NFC North: James Campen

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In his first nine seasons as the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback, Brett Favre had two starting centers -- James Campen (two years) and Frank Winters (seven).

Aaron Rodgers will be on his fourth in four seasons after Evan Dietrich-Smith signed a free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday. And there is a decent chance it will be someone who has never played the position in the NFL.

Tretter
Dietrich-Smith completed his first full season as a starter last year after taking over for Jeff Saturday late in the 2012 season. Saturday lasted just one year after replacing Scott Wells, who was Rodgers' primary center in his first four seasons as a starter.

Perhaps the center-quarterback relationship isn't crucial, but don’t tell that to Rodgers. Shortly after the season on his ESPN 540 Milwaukee radio show, he called it "very important."

He then recalled a conversation he had with Dietrich-Smith during training camp.

"I just challenged him that this was a great opportunity and that he could really set up himself up to be a long-term guy here with a solid performance in training camp," Rodgers said. "And he did that and more.

"He's a very intelligent guy who had a very good season for us, and I'm proud of him in his development, and I hope that he’s around a long time."

Instead, Rodgers will have to adjust to someone new again.

The Packers have plenty of options, although none with any significant experience.

They like JC Tretter, a fourth-round pick last season who played tackle in college at Cornell. But Tretter did not play at all last season after breaking his ankle during the first week of offseason practices in May and only began working at center in November, when he returned to practice from the physically unable perform list.

"I think that kid has a lot of potential to play all five positions," Campen, the Packers' offensive line coach, said after the season. "Will he take reps at center? Yeah, sure he will. Wouldn't be surprised if he's taking reps at guard or tackle. You know, there's a lot of things that have to go through that process, certainly [Tretter] has displayed the ability to play center, yes."

Third-year pro Don Barclay, who played right tackle the past two seasons, could be an option. He worked at center during training camp last summer before he took over at right tackle. With Bryan Bulaga expected to return from his knee injury and go back to right tackle, it could free up Barclay to move inside.

The Packers have no plans to move T.J. Lang to center even though Lang slid over from right guard in two games last season when Dietrich-Smith was injured. The Packers don’t think Lang is a long-term solution at center and also believe he’s far more valuable at guard.

It's possible they could draft another center prospect, although it wouldn't likely be a high pick.

They also could pursue a free-agent center. The best one on the market is Alex Mack, a Pro Bowler with the Cleveland Browns. Mack currently carries the transition tag from the Browns, who could match any offer Mack gets from another team. The transition tag would pay Mack a $10 million salary this season. The most likely scenario for Mack to leave Cleveland might be in a trade.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No matter where Bryan Bulaga plays, regardless of whether David Bakhtiari remains at left tackle and whoever ends up playing center, the Green Bay Packers have more stability on their offensive line than they did last offseason.

Bakhtiari
Bakhtiari
Bulaga
It was nearly a year ago that coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen revamped the line by changing positions for four of the five starters. Bulaga and Josh Sitton switched from right tackle and right guard, respectively, to the left side. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse was moved to the right side (where he failed to beat out Don Barclay), and left guard T.J. Lang moved to right guard.

Only center Evan Dietrich-Smith remained in his regular spot.

This season, perhaps only the center position is up in the air with Dietrich-Smith scheduled to be a free agent next month.

It all depends on where the Packers decide to play Bulaga, who missed all of last season after he sustained a knee injury last August in training camp.

Although McCarthy said last week at the NFL scouting combine that he had not finalized his plans for Bulaga, he later told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that Bakhtiari performed well enough last season as a rookie that the Packers appear to be set to keep him at left tackle.

“If you look at our depth chart right now this is the best group of offensive linemen from a depth standpoint that we’ve had in my time in Green Bay,” said McCarthy, who is entering his ninth season as head coach. “There’s a lot of good things to build off of with our offense.”

Moving Bulaga back to the right side would not be a major adjustment. He excelled at right tackle from 2010-12 and never even made it to his first preseason game as a left tackle. Bulaga spent most of the season rehabbing his knee in Florida but is expected to return to Green Bay for the offseason program in April.

“He’s on time and he’s hit his targets,” McCarthy said of Bulaga’s rehab. “But as I’ve told Bryan when he left in the exit interview [after the season], I’ll be in touch with him to let him know what our plan is whether it’s the left side or the right side.”

A potential change at center would not impact any of the other projected offensive line starters. Lang is not a candidate to move to center even though he filled in there for Dietrich-Smith for parts of two games last season.

The only other possible starting center on the Packers’ roster is JC Tretter, a fourth-round pick last year who did not play at all as a rookie after sustaining an ankle injury in the offseason.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy now has a former running back coaching running backs and a former quarterback coaching quarterbacks.

Not that it's imperative to do it that way but in his most recent restructuring, McCarthy has restored some order to his staff with Sam Gash in charge of the running backs and Alex Van Pelt tutoring the quarterbacks.

Van Pelt, an NFL quarterback for nine years with the Buffalo Bills, spent the past two seasons coaching the Packers' running backs. It was the first time working at that position for him after serving as a quarterbacks coach with the Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

McCarthy said he hired Van Pelt two years ago not necessarily because he thought he would excel as the running backs coach -- although he did so -- but in part to one day move him up on his staff.

“I think it definitely has broadened his horizons as far as coaching offense,” McCarthy said of Van Pelt. “I know he's very appreciative of the two years coaching running backs. But he's a quarterback coach. You're talking about a very talented football coach, played the position, knows this offense.”

Van Pelt replaced Ben McAdoo, who spent two years coaching quarterbacks despite having never played the position. McAdoo was hired last month as the New York Giants offensive coordinator.

“Anybody can coach the position,” Van Pelt said. “The only thing [having played quarterback] gives you is the ability to say, ‘Hey, I experienced this.' That's about it in that regard. I actually took a five-step drop and had to pressure out to the right side and threw an interception. I know what that's like. I've done that. That's really about all it does give you is [the ability to] say ‘Hey, I've had these experiences and this is what I've learned from them.'”

Meanwhile, Gash, a former teammate of Van Pelt's in Buffalo, was twice a Pro Bowl fullback in his 12-year NFL playing career and spent six seasons as the Detroit Lions running backs coach before sitting out of coaching last season.

“I've always like Sam Gash,” McCarthy said. “He's an excellent fit for us. He's played the position. He's coached running backs. He did a very good job in the interview process. He's worked with Alex Van Pelt in the past, I think his transition will be very easy to our offense.”

