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NFC Wildcard Update Week 12: Packers Get Little Help

After the Green Bay Packers disposed of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving day in a 34-12 rout, they were able to sit back and enjoy Sunday’s slate of NFL games.  At 7-4, the Packers find themselves in good position to nab one of the two NFC Wildcard spots at the end of the season.  They sport a decent conference record at 6-3, better than any Wildcard contenders other than the Eagles (6-2).  Still, the Packers were looking for a little extra help this weekend from some of the bottom teams in the NFC.  Unfortunately, things did not go as planned.  Here’s a look at the Packers’ situation and reviews of how each Wildcard contender did this past weekend.

Green Bay Packers, currently 7-4

The Packers play the Ravens and Steelers over the course of three weekends and, while it looked more difficult at the beginning of the season, both games will be difficult.  Both teams sit at 6-5 and are very beatable, especially the Ravens at home and the Packers will most likely need to take one of them to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers hold their own destiny in making the playoffs this season. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

If they lose one of those games, the good news is it will not count against their conference record, the first tiebreaker in determining the Wildcard spots.  They also play two games in which they should be favored against the Seahawks and Bears.  To close the season out, they go to Arizona to play the Cardinals.  The caveat there is that the Cardinals, who hold a two-game lead on the division, could very well have wrapped up the NFC West by then and will be resting their starters, making for a much easier game.

1. Dallas Cowboys, 7-3 entering Week 12

The Cowboys were sure thankful for whoever scheduled them to play the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day.  America’s Team pummeled the Raiders 24-7 and now find themselves in the driver’s seat to win the NFC East at 8-3.  Someone has to win the NFC East by rule, but Packers’ fans were hoping that it would be the Cowboys vying for a Wildcard spot due to the head-to-head advantage they hold against them from the Week 10 victory in Lambeau Field.

The Eagles sit at 7-4 and are still very much alive in the NFC East hunt, but instead of worrying about tie-breakers and conference records and such, it would be best if the Cowboys won the rest of their games, including match ups against the New York Giants and Eagles.  Their schedule the rest of the way is tougher than their NFC East counterparts, but they should win the East if they win their division games.

2. Philadelphia Eagles, 6-4 entering Week 12

If it weren’t for some 4th quarter heroics from Donovan McNabb, the Eagles would have been looking at a 6-5 record and a 2-game difference in the NFC East.  They trailed the Redskins by eight points in the fourth quarter but ended up winning the game in the last two minutes, 27-24.  It would have been a huge gain for the Packers if the Eagles had tripped up, but alas they pulled it out.

The Eagles kept their division title hopes alive with a late rally against the Redskins. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

The Eagles have a better conference record than the Packers because they have played one less game and do not play the Packers head-to-head.  They will face Atlanta next weekend who is also fighting for their playoff life as well as the Giants and Cowboys, so chances are the Eagles will either knock out one of the NFC East opponents or be knocked out by one of them.

3. New York Giants, 6-4 entering Week 12

After beginning the year 5-0, the wheels are starting to come off for Eli Manning and the Giants.  They missed a golden opportunity to stay tied with Philadelphia and within a game of the Cowboys, but dropped their Thanksgiving Day match up against the Broncos, 26-6.  They face the Cowboys next week who they already beat in Dallas, meaning they could have taken possession of first place had they won last week.

However, a win in Dallas would not only keep their playoff hopes alive, but their division hopes alive as well.  The next week they play the Eagles, meaning that the next 14 days will all but determine the playoff hopes for the Giants.  If they win both, they will be in very good shape to win the division.  Lose both and they will probably be on their couches for the second season.

4. Atlanta Falcons, 6-4 entering Week 12

The Falcons were about 30 seconds and one down away from seeing their 2009 playoff chances fade away, but a Roddy White touchdown catch to beat the Bucs 20-17 kept them alive in the hunt.  They now sit at 6-5 and are still on the outside looking in, but face the Eagles next week in a matchup that, if won, would let them leapfrog the Eagles in the standings.

After the Eagles, the Falcons play the Saints at home and then do not face a team with a record over .500 the rest of the year.  Sounds good for them if they can beat the Eagles, right?  Not so fast.  Quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner both left Sunday’s game with injuries and the offense will go nowhere fast, regardless of who they play, if the two of them can not go.  They could sneak in the playoffs with a win over the Eagles, but keep a very close eye on those injuries.

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Football, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Spice Classic Roundup: Marquette Surprises Doubters, Wins Two

The Marquette Golden Eagles came to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic in hopes of preparing themselves for the Big East schedule by playing against some of the better teams in the country.  What the Golden Eagles got was a boatload of confidence and two wins that are sure to look good on their tournament resume come March.

They ended the tournament Sunday night with a heart-breaking loss to Florida State 57-56 in the Championship game.  Senior Lazar Hayward, who finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds, hit a jump shot from the free throw line with 32 seconds left to give Marquette the lead before Solomon Alibi returned the favor with a baseline floater of his own.  Hayward averaged 22.6 points and 7.3 rebounds over the course of the tournament and was named to the All-Tournament team.

Jimmy Butler continued his excellent play and has joined Hayward as the forwards who will battle against bigger forwards night in and night out and grab boards with hustle and fundamentals rather than size.  Big men like Jason Love (21 points, 19 rebounds) and Chris Singelton (18 points, 10 rebounds) were able to get their stats in the paint, but never took over the game.

The tournament also saw a coming out party of sorts for combo guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who finished the tournament averaging 13 points and two three-pointers per game.  He hit big shot after big shot and showed a nice combination of outside shots as well as the ability to drive to the hoop with both hand.  His big frame and high hops allow him to hang in the air and complete shots, even with contact.

Darius Johnson-Odom has solidified his spot as Marquette's third go-to option on offense. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Marquette’s biggest improvement came from the overall defense and, as a team, the Golden Eagles held their opponents to under 44 percent shooting from the field and forced 48 turnovers.  Constant ball pressure and quickness on the outside made it tough for opponents to get the ball in the paint and forced bad shots.  Attribute a lot of that pressure to David Cubillan and Maurice Acker, the two senior point guards who really made the ship sail on the defensive end.  While he struggled offensively, Acker had eight steals in the tournament and did a great job turning those steals into transition offense.

A big part of that transition offense was Dwight Buycks, who seemed to be in the right spot at the right time for Marquette on the break and finished very strong at the basket when he got the ball.  Buycks is turning into the “duct tape” role for the Golden Eagles, giving them a little bit everything in the scoring, passing, and rebounding department as well as solid help defense.

Overall, the tournament has to be looked at as a major success for head coach Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles.  Basically left for dead two games in a row, first against a taller Xavier team and then a more fundamentally sound Michigan team, Marquette proved they can hang with the big dogs and use their aggressive nature into forcing teams to make bad decisions.  Late in the championship game, Florida State switched to a four-guard offense and took their best player, Alibi, out of the game for a large chunk of the second half.  Marquette’s match-up problems on offense let them dictate what the other team did, and the results showed.

As much as Marquette gained from this experience as a team, they also have an early headliner for their tournament resume with wins over Xavier and 15th ranked Michigan.  Both of Marquette’s victories came against teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament come March and Florida State should fight towards the top of the ACC standings, meaning Marquette’s RPI will benefit greatly from playing three potential tournament teams.

