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Big Dipper Classic Scouting: Macari Brooks and Pat Miller

The annual Big Dipper Classic was held at Rich South High School this past weekend in Richton Park, matching up some of the best teams in Illinois in an 8-team, single elimination tournament.  Two of the players competing, junior Macari Brooks and senior Pat Miller, caught my eye.  Here’s a quick scouting report on the Division-I prospects.

Macari Brooks, 6’2″, Junior, Rich South

Brooks currently has offers from Depaul, Dayton, Illinois State, and Northern Illinois, but those offers are sure to increase if he continues this kind of play.  In his first round game, Brooks carried his team to a 72-33 blowout of Fenger.  While Brooks did not face much of a challenge in the game, his skills were on display as he finished with 24 points on 9-15 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists and just one turnover in 27 minutes.

Athleticism is the name of the game for Brooks who worked the baseline against Fenger’s 2-3 zone and had his way with easy passes for layups, quick jumpers, as well as drives to the hoop.  He only hit one three in the game because of his position on the baseline, but he had good elevation on his jumper which should make up for his size at the next level.

His passing was excellent and it will be interesting to see if he sees time at point guard this summer on his AAU team, Mac Irvin Fire.  His ball handling and court vision will need work if he is going to make that transition, but if he stays at shooting guard all the tools are there.

On the defensive end, Brooks soared for his rebounds and, despite the score, played hard throughout in front of the hometown crowd.  With Illinois-bound Crandall Head out with an injury, Brooks has been asked to pick up the slack for Rich South.  They finished the tournament by winning the third place game, a 73-63 win over Marquette-bound Reggie Smith and the Thornton Wildcats.

In the game, Brooks led his team with 22 points and showed even more range against Thornton’s man-to-man defense.  I was only able to catch the second half of the game (when it got out of hand), so there was not much to see on Brooks. California, Xavier, Louisville, and South Florida have all shown interest in Brooks and at this pace, that interest should be rising quickly as he continues to light up the box score.

Pat Miller, 6’0″, Senior, Hales Franciscan (signed to Tennessee State)

If the Big Dipper Classic is any indication of how good Pat Miller can be, then the Tennessee State Tigers have a steal with their future point guard.  Miller led his team to a 69-64 championship game victory over Crete-Monee Wednesday night, scoring 27 points on 10-20 shooting, handing out five assists and finishing with four steals and a block.

Pat Miller (right) was one of the most aggressive defenders in the Big Dipper Classic. (Photo Credit: Sun Times)

Don’t let the zero in the box score next to “rebounds” fool you: Miller can play some defense.  With the most active hands in the tournament, Miller was as pesky as could be on defense and forced Crete into bad passing situations that led to fast break points for Hales.  He was credited with four steals but was responsible for probably three or four more turnovers.

As good as he was on defense, Miller made his presence felt on the offensive end where he shot lights out and found open teammates when his shot was not falling (not often).  With a very muscular build for his 6-foot frame, Miller was able to rumble inside on drives and stay in control, but also showed an array of outside shots, connecting on four three-pointers from WAY outside.

He was one of the few players in the tournament who, when they put a shot, the crowd knew it was going in (Brooks was another).  With three and a half minutes left in the third quarter and Crete on a 5-0 run to pull within one of Hales, Miller put together a combination of a three pointer, a steal, and a three pointer that set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Miller’s size might hurt him in college, but if he continues to shoot well from the outside and keeps his frame, it won’t matter much.  His array of outside shots, floaters in the lane, and mid-range shots made him one of the tournament’s better players and he was the main reason Hales Franciscan took home the championship.

December 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Packers’ Grant Snubbed By Pro Bowl Voters

As it is every year when the NFC and AFC Pro Bowl teams are announced, fans across the nation are up in arms over their favorite players not being selected to the team. Sometimes these complaints are warranted while other times they are simply homer fans who just want to see their favorite players get recognition from the rest of the league.

Charles Woodson is the only Green Bay Packer starting for the NFC team while Aaron Rodgers will make his first trip to the Pro Bowl and Nick Collins is going back for the second straight year. While those three picks were all but locks to make the trip to Hawaii, there were two players who, barring injury, will not be playing in the Pro Bowl despite having seasons worthy of a selection.

Last season, despite rushing for 1,200 yards, running back Ryan Grant struggled to gain notoriety as the Packers won just six games and Rodgers burst onto the scene as a top passer in the league. Grant fumbled the ball four times, losing three, and caught just 18 passes to finish the season with five total touchdowns.

His 2008 season was seen as a regression from 2007, when Grant went from a practice squad running back on the Giants to premier running back on the 13-3 Packers. He averaged 5.1 yards per rush and scored eight times while rushing for 956 yards. Making it more impressive was the fact that after seven weeks Grant had 27 rushing yards.

Ryan Grant has played at a Pro Bowl level the entire season. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

This season Grant has had a rejuvenated year but still finds himself overshadowed by Rodgers’ second-straight phenomenal season as well as the Packers’ pass-happy offense. He ranks third in the NFC in rushing yards (1202) and only Adrian Peterson has rushed for more touchdowns than Grant, who has ten. In addition, Grant has improved his receiving numbers and has lost just one fumble all season, in Week 2.

Representing the NFC in the Pro Bowl will be Peterson, Stephen Jackson, and Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams. It’s hard to argue against the NFC’s leading rusher (Jackson) or a player with 17 touchdowns (Peterson), but the real gripe comes in when talking about Williams.

Taking on the “lightning” role in Carolina’s two-running back system along with Jonathon Stewart, Williams has rushed for over 1100 yards and sports an impressive 5.2 yards per rush while adding seven touchdowns to his resume. However, Williams has also missed two games to injury, lost three fumbles, and plays for a team that runs the ball over 52 percent of the time.

Carolina has two 1,000-yard rushers (Williams and Stewart) and while it’s easy to say Stewart has stolen carries and touchdowns from Williams, it also keeps him fresh and makes sure he does not have to carry the load 25 times a game.

Outside of yards per rush, Grant tops Williams in every rushing category and does it for a team that is known for its passing and less than stellar offensive line (to be generous). Grant has been a key to the Packers’ 10-5 record and has taken the ball on more than 67 percent of the Packers’ running plays, compared to Williams’ 44 percent.

Both runners have different roles on their respective teams, but Grant has been far more impressive than Williams in just about every way. Chalk up Williams’ Pro Bowl selection on the fact that he rushed for over 1,500 yards and scored 18 times last season, when he deserved to make it. He has had a great season and has meant everything to the Panthers’ rushing attack, but Grant’s season has been just as impressive and has meant more to the playoff-bound Packers.

December 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Playoff Scenarios For the Packers In Week 17

With a win over the Seahawks in Week 16, the Packers clinched a playoff spot after the New York Giants fell to the Carolina Panthers.  The Vikings have already clinched the NFC North due to the head-t0-head tiebreaker they hold with the Packers, but the fifth seed the Packers currently hold is still up for grabs and they do not know who they will play in the first round yet.  Here’s a complete look at how things shape up for the Packers heading into the final week of the season.

NY Giants @ Minnesota, 12:00

Green Bay @ Arizona, 3:15

Philadelphia @ Dallas, 3:15

The first game on the schedule that matters to the Packers is one that could determine everything, even before the Packers take the field.  Simply put: if the Vikings defeat the Giants, the Packers will play the Cardinals in Arizona in the first round of the playoffs.

