A Scout’s Take on the Two Round 1 Picks by the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 NFL Draft

Rashan Gary

One thing is sure, general manager Brian Gutekunst of the Green Bay Packers has shown that is he no Ted Thompson in terms of both drafting and using free agency. Gutekunst has a flare for gambling and he proved that again last night when he selected DE/OLB Rashan Gary of Michigan with pick No. 12 in Round 1 and then traded up from No. 30 to No. 21 later in the round to select safety Darnell Savage Jr. of Maryland on the first night of the 2019 NFL draft.

You know defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is happy. Especially after Gutekunst signed edge rusher Preston Smith (formerly of the Washington Redskins), edge rusher Za’Darius Smith (formerly of the Baltimore Ravens) and safety Adrian Amos (formerly of the Chicago Bears) all on the same day in free agency. Talk about being 180 degrees different from Thompson, who rarely dipped his toes into the free agency water.

This is what veteran NFL scout Chris Landry wrote about the the selections of Gary and Savage.

Packers selected Michigan DL Rashan Gary with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Gary (6’4/277) turned pro after making 21 starts for the Wolverines, underwhelming as 2016’s No. 1 overall high school recruit with 10.5 career sacks and 24 tackles for loss but still earning first-team All-Big Ten from the conference’s coaches as a sophomore and junior. A known athletic freak, Gary predictably destroyed the Combine with 4.58 speed and 96th-percentile SPARQ results but bombed the Wonderlic Test (9). A boom-bust prospect whose production never matched his measurables, Gary must expand his pass-rush repertoire beyond bull rushes to avoid maxing out as another Solomon Thomas.

Packers traded up to select Maryland S/CB Darnell Savage with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Seattle received two fourth-round picks and No. 30 overall in this deal. Savage (5’11/198) made 37 starts in the Terrapins’ secondary, logging nine career tackles for loss with 30 pass breakups and eight interceptions and earning second-team All-Big Ten as a senior. Savage helped himself with 86th-percentile SPARQ results at the Combine, including 4.36 speed and a 39 ½-inch vertical. A late riser as coaches became more involved in the process, Savage was commonly discussed as a cornerback or slot defender conversion before the draft. He will play free safety in Green Bay, bookending Adrian Amos.

Landry also commented about both Gary and Savage.

First, his thoughts on Gary:

“Rashan Gary at 12. Listen, Rashan was No. 11 on my board. So he is right where he ought to be. Let me say this. If they can get him turned in the right direction, you are talking about one of the top three or four players in this draft. The problem has been consistency. The motor. And that’s why he slipped a little.”

And now Savage:

“The Packers get Darnell Savage. Listen, he’s one of these fast-rising guys. I’m not as high on him as other people are. They like him. So did the Colts by the way. They moved up to get him. Could they have gotten him where they were (No. 30)? I had some safeties rated higher than him. But that’s the direction they went.”

Day 1 (Round 1) in draft was definitely slanted for the defense of the Packers.

Day 2 (Rounds 2 & 3) in the draft will almost assuredly help the Green Bay offense. That will certainly make new head coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers happy.

Final 2019 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Brian Gutekunst, Matt LaFleur and Mark Murphy at PC

The 2019 NFL draft is now just two days away and will take place in Nashville, Tennessee. The Green Bay Packers, behind general manager Brian Gutekunst and his scouting team, surely have their draft board set.

As a matter of fact, Gutekunst told the media on Monday that he closed the draft room door. “I wouldn’t imagine there’d be a whole lot of changes between now and Thursday,” said the man who replaced Ted Thompson as GM of the Packers last year.

The scouting team has done it’s work, as they have scouted the bowl games, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl), the NFL Scouting Combine and finally the pro days.

Gutekunst, who along with Mark Murphy, the President and CEO of the Packers, hired Matt LaFleur to replace Mike McCarthy as the new head coach of the Packers back in January.

The draft is one way to help LaFleur succeed. But for that to happen, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has to get back to the way he played when he was twice named NFL MVP, not to mention winning Super Bowl XLV, when he was MVP of that game. I expect the Packers to utilize the draft to get Rodgers some help.

Just like the way Gutekunst used free agency to help out Mike Pettine’s defense.

Gutekunst shocked just about everyone in Packer Nation when he signed four free agents in one day back in March, when he signed edge rusher Preston Smith (formerly of the Washington Redskins), edge rusher Za’Darius Smith (formerly of the Baltimore Ravens), safety Adrian Amos (formerly of the Chicago Bears) and offensive lineman Billy Turner (formerly of the Denver Broncos).

The men called Smith will certainly help improve the pass rush of the Packers, while Amos will help out at safety, a position that was continuously being exploited by opponents of the Packers.

Turner adds real depth and talent on the offensive line of the Packers and has played both guard and tackle in his career thus far in the NFL. In addition to that, the Packers also now have Cole Madison back in the fold, after he missed his entire rookie year due to some personal issues.

