"Packer Preview" Owes A Debt to Brett

Posted August 5th, 2014 @ 06:08pm

On Sunday, August 31st, I'll settle in behind the mic in the KFAN studio and kick off season number 19 of "Packer Preview," the first and to this day the only, team-centered radio show airing on its arch rival's flagship station.

It would never have happened, if not for Brett Favre. The only way it gets off the ground is if the team is a Super Bowl contender. When I first pitched the show to the brain wizards at KFAN in the summer of 1995, the Pack was an up and coming powerhouse, led by its precocious and magical young quarterback. But KFAN was coming to the end of its first contract as the home of the Vikings and the last thing they wanted to do was stir things up with a Packers show.

But the Vikings flipped the rights to WCCO after the season, so I went back to the goochies and reminded them that the Pack was coming off an NFC title game appearance and would be a Super Bowl favorite in '96. "Packer Preview" was green-lighted and my first season was Brett Favre's Super Bowl season.

The Packers have always been incredibly popular in the Twin Cities, dating back to the time before the Vikings came to be. My dad grew up in St. Paul in the 40s and he was a Packer fan. Add in the number of people (like me) who discovered what a great metropolitan area the Twin Cities is and migrated over from the land of cheese, and you understand why you'll undoubtedly find one of us on your block or at your office.

By the mid-90s, Packer mania was rampant in the Twin Cities, since it looked like Favre, Reggie and the Packers were ready to take over and win a few Super Bowls. OK, that didn't happen but the Packers won one, lost one and were a perennial playoff player. And the appetite for Packers conversation was immense.

And it allowed me to remain on the air at KFAN, even when they reclaimed the rights to the team in 2000. My show got bumped back an hour from 9am to 8am (and this season we're on from 7am-8am), but they allowed me to stay, understanding that ours was a unique rivalry and the truth is, they've been one of Clear Channel's shining stars for years because they like to think and program outside the box.

But back to where I started. Favre is the reason my show ever happened, but longtime listeners know I was not pleased with #4 as the messy separation and divorce went down. For 16 seasons though, he gave us, week in and week out, NFL theater at the highest level. Every game was an adventure and we never felt we were out of a game until the last second ticked off. It was never dull. As a child of the 70s, I saw plenty of dull Packers seasons.

In this era of pinball offenses, records are broken weekly, it seems. Most of today's QB records will be taken with a grain of salt, as fans try to compare Montana to Elway to Manning to Rodgers to Luck, etc.

But Favre's two most meaningful records will stand the test of time. The consecutive game streak will never be broken. His wins record may be broken by Manning (Favre leads by 19), but 186 wins by a starting QB will look impressive for as long as the NFL is around.

We Packers fans didn't like the way it ended. Favre put the Packers in a very difficult spot and the team made what I thought was the only decision to make. But he is one of the greatest QBs of all time and certainly one of the three greatest Packers (I still put Hutson and Nitschke ahead of him. After much reflection, I reluctantly put him ahead of Starr).

It's been seven years. It's time to move on and recognize where Favre sits in the annals of Packers lore. It was never a question that his would be the sixth number retired.  I thought this would be the year. The December Monday night game against the Falcons seemed like the perfect platform--honoring Favre with the team that drafted him in the house. But by next year the new and improved Packer Hall of Fame will open and this will become its signature event.

Then on one special night next season, maybe the opener, we'll see #4 join the other hallowed Packer numbers: 3, 14, 15, 66 and 92. Precisely where it belongs.


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One Week Down, One Player Down: Business As Usual

Posted August 2nd, 2014 @ 01:08am

We almost made it. We almost got through the first full week of the Packers training camp without losing a player to a season-ending injury. Almost. There has been no confirmation from the Packers at the time I write this, but it appears rookie WR and Badgers' fan favorite Jared Abbrederis is done for the season with a torn ACL.

Here we go again. We'd like to believe the team has absorbed more than its share of major injuries in recent years, but after one week our faith is already being tested. Immediately the Twitter trolls reminded me that he would have been a bit player at best on this year's roster, but they miss the bigger point. Now we're probably a couple of years away from seeing him at full strength and his development will happen at a snail's pace.

The truth is, he was battling to win the #5 receiver spot, behind Nelson, Cobb, Boykin and fellow rookie Davante Adams. He had a shot to win a returner job, but the team has other candidates who will get a shot to replace Cobb, most notably the now healthy DuJuan Harris.

