Sunday, September 25, 2011

Milwaukee Brewers Win the 2011 N.L. Central

I was going to post something earlier but my buddy Sug and I got together for our annual Madden franchise draft so I had to delay posting my thoughts till today.

Mama Cheese and Papa Cheese got to see the Milwaukee Brewers clinch their first division title in 29 years at Thriller while I watched the Brewers clinch the N.L. Central on MLB Network.

Former Brewers relief pitcher and current MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac gave his extended thoughts on how Ryan Braun could go down as one of the best Brewers of all-time along with the likes of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Company. That is definitely possible, I just hope Braun continues to produce offensively because he is an average defender at best.

I hate to be negative right out of the gate but with the impeding departure of Prince Fielder after the season, fans should relish this division title for a long time. The current roster does not look like a World Series contender and next year it will be much weaker with Prince playing somewhere else.

Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin did a nice job of assembling some quality regular season starting pitchers picking up the like of Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum but the only prime time starter the Brewers have are Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke. The Arizona Diamondbacks won a World Series with two stud starters but the duo of Randy Johnson and Curt Shilling is much better than Gallardo and Greinke.

Papa Cheese is a huge baseball fan so I'm glad that he got to see the Brewers clinch N.L. Central in-person because it might be the first and last division title for the Brewers for a very long time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Milwaukee Brewers Speak Out

Sorry that there has been a lack of Milwaukee Brewers posts despite the fact that the team is making one of only a handful of playoff runs in my lifetime. In even worse news, this post is going to quickly look at the comments two current Brewers made at the worst possible time since the team has been sputtering lately.

Former closer turned set-up man K-Rod voiced his displeasure with being the primary set-up guy as a opposed to being the closer. When the Brewers acquired K-Rod from the New York Mets a few months ago, I thought there would be issues. Fortunately there have not been any public issues until K-Rod recently voiced his displeasure with not being given a chance to close games.

Current closer John Axford has converted a club record 39 consecutive saves so I am not sure why K-Rod thinks he should be the closer. Fortunately for K-Rod his comments are merely a footnote to Prince Fielder's recent comments.

In an interview set to air on Sunday with Brewers announcer Brian Anderson, Fielder talks about how this is probably his last season playing for the Milwaukee Brewers. Why did Fielder have to state the obvious about 2012 while fans are just trying to enjoy 2011? For what has felt like 15 years now, we've known that there is a 1% chance that Fielder plays for the Brewers in 2012 since he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2011 season.

Normally I applaud athletes for being candid but not at the expense of the team, especially when their team is in the middle of a playoff run. The comments by K-Rod and Fielder hopefully will not have a lasting impact on their playoff run but it sure didn't help.

One final note, K-Rod and Fielder are both represented by "super" agent Scott Boras. That doesn't necessarily mean that the comments were timed to drop at the same time but I would not put it past Boras. We know there is no way Fielder will be allowed to take a hometown discount thanks to Boras. Re-read that sentence, Boras not Fielder holds the cards to his future.

K-Rod and Fielder should focus on making headlines with positive play on the field not negative comments during interviews if they want to see the Brewers make a legitimate playoff run this season.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

2011-12 Manchester City Initial Player Rankings

There is no real Cheesehead sports connection here other than the fact that I am Manchester City fan so if you don't care to get to know the current Man City squad thanks for stopping by, please check back for more regular Cheesehead sports coverage soon. Also this post is going to be far from quick so buckle up if you want a full preview of the initial 2011-12 Man City squad.

For those that decided to stick around, thank you. I explained why I pull for Man City in my running diary of Man City's FA Cup victory over Stoke City a few months back. With the 2010-11 EPL season in the books and the August transfer window closed, Man City now has their squad settled until the January transfer window opens.

As usual, Man City signed a number of high profile players* when the transfer window opened. That left Man City with a glut of talent so a bunch of quality players were loaned out** or sold*** to other clubs. In fact if you put a few mediocre Premier League players with Man City's loaned out players, that squad would probably be a mid-table Premier League side. After all those transactions, thanks to EPL rules****, Man City named their initial 25-man (actually comprised of 24 players) roster***** for the 2011-12 season. Thanks to a quirk in the rules, Man City doesn't have to name certain players****** to their 25-man roster so they actually have more than 25 players available to play for Man City between today and when the transfer window opens again on January 1, 2012.

I know that was a ton of information and we are only getting started. With all of that as window dressing, here are my initial rankings of Man City's 2011-12 squad:

#29) Abdul Razak (M, CIV) - Not much to say here so let's just keep the rankings moving.

#28) Greg Cunningham (D, IRE) - Apparently he is the left-back of the future but there are a ton of other stud left-backs on the roster so Cunningham is only going to improve through training with the first team at this point.

#27) Gunnar Nielsen (GK, FAR) - The first player from the Faroe Islands to ever appear in a English Premier League game will struggle to see the pitch this season.

#26) Alex Tchuimeni-Nimely (M, ENG) - Became the 31st Academy player to play first-team football for Man City. With all the striking options you will see below, the only way he sees the pitch for the 2011/12 season in anything other than garbage time is if Man City suffers a baker's dozen of injuries.

#25) Costel Pantilimon (GK, ROM) - The Romanian Goalkeeper of the Year in 2010 was targeted by a number of teams before the seasons (Arsenal, Inter Milan and Manchester United) but Pantilimon elected to sign with Man City.

#24) Owen Hargreaves (M, ENG) - After more years in the medical room than actual appearances for Man United, Hargreaves moved to the blue half of Manchester in hopes of resurrecting his career. With how deep Man City is across the midfield, which essentially forced Patrick Vieira to take a front office job with Man City, expect Hargreaves to make very few appearances even if he is healthy.

#23) Wayne Bridge (D, ENG) - Man City tried to sell Bridge but other clubs knew Man City was desperate to move him so talks never materialized. As a result, Bridge is still on the team despite the fact that Man City purchased two better left back options: Kolarov and Clichy.

#22) Stuart Taylor (GK, ENG) - The definition of quality back-up, especially with Shay Given sold to Aston Villa, Taylor will be called on if Joe Hart suffers an injury this season.

#21) Nedum Onuoha (D, ENG) - A young, talented defender that is going to struggle to make first team appearances thanks to the quality depth Man City has along the defensive line.

#20) Stefan Savic (D, MON) - A lower profile transfer for Man City with how much money they flash around will ultimately be a good signing for the club because Savic is a quality, young central defender that will get an occasional start depending on the health of Kompany and Lescott.

#19) James Milner (M, ENG) - Mancini has not given Milner consistent playing time, which makes it hard to evaluate whether it was a bad signing. When Milner does see the field he is sort of tweener playing as a holding midfielder sometimes and playing as a winger other times. At some point Man City needs to sell some of their players but if City tried to sell Milner in the now closed transfer window they would be selling low on Milner. I say give Milner some starts to see what he can do the pitch.

#18) Kolo Toure (D, CIV) - After being suspended for six months for taking a banned substance, reportedly his wife's weight control pills, Toure looks to rejoin the squad and fight for first team action since Kompany and Lescott have played well together in central defense in Toure's absence.

#17) Gareth Barry (M, ENG) - Some people like Barry more than I do. If Barry was predominately a right footed player he might not ever see the pitch. Fortunately Barry is left-footed so he get consistent playing time as a holding midfielder.

#16) Aleksandar Kolarov (D, SERB) - Move over Wayne Bridge, there are a few new left backs in town.

#15) Adam Johnson (M, ENG) - If Johnson got more regular playing time he would challenge Kompany for the most cost effective transfer under the new ownership regime. Unfortunately with all the other impressive attacking options currently on the roster, Johnson will be more of a super-sub than a start unless a rash of injuries strike the midfield.

#14) Pablo Zabaleta (D, ARG) - The John Kuhn of Man City does whatever Manager Roberto Mancini asks, which makes Zabaleta a quality utility player.

#13) Samir Nasri (M, FRA) - I was dead against this transfer but after watching Nasri on the road against Tottenham, may be Nasri was the final attacking piece Man City needs. One game obviously does not make a career but Nasri seamlessly combined with his fellow attacking compatriots (Dzeko, Aguero, and Silva) to absolutely torch the Tottenham defense. Hopefully that assault continues throughout the rest of the 2011-12 campaign for Man City.

#12) Gael Clichy (D, FRA) - The first of two players purchased from Arsenal before the start of the current campaign is going to battle with Kolarov for the starting left back spot.

#11) Joleon Lescott (D, ENG) - After a less than impressive start to his Man City career, Lescott started to partner well with Kompany in the center of the defense toward the end of last season.

#10) Mario Balotelli (S, IT) - The mercurial nature of Balotelli is Terrell Owens in the making. With a ton of attacking options, Balotelli is going to have to work to even make the bench let along make appearances for City.

#9) Nigel de Jong (M, NED) - The new-school Roy Keane in Manchester is a guy you love if he plays for your team but absolutely hate if he plays for teh other side.

#8) Carlos Tevez (S, ARG) - If these ranking took last season into account then Tevez would be #1 but all the drama surrounding Tevez moving to another club has limited his first team appearances so far this season. As crazy as it sounds, Tevez is going to have to work hard just to make the starting line-up for Man City this season.

#7) Micah Richards (D, ENG) - With all the impressive players on the team, Richards might actually be the most physically gifted player on the entire team. Richards routinely tests defenses pushing forward down the right flank but still somehow can track back when teams counter attack.

#6) Yaya Toure (M, CIV) - Last year's hero notched goals in the FA Cup semifinal and final to help Man City win their first trophy in 35 years. Toure might be ranked higher but after buying Nasri it looks like Toure is going to play more defensively this year than he did last year.

#5) Sergio Aguero (S, ARG) - If you would have told me a month ago the highest ranked Argentine striker would not be Tevez, I would have laughed in your face but Aguero looks worth every penny (billions of pennies actually) that Man City spent on Aguero especially following his hat-trick against Wigan.

#4) Edin Dzeko (S, BIH) - Luckily this list was not put together till after Dzeko set the Premier League on fire notching his first EPL hat-trick with four goals against Tottenham.

#3) David Silva (M, ESP) - The slightly poor man's Lionel Messi, yes you read that correctly, I am comparing David Silva to Lionel Messi. Don't get me wrong, Messi is still much better than Silva but they are similar players.

#2) Joe Hart (GK, ENG) - There is little question whether Hart should be England's #1 goalkeeper. The real question is whether he will continue to improve enough that he will be mentioned as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

#1) Vincent Kompany (D, BEL) - Man City purchased Kompany from Hamburg for a reported £6 million, which actually makes Kompany the most cost effective transfer in Man City history given that Kompany has been Man City's most valuable player on the roster the last two seasons.

I hope you enjoyed my preview of the 2011-12 Man City squad. Check back soon for more actual Cheesehead sports coverage.

* = Sergio Aguero (S, ARG) from Atlético Madrid; Gael Clichy (D, FRA) from Arsenal; Samir Nasri (M, FRA) from Arsenal Costel Pantilimon (GK, ROM) from FC Timisoara; and Stefan Savic (D, MON) from Partizan Belgrade.

** = Emmanuel Adebayor (S, TGO) loaned to Tottenham Hotspur for the 2011/12; Ahmed Benali loaned to Rochdale for an undisclosed period of time; Dedryck Boyata (D, BEL) loaned to Bolton Wanderers for the 2011/12 season; David Gonzalez (GK, COL) loaned to Aberdeen for six month; John Guidetti (S, SW) loaned to Feyenoord Rotterdam for the 2011/12 season; Abdisalam Ibrahim (M, NOR) loaned to NEC Nijmegan for the 2011/12 season; Michael Johnson (M, ENG) loaned to Leicester City for the 2011/12 season; Ryan McGivern (D, NI) loaned to Bristol City for the 2011/12 season; Benjamin Mee (D, ENG) loaned to Burnley for the 2011/12 season; Roque Santa Cruz (S, PRY) loaned to Real Betis for the 2011/12 season; Kieran Trippier (D, ENG) loead to Burnley for an undisclosed period of time; and Vladimir Weiss (M, SVK) loaned to Espanyol for the 2011/12 season.

*** = Craig Bellamy (M, Wales) sold to Liverpool for an undisclosed fee; Jerome Boateng (D, GER) sold to Bayern Munich for an undisclosed fee; Shay Given (GK, IRE) sold to Aston Villa for an undisclosed fee; (S, BRZ) sold to Sport Club Internacional for an undisclosed fee; Scott Kay (M, ENG) free transfer to Macclesfield Town; Shaleum Logan (D, ENG) free transfer to Brentford; Donald McDermott (S, IRE) free transfer to Huddersfield Town; James Poole (S, ENG) sold to Hartlepool United for an undisclosed fee; Andrew Tutte (M, ENG) free transfer to Rochdale; and Shaun Wright-Phillips (M, ENG) was Queens Park Rangers for an undisclosed fee.

**** = "Each club's 25-man squad should have eight homegrown players who - regardless of age or nationality - spent three years (or a total of 36 months) in the youth system of a club in England or Wales before they reached the age of 21. Contrary to reports elsewhere, players aged under 21 can, if required, be named in the 25-man squad as a homegrown player. An Under-21 player is defined as being born on or after January 1, 1989. Clubs can use an unlimited number of Under-21 players in addition to their 25-man squad. Any player who is left out of the 25-man squad will only be eligible to play in the Carling Cup until January 1. From January 1 to January 31, clubs can make unlimited changes to their 25-man squad. On February 1 a new 25-man squad must be named to run until the end of the current campaign. If a club chooses fewer than 25 players for their squad it is almost certainly due to them having a large number of under-21 players. Clubs with fewer than 25 players in their squad are still permitted to sign free agents." (Source).

***** = Sergio Aguero (S, ARG); Gareth Barry (M, ENG); Wayne Bridge (D, ENG); Gael Clichy (D, FRA); Nigel de Jong (M, NED); Edin Dzeko (S, BIH); Owen Hargreaves (M, ENG); Joe Hart (GK, ENG); Adam Johnson (M, ENG); Aleksandar Kolarov (D, SERB); Vincent Kompany (D, BEL); Joleon Lescott (D, ENG); James Milner (M, ENG); Samir Nasri (M, FRA); Gunnar Nielsen (GK, FAR); Nedum Onuoha (D, ENG); Costel Pantilimon (GK, ROM); Micah Richards (D, ENG); David Silva (M, ESP); Stuart Taylor (GK, ENG); Carlos Tevez (S, ARG); Kolo Toure (D, CIV); Yaya Toure (M, CIV); and Pablo Zabaleta (D, ARG)

****** = Mario Balotelli (S, IT); Greg Cunningham (D, IRE); Abdul Razak (M, CIV); Stefan Savic (D, MON); and Alex Tchuimeni-Nimely (M, ENG) with others from the youth academy possibly joining the squad later in the year.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

2011 Green Bay Packers Initial Player Rankings

Since this post is going to get lengthy, I will make the introduction short. These rankings are based on a combination of ability, age, contract Status, and strength at the position. With that in mind, here are my initial rankings of the 2011 Green Bay Packers roster:

#53) M.D. Jennings (S) - The biggest surprise to make the 53-man roster might only be on the actual roster for a short time because the Packers need to add at least one more interior offensive lineman.

#52) Evan Dietrich-Smith (G/C) - Another surprise member of the 53-man roster ahead of Nick McDonald (cut) and Caleb Schlauderaff (traded). Dietrich-Smith can play guard and center so versatility is probably the main reason why he made the 53-man roster.

#51) Jamari Lattimore (OLB) - With Frank Zombo hurt, Lattimore gives the Packers depth at outside linebacker. Once Zombo is healthy, look for Lattimore to get cut and hopefully added to the practice squad.

#50) Pat Lee (CB) - Did not start at Auburn till his senior year yet the Packer used a second round draft pick on him in the 2008 NFL Draft. This will be Lee's fourth year in the league but unfortunately he has more years in the NFL than memorable plays.

#49) Brad Jones (OLB) - Has struggled to regain his form in 2011 after a promising start to the 2010 season (started five games and appeared in seven games) was cut short by injury. Some Packers coaches compared Jones to Chad Brown (former Steeler and Seahawk) but he is a homeless man's Chad Brown at best. It is put up or shut up time for Jones because the Packers have a ton of young outside linebackers vying for playing time.

#48) D.J. Williams (TE) - An undersized, athletic tight end that needs to prove the Packers made the right decision keeping him as their 5th tight end.

#47) Robert Francois (MLB) - After Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar were cut the Packers suddenly went from having the deepest group of middle linebackers in the NFL to being rather thin at the position after their two starters. Francois showed promise in the preseason but still looks like a mediocre backup at best.

#46) Davon House (CB) - A fast (4.41 second 40-yard dash) rookie cornerback with raw athletic talent that is an unknown commodity because injuries limited his repetitions throughout the preseason.

#45) C.J. Wilson (DE) - Registered 21 tackles, six QB hits, and one sack in 2010. Those are not terrible numbers since the 3-4 defense is not set-up for defensive lineman to put up big numbers. It is more important that Wilson eats up blockers in running and passing situations to open up big play opportunities for linebackers and defensive backs.

#44) D.J. Smith (MLB) - A bit undersized (5'11" and 240 lbs) for a prototypical 3-4 middle linebacker that makes up for being undersized by being an absolute tackling machine.

#43) Tom Crabtree (TE) - Not the most polished tight end on the roster but does a little bit of everything well. Crabtree's strongest asset is his blocking ability, which makes him a candidate to play both tight end and fullback since the Packers traded Quinn Johnson.

#42) Alex Green (RB) - The departure of Brandon Jackson left the Packers searching for a new 3rd down back. Green is trying to prove that he is not a one-hit wonder that benefited from playing in a pass first offense at Hawaii. If Green can improve his blocking ability he looks like the ideal candidate to be the new 3rd down back.

#41) Ryan Taylor (TE) - A few weeks ago it looked like Taylor was fighting for a practice squad spot and now he is fighting for the backup tight end spot behind starter Jermichael Finley. Much like Crabtree, Taylor blocks well so he has a chance to play tight end and fullback.

#40) Jarius Wynn (DE) - Defensive lineman in the 3-4 defense are asked to do all the dirty work (eat up blockers) without having free reign for any of the glory (sacks and tackles for a loss) most of the time. That doesn't diminish how important defensive lineman are in the 3-4 defense though. Look for Wynn to continue to do the dirty work along the defensive line for the Packers in 2011.

#39) Derek Sherrod (OT) - At 6'5" and 320 pounds, Sherrod is the left tackle of the future in Green Bay after struggling at left guard throughout the preseason. The coaching staff should not be surprised that Sherrod struggled as a left guard because he started 47 games (appearing in 49 games total) at left tackle at Mississippi State. Hopefully Sherrod will settle in at left tackle because the Packers are one Chad Clifton injury away from needing a new blindside protector for Aaron Rodgers.

#38) Frank Zombo (OLB) - Transitioned to playing outside linebacker in his rookie season in the NFL in 2010 after playing defensive end in college. Zombo had four sacks (including the only sack in Super Bowl XLV), six tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, and seven quarterback hits. Unfortunately Zombo broke his shoulder blade in the preseason and his availability for 2011 is up in the air otherwise he would be ranked 10 spots higher.

#37) Marshall Newhouse (OT) - The 3rd tackle on the depth chart despite the fact that the Packer drafted Derek Sherrod in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Look for Newhouse to fill in at either tackle position as opposed to Sherrod if either Clifton or Bulaga get hurt in 2011.

#36) Randall Cobb (WR) - Although he might not be healthy enough to play in the season opener, when healthy, Cobb will help the Packers improve in the return game because they were horrible in 2010: 26th in kickoff return average and 22nd in punt return average. In fact the Packers have not had a kickoff return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum's 92-yard return against the Colts in November of 2000.

#35) Vic So'oto (OLB) - The pleasant surprise of the 2011 preseason for the Green Bay Packers played well against the Colts and the Chiefs to not only secure a roster spot but also serves as the primary backup spot at outside linebacker. I know it seems crazy but So’oto looks like the second coming of James Harrison.

#34) Andrew Quarless (TE) - A homeless man's Jermichael Finley has a ton of young competition (Williams, Crabtree, and Taylor) for playing time in 2011. Look for Quarless to improve his blocking or find his playing time severely limited.

#33) John Kuhn (FB/RB) - The only fullback on the 53-man roster is really more of a tweener fullback/running back then a true blocking fullback. Look for Kuhn to fill multiple roles (fullback, running back, and special teams) in 2011 to justify his three-year, $7.5 million contract extension.

#32) Jarrett Bush (CB/S) - Is the hardest non-starter on the roster to figure out. Bush plays great on special teams most of the time. Unfortunately on defense Bush is like temperamental14-year-old girl, sometimes he plays great on defense and sometimes he looks absolutely lost. Bush's special teams makes him worthy of a roster spot, the wild card is how he will do on defense in 2011.

#31) Brett Goode (LS) - Clean as the long snapper for the last three years (89 punts and 94 place kicks), hopefully Goode can continue that form in 2011 because you never want to hear the long snapper talked about because if his name comes up it means he made a horrible gaffe.

#30) Charlie Peprah (S) - Signed a two-year, $2 million contract ($150,000 guaranteed) in the off-season to give the Packers a quality back-up safety to Collins and Burnett.

#29) Matt Flynn (QB) - At some point Flynn will be an NFL starter but for all the praise he got after his performance against the Patriots with Rodgers sidelined with a concussion at the end of last season, Flynn is still a bit of an unknown commodity. Hopefully Flynn will not get any extended looks in 2011 besides moping up in garbage time because that would mean Rodgers was seriously injured again.

#28) Howard Green (DE/DT) - Big Sexy of the defensive line will be called upon often to play in 2011 because he is the primary back-up at both defensive end and defensive tackle.

#27) Mason Crosby (K) - Moving the kickoff to the 35-yard line will help Crosby but that doesn't mean he is worth the five-year, $14.75 million deal ($3 million guaranteed) he signed after the lockout was lifted. Compare that deal to the four-year, $12 million deal ($3.5 million guaranteed) that Ryan Longwell got from the Minnesota Vikings. I guess that is the going rate for a kicker but Crosby has only converted 78.1% of his FG attempts and 219 of 220 PATs. Crosby’s below average numbers are due in part to kicking in Green Bay but he is still an average kicker at best that is being paid like a borderline Pro Bowl kicker. Let’s compare recent Packer kickers. Crosby is better than Chris Jackie who converted 76.4% of his kicks in Green Bay from 1989 to 1996 but not better than Ryan Longwell who converted 80.9% of his kicks in Green Bay from 1997 to 2005. Crosby makes the kicks he should make (67 of 75 (89.3%) inside 40-yards and makes some of the longer kicks 26 of 37 (70.4%) from between 40 and 49-yards. Unfortunately Crosby is only 1 for 4 in game winning kicks as well (made a 42-yarder in his NFL debut but missed from 52, 38, and 53). There are only 32 starting place kickers in the NFL and Crosby has been below average since the Packers drafted him: 2007 - 26th (79.5%), 2008 - 28th (79.4%), 2009 - Tied for 25th (75.0%), and 2010 - 26th (78.6%).

#26) Mike Neal (DE) - Missed three games with an abdominal strain to start his NFL career in 2010. When Neal returned he registered three tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. Unfortunately Neal suffered a season ending shoulder injury Week 5. Keep all of that in mind as you try to process that the Packers are expecting Neal to start at defensive end in place of the now departed Cullen Jenkins. Unfortunately Neal is not even a lock to be healthy enough to play in the opener so you can see why Big Sexy (Howard Green) is so important to the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

#25) T.J. Lang (OG) - After an early camp battle with rookie Derek Sherrod for the starting left guard spot, Lang beat out Sherrod with a good performance against the Arizona Cardinals earlier in the preseason. Hopefully we get the impressive 2009 version of T.J. Lang as opposed to the lackluster 2010 version.

#24) Ryan Grant (RB) - The Packers paid Grant a big roster bonus ($1.75 million) at the start of training camp and then re-negotiated Grant's contract so that he makes $1 million less in 2011 but the entire contract is guaranteed. Grant turns 29 during the 2011 season but Grant's body is not really that old because he has only played a few full NFL season. How well Grant and Starks play in 2011 will go a long way towards determining where Grant plays in 2012.

#23) James Jones (WR) - After catching 50 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns as a borderline starting wide receiver for the Packers in 2010, it looked like Jones was going to break the bank to become a primary receiver for another team. Thanks to one of the deepest groups of free agent wide receivers in NFL history, Jones didn’t break the bank and ended up signing a three-year, $9.6 million deal ($1.5 million guaranteed) with the Packers. Jones needs to limit his drops in big situations because he dropped 10 balls in 2010, five that could have gone for TDs (against Dolphins, Jets, Giants, Eagles in the playoffs, and Steelers in Super Bowl XLV). If Jones limits his drops, he signed one of the most club friendly contracts ever.

#22) James Starks (RB) - Adopted a gluten free diet during the lockout and gained eight pounds to tip the scales at 225 pounds. After a number of impressive performances at the end of the 2010 season, look for Starks to pick up where he left off with an improved body physically to become the primary ball carrier by the end of the season.

#21) Tim Masthay (P) - Preformed very well in 2010: 13th in gross punt average (43.9 yards), 18th in net punt average (37.6 yards), and 16th in placing punts inside the 20 yard line (25 times). If Masthay kicks as well in 2011 as he did in 2010, look for the Packers to sign Masthay long-term.

#20) Donald Driver (WR) - The "starter" at wide receiver opposite Greg Jennings is just 41 yards shy of breaking James Lofton's teams record for most receiving yards in franchise history (9,656 yards). Kudos to Driver in advance of breaking Lofton's record, he is one of the classiest guys in franchise history. For everyone that is anointing Nelson and Jones as bigger threats than Driver, slow down because Driver has been defying the odds his entire career. I expect Driver to have a great bounce back season in 2011.

#19) Morgan Burnett (S) - After an lost rookie season to a knee injury, Burnett opens 2011 as the starter at safety opposite Nick Collins. As long as Burnett can stay healthy, he looks like the next great safety in the making in Green Bay.

#18) Erik Walden (OLB) - It is nice to have some consistency opposite Matthews with Walden because last season the Packers started four different guys (including playoffs) opposite Matthews: Robert Francois (1 game), Erik Walden (5 games), Brad Jones (5 games), and Frank Zombo (9 games).

#17) Jordy Nelson (WR) - For all the praise Nelson is receiving throughout the preseason let's not forget that he did not put up huge numbers in 2010 with 45 catches for 582 yards and two touchdowns. I know Nelson had a nice statistical performance in Super Bowl XLV with nine catches and 140 receiving yards but he dropped a sure touchdown in that game. Let's hope Nelson can have a breakout season in a contract year in 2011 to earn the big extension the Packers presumably already have in the works.

#16) Sam Shields (CB) - Allowed four TDs and 10 plays of 20-yards or more in 2010. Those stats don't seem great but Shields played much better then just the raw statistics. In fact, Peter King ranked Shields as the 100th best player in the NFL in 2010. Not too shabby for a guy that wasn't even drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Packers lured Shields to Green Bay with a $7,500 signing bonus that might go down as the most cost effective signing bonus in franchise history.

#15) Ryan Pickett (DT) - Registered a tackle every seven snaps in 2010. Although Pickett will be a big part of the defensive line in 2011 if he stays healthy, look for him to regress statistically in 2011 because he is moving from defensive end to defensive tackle.

#14) Chad Clifton (OT) - In what might be Clifton's last season in Green Bay let's hope he can stay healthy for the whole season because an injury to Clifton might force the Packers to shuffle the entire offensive line (move Bulaga to left tackle, move Lang to right tackle, and insert a new player at left guard) because Newhouse and Sherrod don't look like starting left tackles in the NFL yet.

#13) A.J. Hawk (MLB) - The Business HJ of middle linebackers signed a five-year, $33.75 million contract ($10.95 million guaranteed) right before the start of the lockout. Hawk plays almost every down contributing 666 tackles, 33 passes defended, 15 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, 8 INTs, 4 fumble recoveries, and 2 forced fumbles for his career. That seems great but Hawk was the 5th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. When you are picked that high, you expect more explosive plays.

#12) Bryan Bulaga (OT) - The new school Mark Tauscher in Green Bay sans the glorious neck beard had an all-around impressive rookie season in 2010. In fact a very compelling argument could be made that without Bulaga in the fold, the Green Bay Packers would not have won Super Bowl XLV.

#11) Desmond Bishop (MLB) - Following former starting middle linebacker Nick Barnett's season ending injury, Bishop shed the "Mr. August" title making 150 tackles, 3 sacks, and a pick-six in the final 16 games of the season (including playoffs). The Packers rewarded Bishop with a four-year, $18 million extension. Having Bishop and Hawk in the fold made Nick Barnett expendable but it was still sad to see Barnett go after all he contributed in his Packer career (started 107 of 128 regular season games, registered 575 tackles, 15.5 sacks, and 9 interceptions. Barnett was healthy at the start of his career, he only missed two games in his first five years in the league but a torn ACL in 2008 (missed 8 games) and wrist injury in 2010 (missed 12 games) made him expendable. Barnett signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Buffalo Bills ($6 guaranteed) after getting cut by the Packers. It will be interesting to track Bishop and Barnett the next few years to see if the Packers made the right decision going with the younger guy.

#10) Scott Wells (C) - Despite trying to replace Wells every year with a bigger guy, Wells (6'2" and 300 lbs) continues to anchor the offensive line. With Evan Dietrich-Smith as the only real back-up at guard or center, if Wells is lost for an extended period of time the Packers season could go south in no time.

#9) Jermichael Finley (TE) - Reminds me of Rickie Weeks. There is no denying his talent but Finley missed 15 games in three years and only finished one season healthy. Finley needs to prove he can stay healthy before the Packers invest a large amount of money in Finley since he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2011 season.

#8) Nick Collins (S) - Has a knack for getting his hands on the ball, whether he catches it is another story. Although Collins had four interceptions in 2010 (remember the pick-six in Super Bowl XLV), that total could be even bigger because Collins dropped five interceptions in 2010.

#7) Charles Woodson (CB) - Has been an absolute turnover machine since joining the Packers. Woodson has 48 takeaways in five seasons in Green Bay (including playoffs). For all those that think Woodson is getting a little long in the tooth, let’s not forget that Woodson set season career highs in 2010 with 115 tackles and five forced fumbles. Woodson will play in the slot in 2011 to allow him to continue to play as a hybrid cornerback/safety.

#6) B.J. Raji (DE) - Lead all defensive lineman with 1,070 snaps in 2010 where he registered 6.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, and 12 QB pressures. The Packers moved Raji to defensive end to let him get after the quarterback more in 2011 so look for Raji to increase his sacks, QB hits, and QB pressures.

#5) Josh Sitton (OG) - With the influx of big, fast defensive tackles there has been a waterfall effect that impacted offensive guards. Six or seven years ago guard was not that highly paid of a position but the only way to counteract the influx of stud defensive tackles is an influx of big offensive guards. As a result the undisputed stud of the offensive line just signed a five-year extension with the team keeping Sitton in Green Bay through the 2016 season. The numbers of Sitton's extension have not been revealed but look for Sitton to justifiably be one of the highest guards in the NFL.

#4) Tramon Williams (CB) - In 2010 Williams only gave up one touchdown and six plays of 20-yards or more. The Packers rewarded Williams with a nice contract extension last year before a myriad of cornerbacks signed even more lucrative deals. As crazy as it sounds, Williams is the undisputed best cornerback on the roster (sorry Chuck) so if Williams continues to play as well has he did in 2010 the Packers might have to renegotiate the extension that Williams signed in 2010 sooner rather than later.

#3) Greg Jennings (WR) - The offense struggled to utilize Jennings and Finley while Finley was healthy for the first part of the 2010 season. The only positive thing about losing Finley last year was that Jennings thrived in Finley’s absence. The Packers will need to get Jennings and Finley to co-exist in 2011. If they can, the Packers will have the most explosive offense in the NFL.

#2) Clay Matthews (OLB) - In only two years in the NFL Matthews already registered 23.5 sacks. Very accomplished former outside linebacker and current outside linebacker coach Kevin Greene called Matthews the most complete OLB he's ever seen. I could say more but Clay's numbers and Greene's quote says it all.

#1) Aaron Rodgers (QB) - I mean this in all sincerity, if Rodgers plays anything like he did against the Falcons in the playoffs last year he is going to start collecting Lombardi and MVP trophies yearly for the next decade.

Check back Wednesday for more Packer coverage ahead of their season opener Thursday in Green Bay against the Saints that pits the last two Super Bowl champs.

2011 Green Bay Packers Initial Practice Squad

Just like every other team in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers signed eight players to their practice squad the day after finalizing their initial 53-man roster. Here are my rankings of the initial 2011 Green Bay Packers eight player practice squad:

#8) Sampson Genus (C) - Although I have him ranked lowest on the eight-man practice squad, Genus has a good chance to appear on the 53-man roster because the Packers don't have much depth along the interior of their offensive line.

#7) Brandon Saine (RB) - At 5'11" and 220 lbs, Saine has some speed (4.39 second 40-yard dash) and smarts (scored a 27 on the Wonderlic). Saine is a nice project to keep on the practice squad to see how he improves throughout the year because Ryan Grant might not be with the Packers for the 2012 season.

#6) Diondre Borel (WR) - One of three wide receivers signed to the practice squad shows you how deep the Packers are at wide receiver with five on the active roster and three on the practice squad.

#5) Brandian Ross (CB) - I would rather see Ross on the 53-man roster than Pat Lee because Ross has decent measurables (4.54 second 40-yard dash, 37" vertical, 10'0" broad jump, and 16 on Wonderlic) to go along with a pick-six of Aaron Rodgers during the family night scrimmage. I hope I am wrong but Lee is very injury prone so if he gets injured again this year, look for Ross to get a shot at the 53-man roster.

#4) Tori Gurley (WR) - I am surprised that Gurley made it through waivers. Once injuries hit teams in the early part of the regular season look for the Packers to make the tough choice of cutting a player from their 53-man roster to keep Gurley.

#3) Ray Dominguez (G/T) - The Packers decided to keep Evan Dietrich-Smith instead of Dominguez on the active roster. Look for Dominguez to work at every offensive line position because the more versatile he becomes, the more likely he is to make the active 53-man roster by the end of the season.

#2) Chastin West (WR) - After an impressive preseason, the Packers thought long and hard about keeping six wide receivers and four tight ends but ultimately decided to keep five tight ends and five wide receivers because a number of their tight ends are essentially wide receivers (Finley, Quarless, and Williams). Fortunately West made it through waivers so the Packers can stash him on the practice squad for the time being.

#1) Graham Harrell (QB) - Speaking of making it through waivers, the biggest surprise of roster cut-downs was the Packers cutting Harrell after his impressive late game heroics against the Colts earlier in the preseason. Luckily Harrell was not claimed by another team so the Packers happily signed him to the practice squad. With Matt Flynn most likely playing somewhere else in 2012, the Packers need to see if Harrell can be a viable back-up quarterback in 2012.

Finally three of the 10 draft picks Ted Thompson made in the 2011 NFL Draft: Caleb Schlauderaff (traded to Jets), Rick Elmore (cut), and Lawrence Guy (placed on injured reserve) are not on the 53-man active roster or the eight player practice squad.

Check back later tonight for my full rankings 53 to 1 of the initial 53-man roster for the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

2011 Green Bay Packers Initial 53-Man Roster

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson cut 23 players*, placed two players on injured reserve**, and traded two players*** to trim the roster from 80 players to 53 players. Although there is a good chance that the 53-man roster will change in the next 24 hours, here is your first look at the 2011 Green Bay Packers:

QBs (2): Matt Flynn and Aaron Rodgers

RBs (4): Ryan Grant, Alex Green, John Kuhn, and James Starks

TEs (5): Tom Crabtree, Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor, and D.J. Williams

WRs (5): Randall Cobb, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson

OLs (8): Bryan Bulaga, Chad Clifton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod, Josh Sitton, and Scott Wells

DLs (6): Howard Green, Mike Neal, Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, and Jarius Wynn

LBs (10): Desmond Bishop, Robert Francois, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Clay Matthews, D.J. Smith, Vic So'oto, Erik Walden, and Frank Zombo

DBs (10): Morgan Burnett, Jarrett Bush, Nick Collins, Davon House, M.D. Jennings, Pat Lee, Charlie Peprah, Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, and Charles Woodson

STs (3): Mason Crosby, Brett Goode, and Tim Masthay

Here are a few things that stood out to me about the roster moves:

- The last three guys cut were probably: Ray Dominguez (T/G), Graham Harrell (QB), and Nick McDonald (C/G).