Madison started 47 games at right tackle for Washington State, but is also seen as a player, who like Turner, can move inside to guard and play very effectively in the NFL.

Both Turner and Madison seem like perfect fits in LaFleur’s outside zone running scheme.

I did my first mock draft a little over a month ago. Since then, the Packers have lost both Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb to free agency. Unfortunately, that is life in the NFL, especially when the production doesn’t match the salary allocated to the player who leaves.

Throughout the years, like a blind squirrel who finds an acorn, I have had decent success with my selections in my mock drafts and a lot of that is due to the relationship I have struck with NFL scout Chris Landry.

I am using the draft analysis and grades of Landry to guide me through this mock draft.

As I mentioned in my first mock draft, as you look through my draft selections, especially the ones later in the draft, please note that I am trying to address the special teams issues which have plagued the Packers recently and are now trying to improve with new coaches.

In this mock draft, you will note that I am again drafting three players who I had the Packers selecting in my first mock draft.

That being said, here is my second and final 2019 NFL mock draft for the Packers.

Round 1: Tight End T.J. Hockenson (Iowa)

T.J. Hockenson II

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 251 pounds

As we get closer to the 2019 NFL draft, it appears that if the Green Bay Packers want one of the top two tight ends in this particular draft, they will most likely have to pick that player at selection No. 12, which is the first of two picks that the Packers have in Round 1. The two tight ends who I am talking about are T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both of whom played at Iowa.

Hockenson had a breakout season in 2018 with the Hawkeyes, as he hauled in 49 passes for 760 yards and six touchdowns. Iowa had a dynamic duo at tight end last season with both Hockenson and Fant (39-517-7).

Overall in his career at Iowa, Hockenson had 73 receptions for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns. Hockenson also had a rushing TD.

In terms of his draft status, Hockenson has a higher rating from most scouts than Fant going into the upcoming draft, as he is a much better blocker.

This is what Chris Landry said about Hockenson at the Senior Bowl.

“Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson is an excellent receiver and a unusually great blocker coming out of college. He is more advanced than 2018 breakout tight end George Kittle at the same stage.”

The Packers certainly need additional help at the tight end position, as Jimmy Graham is nearing the end of his career, as is Marcedes Lewis (who was re-signed). The Packers also have Robert Tonyan.

Hockenson would help in two big areas. One as a productive pass-catching receiver, plus would tremendously help with his run-blocking in the outside zone scheme which Matt LaFleur will be utilizing in 2019.

If Hockenson is off the board at No. 12, I would expect the Packers to select Fant, because he won’t be there at No. 30. If by chance both are gone, then the Packers might select someone like edge rusher Montez Sweat of Mississippi State, who I had the Packers taking in my first mock draft or an offensive lineman, perhaps a player like Jonah Williams of Alabama or Jawaan Taylor of Florida.

Round 1: Wide Receiver A.J. Brown (Mississippi)

A.J. Brown

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 226 pounds

Wide receiver Arthur “A.J.” Brown had a great three-year career at Mississippi, as he was twice named first-team All-SEC when he played with the Rebels.

The Rebels had quite a passing attack with Brown on one side and D.K. Metcalf on the other. Metcalf also looks to be selected in Round 1 in this year’s draft.

In his career, Brown had 189 receptions for 2,984 yards and 19 touchdowns. In his last two years at Ole Miss, Brown averaged 80 catches for 1,280 yards and 8.5 TDs.

Brown can play both outside and inside, but I see him more as a slot receiver with the Packers. Brown has great body control, plus can change direction quickly and runs extremely well after the catch. Also has great separation skills.

At the combine, Brown ran a 4.49 in the 40 and had a vertical jump of 36.5 inches.

Chris Landry said this about the talented wide receiver.

“Ole Miss WR A.J. Brown will be a quality NFL WR who can work outside and in the slot. Brown (6’0/226) has plenty of experience inside, but he also played on the perimeter in the second half of 2018 and he did well in those reps as well. He is an efficient route runner and is both competitive and tough with natural hands.”

Round 2: Offensive Tackle Kaleb McGary (Washington)

Kaleb McGary

Height: 6’7″

Weight: 317 pounds

Kaleb McGary was a four-year starter at right tackle for the Washington Huskies. Not only that, but McGary was named All-Pac-12 there in both 2017 and 2018.

McGary has the strength and agility which has made him a very good run blocker throughout his career at Washington. Those attributes will come in handy in the outside zone blocking scheme which will be utilized by new head coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers.

The former star of the Huskies is not a bad pass blocker either based on the honors he has received in the Pac-12, but his ability to run block is his biggest strength.

McGary is also mentally tough, as he and his family have gone through some difficult times recently.

Chris Landry said this about McGary after watching film of him at the Senior Bowl.