In its current form, McCarthy's offensive staff includes four players who were NFL players at the position they now coach -- Gash, Van Pelt, offensive line coach James Campen (offensive line) and Joel Hilgenberg (assistant offensive line). In fact, all of his offensive position coaches played in the NFL. Tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot was an offensive lineman, and receivers coaches Edgar Bennett was a running back.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
  • In the wake of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam revealing that he is gay, McCarthy said the Packers would view him like any other player in the draft and would evaluate him based on his playing ability and his character.
  • Despite some juggling of responsibilities on his defensive staff, McCarthy said he's committed to sticking with a 3-4 defense -- albeit with some tweaks.
  • The Packers might have the most overqualified assistant special teams coach in the NFL with the addition of two-time former college head coach Ron Zook in that role. But both McCarthy and Zook see it as a good fit.
  • Finally, please join me in our weekly Packers chat at 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. in Green Bay and the surrounding areas). You can submit questions ahead of time or do it in real time. Either way, it can be found by clicking here.
Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause wrote that assistant head coach Winston Moss, whose role was expanded this offseason to coach both inside and outside linebackers, believes improvement on defense will come through technique and fundamentals rather than a change in scheme.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein wrote that Gash compared running back Eddie Lacy to Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, who was Gash's teammate with the New England Patriots.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Emptying out the notebook from the week that was with the Green Bay Packers heading into Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field:

Cold-weather QB: Sunday’s game may challenge the Ice Bowl for the coldest game ever played in Green Bay, but history suggests the weather won’t bother Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Since he took over as a starter in 2008, he is 12-4 in freezing temperatures (32 degrees or below) and has the highest total QBR (73.7) out of any player who has made at least three starts in such conditions over the that time period.

Run by design: The Packers shut down the 49ers rushing attack in their Week 1 meeting at Candlestick Park, but don’t expect coach Jim Harbaugh to shy away from the run just because his team managed only 90 yards on 34 attempts in the opener. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers ran designed runs on 46.8 percent of their plays this season, the highest total in the NFL. What’s more, the 49ers use a wide variety of running plays and formations, including the read-option. “Against this team, you have to let your instincts take over because they give you a lot of different stuff,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “They’re a power team, they’re an option team, they run misdirections.” At times, the 49ers bring in one or two extra offensive linemen.

No line dancing: The Packers go into the playoffs with the same five starting offensive linemen they opened the season with in San Francisco. Of the five, only right tackle Don Barclay missed any starts this season. He missed the Weeks 11-12 games against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles because of a knee injury. “Any time you have five guys playing together, you don’t have to call out every call and you just know what the other guy’s doing and you build that cohesiveness with each other, it certainly helps to do that,” offensive line coach James Campen said.

Punt return possibilities: As productive as rookie Micah Hyde has been as a punt returner (he finished the regular season 5th in the NFL with a 12.3-yard average), it’s worth wondering if the Packers will go back to Randall Cobb in that role now that he has returned from his Oct. 13 fractured tibia. Cobb has two career punt returns for touchdowns. Last year’s playoff loss to the 49ers turned on a muffed punt return by Jeremy Ross. Hyde’s ball security had been perfect until he muffed a punt that the Packers recovered last Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Final numbers: Despite not having Rodgers at quarterback for seven-plus games because of his collarbone injury, the Packers finished third in the NFL in total yards per game (400.3), seventh in rushing yards (133.5) and sixth in passing yards (266.8). Last season, the Packers were 13th, 20th and ninth in those respective categories. On defense, they finished 25th in yards allowed per game (372.3), 25th in rushing yards allowed (125.0) and 24th in passing yards allowed (247.3). Last season, they were 11th, 17th and 11th, respectively.

Wild, wild-card games: The matchup of the Packers (8-7-1) and the 49ers (12-4) is the fifth time in wild-card history that one team has had at least four fewer regular-season wins than its opponent. It may come as a surprise that in the previous four games, the team with the fewer regular-season wins has won every time. It last happened in 2011, when the Denver Broncos (8-8) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4).

Home-field history: The Packers were once unbeatable in home playoff games. From 1939-2001, they were 13-0, the longest postseason home winning streak in NFL history. Since then, they have gone 3-4 in home playoff games (including 2-2 under current coach Mike McCarthy).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Eddie Lacy that the San Francisco 49ers saw in Week 1 at Candlestick Park isn’t the Eddie Lacy they should be studying this week.

The Green Bay Packers running back was tentative, indecisive and a fumbler.

[+] EnlargeDavid Bakhtiari
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsPackers rookie LT David Bakhtiari started 16 games this season and gained valuable experience.
He has been none of those things since then.

The David Bakhtiari that the 49ers saw in the season opener isn’t the David Bakhtiari they should be preparing for this week.

The Packers left tackle allowed outside linebacker Aldon Smith to sack quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice and had his hands full with the pass-rusher most of the game.

He has allowed multiple sacks in a game only once since then.

Almost an entire season has passed since the 49ers last saw the Packers, and perhaps the biggest difference in Green Bay is in their two rookie starters on offense. Lacy became the 1,000-yard power back that general manager Ted Thompson hoped he would be when he picked in the second round last April, and Bakhtiari held together an offensive line that could have fallen apart when veteran Bryan Bulaga blew out his knee less than two weeks into training camp.

Chalk it up to first-game jitters (in Lacy’s case) or just plain old inexperience (in Bahktiari’s case), but neither got off to the kind of start they wanted in the 34-28 loss in their NFL debuts at Candlestick Park.

“I can’t even start to describe how I felt that game,” Lacy said. “That was the first time for me, but it’s in the past, so I’m not too much worried about it.”

For Lacy, his 41-yard rushing game (on 14 carries) was his third-lowest total of the season in a game he finished. The fumble, who landed him on the bench for part of the game, was his only one of the season.

“He admittedly was very nervous for the game,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “So, yeah, Eddie's playing much better, just like any rookie in this league, you know he's got 16 games under his belt now. He knows what to expect, and he's comfortable in the offense, he's comfortable being asked what to do, so yeah Eddie is in a different place today.”

Even his sprained right ankle, which has bothered him the past three weeks, appears to be feeling better heading into Sunday’s NFC wild-card game against the 49ers at Lambeau Field.