The future looks a whole lot brighter for Marquette than it did a week ago.  Not to say that anyone was doubting that Marquette had talent, but the early returns are showing that not only do they have talent, but coach Buzz Williams is using it perfectly and the result is wins over some of the best teams in the country.  For a team that has not even peaked, early confidence can only help the ceiling grow even more as to how good the team can be.

That confidence is coming around at a perfect time as Marquette will take on North Carolina State and in-state rival Wisconsin over the course of the next two weeks in what will also be huge games that could boost Marquette’s standing even more.  A win over Florida State might have pushed Marquette into the top 25, and while they should receive some votes on Monday, that’s not what the Golden Eagles are focused on.

Rather, the bigger picture of racking up wins before the brutal Big East schedule begins will be the focus of the Golden Eagles and they picked up two big ones in Orlando over the weekend.

November 29, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Things Marquette Must Do To Defeat Florida State

After two upset victories over Xavier and Michigan, the Marquette Golden Eagles find themselves in position to take the Old Spice Classic tomorrow in Orlando.  It would be quite the turn of events for a team that lost just about everything that won them 25 games last season and an eight-man rotation that features one player that scored more than six points last season as well as three newcomers.

Standing between them and the Old Spice Classic champion title are the Florida State Seminoles, who defeated Iona and Alabama on their path to the title game.  The Seminoles are as close to a different team from Marquette as one will find, featuring a whopping ten players over 6’4″ and getting their best looks from down on the block from big men Solomon Alabi and Chris Singelton.  For a full preview of Florida State, check out MUHoops.com’s take.

If Marquette wants to hoist the trophy tomorrow, here are five things they must do to take down the Seminoles.

1. Continue to pressure outside shots well

One of Marquette’s best stats in the Old Spice Classic has been holding their two opponents to 32 percent shooting from three point range and pressuring guards as soon as they receive the ball.  Against Florida State, this will be even more important because the Seminoles lack a true point guard and are prone to turning the ball over, committing 40 turnovers in their first two games of the tournament.

Florida State will look inside to their two big men to start the offense, but pressuring the ball from the outside as soon as the possession starts will mess things up as well.  Their backcourt tandem of Derwin Kitchen and Deividas Dulkys are much bigger than anything Marquette will throw on the court, so if they do not receive pressure they will shoot all day. Dulkys loves the trey ball as 15 of his 18 field goals this season have come from behind the arc, so look for major pressure on him.  Jimmy Butler has been as lockdown of a defender as possible and will need to use his height to guard the much bigger Seminoles.

2. Rotate big men early and often

As freshman Jeronne Maymon continues to get his feet under him and pick up the pace of the game, the quality of opponents that he faces every night will continue to increase as well.  Tomorrow night, Maymon will play a key role off the bench in battling with Florida State’s bigs.  If Marquette chooses to stay with a 4-guard lineup including Acker/Cubillan, Johnson-Odom, Buycks, and Butler, then Maymon will have to rotate in when they start getting beat up inside.

Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler will be the reason Marquette hoists the trophy tomorrow in Orlando. (AP Photo)

Joe Fulce has seen his minutes decrease lately as he tries to battle back from a bruised knee and might get his name called against a taller, more physical Seminole team.  Fulce played 10 minutes against Xavier but just three minutes against the smaller Michigan team, so look for those numbers to go back up tomorrow.  Keeping big men fresh will be key to Marquette’s success in keeping out, or limiting, Florida State in the paint.

3. Allow Darius Johnson-Odom to drive at will

This might seem like a narrow goal to set but Florida State lives and dies with their defense.  With such a tall, athletic team that is still trying to figure out its identity on offense, they must be solid on defense.  The Seminoles are giving up just under 53 points per game and are very long on defense, meaning those open shots Marquette saw against Xavier and especially Michigan are likely not going to be there.  The answer?  Darius Johnson-Odom.

In the Old Spice Classic, Johnson-Odom showed his ability to get to the hole against Xavier despite not finishing on a few of the drives. Against Michigan, he went wild in the paint and showed glimpses of the agility Dominic James had and the toughness of Jerel McNeal.  While those comparisons might be pre-mature, getting Johnson-Odom the ball in the paint will be key.  If Marquette goes small, FSU might switch to a zone that will create lanes for Johnson-Odom and he is a fantastic passer off the dribble.

4. Start small and stay small

The story of the Golden Eagles last season was that they were going to be small on defense but they were almost impossible to match up with when on offense.  Against Florida State, Marquette is clearly out-sized but is also in a position to out-hustle and run past them.  They will need to rotate their big men as seen in point number two, but going with four guards will force Florida State’s hand on defense and they will need to decide if sacrificing size is worth slowing the Golden Eagles down.  Players like Maurice Acker and Dwight Buycks will be key in transition, so look for Marquette to push the ball off missed shots to free up open jumpers on the run.

5. Keep doing what you’re doing

With the exception of Youssoupha Mbao potentially seeing extra minutes when Alabi is in the game, keeping the gameplan the same is key for Marquette.  He never has so don’t expect him to, but Buzz Williams shouldn’t switch the plan up and go with something different just because the Seminoles are much taller.  Last season, teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame had size advantages, but Marquette played within their game and came out on top.  Hustling to the boards on defense will make up for the lack of size and quickness on offense will cancel out Marquette’s inability to get open jumpers against a tall back court.

Lazar Hayward needs to stay out of foul trouble and continue to dominate when he is in.  Jimmy Butler needs to be the second man to Hayward and clean up messes inside as well as box out.  Johnson-Odom and Buycks need to continue to be cogs in the offensive gameplan, using their athleticism and smarts to take care of the ball and find open buckets.  Maurice Acker and David Cubillan need to keep doing what they are doing in taking care of the ball and hitting clutch shots.  Like Michigan coach John Beilein said, “Marquette is short.  They’re not small.”

November 28, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , , | 1 Comment

Driver, Woodson Two Players to be Thankful for This Thanksgiving

No one knows what head coach Mike McCarthy will say at his Thanksgiving Day dinner table, but you can bet that Charles Woodson and Donald Driver will be on his short list.  The two veterans feasted on the young Detroit Lions Thursday as the Packers won their third straight game, 34-12 at Ford Field.

It was the same story for the Packers once again, who used Driver and Woodson on both ends of the field to lead their team to victory.

For Woodson, the task of shutting down Calvin Johnson was not going to be an easy one and looked to be a problem after Johnson scored from one yard out on a back shoulder route from quarterback Matthew Stafford.  However, Johnson caught just one other pass for nine yards, finishing the game as a non-factor on offense.

Shutting down Johnson did not show in the box score for Woodson, but what did show up were Woodson’s seven tackles, two interceptions, forced fumble, fumble recovery, sack, and touchdown.  It was a great performance for the 12-year veteran who now finds his name in serious contention for Defensive Player of the Year.

What made the performance even more impressive was the fact that Woodson was playing without his cornerback counterpart Al Harris, who was lost to a torn ACL the week before against San Francisco.  The thought was that the Lions would stay away from Woodson and pick on Tramon Williams on the other side, but Johnson was targeted 12 times on offense and Woodson limited him to just the two catches.

On the season, Woodson has recorded 54 tackles, ranked third on the team, forced a team-high four fumbles and six interceptions, and also has two touchdowns to his name.  A trip to Canton might be in the future for the former Heisman Trophy winner, but a DPOY trophy would sure help the resume.

