Jerry Kramer Joins the Never Forgotten Honor Flight

Jerry and the NFHF folks in front of the Lincoln Memorial

Today marks a special day on our calendar, as we honor and remember all who served bravely in the many military conflicts that our country has been involved in, especially those who lost their lives fighting for our freedom.

One of those brave individuals was my Uncle Bob. I am named after him. Bob was one of my dad’s younger brothers. Even though Bob recently had become a college graduate at the Milwaukee State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Bob still went to Korea to help out in that conflict as a medic.

Just weeks before he was set to return home, Bob was killed.

Bob was one of over a million Americans who have died in the various wars the United States has been involved with since it’s inception.

Today we honor those brave people.

Which takes me to a story I want to share. A few weeks back, as I normally do quite often, I was chatting with former Green Bay Packers great Jerry Kramer.

We were talking about a story idea I had, when Jerry told me about some recent news that he was really excited about.

Jerry told me that he was invited to join the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.

The organization is based in Wausau, Wisconsin and it serves veterans in the northern region of Wisconsin. What they do is fly veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam eras to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials built in their honor.

Obviously Kramer was honored to receive such an invitation.

Jerry with a WW II vet

“That was kind of a neat call, for them to ask me to join them,” Kramer said. “It was such a honor to get that invitation. It should be an interesting time and I look forward to the trip. I’m kind of excited about it.

“I spoke to a veteran’s group here in Boise, and I never really had much of a chance to thank people like that. I always wanted to, and every once in awhile you can run into a guy and you can say thanks. But it’s pretty damn rare. You never get much of a chance to express your feelings to these brave folks.

“I had a very nice dinner with these guys and they presented me with a sword and a nice piece of memorabilia. I had a really good time there and I felt good about it. I had some nice things to say about their service and their attitude. I told them how much I appreciated them and that I felt better of what they had done probably more so than they did.

“It was a nice evening and it was nice being able to show my appreciation.”

On May 22nd, Jerry and his daughter Alicia traveled with the veterans to Washington on the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.

Once in the nation’s capital, the itinerary was quite extensive. This was the schedule:

9:30 AM: Arrive at Reagan National Airport

10:30 AM: Depart Reagan in Motor Coach

10:45 AM: Arrive at Korean, Vietnam and Lincoln Memorials

Jerry and a vet in front of the Vietnam Memorial

1:00 PM: Depart Memorials

1:00-1:25 PM: Bus tour to see the Capital, Navy Memorial and the White House (lunch)

1:25 PM: Arrive World War II Memorial

2:35 PM: Depart World War II Memorial

2:45-3:30 PM: FDR Memorial

3:45 PM: Arrive Iwo Jima Memorial

4:20 PM: Depart Iwo Jima Memorial (snack bars)

4:30 PM: Arrive Arlington National Cemetery

5:00 PM: Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

5:40 PM: Depart Arlington National Cemetery

5:55 PM: Arrive Air Force Memorial and drive by Pentagon and 9-11 Memorial (dinner)

7:10 PM Depart Memorial

7: 25 PM: Arrive Reagan National Airport

8:45 PM: Depart Reagan National Airport

Jerry talking to a Marine

Wow. That is quite a schedule and a number of great sites to see and view. I’m sure there were many emotional moments thinking back on those brave souls who died for their country.

Kramer talked about how humbling it was to be part of this group.

“It’s hard to digest and hard to understand all at one time,” Kramer said. “It’s been overwhelming to be in the midst of so many great people.”

A Scout’s Take on How a Dual Threat at Tight End Can Help Open Up an Offense

Keith Jackson II

Keith Jackson

In late March of 1995, general manager Ron Wolf made a bold trade, when he acquired tight end Keith Jackson from the Miami Dolphins for a second round draft pick.

The trade was bold because at first, Jackson was adamant about not playing in Green Bay. But after some reflection and after talking with his former teammate and friend Reggie White, who had been with the Packers since 1993, Jackson agreed to join the Packers seven games into the 1995 season.

The addition of Jackson really opened up the offense of the Packers, as they also had another tight end who was starting to blossom in the NFL. That player was Mark Chmura.

That duo threat at tight end helped to propel the Packers into two straight NFC title games over the next two seasons, which also included a trip to Super Bowl XXXI, as the Pack beat the New England Patriots 35-21.

In 1995, Jackson only played in nine games because of his holdout, but together he and Chmura combined for 67 receptions for 821 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season.

Chmura was also named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad.

Then in the postseason, the two combined 18 catches for 273 yards and four touchdowns in three games.

In 1996, Jackson and Chmura combined for 68 catches for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Jackson was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad.

In the 1996 postseason, the two combined for just eight catches for 72 yards and no scores, although Chmura caught a pass for a two-point conversion in Super Bowl XXXI.

You may ask why did the production in the postseason drop off a bit? Mostly because the opposing defenses were keying on the tight end position, which ultimately allowed the Packers to exploit other areas both in the passing game and the running game.

In the Divisional Round game versus the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field, the game was played in quagmire conditions, as Desmond Howard dominated the game with his punt returning ability, with two returns for 177 yards and one score.

The Packers rushed for 139 yards in the muddy and sloppy conditions while quarterback Brett Favre only threw for 79 yards and one touchdown, which was thrown to Andre Rison.

In the NFC title game the next weekend again at Lambeau versus the Carolina Panthers, the contest was played in frigid conditions, with a temperature of just 3 degrees.

The Packers rushed for 201 yards in the game, as the safeties could not play up in the box, not with the threatening presence of Jackson and Chmura at tight end.

Favre threw for 292 yards in the game, but he used mostly his wide receivers and his running back as weapons. Antonio Freeman had four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, while halfback Dorsey Levens had five receptions for 117 yards and a score.

In Super Bowl XXXI versus the Pats, the Packers exploited the safeties once again in the game. Favre threw for 246 yards in the game, including two long touchdown passes, when in both cases the safeties were late in getting over in coverage.

Why? The threat of the Green Bay tight ends in the middle of the field.

Mark Chmura

Mark Chmura

The Packers also rushed for 115 yards in the game.

The result? The Packers won their first Super Bowl in 29 years.

It’s one thing to have one great tight end threat on your roster, but having two makes an offense even more dangerous. The Packers proved that in 1995 and 1996.

Head coach Bill Belichick, who was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, has also utilized the tight end position recently with dual threat players. More on that later.

This takes us to this recent offseason and how teams like the Packers and Buccaneers have added to the tight end position.

In free agency, the Packers wanted to re-sign Jared Cook, who made a big difference in the Green Bay offense down the stretch of the 2016 regular season and in the playoffs, but after talks broke down, the team signed both Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks.

Add those two together with tight end Richard Rodgers of the Packers and you essentially have a triple threat. Just look at the numbers these three put up in 2016.

Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards (12.7 average) and seven touchdowns for the Patriots, while he was sometimes teamed with Rob Gronkowski (25-540-3), who only played in eight games because of injury.

Kendricks caught 50 passes for 499 yards and two touchdowns for the Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, Rodgers had 30 receptions for 271 yards and two touchdowns in 2016, which was coming off a 2015 season when No. 82 had 58 catches for 510 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Bucs also added some weapons to the tight end position, as they drafted the top one in the draft when they selected O.J. Howard of Alabama. Tampa Bay can now team Howard with tight end Cameron Brate, who had 57 catches for 660 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

I wanted to get the opinion from one of the best in the business about how having a dual threat at tight end will help open up an offense for a particular team.