“Kaleb McGary was impressive when studying senior bowl practice tape. He was a stalwart for the Washington offensive line in his four seasons as a starter. He could potentially step in right away and help someone and should go no later than mid second round.”

The Packers desperately need a right tackle to come in and play well, as Bryan Bulaga has often been injured playing at that position. Since 2012, Bulaga has missed 40 games due to injury, plus has had to leave a number of games early due to an injury.

I believe McGary can be the guy to step in for Bulaga.

Round 3: Safety Juan Thornhill (Virginia)

Juan Thornhill

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 205 pounds

The draft stock of safety Juan Thornhill of Virginia is definitely starting to rise, so if the Packers were able to select Thornhill in Round 3 they would have to be quite pleased.

Thornhill was a three-year starter at Virginia, as he had 208 total tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 13 interceptions, 26 passes defended and one forced fumble. In 2017, Thornhill was third-team All-ACC and in 2018 was first-team All-ACC.

Thornhill would be just what the Packers need, a pure free safety who can play center field.

The former Cavalier impressed at the combine, as he ran a 4.42 in the 40 and had an explosive vertical jump of 44 inches.

Chris Landry said this about Thornhill back in March.

“Virginia S Juan Thornhill was impressive for the Cavaliers in 2018, and his stock has risen after his strong testing at the NFL Scouting Combine. He has the size and cover skills that we look for at the NFL level in today’s game. He is skilled enough to play inside over a slot and can cover well enough outside to play some corner looks.”

Round 4: Running Back Trayveon Williams (Texas A&M)

Trayveon Williams

Height: 5’8″

Weight: 206 pounds

Running back Trayveon Williams of Texas A&M may be a bit on the short side, but he is not small. In fact, he plays like a much larger RB. In addition to that, he has all the abilities that one wants in a three-down back, as he runs extremely well, catches the ball reliably and blocks very efficiently too.

Add to that, Williams is a great character guy who works well with coaches and teammates.

In his three-year career as an Aggie, Williams ran for 3,615 yards (6.0 average) and 34 touchdowns. Williams also caught 66 passes for 561 yards and another score.

In 2019, Williams was named first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American, as he ran for 1,524 rushing yards, plus scored 15 times on 252 carries (6.1 average). He also caught 27 passes for 278 yards (10.3 average) and a touchdown.

At the combine, Williams ran a 4.51 in the 40.

Chris Landry said this about Williams prior to the Texas A&M vs. LSU game.

“RB Trayveon Williams ran for more than 100 yards last week for the third straight game as he amassed 167 on 20 carries with two touchdowns against UAB. Williams has 1,326 yards rushing this year, the most in the SEC and averages 6.1 yards per carry.”

Round 4: Outside Linebacker Justin Hollins (Oregon)

Justin Hollins

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 248 pounds

Even with the additions of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, the Packers will still be looking for some more edge rushing help in this draft. And in the fourth round, they would be able to find a real gem if they were able to select Justin Hollins of Oregon.

Hollins played on the other side of OLB Jalen Jenks, who is the better known of the two. But once the Ducks switched their defense into a 3-4 scheme from a 4-3 look, Hollins really flourished.

Hollins started out as a defensive end in 2016, but switched to OLB in 2017 and 2018. In those two years, Hollins had 123 total tackles, 25.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, two interceptions (one for a TD), six passes defended. one fumble recovery and seven forced fumbles.

Hollins was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection in 2018, as he had 64 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, one interception, seven pass breakups, and five forced fumbles (tied for second in the FBS).

Hollins wowed at the combine, as he ran a 4.5 in the 40.

Chris Landry said this about Hollins back in October.

“A defensive playmaker, Hollins has been making big plays all year long, leading the Ducks with four sacks and creating three forced fumbles this season. He was out of position in the Ducks 4-3 scheme and looks much more comfortable playing outside linebacker in their 3-4 system. The one-time track star ran a 10.88 in the 100-yard meters during junior high school.”

Round 5: Defensive Lineman Daniel Wise (Kansas)

Daniel Wise

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 281 pounds

The Packers have drafted a defensive lineman in every draft since 1996 and this year I expect them to do the same. Especially knowing that this is the last year in the contract of Mike Daniels.

A guy who impressed me and others during the East-West Shrine Game week here in nearby St. Pete was Daniel Wise of Kansas.

Wise, like Daniels, plays until he hears the whistle and sometimes past it. He plays the run very well and flashes as a pass rusher from time to time.

Wise was All-Big 12 in both 2017 and 2018, as he combined for 87 total tackles, had 28 tackles for a loss, had 10 sacks and had two forced fumbles.

Chris Landry said this about Wise after watching him all week at the East-West Shrine Game.

“Wise was used all along the defensive front at Kansas, but his skill set is maximized as a three-technique which became evident at Shrine practices. His quickness, play strength, hand technique and motor are optimized in a penetration-style role where he was unblockable in both 1v1s and team drills. He leaves St. Pete with plenty of positive buzz after dominating the week from start to finish.”