Someone who might not make it to Canton but is a shoo-in for the Packers Hall of Fame is Donald Driver, who made the most of his Thanksgiving with a seven-catch, 142 yard performance that included a touchdown catch as well.  Awarded the Golden Gobbler by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, the 11-year veteran continued his outstanding season that has him leading the seventh-ranked passing offense in all major receiving categories.

Donald Driver sure isn't playing like he is 34 years old. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

It was Greg Jennings who received a major payday in the offseason and while some of Driver’s success can be attributed to the double teams and attention other teams pay to Jennings, Driver has made things happen on his own and has created his own success.

Known as one of the toughest players in the league, Driver ranks sixth in the NFC in receiving yards at 34 years old.  The five players in front of Driver average 24.6 years in age, and as Driver put it, “I may be old, but I play young”.

The win put the Packers at 7-4 and on top of the NFC Wildcard, but the road does not get any easier from here on out.  The last five games for the Packers include matchups against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Arizona with an NFC North rivalry game against Chicago in the Windy City.

General Manager Ted Thompson might live and die with building through the draft and having young players grow during the year to contribute, but this year has been the story of Woodson and Driver, two veterans doing everything they can to ensure the Packers play in January.

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , , | Leave a comment

Packers’ Williams and Jones Fill in For Injured Harris, Kampman

The Packers have to be feeling good about winning their last two games against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, but they also received equally bad news when it was revealed that starters Aaron Kampman and Al Harris would miss the rest of the season with torn ACL’s.

Not that injuries ever come at a good time, but the news came at a terrible time for a Packers defense that, after a poor showing against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, had strung together two solid performances before Harris and Kampman went down.

Tramon Williams (L) and Charles Woodson are the new Packers' starters at cornerback.

Both players went down on seemingly freak accidents where neither were involved in the play and, in Harris’s case, 30 yards away from the play. It was a “here we go again” moment for the Packers defense, who up to this point had avoided major injury from their defense. Last season, Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Atari Bigby, and Harris all missed time with injuries, leading to a 22nd ranked defense.

In a season where the Packers had continued to become more comfortable as each game passed in the new 3-4 defense, new personnel will now have to step on the field and become acclimated even faster.

The two players most affected by the injuries are certainly cornerback Tramon Williams and outside linebacker Brad Jones. Williams, the fourth year nickelback from Louisiana Tech was the heir to Al Harris or Charles Woodson once either of them decided to hang the cleats up, but his number has been called earlier than he expected and he should to be up to task.

More than the cornerback duo and safety combo of Nick Collins and Bigby, Green Bay’s secondary was considered one of the best in the league because teams faced three starting cornerbacks when they went with three wideouts. Williams was the reason why. At 27, Williams is in the prime of his career and is arguably the Packers’ best bump n’ run cornerback.

The drop-off from Harris to Williams will not hurt the Packers exponentially, but the real problem is the lack of depth the Packers now have in the nickel and dime spots. With Williams moving up to the starting role, one of Jarrett Bush or Brandon Underwood will take over the third cornerback role. Both are liabilities but have shown flashes of being able to get the job done. Brandon Chillar coming back in a few weeks will help the cause and newly signed Josh Bell could compete as well.

Brad Jones will be expected to get after the quarterback now that Aaron Kampman is gone for the year.

At the outside linebacker spot, rookie Brad Jones will likely step in for Kampman. Jones, a seventh round selection out of Colorado, started against the Cowboy as Kampman was unable to go with a concussion. He played well and finished the game with seven tackles and also racked up two tackles after subbing in for Kampman against San Francisco.

It is still a step down from Kampman, but Jones did a fine job getting after the quarterback and his speed will help in the pass defense more than Kampman would have.

The Packers’ first test will come tomorrow against the Lions, and while no game should ever be overlooked (see Tampa Bay), it will help the Packers work their new starters into the defense. After that, the defense will have 11 days to figure out what is going to work and what needs to happen for the Packers to have continued success without two of their best defenders.

Replacing 92 tackles and two veterans in a span of four days will be no easy task for Dom Capers and the Packers’ defense, but both Williams and Jones have been on the field for a good amount of time already and have both started a game. It is definitely something to look for in tomorrow’s game, regardless of the opponent.

November 25, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , | 1 Comment

Marquette’s Otule Breaks Foot, Likely Out For the Year

Marquette received some bad news on the eve of their game against South Dakota when they learned that sophomore center Chris Otule will likely miss the remainder of the season with a broken foot he suffered in practice Monday.  In three games where Otule had been used sparingly against smaller competition, he was averaging 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds to go along with 1.7 blocks per game.  He had played just 25 total minutes in the first three games due to the lack of height of the opponents Marquette faced, but was expected to get a heavy dose of minutes in the Old Spice Classic Tournament coming up later this week in Orlando.

This is not Otule’s first time suffering from a foot injury, as last season the 6’10” center from Texas was lost for six weeks after injuring his foot early in November.  As a freshman on a senior-laced team, the injury set him back and he saw minimal minutes the rest of the year.

Despite the lack of production, Otule was expected to fill in for the graduating Dwight Burke as Marquette’s “big man”, and he had been preparing accordingly.  Daily workouts with trainer Todd Smith and a trip to Germany over the summer that helped him gain confidence and skill as well had Otule pegged as a breakout candidate for Marquette’s young team.

The Golden Eagles will be able to redshirt Otule if they choose to, but that is about the only positive that comes out of the injury.  This newest injury to Otule will surely set him back but the hope is that he can come back with a positive attitude and is chomping at the bit to get back on the court.

Losing center Chris Otule will hurt Marquette on the defensive end as well as putting a dent in the team's depth. (MU Athletics)

For the here and now, Marquette will need to continue on with their season down a man, and a big man at that.  While the loss of Otule will not hurt the Golden Eagles much in the box score or on the offensive end, Otule’s presence on defense and the fact that he was another body coming off the bench will.  Without Otule, Marquette has just one player over 6’7″, Youssoupha Mbao, who is more of a project than anything.

Because of this, Marquette will more than likely go back to the small lineup that they implemented last year and try to out-run teams on offense while playing aggressive defense to make up for the lack of size.  This will mean an instant increase in the minutes of freshman Jeronne Maymon and junior Joe Fulce, who is also battling a knee injury of his own.

In particular, the young Golden Eagles will have to grow up even faster than they once thought, now done one more man on the bench.  Just as it was last season, the guards will need to step up big and carry the team on both ends of the court while the front court will need to play out of position and compete while being undersized the majority of the time.

The injury to Otule probably shifts Maymon over to the 5 spot, while Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler could see some time there as well.  The guard rotation of Maurice Acker, David Cubillan, Dwight Buycks, and Darius Johnson-Odom helps, but expect to see some more of Buycks playing the three spot if Marquette finds themselves in foul trouble.

Even freshman Erik Williams will need to pick up the slack for a Marquette team that currently has ten healthy players on their roster, including the less-than 100 percent Fulce.

The Golden Eagles have suffered a slough of injuries over the past year and a half that have really cut into the depth of the team, including Otule, Fulce, and Dominic James last season and Junior Cadougan, Darius Johnson-Odom, Fulce, and Otule this season.  Then-freshman Liam McMorrow also left the team for medical reasons after last season.

