looper this season has included seven or more runs 12 different times.

It's been a very odd statistical year for Braden Looper.

It's been a very odd statistical year for Braden Looper.

So just how weird can Looper’s season get?  Well, he is scheduled to make two more starts for the Brewers this season, coming against the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies.  Both teams are in line to make the playoffs and rank in the top six in runs scored this season.  Looper will have his work cut out for him in both games, but it’s a safe bet that his ERA of 5.12 is likely to increase or at least stay above 5.00.

If that occurs and Looper finishes the season with 13, 14, or 15 wins and less than nine losses and his ERA stays above 5.00, he will become just the third pitcher since 1937 to do so.  In 1998, James Baldwin went 13-6 for the Chicago White Sox and posted an ERA of 5.32.

Back in 1937, Roxie Lawson pitched his way to an 18-7 record for the Detroit Tigers while sporting an ERA of 5.26.  The Tigers’ offense scored 935 runs that season as Lawson benefited greatly from that run support.

Since 1937, many pitchers have won 13 or more games and recorded an ERA worse than 5.00, but the vast majority (all but two) have had nine or more losses.

If Looper loses both games against the Rockies and Phillies and his ERA is above the 5.00 mark, he will be just the tenth pitcher in the last 40 years to win 13 games and lose nine or less games while having that high of an ERA.

Run support has been an amazing gift for Looper this season, but it has not hid the disappointing statistics outside of wins and losses.  Looper will face the Phillies at Miller Park, where he actually pitched six shutout innings last time the two teams met.  He will end his season in Colorado, where the home runs are sure to flying in every direction.

Looper has been able to produce victories for the Brewers this season and the Brewers are a respectable 18-13 when he takes the hill, but his season could put him in the record books if he is not able to get his ERA below 5.00.

September 22, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Milwaukee Brewers, MLB | , | Leave a comment

Five Things the Packers Need to Accomplish to Beat the Bengals

Opening day could not have started more similar for the Packers and Bengals.  The final minutes and seconds could not have been more different.  Both teams were locked in close games against the Bears and Broncos until the last few minutes saw the Packers pull ahead on a touchdown pass and the Bengals lose on a tipped, 87-yard miracle touchdown in the last seconds of the game.

Because of the consequences, the Bengals stand at 0-1 on the season and are hungry for a win that was taken away from them last week.  For the Packers, they look to continue their hot start on defense and try to regain their preseason form on offense.  The Packers are favored to win the game by more than a touchdown but the Bengals have high-powered weapons on offense that could keep them in the game.  Here are five things the Packers are going to have to accomplish if they want to move to 2-0 when they take on the Bengals in Lambeau Field on Sunday.

To check out the rest of this article, click on this link and enjoy the game!  Go Pack!

September 19, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

Reality Check, Cubs: Time To Let Milton “T.O.” Bradley Go

Unless you have been living under a rock for the 2009 MLB season, you know that the Chicago Cubs have failed miserably to live up to expectations.  If you ARE living under that rock, you have probably still heard Milton Bradley’s constant complaining and overall bad attitude that has done anything but help the team’s situation.

Bradley signed a three year, $30 million deal this off-season after completing one of the best seasons of his ten year career in Texas the season before.  The switch-hitter batted .321, got on base at a career-best .421 clip, hit 22 home runs, and drove in 77 runs.

He was expected to be inserted into the lineup as the Cubs’ fifth hitter and play every day in right field.  He came in saying his goal was to win a World Series and how he believed the Cubs could obtain that goal this season.  Fast forward to September, and it’s obvious Bradley has been nothing but trouble for the North Siders this season.

His latest tirade occurred yesterday after the the Cubs dropped their second game in a row to the Milwaukee Brewers.  Bradley led off the sixth inning with a single to right field, and then promptly took himself out of the game without saying anything.  He walked into the dugout and went straight to the clubhouse without saying anything.

Bradley’s knees have given him trouble this season so many believed this was again the reason for his departure.  After the game, the story picked up a little momentum and began to raise eyebrows.

Lou Piniella did not appear at his post-game press conference and Bradley walked away from reporters when they came to ask him about the self-managing he did.  Then, Bradley came back to reporters and began a verbal back-and-forth battle in which he refused to ask any questions and ask the reporter “if he had anything else”.

Reporter: Why did you come out of the game?