Lacy finished with a Packers’ rookie record of 1,178 yards rushing -- the eighth-best total in the league -- and scored 11 touchdowns despite missing nearly two full games because of a concussion.

So what will the 49ers see when they watch film of what Lacy has done since they saw him last?

“I think they’re going to see a confident, hard-running Eddie Lacy,” Packers fullback John Kuhn said. “He's going to be determined, assertive. There’s things that he’s learned throughout the course of the year, he’s a great running back and I think they’re going to have their hands full.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsPackers coach Mike McCarthy says running back Eddie Lacy has learned from his rookie mistakes.
Since Week 5, when Lacy returned from the concussion that kept him out of nearly two full games, he has rushed for 1,127 yards -- the second-best total in the league behind only Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (1,139).

“He’s a totally different back,” Packers receiver James Jones said. “It’s night and day. He’s a totally different back -- way more comfortable, way more confident. They’ll have to account for him. I know by them watching film and seeing what he’s done during the season they know he’s not the same player he was Week 1. It’s good for us to have him in the position he is now.”

Bakhtiari, who grew up not far from Candlestick Park, is too California cool to show any signs of nerves like Lacy had in the opener. The most he would admit to was this: “I generally have been pretty calm throughout the whole process. Given my level, it was a little higher than usual, but I wouldn’t say I was completely freaking out.”

The fourth-round pick settled into the job relatively easily. After giving up four sacks in the first four games, he went seven straight games and 10 of out of the next 12 without being changed with a sack, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He allowed only four more sacks after the first month of the season.

Among the opponents he faced in his sackless streak were Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs, Minnesota’s Jared Allen (twice) and Chicago’s Julius Peppers. Later in the season, he blanked Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware. His lone disastrous performance came in the Thanksgiving loss at Detroit, where he allowed three sacks (including two by rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah).

“Against different body types and very good pass-rushers, he's done a very good job of handling that,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “And he’s done a very good job of handling success but at the same time he’s had some rough games like Detroit, which was his worst game, and he came back and played his [expletive] off. He’s done a very good job for a young guy to not let success creep into it in a negative way and handling it the right way, but he’s also bounced back every time something’s happened."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On one side of the Green Bay Packers' locker room, cornerback Tramon Williams pulled a stocking cap over his head and slipped into a pair of warm boots.

At another section of lockers, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari wore nothing heavier than a sweatshirt -- unzipped.

Take a guess at where each player falls on the sleeves versus no sleeves debate in cold-weather football.

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay's Jarrett Bush
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsWhen the weather turns frigid, some Packers like Jarrett Bush, 24, opt for sleeves, while some like Datone Jones, 95, go without.
Although the forecast keeps getting worse for Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field, players on the no-sleeve side of the argument do not appear to be budging, despite the latest from The Weather Channel that indicates the high temperature won’t get above zero, and the low could be close to 20-below.

“I’ll never wear sleeves,” said Bakhtiari, a northern California native.

Why not?

“It’s kind of like the norm. That’s the best way to describe it.”

However, Bakhtiari did say that there have been a couple of times this season when he and fellow offensive lineman Josh Sitton pondered it. But they kept coming back to the same point.

“You don’t wear sleeves,” Bakhtiari said.

Williams, on the other hand (or arm), has been wearing sleeves all season. If the offensive linemen want to look tough, that’s fine with him, but he wants no part of that.

“Whatever makes them play the best, they need to go with or without,” he said.

Maybe players get wise with age, because veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, 34, used to be a no-sleeve guy. That was until the 2007 NFC championship game against the New York Giants, when it was minus-1 at kickoff.

“Definitely sleeves; I’m wearing sleeves, man,” Pickett said. “I tried the no-sleeves thing [against the Giants], and it took me three days to thaw out. I’m wearing sleeves.”

Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, a former quarterback with the Buffalo Bills from 1995-2003, had a message for young players on the team.

“Don’t try to be a hero,” Van Pelt said. “If you need to wear sleeves, wear sleeves. Nobody’s going to call you soft.”

Unless you’re an offensive linemen, apparently, because those guys refuse to cover up.

“For me, I put my helmet on, go to work,” said Packers offensive line coach James Campen, who played center in Green Bay from 1989-93. “Weather was irrelevant to me. It didn’t bother me.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy took practice outside for about an hour on Thursday, when the temperature in Green Bay was in the single digits. He put the players through ball-handling drills in order to get used to how the football will feel in the cold.

Both the practice field and Lambeau Field have an elaborate underground heating system to keep the playing surface from becoming an ice rink, There’s no snow in the forecast, either, so footing should not be an issue, and winds aren't expected to be overly strong.

The usual array of gloves, insulated pockets, hand warmers and sideline heaters will be available to the players on Sunday. But that stuff can help only so much in sub-zero conditions.

Even with his sleeves and other assorted accessories, Williams remembers the shock of the cold in the NFC championship game against the Giants.

“The first drive, I froze to death,” he said. “I ain’t going to lie to you. I froze to death. But once I got thawed out ... got in front of the heaters and things like that when I came back on the sideline, I was good for the rest of the game.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Josh Sitton isn't quite sure why, but the Green Bay Packers guard believes he's a better run blocker now that he's playing on the left side of the offensive line.

And the Packers are taking advantage of it.

Their renewed commitment to the run game has paid dividends, perhaps sooner than anyone expected this season. Heading into Week 6, the Packers ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (141.0) and second in rushing average (5.3 yards per carry).

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliRookie running back Eddie Lacy is averaging 3.9 yards per attempt.
As impressive as those numbers look, especially for a unit that has not had a top-10 running game since 2004, they're even more remarkable when they run in the direction of Sitton, who played on the right side from 2008-2011, and left tackle David Bakhtiari.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Packers have averaged 8.4 yards per rush going left this season. Last season, they averaged 3.5 yards per rush toward that side. With four rushes of 20 yards or more to the left side, they have already doubled their total from all of last season.

“I think I'm a better run blocker from the left side for some reason,” Sitton said, “whatever it is.”

The impetus for moving Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, to the left side was to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers' blindside. But improving a running game that last season ranked 20th out of 32 teams also was a major focus.

“I just think that everyone's run blocking is getting better,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “If Josh thinks that (he's better on the left side), good for him.”

When Bulaga was lost for the season, it forced the Packers to go with a rookie, Bakhtiari, at left tackle. In Bakhtiari, the Packers have an athletic left tackle that is well suited for their style of running game.