As little silver lining as their could be to having your best big man go down for the season, at the same time it will help the young guns progress even quicker.  While throwing them into the fire right away wasn’t the game plan, things change over the course of the year and coach Buzz Williams will have to make those adjustments.

Williams recruits players who are going to fight for their team because they want to win and they want to be here, and with Marquette’s back against the wall right now after Otule’s injury, it’s time to fight.

November 24, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , | 1 Comment

Marquette Gets Defensive In Win Over Grambling State

Dwight Buycks had his best game as a Golden Eagle, almost recording a triple-double.

 

MILWAUKEE- The Marquette Golden Eagles (3-0) used a great defensive effort and balanced attack on offense to defeat the Grambling State Tigers (1-2), 87-41 Saturday night.

Defensively, the Golden Eagles forced 22 turnovers that led to 28 points and held the Tigers to 29.1 percent shooting from the field (14-of-48). They also won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding the Tigers 43-28 and limiting them to just four offensive rebounds and six second chance points.

To read the rest of this article, click here for a link to MarquetteHoops.com.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | 1 Comment

An American Beauty, Lambeau Field

This article originally published on www.stadiumjourney.com.  Stadium Journey judges sports stadiums around the country and rates them based on seven categories known as F.A.N.F.A.R.E.  Rankings are 1-5, meaning scores closer to 35 are better stadiums, with lower scores being poorer stadiums.   Without further adieu, here’s my review of Lambeau Field.

Review by Mark Strotman, Stadium Journey Correspondent

FANFARE Score: 30

Food and Beverage: 4

There are few things better than a bratwurst and a beer in Wisconsin, and Lambeau Field’s food is no exception.  The Gridiron Grill and Goin’ Deep Pizza feature an array of food items ranging from Johnsonville bratwursts or Italian sausages to pepperoni pizza.  The Munch Zone provides such items as pretzels and nachos, all tasty in their own way.

Grid Iron Grill

Beer is at a premium here and the “Leinie Lodge” is a place that all drinkers need to check out.  It sits just outside the concourse, in a heated area with TV’s to watch the game and every kind of Leinenkugel Beer on tap in a cabin-type hut.

Leinie Lodge at Lambeau

The lines are what you would expect out of a 72,000+ seat stadium, but nothing that won’t get you back to your seat before halftime is over on most Sundays.

Atmosphere: 5

If there were any 6’s to hand out, Lambeau Field’s atmosphere would warrant one.  After driving through neighborhoods with tiny, one-story houses, the Mecca of professional sports jumps right out at you.  Tailgating and parking in backyards start the trip and bars have live bands in the parking lots that make it a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Inside the stadium, the bowl-shaped architecture gives it a college football feel and just knowing the great players who played and the games that occurred inside the stadium give it a chilling feel as you walk up the tunnel.  It’s truly something every sports fan needs to experience before they die.

Game Action at Lambeau Field

Neighborhood: 4

For the die-hard tailgater, Lambeau Field and the city of Green Bay offer an experience like none other.  Plopped down in the middle of a rural neighborhood, bars have been erected that give it a more urban feel but the majority is still parking and tailgating in backyards of people’s homes.

Kroll’s West is known as a hot spot for bar-goers and the atmosphere there is great with a crowded parking lot listening to music outside, to a great bar and restaurant scene inside.

Kroll's West

As for the tailgating, it’s everything you could ask for.  For the most part, someone will be tailgating on either side of you and will be more than willing to lend you an item or two that you may have forgotten.  Games of catch go on everywhere and it’s an overall friendly atmosphere, even for the away fan.  Nowhere else in sports will you find a neighborhood quite like this one.

Fans: 4

Unless you live under a rock, you know that the cheeseheads are some of the most famous fans in America.  No one loves their team in the same way that Packers fans do.  In a rural city, the Packers are all that these people have and their devotion is second to none.  All the way from Saint Vincent to the Bikini Girls, to the 300+ pound guy who goes shirtless no matter what, there are some darn good characters at the games.  The only problem with the fans is that their homerism bleeds through sometimes, booing at obvious penalties and being way too hard on the coaching.

Packer Fans

Access: 4

Access to the stadium is excellent. As I mentioned before, Lambeau Field is surrounded by a neighborhood that lets fans to park in backyards.  Because of that, the stadium is never more than a 5-10 minute walk from your car and lots cover about ¾ of the area around the stadium if you want to park there as well.

When the weather gets cold, bathrooms are heated and make for a great trip to warm up and do your business at the same time.  The new renovations increased the number of bathrooms, so outside of halftime there is rarely a wait.

Leaving the stadium can be tough because of the neighborhood setting, but nothing different than any other stadium where 70,000 people are pouring out at once.

Return on Investment: 5

The Packers are under the average for Fan Cost Index, and when you really think about the stadium you are entering, it makes it all worth the while.  The Packers rarely raise prices and good seats can be found everywhere due to the bowl structure.  Each seat is basically the same and there are no levels to obstruct views or get crowded.  The experience at Lambeau Field is worth every penny.

Etc: 4

Lambeau Field’s renovation in 2003 added a lot to the already-famous stadium, including the Lambeau Field Atrium, the Packers Hall of Fame, and Curly’s Pub, named after Curly Lambeau, the founder of the Packers.  The rich tradition is all around you in the Hall of Fame and they have Vince Lombardi’s office set up inside which is truly breathtaking for any fan.

Lambeau Under the Lights

November 20, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | | Leave a comment

Marquette Gets Last Minute Signing From PG Reggie Smith

Buzz Williams and received some great news at the end of Wednesday night’s early signing period, as Illinois point guard Reggie Smith signed his Letter of Intent to play for the Golden Eagles.  The signing came  unexpectedly to most despite Marquette’s involvement with Smith in the recruiting process.

The 6’1″ point guard seems to fit the mold exactly for what Williams is looking in a point guard.  Smith’s speed sets him apart and his ability to play in transition will get him on the court sooner than later.  In terms of offensive sets, Smith lives off driving to the basket to get his shots.  He is still raw and has to work better at getting his teammates the ball off the dribble, but the talent is there for him to do that.

If you were on the fence on whether or not to go to Marquette Madness in 2010, Smith’s signing alone should push you over the edge.  Why?  Smith is one of the best dunkers in the 2010 class and has a knack to flush it home when he gets to the rim.  He takes his fair share of layups, but any chance he gets to throw one down, he does.

Defensively, Smith has good size for a point guard “6’1”, 175 lbs.) and uses it very well against defenders.  A high-end motor keeps him on his man and he has room to grow with the speed that he has.  That energy will get him on the court and if he continues to work hard, he could be a steal.

Overall, Smith’s game is very raw and he needs to hone in his athleticism.  Sometimes Smith’s athleticism gets him in trouble by playing out of control and trying to force things.  As he slows down his game and becomes more of a true point guard, his natural position, his value will become even greater.  If it’s not too bold to say, Smith looks a lot like Dominic James with his athleticism and ability to drive.  Like James, Smith can struggle with his outside shot at times but the talent and potential is there for him to improve on that part of his game.

Smith will play his senior year for Thornton High School in Harvey, IL.  His AAU team, Mac Irvin Fire, was considered one of the best in Illinois last year with Smith and University of Illinois recruits Crandall Head and Jerome Richmond.

Reggie Smith plays great in transition and is a huge get for Buzz Williams and Marquette.