Bradley: ”I got knee inflammation. I got two knee surgeries, and that happens when you got knee surgery, in case you don’t know. What else you got?”

Reporter: It flared up?

Bradley: ”What else you got?”

Reporter: How long will you be out?

Bradley: ”What else you got? You got anything significant?”

Reporter: An injury is significant.

Bradley: ”What else you got? What else you got?”

Reporter: Was there a problem after you came out?

Bradley: ”What else you got? I mean, you got any real questions?”

Reporter: Lou wouldn’t do a postgame; that’s pretty rare for him.

Bradley: ”If I had a choice, I wouldn’t do it, either. What else you got?”

Reporter: Trying to find out what happened.

Bradley: ”You got some baseball questions, I can answer them. But [if not] I ain’t got nothing for you.”

Reporter: So you came out because of the knee?

Bradley: ”You got anything else? I mean, broken record.”

Reporter: That was a strange scene.

Bradley: ”It’s strange? It’s strange when a guy hurt comes off [the field]?”

Reporter: Yeah, I didn’t see a trainer, didn’t see the pinch-runner go out there first.

Bradley: ”OK, it’s strange.”

Reporter: The scene was?

Bradley: ”I’m out.”

Bradley then left the locker room in disgust and has not spoken since.  I am not a Cubs fan and would never wish to be, but if I was, this would be the last straw for my relationship with Milton Bradley.  Not only is he failing to produce after being given a huge contract, but he is being detrimental to the team and seems to be in a constant rift with someone.

Yes, it has to be frustrating for the Cubs to have one of the highest payrolls in baseball and be below .500 without any major injuries (compared to the Mets, for example), but the way Bradley acts is uncalled for and is clearly affecting the team.

I think we'd all like to see what a handshake between these two would look like today.

I think we'd all like to see what a handshake between these two would look like today.

Rumors have swirled Bradley’s whole career that he is a bad teammate and that his attitude affects everyone else.  He reminds me a heck of a lot of Terrell Owens, who seems to breed trouble wherever he goes.  Whether it’s throwing a bag of baseballs on the field, tearing your ACL while your manager holds you back from killing an ump, trying to find a radio announcer in the press box after a game, or disrespecting a reporter trying to do his job, Bradley is plain and simple a bad egg.

He’s not making Piniella’s job any easier and it’s clear there is not enough room for two hotheads in the Cubs clubhouse.  They do not mesh and when things go poorly, it’s a recipe for disaster.  The Cubs need to admit their mistake (good luck with that, Jim Hendry) and move forward without Bradley.

Sam Fuld is proving that he can be a serviceable outfielder in the Cubs lineup and Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano are tied up in contracts that will keep them in the outfield.  The Cubs don’t need Milton Bradley on the field and they sure don’t need him off of it, either.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Chicago Cubs, MLB | , , | Leave a comment

Marquette’s Junior Cadougan Likely Done for the Year

Marquette’s highly touted freshman Junior Cadougan suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon today, ending his year.  More to come soon, but this loss crushes the Golden Eagles and leaves them with just nine healthy players on scholarship.  Maurice Acker and Darius Johnson-Odom will handle the point guard duties while Cadougan recovers.

Check back later for a full article…

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , | 1 Comment

Where’s Your Sports Loyalty?! Wherever I Want it to Be….

In the wake of the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Chicago Bears 21-15 in Lambeau Field Sunday night, it has come to my attention that a certain question of loyalty to a city’s teams is a must in today’s sports world.  Many angry Bears fans had just watched their aging defense give up a game-winning touchdown in the last 77 seconds, their savior quarterback throw more insults at his wide receivers than he did completions, and their best defensive player in the last 20 years go down for the season with a wrist injury.

That being said, Sunday night and the days following sucked for Bears fans.  The season is hardly lost because one game never has and never will make a season for any NFL team, but it sure got harder for the Bears after their debacle against the Packers.

After the game, my naturally excited state of mind prompted me to go on Facebook and talk smack to Bears nation.  All of the trash talking was good natured and while some of it got a little out of hand, it was nothing that lasted more than that night.  However, there was one argument Bears fans were making against Packers fans that got me upset and wondering why there was an issue at hand.

Being from Illinois and a suburb of Chicago, Bears fans from my hometown chastised my Packers fanhood and called out my friend, who is a fan of all Chicago teams other than the Bears, for not being a true “Chicago fan”.  They stated that if a person is from Chicago and does not root for all of his or her sports teams, that person is not a fan at all.