Scenario 1: Vikings, Eagles, Packers Win:
Scenario 2: Vikings, Eagles, Cardinals Win:

1. New Orleans
2. Philadelphia (12-4)
3. Minnesota (12-4)
4. Arizona (11-5/10-6)
5. Green Bay (11-5 or 10-6)
6. Dallas (10-6)

Dallas losing ensures the Packers the fifth seed (head-t0-head win) while the Vikings win guarantees them the 3rd seed, leaving the Cardinals with the No. 4 seed.

Scenario 3: Vikings, Cowboys, Packers Win:

1. New Orleans
2. Minnesota (12-4)
3. Dallas (11-5)
4. Arizona (10-6)
5. Green Bay (11-5)
6. Philadelphia (11-5)

A Cowboys win gives the Vikings the No. 2 seed while the Packers beating the Cardinals gives Dallas a better record and the No. 3 seed.

Scenario 4: Vikings, Cowboys, Cardinals Win:

1. New Orleans
2. Minnesota (12-4)
3. Arizona (11-5)
4. Dallas (11-5)
5. Philadelphia (11-5)
6. Green Bay (10-6)

If the Cardinals win, they would move ahead of the Cowboys on a tie-breaker but the Packers would also drop to the No. 6 seed, thus linking the Cardinals with the Packers again if the Vikings win.

If the Giants upset the Vikings in the noon game, four different scenarios can occur which include the Packers being matched up with either the Cardinals, Vikings, or the Cowboys.

Scenario 5: Giants, Eagles, Packers Win:

1. New Orleans
2. Philadelphia (12-4)
3. Minnesota (11-5)
4. Arizona (10-6)
5. Green Bay (11-5)
6. Dallas (10-6)

Pretty straightforward as records are all in place and no tie-breakers are used.  The one that doesn’t hurt your head to look at.

Scenario 6: Giants, Eagles, Cardinals Win:

1. New Orleans
2. Philadelphia (12-4)
3. Arizona (11-5)
4. Minnesota (11-5)
5. Green Bay (10-6)
6. Dallas (10-6)

The only way the Packers can get another shot at Favre, the Cardinals would jump the Vikings based on their head-to-head victory. Again, the Packers have the tie-breaker with the Cowboys for the same reason.

Scenario 7: Giants, Cowboys, Packers Win:

1. New Orleans
2. Dallas (11-5)
3. Minnesota (11-5)
4. Arizona (10-6)
5. Green Bay (11-5)
6. Philadelphia (11-5)

The only way the Cowboys can receive a first round bye, and the Packers hold the tie-breaker with the Eagles due to record against common opponent.

Scenario 8: Giants, Cowboys, Cardinals Win:

1. New Orleans
2. Arizona (11-5)
3. Dallas (11-5)
4. Minnesota (11-5)
5. Philadelphia (11-5)
6. Green Bay (10-6)

Don’t ask…that’s just what it is.

December 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Packers Run Their Way to the Playoffs

Packers’ fans across the nation could smell it in the air.  Week 16 was approaching and all the Packers needed to do was beat the feeble Seahawks and have an NFC East foe stumble.  But it was that uneasy feeling that fans had felt so many times before, that somehow the Packers and their young squad would find a way to stumble themselves and open the door for other teams to snatch up their playoff spot.

Three hours, 48 points, and a Giants loss later, the Packers were celebrating their first playoff berth under quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  With just two weeks to play, the Packers looked like the hottest team in the NFC over the last seven weeks, all culminating in a completely dominating performance over the Seahawks in Lambeau Field.

Leading the attack for the Packers was the run game which looked as good as it had all season, scoring five times from three different backs.  In fact, running backs accounted for all six touchdowns on the day, including Brandon Jackson’s 13-yard screen pass for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Jackson finally showed some flashes of greatness the Packers thought they were getting him when they drafted him in the second round in 2007.  He scored on the ground twice in the third quarter and also caught two more passes out of the backfield to go along with his excellent blitz pick-up as a third down running back.

Ryan Grant continued to make his case for the last running back slot on the NFC Pro Bowl team, rushing for a team-high 92 yards that included a 56-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach in the second quarter.  Grant rushed only 16 times in the blowout win, but made them count as he averaged over six yards per carry.

Ahman Green chipped in 29 yards of his own in mop-up duty and was rewarded with a goal line carry that he took to the endzone from six yards out for the Packers’ final touchdown.  The stellar game from the backs and offensive line bumped the Packers up to 13th in the conference in rushing, as well as fifth in touchdowns.  Not bad for a quarterback with over 4,000 yards and closing in on 30 touchdowns.

As good as Rodgers has been this season, the team knows all too well that the lack of a run game in January can be the difference between a playoff victory and a ticket back to Green Bay for the year.  In 2007, Grant rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff win over the Seahawks, but then flopped in the NFC Championship game against New York, rushing for just 29 yards.

Mock drafts all over (including mine) have the Packers addressing running back early in the 2010 Draft, but the numbers suggest that might not be such a concern after all.  Grant ranks third in the NFC with 1,202 rushing yards and has averaged more yards per carry this season than Adrian Peterson and Brandon Jacobs.  He hasn’t been a go-to back or someone that is going to get 25 carries per game, but he has more than kept defenses honest.

If the Packers are going to succeed in the playoffs, it will take more than Rodgers slinging the ball around 40 times.  As the weather has declined, so has Rodgers’ completion percentage (59.3% in December).  Their success will correlate directly with how Rodgers plays, but Grant will need to be in the mix as well.

December 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Marquette’s 2010 Recruits: Scouting Reports

With high school basketball in full swing, Vander Blue, Reggie Smith, and Jamail Jones have all began their senior seasons at their respective high schools, showcasing their talent they will bring to Marquette next season.  Over the last two weeks, I have been fortunate enough to watch games of all three 2010 recruits and, even though Marquette has two open scholarships for next season, they are off to a great start with these three studs.  My Scout.com articles are linked at the beginning of Blue’s and Smith’s reports, but you must be an insider to read them.  If you are not, here are some quick recaps of what I saw from each player.

Reggie Smith, 6’1″ G, Thornton, Illinois

I was able to watch Smith play in the first round of the annual Big Dipper Classic yesterday and came away impressed by what I saw.  Of the three tournament games I watched, Smith was the quickest guard by far and also kept complete control of the ball while slicing through double teams and zones.

Pegged as a “dribble-drive point guard”, Smith showcased his outside game by connecting on three very deep three-point shots while also driving strong to the hoop.  His passes were crisp and he seemed to have good leadership on his team, making Thornton one of the strongest teams in the tournament.

In pre-games, Smith threw down a few dunks that gave me flashbacks of Marquette guard Dominic James.  Despite being just 6’1″, Smith has some of the best hops in Illinois and is a consensus top ten dunker in the 2010 class.

That elevation carried over to his defensive game as he finished the game with nine rebounds and multiple altered shots.  His defense was lazy at times but the game was out of hand when this occurred, so it’s nothing to be concerned about.  Smith’s Marquette outlook is bright because he will be the fastest player on Marquette the second he steps on campus and loves to penetrate and dish to open teammates, perfect for Buzz Williams’ offense.

Vander Blue, 6’3″ SG, Madison, Wisconsin

The top prospect in Buzz Williams’ class next year, Blue did not disappoint in front of his future coach when his Madison Spartans played in the Al McGuire Center two weeks ago.  Williams was on hand to watch Blue drop 22 points in a close game against fellow powerhouse Rufus King.

Vander Blue is Buzz Williams' prized possession in the 2010 class.

Blue was a perfect 12-12 from the free throw line and, with his team down five towards the end of the third quarter, connected on back-to-back three pointers to give his team the lead.  He has a confidence about himself that allows him to take over games whenever he is feeling it.