Looking to the 2010 back court, Smith is a great compliment to redshirted freshman Junior Cadougan.  More of a pass first point guard, Cadougan will rotate with Smith at the point guard spot and create a great mismatch with the two different styles of play.  The signing of Smith most likely moves 2010 recruit Vander Blue to shooting guard, although his versatility will also allow him to handle the ball.

Ranked 105th according to Rivals.com and the 35th best point guard according to Scout.com, Smith isn’t a top-tier recruit that pushes Marquette’s recruiting class into the top five for 2010.  However, another top 100 recruit that has the potential to blossom as he molds into a point guard is exactly what Williams was looking for to fill one of the two roster spots for next year.  As usual, Williams and the Marquette staff semi-flew under the radar with the recruiting of Smith as many expected he was leaning towards USC.

After losing out on power forward Tarik Black, who ended up at Memphis, it was good to see Buzz and the staff pull out a third recruit before the early signing period was over.

With one scholarship remaining, expect Williams the Marquette staff to go hard after a big man to solidify their 2010 class.  Rumors of a junior college forward have circulated to balance out the class and avoid having four freshman on the roster.

Buzz Williams has shown again that he is a great recruiter that can bring in top-100 talent and has done it again for 2010.  Last season it was easier for Buzz to bring in the talent that he did because he had so much playing time to offer, but now the recruits are coming in packs and giving great depth to a Marquette team that should compete for a Big East title in the next couple of years.

November 19, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | 1 Comment

Ten Things to Look For When Marquette Takes on UM-ES

Trying to stay unbiased, it”s still easy for me to say that the Marquette Golden Eagles should have no problem handling the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore tonight at the Bradley Center.  Here are ten things to watch for as the Golden Eagles look to improve on their 85-62 win over Centenary last Friday.

1. Lazar Hayward staying out of foul trouble

Buzz Williams was not all too happy about Lazar Hayward’s foul trouble on Friday, as the senior picked up four fouls in 18 minutes of play and finished the game with just nine points and five rebounds.  Foul trouble against Centenary is fine as Hayward’s teammate were able to pick him up, but once the Big East season rolls around, the Golden Eagles will go as far as Hayward goes.  He can’t try to do too much and pick early fouls because it throws the whole rhythm off on offense.

2. Jimmy Butler’s response to his 27-point, 13-rebound performance

Butler was the unheralded MVP against Centenary and it will be interesting to see how he comes back against UM-ES.  Last year it seemed as though Butler was his best in spurts when his confidence would pick up, and one has to think his  confidence is soaring right now.  His tenacity on the boards makes up for his size when he plays down low and he gets after it on offense every position.

3. Dwight Buycks’ defense problems on the perimeter

Overall, the junior newcomer played quite well, but Dwight Buycks’ defense on the outside was shaky at times and Centenary got too many open looks.  Now is the time to make up for those mistakes and Buycks will get every opportunity to do so tonight against UM-ES’s bigger backcourt. It’s clear that Buycks can’t wait to get on offense where he was very efficient, but he has to do it on the defensive end as well.

4. Darius Johnson-Odom’s health and ability to drive the lane

DJO was questionable for the Centenary game but was able to play and logged 23 good minutes but stayed beyond the arc for most of the game.  All summer we heard about DJO’s ability to drive to the hoop and bring a Dominic James-like role to the offense, but 5 of his 6 shots were from beyond the arc.  Hopefully he will be more aggressive tonight and show off that speed and strength.

5. Jeronne Maymon getting acclimated sooner

Freshman Jeronne Maymon put in nine points and hauled in five rebounds but looked lost and slow at times.  While he is really the raw one of the group, his play will be vital to Marquette’s already small front court.  On defense, he was not tough enough in the paint and gave up easy layups as well as failing to rotate on passes from the post.  It’s nothing that can’t be fixed but his play on defense is something to watch for.

Keeping Lazar Hayward on the court is key for the Golden Eagles this year.

6. Erik Williams’ playing time

Williams, a top 100 recruit entering Marquette, played as many minutes as walk-on Rob Frozena and had just one more point than the jump-around guy.  Williams was slowed down by the flu a couple weeks ago but seemed healthy when he took the court, so one has to wonder why he only logged two minutes.  With a lack of depth this season, Marquette’s front court will have to use every body they have and that includes the raw Williams.  Check his minutes tonight.

7. Marquette’s three point shooting

Against a smaller team like Centenary, many expected Marquette to shoot from outside at will.  However, the Golden Eagles ended the night shooting just 3-16 from behind the arc and exposed themselves as a team that can not hit the long ball.  They have the players to do it (Hayward, Buycks, DJO, Cubillan) but must get the job done.  For a small team, not being able to shoot from outside will be the Achilles’ Heel for Marquette.

8. Keep the fast break points coming

If the Golden Eagles aren’t going to shoot well, the least they can is keep the ball moving in transition.  Maurice Acker and Dwight Buycks did an excellent job running the fast break, leading to 28 fast break points that really put the game away in the second half.  Fast break points are sure to come in bunches against weaker teams so expect more of the same tonight against MU-ES.

9. How Chris Otule will respond to his forgettable opener

For whatever reason, Chris Otule did not look like he had made any improvements over the summer.  Passes will be given because we are just one game in and Otule was bound to have one hiccup, so maybe it just came in the opener.  His hands were still all over the place and he just doesn’t look comfortable.  With Youssoupha Mbao out one more game, this is Otule’s last chance to be THE big guy for Marquette.  In my opinion this is a big one tonight for Otule.

10. Overall Improvement

For as average as a 23-point win can look, Marquette did it against Centenary.  The team is young and just two actual games into their careers with each other, but the chemistry needs to improve as a whole.  These cupcake games are scheduled so that players can get comfortable in their surroundings, yet some players still looked a little star-struck.  Tonight is another game so hopefully the perimeter defense and outside shooting will improve and the fouls will be down.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | Leave a comment

Chargers’ Tomlinson Finds New Motivation Sunday

Entering Sunday’s game against the Eagles, LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2009 had been one to forget.

Six weeks in, the Chargers were 2-3 and looking through binoculars to see the 6-0 Denver Broncos at the top of the AFC West division.

Tomlinson had missed two of those games and had accumulated just 140 yards and caught five passes out of the backfield.

Questions began to be asked on whether this was the same LT that we had been spoiled to watch the last eight seasons. After all, he had just turned 30, the breaking point for running backs, and spell running back Darren Sproles had signed a one-year tender the year before and looked as though “feature back” would be his new title.

LT contemplated retirement and spoke of how he is beginning to cherish moments more because he knows he might be on his curtain call as an NFL player.

For a guy looking to cherish the moment more, the scene at his locker before Sunday’s game against the Eagles should certainly be added to the list.

As he entered the locker room, a purple bag sat in front of his locker. Inside was a positive pregnancy test that his wife LaTorsha had put there. Pretty special, right?

Throw in the fact that LaTorsha had suffered a miscarriage four years earlier when the Tomlinsons were expecting their first child, and it becomes a tearjerker.

LT called his wife as soon as he received the test and cried for five minutes on the phone, telling his wife how amazing she was. Take note, Travis Henry: This is what a real man looks like.

Forget the rap music or the pre-game chest bumps. LT had all the motivation he needed to go out and produce for his wife and unborn child. A season-high 96 rushing yards and two touchdowns later, LT and the Chargers were celebrating their fourth victory in a row and a tie in the AFC West in terms of record.

