NFC North: Frank Zombo

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Several times since training camp opened, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has praised his offensive line.

There was his proclamation on the eve of camp that it has the potential to be the best line in his tenure as head coach. He also had a statement this week that the line has been the consistent position group in practice.

If that's the case, then he also should feel good about his pass rushers because the latest data from the one-on-one pass blocking/pass rushing drill shows the defensive players are more than holding their own.

Last year, offensive linemen won 73 percent of the one-on-one reps. In 2012, their winning percentage was 75 percent. This year, the offense has won just 65 percent of the reps.

Last summer, Mike Daniels had the best mark among the defensive players at 16-16. Through two weeks of practice this year, the defensive tackle is even better at 9-6. Ten defensive players currently have a .500 record or better.

Defensive players occupy eight of the top-10 spots in our "Block Rating" category, a mark (explained below) developed by researcher Luke Stanke, a Green Bay native and graduate student at the University of Minnesota who has aided in statistical analysis of this drill in recent years.

The chart below shows the latest records and ratings.
 

It's interesting to note:
  • The number of reps in this drill already has surpassed the total from all of camp last summer. They have been 180 turns so far. In all of camp last year, there were 140. In 2012, there were just 103. It's clear the coaches like this drill as evaluation tool.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise so far has been second-year outside linebacker Nate Palmer. After going 2-5 in the drill last summer as a rookie, Palmer is 5-2 and ranks third in the block rating.
  • The Packers have had success finding outside linebackers among their rookie free-agent class over the years, and Toledo's Jayrone Elliott could be following in the footsteps of Frank Zombo, Vic So’oto and Andy Mulumba. Elliott is 5-5 with wins over Derek Sherrod (twice), Don Barclay (twice) and Bryan Bulaga.
  • With Barclay lost for the season with a knee injury, it increases guard Lane Taylor's chances of making the team. The Packers are likely to keep at least eight offensive linemen, and Taylor ranks sixth overall among them.
  • JC Tretter has taken every rep as the starting center but in this drill, he is in a virtual tie with rookie backup Corey Linsley.
  • Guard Josh Sitton has not taken a rep in this drill since last Thursday even though he has been a regular participant in practice. He said he wants to ease the wear and tear on his back.
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then will deliver the answers over the weekend.
 
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When ESPN's three days of live draft coverage finally goes off the air Saturday evening, 256 players will have been drafted.

But player acquisition will be far from over.

In fact, some NFL personnel executives have said the most stressful part of draft weekend is the process of signing undrafted free agents as soon as the seventh round finishes.

In a matter of a few hours, some teams sign as many as 20 undrafted rookie free agents. It's a process the Green Bay Packers take seriously. It's why they use many of their allotted pre-draft visits on players likely to go undrafted. They consider it part of the recruiting process.

But they aren't the only ones who actively recruit potential rookie free agents. The Seattle Seahawks distributed a 12-page brochure to agents showing them how the team covets and strongly considers undrafted free agents for its roster.

Among the charts in the brochure is one that shows preseason playing time for undrafted free agents and another with the percentage of undrafted free agents who make the 53-man roster.

In terms of playing time, last preseason, the Seahawks led the league in playing time percentage by undrafted rookies at 36.2 percent, according to their research. The Packers were second at 33.6 percent.

On that page, the Seahawks noted: "If your client doesn't get on the field in the preseason, he'll have a tougher time making that team's roster or any roster at all. Last season, the Seahawks ranked No. 1 in total offensive and defensive playing time by undrafted rookies."

When it comes to making the roster, the Seahawks said 22 percent of their undrafted free agents since 2010 have spent time on their active roster, which ranks eighth in the NFL, and according to the brochure, “the Seahawks have been selective in the number of UDFAs they sign each year. The team has signed 68 of them, which ranks 17th."

The Packers actually have a higher percentage of undrafted free agents who appeared on their active roster at various points during the season since 2010, according to the chart, at 24 percent, which is tied for fourth in the NFL.