Any rebound he secured, he was off to the races looking for a teammate to pass the ball up-court to.  His team ran mostly a half-court offense and his teammate, Tre Creamer, had the hot hand for most of the night, but Blue was still able to penetrate the defense and get to the line.

Playing out of position on defense, Blue showed athleticism with the way he battled down low in a 1-3-1 defense and also had a few key steals that led his team to victory.  In true “spotlight” fashion, Blue stole the ball with about 10 seconds left and the game out of reach, and capped his performance off with a thunderous slam dunk that got the crowd (or at least me) on my feet.

His Marquette outlook is that he should be starting from Day one.  Whether that is at shooting guard, point guard, or “small forward”, he needs to be on the court logging close to 30 minutes a game.  The pure talent is there and one can only imagine what he will be able to accomplish with a whole year of college coaching.

Jamail Jones, 6’6″ SF, Montverde, Florida

Playing for one of the best high school teams in the nation, I was able to watch Jones online in the City of Palms Classic.  The feed was not the greatest and it was hard to tell who was who at some points during the game, but my report on Jones is a positive one nonetheless.

He has very good size from what I could tell and should have no problem playing small forward at Marquette.  He has a great upper body that he uses in traffic, but the main thing was his outside shot.  He scored 32 points in one game and hit everything that he threw up.

His basketball IQ is already very high and he understands what to do in certain situations.  He will not take a bad shot if he knows he can get a better one by rotating and moving without the ball.  His dribbling needs work and he had a few turnovers that could have been prevented through better ball management.

He has a lot of room to grow physically once he gets to Marquette but the outside shooting touch and smart decisions make Buzz Williams’ Wesley Matthews comparisons even more spot on.  Supposedly, Jones is very humble and always looking to get better, a good combination for a Buzz Williams player.

December 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Twas’ The Night Before Christmas: Marquette Edition

Twas the night before the Christmas and all through the Big East
Not a player was stirring and J-May had been released

The team’s back court was struggling, making scoring tough
I think it’s safe to say, Vander can’t come soon enough

Lazar Hayward was shooting threes as if the ball was hot
Which sounds good and all, but they didn’t go in a lot

Still he kept the team afloat with his work ethic inside
He is listed at 6’6″, though we’re pretty sure he lied

Dwight Buycks started off hot but has since fell below
But fear not Marquette, Darius Johnson-Odom has stole the show!

With his ability to drive with both hands, and his deadly outside range
It might be time for Buzz’s starting five to be re-arranged

Cubillan and Acker have proven to be gritty ballers
It’s just a shame that neither of them are getting any taller

After J-May’s departure, Joe Fulce has been asked to prove
That his Buzz Williams imitations are as good as his post moves

Youssoupha Mbao swats away layups like he’s getting paid
But he also passed up the easiest layup anyone saw this decade

Erik Williams has seen little playing time, which really says it all
Good thing his dad is mature enough to not sit there and bawl

His time will come soon enough, despite his PT being measly
We can only hope his dad doesn’t think he’ll be Michael Beasley

Chris Otule is injured again, “terrible” has described his health
And Marquette’s post defense is now seeing his real wealth

Buzz expected Junior Cadougan to run the point in 2009
But a torn Achilles heel has him down sitting on the pine

Jimmy Butler has been efficient as that should come as no shock
The offense seems to run smoothly when 33 has the rock

Wins over Xavier and Michigan came before a loss to Florida State
The Old Spice Classic was a success, and that is no debate

Losing the Three Amigos was tough, even one to the NBA
I think we’re all very happy that Lazar decided to stay

The Big East looks tough once again, from top to bottom they say
And it makes it even tougher when you only have nine guys to play

But Buzz will get us through this season, on this he does insist
We can only hope that next year, Wayne Blackshear is on his list

As he went off to recruit, we heard him shout with all his might
Happy Big East season to all, and to all a good night!

December 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NFC Wildcard Update: Packers Still Control Destiny in NFC

After one of the more heart-breaking regular season losses for the Packers this decade, the NFC Wildcard picture became a tad bit fuzzier as the Cowboys defeated the Saints and the Giants took care of business on Monday night against the Redskins.

While the Packers still control their own destiny and can secure a playoff spot by winning their last two games against NFC West foes Seattle and Arizona, here’s a look at what the Packers are hoping will happen over the course of the next two weeks to ensure they play past the first weekend of January.

The Saints need just one more win to clinch the first overall seed in the NFC and should get it as they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday and then travel to Carolina to close out the season.  Should they beat Tampa Bay, they would be able to rest their starters in Week 17 with no undefeated season on the line.  The Saints do not affect the Packers all that much and it’s all but ensured they will gain the top seed.

With two losses in the last three weeks on the road, the Minnesota Vikings are hoping they can hang on to the second seed in the NFC in order to pick up a bye and avoid going on the road until the NFC Championship game.  The road to get there will not be an easy one as the Vikings travel to Chicago to take on the in-division rival Bears, and then match up against the Giants who are more than likely going to be playing for something.

Packers fans should cheer for the Bears next week so the Eagles can challenge the Vikings for that first round bye and have something to play for in Week 17 against the Cowboys.  Philadelphia hosts Denver this weekend with the chance to tie the Vikings for the number two seed, if the Vikings were to lose.

Tie-breaking procedures say that the Eagles would jump the Vikings based on the third tiebreaker of record vs. common opponents.  The Eagles would be 5-0 while the Vikings (assuming they lost to the Bears) would be 2-2 with the Giants in Week 17.

Then comes the Arizona Cardinals, who sit at 9-5 and are all but set on where they will land in the playoffs.  Barring a major collapse from both the Vikings and Eagles, the Cardinals will not have a first round bye.  They host the St. Louis Rams in Week 16 and then stay at home to battle the Packers to finish the season.

The interesting note is that in Week 17, the Packers and Cardinals will kick off at 3:15 CST while the Eagles and Vikings play at noon.  So the Cardinals will know if they have anything to play for when they hit the field in Arizona in Week 17.  Once again, Packers fans should cheer for the Eagles to win out so that the Cardinals are entrenched in the fourth spot with nothing to play for when they take on the Packers.

Desean Jackson can help the Packers out by defeating the Broncos in Week 16. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The Eagles winning next week also means the Vikings will have to play to win, regardless, in Week 17 when they take on the Giants.  This also helps the Packers because the Giants have the tiebreaker over them due to the common opponent tiebreaker.

One team the Packers need to just stay even with are the Cowboys, who the Packers defeated back in Week 9.  Dallas goes to Washington this weekend before closing out the season at home against the Eagles.  Once again, if the Eagles can beat the Broncos in Week 16 they will have something to play for against Dallas, knowing a first round bye could be on the line.

Simply put, the Packers need to stay even with the Cowboys or top the Giants in the standings to get in.  A win this weekend combined with a Cowboys OR Giants loss would ensure the Packers a playoff spot.  Their Week 17 game against the Cardinals being played late is huge for the Packers, because they will know what they have to do in order to either make the playoffs or move up to the fifth seed.

The way things are shaping up (and are sure to be completely jumbled this time next week), the Packers should be playing a 10-5 Cardinals team that can not catch the Eagles in the standings for third place.  Unless Minnesota loses their last two games, Arizona can not catch them either.

For the sake of their fans’ brains, let’s hope the Packers win their last two games and make everything a whole lot easier for everyone.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why Jimmie Johnson is NOT the Athlete of the Year

News broke today that NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson had been awarded the AP Male Athlete of the Year award.  Johnson became the first race car driver to win the award in the 78-year history since it has been handed out.  He had quite the year in 2009, winning his fourth straight NASCAR Championship, something no other driver had ever accomplished.  He won four of seven races he drove in and in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, finished outside the top ten just once.