It's a buzzkill that a wildly popular local kid who improbably made it big with the Badgers will have to get healthy and wait a long while to start his NFL career. Many of you were excited to see what he could bring to the team as a rookie. Big picture, the injury doesn't impact this year's team in a major way. Fellow rookie Corey Linsley's shoulder injury is also worth watching. Linsley faces an uphill battle to unseat JC Tretter at center, but it depletes the team of depth at the position, should his injury be serious.

What else did we learn from afar after the opening week of camp? Mike McCarthy wants to turn up the tempo on offense, knowing that his quarterback can take advantage of most defenses, if he can control the tempo. If he can keep his running back on the field on third downs, it will help in a major way. So Eddie Lacy will get plenty of work as a receiver and blitz protector this preseason. By all accounts Lacy looks ready to pick up where he left off and emerge as a top five back.

The tight end job will be a dogfight, between Quarless, Bostick and Rodgers. I get the feeling the team sees Quarless as a second teamer and hopes one of the other two flashes, because they both have big play capabilities. Rodgers appears further along than most expected. It will be very interesting to see if he gets time with #12 in the second and third preseason games. I think he and Bostick will battle for the job tooth and nail over the next few weeks.

Defensively, the headline of the week was the cast of characters who weren't in uniform. The list looks like it's straight out of Groundhog Day: Perry, Neal, Worthy, Guiton (OK, Guiton wasn't on the team last year, but as maybe the second most significant free agent signing it's disappointing to see him sidelined already). Perry and Neal returned later in the week and both find themselves fighting for playing time behind Matthews and Peppers. Worthy, who injured his back while working out on his own, will be lucky to make the team. The team's patience has to be wearing thin.

I'm excited to see Raji, Daniels and Jones up front. This unit's performance will have the biggest impact on how much Capers' defense improves this season. Raji is motivated in a contract year and comfortable back at the nose--he had a very strong first week. Daniels appears to want the Richard Sherman role (vocal, nasty leader). If he can earn it on the field, more power to him. Jones needs to show his #1 pick chops, after an ankle injury slowed him last season.

The secondary looks to be much more competitive, with the return of Casey Hayward and the eternal promise of Davon House, both of whom had strong opening weeks. Micah Hyde has the early lead over Ha Ha Clinton Dix, opposite Morgan Burnett at safety. The preseason games will sort out if the depth chart changes. A healthy Sean Richardson is also playing himself into the mix. The Pack may actually have some depth at safety this year.

The biggest news of the week was the extension for GM Ted Thompson. McCarthy's will follow soon, as the Packers' front office/head coach will continue its uncommon stability through the end of the decade. Teams with that kind of stability are always in the mix: witness the Pats, Ravens and Steelers.

Looking forward to our first look at the team next weekend. For now, we'll follow another week of practice, collectively holding our breath, hoping the team can get through it without hearing that dreaded three letter word: ACL.

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Ten Things I Want To See at Packers Training Camp

Posted July 21st, 2014 @ 04:07pm

Greetings everyone, I've come out of my offseason stupor ready for football and ready to (hopefully) keep you coming back every few days to read my latest thoughts on the '14 Packers. First, a bit of news, "Packer Preview" will return to its one hour length in this, our 19th season on the home of the Vikings, KFAN. We're on early: 7am-8am, but feel free to podcast it whenever is convenient on Sunday mornings at either kfan.com or iTunes.

With camp opening this weekend, here are the 10 things I'm hoping to see emerge as we creep closer and closer to the opener in Seattle.

1. No significant injuries: Ooh, that's insightful. Most fans are dying to see a few injuries shake up the roster during the summer. But seriously, nothing derails optimism like early injuries such as the one we saw Bryan Bulaga suffer before preseason games even started. Seeing the Bills' emerging star Kiko Alonso go down with a torn ACL in private workouts reminds us that training camp is a daily minefield and all position and roster battles are less important than making sure everyone stays healthy.

2. The tight end battle: While some Packer fans continue to hold out hope that Jermichael Finley will be resigned, I'd still be shocked to see it--despite Finley's cryptic tweets. The job is wide open as we enter camp, with Andrew Quarless the likely guy initially sitting atop the depth chart. While he had a nice stretch right after Finley's injury, he screams backup to me and I'd like to see either rookie Richard Rodgers or Brandon Bostick jump up and grab the job during camp and in preseason games. A Rodgers-to-Rodgers connection rolls the best off the tongue, but Bostick, if recovered from injury, may be more ready to step right in and take advantage of the situation. He flashed nicely last season and has a ton of uspide. Of course, the wildcard here is Colt Lyerla, who could end up the offensive weapon that everyone is talking about in December, or could end up crashing and burning in August with an off the field dustup.