One upset fan even claimed that a person who did this was “less than scum”, which brings me to the heart of my argument.  Does a person who comes from a particular city have to root for every team in that particular city, with no exceptions and no questions asked?

The answer is a resounding NO.

When my father was growing up, everyone in his family was a die-hard Chicago Bears fan.  Every Sunday, the boys of the house would go to the local church and watch the Bears take on their weekly opponent.  But my dad was different.  Always one to go against the proverbial grain (if you know my dad, you just laughed at that and nodded your head), he decided to take up a liking for the rivals from the North, the Green Bay Packers.

Born in 1959, his career as a Packers fan got off to a fast start in the mid-60’s, but the 70’s and 80’s made it almost unbearable to watch.  But the one thing my dad always said was that his father, my grandpa, told him that once he chose a team, he had to stick with it and not become fair-weathered.  So there he was, watching the Packers amount to four winning seasons between 1970 and 1991, winning just one playoff game.

When I was born in 1990, my father molded me into a Packers fan from day one.  I had always been a huge sports fan, and football was always my favorite sport, so naturally I wanted to cheer for the Packers.  My dad and I would go to games yearly and would always share information on the team at the dinner table, sparking debates that still give my mother headaches today.

Back to the main question of all this: In becoming Packers fans despite living in Illinois basically our whole lives, did my father and I do something wrong or go against our city?

The greatest freedom that we have in out country today is the freedom of speech.  We are allowed to choose our leader, speak publicly about issues, and not have to worry if our house will be burnt down in the morning.  This may seem like a stretch of an analogy to some, but it really is not.  The same goes for sports in that we should be able to decide who we want to root for.

For children our age who watched football growing up, how could you not love to see Brett Favre zip a touchdown to Antonio Freeman on a snowy day in Lambeau Field?  The Packers were a fun team to watch and their leader had one of the most lovable personalities in all the game.  It became almost impossible to root against Favre, and for some people this meant coming over to the side of cheering for the Packers on a weekly basis.

No matter where you're from, being a Packers fan is second to none.

No matter where you're from, being a Packers fan is second to none.

You don’t choose which sports teams you love.  For the most die-hard fans, there is an actual bond between the teams we love and ourselves.  Even if we wanted to root for our hometown teams and thought that we HAD an obligation to do so, we just couldn’t.  There’s something about the team we chose that we love, and we wouldn’t change that for the world.

Another argument presented during the Facebook face-off Sunday night was that being a “Chicago fan” meant cheering for ALL Chicago teams, and once you cheered for another team, let alone a rival, you could no longer call yourself a Chicago fan.

What?

Since when is there such thing as a Chicago fan or (enter the name of a city here) fan?  It’s one thing if you choose to root for all Chicago teams and it just so happens to work out like that, but fan loyalty has nothing to do with where you live.  What is the record of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky this season?  How about the Chicago Fire?  Will either team make the playoffs?  Come on now, you’re a “Chicago fan”, aren’t you?

No one chooses where they are born, so the argument of fan loyalty out of the the womb makes little sense.  This isn’t a dictatorship of a country where I have the potential to be shot if I wear my Packers jersey out in public.  Do I have to be all for Chicago politics just because I reside in Deerfield?  Why are sports any different from anything else in Chicago?

Sports are an amazing entertainment for every kind of fan who has ever loved a team.  There are few things outside of sports that can ignite so much passion inside of us, make us sit in front of a TV for nine hours straight on a Sunday, and even shell out hundreds of dollars just to get a glimpse of our heroes in person.

Sports can be a getaway from the harsh realities of life, they can create futures for those talented enough to work in the business, and they can bring together a whole city, state, or country.  Just ask the Yankees after September 11th or Team USA in the 1980 Olympics.

But above all these things, the best part about sports is that we get to decide on our own who we want to cheer for.  We find those sports figures in our life who turn into our heroes who make us want to be the best at what we do, just like they do.  We decide what jersey we put on as we imitate our favorite basketball player in the driveway.