Congrats, Jimmie.  Now give the award back.

That’s right folks.  I don’t care if Jimmie Johnson can lift 450 pounds or run a 4.2 forty-yard dash, he is no athlete of the year.  What Jimmie Johnson does is not easy by any stretch of my imagination and if the majority of people tried to drive in a NASCAR race, they would end up looking like Will Ferrell did after crashing his car in Talladega Nights.  Then again, it’s probably difficult to be an oil driller and I don’t think we’ve seen any of those guys win the award.

According to the dictionary, the word athlete is defined as:

“a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength”

We can all but assume the dictionary means sports when it says “exercises or contests”.  Let’s not even get into the argument of whether or not race car driving is a sport.  In my father’s opinion, and one I agree with, a sport must have a) a ball (or puck), b) a defense, and c) a definite winner.  While it’s true that race car driving does not pass this test, we will continue onward with the discussion of why he isn’t an athlete for what he does.

In his acceptance speech for the award, Johnson was asked if he was an athlete, to which he responded “100 percent”.

“I’ve looked at other sports, particularly baseball, and I’ve seen plenty of out-of-shape, fat players.  So to anyone who wants to go head-to-head with me in athletic ability, let’s go. I talked a lot with Jason Sehorn about this, and I don’t know how exactly you measure athletic ability, but I know my 5-mile run time will destroy most NFL players.”

Let’s break this down, Jimmie.  The AP Male Athlete of the Year Award is given to someone who excelled the most by being the best athlete in their sport.  Going back to the definition of “athlete”, that includes doing so through physical agility, stamina, or strength.

So as out of shape and fat you might think Prince Fielder is and as badly as you think you’d beat him in a five mile race, he could hit a ball out of Miller Park faster than your little car could go.  The fact that you believe you could win in a five mile race means very little because that isn’t what you do in your “sport”.  Rather, you make left turns faster than other drivers make left turns and have done so for the last four years.

An athlete is someone who uses their physical abilities such as strength and agility and applies them to their sport. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Johnson’s accomplishments have been incredible and no one has matched what he has done in that span, but that doesn’t make him an athlete.  For all we know, Johnson could really beat most NFL players in a five-mile race (I’ll go ahead and say he couldn’t), but he is being awarded a trophy because of what he did while driving in a car.  My mom is no athlete and she drives my little brothers to school every day.  She even makes left turns.

If you want to hand out who had the best year in their particular sport, it’d probably be a two-man race between Roger Federer and Johnson.  But that isn’t what the award is based on.  While driving inside a race car for hours is probably physically exhausting, it requires no physical strength or agility.  At 5’11” and 175 pounds, I’d like to see Johnson chase down a gapper in baseball or take a hand-off on third and goal.

Go search America’s gyms and you are bound to find a better athlete than Tiger Woods or Albert Pujols.  Those people are extremely athletic but they do not put it to use in the realm of professional sports.  Johnson tries to make it sound like an athlete needs to have a muscular body and ability to run far or lift weights.  In reality, that’s the definition of a gym rat or what one would call a “physical specimen”.  Johnson plays a professional “sport”, but does not put any of his so-called athletic traits to use when he sits down in his driver’s seat and goes around in a circle.

Johnson claims he “[doesn’t] know how exactly you measure athletic ability”, but in his particular “sport”, there’s nothing to measure.  There’s a reason that no race car driver has ever won the Male Athlete of the Year, and that’s because their sport has nothing to do with being athletic. The most athletic thing a race car driver does is back-flip off their car after winning a race.

Dave Wiegand won the Scrabble Championship this August, his second time winning the championship.  If he was also a bodybuilder and could whoop NFLer’s in a five mile race, would he have received any votes for Male Athlete of the Year?  Didn’t think so.

December 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Packers 2009 Draft Has Potential To Be Great, Best for Thompson

It’s well known that Ted Thompson has experienced success in the NFL Draft, opting to build through the April event rather than free agency or trade.  During his tenure in Green Bay, Thompson has drafted ten current starters (Rodgers, Collins, Hawk, Jennings, Spitz, Jolly, Sitton, Matthews, B. Jones, Crosby) and is widely considered one of the best in the business at projecting future talent.

While his 2005 and 2006 drafts have stood as his best to date since joining the Packers, his 2009 class has potential to be the best he has ever put together.  During his time in Seattle, he took part in five drafts and selected Pro Bowlers Shaun Alexander, Steve Hutchinson and Marcus Trufant, Ken Hamlin, and Rocky Bernard among others.

While he found gems through the draft in Seattle, his success in Green Bay has been far superior and he now has the youngest team in the league poised to make a  deep playoff run.  Thompson’s luck began in 2005 when he made California quarterback Aaron Rodgers his first selection as Green Bay General Manager.  Four years later, Rodgers is a top-5 quarterback and looking like one of the best steals of the draft this decade.

Joining Rodgers in that 2005 draft class was Pro Bowler Nick Collins, who started from day one and has turned into one of the better coverage safeties in the NFC.  Thompson also selected Brady Poppinga in the fourth round in what has turned out to be an important draft for Thompson, but not necessarily a deep one.

The next year Thompson put together the deepest draft class in Green Bay, selecting five starters and a special teams specialist.  Given the fifth pick in the draft, Thompson selected Ohio State outside linebacker A.J. Hawk.  While he has not lived up to his draft slot’s potential, he has done better in the 3-4 defense and a serviceable starter.

In the second round Thompson drafted Greg Jennings and Daryn Colledge, then took Jason Spitz in the next round.  Those three players have started since they arrived in Green Bay and, if Colledge is brought back for the right price, are all great selections.  Thompson took ACC Special Teams Player of the Year Will Blackmon in the fourth round and found his steal of the draft in Johnny Jolly, who he selected in the sixth round.

The ’05 and ’06 drafts have set the foundation for the Packers, especially on offense, so it’s no surprise to see the 2009 draft class seemingly setting up the defense for future success.

After struggling earlier, ninth overall pick B.J. Raji has come on nicely and given a banged up Packers’ defensive line good minutes and even better production.  With Ryan Pickett potentially leaving for free agency after this season, Raji could be a full-time starter in 2010.

Clay Matthews has been impressive in his first 13 games as a Packer. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

If early returns are any sign for the future then Thompson found his steal of the draft early, when he traded up to select USC outside linebacker Clay Matthews.  Through 13 games, Matthews finds himself in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year with 40 tackles, a forced fumble, and eight sacks.

Past the first round, Thompson has also struck gold as offensive lineman T.J. Lang has seen spot starts this season and seventh round pick Brad Jones has filled in nicely for Aaron Kampman, who is out with a torn ACL for the remainder of the year.  Sixth rounders Jarius Wynn and Brandon Underwood had provided excellent depth and could prove to be potential role players in the future.

Because of the Matthews trade, Thompson lost out on his second round selection and both third rounders, but Matthews has more than made up for it and if the Packers could, they would surely make the trade again.  In Matthews and Raji, the Packers have set up the foundation for their 3-4 defense with a versatile nose tackle/defensive end and a pass rushing threat on the outside.

Combine the run-stuffing Raji and the pass rushing threat of Matthews with one of the best secondaries in the league and you have one of the better up-and-coming defenses in the league.  Much of that credit goes to Thompson, who also signed Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson from free agency as well as Tramon Williams and Atari Bigby after they went undrafted.

The 2006 draft might produce more starters than 2009, but the impact of last year’s draft class could be unmatched.

December 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Jeronne Maymon Should Have Learned More From Lazar Hayward

For those waiting to hear why Marquette freshman Jeronne Maymon quit the basketball team Monday, some of their questions were answered Wednesday when his father, Tim Maymon, was reached via telephone.  He spoke of reasons that included his son “not being used the way he needs to be used” as well as Marquette failing to “run the offense for him”.

The words spoken by the Madison native’s father are, to put it lightly, ridiculous.  Known to speak his mind whenever he is given the opportunity, it seems as though Maymon’s father is telling the truth and that most of the reason his son is not at Marquette is because of their own personal choice.

While the words are disappointing to hear for Marquette fans, that one of their players would feel so out of place just 10 games into their career, the news is in a way good because it appears as though head coach Buzz Williams was not at fault and that nothing ended on specifically bad terms.

The wonder of the internet allowed for tens of rumors to circulate about why Maymon had decided to quit the team, ranging from a verbal altercation between Williams and Maymon’s father to Maymon freaking out during finals week (which Marquette students are currently in).  If there can ever be a “good” reason for why a player leaves a team, it would be this.

While Maymon leaving on his own terms is good for Marquette basketball’s image, the ultimate decision and reasons behind it are head scratching and disheartening to say the least.  From what I got out of the comments from Maymon’s father, Jeronne felt like he should have been a bigger part of the offense while playing a different position, at one point saying “they’ve got him playing center and that ain’t what he does.”

Jeronne Maymon and his father never got things straight while at Marquette. (Mike DeVries/The Capital Times)

Apparently being a team player “ain’t what he does” either.  Losing Dwight Burke, Pat Hazel, Chris Otule to graduation, transfer, and injury in the span of less than a year made Marquette’s front court a carousel this season.  With Lazar Hayward holding down the same power forward position he excelled at last season and Jimmy Butler coming out of the gates firing, the two forward spots seemed all but locked down as the season began.

With Hayward and Butler expected to average close to 30 minutes per game, the only position left on the court was at center where Maymon was expected to use his big 6’6″, 250-pound frame to battle against the Big East’s best inside every night.

Forget the fact that next year a healthy Chris Otule and a more experienced Youssoupha Mbao would be back to take over center duties while Maymon moved back to his traditional power forward role.  Remember, that “ain’t what he does”.

It’s true that Maymon was playing out of position by playing center and that his 16.3 minutes a game didn’t have him as a projected lottery pick, hurting his chances at being a one-and-done college player like his father expected him to be.  But as mad as Maymon was, he would have done himself some good by looking around the locker room and finding Lazar Hayward to ask him about playing out of position at Marquette, and seeing where it got him.

Much like Maymon, Hayward was a four-star prospect out of high school and was ranked in the same 60-80 range by most college recruiting experts.  At 6’5″ and weighing just over 200 pounds (think a shorter Joe Fulce), Hayward was considered a typical tweener between shooting guard and small forward.  His inside skills outweighed his ball handling and outside shooting, so many expected him to stay at small forward during his time at Marquette.

In his freshman season, Hayward averaged 16.3 minutes per game (sound familiar?), while posting 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds.  Because some sophomore named Wes Matthews had supplanted himself as the starting small forward, Hayward saw most of his time at power forward despite being greatly undersized for the position.

The next season, junior Wes Matthews (who was also playing out of position as a 6’4″ small forward) improved even more and so did Hayward, again at the power forward spot.  By Matthews’ senior season, Hayward was dubbed the “big man” inside for Marquette, who ran a four-guard offense for the majority of the game.  The 6’5″, now-225 pound Hayward had played out of position for three years while standing in the shadows of the Three Amigos’ spotlight and never made a peep, instead choosing to accept his role and make the most out of it.

Lazar Hayward never thought he'd play power forward at Marquette. He ended up playing there the majority of his career. (Rivals.com)

Make the most out of it he did as Hayward was awarded a First Team All-Big East selection before the start of his senior season.  Not only has Hayward become a great player on the court, but he is an even better one off it.  His passion for the game and unselfish attitude are main reasons he is loved by all his teammates, who admittedly are playing for him this season as the power forward in a small forward’s body goes for his fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

And to think that Hayward would not have accomplished any of this had he told Marquette “that ain’t what he does”.  No Jeronne, what Hayward does is go out and fight for his team on the front of the jersey, not the back, regardless of where or how much he is playing.

It’s easy to say that Marquette and its fans wish Maymon the best, but if his attitude is the same wherever he winds up, our wishes will mean very little.  Did the Maymon family really believe that their freshman son would come in and have the offense run through him?  If Maymon was really the next coming of Michael Beasley like his father thinks he is, wouldn’t Buzz Williams, a great talent evaluator, have seen it by now?

What exactly is Maymon’s father teaching his 19-year-old son if every time things get hard and he isn’t satisfied with a certain situation, that he should “just kind of move on and regroup”?  It’s a shame that his father has been (seemingly) the one calling the shots throughout this whole process and that Jeronne has suffered because of it.

It’s not even as if Maymon was sitting on the bench this season.  Instead, injuries and a lack of size gave Maymon more playing time than he deserved based on his previous performances.  The true story may never come out about what Buzz Williams promised Maymon or if Maymon’s father and Buzz got into an altercation, but one thing is clear: on the list of traits that defined Jeronne Maymon, “team player” was not one of them.

Clearly, “that ain’t what he does”.

December 16, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , | 5 Comments

The Current State of Marquette Basketball

Marquette Basketball head coach Buzz Williams announced Monday evening that freshman forward Jeronne Maymon had quit the team, effective immediately.  Maymon appeared in nine games for the Golden Eagles, averaging 4.0 points and 4.2 rebounds.  The loss comes as a shock to the majority of Marquette fans as Maymon, after a slow start, had seemed to be coming around and feeling more comfortable in the offense.

Now that the logistical stuff is out of the way, it’s time for an opinion piece because to be completely honest, for the first time since becoming a Marquette Golden Eagles basketball fan, I am worried about the current state of the program.  Through thick and thin, I have looked the other way and not made a big deal about the mishaps that have occurred, but enough is enough and it needs to be addressed.

For starters, let’s take a look at how the loss of Maymon is going to affect the 2009-2010 Golden Eagles.  If anyone had any hope of making the NCAA Tournament, you may kindly stop talking and realize that this team would have to pull off a miracle to make the NIT.

Marquette currently has nine healthy scholarship players.  Yes, you read that correctly.  NINE.  That means junior walk-on Rob Frozena will need to participate if Marquette wants to run 5-on-5 scrimmages in practice.  Remember when we were joking before the season started because we couldn’t field a scrimmage with Joe Fulce, Darius Johnson-Odom, and Junior Cadougan all out ?  Yeah, not so funny anymore.

Maymon averaged just over 16 minutes per game and those numbers are going to have to be made up for somewhere.  While many are dubbing the move by Maymon as the coming out party for freshman Erik Williams, the more likely event is a boost in minutes for Joe Fulce and Lazar Hayward.  Even Jimmy Butler and Hayward will now be asked to play Three Amigos-like minutes (in the 33-34 minute range instead of 28-30 minute range).  That means Hayward MUST stay out of foul trouble.  Oh boy…

It appeared that Maymon was destined to take over the starting forward role for Joe Fulce soon enough, but now that clearly will not happen.  This means Fulce will stay in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season and the bench loses yet another player.  With complaints about Buzz Williams only going with an 8-man rotation, now that’s about all he can do.

It only seems fitting that Marquette would lose a big man in this whole process.  With more guards than we know what to do with, they now go from five true big men to four with the loss of Maymon.  Already undersized, losing a 6’6″ body in the paint only has Big East opponents salivating even more.

The loss of Jeronne Maymon (L) hurts Marquette more than just losing a body off the bench. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

As bad as it hurts to lose Maymon for the 2009 season, which all but sealed the fate for Hayward, David Cubillan, and Mo Acker’s senior year, the real story is an ugly trend that is occurring within the walls of Marquette basketball.

Since Buzz Williams has taken over for Tom Crean as head coach of the Golden Eagles, he has seen Pat Hazel, Scott Christopherson, Brett Rosebro, Aaron Bowen, and now Jeronne Maymon all head elsewhere after deciding on Marquette.  One could even throw Trevor Mbakwe into the mix of players that have left Marquette on less than stellar terms.

One has to wonder if Buzz’s theory of recruiting as many good players as you can isn’t the best idea in the world.  Is it really the best option to have your current recruits looking over their shoulder at any moment, knowing one day they could be logging over 15 minutes per game, while the next day you are on the bench being ridden off the team because you were recruited over?  Competition is one thing and making players earn minutes by beating out teammates is one thing, but to openly admit that you will recruit as many good players that will fit the system is interesting to say the least.

I will not mention my personal opinion of what I believe led to Maymon leaving Marquette’s basketball team.  There would be no point to it. Rumors are being thrown all over the place, all the way from Maymon’s father getting into an shouting match with Buzz to Maymon’s father not even knowing about his son leaving the team.  The truth is no one knows what happened but that facts will surface soon enough.

Brett Rosebro, now playing for St. Bonaventure, had a well documented falling out from Marquette in which he claimed Buzz promised him things that he did not keep to.  Some even speculate that Buzz promised Maymon a starting spot on the team this season and that is one of the main reasons he was unhappy.

The point is that, as far as we know, Maymon has quit the team and while it might not say something negative about MU basketball, it surely does not say anything positive.  Throw in speculations (and mostly facts) about the reasons Hazel transferred to Boston University and why Acker left the team to “focus on studies” before joining the team, combined with 2010 recruit Monterale Clark’s sexual assault charge in Texas, and the whole Jesuit lifestyle is kind of looking like an afterthought lately.

Another issue is that of the injuries that have hit Marquette in the last year and a half.  Injuries this season to Darius Johnson-Odom, Chris Otule, and Junior Cadougan have all occurred in practice and were all foot/ankle injuries to some extent.  Last season, Joe Fulce, Otule, and Dominic James all went down with injuries as well.  While bad luck undoubtedly played a role, one has to wonder if some of the injuries were caused by overworking the players early in the season.

Realize that I am not standing at the edge of the “Marquette basketball bridge” just because one player decided to transfer from the school.  Marquette plays a different kind of basketball that clearly is not for everyone.  I’m more worried about what the program is doing as a whole and where it’s headed.

The positives are there and they easily outweigh the negatives, no matter how bad the situation is.  Marquette plays in the Big East, has the full support of the students at the school, has a great leader and will be around for a long time.  But if Buzz Williams wants to take this program from good to great, or from great to elite, little things like the situations you have just read about can not happen.

Recruits will come and go and Buzz will continue to bring in the best players, but at what point is that not enough?

December 15, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , , | 3 Comments

2010 NBA Mock Draft 2.0

Back in late June, I created the first version of my 2010 NBA Mock Draft.  It has been almost six months since my last mock and I felt that, fresh off a John Wall monster performance at Madison Square Garden, now would be the perfect time to put out another draft.  Draft order is based on current records.

1. New Jersey Nets (2-20): John Wall, PG, Kentucky

While it’s true the Nets’ best player is also a point guard in Devin Harris, Wall is way too good of a prospect to pass on here.  Kentucky head coach John Calipari dubbed John Wall the real deal, saying he was farther along in his progression than Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans were when he coached them at Memphis.  Simply put, Wall is the total package.  His jump shot is above average and his speed and athleticism combination remind me a lot of Ty Lawson.  Throw on the five inches that Wall has over Lawson and you have a perfect pro prospect.  Wall is a future All Star.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-19): Wesley Johnson, SG/SF, Syracuse

Just as Wall performed outstanding at MSG, Johnson had a coming out party of his own in New York, scoring 25 points against North Carolina in the 2K Sports Coaches Classic.  A transfer from Iowa State, Johnson has the Orange out to an 8-0 start and a top ten ranking.  If you look above the rim, there’s a good chance you will find Johnson there.  He already has an NBA body and his athleticism screams top five pick.  His all-around game is still a work in progress but you wouldn’t know it based on his numbers this season as he is shooting 59 percent from the field and 53 percent from downtown.  The Timberwolves are set in the front court and drafted Johnny Flynn to manage the point guard duties for the future.  The versatile, lockdown defender in Johnson seems like a good fit here.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (5-17): Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech

Elton Brand’s time in Philadelphia is all but over and the Sixers could use a new post man on the inside.  Marreese Speights has proved that he will be a solid frontline player, but they need a presence in the lane that they thought Brand would be.  Favors has the most raw talent of any big man in the draft and, while the Sixers could use a shooting guard, Favors is too good of talent to pass on here.

4. Utah Jazz (from New York): Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown

Carlos Boozer is more than likely out of Utah next season and the power forward position will need to be addressed.  Paul Millsap should be a fine replacement in the mean time, but Monroe can add another dimension to the Jazz’s offense.  Much like Mehmet Okur, Monroe has range that extends out to the three point line and should work well with Deron Williams in Jerry Sloan’s offense.  The dubbed “project” from last season, Monroe has started to show some of that potential, averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds thus far with the Hoyas.

5. Golden State Warriors (7-14): Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina

Anthony Randolph is proving to be a solid contributor for the Warriors but they still need a post player outside of center Andris Biedrins.  At 6’10”, Davis runs the floor exceptionally well and is building an NBA frame that should make him a top five pick next season.  His impressive wingspan also makes him a solid defender, something the Warriors could use.  He is just tapping into his potential and could be a very impressive player for the Warriors.

While some might think Wesley Johnson going number two overall is a little high, make no mistake: he's the real deal. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

6. Indiana Pacers (6-13): Evan Turner, SF, Ohio State

The Pacers are in dire need of a shooting guard/small forward outside of Danny Granger and Dahntay Jones, and Turner certainly fits the bill.  A broken back will keep him out for the next two months but that should not affect his draft status.  Much like Granger, he fills the box score on a nightly basis (two triple-doubles this season) and can play multiple positions.  The status of Mike Dunleavy is in question and Granger plays more of  a forward role than anything, so Turner should be able to start at shooting guard right away.

7. Washington Wizards (7-13): Willie Warren, G, Oklahoma

The Wizards are closing in on a state of rebuilding with injuries and age plaguing them, so taking the best player available would be in their best interest.  Warren burst on to the scene last season as a freshman but was overshadowed by some guy named Blake Griffin.  Now in the spotlight, Warren has not disappointed for the Sooners, averaging over 18 points and five assists per game.  The best part of Warren’s game is his ability to shoot the ball and has the potential to play both guard positions.  His size could be an issue but he does an excellent job creating his own shot, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

8. Chicago Bulls (7-13): Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas

The season from hell can only get better for the Bulls in the Draft (assuming they fire Vinny Del Negro), and Henry should help ease the pain.  It should be a very interesting off-season for the Bulls, but assuming they can not land Dwyane Wade, Henry would be a great fit in Chicago.  The lefty freshman has played outstanding for Kansas thus far and would add a pure shooter to the Bulls lineup.  He needs to work on creating his own shot but all the talent is there for Henry to succeed at the next level.

9. Memphis Grizzles (9-12): Devin Ebanks, SF, West Virginia

The status of Rudy Gay going forward is in question and if he decides to leave town, the Grizzlies have very little depth at small forward.  Ebanks has literally been a mystery this season, playing in just three games this season, but has boatloads of potential.  He has a long ways to go, but many compare him to Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith.  He’ll need to gain some weight and become more of a basketball player than an athlete, but his skill set sets him up nicely for the future.

10. Sacramento Kings (9-12): Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas

The Kings seem to have a nice core in Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin, and Jason Thompson, but outside of those three the depth of the team is really lacking.  Aldrich is the second Jayhawk to come off the board, and rightfully so.  An outstanding sophomore season put him into the national spotlight and he has all the tools to succeed in the NBA.  He is a great passing big man and shows soft touch in the paint.  Spencer Hawes and Thompson give the Kings a different, more finesse look and Aldrich would compliment them well.

11. Los Angeles Clippers (9-12): Donatas Motiejunas, C, Lithuania

Based solely on scouting reports, Motiejunas’s game is much like Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani.  He needs to add some weight and strength, but his speed and aggressiveness make him a very intriguing prospect that the Clippers could take a chance on.  Marcus Camby is a free agent next season and the Clips will have to replace him somehow.

Xavier Henry has one of the sweetest strokes in the NCAA. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

12. Toronto Raptors (10-14): Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky

Chris Bosh’s performance over the last two seasons has all but written his ticket out of Toronto next year when he becomes a free agent.  Taking his place will be Patrick Patterson, who is sure to garner some major looks as he takes Kentucky deep into the NCAA Tournament this season.  Alongside John Wall, the 6’8″ power forward has showed great potential and has been on NBA scout’s radar since he joined Wildcats.  He is undersized but his long wingspan and tough play will allow him to have success on the defensive end.

13. New Orleans Hornets (10-11): Solomon Alibi, C, Florida State

Don’t be surprised to see the Hornets in the playoffs by year’s end, but as it stands they are on the outside looking in.  They have plenty of money invested for the next couple of years so they might trade this pick, but for now Alibi looks like a fine fit.  Past Emeka Okafor, the Hornets have little at center as Hilton Armstrong has failed to live up to expectations.  Alibi is a polished post man with excellent size that can make contributions right away.

14. San Antonio Spurs (10-9): Avery Bradley, SG, Texas

As weird as it may seem to see the Spurs picking in the lottery, they currently sit a half a game out of the playoffs.  If they do end up picking here, Bradley could be the answer to free agent Manu Ginobili.  While there’s still a chance Ginobili re-signs, Aminu would be the best pick in this spot to replace him and great value as well.  With budding star George Hill ready to take over the shooting guard role, Aminu could learn behind the best as he becomes more of an all-around player.  He plays outstanding defense and could shoot up the draft board as the season goes along.

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Chicago Bulls, College Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, New York Knicks | , , , , , | 10 Comments

Why Clay Matthews Is the Defensive Rookie of the Year

If he was not a front-runner before Monday night’s game against the Ravens, Clay Matthews seems to have officially thrown his hat into the ring for defensive rookie of the year.  He finished the game with a career-high six tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss, and a pass defended as the Packers defense held the Ravens to just 185 total yards.

Many questioned Ted Thompson when he traded three Day One draft picks in order to get back in the first round to select Matthews, but he has been well worth the cost of the draft picks.  Thompson passed on the likes of running back Beanie Wells and outside linebackers Everette Brown and Clint Sintim to arrive at Matthews.

The selection seemed like a head-scratcher at the time due to the higher-ranked players on the board at the time, but even Thompson admitted that had B.J. Raji not been available when the Packers picked ninth, Matthews was a possibility.

As is the case with most Ted Thompson moves, we have gone from scratching our heads to clapping our hands and screaming our lungs out as we watch Matthews fly all over the football field.

A hamstring injury in training camp  that seemed to last forever put Matthews behind the eight ball in terms of learning the new 3-4 defensive scheme under Dom Capers.  He appeared in just one preseason game and took some time to get his conditioning back, registering just four tackles in his first three games (with a sack).

Matthews’ first glimpse of greatness came on Monday Night Football against the Vikings in which Matthews, a reserve at the time, pursued towards running back Adrian Peterson, stripped him of the ball, and returned it 42 yards for a score.  It was that kind of play-making ability that has set Matthews off over the last ten weeks.

While his seven sacks are a great measure to show his ability to get to the quarterback, those numbers almost don’t do him justice.  Coming off the right end, Matthews has a non-stop moter off the edge and uses his pure athleticism to wreak havoc in the pocket.

Listed at 250 pounds, the slightly undersized Matthews has made up for his lack of size in other areas.  His pass coverage has been excellent for the majority of the year and he has registered six pass break-ups, which ranks him second behind Johnny Jolly for a non-defensive back.

Clay Matthews has been the NFL's best defensive rookie this season. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

Even past the stats, Matthews has meant so much for a defense that had a big question mark next to them entering the season.  With a new defense being implemented and veterans switching positions and roles, many wondered if a team that had been set up for a 4-3 defense could make the switch to a 3-4 in the matter of one off-season.

A big reason why they were able to has been the presence of Matthews.  Had it not been for the USC standout, the Packers would probably be starting Brady Poppinga at outside linebacker, a thought that would make most Packers fans sick.

When Aaron Kampman and Al Harris both went down with season-ending knee injuries in the span of two quarters, many wrote off the Packers.  Two veterans both playing at a high level for a defense with questionable depth was basically a death sentence.  The post-injury assignments included Matthews taking over Kampman’s role at getting to the quarterback.  In the two games since Kampman has been gone, Matthews has racked up three sacks and provided constant pressure every time he rushes.

Matthews’ former teammate Brian Cushing has put together a fantastic year for the Texans and is also a leading candidate for the DROY award.  However, the Texans rank 16th in total defense and 22nd against the run, and Cushing also has the pleasure of playing behind Mario Williams and alongside Demeco Ryans.

There is much more freedom in the 4-3 defense that Houston runs for Cushing to make plays, while Matthews’ best plays for the Packers are when Nick Collins intercepts a pass because a certain outside linebacker was breathing down the quarterback’s neck.  Other than the middle linebackers, stats are more spread out in the team-oriented 3-4 defense, something Matthews should not be penalized for.  Even so, stats are not everything and one can not look over the importance Matthews has played in the Packers defense this season.

Matthews has been one of the most productive players on the first-ranked defense in the league.  He is a Pro Bowler in the making and, as long as he is in the 3-4, should have a very productive career.  While his ticket to Hawaii might be punched one day, he will have to settle for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2009.

December 9, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , | Leave a comment

NFC Wildcard Update: Packers Cheering For Philly From Here on Out

The Packers increased their 2009 playoff chances in a big way by defeating the Baltimore Ravens 27-14 last night.  In Green Bay’s second true test from the AFC, their top-ranked defense stifled Ray Rice and Joe Flacco while Aaron Rodgers passed for 263 yards and three touchdowns.  The win pushed the Packers to 8-4 and they currently own the sixth seed in the NFC if the season were to end to day.

While the Falcons stumbled in a big game against the Eagles, the Giants, in a do-or-die situation, defeated the division leading Cowboys at home and kept their playoff hopes alive.  The division leaders outside of the NFC East continue to gain ground on second place, with the Saints clinching the South last weekend.  In addition, the Vikings’ magic number is two over the Packers and the Cardinals hold a three game lead over the 49ers with four games to play.

Due to a Week Nine victory in Philadelphia, the Cowboys hold a tie-breaker over the Eagles for the lead in the NFC East at 8-4, with the Giants sitting just one game out at 7-5.  The Falcons are 6-6 but reeling fast so, for now, they will not be in the playoff discussion.

So the question for Packers fans is who to cheer for the rest of the way?

The Philadelphia Eagles have put together a fantastic season and have themselves in great position to take a Wildcard spot this year.  Their 8-4 record has them tied for first place but more important is their 7-2 conference record, which gives them the first tie-breaker advantage after head-to-head match-ups.  The Eagles have away games at the Giants and Cowboys left on the schedule and home meetings with the 49ers and Broncos sandwiched in between.

If the Eagles can defeat the Giants next week and the Packers take care of business in Chicago, the Giants would be two games out of the last Wildcard spot with three games to go and also have a lackluster 5-4 conference record, meaning their shot at the playoffs would be all but over.  Just as it was for the Falcons last week, the Packers would love to see borderline teams lose and fall out of the playoff race.  Once this happens, the Packers can focus on moving into the fifth spot instead of wondering if they will get in.

Another factor that comes in cheering for the Eagles is the hope that they can catch the Cowboys in the NFC East and move Dallas into a Wildcard spot.  The Packers’ head-t0-head victory against the Cowboys in Week 10 puts them ahead of them in any situation, assuming their records are the same.  Not only would this help the Packers make the playoffs, but they would move up to the five seed, giving them a slight chance of avoiding the Saints at home.

So now that we know what we want to happen, what is likely to happen?

Looking at the Packers remaining schedule, it seems they could start Matt Flynn and at least go 2-2.  While the rivalry between the Bears and Packers allows for anything to happen on a given Sunday, the two teams are headed in opposite directions and it should be a win for Green Bay.  Seattle is not a pushover but their 1-5 record outside of Seattle suggests that a snowy Lambeau Field will be rough going for Jim Mora and company.  Even the Steelers are looking very beatable right now, especially if Troy Polomalu is still out when the two teams meet in Week 15.

One team the Packers are sure to watch are the Cardinals, who sit at 8-4 and have a very favorable schedule remaining.  While their NFC West crown is all but theirs, beating out the NFC East Division Champ would ensure the third spot in the playoffs and a guarantee of  missing the Saints in the Divisional Round.  After playing the 49ers this week they play back-to-back games against the Lions and Rams, meaning 11 wins would almost be a given if they can take down San Francisco.

With three NFC East inter-division games still to be played, 11 wins should wrap up the third seed for the Cardinals, meaning their Week 17 game against the Packers would have no meaning.  With the Eagles playing the Cowboys and the Cardinals playing the Packers in Week 17, there’s a chance those same match-ups occur that next week in the first round of the playoffs.

The Giants could make things very interesting if they beat the Eagles next Sunday night.  With the Redskins and Panthers still left on the schedule, they have the potential to get to 10 wins in the next three weeks.  They then play the Vikings in Week 17 who would be playing for nothing and would more than likely rest their starters.  However, the Giants’ aforementioned conference record of 5-3 means a loss to the Eagles would basically take them out of  theplayoff equation.

The Cowboys have the toughest schedule remaining of any team in the NFC with home matchups against the Chargers and Eagles and a trip to New Orleans.  Even a road game against Washington looks a little more difficult than it did a month ago.  Because the Giants have defeated the Cowboys twice, there is an outside chance they can leapfrog Dallas for the last spot.

Packers fans should hope the Cardinals win their next three games while the NFC East opponents beat up on each other the rest of the way.  Where it stands right now, it looks like ten wins should get the Packers into the playoffs.  Looking at the schedule, that is a very reasonable goal and one that could be obtained before the last week of the season.

December 8, 2009 Posted by | Dallas Cowboys, Football, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles | , , , | Leave a comment

The Case For C.J. Spiller on the Packers in 2010

Outside of a career ending injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the first and most obvious need for the Packers in 2010 is finding a left tackle to take over for current starter Chad Clifton.  Despite showing improvements of late, the offensive line as a whole has been one of the worst in the league this season and changes are inevitable in 2010.    However, just because the Packers need to address the offensive line does not mean it is a foregone conclusion that they will select a left tackle in the first round next year.

Rather, the Packers would be wise to snatch up Clemson running back C.J. Spiller if he is on the board when the Packers are on the clock.  Before your head explodes for an offensive lineman not being at the top of the list, let’s take a look at arguably the best running back in the nation.

Spiller has been a monster this season and his pre-Music City Bowl stats include 1145 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns.  He has also added 33 receptions for 445 yards and four touchdowns through the air for the Tigers and is having a stellar all-around season.  Spiller will play his bowl game in Tennessee, the home of the NFL’s leading rusher Chris Johnson.  Many have compared Spiller’s running style to that of Johnson’s and their measurements are the same within five pounds of each other.

The Packers have lacked a true game-breaker in the run game for quite some time and Spiller would fit the bill perfectly.  Spiller’s ability to cut back and break into the second level make him a perfect fit for the zone blocking scheme, something Ryan Grant has lacked since his breakout campaign two seasons ago.  Spiller would allow the Packers to use the screen game more efficiently and add a potential, “touchdown every time he touches the ball” running back to the offense.

The other caveat with Spiller is his ability as a kick and punt returner.  Spiller has returned an NCAA-record eight kicks for touchdowns and is a threat to go to the house every time he goes back for a kick.  If Spiller does not take over starting running back duties right away, he will return kicks and punts for a Packers special teams unit that ranks 21st in average kick returns and 24th in punt returns.

It would be hard for Ted Thompson to pass on a talent like C.J. Spiller in next year's draft. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The NFL is quickly becoming a two-running back system and the fact is that Grant is not going to last long if he has no one behind him.  Brandon Jackson has proved to be a bust outside of his improved blitz pick-up on third down and DeShawn Wynn is nothing more than a nice practice squad player. Spiller would provide the Packers with a change-of-pace running back, similar to what Felix Jones is in Dallas with Marion Barber.

Entering Week Thirteen, the Packers were slotted to pick 22nd in the first round.  Obviously that number can and probably will change slightly between now and April, but that range is where most experts have Spiller going.  If he has a big bowl game and runs a sub-4.30 forty at the Combine his stock will surely rise into the top 15, but we have now seen that Ted Thompson is not afraid to depart with his later draft picks if it means getting someone he really likes.

In recent years, Thompson has shown a pattern of going with the best player available in round one of the draft, and then drafting for need in round two.  The talent in the first round makes it hard to pass on a player you think could be truly special.  Unless you are set at the position with a young, elite-level talent (Chris Johnson, Joe Thomas, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Willis), drafting the best player available is not a waste of a pick.

At some point early on in the draft, the offensive line will need to be addressed.  Thompson is (hopefully) starting to see that a line built on mid-round, little known, athletic college linemen is not going to get the job done.  With one of the deepest draft classes this decade, Thompson will be able to find good depth in round two if he does not pull the trigger on a tackle in the first round.

The truth is the Packers are set at multiple positions on the field for quite some time and find themselves with a better future than the majority of teams.  That means taking risks in the first round on a potential stud running back will not set them back five years if it does not work.  Good teams like the Packers put themselves in those positive situations to be able to do that, so taking a flier on Spiller is a risk worth taking.

Running back might not be the Packers’ biggest need next season, but if a future Pro Bowler is on the board when the Packers pick, need might go right out the window.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL | , , , , | Leave a comment