The Replacements

The list continues to grow. After Mike Neal and Brady Poppinga were placed on the season ending injured reserve earlier this week, OLB Brad Jones has joined them, pushing the list to ten players. To put it another way, almost 1/5 of the Packers' 53 man roster has been lost for the year with over half of the season to go, and five of them are from the front seven.

Normally, when you lose a player or two, you have reserves on the practice squad you can elevate, project-type players who would benefit from the regular-season game experience. But the Packers have already done that, and the injuries continue to pile up. So now the team is forced to start bringing in new faces, and GM Ted Thompson has brought in several. So let's meet the new guys:

Howard Green - DT - 6'2" 340 lbs - Good Lord this man is big. For comparison's sake, Gilbert Brown was listed as 6'2" 325 in the Packers' Super Bowl year of 1996. Even if he plays a lot, its unlikely he'll make a mark statistically. Naturally he figures to give BJ Raji the occasional breather, but while Raji is young, agile, and capable of rushing the passer, Green is more likely to do little more than eat up blockers with his sheer size (not to discount that quality in a nose tackle).

But the real intrigue with this signing lies with his former team: Sunday's opponent, the New York Jets. With the Packers' obvious depth issues on the defensive line, you almost have to wonder what New York was thinking with this move. You just know the Packers will sap him for whatever knowledge he may have of his former team, and hope to use it to their advantage this Sunday.

Matt Wilhelm - ILB - 6'4" 247 lbs - Wilhelm seems to be a mixed bag. While his 2007 season with the Chargers was a solid one, his 2008 was bad enough for him to earn an outright release prior to the 2009 season. A fan's scouting report recounts him as average in coverage and against the run, and that he isn't suited for the 3-4. Since his release he's had stints with the Eagles and . He provides depth, but after 7 years in the league, its unlikely that he has a breakout season ahead of him. Its hard to see Wilhelm as a Packer beyond this season.

Diyral Briggs - OLB - 6'4" 230 lbs - This guy's a youngin'. He spent time with both the 49ers in '09 with Wilhelm and played a game with Broncos last week before being released in wake of their brutal 59-14 loss to the Oakland Raiders. He's rarely saw the field during his 2 year NFL career, which means he's a bit of a blank slate. A DE at Bowling Green in college, he led the MAC in sacks with 9.5 in 2008. His combination of a lack of size and pass rushing prowess made him an intriguing fit for the 3-4 at linebacker. In camp in 2009 with the Niners, he caught the eyes of Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes while flaunting his athleticism. Its pretty obvious what Thompson saw in Briggs: the potential to bolster the pass rush opposite of Matthews.

Erik Walden - OLB - 6'2" 250 lbs - Walden is an interesting case. While all reports show that his biggest value is on special teams, his recent stint in free agency was due to an untimely mistake on a punt in which he missed his blocking assignment, which in turn led to the punt being blocked. It would seem the last thing the Packers need is more mental errors on special teams. On defense, like Briggs, Walden is a former college DE pass-rush specialist who was converted to OLB by Dallas when he was drafted in 2008.

While the signing of three linebackers may seem excessive, its possible Capers has a very linebacker-heavy scheme in store for the Rex Ryan and the Jets this Sunday. But I think of this more as a midseason training camp for a roster spot. CB Al Harris, S Atari Bigby and RB James Starks all have to be activated no later than the Dallas game next week, or else they're effectively out for the year. It will be convenient for Thompson to let go of two of these acquisitions to help make the necessary room.

The guess here is that Briggs will be the last man standing--he's the youngest and seems to have the most unrealized potential of the three, which are two traits Thompson has shown an affinity for during his 6 years in Green Bay.

Of course, the way this season is going, two of the three will probably end up on the IR and his decision will be made for him.


Fun with Paul Allen

Fun fact: our beloved voice of the Wisconsin Badgers was once offered the opportunity to become the voice of the Minnesota Vikings. And believe it or not, Matt Lepay (left) was ready to accept the job, on one condition: he be allowed to continue to call Badger football and basketball games as well. Thankfully they said no deal, and not only do we still have the man I consider the best play-by-play man in either sport to ourselves, but the Vikings got Paul Allen (right), and Allen has a few on-air gems I'd like to share.

First, we have a game which is very close to the hearts of Packer fans everywhere. Remember the 2003 playoffs? Well, do you remember how Green Bay got in? If not, let me refresh your

Thanks to the Vikings blowing the last game on the last play with no time on the clock against the Cardinals, the Packers won the NFC North. The Packers then welcomed Cardinal receiver Nate Poole to their first round home playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks the following week as a thank you for showing the Vikings the door.

But here is how Vikings fans everywhere undoubtedly remember it:

How epic is that call? He sounds like he just found out Darth Vader is his father. My favorite part is the silence which fills the screams of despair. I like to think he's making good use of the cough button as he shouts profanities, but it could just as well be him searching for the right words and coming up with nothing but the simplest negative in the world: No.

A six year drought followed that call, but The Gunslinger's arrival has brought plenty of drama, both good and bad. Not that I need to remind Packer fans of this. I think the next one speaks for itself, as it's become pretty well known.

Perfection. The bewildered tone with which he narrates hides the true frustration bubbling underneath, which then explodes in spectacular fashion. Currently my favorite part is when he says, "You can take a KNEE," but honestly I change my mind on this constantly. That's the sign of something truly timeless.

The last call is more recent, coming in a Monday night game with the New York Jets. The game was again overtime, and Brett gifted Paul Allen with another fatal interception.

You can tell he's come a long way from the '03 Cardinals game. He's finally grown beyond primal screaming and expresses his frustration through atonal resignation, which is more in touch with the Viking fan base, which ebbs and flows like the tide. The entertainment value isn't as high, but as a Packer fan I can take enjoyment in his reaction to a Favre failure, and I sincerely hope a fourth can be added to this after the game tonight.


Sunday night brimming with opportunity

The Packers are coming off a losing streak comprised of two demoralizing games in which the offense has struggled to get the ball into the end-zone. Injuries have ravaged the team, and concern is growing within the fan base that this seemingly Super season will once again end in disappointment.

This accurately describes Green Bay's current situation, but they found themselves in a similar situation in 1996. Comparitavely, it was later in the season (mid-November). At left tackle, rookie first round pick John Michels was starting for future Hall of Fame T Ken Ruettegers, and starting flanker Robert Brooks was out for the year while slot receiver Antonio Freeman had recently fractured his arm and missed a month. Mike Holmgren's Packers lost in poor showings against the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. Even the following game at St Louis was a dull 9-3 affair at halftime, with the Rams in the lead. But in the 3rd quarter Doug Evans (right) picked off QB Tony Banks and never lost stride en route to a TD, giving them the lead. From that point on the Packers rolled undefeated all the way to the Lombardi trophy.

This year's Packers could certainly use a moment like that to reignite its Super Bowl hopes, and for that reason Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings coming to town is probably the best thing that could happen at this juncture of the season.

Take a moment to think about the potential implications this game brings. Obviously you want to beat your division rival every time, but with the VIkings one game back, the outcome holds extra weight. Win and you're 4-3, add a full game between you and Minnesota, and with the Bears facing the tenacious Redskins, there's a chance you're tied for first. Lose and you drop into 3rd place, have lost three in a row, and are heading out to New York to face a tough Jets team who hasn't lost since week one and is coming off an extra week's rest. Going into that game, McCarthy needs some momentum if he has any hopes of getting his team back on track.

Aaron Rodgers especially needs a good showing from his teammates. He just hasn't been as sharp these past couple weeks. Ever since the QB sneak in the Redskins game he seems to have the yips. We've seen him sail balls well over receivers heads and tuck, duck and run in pockets that haven't quite collapsed yet. In short, he's reverted to his Tampa form of last year, amplifying the team's weaknesses, and the Packers can't succeed when he plays like that. The receivers need to make the catches they've been dropping, and the line needs to give him reason to trust them again, because its becoming obvious that at this point in his career he can't win games by himself. And there's reason to believe they can accomplish this: the Vikings are only ahead of the Buccaneers in sacks this year, and they've suffered a rash of injuries in the secondary.

But beyond all this, there's another reason for the team to perform for Aaron. And you knew this one was coming.

Brett needs to go down. Not to injury, and not to scandal, but to a smothering Packer defense who swarms him in the pocket and zeros in on his passes before his receivers can. They need to make his day miserable and make him wish he'd stayed retired one of those three times he changed his mind. Obviously you can't ignore Adrian Peterson--to do so would be suicide--but if the defense embarrasses Brett, it would go a long way towards rebuilding morale in the locker room.

Should the Packers prevail, Favre apologists will likely point to his age in order to detract from the accomplishment, but I don't care if Brett is 50 years old--its the symbolism of the act. He represents the old guard, the shadow Rodgers and Co. have worked so hard to emerge from while searching for their own identity. Beating him, and the Vikings, would be much bigger than a tally in the win column.


A fine line in Green Bay

There has been no shortage of story lines for the Green and Gold this week. Between Aaron Rodgers' concussion, Jermichael Finley's knee injury and the play-calling of Mike McCarthy, you've got enough drama in Green Bay to spawn a reality series. But amidst all the issues, a positive development has fallen through the cracks.

Ever since Mike Vick ran all over the Packers, their defensive line has steadily improved.

Its a bit of a marvel that they've even done this well when you consider how many reasons they have to fail. Defensive end Johnny Jolly was lost for the year in a suspension for codeine possession. DE Justin Harrell is out for the year. Again. And DE Cullen Jenkins is essentially playing with one hand. His other is a club.

Yet Jenkins is second on the team with 4 sacks. Elsewhere on the line, deceptively quick nose tackle BJ Raji has 2.5, and rookie pass rushing DE Mike Neal out of Purdue has one. For a team playing a 3-4 defense supposedly geared towards getting pressure from the outside linebackers by having the linemen take up blockers, the line has generated an impressive amount of pressure.

Even in last week's loss, the Redskins were impressed with the Packers D-line. To quote Washington head coach Mike Shannahan, "The defensive line we played against is probably the best in the NFL. If not, I don't want to play the team that has better personnel than they do." That's high praise for a team who not only lost Ryan "I occupy two O-linemen every time" Pickett mid-game, but sports 6th and 7th round picks Jarius Wynn and CJ Wilson as reserves.

In fact, its worthwhile to mention just how much of this line was constructed through the draft. Remember the heat Ted Thompson took in 2008? He was criticized for not doing enough to shore up the defensive line, and whiffing when he used draft picks on the likes of Harrell and Mike Montgomery. But in the past two years he's scored big on Raji and Neal in the early rounds, and has in turn silenced his detractors (though recently they've found Marshawn Lynch to latch onto).

Though his Best Player Available method can be frustrating to watch as fans, more often than not Thompson proves that he knows what he's doing. The Raji pick doesn't so much apply to this as Mike Neal. To give you an idea of how high Neal was projected to go, NFL.com had no highlight video available when he came off the board. But he was a classic Thompson pick. Thompson likes to draft what he calls "football players," denoting a player who is more than just an athlete, and Neal is just that. Nicknamed "Bam Bam" because of his ridiculous strength, he is nothing if not dedicated, both to the weight room and the playbook. If you missed it, read Jason Wilde's article on his (lack of) sleeping habits. You get a glimpse of just what Thompson saw in this guy.

Indeed, the defensive line is an impressive group made up of impressive players. But, as we zoom back to the wide angle of the Packers season, things still look dire. The mounting injuries on both sides of the ball will be difficult to overcome, and that special Super Bowl aura the team had in the preseason has all but died away. All the same, it's said games are won in the trenches, and on at least one side of the ball it appears the Packers are in very good shape.


Replacing Burnett, Barnett

Last Sunday's Packers-Lions game was basically the reciprocal of the Packers-Bears game. This time the Packers were the team statistically destroyed by their opponent, but in the end a ridiculous amount of penalties doomed the Lions. It was a disconcerting win, but a win nonetheless.

Unfortunately, the defense was brutalized in the process, and they will be sporting a very different look come Sunday against Washington.

Rookie safety Morgan Burnett is officially out for the year, and Nick Collins strained his knee and is not optimistic about his chances of playing this Sunday. This doesn't bode well for the Packers, who will be facing Donovan McNabb this Sunday and possibly fielding Derrick Martin and Charlie Peprah at strong and free safety. I don't know about you, but when I think McNabb I think 4th and 26 and I die a little bit inside (oh how I hate Freddie Mitchell). Missing both starting safeties will be a tough one to manage. But we don't have to worry: Capers can hide weakness in the secondary with his mad-blitzing linebacking crew, right?