Sports are a passion and wherever we find that passion, all that matters is that we back the team we follow, through thick and thin.  It isn’t a mortal sin to cheer for the rival and our loyalty isn’t some binding contract that has to match up with our zip code.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Baseball, Basketball, Chicago Bears, Football, Green Bay Packers | | 4 Comments

Marquette Basketball Recruiting Update: Blue, Clark, Desrosiers Nearing Decisions

The 2009 Marquette basketball season is right around the corner and less than two months away, but who says it’s too early to look ahead to 2010?  Just like this year’s recruiting class, next year’s high school recruits are extremely talented and will provide teams with foundations for the future of their program.

Marquette currently has two players signed for next season after Jacksonville small forward Aaron Bowen de-committed from the team.  Jamail Jones, a 6’6″ combo guard/forward freshman, leads Marquette’s recruiting class and is followed by junior college transfer Monterale Clark, a 6’10” power forward who will have two years of eligibility when he comes to Marquette.

Jones has been ranked anywhere from 61st to 67th overall in the 2010 recruiting class, and is moving up those charts as he is exposed more.  Originally from Georgia, he will play basketball in Florida this season in an attempt to play against higher competition.

Clark was recruited by Tom Crean back in 2006, before his senior year of high school.  He did not qualify and will play another year of ball at Hill Junior College before becoming a Golden Eagle next season.  At 6’10”, his versatility is a huge factor as he claims arguably his best position on the court is small forward.  He was ranked the number 37 center in the class of 2007, but now has no ranking.

The two recruits form a solid base for next year’s recruiting class with a big man and a combo forward.  With such a guard-heavy team, these two players will be key rotation men next season.

However, the best has yet to come from Marquette’s recruiting class, and the blue chip prospects are closing in on their decisions on where to attend school, and the Golden Eagles are on the final lists of a few top players.  Because Bowen de-committed, the Buzz Williams now has two opening spots on next year’s team.

The one player that everyone in Milwaukee is coveting is Madison shooting guard Vander Blue.  Teammate and friend of current Marquette freshman Jeronne Maymon, Blue has seen his stock rise considerably over the last year and has narrowed his schools down to five.  Originally signed with Wisconsin, Blue has re-opened his recruitment to the Badgers, Marquette, Arizona, Florida, and UCLA.

Blue would form one of the best young back courts in the Big East alongside Junior Cadougan, and the tempo the Golden Eagles could use would be second to none.  He is a shooting guard with outstanding range and the ability to get to the basket and finish strong.  He is currently ranked as the fourth best shooting guard in the class, according to Scout.com.

It would be nice to steal away Blue from the Badgers, but even nicer to have him in a Marquette uniform raining threes on the rest of the Big East.

Cameron Clark is ranked as the fifth best small forward in the 2010 class, and has Marquette listed in his final three schools.

Cameron Clark is ranked as the fifth best small forward in the 2010 class, and has Marquette listed in his final three schools.

Not far behind Blue on the 2010 rankings is small forward Cameron Clark, who recently narrowed down his choices to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Marquette.  The Golden Eagles might be a longshot to get the 6’6″ athletic Clark, but Buzz Williams’ southern ties have to be helping the recruiting process along.  Currently, Marquette has four players from Texas in Jimmy Butler, Joe Fulce, Erik Williams, and Junior Cadougan.

Clark can be seen anywhere on the court from on the low block in the post to bringing the ball up the court, and if you can’t find him your best bet is to look up at the rim.  He is all over Youtube with rim-rocking dunks and an impressive jumpshot.  A duo of Blue and Clark would surely put Marquette in the conversation for a top ten class.

Despite all the talk of Marquette being a guard-oriented team who likes to get out and run, 6’11” center Carson Desrosiers likes Marquette enough to put them in his top three schools.   Wake Forest and Arizona State are in the running as well, and whoever gets their hands on the big man will have their frontcourt foundation for the next four years.  He is expected to take his official visit somewhere in the near future and is expected to commit sometime in the near future.  He is ranked 87th overall according to Rivals.com, good for tenth overall in the center rankings for 2010.

Another big man that Marquette is hoping for is 6’10” center Maurice Walker.  Obtaining him will not be easy, as he lists Kansas, Georgetown, UConn, and Duke as other possibilities in his recruiting.  While his ranking (118th overall) is not eye-popping, his frame and potential make him a highly-coveted player that is sure to get better as he gets older.

Cory Joseph is also considering Marquette, along with numerous other schools, as the seventh best prospect in next year’s class.  The 6’3″ point guard would be an unbelievable signing and become an instant starter on the team, but if that signing were to occur it would come much later.