- The last three guys kept were probably: Evan Dietrich-Smith (G/C), M.D. Jennings (S), and Jamari Lattimore (OLB).

- I hope Graham Harrell (QB) makes it through waivers to the practice squad because the Packers are one Aaron Rodgers concussion away from only having one healthy quarterback on the roster.

- Aaron Rodgers will have 10 weapons (5 WRs and 5 TEs) to throw the ball to but only 8 guys to potentially block for him. Look for the Packers to add another offensive lineman to the roster at the expense of a linebacker.

- If Vic So'oto (OLB) and Charlie Peprah (S) look good week one as the primary backups at their respective positions, look for a few OLBs (Jones and Lattimore) and DBs (Jennings and Lee) to be among the first guys cut when injuries inevitable happen.

Check back tomorrow, I will have a ton more to say in my Sunday Funday post where I rank the initial 53-man roster for the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

* = Diondre Borel (WR), Anthony Bratton (S), Chris Campbell (T), Ray Dominguez (T/G), Chris Donaldson (NT), Ricky Elmore (LB), Sampson Genus (C), Josh Gordy (CB), Tori Gurley (WR), Graham Harrell (QB), Jon Hoese (FB), Cardia Jackson (LB), Eli Joseph (DE), Elijah Joseph (LB), Anthony Levine (S), Nick McDonald (C/G), Dimitri Nance (RB), Brandian Ross (CB), Jay Ross (NT), Brandon Saine (RB), Kerry Taylor (WR), Brandon Underwood (S/CB), and Chastin West (WR)

** = Lawrence Guy (DE) and Shaky Smithson (WR)

*** = Quinn Johnson (FB) to the Tennessee Titans and Caleb Schlauderaff (G) to the New York Jets for conditional draft picks

Thursday, September 1, 2011

2011 Preseason Week 4 - Packers/Chiefs Review

With the fourth and final preseason game in the books, here are the big picture takeaways from the Packers/Chiefs game:

#1) Player that hurt his stock most: With wide receivers Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb guaranteed roster spots there is a slim chance that the Packers keep a 6th wide receiver. When Shaky Smithson fumbled a punt against the Chiefs, he guaranteed that he would not be the 6th wide receiver. The only other wide receivers with a slight chance to make the 53-man roster are Tori Gurley and Chastin West. Both Gurley and West showed great potential throughout the preseason so look for the Packers to try to sign both players to their 8-man practice squad if they are not claimed by another team.

#2) Player that helped his stock most: As I said last week in my quick thoughts about the Packers/Colts game, the backup outside linebacker spots are completely up for grabs. After 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a pick-six against the Chiefs it is no longer a question of whether Vic So'oto makes the team. The real question is how many outside linebackers the Packers keep. Matthews, Walden, and Zombo (assuming he is not placed on IR) are guaranteed roster spots. After how well So'oto played the last few weeks he deserves to be the 4th outside linebacker. If the Packers decide to keep five outside linebackers, it will be a battle between Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore for the final outside linebacker spot. That means with Matthews, Walden, Zombo, So'oto, Jones, and Lattimore all ahead of Ricky Elmore on the depth chart he would be lucky to make the practice squad at this point.

#3) Position to watch: The Packers have a plethora of talented players at a number of positions (running back, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, outside linebacker, cornerback, and safety). Unfortunately that is not the case for the interior part of their line. Starters T.J. Lang (LG), Scott Wells (C), and Josh Sitton (RG) did pretty well throughout the preseason. Unfortunately if any of the interior lineman are lost for an extended period of time, things look bleak. The Packers have to decide between keeping two of the following four guys: Evan Dietrich-Smith, Nick McDonald, Caleb Schlauderaff, and Ray Dominguez. All of those guys have proven that they are replaceable so if the right guys are waived, the Packers could fill their interior line spots with players currently not with the organization while the younger guys (McDonald, Schlauderaff, and Dominguez) have a chance to make the practice squad if they are cut.

#4) Injury: Luckily rookie 4th round draft pick Devon House was the only player injured against the Chiefs, the extent of the injury is unknown.

Final Note: The Packers sat most of their veterans while the Chiefs played their veterans for most of the game. I am glad the Packers got through the preseason without suffering any major injuries but since the lockout took away precious practice time, I can't blame the Chiefs for playing their starters deeper into the game. That is really a win-win for the Packers too because it allowed the Packers backups to play against the Chiefs starters.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has some very tough decisions to make by Saturday night when he needs to cut the roster to 53 players. Check back Sunday morning for my initial player rankings counting from 53 down to 1 for the opening day 53-man roster for the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

For my previous "Quick Thoughts" on the 2011 preseason for the Packers, check out:
- Preseason Week 1 Packers/Browns Review
- Preseason Week 2 Packers/Cardinals Review
- Lambeau Field Expansion
- Preseason Week 3 Packers/Colts Review