No matter whether the Packers select Wise or another defensive lineman, the team is still interested in bringing back free agent DE Muhammad Wilkerson.

Round 6: Linebacker Cole Holcomb (North Carolina)

Cole Holcomb

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 235 pounds

If there was ever a definition of a tackling machine, linebacker Cole Holcomb of North Carolina would deserve consideration.

In the last three seasons that Holcomb played for the Tarheels at LB, he averaged 104 tackles per season. Holcomb also looked the part in pass coverage, plus forced four fumbles.

At his pro day, Holcomb was off the charts, as he ran a 4.48 in the 40.

Holcomb would be a natural stud on special teams, plus would add a nice piece of depth at the ILB position.

Chris Landry said this about Holcomb in late October prior to the North Carolina vs. Georgia Tech game when Holcomb had 22 tackles.

“LB Cole Holcomb was the defensive leader at Virginia with 13 tackles, a season high for the senior and former walk-on. Holcomb has a team-high 59 tackles for the season with 5.5 for losses and figures to be a busy man against Georgia Tech’s option game.”

Round 6: Cornerback Derrek Thomas (Baylor)

Derrek Thomas

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 189 pounds

Similar to former Packer CB Sam Shields, Derrek Thomas switched positions in college from wide receiver to cornerback. Thomas started college at Temple before moving to Baylor for the 2018 season along with his former coach Matt Rhule.

Thomas had one pick and seven pass breakups for the Bears in 2018 in 11 starts.

Thomas is still raw, as he is still learning how to play the CB position. But the size, athleticism and speed are all there, as Thomas ran a 4.4 in the 40 at the combine, plus had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches.

The NFL doesn’t have a lot of 6’3″ CBs who can run a 4.4.

Chris Landry said this about Thomas last month.

“Baylor CB Derrek Thomas doesn’t impress on tape but he did test well with a 4.44 second 40-yard dash while measuring in at 6-foot-3, 189-pounds. Thomas has just 14 career collegiate starts, and though he doesn’t break down well in coverage or as a tackler, his athletic traits give him a late round chance.”

With good coaching, Thomas has the size and speed to help out eventually in the secondary, plus can be a real fixture on special teams if his tackling skills improve. Shields was not a good tackler initially either, but he learned to improve that facet of his game.

Round 7: Outside Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (Wisconsin)

Andrew Van Ginkel

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 241 pounds

Although outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel of the Wisconsin Badgers certainly wasn’t near the classification of former Badger T.J. Watt (who Ted Thompson should have drafted in Round 1 of the 2017 NFL draft) or even Vince Biegel (who Thompson did draft in Round 4 of that same 2017 NFL draft), No. 17 definitely had his moments on the field for the Badgers.

Van Ginkel had a solid two-year career at Wisconsin after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. In 2017 and 2018, Van Ginkel had 98 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, two interceptions (one for a TD), five passes defended, one fumble recovery and four forced fumbles.

In 2018, Van Ginkel was named third-team All-Big Ten.

Besides being productive at outside linebacker for the Badgers, Van Ginkel’s play on special teams stood out.

At the combine, Van Ginkel put up nice numbers, as he had a 38 inch vertical jump and ran the 20-yards shuttle in 4.14 seconds. At the Wisconsin pro day, Van Ginkel ran a 4.56 in the 40.

Chris Landry said this about Van Ginkel prior to the Wisconsin-Minnesota game late in the 2018 season.

“LB Andrew Van Ginkel is coming off a 10-tackle showing. All 10 were solo tackles. When healthy, his hustle and long reach combined with T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly give the Badgers a strong linebacking core.”

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer’s Message to Aaron Rodgers

Jerry and Aaron at Lambeau

Aaron Rodgers has been with the Green Bay Packers since 2005. That means that the 2019 season will be Rodgers’ 15th season with the team.

That mark will tie Rodgers with legendary Pro Football Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Nitschke in terms of length of service with the Packers.

The only two players who served a longer tenure with the Packers were quarterbacks Bart Starr and Brett Favre, both of whom played with the Packers for 16 years and both also have busts in Canton.

Rodgers is on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well. Like Nitschke, Starr and Favre, he has been able to call himself a NFL champion. He also has put up mind-boggling statistics.

Rodgers has the highest passer rating in the history of the NFL with a 103.1. No. 12 has thrown 338 touchdowns passes versus just 80 interceptions for 42,944 yards in his career.

Over the time when Rodgers has been the starting quarterback of the Packers, the team went to the NFC playoffs for eight consecutive years and won five NFC North titles. Plus, Green Bay also won Super Bowl XLV, as Rodgers was the MVP of the game.

In addition to that, Rodgers has been a NFL MVP twice, has been named to seven Pro Bowl teams and has been a first-team AP All-Pro twice.

Yes, Rodgers will definitely be among the best of the best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just like Jerry Kramer, who finally received his rightful due in 2018 after the great 11-year career he had with the Packers.