“David's a finisher,” Campen said. “He may not be perfect in where you want his aiming point or where he's going, but he's going to finish. He's moving his feet, he's staying engaged, and he's staying engaged with people.”

The Packers have distributed their runs almost evenly from side to side. According to statistics compiled by the NFL, they have 41 rushes to the left, 40 to the right and the remainder up the middle. But in last Sunday's 22-9 win over the Detroit Lions, when the Packers rushed for 180 yards, they opened the game by running behind Sitton and Bakhtiari. Nine of their first 12 runs were to the left side of the formation, and those runs averaged 4.0 yards per attempt. Their longest run of the game, a 67-yarder by Randall Cobb in the third quarter, also went left. On the play, Sitton and Bakhtiari took care of the defensive linemen, and center Evan Dietrich-Smith pulled and led the way by blocking a linebacker in the hole.

“I felt really good at the start of camp with Bryan and then when Dave came in, it was a little bit of a learning curve right there,” Sitton said. “But we've come together and worked hard on communication and things like that to be able to get our combo blocks down and things like that.”

To be sure, some of those runs against the Lions were made because of blocks on the back side, and in the end their runs were distributed almost evenly from side to side.

“I don't think there's a concern for what side we run,” Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Now, sometimes we only rep plays one way just to cut down on the amount of preparation.”

Regardless of what side the Packers have run to this season, there's no denying that production has improved across the board. Against the Lions, Eddie Lacy came up 1 yard short of giving the Packers their third 100-yard running back of the season after James Starks gained 132 in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins and Johnathan Franklin ran for 103 in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals. They entered the season with a streak of 43 straight games without a 100-yard rusher.

The Packers have made subtle tweaks to their blocking techniques and added a few variations to their old running plays, but perhaps the key to the improvement in the running game has been better communication between the key components -- the offensive line and the backs. Those two position groups began watching film together more than a year ago, and that has finally started to pay off.

“In a lot of our runs, we have a lot of options based on what the defenses does or what look they present,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “We might call a particular play but we may have three or four options based on the defense, and so when you have all those options, the line has to talk to the quarterback, the quarterback has to listen, has to communicate to us, and we look at the pictures and say ‘OK we've done this once, let's try if we get that same look, let's use this other variation.' Because of the fact that we have so many options, it requires more communication, and they're doing a good job of it.”

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Last week, we took a look at the Green Bay Packers’ top three options at right tackle.

Now that left tackle Bryan Bulaga has been declared out for the season with a torn ACL, those three options may have to be spread over both tackle positions, barring a roster move.

Now what coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen must figure out is which player belongs where.

One thing has become clear: Rookie David Bakhtiari will play one of those two spots. He had been pushing -- and already may have passed -- Marshall Newhouse in the right tackle competition. Newhouse was the starting left tackle the past two seasons, but his up-and-down play was part of the reason McCarthy moved Bulaga from right tackle this offseason.

The question now is what to do with Bakhtiari? He played left tackle at Colorado and has split time at the two tackle positions in training camp. But it’s a lot to ask a rookie to start on the left side, which must protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ blind side.

The Packers could move Newhouse back to the left side. After all, they went 11-5 last season with him as the full-time starter there, despite the fact that he allowed 10 sacks last season, according to STATS.

Don Barclay, the other candidate for the right tackle job, also has been taking reps at guard and center, and the Packers hope he will develop into their utility lineman. Barclay started six games last season at right tackle after Bulaga sustained a season-ending hip injury. Barclay was serviceable, but the Packers went into the offseason hoping for an upgrade.

Derek Sherrod would have been a natural fit for left tackle, but he remains on the physically unable to perform list because of the broken leg he sustained on Dec. 18, 2011. Sherrod, the Packers’ first-round pick in 2011, was selected to be the left tackle of the future. Together with Bulaga, a first-round pick in 2010, he would have given the Packers two top draft picks anchoring their offensive line.

The pedigree of their remaining tackles is far less impressive. Bakhtiari was a fourth-round pick this year. Newhouse was a fifth-round pick in 2010, and Barclay was an undrafted free agent in 2011. The other tackles currently in training camp are street free agent Kevin Hughes and 2011 seventh-round pick Andrew Datko. Both are long shots to make the roster.

One of the Packers’ goals this offseason was to solidify Rodgers’ protection after signing him to a five-year, $110 million contract extension. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Rodgers has been sacked more times (118) in the past three seasons than any quarterback.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – When the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV, it was worth wondering whether that might be the beginning of a dynasty.

With a star quarterback in the prime of his career and enough young playmakers on both sides of the ball, talk of multiple titles didn’t seem all that far-fetched.

In the two seasons since quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ Super Bowl MVP-winning performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb. 6, 2011, the Packers have put together regular seasons of 15-1 and 11-5 that resulted in a pair of NFC North titles.

But in that same span, they have won only one playoff game -- last season’s wild-card round against a Minnesota Vikings team that had to make the last-minute switch to backup quarterback Joe Webb because injured starter Christian Ponder couldn’t go.

What’s more, in the two playoff losses -- to the New York Giants on Jan. 15, 2012, and to the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 12, 2013 -- the Packers were, as linebacker A.J. Hawk so bluntly put it this week, “blasted.”

The Packers gave up a combined 82 points in the two playoff losses. The 45-31 loss to the 49ers, who piled up 579 yards of offense, has put Dom Capers’ defense under intense scrutiny heading into this season in large part because 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made the Packers look completely unprepared for the read-option offense. Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards (the most ever in a game by an NFL quarterback), including a 56-yard touchdown run that broke a 24-24 tie midway through the third quarter.

“We went to the playoffs twice and got blasted,” Hawk said. “We got beat bad. They took the game from us.

“Specifically, as defensive guys, we let our offense down, so that’s something as a defense we need to get some pride back and take it. That’s why I think this whole offseason, if you’ve watched anything, our practices or whatever we’re doing, it’s almost stepped up a notch.”

Capers has spent at least a small portion of almost every training camp practice working against the read-option, using some of what he and his staff learned during their March visit to College Station, Texas, where they met with the Texas A&M coaches to study the read-option.

While Capers has insisted throughout the offseason that his defense’s performance against the 49ers was an anomaly and pointed to the statistical improvement -- to 11th in yards allowed in 2012 after finishing dead last in 2011 -- the lasting image of his unit from last season is them chasing (and almost never catching) Kaepernick.

“We kind of hit the perfect storm there,” Capers said. “We’d made so many strides with so many young players, and it kind of went out the window. Because when you have a game like that, you kind of say, ‘How the hell did that happen?’ It can happen real easy in this league. That offense, the next week went for about 400 [yards], and then in the Super Bowl it was like a track meet after that blackout.”

When it comes to defending that offense, Capers’ defense will be tested early. The Packers open the season at the 49ers and then host the Washington Redskins in Week 2. If Robert Griffin III is back from his knee injury by then, they will face two read-option quarterbacks in as many weeks.

“I think every team right now is working on that. Every defensive coordinator is trying to figure out how to stop this pistol-read option,” Hawk said. “At the same time, offensive coordinators are working on new wrinkles to beat these defenses, so we’ll see. That’s what’s fun. Week 1 and Week 2, we get a nice, big test. We’re looking forward to it.”

Three hot issues

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThere's no question that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is absolutely integral to the Packers' chances in 2013.
1. Protect the investment. There’s nothing more important to the Packers than protecting Rodgers, who signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension this offseason. Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times last season. Not all of the sacks were the fault of the offensive line; sometimes, Rodgers held the ball too long. Nevertheless, coach Mike McCarthy decided to revamp his front five, moving right tackle Bryan Bulaga and right guard Josh Sitton to the left side. T.J. Lang went from right guard to left, and the right tackle position was declared an open competition that has yet to be decided.

"You say, 'Look, we have to protect the backside of the quarterback, so let’s put the two most accomplished guys to date there,'" offensive line coach James Campen said.

The problem is, one of those two most accomplished players is already a scratch. Bulaga injured a knee during Saturday night’s scrimmage and will miss the entire season.

The jury remains out on whether the line changes will work.

"It’s a progression," Campen said. "I’d say we’re climbing the hill now."

2. Find a running game: The Packers haven’t had a running back gain 100 yards or more in a regular-season game since Brandon Jackson rushed for 115 against the Redskins on Oct. 10, 2010. Their streak of 43 straight regular-season games without a 100-yard rusher is the longest in the NFL.

It got so bad last season that when opposing defenses often left both safeties deep and dared the Packers to run, they still couldn’t do it. They finished 27th in rushing yards per game using a handful of different backs who either couldn’t stay healthy or didn’t produce.

Enter second-round draft pick Eddie Lacy of Alabama and fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin of UCLA. They have shared reps with two returners from last season, Alex Green and James Starks. It’s a safe bet Lacy will end up as the starter, but nothing has been decided yet.

“We have great competition," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. "The preseason will all work itself out."

3. Jones’ impact: In April of 2012, general manager Ted Thompson used his first six draft picks on defensive players -- a clear reaction to finishing last in the NFL in yards allowed the previous season. He didn’t go as heavy on defense in this year’s draft but did use his top overall pick on UCLA defensive end Datone Jones.

The hope is that Jones can become a three-down player capable of playing end in Capers’ 3-4 defense and as one of two inside rushers in the nickel and dime packages.

Early returns suggest Jones will provide some immediate help, at least in the sub packages. Through the first week of practice, he has shown well in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill. By subjective count, he has won 10 of his 19 reps in that drill.

“You can see his quickness out there and some of the things that he’s been able to do," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "But some of the mistakes that he makes you don’t see."

Reason for optimism

The Packers have arguably the best quarterback in the league and a trio of receivers capable of getting open and running after the catch. Rodgers’ accuracy (67.7 percent over the past two seasons combined) and ability to take care of the ball (14 interceptions over the past two seasons combined) means the Packers will put up points. If receivers Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, plus tight end Jermichael Finley, stay healthy, Rodgers has plenty of weapons.

Reason for pessimism

Mike McCarthy
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswirePackers coach Mike McCarthy had 16 players sidelined with injuries during the team's scrimmage.
Injuries have hit the Packers hard in two of the past three seasons, and they have already begun to pile up this year. Bulaga's injury could ruin the plans for the offensive line. Two of their top three cornerbacks (Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward) remain sidelined. McCarthy was so concerned about his team’s inability to stay healthy that he examined every aspect of his operation this offseason -- from weight training to nutrition to practice routine. Still, they had 16 players sidelined for their scrimmage on Saturday.

Observation deck

  • The Packers stuck with Mason Crosby through a kicking slump last season, when in one stretch he missed 12 out of 24 field goals on the way to a league-low 63.6 percent conversion rate, but they might be running out of patience. Crosby had an abysmal performance in their scrimmage on Saturday night -- missing five of eight kicks -- including two from inside 40 yards. During live-kicking periods so far this summer, Crosby has made just 12 of 19 field goals (63.2 percent). For the first time since 2007, Crosby has competition in camp. Going head-to-head with Crosby, first-year kicker Giorgio Tavecchio has made 16 of 19 (84.2 percent), including six of seven in Saturday’s scrimmage. However, the issue with Tavecchio is leg strength. His longest make so far has been from 53 yards, but he hit the crossbar before it went through.
  • Few title contenders probably could remain as such if they lost their starting quarterback for any length of time, but the Packers appear especially vulnerable if anything serious happens to Rodgers. The competition between last season’s backup, Graham Harrell, and practice-squader B.J. Coleman hasn’t been decided. Regardless of who wins the job, neither has done anything to make anyone believe the Packers wouldn’t go in the tank if they lost Rodgers. Perhaps that is why the Packers decided to bring in veteran Vince Young for a workout on Monday.
  • M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian have been taking turns playing the safety spot next to Morgan Burnett, but no starter has been named yet. Regardless of who wins the job, both Jennings and McMillian will play. Jennings appears better suited to playing deep zone coverage, while McMillian looks better closer to the line of scrimmage.
  • Don’t be surprised if rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari ends up as the starting right tackle if Marshall Newhouse falters. Bakhtiari has begun to get more work reps with the starters.
  • Second-year defensive tackle Mike Daniels might be the most improved player on the roster. He has been a major force in the pass-rushing drills.
  • Backup receiver Jeremy Ross might make it possible for the Packers to take Cobb off kick-return duties and concentrate solely on receiver. Ross had a 49-yard kickoff return in Saturday’s scrimmage and has had no issues catching kickoffs or punts.
  • The Packers have a history of keeping an undrafted free agent or two on their 53-man roster, and the best candidate this season looks like outside linebacker Andy Mulumba of Eastern Michigan.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As he always does, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has closely followed media coverage of NFL training camps this summer. Rodgers has seen multiple national networks covering every minute of Denver Broncos camp, where the arrival of Peyton Manning has drawn rock-star attention. He has seen the frenzy in New York, home of the Super Bowl champions and the most famous backup quarterback in the league.