The Packers have had at least three undrafted free agents make their opening-day roster each of the last four years. In that time, 13 undrafted free agents have made the Week 1 roster, which is tied for the third most in that span behind only St. Louis (17) and Cleveland (16), according to the Packers.

Here are the undrafted free agents that have made the Packers' roster coming out of training camp the last four years:

2013: S Chris Banjo, OLB Andy Mulumba, Lane Taylor.

2012: T Don Barclay, WR Jarrett Boykin, OLB Dezman Moses, S Sean Richardson.

2011: S M.D. Jennings, LB Jamari Lattimore, OLB Vic So'oto.

2010: G Nick McDonald, CB Sam Shields, OLB Frank Zombo.

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Exactly three years ago -- on Feb. 6, 2011 -- the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.

Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.

Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.

Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:

Under contract for 2014
  • [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
    QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.
  • G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
  • T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
  • G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
  • WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
  • OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
  • LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
  • CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
  • K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
  • P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
  • LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
  • CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
Headed for free agency next month
  • RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
  • WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
  • DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
  • DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
  • DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
  • FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
  • CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
  • LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
  • TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
  • QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
  • C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
With other teams
  • [+] EnlargeMcCarthy
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
    WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.
  • G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
  • C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
  • LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
  • OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
  • CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
  • TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
  • CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
  • G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
  • DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
  • FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
Out of football
  • T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
  • WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
  • S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
  • DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
  • WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
  • S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
  • CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
  • RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
  • FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
  • S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
  • LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
  • LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
  • G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
  • TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
  • QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
  • RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
  • CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If we’re being honest here, I should admit to feeling a little afraid of Kevin Greene the first time I met him.

Those wild eyes in front of that flowing blonde hair, his hulking 6-foot-3 frame, the memories of watching what he did to opposing quarterbacks -- sacking them 160 times in his 15-year NFL playing career -- and his brief stint as a professional wrestler are more than enough to make you feel a little intimidated.

It takes a while for that to go away.

[+] EnlargeKevin Greene
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsOutside linebackers coach Kevin Greene cared about his players, often referring to them as "my kids."
It was just starting to do so in November of 2010, when Greene was halfway through his second season as the Green Bay Packers' outside linebackers coach. That’s when he cornered me in the hallway outside the locker room and wanted to discuss something that appeared in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, my employer at the time, under my byline.

It was a story that was critical of rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo, who in the previous game against the Minnesota Vikings had missed an open-field tackle that allowed running back Toby Gerhart to convert a third-and-12 dump-off pass into a first down.

Greene asked -- make that told -- me to follow him down the hallway, something that was highly unusual because it was an area normally restricted to reporters, and into the outside linebackers meeting room. He closed the door and opened with this:

“What you wrote about Frank Zombo was unnnnnnnnnjustified," holding the "n" for several seconds.

Over the next 15 minutes, Greene showed about 20 clips from the Vikings’ game. He conceded that the missed tackle of Gerhart was a bad play, but he wanted to make it perfectly clear that he felt Zombo was playing well.

From that film session, a story was born and appeared in the Nov. 26, 2010, edition of the Press-Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:
So Greene cued up play after play.

He showed Zombo in perfect position when dropping in coverage to defend the hook-curl area in the middle of the field.

He showed Zombo knocking one of the Vikings' guards back into the fullback, which freed up inside linebacker A.J. Hawk to tackle Adrian Peterson for a short gain.

He showed Zombo, all 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds of him, bull-rushing Vikings' left tackle Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 335) straight back into [Brett] Favre, who had to throw off balance.

"Who's kicking who's (butt)?" Greene asks rhetorically. "Seriously, straight up. He's changing the line of scrimmage on a guy who weighs 350 pounds and (went to the) Pro Bowl. This is David and Goliath. It's Zombo kicking a big man's (butt), if you ever want to see what a (butt) kicking looks like. McKinnie's job is to hit him in the lips and blow him off the ball, move him off the line of scrimmage. Not the other way around. Whose feet are going back? McKinnie's."

With each highlight Greene showed, the former star outside linebacker, who is in his second season on the Packers' coaching staff, became more excited.

At various points, he'd just yell, "Zombo!"

At one point on that afternoon, a Packers staff member opened the door to see if everything was OK.

To which Greene responded, “OK, we’re almost done.”

But there was one more play he wanted to show on the big screen.

“Watch this run,” Greene said. “They try to run a delayed screen on Zombo. Guess what? Tackle for no gain.”

Zombo would go on to start for the Packers in Super Bowl XLV before injuries derailed his career, which was revived this season with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Greene cared about his players, who he often referred to as “my kids.” He had a passion for the game as a player and he carried it over to his coaching. He coached like he played, full speed ahead.

Perhaps that’s why after only five seasons on the Packers staff, he has decided to step away from coaching, the team announced on Friday, to spend more time with his family.

That hallway, that meeting room may never been the same.
The pace is starting to accelerate as free agency draws closer, so let's touch on a few developments before heading off into our SportsNation chat.

The Minnesota Vikings re-signed receiver Jerome Simpson to a one-year contract, giving him a second chance after a disappointing season in 2011, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. He caught 26 passes for a 10.3-yard average and no touchdowns in 12 games, all while battling a murky back injury of uncertain severity.

With that said, the Vikings have no choice but to be in receiver collection mode after trading Percy Harvin on Monday. By default, Simpson is the most established receiver on the Vikings' roster. I expect the team to continue in this mode throughout the offseason as it attempts to assemble a functional and reasonably deep group on the fly.

According to multiple reports, beginning I believe with Mike Garafolo of USA Today, Detroit Lions place-kicker Jason Hanson decided this week to return for another season. There have been no contract negotiations of yet, but the guess is the Lions want Hanson back as well.

The Green Bay Packers issued a second-round tender to cornerback Sam Shields and a low tender to center Evan Dietrich-Smith, as we noted earlier. But they won't make offers to three other restricted free agents: tight end Tom Crabtree and linebackers Robert Francois and Frank Zombo, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It's possible all three players could re-sign for deals less than the lowest tender value, which is $1.323 million, but for now they'll be able to test the market.

Finally, for now, I would suggest that perhaps the biggest slam dunk of free agency is the widespread notion that the Lions are the top candidate to sign running back Reggie Bush. There is every possibility that a team could jump out after the deadline and trump the Lions, but as of the moment I feel relatively confident that a deal will be worked out.

Before you ask, I'm not certain how the Lions will account for Bush from a salary-cap perspective. But the widespread speculation about the obvious connection between the sides is legitimate.
The Green Bay Packers achieved Monday's roster cutdown to 75 players mostly by placing injured players on various reserve lists. The full lowdown is on the Packers' website.

Linebacker Desmond Bishop's season officially came to an end when he was placed on injured reserve. There had been some hope that Bishop could return in the second half of the season under a proposed rule that would have created a new injury list for one player per team, but the NFL and NFL Players Association could not agree on the details. As in previous years, players placed on injured reserve must miss the entire season.

Meanwhile, tight end Andrew Quarless and linebacker Frank Zombo will have their stints on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list extended for at least the first six weeks of the regular season. On the plus side, the Packers did not place offensive lineman Derek Sherrod on the PUP list, offering at least some hope that his return could be close after suffering a devastating leg injury last December.

One of two players released outright was defensive end Jarius Wynn, who fell behind C.J. Wilson in the competition to play defensive end in the base defense. He started four games last season.

Packers regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 1
Preseason Power Ranking: 1

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson became one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets in an offense filled with many weapons.
Biggest surprise: Wide receiver Jordy Nelson had a standout performance in Super Bowl XLV, but few were expecting the kind of breakthrough season he produced in 2011. On a team stocked with elite talent from receiver Greg Jennings to tight end Jermichael Finley, it was Nelson who led the Packers with 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Only two players in the league, Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots and Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, caught more touchdowns. Nelson continually got behind defenses who either misjudged his speed or were drawn elsewhere. He deftly handled a midseason discussion about race and his position, and ultimately proved to be one of the league's top downfield threats. He averaged 18.6 yards per catch, and his touchdowns included distances of 93, 84, 58, 55, 50 and 40 yards.