Kramer understood how Rodgers had to feel after a recent article from Bleacher Report written by Tyler Dunne came out.

And just to give full disclosure, I worked with Dunne for a couple of years at Packer Report before he moved on to cover the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a number of years.

I also worked for Bleacher Report for three and a half years.

In the article from B/R, both Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy were certainly not put in the best light, due to some comments by ex-teammates like Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley. The piece also had some not-so-glowing remarks from some anonymous sources.

When Kramer was a player, he also saw some bad press about the Packers, as well as negative articles about his head coach. Plus, like Rodgers and McCarthy had at times, Kramer also had some fiery moments with his coach who went by the name of Vince Lombardi.

Kramer believes that Rodgers has handled the B/R article just fine.

“I think Aaron showed a lot of class in the aftermath of this article,” Kramer said. “God bless him for being angry. God bless him for caring. God bless him for busting his ass and taking people to task who weren’t always serious about the game.

“He’s a leader. That is what he is supposed to do. That’s what leaders do.”

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers

In terms of how Rodgers responded to the article, he said this in an interview that was aired on ESPN Wisconsin, hosted by Jason Wilde and Mark Tauscher.

“It’s not a mystery,” Rodgers said. “This was a smear attack by a writer looking to advance his career, talking to mostly irrelevant, bitter players who all have an agenda, whether they’re advancing their own careers or just trying to stir old stuff up. What happens is the same, tired media folks picking it up and talking about it, which just emphasizes their opinion about me already.

“The crazy thing is, there’s super-slanted opinions in that piece stated as fact, and then there’s quote-unquote facts that are just outright lies.”

Rodgers also talked about some other things in the article, like when an anonymous source said that president/CEO Mark Murphy told Rodgers “don’t be the problem” on a phone call informing him Matt LaFleur was being hired as the new head coach.

“It’s ridiculous. It is 100 percent, patently false,” Rodgers said. “So it’s either he made that crap up, or what he would probably do as a writer is say, this is my source’s problem. He told me something. I talked to Mark last week, and I said, ‘Mark, did you tell somebody about the conversation?’ He goes, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ And I said, ‘Because that’s not what happened.’ And he told me, ‘Yeah, of course that’s not what happened.’ We had a great conversation like we always do.’”

Murphy also denied the account of that situation in the story. In an interview on Wednesday with Scott Emerich of WXOW-TV in La Crosse during a Packers Tailgate Tour stop, Murphy rejected the part of the story which described a impaired relationship between Rodgers and McCarthy.

“It’s all in the past, a lot of half-truths and a lot of stuff just made up,” Murphy said. “The conversation that allegedly took place between Aaron and I was completely false.

“We had a great conversation. It was very positive. We talked about Matt LaFleur and I said, ‘Aaron, I think the change is going to be great for you and the organization’ and he was very positive.”

Matt LaFleur is gretted by Mark Murphy

In his interview with Wilde and Tauscher on ESPN Wisconsin, Rodgers talked about his relationship with McCarthy.

“This idea that I had this grudge against him for years is absolutely ridiculous,” Rodgers said. “It’s just not true. I mean, where was this grudge when we won the Super Bowl? Where was that grudge when we won 19 games in a row? Because I will tell you this about Mike, and if you look at the comments I’ve made about him over the years, I love Mike McCarthy. Mike has been a huge part of my success in my career, and I’ve had some amazing moments on and off the field with Mike. We have had issues, no doubt about it. Any long relationship has issues, but the way that we dealt with those issues, Mike and I, was face to face.

“We had conversations. Things didn’t fester for weeks, months, years. It’d be up in his office. It’d be after a Thursday night practice down in the big team room, it’d be in the quarterback room. It’d be at my house sometimes, it’d be at his house sometimes. We spent time together. We talked about things. Even at the most difficult moments, when I was stubborn about something, when he was stubborn about something, the conversation ended the same way every time. We came to an agreement and agreed to move forward on the same page.”

Kramer and Lombardi also had their share of moments.

And it was one of those periods in time in which Kramer realized that he could become a great player in the NFL.

“I jumped offsides one time in a scrimmage and he [Lombardi] got in my face,” Kramer said. “Lombardi told me, ‘Mister, the concentration period of a college student is five minutes, high school is three minutes and kindergarten is 30 seconds. You don’t even have that. Where does that put you?’

“So I go into the locker room with my chin in my hand, my elbow on my knee and I’m looking at the floor. I’m thinking, I’m never going to play for this guy. But then Coach Lombardi came into the locker room and came across the room, slapped me on the back of the neck, mussed up my hair and he said, ‘Son, one of these days you are going to be the best guard in football.’ He then turned around and walked away.

“That statement gave me a new feeling about myself. From that point on, I really became a player. That positive reinforcement by him at that moment changed my whole career.