Other names on the recruiting trail for 2010 include point guard Brandon Young (147th overall), shooting guard Justin Coleman (45), small forward J.J. Moore (107), and combo-guard forward Jayvaughn Pinkston (67).  These players have Marquette currently on their list but are more than likely going elsewhere to play college basketball.

With two remaining spots (and potentially three with injuries on the team), the Golden Eagles have the potential to bring in a fantastic recruiting class.  Blue, Desroisers, and Clark are top of the line prospects and are all potential NBA picks.  The 2010 recruiting class can go from good to great if two of these players sign on to become Warriors next season.

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , | 1 Comment

Packers’ Jennings Always in the Right Place at the Right Time

There’s a quote that says “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”.  If this is the case, Greg Jennings is making a real habit out of being extremely lucky.  With the Packers down two points in the final minutes of their home opener against the Bears last Sunday night, Jennings hauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to put the Packers ahead for good.

But his good fortunes did not start there.  Throughout his career, the rising star has improved his game in just about every aspect.  Just last offseason, he worked all summer with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and wideout legend Jerry Rice to work on his route running and speed.  Just one game into the season, the results are already showing as the fourth year man from Western Michigan caught six balls for 106 yards and the decisive touchdown.

Back in 2006, the rookie Jennings went for a 75-yard run-and-catch touchdown against the Detroit Lions, marking Brett Favre’s 400th career touchdown pass.  That next season, 2007, Jennings caught Favre’s 420th touchdown pass against the Chargers, which tied Favre with the great Dan Marino on the all-time touchdown list.

That next week, Jennings caught a 16-yard slant from Favre to put the Hall of Famer past Marino on the all-time touchdowns list.  Amazingly, his milestone catches did not end that season, either.  Believe it or not, Jennings caught Aaron Rodgers’ first touchdown pass against the Dallas Cowboys after Favre went down with a hand injury.

All these milestone catches have been the result of Jennings’ hard work off the field, which has allowed him to be on the field and have the opportunity to catch passes.  But even more so than the historic catches, Jennings has been clutch throughout his entire career.

In 2007, his touchdown reception against the Chargers (Favre’s 420th) came from 57 yards away and with two minutes to go in a tie ballgame.  The touchdown ended up being the game winner that would put the Packers on top for good.  Five weeks later, Jennings found himself on the receiving end of 82-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage in overtime against the Broncos.

A week after that, the Packers found themselves down six points with three minutes to play in Kansas City before Jennings caught a 60-yard pass from Favre to put the Packers up for good in that game as well.

In 2008, the Packers had a hard time winning games due to the inability for the defense to stop teams in the fourth quarter, but Jennings did all he could to keep the Packers in games.  Against Seattle, he hauled in the eventual game winning touchdown pass, a 45-yarder from Aaron Rodgers.  In their 35-31 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Jennings’ fourth quarter score put the Packers ahead before the defense failed to hold the lead.

Another way to tell that Jennings is on his way to becoming a true star is the way he performs at night.  Under the lights, Jennings’ averages go up in receptions and yards per game, and his touchdowns per game are nearly identical.  In his short career, Jennings has played at night (national televison) nine times and has averaged 5.5 catches, 82 yards, and 0.54 touchdowns.  Compare that to his overall numbers per game of 4.2 catches, 67 yards, and 0.57 touchdowns and you have a true clutch performer.

It makes it even more impressive that part of those totals include a game where Jennings caught just one pass for two yards in his rookie season.

Throw in his six reception, 71-yard performance against the Seahawks in the 2007 Divisonal Playoffs and those numbers would increase even further.  He also scored twice in the game, where the passing conditions were less than stellar.  He brought the Packers out of an early 14-0 hole in a game they would end up winning 42-20.

Clearly the favorite target of quarterback of Aaron Rodgers, Jennings is well on his way to supplanting himself as a top five wide receiver in all of football.  What he lacks for in size (5’11”), he makes up for in crisp route running and some of the softest hands in all of football.  You’d be hard pressed to find a time where Jennings let the ball touch his shoulder pads, but rather catching the ball with his hands before doing wonders after the catch.