For the eight-plus years he has been in the league, Tomlinson has been one of the most likable guys on the field. It if weren’t for the fact that he has found the end zone 131 times in his career, more AFC opponents would probably like him.

The ultimate team player, LT will forever be remembered for his NFL-record 31 touchdowns in 2006. What might have gone over people’s heads was his post-game comment after he broke the record.

“Once I got over the pylon, my initial thought process was to bring every guy on the offensive unit over to share that moment,” Tomlinson said. “When we’re old and can’t play this game anymore, them are the moments we are going to remember, that we’ll be able to tell our kids, tell our grandchildren. We can talk about something special that we did. We made history today.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa…we made history? Yes, that’s the kind of guy Tomlinson is and has always been. He rarely trash talks or goes to the media to air his concerns. Rather, he speaks through that intimidating pitch-black visor and the lightning-quick cuts that we could watch for days on end.

We sometimes hate to see good things happen to bad people, and we surely hate to see bad things happen to good people, but when good things happen to great people, it makes up for it all. That’s exactly what Tomlinson’s situation was last Sunday.

LaDainian Tomlinson is everything you want in a football player on and off the field.

Losing your first child in 2005 and your father in a car accident two years later is something none of us want to go through, but how much of a reward must it have been for Tomlinson to open that bag?

With the Chargers sitting at 6-3 and a rejuvenated Tomlinson in their backfield, the Chargers look poised to make a playoff run. Turning points happen all the time for teams and players that make championships happen, and it looks as though Tomlinson just found his.

Twelfth in rushing yards and third in total touchdowns, Tomlinson is a first ballot Hall of Famer because of what he has done on the field. Before this season, he had never missed more than one game. For a running back who has carried the rock over 300 times seven out of his nine seasons, that’s not half bad.

His time might be running out, but there isn’t an organization out there that would turn Tomlinson away. The Chargers’ offensive line has struggled this season, and LT has taken some of the blame for lacking the speed he once had, but if the Chargers decide to decline the $5 million they have to pay him next season, he is sure to quickly find a new home.

It’s one of the best feel-good stories that we could have heard, especially after hearing way too much about the Larry Johnsons and Allen Iversons of the world.

Congrats on the 96 rushing yards and win over the Eagles, LT. But even more importantly, congrats on the news of your first child. To say you’ve earned it is an understatement.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Football, NFL, San Diego Chargers | , | Leave a comment

Marquette Signs Blue and Jones, Waiting on Black

Wednesday marked the first day of the one-week period for recruits from the 2010 class to sign national letters of intent to their respective schools.  Marquette wasted no time in locking up their two prizes for the early signing period, receiving letters from small forward Jamail Jones and point guard Vander Blue.

Jones averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists per game playing for Green Forest Christian Academy in Decatur, Georgia.  He will play his senior year for Montaverde Academy in Florida, touted as one of the best high school teams in the nation, and Jones is a big reason why.  Coach Buzz Williams has already seen improvement from Jones from the first time he saw him play.

“He plays for arguably the best high school coach in the country.  He’s definitely, in my opinion, the best high school coach as it relates to the development of kids as players,” he said.  “[Jones] has gotten better during his time at Montaverde already. We’ve been down there a few times and he has gotten a lot better.”

Jones, or “Mellow” as he prefers to be called, fit the “Buzz Williams mold” to a tee.  At 6’6”, his physical 180-pound body will make him difficult to defend as he has improved his outside jump shot and is able to handle the ball.  Because of this, Jones will be able to play shooting guard or both forward positions.  Those traits are exactly what Williams looks for.

“We want to sign as many guys as we can that are hard to guard.  We want to sign as many guys as we can that can pass, dribble, and shoot.  We want to sign as many guys as we can that can guard multiple positions,” he said.

jamail

With the versatile Jamail Jones on the floor, Marquette will be able to use him many ways.

As big of a signing as Jones was for the Golden Eagles, receiving a commitment from a consensus top-100 player for next season, much of the hype surrounding Marquette’s recruiting class circulated around Madison, WI native Vander Blue.

After backing out of a verbal commitment from Wisconsin in May, Blue re-opened his recruitment and ultimately chose Marquette over Wisconsin, Florida, and UCLA.  Ranked as high as 22 on Rivals.com, Blue is Marquette’s third highest ranked commitment in the last thirty years and will be able to step in right away, something that Buzz Williams is grateful for.

“That’s the thing that’s probably not talked about enough is how hard it is to sign players that can have an immediate impact at this level,” Williams said.  “Where their bodies are ready, where their minds are ready, where their skills are ready to have an impact right away and I think Vander can do that.”

Blue’s decision to come to Marquette after de-committing from Wisconsin should add more fuel to the already lit in-state rivalry, but Buzz Williams said his recruitment of Blue was never anything negative towards the University of Wisconsin.

“I want people that want to be a part of who we are, and I don’t want it to be because we knocked down every other program and we were the only one left standing.  I want them to come here because, in their heart, they feel like this is where they are supposed to be.”

One thing Buzz Williams looks for in every recruiting class is having a true point guard, something he believes Blue will be able to do.  At the same time, that all-important versatility is something that attracted him to recruit Blue.

“I’ll put him wherever is best for our team for him to do what he does best.  I think he’s a guy that can play all three positions.  I think he’ll be a hard guy to get off the floor and I think he’s a guy that can guard all three positions, which makes his value really, really high.”

vanderblue

Vander Blue (L) will join former high school teammate Jeronne Maymon next year.

“Mellow” and Blue have vaulted Marquette’s recruiting class into the top 15 by most, including 13th by Rivals.com’s latest rankings.  However, Buzz Williams and the Marquette staff are not done recruiting and hope to sign another player or two before the Wednesday deadline, saying Marquette will “sign as many players as we can sign that are great players and fit what it is we want to be about on and off the court.”

The main prize for Marquette would be Tarik Black, a 6’8” power forward from Memphis.  Memphis, Tennessee, and Florida are competing with Marquette for his services and he is expected to sign during the early period.  Rumors floating around the internet have pegged Marquette as the favorite but Memphis is the hometown team and Black took his official visit to Florida this weekend.

With a point guard and small forward already in his pocket, Williams understands that size should be next on the checklist for the 2010 class, but he will not pass up the opportunity to add another guard.

“We need size for sure.  I think I would always say that and I think that if you only have three dribble guys on your team, it should be because you couldn’t sign a fourth dribble guy.  And so if we can add another guard that can dribble, we’ll do that too,” he said.

Other names worth keeping an eye on include point guards Reggie Smith (IL) and Stargell Love (NC), power forward Jayvaughn Pinkston (NY) during the early signing period, and small forward Justin Coleman (VA) in the spring.

While there are still questions concerning the status of Monterale Clark, Marquette will has two remaining scholarships but Williams has shown a tendency to over-recruit, so as many as three signings could occur before the 2010 signing period is over.

November 14, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | Leave a comment

Bucks’ Brandon Jennings Looks Like the Real Deal

Before rookie Brandon Jennings was making headlines for the Milwaukee Bucks, he was making negative ones for himself leading up to the beginning of the 2009-10 NBA season.  Known by just about everyone because of his decision to skip college ball and play in Europe, Jennings had question marks all around him.  His upside was immense and GM’s knew that Jennings had the potential to be a franchise-changing player unlike the majority of the players in last year’s draft class.  However, they also knew his downside was investing money into a cancerous teammate who would repeat his lackluster performance in Rome.