“It was a major turning point for me. Not only in performance, but also in effort. I really went to work at football after that. I believed Lombardi to be an honest man, so I believed what he said. I decided then that it was up to me to prove Coach Lombardi right.”

But there were also some moments with Lombardi when Kramer had just about enough of the criticism by his coach.

It was early in his career under Lombardi, when Kramer vividly recalls a situation that almost became volatile.

“I played a game against the 49ers in San Francisco when I broke some ribs,” Kramer said. ” I saw the team doctor early the next week and he told me that I just had a pulled muscle and not to worry about it. I didn’t tell the doc that his assessment was BS, but I told some of the guys that I knew I had busted a couple of ribs.

“So, I wasn’t going to rock the program, so I continued to practice even with my ribs hurting like hell. Then later that week an article came out in The Chicago Tribune that said that Fuzzy [Thurston] and I were the best guards in the NFL. Well, Fuzz and I were glowing in it pretty good, feeling pretty cool.

“Anyway, we are practicing that week with my ribs hurting and we were running a play when Fuzzy wasn’t in the lineup for this particular play and I believe a rookie was filling in for him. So, we run a sweep to the left and the rookie didn’t belly deep enough on the play and he and the blocking back collided and fell down and I fell over them and the ball carrier fell over all of us.

“Coach Lombardi sees this and he yells, ‘Best guards in the NFL my ass! We’ve got the worst guards in football! The worst!’

“Something popped in my head after he yelled that. We had been standing together on the 40-yard line on the practice field and I’m going after him. I’m walking towards him and my ass is just chapped. Well, Coach Lombardi goes to the area where the coaches normally stand behind our huddle and he walks past that by about 25 yards where he isolated and completely by himself.

“So I stop at the huddle and I’m glaring at him. I’m pretty much out of control. I’m really angry. But Coach won’t look at me. He’s walking back and forth with his head down. I’m standing there with my hands on my hips staring at Coach Lombardi while Bart is calling the play.

“After Bart called the play, the team broke the huddle and went to the line of scrimmage, but I just stood there. Still glaring at him. Finally, I go to the line of scrimmage and just bent over a little bit and didn’t put my hand down like I normally would. We run the play and I didn’t move.

“So I go back to the huddle and I’m figuring out what to do, as Lombardi was still 25 yards back. It was like a barrier that stopped me. So Bart is calling another play and I yell to Fuzzy to get in here as I had just about enough and I go to the sideline and now I’m about 30 yards from everyone. I’m still steaming with my arms crossed over my chest.

“I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to do. Finally after about three minutes, Coach Lombardi comes over to me and punches me on the shoulder and messes up my hair a little and says, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean you. I wasn’t talking to you!’

“I knew that his line was all BS, but Coach Lombardi was basically apologizing and trying to re-establish communications and I allowed him to do that.”

Vince and Jerry II

In the next game, the Packers played the Rams in Los Angeles and Kramer went up against the great Merlin Olsen. After the game, Olsen asked Kramer what was wrong. Kramer told him that he was playing with extremely sore ribs. Olsen said, ‘Yep, I knew something was wrong.’

The next week Kramer saw his own doctor and not the team doctor. After he had some x-rays done, Kramer’s doctor told him that he indeed had two broken ribs.

Kramer made a point of telling Lombardi about that diagnosis as soon as he saw him.

“I see Coach Lombardi in the locker room and I go over and get right in front of him. I tell him that my sore ribs were actually two broken ribs. Coach Lombardi’s exact quote was, ‘No shit! They don’t hurt anymore do they?’

But that is how it went at times with the players who played under Lombardi in Green Bay. Lombardi knew how to motivate his players and he treated them all differently and knew what the right buttons were to push for a particular player.

It led to five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. Including in that span was three consecutive NFL titles. That is a mark which has never been duplicated in the playoff era of the NFL.

That success was certainly appreciated the players, as one of the other things that Lombardi preached was love. Love for your God, love for your family and love for your team.

Kramer expressed his love for Lombardi after the legendary “Ice Bowl “ game, which gave No. 64 the platform to discuss some bad press that his coach had received.

“After that game, I was interviewed by Tom Brookshier,” Kramer said. “There had been a negative article about Coach Lombardi that had come out recently from Esquire magazine. The article compared him to Mussolini and a pigeon walking around with his chest thrown out. It was just a hatchet job.

“Tommy asked me about Coach Lombardi. I had made up my mind previously to talk about him, as I heard that Coach’s mother was really upset with the article. She even cried over it.

“So when Tommy asked me about the coach and mentioned the criticism, I said, ‘People don’t understand Coach Lombardi. They don’t know him. But we know him. We understand him. And we love him. And this is one beautiful man.’

“And that still fits today. I still feel that same way.”

After that classic game, Lombardi received a phone call in the locker room from his mentor Red Blaik, who taught Lombardi so much at Army. The words from Blaik to Lombardi can be read in the fantastic book, When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss, which to me is the greatest book ever written about Lombardi.

“Vince,” Blaik said. “A great victory, but greater were the words of Kramer, who has stilled those who are skeptical about you as a person.”

Kramer also feels the same way about Rodgers. He likes the fact that he cares about the way his teammates practice or about the way they play during a game. It’s also okay to have squabbles with your coach and it’s also okay to get angry, even during a game.

But it has to be controlled anger. Kramer used that technique when he was a player. It started on Thursday when he would think about his upcoming opponent who he would see in the trenches on Sunday. Kramer would go through an exercise in his mind. That his opponent was trying to hurt his family, take away his home and his job. That served him well during his career.

The first time Kramer used anger to motivate himself was while he was in a state track meet in Idaho while he was in high school. Because of a mishap with a shotgun, Kramer had accidentally shot himself in the lower arm and wrist area. That is not a good omen for a person who has to throw the shot put.

But between hard work and using a different throwing technique which was used by Olympic champion Parry O’Brien, Kramer was able to throw the shot put close to 49 feet heading into the state track meet.

But when he was announced on the loudspeaker just before he was about to throw, Kramer tensed up and threw the shot put around 30 feet. Luckily for Kramer, the throw was not able to be spotted because the judges were back near 49 feet, the distance Kramer had thrown recently. This situation gave Kramer one more chance to make a throw.

But this time, he was pissed. Kramer used that anger and threw the shot put 51 feet, 10 inches, which broke a 20-year state record.

It was the controlled anger that helped Kramer break the state record in the shot put in Idaho. It was also controlled anger that Kramer witnessed from Rodgers in the opening game of the 2018 season, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football on NBC.

That game was also played on alumni weekend, so Kramer and many of the Packer greats from yesteryear were on hand to see the game.

In that game, Rodgers had a 130.7 passer rating, as he threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 286 yards. Most of this came after No. 12 had his season almost ended on one of the two sacks he took that night, as Rodgers suffered what was called a knee sprain, which saw the quarterback leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.

But Rodgers was able to come back in the second half, as he led the Packers back from a 20-3 deficit, as Green Bay roared back to beat Chicago 24-23.

Aaron vs. da Bears in 2018 at Lambeau

But it wasn’t just a sprain, as it was actually a tibial plateau fracture and sprained MCL in Rodgers’ left knee.

Rodgers talked about that knee injury last week on ESPN Wisconsin, as he talked about the play which injured him, when 294-pound Bears defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris came crashing down on him for a sack.

“If you watch the hit back,” Rodgers said, “just my two bones are coming together on the outside, just kind of made an indent fracture. Very painful. The good thing was it’s not super weight bearing, like load bearing every single time. but there definitely was some movement and things you do naturally that affected it.”

But you wouldn’t have known that watching Rodgers play in the second half against da Bears, as No. 12 led the Packers back to an unforgettable comeback.

“I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet Aaron was really mad after the injury,” Kramer said. “To see your season almost end against your most hated rival and on national television, had to have angered him. But in my mind, he used that anger in a controlled way and was almost flawless to lead the Packers back to a great victory.”

Yes, controlled anger is a great asset to have. Ask Tom Brady. How many times have you seen him scream at teammates and coaches on the sidelines? But he doesn’t let that anger affect his play negatively. He uses that anger to enhance it.

That is the credo which Kramer utilized in his Hall of Fame career with the Packers, both with his relationship with coaches and also with his play on the field.

And that is how Kramer believes it should be for Rodgers as well.

“Aaron has always played with a chip on his shoulder, just like Tom Brady has,” Kramer said. “It has served him well in the past and will serve him well in the future. He has to deflect the things in the media that aren’t important to him and his team and just continue to focus on getting the job done.

“There will be times when there will be issues with your head coach or your position coach. That is life in the NFL. But all of that has to put be aside when the time comes and you have to prepare for the game.

“Aaron is a winner and a champion. And that is something which will never change, as long as he keeps that chip on his shoulder.”

Milwaukee Brewers: Josh Hader is a Throwback to Rollie Fingers

Josh Hader II

In terms of throwing the baseball, Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers is quite different from former Brewers great Rollie Fingers as a relief pitcher.

Hader is a lefty and he throws primarily fastballs in the mid-to-high 90s. The right handed Fingers used an assortment of pitches, but the slider was his number one pitch, as his fastball topped off in the low 90s.

Fingers also threw the change up effectively, plus later in his career utilized the forkball as a very useful pitch, especially when I was covering the Brewers during his time in Milwaukee.

Hader, on the other hand, relies almost exclusively on bringing the gas. His pitching motion to the plate also hides the ball really well to hitters. In one of his five saves thus far in 2019, Hader pitched a perfect inning, when he threw nine pitches and recorded three strikeouts. Only one of those nine pitches hit a bat, while the other eight were swing and misses.

But there is definitely one area in which Hader does resemble how Fingers used to finish ball games when he was considered one of the top closers in MLB. That is going multiple innings in getting a save. Like going two-plus innings to record one.

Just to illustrate at how good Fingers was at getting saves over multiple innings, just check out how many times No. 34 did that in his career. Fingers had 114 wins and 341 saves over his career with the Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers on his way to Cooperstown. Fingers also posted a career ERA of 2.90.

But of those 341 saves, Fingers posted 74 of them by getting at least seven outs. That mark is second all-time in MLB history, only behind Hoyt Wilhelm, who recorded that feat 76 times.

Rollie Fingers

Hader has done that a number of times already over his short time in the big leagues. This past Sunday, Hader went 2.2 innings to get his fifth save of the season against the Chicago Cubs, as the Brewers upped their season record to 8-2, which is tops in the NL Central.

Besides going multiple innings at times to record saves, Hader and Fingers have a couple of other similarities. Both were acquired by the Brewers in trades and both were originally starting pitchers.

Fingers was acquired in a blockbuster 1980 offseason trade with the St. Louis Cardinals which also brought catcher Ted Simmons and starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich to Milwaukee. GM Harry Dalton had to give up starting pitcher Lary Sorenson, outfielder Sixto Lezcano, pitcher Dave LaPoint and outfielder David Green to get the talented trio.

The trade was well worth it, as the Brewers made to to the postseason for two consecutive years, plus Fingers was named the MVP of the American League in 1981, plus won the Cy Young Award that year.

Vuckovich won that same award in 1982 when Harvey’s Wallbangers went to the World Series. Unfortunately, Fingers was not able to pitch in the 1982 postseason. More on that later.

Fingers was also an All-Star in 1981 and 1982, while Simmons had the honor in 1981 and 1983.

Hader was also brought to Milwaukee in a blockbuster trade. Midway through the 2015 season, the Brewers sent outfielder Carlos Gómez and pitcher Mike Fiers to the Houston Astros for Hader, outfielder Domingo Santana, pitcher Adrian Houser and outfielder Brett Phillips.

In terms of being starting pitchers early in their careers, Fingers actually made 37 starts for the A’s before becoming a full-time relief pitcher. Hader was also a starter in the minors, including his time in the Milwaukee system, before he got the call up to the big club. At that point, manager Craig Counsell decided it was best to utilize Hader in the pen.

And that is where he has excelled, although this season is the first time that Hader is considered the closer.

In 2017, Hader did not have any saves, but had a sparkling ERA of 2.08, while compiling a 2-3 record. No. 71 also had 68 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

But it was in 2018 when Hader really broke out on the MLB scene. Hader was 6-1 with an ERA of 2.43, plus struck out an amazing 143 hitters in just 81.1 innings. Hader also had 12 saves, as he split closer duties with Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel.

Besides that, Hader was named as an All-Star, plus won the 2018 National League Trevor Hoffman Reliever award.

This year, with Knebel out for the season due to Tommy John surgery and with Jeffress currently out with shoulder woes, Hader has been almost unhittable. In five appearances in which he has five saves, Hader has given up just one hit in 7.2 innings. No. 71 also has 13 strikeouts and has just one walk, plus has a perfect ERA of 0.00.

Hader has also shown a similarity to Fingers in terms of being clutch in leading up to the playoffs, as well as the postseason itself, although he has just been in the big spotlight just one year.

No one will ever forget Fingers pitching the Brewers into the 1981 postseason by beating the Detroit Tigers at County Stadium in early October, nor will anyone ever forget Hader saving Game No. 163 for the Brewers at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs and winning the NL Central last season.

Josh Hader vs. the Cubs in Game No. 163

Besides being a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Rolaids Reliever of the Year, Fingers was also a World Series MVP, plus was a three-time World Series champion. In my opinion, he would have made that four times in 1982 when the Brewers played the Cardinals had he been able to pitch.

Fingers suffered an elbow injury in September of 1982 which caused him to miss the rest of the regular season and postseason. The Brewers lost the World Series to the Cards by a 4-3 margin, but had Fingers been available, they probably don’t blow late leads like they did in both Game 2 and Game 7 of that series.

But when he was healthy, Fingers was about as good as it gets in the postseason. From 1971 through 1975, Fingers was 4-4 with an ERA of 2.35, plus had nine saves. In the three World Series matchups that he pitched in, Fingers had a combined ERA of 1.35.

Hader was incredible last postseason for the Brewers, as he posted a perfect 0.00 ERA in 10 innings, plus had 16 strikeouts compared to just one walk.

That bodes well for the future.

The thing that separates Hader from other closers in today’s MLB, is his ability to go multiple innings. Yes, sometimes a closer will be put in the game in the eighth inning once in a while, but it almost never happens that a manager will put a closer in during the seventh inning like Counsell does with Hader.

Fingers knew how to close games out that way too.