I had that opportunity this past week, as I was able to talk with NFL scout Chris Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

I talked about the situation regarding the Jackson/Chmura combination for the Packers at tight end, plus mentioned how the Packers and Bucs had added to the tight end position this offseason, as I asked Landry to comment about how a dual threat at that position can open off an offense.

“It’s huge,” Landry said. “I’ve always been a big proponent and I think it’s the Patriots affect with what Bill Belichick has done with tight ends. They had Gronk and of course the tragic situation with Aaron Hernandez, and let’s not forget that with him they had something special.

“They have moved on with different tight ends. But having two guys who they work as big slots, or an inline Y with one guy flexed out, is very difficult to defend. It’s tough, because when you have the type of size, or when you bring in all small guys, you become a little too small to run.

“But when you have that type of size at tight end that can affect the passing game, that still allows to run the football if you want to. It really allows you to dictate the defense. I’m a big believer in it.”

Then Landry specifically talked about the how the new enhanced tight end situation with the Bucs will help their offense.

“I think [Cameron] Brate did a really good job,” Landry said. “I think he’s functional in the red zone. He’s good working down the seam. But O.J. Howard can bring a different dimension. A more explosive dimension. I think one of the problems that they [the Bucs] have had, is forcing the ball a little too much.

“That is partly due to Jameis’ [Winston] style and aggressiveness. But you also feed that aggressiveness when you don’t have have a lot of weapons to go to. Now, the key is going to be to take the check down, go to the short receiver quicker and not force the ball.

“Listen, you improve the running game and you have more weapons in the seam. They (the Bucs), as I discussed with Steve last Thursday, are in the best position in the Winston/Koetter era of having more weapons to throw the football too. Even having a guy like [Chris] Godwin helps you.

“You have more options to stretch vertically. When you have D-Jack [DeSean Jackson], [Mike] Evans and Godwin as guys who can stretch vertically, it forces the safeties to stay deep. It opens up the seam and that’s where tight ends can attack.

“So I think you have more consistent drives, where you may not have as many explosive plays, but you can sustain drives more. Control the football more. Make your defense better by being on the football field for less snaps. All those things are positive I think.

“I think it’s a huge affect. I want at least two starting tight ends at all times. Preferably a guy who can line up as a Y and another guy who can be more of a flex guy.”

Everything Landry just talked about regarding the situation with the Bucs is even more pronounced in Green Bay.

Aaron Rodgers and Martellus Bennett at a Milwaukee Bucks game

Aaron Rodgers talks with Martellus Bennett at a recent Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks playoff game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

First, you have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback. No. 12 has already won two NFL MVP awards, along with another MVP award in Super Bowl XLV when the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rodgers put up another MVP-type performance last season, when he threw 40 touchdown passes versus just seven interceptions for 4,458 yards. Part of the reason for that success, was the way Cook helped to open up the offense in the last seven games of the season, when he came back from an ankle injury. In those seven games, Rodgers threw 18 touchdown passes without throwing a pick for 2,018 yards.

The Packers also utilized both Cook and Richard Rodgers at tight end in the postseason, as Cook had 18 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns in three games, while Rodgers had one big catch for 34 yards and one touchdown.

Partly because of the weaponry at tight end in the postseason last year, No. 12 threw nine touchdown passes versus just two picks for 1,004 yards in three games.

Now knowing that the team has added Bennett and Kendricks to the tight end equation with Rodgers, plus knowing that the Packers still have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison among others at wide receiver, the offense of the Packers in 2017 can really be a difficult one to defend.

Plus, the running game will also be helped, as the safeties will have to stay deep. That means that Ty Montgomery and the three rookie running backs that the Packers drafted, which includes Jamaal Williams, will have more room to run.

Bottom line, teams who have dual or even triple threats at tight end can really expand the damage in which they can inflict on a defense, as all parts of the offense can be used effectively. The running game, the short passing game, the passes in the seam and the vertical passing game can all be used to cause havoc for a defense.

What About Bob on This Memorial Day

American Flag at Lambeau

*** I originally wrote this article three years ago when I worked at Bleacher Report.

As we all reflect on what the meaning of Memorial Day is really about, I want to remember all who served bravely in the many military conflicts that our country has been involved in, especially those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

One is my uncle Bob, who was one of my dad’s younger brothers. Dad served in World War II along with his older brother John. When the Korean conflict started, my uncle Bob was in college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, then known as the Milwaukee State Teachers College.

Bob became the first person in the Fox family to ever get a college degree when he graduated. Even with his graduation, he still went to Korea to serve as a medic in the Army. Unfortunately, not long before he was set to come home, he was killed in action.

A few years later when I was born, I was named after Bob. Like my uncle, I also graduated from UWM.

The Green Bay Packers once had a player who served in both World War II and Korea. He was also named Bob: Bob Forte. Forte was also a college graduate, and he was drafted by the Packers in 1943 out of Arkansas.

But instead of playing right away with the Packers, Forte served as an Army tank officer in the war until he was discharged in 1945.

Forte started his career in Green Bay in 1946. He played with the Packers for seven years, which was interrupted for one year while he served in Korea.

Forte was one of only 14 players in NFL history who served both in World War II and Korea.

Forte had a solid career with the Packers as a two-way player, which was common in his era. On offense, he played running back and had 331 yards rushing in his career, along with 24 catches for 242 yards and three touchdowns.

But it was on the defensive side of the ball where Forte really shined, both as a defensive back and as a linebacker. Forte had 23 career interceptions (one for a touchdown) and also had 11 fumble recoveries.

In 1973, Forte was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

Forte died in 1996 at the age of 73.

So as we stand by the grill today or watch a ballgame, let’s not forget what this day is all about. It’s about honoring the memory of all of those who served and sacrificed for all of us and also for those who still do.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Tommy Joe Crutcher

Tommy Joe Crutcher blocking on an extra point

Far left is No. 56, Tommy Joe Crutcher, as he blocks on an extra point in the 28-7 victory by the Green Bay Packers over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1967 Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium.

When the Green Bay Packers drafted Tommy Joe Crutcher of Texas Christian University in the third round of the 1964 NFL draft, the Packers already had a number of talented linebackers on their roster. The group included Ray Nitschke, Dan Currie, Lee Roy Caffey and Dave Robinson.

Still, Crutcher had some talent himself. In high school at McKinney, the 6’3″, 230-pound Crutcher was considered one of the best players in Texas because of his speed and athleticism, which he showed at both fullback and linebacker.

At TCU, Crutcher again played both fullback and linebacker. In his senior year, Crutcher was named first-team All-America at fullback, plus was a team captain for the Horned Frogs.

In his rookie year of 1964, Crutcher played fullback for the Packers and wore No. 37. But for the rest of his career, Crutcher was strictly a linebacker and wore No. 56 with Green Bay.

In ’64, the Packers started Nitschke, Currie and Caffey at linebacker. The following year after Currie had been traded to the Los Angeles Rams for Carroll Dale, Robinson replaced Currie as a starter.

Crutcher’s good friend and teammate Jerry Kramer talked to me recently about that situation.