Before Jennings could even step on the court he was back at it, firing his mouth away about then-teammate Ramon Sessions and Luke Ridnour.  On a radio show with rapper Joe Budden, he mentioned being upset with the Knicks passing on him and deeming himself the starter over Ridnour.  He also made headlines by calling out Ricky Rubio, saying he was “overrated” and not as good as Jennings after a workout with the Kings.

Bucks’ general manager John Hammond decided that the upside of Jennings was well worth the potential of failure and he selected him with the tenth overall pick in the draft.  His cockiness and swagger is something that, to an extent, all great basketball players need to have, and Hammond believed Jennings had that.

What Hammond most likely did not think Jennings had was the ability to average over 20 points per game in his first six games, racking up four wins for the Bucks.  In many ways, Jennings is looking like the savior that is going to save the Bucks.  Rumors have floated around that have the Bucks leaving Milwaukee, but Jennings could change all that.

His situation in Milwaukee this season is eerily similar to Derrick Rose’s last season in Chicago.  The Bulls had reached the playoffs in 2006 before winning just 33 games the next year.  When the Bulls defied lottery odds and were awarded the number one overall pick, they selected Rose and went on to win 41 games and make the playoffs.

In Chicago, Rose has seemingly rejuvenated the Bulls and made everyone around him better.  Joakim Noah is finally playing up to his potential that we all saw at Florida, Luol Deng is flourishing under Rose’s lead, and he has worked to mold rookies James Johnson and Taj Gibson into role players this season.  The talent was there for the Bulls as seen by the three straight playoff appearances before 2007, but the team was growing old and John Paxson’s inability to trade for grade-A superstars had the Bulls wondering where the future would take them.

Knicks Bucks Basketball

Brandon Jennings has flourished with the Bucks and his confidence could not be any higher. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

In the same sense, Jennings has done the exact same thing in Milwaukee.  The Bucks made the playoffs during the 2005-2006 campaign with rookie Andrew Bogut, but three years of injuries and inconsistency had left the Bucks with nothing to show for the talent they had.  Now, Jennings has utilized Bogut as the big man that every good point guard needs, and vice versa.

Six games into his young career might be a little early to start crowning him the savior for the Bucks, but in basketball more than any other sport, early starts become trends.  The great ones usually start that way and do not fade as compared to baseball and football.

His skill set is very raw and at times he plays like the rookie that he is.  He doesn’t seem to have picked up on the logistics of the offense yet and many times he will create for himself.  But with a big man that can shoot the outside shot, the way he moves off screens has to be considered close to the top of the league, and his closing speed while going to the basket warrants a replay on most possessions.

One of his big question marks coming into his rookie campaign was defense.  However, six games in he is averaging over a steal per game and limited Chauncey Billups to 6-16 shooting, gave up just one point to Chris Duhon, and forced Derrick Rose to commit five turnovers. No one will be forgetting about Chris Paul any time soon but positive returns this early in the season are always good.

Just about every aspect of his game is raw right now, but that can be a good thing, too.  Sometimes just letting players go out and be athletes can bring success and it seems like head coach Scott Skiles is letting Jennings do that for the most part.  It’s been an unbelievable start for a guy who, a year ago, was living out of a suitcase and traveling on a bus to foreign places in Italy to average under six points per game.

He’s got a long way to go, but Brandon Jennings is looking like the real deal.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , | 4 Comments

Mid-Season Grades for the Green Bay Packers Defense

Defensive Line

Cullen Jenkins: Jenkins started the season off on fire, with two sacks and eight tackles in the first two games, but he has been non-existent the last two games.  His big mouth hasn’t helped him get anywhere, either.  GRADE: B

Johnny Jolly: Look past the personal foul call on Jolly for two seconds and you will see that he has been one of our better linemen this season.  Very good in the run game and has gotten the job done for the most part, despite struggling the last few weeks (like everyone).  GRADE: B

Ryan Pickett: The best player on the Packers’ defense this season not named Charles Woodson.  It will be interesting to see what Ted Thompson does next season with Pickett’s contract up and B.J. Raji waiting in the wings, but he might warrant another contract.  GRADE: B+

Jarius Wynn: The rookie from Georgia has played better than most thought he would and seems like he could be a solid back-up for quite some time.  GRADE: INC

Michael Montgomery: One of the many players on defense who are probably better suited for the 4-3 defense, Montgomery has failed to make an impact this season after posting a decent 2008.  GRADE: D-

B.J. Raji: Due to the play of Pickett on the inside, Raji has not seen the field much.  His ongoing ankle has had something to do with this as well, so hopefully he will come back fully healthy in 2010.  GRADE: C-

Linebackers

Clay Matthews III: Saving the best for first, Matthews has been very good this season and seems like a keeper at the right outside linebacker.  GRADE: B+

Nick Barnett: Barnett probably came back too early from his knee surgery and was not healthy at the beginning of the season, but he has picked it up as of late.  GRADE: C+

Lions Packers Football

Nick Barnett has picked things up as of late. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

A.J. Hawk: A dismal start to the season from the former 5th overall selection, but he has also picked it up lately and is second on the team in tackles.  GRADE: C

Aaron Kampman: Clearly frustrated with the 3-4 defense, Kampman has done his best to keep his mouth shut and continue playing.  His play has not been all that bad, especially when he is allowed to have this hand in the dirt.  GRADE: B-

Brady Poppinga: Maybe it’s just that I wanted Matthews to start all along, but I never liked what Poppinga did at outside linebacker and am glad he is gone.  GRADE: D

Brandon Chillar: Very close to Matthews for the award of best linebacker, Chillar saw some looks at safety in the “Big Okie” package and played very well.  A broken hand will keep him out a while.  GRADE: B

Desmond Bishop: The pre-season Hall of Famer has fared well on the field thus far, but makes too many mistakes to constantly be on the field as an ILB in the 3-4.  GRADE: C

Brad Jones: The seventh rounder might see time on the field this week due to Kampman’s concussion, but he has done a good job on special teams thus far.  GRADE: INC

Jeremy Thompson: I’ll raise my hand and say I was dead wrong on Thompson becoming a stud in the 3-4 defense.  He has shown to be too slow but might also see reps this week with Kampman probably out.  GRADE: D-

Defensive Backs

Charles Woodson: What more can you say about Woodson other than that he is a probable Pro Bowler and a great player stuck on a good defense.  GRADE: A-

Al Harris: His stock has taken a tumble this season as he seems a bit slower than last year.  Hopefully he can turn it around soon or it could be his last season in Green Bay.  GRADE: B-

Tramon Williams: A personal favorite of mine, Williams plays with great tenacity and seems to have the most excitement of anyone on the field.  A future starter for sure.  GRADE: B

Brandon Underwood: Definitely a project this season, but if Pat Lee does not work out he might get his chance as a dime back in the future.  GRADE: INC

Jarrett Bush: Nothing to say here. GRADE: F

Packers Browns Football

Has Al Harris lost a step from a year ago? (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Atari Bigby: Bigby has been injured for most of the season and he has really struggled against the pass so far.  GRADE: C+

Nick Collins: The Pro Bowler continues to shine and has become more of an all-around player this year.  He still finds himself out of position at times but is becoming a real playmaker.  GRADE: B+

Derrick Martin: The only good part about Martin is that we lost Tony Moll because of it.  GRADE: F

Matt Giordano: Strictly on the Packers for depth and special teams help, but could become something.  GRADE: INC

As a whole the Packers’ defense has been just OK.  Their stats would imply that they have been close to a top ten defense this season, but that is hardly the case.  Their defensive line has played well and the linebackers have picked it up as of late, but their inability to get off the field and not commit penalties has really hurt them.  Special teams puts them in bad positions but it is still no excuse for why they have struggled to some extent.  Hopefully Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense will pick up in the second half of the season and the Packers can rebound from their average start.  GRADE: B-

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , , | Leave a comment

My 200th Post: A Big Thank You to Everyone!