Biggest disappointment: There aren't many options for a team that won 15 regular season games, the sixth time that's happened in NFL history. But few people in the Packers organization were thrilled by the performance of the pass defense, which allowed an NFL-record 4,796 yards and pushed the Packers to the bottom of the NFL in total defense. (They ranked No. 5 in 2010.) It didn't cost them a game in 2011, partly because they mitigated the yardage total with a league-high 31 interceptions and partly because their offense was one of the league's best. The big concern, of course, is that a hot quarterback could capitalize in the playoffs and end the Packers' dreams for a repeat Super Bowl.

Biggest need: The Packers tried to piece together their right outside linebacker position this year with 2010 street free agent Erik Walden, second-year player Frank Zombo and reserve Brad Jones. Walden didn't make much of an impact as a pass rusher, managing three sacks in 16 games. Zombo was hurt most of the season and Jones was ineffective. Previously, we figured the Packers could skate by as long as All-Pro Clay Matthews was on the opposite side. But offensive attention shifted to Matthews this season, limiting him to six sacks, and no one picked up the slack. The Packers finished tied for No. 27 in the NFL in sacks (27) and it might be time to devote another high draft choice to the position to provide a pass-rushing alternative.

Team MVP: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the favorite to win the NFL MVP, making him a pretty decent candidate for the team award. In a year of obscene yardage totals from Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford, Rodgers was the league's most efficient and least mistake-prone quarterback. He set an NFL record with a 122.5 passer rating and became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards while also throwing six or less interceptions. It's true that the Packers' offense continued humming along when Rodgers sat out the regular season finale, but those who saw large chunks of his season know that he was operating on a never-before-seen plane for the first two-thirds of the season. Rodgers has perfected the art of the back-shoulder throw and helped deliver the phrase "throwing open" into the public NFL lexicon.

Penalty watch: We could devote an entire post to the milestones surpassed and records set for this team. Two that didn't get nearly enough attention: 14 turnovers and 76 penalties, both of which qualified as the lowest figures in a 16-game season in franchise history. Penalties don't always correlate with wins and losses. But viewed together, we can say with some confidence that the Packers didn't make many mistakes this season.

BBAO: Time for the fun to begin

January, 2, 2012
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

The 2011 season is over for half of the NFC North, the postseason has begun for the other half and it's full steam ahead here on the blog.

We know the playoff schedule: The Detroit Lions (10-6) will play Saturday night at the New Orleans Saints, while the Green Bay Packers (15-1) will await the NFC's lowest remaining seed and host a Jan. 15 game at Lambeau Field. Kickoff will be 4:30 p.m. ET.

We know the relevant draft order: The Minnesota Vikings (3-13) will pick No. 3 overall, while Chicago Bears (8-8) hold the No. 19 pick.

Before the madness begins, let's take a quick tour around local coverage of Week 17:
  • The Packers deactivated quarterback Aaron Rodgers before the game, but Rodgers called most of the first-half no-huddle plays over the headset to starter Matt Flynn. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains.
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Matt Flynn turned in one of the greatest single-game performances ever by a Green Bay Packers quarterback. And if all goes as planned, he’ll never start another game for the team."
  • The Packers started Frank Zombo at right outside linebacker Sunday in place of Erik Walden and will have to determine a starting lineup heading into the playoffs, notes the Press-Gazette.
  • The Packers have a decision to make on veteran left tackle Chad Clifton, who started and took 25 snaps Sunday after a nearly three-month layoff. More from Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz remained upset with the officiating during his postgame news conference, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Schwartz: "The whole thing with replay's to get it right. Well, we didn't get it right."
  • Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com: "No amount of offensive records and bad officiating can overshadow what was one of the Detroit Lions' worst defensive performances of the season."
  • John Niyo of the Detroit News: "Welcome back to the playoffs, Detroit. And don't forget to pack your offense, because by the looks of it -- especially after Sunday's 45-41 loss to a Green Bay team missing a half-dozen starters -- you're going to need to score points aplenty just to keep pace with the NFC's best."
  • A shakeup among assistant coaches could occur quickly for the Vikings, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • The Vikings are heading into the offseason with Christian Ponder as their No. 1 quarterback, writes Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "So with any luck at all, and if there is a God in heaven, there will be changes starting in the front office and extending down through the roster."
  • We learned the value of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler this season, writes Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears safety Major Wright didn't realize that linebacker Brian Urlacher was in position to make an interception when he jumped and ultimately landed on Urlacher, spraining his knee. Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times has more.
  • Sunday was a day of "sobering reminders" for the Bears, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Barring action from the team, Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden appears free and clear to rejoin his teammates Tuesday when they resume football activities following a long weekend.