“It was interesting to be Tommy Joe, as he had to sit behind Nitschke, Robinson and Caffey,” Kramer said. “Maybe the best set of linebackers to ever play on one team. Certainly among the tops.

“But Tommy was a very bright kid. He used his wits a lot. He played well when he got the opportunity.”

One of Crutcher’s favorite activities was to tease fellow Texan linebacker Caffey about where he played football in high school.

Kramer recounted that story.

“Tommy Joe used to love to bust Lee Roy’s ass,” Kramer said. “Tommy Joe went to McKinney High School, which was not to far from Thorndale High school, which was Lee Roy’s school.

“The school mascot at Thorndale was the Little Red Rooster. Tommy Joe would get Lee Roy going in the locker room or on the bus when he would sing, ‘Little Red Rooster sitting on a fence. Root for Thorndale, he’s got sense.’

“Lee Roy would then shout out to Tommy Joe, ‘Damn you Crutcher! Knock that off!’

texas-contingent-of-the-packers

The Texas contingent of the Packers. From left to right, Max McGee, Doug Hart, Forrest Gregg, Donny Anderson, Lee Roy Caffey and Tommy Joe Crutcher.

Crutcher was part of quite a Texas contingent on the Packers which included Caffey, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Doug Hart and Donny Anderson.

Kramer used to hang with Crutcher quite a bit off the field, especially when the guys got together to play cards.

Kramer talked about that experience.

“We loved to play cards,” Kramer said. “Tommy Joe was a really savvy guy. He was just aware about everything, especially in poker. We would have Ski [Bob Skoronski], Doug [Hart], Kos [Ron Kostelnik], Tommy Joe and some other guys at times.

“Often times, Tommy Joe and I would end up as the last two guys at the table.  Everyone else had lost their money or needed to go home.”

One of the other guys who would play poker every now and then was Max McGee. As I wrote in a story about him recently, Max and his roommate in 1967, Zeke Bratkowski, often played golf with Kramer and his roommate, Don Chandler.

For money of course.

One of those golf outings became quite the experience for Kramer and his teammates.

“One day Max and Zeke are taking on Don and I,” Kramer said. “On the surface, it was an uneven match, because Max was a good player and Zeke was a very good player. So, we come down to the 18th hole and we were ahead by three shots.

“Max tries to get in our heads as he was teeing off, by saying, ‘Press, press, press, press, press.’ He proceeded to knock the ball out of bounds. I probably got the biggest kick of my life after Max did that after trying to put the pressure on us. But it backfired that day for Max, so Donny and I won $75 from he and Zeke.

“I enjoyed the hell out of that. We didn’t win very often and Max and Zeke won most of the time, but that victory was special.”

That takes us to the next part of that story which involves Crutcher. Kramer explained what happened next.

“So after the golf game, we all go to Max’s Left Guard restaurant in Manitowoc,” Kramer said. “So we go upstairs and play a little gin. We having a pretty good time celebrating. It’s our day off. And Tommy Joe is there as well.

“So later in the evening, we decided to leave as it was getting late. Well, I had been over-served and as we started down the stairs, I lost my footing and I tumbled head over heels. My ring came off and my shoes came off.

“Don Chandler looked at me and said, ‘Jerry, you better ride with me. Let Tommy Joe drive your car.’ I had Lincoln convertible that had suicide doors, one opens backwards and one opens frontwards. It was an absolutely beautiful car. I think the most beautiful car I ever had. It was sea green with a tan top. I had the top down and it looked like it was a half mile long. I was “Mr. Cool” when I drove it.

“So I let Tommy Joe drive it back to St. Norbert. Anyway, the next morning I’m out in the parking lot and I see the car. The top is still down and there is a light rain. So I go to Tommy Joe’s room and he’s still asleep. I asked him where the keys were. As he’s looking through his clothes for the keys, he says, ‘Jerry, that’s really a great car. It really holds the road well. I’d go around a corner and it would slide a bit, but that’s really a nice driving car.’

“So then I asked him why he didn’t put the top up. Tommy Joe asks, ‘Was the top down?’

Crutcher initially played with the Packers from 1964 through 1967, which meant he was on the teams which won three straight NFL titles, along with the first two Super Bowls.

In those four years, Crutcher played in 14 games each year, plus picked off two passes in a reserve role.

Crutcher also played in each one of the seven victorious postseason games that the Packers played in from 1965 through 1967.

Tommy Joe on game-winning kick vs. Colts

Far right is No. 56, Tommy Joe Crutcher. He and his teammates are about to celebrate the game-winning field goal by Don Chandler in the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game at Lambeau Field.

In 1968, general manager-only Vince Lombardi traded Crutcher and offensive tackle Steve Wright to the New York Giants for offensive tackle Francis Peay.

Crutcher started two seasons for the Giants before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1970, where he spent the year on injured reserve.  In 1971, Crutcher returned to Green Bay via another trade, as Dan Devine acquired No. 56 for a fourth round pick.

Crutcher played with the Packers in 1971 and 1972 before retiring and was part of the team which won the NFC Central in ’72.

After he retired, Crutcher had a very successful business career, as he was part owner and manager of the Southwest Grain Company in McCook, Texas.

The farm that Crutcher operated was not far from the Mexican border. Once when Kramer was visiting, Crutcher drove Kramer around part of the farm which was larger than the island of Manhattan. The overall spread of the farm was around 25,000 acres.

Sadly, Crutcher died at the way-too-young age of 60 in 2002.

Kramer talked some more about his buddy Crutcher.

“Everything Tommy Joe did on the field, he did well,” Kramer said. “When he got an opportunity, there wasn’t much of a fall off from the way Lee Roy or Robby played.

“Tommy Joe was really damn smart and he rarely made a mistake. He understood our defense and he understood the game plan of the offense he would be facing if given the opportunity.

“He was just a real bright kid. Plus, he was a lot of fun to hang with off the field as well.”

Jerry Kramer Talks About Bob Skoronski

Bob Skoronski blocks for Jim Taylor in the 1966 NFL title game

Bob Skoronski blocks for fullback Jim Taylor in the 1966 NFL Championship Game.

Like the 1958 draft class of the Green Bay Packers, which I wrote about three months ago, the team also hit gold in the 1956 draft class.

This was all due to the great scouting which was done by Jack Vainisi.

Like he 1958 draft class, the selections that Vainisi made in 1956 were outstanding. Like 1958, Vainisi was able to select two players who would eventually be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They would be right tackle Forrest Gregg (second round) and quarterback Bart Starr (17th round).

Starr won five NFL championships as a quarterback, which only Tom Brady has been able to equal. In addition, Starr quarterbacked the Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls, winning MVP in each game.

Starr was also the league MVP in 1966, plus led the NFL in passing three times. Starr is probably best remembered for his thrilling quarterback sneak with 13 seconds remaining in the legendary “Ice Bowl” on Dec. 31, 1967.

Starr was named All-Pro four times and was also named to the Pro Bowl four times. Starr was 9-1 as a playoff QB. Starr also had his number retired (No. 15) by the Packers.

In his book Run To Daylight, Vince Lombardi said, “Forrest Gregg is the finest player I ever coached!”  Gregg played 14 seasons for the Packers. Gregg was the key staple in the offensive line during the Lombardi years which included such greats as Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and Bob Skoronski.