199 posts have come and gone, and Strotty’s Blog now finds itself writing its 200th post.  Since I did nothing all that special for my 100th post (an article on the Packers extending Greg Jennings’ contract), I thought I would go through and thank everyone for helping me get to where I am today.

For me, it wouldn’t be fair to start a thank you note without first mentioning my dad.  Above anyone else in the world, yes that includes you Brett Favre, he has been my ultimate and absolute passion for sports.  From including me on trips to Packers games to telling me to find something I loved and pursue it to the fullest, the person I am today is because of him.

As a youngster, he would watch Monday Night Football and leave the TV room door open, knowingly or unknowingly, which let me watch the game from the hallway until my mom caught me.  He coached just about every little league team I ever played for and once took a visit to the mound just to let me know I could throw at my grade school rival.

He shares the same passion as I do for sports and is the main reason I am where I am today.

If dad is 1A, then consider my mother 1B when it comes to who I am today.  Everyone is supposed to say that they have the greatest mom in the world, but only my three brothers and I are telling the truth when we say it.  She might not completely understand what I write on, but you can bet she’s the first to read it.

When I was younger, she was the one telling me where my baseball uniform was as I frantically raced through my house before my ride came.  She was the one given the task of cleaning my football practice uniform and was truly the one behind the scenes that made the Strotman boys function on the field.

Speaking of the Strotman boys, next on the list of thanks are my three brothers.  Starting with the oldest, Jack has been my role model since before I can remember.  As my only older brother, I looked up to him and he did a perfect job of showing me the right way.  He is also credited with teaching me how to play sports by practicing with me in the backyard, so thanks for that Bigten.

Then there is Matthias.  Because of some circumstances two summers ago, Matthias and I became best friends through spending every day with each other.  We played countless games of catch in the backyard, browsed ESPN.com for hours, and watched as many Brewers games as we could.  Two years later, he could probably beat me in fantasy sports and knows just as much, if not more, about sports than I do.  Watch out Batting Stance Guy…

The last of the Strotman brothers that I have to thank is 14-year-old Luke.  Where do I even start?  I guess I’ll begin by saying that he is my hero and has been the inspiration for everything I do in life.  Until you meet Luke or hear his story of being a two-time cancer survivor at age 14, you can’t understand what I mean.

Being his bone marrow donor has given us a special bond that will never be broken and I could not feel more honored.  “Small but mighty” were the words on a shirt given to Luke, and it’s the perfect slogan for him.  Yes, he’s small in size because of the effects the cancer had on him, but the true amazement is that his huge heart fits inside that small of a body.  I hope he knows I’ll always be there for him whenever he needs it and that, yes, he can keep the blood I gave him even if the Cubs win the World Series.

My family has been amazing in their support of my work so I’d also like to thank my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who have supported me through everything.  There’s no substitute for family and I’d be nowhere in life without all of you.

Leading the way for my friends is my go-to guy, Chris Rogers.  We push each other in everything we do and that Deerfield Review article that mentioned me throwing my arm around his shoulder after a 9-year-old baseball game that “seemed to scream, ‘I love this guy’”, still rings true today.  His hilarious aliases on Examiner also make my day.  1 for life…

Other friends that I need to thank include Mike Fowler, my partner in crime for countless years in Holy Cross Basketball and CYO.  HC’s finest backcourt if I do say so myself.  Kevin Shanley and Greg Smith, my future roommates, are a big part of why I love Marquette.  Sports debates are a common occurrence with them, but it’s part of why I love sports.  I wouldn’t trade those guys for the world.

Friends and family have been instrumental to where I am today, but the blog still had to be written!  I started the blog on February 10th on my iPod Touch while in Sociology of the Family class.  Sorry, Mrs. Williams.  I literally typed in “how to start a blog” on Google and clicked the first thing that came up, WordPress.com.

From there, Max Tcheyan found my blog on WordPress.com about a month later and asked me to begin writing for Bleacher Report.  I found a lot of success on B/R and it seems to have grown every month since I have been there.  The majority of people reading my work find it on Bleacher Report.

From B/R, Larry Garot of PackerChatters.com and BrewerChatters.com stumbled upon my work and asked me to begin writing for them.  There are a lot of opinionated fans on the site who like to discuss, debate, and argue my work and it has given me a lot of insights on the Green and Gold.

After writing for those three sites for a while, Garot approached me and said that Examiner.com was looking to fill a paid position for the Packers on their website.  I did not hesitate to take the job and received my first paycheck from them about two weeks ago.

After Examiner.com, ESPNMilwaukee.com asked me to submit my work to them and they posted it as a link for their Packers Updates in the off-season.  It was truly an honor to write for them and I hope to continue my work with them in the future.

As the Marquette basketball season rolled around, I was then approached by John Dodds from MarquetteHoops.com, a FOX Sports affiliate, to join their staff.  This has been my first real “media” action as I have attended media day, press conferences, and will get to sit court side for a few games this season.

That’s pretty much the story of how I got where I am today, so I’d like to thank Max Tcheyan, Larry Garot, Steve Harbula (of Examiner.com), and John Dodds, amongst others who have helped me get to where I am today.

I also want to thank Pat Lawton, a good friend of my dad, who really “recruited me” to Marquette.  When he found out I was interested in Marquette, Mr. Lawton brought me along on Marquette’s NCAA Tournament trip to Anaheim and showed me a wonderful time.  A lot of the reason I am at Marquette and having an unbelievable time is because of him.  He has gotten me in touch with a lot of people at Marquette and helped my blog grow.  He is a great contact to have, helping me whenever I need it, and I hope to have him there for a long time.

The last thank you I want to give is to Steve “The Homer” True, voice of the Golden Eagles basketball team and a radio host for ESPN Radio.  I visited him as a senior in high school for a school project, and as we talked about what it meant to be a great sports analyst he mentioned that if I didn’t have passion for what I was doing, I had nothing.

From that point on, I kept in contact with him and sent him my work.  He gave me constructive criticism and a boatload of confidence that I have continued to use in everything I do.  I hope to have him as a mentor for as long as I write and talk about Milwaukee sports, so thank you Homer.

I had to keep this thank you somewhat short, so if I forgot to mention someone in this let me know.  Even if your name is not in here, I thank you.

To date, Strotty’s Blog has 28,951 views, my work on Bleacher Report has 75,036 views, and my Packers material on Examiner.com has generated 6,737 views.  These numbers are humbling and I am beyond grateful for everyone who reads my work.  I still have a lot of work to do before I consider myself a great writer, but the people mentioned in this thank you are a big reason why I know I can accomplish the goals I have set for myself.  Thanks to all the fans and people who read my work and I hope you continue to do so.

Thank you,

Mark Strotman

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments