NFC North: may mailbag
We now present you, as promised, with Part II of the weekend mailbag. I'll take this opportunity to expand a bit on a story I've been meaning to pass along for a while: The unique background of defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, Detroit's fourth-round draft pick.
Rob of Fenton writes: What's your take on Sammie Lee Hill, 4th RD DT for the Lions? I know he is a project but do you see him in a starter role making a contribution this season? Thanks.
Kevin Seifert: For my money, Hill is as interesting of a prospect as there is in the NFC North this season. He's athletic enough to have played baseball in high school, and during a conference call last month he joked (I think) that school officials sewed two chest protectors together to allow him to play catcher. I'd say he was a big target.
The most important attribute Hill has is size. He's a legitimate 6-foot-4 and 329 pounds, and I'm guessing he could pack on a few more pounds if he needed to. That's what got him noticed out of Stillman (Ala.) College of the SIAC. NFL teams are always looking for naturally big bodies, and Hill has one.
They say you can't teach big, and the Lions quite frankly would be much-improved if they had some interior defenders who can't be moved off the ball. It doesn't necessarily matter if he has the quickness to penetrate into backfield or to get a consistent pass rush. Clogging up the middle is a huge upgrade over what the Lions had last season.
Of course, Hill admits he has a lot to learn from a technique standpoint. No matter how big you are, there are ways for NFL offensive linemen to move you out of the way if you don't take on blocks properly. That technique work will determine how quickly Hill gets on the field. But I think it's going to be hard for a team that got pushed all over the field last season to resist the temptation to see what he can do sooner rather than later.
Hill's conference call with Detroit reporters was the most interesting I listened to during draft weekend. In 2007, as it turns out, he was one of three Stillman players who rushed into a burning house to save a man who was trapped. I'll let him tell you the story:
Hill: "I was on my way home from school, dropping off some players after watching film, and we were on a back road. I saw a house on fire and I was driving. I told one of my teammates that the house was on fire and he said that we should turn around, because someone might need help. Sure enough, we went back and there was a woman standing out front saying that her father was inside. We thought about it first, because obviously we didn't want to hurt ourselves, too, but in the process we thought maybe we could help him. We thought about it and were getting ready to turn around and then we heard the man making some noise like he couldn't breathe. We just took our shirts off and put them over our faces and went as far as we could without hurting ourselves. Sure enough, we got far enough to where we could grab him and drag him outside the door."
Hill said the trio remained safe by holding on to each other so no one got lost:
"Once one of us grabbed the man, the rest of us just drug each other out of there, so none of us would get hurt."
Hey, did someone say something about Brett Favre? Sorry. I must be hearing things.
Thank for you Friday submissions to the mailbag, which allowed us to spice things up with a better variety of topics. Let's get to it. As always, look for Part II soon, possibly as early as Sunday.
Matt of Minneapolis writes: A lot has been made about the Packers defense being the team's biggest question mark. I feel like the defense has enough talent to succeed if they put it all together. I feel like the Packers' biggest question mark will be their offensive line. Who do you expect to come out on top with each position battle?
Kevin Seifert: Good question. I guess I would feel comfortable saying that Daryn Colledge will be the left guard and Chad Clifton will start at left tackle. Coach Mike McCarthy was pretty adamant in March that Colledge would end up at left guard, rather than right tackle, and there really isn't anyone on the roster prepared to challenge Clifton at left tackle. Beyond that, however, it's anybody's guess.
At center, McCarthy is going to give Jason Spitz a chance to beat out incumbent Scott Wells. Spitz also will compete with Josh Sitton at right guard. Changing centers is a big deal, and I know the Packers like the way Wells handles the game from a mental standpoint. On the other hand, McCarthy has talked about getting bigger along the entire line. Spitz has a bigger body frame than Wells, even though their listed weights are almost identical.
You figure either Spitz or Sitton will start at right guard. I'm guessing it will be Sitton, but that's just a guess. Spitz is a more valuable swing reserve than Sitton because he can play guard and center. If Wells is playing center and gets hurt, you end up disrupting two positions if Spitz is not only your backup center but also your starting right guard. Just a thought.
The right tackle position remains wide open, which isn't necessarily a good thing. It looks like the Packers are giving Mark Tauscher a chance to rehabilitate his ACL before making a final decision on his status. They certainly haven't replaced him yet. Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sees it as a five-player race headed by second-year player Breno Giacomini. Let's just say it's a wide-open competition at this point.
Jayme of Wausau, Wis., writes: With this being such a slow time for football, do you ever wish you could cover other sports rather than just trying to find a new way to spin the same old stories?
Kevin Seifert: Ah, irony. I love it. Once upon a time, mid-May was in fact a slow time in the NFL. As recently as 10 years ago, there was almost no news and little to cover between the draft and training camp. Even minicamp was an afterthought.
But the league has managed to make itself a year-round story. Yes, many of the same themes arise. Players come. Players go. Sometimes, the same players come and go every year. Sometimes, their names rhyme with Drett Larve. Anyway....
I covered baseball before switching over to football in 1999. You want to talk about the same old story? I love baseball, but there's only so many ways to write a game story. (And you've got at least 162 of them each year, plus spring training and the postseason.) As far as variety and news, you can't beat the NFL, in my opinion. More players, more coaches, more teams, more personalities, more possibilities.
Tom of Albert Lea, Minn., writes: Other than the Favre frenzy at Winter Park what's holding up Antoine Winfield's contract extension? Could he be on the way out like Darren Sharper and Marcus Robinson were because he questioned Brad Childress' offensive scheme?
Kevin Seifert: I've gotten this question a number of times in the past two weeks. It's a fair concern, given what we've seen in the cases of a number of veteran Minnesota players who have moved on. (Sharper, Robinson, Matt Birk and Brad Johnson among them.)
That said, I think we have a different situation here. The Vikings never really entered negotiations with the players who ultimately departed. In March, Childress said the Vikings were deep into talks with Winfield. That means the Vikings want Winfield back, and Winfield wants to come back. You couldn't say that about both parties in the case of the other players.
Contract negotiations can ebb and flow. There is no rush to get something done at this point in the offseason. Typically, the Vikings have wrapped up these kind of deals by the end of the preseason. So if you're a Winfield fan, I think you should be four months away from hitting the panic button. I wouldn't get worried unless Winfield enters the 2009 season without an agreement.