However, only Gregg and Ringo are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which to many is a travesty, especially because of Kramer’s omission. Gregg was also named All-Pro nine times and was named to the Pro Bowl nine times as well.

Vainisi was also able to select two very solid starters in left tackle Skoronski  and defensive back Hank Gremminger in the 1956 draft, and both started for the Packers for 10 years or more.

All told, Vainisi drafted six players during his tenure in Green Bay who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were Ringo, Gregg, Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Ray Nitschke.

Back to the class of 1956 and specifically Skoronski. Not only did Skoronski play 11 years in the NFL with the Packers, but he was also one of the team’s captains, along with Willie Davis.

Bob Skoronski and Willie Davis before Super Bowl I.jpg

Skoronski was as steady as they came at left tackle, but was never named All-Pro and went to only one Pro Bowl. Skoronski also filled in at center during the 1964 season.

But even with the lack of recognition, Skoronski was appreciated by his coaches and teammates. One of those teammates was Kramer. I had another opportunity recently to speak with Kramer and we talked about the former Indiana Hoosier.

The play that epitomizes Skoronski’s mindset to Kramer happened in the “Ice Bowl” game at Lambeau Field.  The play happened on that legendary 12-play drive, when the Packers drove 68 yards down the icy field with just 4:50 remaining in the game to score the game-winning touchdown on Starr’s quarterback sneak.

But before Starr’s sneak, there was a key play just moments before. It was first and ten for the Packers at the 11-yard line of the Cowboys. Starr called a give play to fullback Chuck Mercein. For that particular play to be successful, a couple of things had to happen.

On the play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulled right. The Packers were hoping that defensive tackle Bob Lilly would vacate his position and follow Gillingham. That indeed happened.

But Skoronski would also need to make a key block on defensive end George Andrie to give Mercein a hole to run through.

Kramer talked about that play to me.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said.  “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’

Mercein picked up eight yards on the play, and the Packers now had the ball at the 3-yard line of the Cowboys.

“That was a huge play,” Kramer said. “I also loved Bob’s answer when Bart asked him if he could make the block. It was an absolute answer. It wasn’t a ‘Gee, I think I can.’ Or ‘Gee, I’ll give it my best shot.’ Instead it was a definite and resounding yes.

“There was absolute confidence from Ski about making that block. It was, ‘You can count on me.’ And Bob didn’t fail us.”

Bob Skoronski's key block in the Ice Bowl

Kramer then talked about Skoronski the man.

“Ski is a wonderful human being. A lovely man,” Kramer said. “Very bright. An exceptional family man.”

But when it came to football, Skoronski didn’t not like criticism from his coaches, especially from head coach Vince Lombardi.

“Ski didn’t like to be chewed,” Kramer said. “He didn’t mind if Coach didn’t applaud him all the time either. Ski was just comfortable being himself and doing his job. And he did his job well, which is one of the reasons he was a team captain.”

Kramer remembered an incident in which Skoronski had to feel a bit like Rodney Dangerfield while the team was looking at film.

“So we are at this meeting looking at film and Coach Lombardi sees that Skoronski does something,” Kramer said. “Coach can’t think of Skoronski’s name though. So he goes, ‘No. 76, what the hell are you doing there!’

After the meeting Ski goes, ‘Jesus Christ! I’ve been here for eight years and he can’t even remember my name.’

Kramer also remembers a dinner when No. 64 was the emcee. Kramer introduced Skoronski at the event.

“I said that Bob was probably the best lineman on the team,” Kramer said. “Ski got the best grades from the coaches. I also said that Bob was a hell of a football player. I mentioned that he was also our captain. I also talked about the “Ice Bowl” play. I just gave him a very nice introduction.

“Later, after Bob spoke, he came up to me and said, ‘Jerry, that was really a beautiful introduction. That was really nice. I really appreciate that. You meant it, didn’t you?’

“Can you imagine hearing that? Ski was always a bit suspicious when he was complimented. But for those of us who played with him, Ski was most definitely appreciated.”

Green Bay Packers: A Scout’s Take on Rookie Running Back Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams as a Packer

The Green Bay Packers had a definite need at the running back position going into the 2017 NFL draft and general manager Ted Thompson certainly addressed that situation.

Thompson took three running backs in the draft, including Jamaal Williams of BYU in the fourth round, Aaron Jones of UTEP in the fifth round and Devante Mays of Utah State in the seventh round.

Those three backs will be competing for playing time behind Ty Montgomery, who made the transition from wide receiver to running back last season.

After those selections were made, the Packers quickly released both Christine Michael and Don Jackson from their roster at running back. The Packers then added a couple more running backs to the depth chart, as they signed two undrafted rookies, Kalif Phillips of Charlotte and William Stanback of Virginia Union.

It’s expected that the Packers will keep at least three running backs on their roster in 2017. That number could become four, if the Packers only decide to keep one fullback.

The Packers have to be excited about the production they received from the 6’0″, 216-pound Montgomery in 2016. No. 88 rushed for 457 yards on just 77 carries. That adds up to a 5.9 yards-per-attempt average.

Plus, Montgomery also hauled in 44 passes for 348 more yards.

Still, the Packers are looking for a compliment for Montgomery at running back. The rookie who has the best chance of being that player is Williams.

In his career at BYU, Williams rushed for 3,901 yards (5.4 average) and 35 touchdowns. Williams also added 60 receptions for 567 yards and another score.

In 2016, the 6’0″, 212-pound Williams rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns, which includes one game when Williams ran 287 yards and five touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Williams ran a 4.59 40.

This is what NFL scout Chris Landry said about Williams after the Packers selected him:

“A decisive, downhill grinder on college tape, Williams is a two-down back with a ceiling in the Alfred Morris range. That said, he could find himself with a big rookie role behind Ty Montgomery.”

Landry was also impressed with Williams at the Senior Bowl. I’m sure Thompson saw the same thing in Mobile that week. By the way, Landry and Thompson have known each other for over 30 years. Their relationship goes back to when Thompson was a linebacker with the Houston Oilers from 1975 though 1984. Landry was a scout for the Oilers at that time.

Landry considers Thompson as a scout’s scout, even as a general manager. Thompson is always on the road scouting, whether it’s the Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game, pro days or going to college games.

At the Senior Bowl, Williams had quite a performance according to Landry. This is what Landry said about Williams after the first day of practice at Mobile that week:

“BYU’s Jamaal Williams entered as the expected top running back and looked the part after Day 1. Williams is a smooth runner, and was making nice cuts during team drills and was consistently the most productive of the running back group. Williams simply looked natural.”

Jamaal Williams in the Senior Bowl

This is what Landry said about Williams at the next practice:

“I was surprised by the speed and quickness Williams showed. He hits the hole with authority and ran hard all day.”

This is what Landry opined about Williams the following day at practice:

“Williams was one of the better backs of the day. He ran the ball well on the inside, picking his way through the traffic and he also looked terrific catching the ball out of the backfield. He was the best of all the backs in blocking drills.”

In addition to those nice scouting reports on Williams, I also heard from a source who said that another NFL scout was very high on Williams. The source told me that the scout said, “Williams was without a doubt the best value pick the Packers had in this year’s draft and could be the surprise of the entire draft.”

So what does this all mean? Well, it looks like the Packers selected a back who has three-down back ability, as not only does Williams run well, but also is a good receiver and a solid blocking back.

Plus, the other two rookie backs who were drafted have ability as well.

Jones had a great career for the Miners, as he rushed for 4,114 yards (6.3 average) and 33 touchdowns. Jones also added 71 catches for 646 yards and seven more scores.

The 5’9″, 209-pound Jones was second-team All-Conference USA in 2014 and first-team All-Conference USA this past season.

At the combine, Jones ran a 4.56 in the 40 and excelled in a number of other drills, including the vertical jump (37.5 inches) and broad jump (127.0 inches), plus posted a very impressive 6.82 three-cone time.

This is what Landry said about Jones after the Packers selected him:

“On tape, Jones is a determined inside runner with plus vision, darting quickness, and serious big-play ability. In 2016, Jones led the nation in touchdown runs that began outside the red zone (12), including nine TD runs of 40-plus yards. While probably not an NFL workhorse, Jones is one of this year’s top sleeper running backs.”

In two years with Utah State, Mays rushed for 1,221 yards (6.1 average) and 12 touchdowns. Mays missed half of the 2016 season due to an ankle/knee injury.

The 5’10”, 230-pound Mays had a great pro day, as Landry gave his thoughts on the selection of Mays by the Packers:

“Mays (5’10/230) is the third running back the Packers have drafted this weekend, so they’re taking as many chances at their weakest offensive position. He ran 4.52 at Utah State’s Pro Day with an explosive 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad jump. Mays will compete for a final roster spot.”

So, while it’s still just the middle of May and there are OTAs and training camp ahead for the Packers, right now it looks like the team will utilize a tandem of Montgomery and Williams at running back for the most part.

It appears that Jones and Mays will battle for the third running back job. The ability to perform well on special teams will play a key part in the determination as to who wins in that competition.

But in terms of getting an opportunity to tote the rock for the Packers as a rookie in a combination with Montgomery, Williams looks to be the guy.

Williams, who will wear No. 30, hopes that he will have similar success as the last two backs who wore that number for the Packers, John Kuhn and Ahman Green.

In his career with the Packers as a fullback, Kuhn rushed for 601 yards and 15 touchdowns, plus caught 81 passes for 557 yards and eight more scores. Kuhn was also named to three Pro Bowl squads and also was named first-team All-Pro once and second-team All-Pro once.

Green is the all-time leading rusher in Green Bay history, as he rushed for 8,322 yards, plus scored 54 rushing touchdowns as a tailback. Plus, Green also caught 350 passes for 2,726 yards and 14 more scores. The former Nebraska Cornhusker was also named to four Pro Bowl squads and was named second-team All-Pro once.

If Williams even comes close to the production of Kuhn and Green, not to mention the awards that they both received, the Packers will be more than pleased that they selected the former Cougar in the 2017 NFL draft.

A Scout’s Take on the New and Improved Secondary of the Green Bay Packers

Kevin King II

Kevin King taking back an interception.

The Green Bay Packers definitely needed some help in their secondary after what occurred in the 2016 regular season, as well as the NFC title game versus the Atlanta Falcons.

As a unit, the Packers were ranked 31st in pass defense in 2016, as they allowed 32 touchdown passes, while only picking off 17 throws. Opposing quarterbacks had a robust 95.9 passer rating against the secondary of the Packers.

In addition to that, the Packers gave up 58 plays which netted 20-plus pass yards and also allowed 11 plays which netted 40-plus pass yards.

The Packers were fine at safety with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett manning that position, but the Green Bay cornerbacks really struggled last season.

It really became very apparent in the NFC Championship Game. The Packers were definitely exposed for their weakness at cornerback, as Julio Jones had nine catches for a ridiculous 180 yards and two touchdowns, as the Falcons beat the Packers 44-21.

The problem started in the very first game of the 2016 season when the best cornerback on the team, Sam Shields, suffered a season-ending concussion. A history of concussions forced the Packers to release Shields this offseason.

It didn’t help that second-year cornerback’s Demarious Randall and Quinten Rollins both suffered groin injuries last season and both players did not play anywhere near expectations, especially after each player had a promising rookie year.

To add to that, the Packers saw one of their unsung heroes in the secondary, Micah Hyde, sign with the Buffalo Bills in free agency.

The Packers used free agency themselves to add a cornerback, as the team brought back Davon House, who played the past two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, after being with the Packers from 2011-2014.

Then in the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers used their first and second round picks to further improve the secondary.

With pick No. 33 (along with pick No. 108) that the Packers acquired from the Cleveland Browns for pick No. 29, the Packers drafted Kevin King of Washington.

King was a three-year starter in the very talented Husky secondary, where he started at safety in 2014, before starting at cornerback in 2015 and 2016.

In his career with Washington, King had 165 tackles, 28 passes broken up, six interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The 6’3″, 198-pound King put on quite a show at the NFL Scouting Combine. King ran a 4.43 in the 40, plus led all defensive backs in the 20-yard shuttle (3.89), 60-yard shuttle (11.14) and 3-cone (6.56).

Then with pick No. 61, the Packers brought in some more size and speed for their secondary, as they drafted Josh Jones of North Carolina State.

The 6’1″, 220-pound Jones ran a 4.41 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 20 reps in the bench press drill, which was tied for first among all safeties. In addition, Jones had a vertical leap of 37.5 inches (third) and a broad jump of 11 feet (second).

In his career at North Carolina State, Jones matched his workout prowess with his play on the field. In three years with the Wolfpack, Jones had 229 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, eight interceptions, 17 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

Jones did not allow a touchdown in coverage as a senior.

I wanted to get some input on the new and improved secondary of the Packers by speaking once again to NFL scout Chris Landry.

I was able to speak with Landry earlier this week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.

I first asked Landry about the additions of King and Jones and also about the status of Randall and Rollins.

“One of the things that Ted Thompson learned and Ron Wolf was a believer in, was if you have a need or have a problem, flood the area [of concern],” Landry said. “You don’t know who is going to make it or what’s going to happen. So take as many of those guys as you can who you have high enough grades on to try and make that position better.

“I think King is a big, tall and rangy guy, who is more straight lineish. But he’s got some Antonio Cromartie in him and has the potential to be a really good player.

“Josh Jones is the guy who is going to play the Micah Hyde role. Good player. Physical in the box. Is an inconsistent tackler, but he’ll come up and be physical. With those two [King and Jones], they have two good players, two good prospects.”

Josh Jones II

Josh Jones being physical.

Landry then talked about the overall secondary.

“They are in good shape I think with [Morgan] Burnett and [Ha Ha] Clinton-Dix,” Landry said. “They have two good guys there. But they need to have more versatility. You got to have in this league, three starting caliber safeties and three starting caliber cornerbacks. At least.

“You have to play with six guys and they have to be interchangeable. If you don’t, you are going to be short-handed. Then you start to get an injury and you are down to five or four and then you are really in trouble.

“It’s really important that you address that, and certainly they are going to need [Damarious] Randall and [Quinten]Rollins to come back and play healthy to allow them to play at full strength, which as you mentioned, they were not even close to that last season.”

The secondary is obviously a key in the pass-happy NFL now and I also mentioned that to Landry in closing.

“You have to be able to match up,” Landry said. “That’s the difficult part of it. You have to be a good enough tackler in nickel, because when people make you small they run against you. You have to be physical enough to tackle against the run.