In Green Bay, on the other hand, the Packers have trained in their quiet biosphere at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Remember, over the past 19 months this team has captured a Super Bowl championship and won 21 of 23 games, including playoffs. The oversight has left Rodgers glowing with genuine glee, knowing he and the Packers have their competitors right where they want them.

"I think we're in a good position," Rodgers said. "A lot people are talking about other teams, which is always helpful to us. Nobody is going to forget about the Packers, but there are plenty of things to distract national attention away from us. And for whatever reason, we usually play a little bit better when that's the case.

"You've got what's going on with both teams in New York, Super Bowl stuff and that other stuff going on. You've got Peyton in Denver, and the Eagles with their talent and Dallas making a comeback this year. So I think that helps us out … that we're sort of flying under the radar."

As much as any athlete I've covered, Rodgers has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to manufacture a perceived slight into motivation. As a team leader, and now the second-longest tenured player on the Packers' roster, he sets the tone for a team that is primed for another Super Bowl run -- regardless of national attention. And it's clear that Rodgers has already begun the process of placing chips on as many shoulders as he can in the locker room.

Roughly 10 days into training camp, the Packers are the best team no one is talking about. Which suits them just fine.

"The Packers Way has been passed down for years," Rodgers said. "Just kind of keeping your mouth shut and playing."

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Added juice: The first week of training camp was notable for its elevated energy, both from an audio and a competitive standpoint. An influx of loud and excitable defensive players, from veterans Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir to rookie Jerel Worthy, brought a new dynamic and is a big part of why Rodgers said the Packers will have a better team in 2012.

As he spoke with two reporters in the locker room this week, Rodgers raised his voice multiple times to be heard above the din of his exuberant teammates. And during practice, there was a clear increase in verbal jockeying between the offense and defense, at least compared to what I've seen in recent Packers camps.

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay's Aaron Rodgers
Benny Sieu/US PRESSWIREAaron Rodgers and the Packers are just fine with the media's attention focused elsewhere around the league.
Higher energy doesn't necessarily equal a better chance to win, but the consensus around the team was that the locker room mix needed a shift from the professorial mentality it fell into last year.

"This group," coach Mike McCarthy said, "has more personality with what they bring to the locker room. You have some guys now with a lot of personality and juice, and obviously we've added talent on the defensive side of the ball. There's a lot more juice out there, and it's not just the rookies."

2. Running game: McCarthy spoke this offseason about reevaluating the Packers' running game, but nothing has happened so far to suggest the team will re-balance its offense. If there are any changes, the Packers will be looking for ways to yield more explosive runs of 12-plus yards.

Last season, the Packers had 29 runs that went for 12 or more yards, tied for No. 24 in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A few more would help slow opposing pass rushes and further open the Packers' already-lethal play-action game.

"Run more?" Rodgers said. "I don't see it happening drastically at all. It's not our identity. But running more effectively and picking the five or six or seven runs that we really like and are our best opportunity for those 12-yard gains? That's what we're going to try to do."

James Starks will get an opportunity to be the Packers' primary back. But second-year player Alex Green appears recovered from a torn ACL suffered last season and has worked in rotation with Starks and Brandon Saine during camp.

3. Return of (the real) Tramon Williams: After giving up more passing yards than any team in NFL history last season, the Packers have added some new pass-rushers to their defensive line and linebacker group. They shifted Charles Woodson to safety in their base defense and lauded the progress of third-year safety Morgan Burnett. But just as important in the presumed improvement of their pass defense has been the recovery of cornerback Tramon Williams, who demonstrated complete confidence in a now-healed shoulder that limited his 2011 effectiveness.

"It's actually really doing fine," Williams said. "I'm doing exactly what I want to do out there. Jamming. No pain. No anything. Just ready to play. … I had never been injured in any way in my career. But it's an obstacle that stood in front of me last year and I knew I needed to get through it. I was able to go out there and go to battle with my teammates and I think they respect me for it today.

"But for this last year, it was what it was. Obviously it wasn't 100 percent. I've worked hard this offseason to get back as far as I can to that. I'm ready to go. Hopefully it turns out well."

Woodson will move to the slot cornerback role in the Packers' nickel and dime defense, meaning that Williams is in essence the Packers' top cover man. Remember, Williams was a Pro Bowl player in 2010. The early portion of camp this summer suggested that he is physically ready to take on that role.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The Packers return what should be an elite offense led by the reigning MVP. They have solid special teams and worked aggressively this offseason to overhaul their one significant weakness in 2011.

Eight new players -- five rookies and three veteran free-agent acquisitions -- are in the mix to play significant roles in the pass defense. Another pair of players who were rookies last season, cornerback Davon House and safety M.D. Jennings, are currently working with the first team.

Sometimes there can be safety in numbers. Not every draft pick and free-agent signing will work out. But an optimist would say the Packers took enough swings to ensure they make contact at least a few times this season. Or something like that.

REASON FOR PESIMISSM

Here's the downside of relying on so many young players to improve a sore spot: They're young players. There's no telling what direction they'll go in, or how long it will take them to get to a point where they can contribute consistently.

It sounds great to draft a pair of athletic pass-rushers like Worthy and linebacker Nick Perry. But when will it kick in for them? Is it even fair to expect immediate results? Remember, Clay Matthews had three sacks midway through his rookie season before finishing with 10.

Can the Packers count on second-year player Davon House to start at cornerback? Or will they have to turn to rookie Casey Hayward? And is it reasonable to assume that second-year player M.D. Jennings will have a seamless transition at safety? Or will the Packers have to turn rookie Jerron McMillian?

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay's Davon House
Jeff Hanisch/US PRESSWIREDavon House is part of a youth influx on the defensive side of the ball for the Packers.
Sometimes people equate new with better. There is no reason to suspect any particular trouble with the Packers' defensive changes, but the premise itself merits further scrutiny.

"That's the exciting thing when you've got young guys," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "They're bright-eyed and they've got a lot of energy. They're getting better, but still too much inconsistency. After every practice you see some improvement, but fortunately we don't have to play a game right now."