3. Ha Ha flashes: Wouldn't it be great to see Micah Hyde start with the ones and then Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks so good in practice that the coaches decide they can't keep him off the field? With the Packers getting virtually nothing from their last three #1 picks, here's hoping the former 'Bama safety ends that run. The defense is dying for a big-hitting, playmaking safety to fortify the back end and the rookie seems to have all the intangibles to become that guy, beginning with a solid work ethic and willingness to learn.

4. Rodgers finds a center he loves: He made no secret that he hated to see Evan Dietrich-Smith walk via free agency, but Rodgers gets new centers about as often as he changes girlfriends. Maybe Olivia Munn will be the one. And maybe JC Tretter will grab the center spot and man it for the next five years. The former Ivy Leaguer is coming off a lost rookie season, but finds himself in a position to grab a starting spot on one of the league's most dynamic offenses. Yes, I am aware the pack drafted a center in the fifth round, but there's a reason Corey Linsley was the sixth center drafted. I think it's a long shot he unseats Tretter. It would be great to see some instant chemistry between Rodgers and Tretter and finally get some stability at a position the team has undervalued in recent years.

5. Peppers proves valuable off the field: At 34, the Pack's marquee free agent doesn't figure to get a ton of action in the preseason. But Julius Peppers appears to already have made quite an impression on the other guys on the defense. The way he carries himself and goes about his business has caught his teammates' eye. The departure of Charles Woodson last year removed a respected veteran voice from that unit. Peppers appears ready to fill that void. If joining the Pack has re-energized him, giving him a shot at a Super Bowl ring, he could be just as valuable off the field as he is on. I see him as a situational pass rusher whom Capers will move all over the front seven. If he's vertical in January he could make a play or two when it matters most.

6. Clay plays the role of observer till mid-August: No one figures to gain more from the addition of Peppers than Matthews, who hopes to see less double teams, when the veteran is on the field. Look for the Pack to be extra careful with Clay this summer, making sure his thumb is 100% healed. The defense cannot afford another season where he misses five or six games. I'll be happy to see very little of #52 this summer.

7. Rodgers' understudy: A big question mark we all have is whether the Packers will carry two or three QBs this season. They're already eons ahead of last year's depth chart with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien on board. The presumed result is that Flynn will be Rodgers' backup and Ted Thompson will have to decide whether he feels he can afford to carry three QBs, at the expense of another position. But don't be surprised if Tolzien outplays Flynn in the preseason and wins the job. I know, Flynn kept the team's playoff hopes afloat last year, while Tolzien was underwhelming. But McCarthy really likes Tolzien and having him learn in his offseason program will likely cause him to look a lot more polished and confident this season.

8. The #3 wide receiver: Jarrett Boykin starts the year here, but with three rookies he's going to look like he's always shaking his head as he constantly looks over his shoulder. This is a position that notoriously takes most rookies longer to master and feel comfortable, but Davante Adams has a chance to replace James Jones from day one. He should be a solid red zone target, something the Packers need desperately with the losses of Jones and Finley--an area the team really struggled in last season. He struggled in minicamp, but he'll likely look a lot different with pads on and with a few weeks of getting comfortable. Former Badger Jared Abbrederis also has a shot to play in multiple receiver sets, but will most likely earn his chops as a returner. He'll be given every opportunity to win that job.

9. Bulaga regains his form: OK, he hasn't been a world beater, but the former #1 pick could really help stabilize the line this season. With David Bakhtiari performing better than we could have hoped when he stepped in at left tackle last season, the team can feel good about moving Bulaga back to the right side. Don Barclay was okay last year, particularly as a run blocker, but it would be nice to have him as a utility guy, with Bakhtiari and Bulaga serving as solid bookends on the offensive line.

10. Young D-line shows some nastiness: You gotta love Mike Daniels speaking up and promising that this unit will be meaner and tougher. We know it will be younger, with the losses of Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly. Dom Capers' 3-4 will go as far as the defensive line goes. The team simply must be better up front. BJ Raji's return to the nose and playing for a big contract should provide more results in the middle and Daniels is emerging as a very good player. Now the team needs last year's #1 pick Datone to take a jump and hope that rookie Kyhri Thornton and someone within the group of Guion, Worthy and Boyd steps up.


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Where do you weigh in on Brett Favre getting in to the Packer Hall of Fame /number retirement?

Email of the Week

"Packer Preview" returns for a 19th season on the home of the Vikings, KFAN on Sunday, August 31st. This year's time slot: 7am-8am Sunday mornings on KFAN and kfan.com. Feel free to sleep in and podcast at your leisure.

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