Preparation has never been an issue for Greg Jennings.  He has himself in tip-top shape, works out with some of the game’s best, and does it all with a big smile.  He is an outstanding teammate who loves to see his fellow wideouts do well, and has never once demanded the ball.  His opportunity has finally arrived as the number one receiver for the Green Bay Packers and a franchise quarterback throwing to him.  But both of those factors together, and Greg Jennings is one lucky guy.

September 15, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , | 1 Comment

Which Players Are Looking To Rebound, and What Will the Newcomers Contribute?

After the Packers staggered to a 6-10 season in 2008,  it was tough to find many bright spots.  Aaron Rodgers cemented himself as a legitimate starting quarterback, Jordy Nelson came on very strong as the top pick for the Packers, and Nick Collins elevated his play to Pro Bowl status.  These were a few of the good things to come out of the 2008 season, unfortunately there were more negatives than positives.

Because of these negatives, replacements were made at some crucial spots and other players are looking to rebound from a 2008 season to forget.  Let’s take a look at these players and remember to go back and look at the rest of the week’s articles by clicking on the links next to the days.  My hope is that these articles will get you up to date and ready when the Packers take on the Bears Sunday night.

Monday, Part One: Just How Good Can the Offense Be?

Tuesday, Part Two: How Will This Year’s Defense Be Different From Last Season?

Wednesday, Part Three: What Does Their Schedule Look Like and How Will They Fare?

Thursday, Part Four: How Does Aaron Rodgers Match Up Against the Rest of the NFC North?

Friday, Part Five: Which Players Are Looking To Rebound, and What Will the Newcomers Contribute?

Saturday, Part Six: Packers-Bears Pregame: Jay Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers, Round One

Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, and Atari Bigby all had fantastic 2007 seasons in which the Packers made it to the NFC Championship.  Barnett led the team in tackles, Bibgby had gone from undrafted borderline roster player to leading the team in interceptions, and Cullen Jenkins was ready for a breakout year opposite Aaron Kampman.

However, the season was cut short for all three starters by injury, who combined to start 20 of a possible 48 games for the Packers in 2008.  All three are healthy and back on the field in 2009, ready to bring the Packers’ defense back to greatness under new leadership.

In the new 3-4 scheme, Jenkins will have the daunting task of opening up holes for blitzing outside linebackers, Barnett will be expected to lead the team in tackles as he did in 2007, and Bibgy will have to ensure that the “big play” does not hurt the Packers like it did last season without him.  Expect things to get much better on defense with these three back on the field.

One player who played in every game and fought off the injury bug for most of the season was Ryan Grant.  The breakout running back from 2007 had as quiet of a 1200 yard rushing season possible.  His yards per carry dipped underneath four after being over five in the year before, and he found the endzone (four) as many times as he fumbled the ball.  Hamstring injuries early in the preseason were a small excuse for his lack of production, but much more will be expected of him this time around.

With a revamped offensive line, especially in terms of the run game, Grant hopes to re-gain his 2007 swagger.  The Packers kept three fullbacks on their roster, meaning they are serious about getting Grant going early and often in games.

When the Packers decided to move to the 3-4 defense, they knew the two most important factors in the success of it would include someone to anchor the defense and someone to call the shots.  Dom Capers takes over as defensive coordinator and has brought a whole new attitude to the defense, and B.J. Raji is the future at nose tackle.

While he will play defensive end this season, his impact will be felt regardless of where he is on the field.  Clay Matthews III became only the second player in the Ted Thompson era that the Packers traded up for.  Both Raji and Matthews III are the present and the future, and Capers has to be excited for those two to be on board.

Mike Trgovac takes over on the defensive line, giving the Packers another defensive coordinator on board.  One of the most important acquistions on the coaching staff this offseason was the hiring of former linebacker and all-pro Kevin Greene.  His intensity and passion has rubbed off on the players in the most extreme way, and his outside linebackers have been great in the preseason.  Aaron Kampman has become his personal project, and any success Kampman has in the switch to the 3-4 will be attributed to Greene.

The Packers are in the midst of a bounce-back year and have all the pieces to do it.  Just about everyone on the team underperformed, and anything short of the playoffs this season will be a failure.  Last season, the Brett Favre fiasco messed with players heads, Aaron Rodgers was making his first start in a Packers uniform, and yet they were in just about every game they played in.

The new faces will make a huge impact on the team and players looking for better seasons are well on their way to fulfilling that hope.  It’s finally football season, and it looks like the Pack are finally back.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , | Leave a comment