OBSERVATION DECK

  • As good as the Packers' offense was last season, coaches have found plenty of ways to push for improvement. According to Rodgers, coaches have presented statistical comparisons between the Packers' offense last season and the previous four Super Bowl teams in third-down percentage, red zone touchdowns and goal line performance, among other categories. "They're challenging us to do maybe one more third down per game to get us to [that] level," Rodgers said, "and one more conversion on the season in goal-to-go to get us in this ranking. If you look at it like that, we can definitely improve. But if you look at it as a whole, it's going to be tough to put up those kind of numbers."
  • The Packers have significantly increased the time they spend working on tackling drills and fundamentals during camp, the result of poor tackling in their playoff loss to the New York Giants and other games last season. "We're emphasizing it as much as we possibly can," McCarthy said. "It's on every slide we show in meetings and talked about in every correction period. It's talked about continuously throughout team and in coordinator meetings. To me, that's coaching. If you want to have it on Sunday, it's got to show up every day in your training structure."
  • For the first time in the McCarthy era, the Packers entered training camp with five set starters along the offensive line. There are no rotations under way and no competitions to judge. Center Jeff Saturday is new to the organization, but he is getting every practice repetition with the first team. Said offensive line coach James Campen: "Just from a familiarity standpoint, the communication, passing off stunts, getting a feel for the guys next to you, obviously that's more advantageous. The more reps that you get with the same guy side by side, it's is very helpful."
  • Usually it's good news when you don't notice the left tackle during training camp practices, and there wasn't much to note about Marshall Newhouse until Wednesday morning. Matthews smoked him twice during a team blitz drill, but otherwise Newhouse has continued to earn praise from the coaches grading his work. "Marshall has had a very good camp so far," Campen said. "[Wednesday,] Clay got the best of him a couple times. They each get the best of each other a little bit. This was practice No. 6. It was a little rough for him. Clay brought some new stuff to him, and it's a great opportunity for him to go against somebody like that."
  • Wide receiver Donald Driver reported to training camp in his usual fantastic shape and made quick work of several young cornerbacks in red zone drills. There is every reason to believe Driver will make the Packers' final 53-man roster, once again making the Packers' receiver rotation a complicated proposition. If everyone is healthy, there are going to be some talented players standing on the sidelines.
  • On a couple of occasions last season, the Packers found a way to get receiver Randall Cobb on the field as a quasi-running back in the backfield. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they seek additional opportunities to do that in 2012. It's a great way to get a versatile player on the field.
  • A final note on receivers: There was a lot of offseason discussion about the fate of youngsters Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel if the Packers decided to keep Driver on the roster. Gurley and Borel are nice players, but let's just say Lambeau Field would still stand if they are waived and another team claims them. It'll fall somewhat short of losing Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
  • The Packers have three players suspended for the start of the regular season: Hargrove (eight games) and defensive lineman Mike Neal (four), along with linebacker Erik Walden (one). Only Walden was involved in an off-the-field incident, however, and Rodgers said the Packers "don't put up" with off-field distractions. "We've got good leadership," he said. "Guys hold each other accountable. It starts with the guys up top, the guys we bring in. We bring in a lot of high-character guys who fall in and understand what it means to put on the colors and the tradition here. It's not to say that stuff doesn't happen, because it does happen. We had some instances last year. But for the most part I think it's the kind of guys that [the Packers] bring in."
  • Tight end D.J. Williams, for the second consecutive year, put together a nice start to training camp and could be in line to be the Packers' top backup behind Jermichael Finley.

On the Packers' coaching shuffle

February, 13, 2012
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Who knew that the departure of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who neither called plays nor coached a position, would lead to a significant shuffling of the Green Bay Packers' offensive coaching staff?

The final staff, announced Monday morning, covered some previously known territory but also provided a few revelations. In the end, here is how the dominos fell after Philbin left to become the Miami Dolphins' head coach:
  1. Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements was promoted to offensive coordinator.
  2. Tight ends coach Ben McAdoo replaced Clements as quarterbacks coach.
  3. Running backs coach Jerry Fontenot replaced McAdoo as tight ends coach.
  4. Alex Van Pelt, a longtime friend of coach Mike McCarthy, was hired to replace Fontenot as running backs coach.

Two offensive position coaches will remain in their 2011 jobs: Receivers coach Edgar Bennett, who made the jump from receivers coach in 2010, and offensive line coach James Campen.

McCarthy has said on several occasions that he values coaching ability over specific playing experience, explaining why he has been so willing over the years to swap assistants. Here's how Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it via Twitter: "#Packers now have a QB as RBs coach, a TE as QBs coach, an OL as TEs coach and a RB as WRs coach. Go figure."

Indeed, Van Pelt played nine seasons as an NFL quarterback and has focused on quarterbacks for most of his coaching career. McAdoo never played the quarterback position, Fontenot was an NFL center for 16 years and Bennett spent eight seasons as a running back for the Packers.

I'm not going to get too worked up about McCarthy's mixing and matching. You would be surprised if you examine the career histories of coaches through the NFL; many of them took meandering paths to their current area of expertise. It might be unusual for a staff with so many former NFL players to have so many people "out of position," but if anything it speaks to McCarthy's confidence in his program's ability to foster career expansion.

Shoelaces? Are whoopee cushions next?

December, 15, 2011
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Matt Brock had me for a minute. I admit listening to his appearance on a Portland radio station this week with rapt attention, eager to hear how Green Bay Packers offensive line coach James Campen had "encouraged" his players to get under the skin of Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh by untying his shoes at the bottom of piles.

I finally caught on when Brock said that Suh wasn't discussing his stomp of Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith with Lions coach Jim Schwartz on Thanksgiving Day. No, Brock said that Suh was telling Schwartz how the Packers kept untying his shoes on the field.

I laughed at that point, presuming Brock was just having fun and would probably be surprised to know the story briefly caught a national wave in our Suh-centric society. It would have been funnier if Packers linemen had been trying to tie the laces of both shoes together in true Three Stooges fashion, but that's not for me to judge.

For anyone who thought Suh was enraged by an untied shoelace, I'll pass along what Campen told reporters in Green Bay: "We have more important things to worry about that tying up someone’s shoes during a game."

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dietrich-Smith said: "That's a complete fabrication. Complete lie. I was never told anything and there were no acts of that sort. You can go back and watch the film but you won't see me on the ground trying to untie shoes."

I've heard of players gouging eyes and punching each other in the groin during games. Some players bite. Others pull hair. I'm pretty sure Dietrich-Smith would have been the first to untie his opponent's shoelaces as a way to divert nervous energy, as Brock suggested. What's next? Tummy tickles? Oh well, It was funny while it lasted.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

During the lockout, the NFL has prohibited any contact between team officials and players. Except when it doesn't.

An example of the latter occurred Tuesday, when Green Bay Packers CEO/President Mark Murphy set out on a five-day bus caravan with three players: guard Josh Sitton, linebacker Desmond Bishop and quarterback Matt Flynn. The league exempts charitable events, such as the Packers' sixth annual Tailgate Tour, from its lockout rules.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson saw the players off on the bus, apparently making small talk, but Murphy made clear he wouldn't avoid the topic of the lockout during the bus ride.
Murphy: "I'm going to interact with the players. We'll have a good, open discussion. Obviously with my background having been a player, having worked for the union and been a player rep, I can talk a lot about the issues. So I'm looking forward to it."

This exception would be objectionable if McCarthy or other football officials were taking the trip. They are not. The NFL Players Association might fear the potential for propaganda talk from Murphy, but I doubt they have anything to worry about considering all three players -- Sitton, Bishop and Flynn -- are smart and unlikely to be swayed.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com speaks with the players involved. Sitton said it was "a little awkward" to see offensive line coach James Campen, whom he hadn't spoken with since the Super Bowl.
  • Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette checked in with the tour in Marquette, Mich.
  • If Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is planning commercial development around a proposed stadium in Arden Hills, Minn., he didn't say so Tuesday. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has more.
  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the stadium issue: "It all comes down to political guts, one way or the other. It is the job of elected officials to decide how to spend our money, to figure out what is a good deal and what is a bad deal. It's cowardly to try to pass off tough decisions on an already polarized constituency. They have to decide whether this is right for the state and then act accordingly. Then they'll be graded during the next election."
  • Ramsey County out-hustled a passive Minneapolis political base to make this deal with the Vikings, writes Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com isn't sure if it is important for Lions players to gather this week for workouts.
  • Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com explores the Logan Mankins question and whether the Chicago Bears would consider signing him.
  • Missed this the other day: Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Bears center Olin Kreutz, who is awaiting free agency.

BBAO: 20 points in Week 14

December, 14, 2010
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DETROIT -- We're Black and Blue (and a little embarrassed) all over:

We've had some high-flying offense in the past two years here in the NFC North. In Week 14, we, uh, had something different.

Thanks to @peaceispimp for pointing it out right away Monday night: Collectively, the four NFC North teams scored 20 points this weekend. Let's go through the litany:

Chicago Bears: 7
Detroit Lions: 7
Green Bay Packers: 3
Minnesota Vikings: 3

Only the Lions managed to emerge victoriously, and overall it was an ugly few days for this division. We'll all have to double our efforts and work harder to do better next time.

Continuing around the NFC North as I prepare to return to NFC North blog headquarters:
  • The University of Minnesota will need to know by Tuesday if it needs to get TCF Bank Stadium ready for the Vikings and Chicago Bears to play there Dec. 20. Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune has more.
  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the end of Brett Favre's consecutive starts streak: "This is not how heroes are supposed to go out. When their time comes, they are supposed to wear defiant expressions and stand tall with their guns blazing. But on Monday, Favre, pretty much held together with paper clips and chicken wire all season, simply could not make it out to the field. Finally the time had arrived when there was not enough padding and plastic to protect him. Shots and painkillers were no longer effective as the realities of old age belatedly took hold."
  • Vikings defensive end Jared Allen called Monday's 21-3 loss to the New York Giants "embarrassing," writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Green Bay Packers offensive line coach James Campen said that every Packers offensive lineman had a losing performance in Sunday's game at Detroit. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has more.
  • The Packers can assure themselves of at least a wild-card playoff berth if they win their final three games, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • The Packers are in a holding pattern with quarterback Aaron Rodgers (concussion), notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Chicago Bears' season goals are still well within reach, writes Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Rookie safety Major Wright had deep coverage on the New England Patriots' 59-yard touchdown at the end of the first half Sunday, notes Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • I totally agree with David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "This seems like the right time to remind everybody this Bears season never has been about winning the Super Bowl. This always has been about saving jobs. That meant winning the NFC North. The Bears still can do that sooner rather than later."
  • The Detroit Lions could get back linebacker Landon Johnson (neck) this week, notes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • The Lions' next goal should be to win a game on the road, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News after Monday night's bonus game at Ford Field: "I could argue the Lions have served as accommodating hosts to division rivals for a long time, but that's just mean. And already outdated. The Lions snapped their 19-game losing streak against NFC North foes the previous day with a 7-3 win over Green Bay, and the party kept right on going."

A rare follow-up to 'Caption this'

November, 24, 2010
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Brett Favre & Aaron RodgersAP Photo/Hannah FoslienMinnesota quarterback Brett Favre has been bested twice this season by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.
In the long and winding history of "Caption this," I don't know if we've ever had a player step forward and explain the story behind the photograph. But that's exactly what Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did while speaking to Wisconsin reporters Wednesday.

As those of you who participated in our fun little game Monday already know, Rodgers had an especially interesting expression on his face after a postgame embrace with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.

According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rodgers said he was laughing at a comment that Favre made about Packers offensive line coach James Campen.

"...Brett and I embraced and then he made a funny comment about James Campen as we were separating," Rodgers said. "And I looked back and smirked about his comment about James Campen and they froze it. You can put any tag you want underneath that picture [laughing]. I can tell you exactly what happened. People are still going to read into that."

Rodgers added: "He made a funny comment about James Campen, who was, I guess, walking back. I looked back to see if James was back there and I had a smirk on my face. I wasn't smirking at anyone. Maybe James Campen."

We all had our fun Monday, but I think it's only fair to point out that neither Rodgers nor Favre ever took a shot at one another during what amounted to three years of drama. Rodgers said he is especially proud of the way he handled himself.

"I am," he said. "Yeah, I am. I think that was often a lot more difficult than the actual playing, was to practice proper leadership daily. That's something you have on some level. You can also work on that as a skill. That's something I knew was going to be very important to how I was viewed as a person, leader and player. I'm proud of the fact that we're on the other side of this. It's something no one is really talking about as much going forward and I'm proud of the way it played out and was true to my character."

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