Well...about that.

Reports are that inside linebackers Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and Nick Barnett (wrist) are both injured, with Barnett's season likely at an end. And of these four, that's the injury which will prove most difficult to endure.

For one, there is help on the way at safety. I never thought I'd look forward to the return of Atari Bigby, but if he can hit the ground running when he comes off the PUP list October 18th, he could provide a serious boost against the Vikings the following weekend, even if he's only available part-time. And after the Vikings recent acquisition, the secondary could use all the help they can get. In the meantime, Charles Woodson will have to continue to try to do everything himself.

But the linebacking crew is too thin to hide, and Dom Capers has leaned heavily on them since his arrival last year. We can pretty much say goodbye to the psycho package. Nick Barnett is without question the most rounded LB of the bunch, able to cover, blitz and play the run effectively. Without him, Capers will find himself a bit limited in his options. But forget about gameplanning--that's not where the defense will miss Barnett most. Though Woodson is clearly their leader, Barnett is their heart. He's the one the emotional players rally around. When the defense is on the field, it's Nick Barnett calling the shots. And have you noticed his mouth guard this season? A guy with that kind of character that will be missed.

So the question is: how will Green Bay fill the void?

Going forward, AJ Hawk will likely be moving into Barnett's role, and the bright side is he's shown improvement of late. Winston Moss made comments earlier in the season that Hawk had been tentative in games, but on a number of occasions against the Lions he tore after the QB, looking a bit like his younger counterpart, Clay Matthews, in the process. (Speaking of Matthews, if you need to ask who will fill the emotional void, you haven't been watching.) If Hawk wants to prove he can be a star, this is his chance, and he seems to be up to the challenge.

But the real question lies with Desmond Bishop. Dubbed by some as "Mr. August," he is best known for his ferocious hits in the preseason, which he follows with standing around on the sidelines until January. There's a reason for that: Bishop is an aggressive player, and that tendency can get him into trouble. For a case in point, look back two years. In 2008 Bishop replaced an injured Barnett in a game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings tested him, and though he did provide a key stop on 4th and 1, forcing a fumble, he was also burned repeatedly by Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor en rout to a 28-27 loss.

But that was pre-Capers. This defense is more catered to Bishop's style of play than Bob Sanders' was. Sunday against the Redskins will be his first opportunity to play every down in the 3-4, and though the game will likely be just as nerve-wracking as the past two, I'm looking forward to learning whether Desmond Bishop can play as well in October as he does in August.


What Not to Do

Ken Macha is gone, done, finished with the Milwaukee Brewers. Or rather, the Milwaukee Brewers are finished with him. After two seasons of uninspiring management the front office made the less than difficult decision to not exercise Macha's 2011 option. His tenure will bet remembered as bland and ineffective, a manager that never truly grasped what a national league team mus do to be successful.

Ken Macha never really connected his players, but his biggest crime was losing. In two seasons at the helm he failed to have a winning season, a winning record at home, or finish higher than third in the division. No he wasn't given much of a pitching staff, but in the end he was never a good fit with Milwaukee.

So the search begins, with names aplenty being thrown into the mix. As every possibility is looked at, let's make it clear what Doug Melvin shouldn't do. I'll make it simple for him, here's how not to blow it again.

Don't hire a manager that looks like it pains him to argue a call. The Brewers are an emotional team, they like to celebrate when they win and get fired up at a bad call. It's the way this group is, so bringing in a stoic figure like Macha was an immediate detriment to the clubhouse. The next manager must be willing to show he cares, for the fans and for the players.

Don't let go of Ed Sedar. There isn't a fan who doesn't like Ed Sedar and there isn't a player that doesn't like Ed Sedar. Even if Melvin decides to make major overall changes, there is one coach that you can't let out of Miller Park and that's Sedar. If the front office were to make that change they would be causing a great deal of damage to the club's chemistry in 2011.

Don't hire the following people: Jerry Manuel, Bob Melvin, Bob Brenly. There's something to be said for managers that have been fired by multiple teams, especially when they've had a modicum of success. That is the category Manuel and Melvin fall into.

Manuel might have been a solid manager for the White Sox ten years ago but his time with a young Mets team over the past two years is a better indicator of what he would bring to Milwaukee. Manuel has seen his best days as a manager and they are behind him.

As for Bob Melvin, something about him just rubs me the wrong way. When he has had success it has been followed by quick and impressive failure. In his first season in Seattle he won 93 games, in his second he lost 99 and was let go. After back to back losing seasons in Arizona he won 90 games and the division. Within two seasons he was fired. Finally, the way Melvin lobbied for Jerry Manuel's job a month before Manuel was fired was disrespectful and shameless. Qualities a blue collar town like Milwaukee will not be fond of.

And Brenly? Speaking of shameless, Brenly as an announcer for the Cubs has degraded, derided and even insulted some of the Brewers superstars. Including the face of the franchise, the deputy himself - one Ryan Braun. Can you imagine how much respect Brenly would command in the Brewers clubhouse after the things he's said?

Don't overthink this. Two years ago when Milwaukee hired Ken Macha, Willie Randolph finished a close second. Doug Melvin wanted a different type of Manager from Dale Svuem and Ned Yost. Well, Macha couldn't have been any more different and look how that turned out. Overlooking Willie Randolph now for the reason he is already in house would be foolish and could turn out to be very costly.

Whether or not you like the idea of Randolph as the Manager, he deserves fair consideration. Overlooking a possible option because he is "too close" to the team is ridiculous. A new approach can be had by simply making the change. It doesn't mean removing an option who knows the strengths and weaknesses of the team before he even takes the helm. Stats are great but they can't tell you about the psyches of players who spend seven months of your year with.

Don't settle for mediocrity. Under no circumstances should a sub-par option like Bob Melvin be hired simply because he has experience. Experience is great when it's winning, but even Macha had that and look how it turned out. You can discount a guy like Don Money just because he hasn't managed at the big league level.

The list of candidates right now is a mile long, it has the washed up like Jerry Manuel and Bob Melvin, the in-house like Dale Svuem and Willie Randolph, and the yet-to-be like Pat Listach and Don Money. You will hear names like Eric Wedge and Bob Brenly, Ted Simmons might even get a look.

There is on part of this managerial search that can't be overlooked. Doug Melvin has done a terrific job of building the Brewers to the point they are at, he put together a group that made the playoffs after more than a quarter century drought. While he may have made the Brewers infinitely more competitive he has only overseen two winning season. If another step forward is not made, it will become clear that Doug Melvin is not capable of taking this team to the next level.

Milwaukee is not to that point yet though, but don't misread the votes of confidence. Doug Melvin is GM now, but if his next choice for manager doesn't turn out - it could be his last.


Tap Tabloid - Ryan Braun as Manager?

Milwaukee - Could you envision Ryan Braun as the Brewers 2011 manager? Ryan Braun sure can!

Not since 1985, when Pete Rose both managed and played for the Cincinnati Reds, has there been a player-manager in Major League Baseball, but if Braun gets his way, that will change in 2011. "I've talked with Doug (Melvin), and he started laughing, which I can only assume he is tickled pink that I thought of the idea." Braun stated, adding "I know Doug takes my opinions very seriously after he entrusted me with the role of his Deputy GM last season."

Braun has quickly racked up the stats and the hardware, and can certainly be labeled a superstar. However, 2011 would still just be his 5th year in the league. Hardly enough experience by most standards to become a manager, let alone a player-manager. Braun's well documented confidence and ego don't seem fazed by that though.

"I've been playing baseball my entire life, and I'm guessing that I'll go down in history as one of the best players ever, so, I'm not seeing how you think I have inexperience. Plus, I've played both the infield and the outfield" Braun continued by saying, "What experience did Ken Macha have? As far as I can tell, he was experienced in falling asleep."

Braun did finish by saying, "I can tell you if I was manager, I wouldn't have pulled our star left fielder after he wisely conserved his health by not legging out a popup in a meaningless game. That was just smart baseball right there."

Both Doug Melvin and Gord Ash were unavailable for comment, but all signs seem to point towards the Brewers using the standard channels and criteria for a new manager. So, I wouldn't expect much more development on this.