NFC North: Geralnd Alexander

Weekend mailbag

June, 13, 2009
6/13/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Thanks to everyone for bearing with us through a mailbag software conversion that might have deleted a few of your questions around midweek. Remember, you can always contact me through our still-searing Facebook page. Sources also told me this week that Twitter offers a reply function. (Welcome to the second quarter of 2009, I know.)

First place goes to the reader who develops software to synch Facebook, Twitter and RSS feeds into one window on my browser. That is all.

Now, let's get on with it:

Via that blazing aforementioned Facebook site, Mike asks for my take on The Sporting News' coaching rankings. The list notably placed Chicago coach Lovie Smith at No. 20 of 32.

Kevin Seifert: This list is like any other you see in the media: It's an opinion, in this case subjectively based on ability. That's certainly one way to rank coaches. My take on evaluating coaches is almost exclusively based on performance. What is his win-loss record? And how many championships as he won and/or played for?

Some circumstances are beyond a coach's control, including injuries and the cooperation/competence of the front office. But over time, a coach's résumé is his record. So, if I were ranking NFC North coaches, here's how I would do it:

  1. Chicago's Lovie Smith: 45-35 career record in five seasons, including one Super Bowl appearance
  2. Green Bay's Mike McCarthy: 27-21, one NFC Championship appearance
  3. Minnesota's Brad Childress: 24-24, one playoff appearance
  4. Detroit's Jim Schwartz: 0-0

You could view that as a diplomatic answer for someone who covers all four teams. But I truly believe in a merit-based ranking. Smith has won games at better clip over a longer period of time than anyone else in the NFC North. McCarthy has an almost identical winning percentage (.563 for Smith versus .5625 for McCarthy), but he hasn't taken a team to the Super Bowl.

Talent is also another variable that you could take into consideration. But I don't think there has been enough of a talent gap between Chicago, Green Bay or Minnesota in recent years to make me change my thinking.


Jason of Michigan writes: I've heard that Jeremy Thompson is supposed to be looking good in OTA's. I know OTA's aren't always a great idea of how people will play in the regular season, but do you see him starting over Clay Matthews and Brady Poppinga?

Kevin Seifert: You're right -- it's hard to put too much stock in how players perform while running around in shorts during ostensibly contact-free drills. The best athletes usually look great, and Thompson is nothing if not a really good athlete.

There does seem to be a general agreement that Thompson is one player who will benefit from the change to a 3-4 defense. At around 255 pounds, he was a bit small even for a 4-3 defensive end. But he seems to have the necessary athletic skills to be an outside linebacker in the 3-4. Those skills are going to be especially noticeable in an OTA environment. This week, coach Mike McCarthy called Thompson "a natural fit" for this defense.

I have learned over the years not to read much into OTA depth charts. It's the time of year when coaches truly experiment with position changes and lineup combinations. The Packers want to see what they have in Thompson, and giving him maximum repetitions with the first team is the best way to find out. If they don't like what they see on tape, they have plenty of time to come up an alternative.

Finally, remember that Matthews has been sidelined by a hamstring injury for much of the spring. There's no telling what sort of rotation the Packers might have used had he been healthy for the entire time.

With all that said, I don't think it's out of the question that Thompson could win the opening-day starting job. But I have a hard time believing Matthews won't eventually crack the lineup. I don't think the Packers didn't trade up to draft him in the first round last April so that he could spend the year on special teams. Do you?


Chris of Chicago, Ill., writes: I'm interested in the situation with Chad Greenway. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm under the impression that he's in the final year of his rookie contract. This guy is a stud and really stepped up last year with EJ Henderson out. Don't you think the Vikings should've attempted to re-sign him to a long term deal before he hits free agency? Someone of his ability at linebacker would warrant a large sum of money that the Vikings may not want to dish out, or risk losing to another team (i.e. Matt Birk to the Ravens).

Kevin Seifert: Ah, finally an easy one. Greenway actually signed a five-year contract when the Vikings drafted him in 2006, so he has two years remaining on the deal. If the Vikings follow their current policies, they'll re-sign Greenway after the 2009 season. I suppose it's possible they could approach him before then, but it's probably in Greenway's best interest to play out this season and see if he can raise his value by making he Pro Bowl.


Bunny of Flint, Mich., writes: What's your take on the Lions' safety situation? It already seems crowded and now there's talk of Anthony Henry position-swapping. Is there any chance of a safety actually making the jump to nickel or dime corner?

Kevin Seifert: Sure. The Lions will do what most NFL teams do: Put their best five defensive backs on the field in nickel situations. Provided he has decent coverage skills, a safety -- and the Lions have many -- could absolutely play in the nickel.

The Lions have five safeties who have either started for them or another team in their NFL careers: Gerald Alexander, Daniel Bullocks, Marquand Manuel, Kalvin Pearson and Stuart Schweigert. And you can add rookie Louis Delmas to that list because he is going to challenge for a starting job right away.

If one of those players can demonstrate a proficiency in the nickel, he'll greatly increase his in terms of a roster spot. As for Henry, he could play safety but I really think the Lions will give him a chance to play cornerback f
irst. A cornerback is much harder to find, and the Lions must find out if he can still play the position.

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