“But you have to be able to also match up against a big slot, a small slot, a quick guy, an outside guy, a X, a Z, or a wide-flex tight end. You’ve got to have different types of guys to match up. You have different type slot receivers, big guys and small guys. You’ve got to have guys like that on defense who can match up with them.

“As you see the number of guys at receiver take up a lot of spots on the roster, you’ve got to have an equivalent number on the defensive side to match up with those guys.”

Jerry Kramer Talks About Max McGee

Max McGee in Super Bowl I

Max McGee was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 1954 NFL draft out of Tulane. McGee was like many great players on the Packers of the ’60s who arrived before Vince Lombardi came to Green Bay in 1959.

That was all due to the excellent scouting work done by Jack Vainisi. Besides McGee, Vainisi also drafted players like Dave Hanner, Bill Forester, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Kramer, John Symank, Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

Everyone of those players had roles on some or all of the teams that won five NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) in seven years under Lombardi.

As you can tell, Vainisi was the talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960. Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.

But McGee and many others were around for all five of the NFL championships. No. 85 had a nice career with the Packers, as he had 345 receptions for 6,346 yards and 51 touchdowns. Four times McGee led the Packers in receptions and once he led them in scoring.

McGee also had an 18.4-yard reception average, which is the second highest per-catch average in team history.

In 1961, McGee was named to play in the Pro Bowl.

McGee also punted for the Packers for a number of years. In his career, McGee punted 256 times for 10,647 yards and had a 41.6 average.

Max was certainly a star receiver for the Packers in the Lombardi era, but through 1965-67, McGee didn’t get a lot of playing time, as the team had acquired Carroll Dale, who was opposite Boyd Dowler at receiver.

When McGee did get playing time, he was clutch.  Case in point, the 1966 postseason. Before Super Bowl I, McGee caught a 28-yard TD pass from Starr that was the difference in the 34-27 1966 NFL Championship Game win in Dallas against the Cowboys.

But Super Bowl I was where he really made his legend.

McGee didn’t expect to play, so he snuck out after curfew the night before the game. McGee couldn’t convince his roommate Hornung to go with him that night, so McGee went out on his own. Max stayed out late that evening and didn’t return until shortly before the team breakfast the next morning.

Little did he know what was going to happen that day, as he got a one-hour cat nap after breakfast. Dowler injured his shoulder early in that epic contest and McGee had to go into the game. McGee was startled as he heard Lombardi yell, “McGee! McGee! Get your ass in there.”

Max got his behind in there all right. Besides catching the first touchdown pass in Super Bowl history, McGee put up amazing stats as he ended up with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. That adds up to a 19.7 reception average for the game.

Max McGee in Super Bowl I (II)

Then in Super Bowl II, McGee only caught one pass, but it was for 35 yards, as the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

In his postseason career, McGee only caught 12 passes, but four of those receptions were for touchdowns and he ended up with a 19.4 yards-per-catch average.

I had an opportunity again recently to talk with Jerry Kramer and he shared some memorable stories about McGee.

“Max was really a good athlete,” Kramer said. “He could play tennis. He could play golf. He could play whatever the hell you wanted to play. And he wanted to bet you on it too!”

In 1967, Kramer’s roommate on the Packers was kicker Don Chandler, while McGee’s roommate was backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski.

The four of them would get together to play golf quite often, with Kramer and Chandler going up against McGee and Bratkowski.

Kramer recalls one of those occasions.

“Max loved to mess with people’s minds,” Kramer said. “He would love to see if you would tighten up in clutch situations. If he could make you choke, he got a real kick out of that.

“Anyway, one day he and Zeke are taking on Don and I. On the surface, it was an uneven match, because Max was a good player and Zeke was a very good player. So, we come down to the 18th hole and we were ahead by three shots.

“Max tries to get in our heads as he was teeing off, by saying, ‘Press, press, press, press, press.’ He proceeded to knock the ball out of bounds. I probably got the biggest kick of my life after Max did that after trying to put the pressure on us. But it backfired that day for Max, so Donny and I won $75 from he and Zeke.

“I enjoyed the hell out of that. We didn’t win very often and Max and Zeke won most of the time, but that victory was special.”

Kramer also remembers that McGee was always quick with the quip to relax people, whether in the locker room or out in society.

“One time we were playing the Cleveland Browns in the preseason,” Kramer said. “Coach Lombardi would sometimes get himself in a bit of a bind when he spoke to the team, as he didn’t quite know how to end the speech or close it off.

“So Coach is talking to us before the Cleveland game and says, ‘Lot of people here tonight. Big crowd. You might get a little nervous and might even get a little afraid. Are you afraid? Anybody here afraid?’ And without missing a beat, Max goes, ‘Hell yeah, Coach. I’m afraid. I’m afraid Cleveland won’t show up.’

“That loosened the world up for us and it got Coach off the hook.”

McGee also had the penchant for loosening up people in somber circumstances. That was the case when Kramer, McGee, Fuzzy Thurston and several other Packers went to the funeral of former teammate of Ron Kostelnik in 1993. Kostelnik was just 53 years-old.

“So I’m with Max at Ron’s funeral service,” Kramer said. “There were probably 12 or 15 of us there. It was obviously very melancholy, seeing that Ron had died so young. So go over to Fuzzy’s to have a beer afterwards.

“It’s still a bit awkward to chat under the circumstances. Finally, Max looks at me and says, ‘Kramer, the way I got it figured, you’re next!’

“That quip really loosened things up and we all relaxed a little bit.”

Kramer also remembers what happened when McGee first went into Super Bowl I when Dowler had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.

“I remember that first series very well,” Kramer said. “Max couldn’t find his helmet when Boyd was injured. So Max is looking around for it and couldn’t find it. Finally someone hands him a hat, but it was much too big for him.

“After Max come in, Bart calls a square-out play that Max runs and the pass by Bart hits Max in the helmet, as it went right through his hands. Not a great way to start for Max.

“But Max soon found his helmet, had a big game and the rest they say is history.”

One of the reasons that McGee was such a big play receiver, was his ability to make double or even triple moves on a defender.

Max McGee in Super Bowl II

Kramer talked about that dynamic.

“Max loved to think on his feet,” Kramer said. “He would see the corner or safety do this or that and he would tell Bart or Zeke. For instance, Max would go inside and make a precise move three or four times to set the guy up and then later fake that same move and go outside.

“Max just loved doing that. He thrived on mental gymnastics.”

While he was still playing with the Packers, McGee and Thurston operated a chain of restaurants for a number of years. And then after his career with the Packers was over, McGee really thrived, as he was one of the co-founders of Mexican restaurant chain Chi-Chi’s.

In addition to that, McGee was also an announcer on the Packer radio network from 1979-1998. His words helped another generation of Packer fans learn about football.

Unfortunately, McGee passed away in 2007, as he accidentally fell off his roof while blowing off leaves and tragically died at age 75.

A number of McGee’s teammates have also passed on. Besides Ron Kostelnik, others who have passed on include Henry Jordan, Lionel Aldridge, Lee Roy Caffey, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Bob Jeter, Gale Gillingham, Don Chandler and Fuzzy Thurston.

I envision a reunion between these men right now in the spiritual world. I’m sure it’s a festive atmosphere as well, talking about the championships and all the good times. On and off the field. But like he did in real life, I am sure that Max is cracking jokes and keeping everyone loose at that particular party.

Green Bay Packers: A Scout’s Take on Rookie Offensive Lineman Kofi Amichia

Kofi Amichia

Kofi Amichia

The Green Bay Packers lost a couple of key members of their offensive line in free agency, as center/ guard JC Tretter signed with the Cleveland Browns and right guard T. J. Lang signed with the Detroit Lions.

Tretter had done a good job as a starting center when called upon, plus had also helped out at guard and also at left tackle in the 2015 postseason. Lang was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2016 and was one of the better guards in the NFL when healthy.

The health of both Tretter and Lang was a key concern of the Packers, as Tretter had been sidelined twice for long stretches with leg/knee injuries, while Lang has been playing hurt (shoulder/foot/hip) for a couple of years now.

So with both Tretter and Lang now gone, the Packers had to fill the void in both free agency and the draft. First, the Packers re-signed Don Barclay, not so much to be a starter, but to be a key reserve for almost every position along the offensive line.

It was also announced by head coach Mike McCarthy that offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, who was drafted in 2016, would be competing at both right guard and right tackle in OTAs and training camp.

Then on the eve of the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers signed guard Jahri Evans, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. Evans was once one of the very best guards in the NFL, as he was named to six Pro Bowl teams and was named first-team All-Pro four times.

After being released by both the Saints and the Seattle Seahawks before the 2016 season, Evans returned to New Orleans and played solidly in all 16 games after dropping some weight.

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the one-year contract is worth $2.25 million, with a $1.15 million base salary, a $200,000 signing bonus, $50,000 per game in roster bonuses ($800,000 total), $100,000 in workout bonuses and $225,000 in likely to be earned incentives.

Then on the third day of the draft, the Packers selected offensive lineman Kofi Amichia of South Florida. Seeing as I live in the Tampa area, I had a chance to view many of the USF football games. And from what I saw from Amichia, I was impressed.

The 6’4″, 304-pound Amichia started two games at right tackle in 2014 before starting 26 straight games at left tackle in 2015 and 2016.

Amichia was named first-team All-American Athletic Conference in 2016.

In the NFL, it is expected that Amichia will move inside and play guard and center.

I wanted to get a scouting perspective on Amichia from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had another opportunity to talk with Landry earlier this week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.

When I talked to Landry, I first mentioned what a great pro day workout Amichia had at USF, as he ran the 40 in 4.99, did 32 reps in the bench press drill, had a vertical jump of 33½ inches and a broad jump of 9 feet 6 inches.

I also mentioned that Amichia had scored a 31 on the Wonderlic intelligence test.

Landry was impressed with the selection of Amichia by the Packers.

“He’s very quick. He really understands blocking angles,” Landry said. “He is very smart. He needs to get a little stronger in the upper-body. I like him at center even more than guard.

“I think he’s got position versatility and it’s really good that he can play both spots. A really good value, as they normally do in Green Bay, getting good value in the sixth round. I thought it was a really nice pick for them.”

General manager Ted Thompson has done very well in the middle and late rounds of the draft in selecting good offensive lineman, as Landry eluded to.

For example, the Packers picked Lang (2009), Josh Sitton (2008) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (2013) in the fourth round, while center Corey Linsley (2014) was selected in the fifth round.

They key in selecting a player like Amichia is his versatility. Instead of picking both a guard and a center in the recent draft, the Packers now have a player who can play both.

Time will tell how things will shape up on the offensive line in 2017 for the Packers, but by adding a player like Amichia, they have a player who can provide flexibility along the line in a number of positions.

Being athletic, quick and smart won’t hurt Amichia’s cause either.

Green Bay Packers: Ted Thompson Hauls in Quite a Catch in the 2017 NFL Draft

In the 13 years that Ted Thompson has run the NFL draft for the Green Bay Packers, one can tell that he certainly loves draft picks. In six of those drafts now, Thompson has accumulated 10 draft picks or more, which includes the 2017 NFL draft which netted the Packers 10 more players.

Ever since Thompson hired Mike McCarthy as head coach in 2006, the Packers have been primarily a draft-and-develop team.

In eleven seasons using the draft-and-develop philosophy for the most part, that marriage of Thompson and McCarthy has led to a 114-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances (including eight consecutive), four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

But this offseason and before the draft, Thompson threw a curve ball at the draft-and-develop only strategy. In fact, Thompson and the Packers signed five free agents, which is the most they have signed since 2006, which was McCarthy’s first year as head coach.

The five free agents signed were tight end Martellus Bennett, tight end Lance Kendricks, cornerback Davon House, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and guard Jahri Evans.

Those moves set up the draft which took place starting last Thursday night. I’m going to write about each one of the draft picks, plus NFL scout Chris Landry will share his thoughts on each player.

After trading out of the first round of the 2017 NFL draft on Thursday night, the Packers decided to make sure that their defense became bigger and faster in the second and third rounds on Friday night, especially in the secondary.

Kevin King

Kevin King

With pick No. 33 (along with pick No. 108) that the Packers acquired from the Cleveland Browns for pick No. 29, the Packers drafted Kevin King of Washington.

King was a three-year starter in the very talented Husky secondary, where he started at safety in 2014, before starting at cornerback in 2015 and 2016.

In his career with Washington, King had 165 tackles, 28 passes broken up, six interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The 6’3″, 198-pound King put on quite a show at the NFL Scouting Combine. King ran a 4.43 in the 40, plus led all defensive backs in the 20-yard shuttle (3.89), 60-yard shuttle (11.14) and 3-cone (6.56).

This is Landry’s take on King:

“King ripped up the Combine with an absurd 99th-percentile SPARQ score and 4.43 straight-line speed. King struggles with short-area routes as most plus-sized corners do, but his ceiling is sky high as a long boundary presence with highlight-reel ball skills. On tape, King reminds of Antonio Cromartie in his prime.”

Josh Jones

Josh Jones

Then with pick No. 61, the Packers brought in some more size and speed for their secondary, as they drafted Josh Jones of North Carolina State.

The 6’1″, 220-pound Jones ran a 4.41 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 20 reps in the bench press drill, which was tied for first among all safeties. In addition, Jones had a vertical leap of 37.5 inches (third) and a broad jump of 11 feet (second).

In his career at North Carolina State, Jones matched his workout prowess with his play on the field. In three years with the Wolfpack, Jones had 229 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, eight interceptions, 17 passes defended, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

Jones did not allow a touchdown in coverage as a senior.

Here is Landry’s take on Jones:

“Jones’ stock skyrocketed at the Combine, blazing 4.41 with a 37 ½-inch vertical, absurd 11-foot broad jump, and 20 reps on the bench. An inconsistent tackler with mouth-watering athletic traits, Jones has boom-bust characteristics as a free-strong safety tweener.”

Montravius Adams

Montravius Adams

After adding talent and speed in their secondary with their first two selections in the draft, the Packers added some size, strength and speed to their defensive line, as they selected Montravius Adams of Auburn.

The 6’4″, 305-pound Adams showed his speed at the combine, as he ran a 4.87 in the 40. Adams was third-team All-SEC honors as a junior and second-team All-SEC this past season, as he had a breakout senior season.