Walden, who was arrested Friday morning on suspicion of domestic violence against his girlfriend, was released from jail Monday on a $1,000 signature bond. No formal charges have been filed at this point while investigators continue compiling information and, according to the Associated Press report, "determine if this is a case of miscommunication or if the woman is trying to protect Walden."

The Packers haven't had any comment on the incident other than to acknowledge Friday they were aware of it. Walden has started all 11 games this season. If the Packers decide to remove him from the lineup Sunday against the New York Giants, Frank Zombo would be a candidate to replace him.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Will Packers suspend Erik Walden?

November, 25, 2011
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Every arrest is different and no organization has identical policies for handling them. But there is some NFL precedent for how teams deal with the kind of incident that landed Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden in jail early Friday morning.

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook has been on various levels of suspension since he was arrested last month for felony strangulation in a domestic incident with his girlfriend. (A second charge of assault has since been added.) Walden, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, was arrested Friday morning on suspicion of felony domestic violence-substantial battery following an incident with his girlfriend. He will be jailed until Monday morning because courts are closed over the holiday weekend.

I'm in no way suggesting the Packers will suspend Walden, or that they necessarily should. I'm just saying NFL teams regard such incidents seriously and that it would be wrong to assume Walden will be available for the Packers' next game, scheduled for Dec. 4 at the New York Giants.

The Packers have an available replacement in Frank Zombo, who has struggled with injuries this season. Zombo was inactive for Thursday's game against the Detroit Lions, but is healthy and available to play if needed.

Thanksgiving Feast: James Starks active

November, 24, 2011
11/24/11
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DETROIT -- Green Bay Packers running back James Starks credited his bowed legs for preventing more serious knee and ankle injuries in a scary pileup last Sunday. He wasn't joking.

Starks is active and will play Thursday against the Detroit Lions. Ryan Grant will start, as usual.

The Packers also deactivated three linebackers -- Frank Zombo, Jamari Lattimore and Vic So'oto -- leaving them with three active outside linebackers and a possible glimpse into their defensive strategy against the Lions' passing game.

Meanwhile, the Lions announced one interesting change: Running back Kevin Smith will in fact start after accumulating 201 total yards last week against the Carolina Panthers.

Remember, kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. ET.

NFC North at night

November, 22, 2011
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Let's review a few news tidbits on a Tuesday that is more like a Thursday and Friday for half of our division:

Chicago Bears: We've already reviewed the latest turn in the Bears' quarterback soap opera this week. We'll know if they've claimed and/or been awarded quarterback Kyle Orton at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Earlier, ESPNChicago.com reported that starter Jay Cutler will undergo surgery on his right thumb Wednesday in Vail, Colo.

Detroit Lions: Tailback Kevin Smith, two weeks removed from his return to the NFL, appears on track to regain his starting job Thursday against the Green Bay Packers. Chris McCosky of the Detroit News reports that Smith was working with the first-team offense Tuesday in practice. Receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle), defensive tackle Corey Williams (calf) and defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh) did not practice. Johnson and Williams are expected to play Thursday. Running back Jahvid Best (concussion) and punter Ryan Donahue (quadriceps) are expected to be out.

Green Bay Packers: Running back James Starks (knee/ankle) participated in a limited portion of practice. It's still not clear if he'll be able to play Thursday against the Lions. Receiver Greg Jennings (knee) was a limited participant in practice but should play. Linebacker Frank Zombo (hamstring) was a full participant.

Minnesota Vikings: In a court appearance Tuesday, cornerback Chris Cook's attorney said he plans to argue self-defense against charges of felony strangulation and assault after an incident with his girlfriend. The attorney said the victim has recanted part of her story, namely that Cook tried to strangle her. The trial was scheduled for March.

NFC North Friday injury report

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
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Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Coach Lovie Smith indicated on Thursday that receiver/kick returner Devin Hester would play Sunday, but an ankle injury kept Hester out of practice again Friday. He is listed as questionable. If he can't play, his likely replacements are Johnny Knox (kickoffs) and Earl Bennett (punts). Defensive end Julius Peppers (knee) returned to practice Friday and is probable.

Detroit Lions: It appears that place-kicker Jason Hanson, who injured his left knee in a bye week accident, will be available for Sunday's game. Hanson is listed as probable and the Lions haven't signed a possible replacement. The same can't be said of punter Ryan Donahue (quadriceps), who is listed as questionable but yielded punting duties Friday to newcomer Robert Malone. Donahue could hold for Hanson, but it seems more likely that Malone will punt. Defensive tackle Sammie Hill and safety Louis Delmas, who was added to the injury report this week with because of a foot injury, are questionable. Former Bears safety Chris Harris could replace Delmas in the lineup Sunday if needed.

Green Bay Packers: Everyone participated in practice Friday except two players already ruled out of Monday night's game, left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) and linebacker Frank Zombo (hamstring). Defensive end Mike Neal (knee) participated in individual but not team drills.

Minnesota Vikings: Guard Anthony Herrera (knee) is the only player missing practice this week for health reasons. He isn't expected to play Monday night.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Add another NFL player who is speaking out about Chicago Bears management.

We're in the midst of discussing the potential impact of unhappy running back Matt Forte and linebacker Lance Briggs. Wednesday, former Bears tight end Greg Olsen told ESPN 1000 that he wasn't happy with the way the team portrayed his role in this summer's trade to the Carolina Panthers. Here are some excerpts:

"I just felt that the way they approached it was, in my opinion, a little unprofessional. The night before the trade when they contacted me and I spoke to [general manager Jerry Angelo], we had a good healthy conversation and he laid out what they were thinking, that they were not going to invest that money in the position because of the offense and all those things that we all know.

"[He said] they were going to entertain trades. I said that's fine. I get that. I said, you know me I'm not one that goes out and speaks to the media. I'm not really a throw-guys-under-the-bus [kind of guy]. I respect that. I was nothing but professional. Then the day after the trade goes down he was the one saying that I was demanding [a trade in 2010]. I just thought that was a little uncalled for when all along I did nothing but play the good guy."

Olsen said he was "biting the bullet" for the entire 2010 season after the Bears' efforts to trade him to the New England Patriots fell through. He also joined the growing chorus of players to express surprise that the Bears haven't signed tailback Matt Forte to a contract extension, twice referring to it as "crazy."

"I think it's a little crazy that they won't reward their best player. Let's be honest, especially offensively he's been pretty much the whole offense. He singlehandedly beat us. He's a great kid. He works extremely hard as we all know in working out with him in the offseason. It's not a mystery why he's having such a good season. And it's not just one season. He's been like this since he was a rookie. He's come in and carried a heavy load under two different offensive coordinators and his play has just continued to get better.

"Those are the guys you want to see rewarded, the guys that do it the right way, the guys that aren't real flashy and don't really care about all the extra curricular stuff but just go out and play every week really hard. You've got to hope that they do the right thing but as we all know sometimes they make decisions that are a little crazy."

Continuing around the NFC North:

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