In his career with the Tigers, Adams had 147 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 10. 5 sacks, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

This is Landry’s take on Adams:

“Adams’ down-to-down consistency improved as a senior, and scouts at January’s Senior Bowl described his performance as “dominant” in Mobile. While he should push for early-down run-stopping snaps as a rookie, Adams’ pass-rush upside is limited. At his ceiling, Adams likely projects as a 3-5 sack-per-season player in the pros.”

Vince Beagle

Vince Beagle and Vince Biegel

In the fourth round, with the first pick of that round acquired in the trade with the Browns, the Packers went the local product route, as they selected linebacker Vince Biegel of Wisconsin.

That pick was a big hit in our household, as Vince our Beagle, was very pleased with the selection.

The 6’3″, 246-pound Biegel had a great career as a Badger, as he had 191 total tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks, five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

In addition to that, Biegel was third-team All-Big Ten in 2015 and second-team All-Big Ten in 2016. Plus, Biegel was a team captain and was part of the winningest senior class in school history, which posted a record of 41-13 (.759), including a 26-7 (.788) mark in Big Ten play and three consecutive bowl wins.

At the combine, Biegel ran a 4.67 in the 40.

This is Landry’s take on Biegel:

“Turning 24 in July, Biegel is an over-aged prospect, undersized by NFL edge-player standards, and got overpowered too frequently in college. An overachieving son of a coach, Biegel projects as a special teamer whose long-term ceiling is likely in the Erik Walden range.”

Jamaal Williams

Jamaal Williams

With their second pick in the fourth round, the Packers selected running back Jamaal Williams of BYU.

In his career as a Cougar, Williams rushed for 3,901 yards (5.4 average) and 35 touchdowns. Williams also added 60 receptions for 567 yards and another score.

In 2016, the 6’0″, 212-pound Williams rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns, which includes one game when Williams ran 287 yards and five touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him.

At the combine, Williams ran a 4.59 40.

This is Landry’s take on Williams:

“A decisive, downhill grinder on college tape, Williams is a two-down back with a ceiling in the Alfred Morris range. That said, he could find himself with a big rookie role behind Ty Montgomery.”

DeAngelo Yancey

DeAngelo Yancey

With their first pick in the fifth round, the Packers selected wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey of Purdue.

In his career as a Boilermaker, the 6’1″, 220-pound Yancey had 141 receptions for 2,344 yards (16.6 average) and 20 touchdowns. Wisconsin fans might recall that Yancey lit up the Badger secondary in 2016, as he had six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

Yancey ran a 4.53 in the 40 at Purdue’s pro day, plus shined in the three-cone drill (6.84).

This is Landry’s take on Yancey:

“Yancey generated minimal pre-draft buzz because he struggles to separate and drops too many passes, but he is big with some downfield playmaking ability, which makes him flier worthy.”

Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones

With their second fifth-round pick, this one as a compensatory pick, the Packers selected running back Aaron Jones of Texas-El Paso.

Jones had a great career for the Miners, as he rushed for 4,114 yards (6.3 average) and 33 touchdowns. Jones also added 71 catches for 646 yards and seven more scores.

The 5’9″, 209-pound Jones was second-team All-Conference USA in 2014 and first-team All-Conference USA this past season.

At the combine, Jones ran a 4.56 in the 40 and excelled in a number of other drills, including the vertical jump (37.5 inches) and broad jump (127.0 inches), plus posted a very impressive 6.82 three-cone time.

This is Landry’s take on Jones:

“On tape, Jones is a determined inside runner with plus vision, darting quickness, and serious big-play ability. In 2016, Jones led the nation in touchdown runs that began outside the red zone (12), including nine TD runs of 40-plus yards. While probably not an NFL workhorse, Jones is one of this year’s top sleeper running backs.”

Kofi Amichia

Kofi Amichia

In the sixth round, the Packers selected offensive lineman Kofi Amichia of South Florida.

The 6’3″, 304-pound Amichia started two games at right tackle in 2014 before starting 26 straight games at left tackle in 2015 and 2016. Because of his size, Amichia will play guard/center in the NFL.

Amichia was named first-team All-American Athletic Conference in 2016.

The former Bull had a great pro day at USF, as he ran the 40 in 4.99, did 32 reps in the bench press drill, had a vertical jump of 33½ inches and a broad jump of 9 feet 6 inches.

Amichia also scored a 31 on the Wonderlic intelligence test.

This is Landry’s take on Amichia:

“Has started 26 straight games at left tackle for a USF program that has broken the school’s rushing record in back-to-back seasons – posting 3,501 yards and 44 touchdowns on the ground in 2016 – and consistently ranked among the least sacked teams in the nation. At 6030 304, he runs and moves his feet well.”

Devante Mays

Devante Mays

In the seventh round, where the Packers acquired another pick after a trade with the Denver Broncos, Green Bay first took yet another running back, this time Devante Mays of Utah State.

In two years with the Utes, Mays rushed for 1,221 yards (6.1 average) and 12 touchdowns. Mays missed half of the 2016 season due to an ankle/knee injury.

The 5’10”, 230-pound Mays had a great pro day, as Landry explains in his take on Mays:

“Mays (5’10/230) is the third running back the Packers have drafted this weekend, so they’re taking as many chances at their weakest offensive position. He ran 4.52 at Utah State’s Pro Day with an explosive 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-9 broad jump. Mays will compete for a final roster spot.”

Malachi Dupre

Malachi Dupre

With their final selection of the draft and their second seventh-round pick, the Packers picked wide receiver Malachi Dupre of LSU.

Like Yancey, Dupre has great size, as he’s 6’2″ and 196 pounds. In his career at LSU, Dupre had 98 receptions for 1,609 yards (16.4 average) and 14 touchdowns.

At the combine, Dupre ran a 4.52 in the 40, plus was a top performer in both the vertical jump (39.5 inches) and broad jump (135.0 inches).

Here is Landry’s take on Dupre:

“A top-two wideout recruit out of high school, Dupre’s college stats were torpedoed by horrific quarterback play in LSU’s run-first offense. Built like Justin Hunter but not as straight-line fast (4.52), Dupre is a long, lanky, developmental wideout with no clear calling card. Like Hunter, Dupre struggled on college tape with press-man coverage and contested catches, lacking a my-ball mentality. Dupre’s best NFL projection is probably in the Andre Holmes range.”

So, the Packers definitely improved their size and speed in the secondary with the selections of King and Jones.

They also added strength, speed and athleticism in the trenches with their selections of Adams on the defensive line and Amichia on the offensive line.

With the selection of Biegel, Green Bay added a productive edge rusher, plus is a player who has the ability to move inside at linebacker.

And with the selections of Williams, Jones and Mays, the depth and talent at the running back has certainly been enhanced. So much in fact, that the Packers released both Christine Michael and Don Jackson earlier today.

Finally at wide receiver, the Packers added two more big receivers, who have shown a big-play ability in college catching the deep ball. The addition of Yancey and Dupre will push the younger receivers on the team, which includes Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison.

It’s also important to note that Davante Adams will be a unrestricted free agent in 2018 unless the Packers extend his contract.

Bottom line, the Packers have added 15 players to their roster this offseason via free agency and the draft, which does not even include the undrafted free agent rookies the team has signed.

The Packers are a team which has been a participant in two of the last three NFC title games and don’t be surprised if Green Bay makes it three out of the last four with the new additions on their team helping them to get there.