A Scout’s Take on the Evolution of the Safety/Linebacker Hybrid in Today’s NFL

Josh Jones III

During the 2016 season, the Green Bay Packers started using safety Morgan Burnett at inside linebacker at times while the Packers were in their nickel package defensively.

Why? Because the team was looking for more speed at the position to better cover backs and tight ends in passing situations.

It’s also become a trend in the NFL as of late. Getting smaller, but faster players to play linebacker on passing downs. But those players also have to be able to play the run well too.

The Arizona Cardinals set the pace with that type of defensive alignment a couple of years ago when they started using safety Deone Bucannon at linebacker. The 6’1″, 220-pound Bucannon had the skill set to cover the backs and tight ends effectively, plus was also a good tackler in the box on running plays and could shoot the gaps to rush the quarterback as well.

In fact, in the 2015 season, Bucannon had 112 total tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception for a touchdown.

Last season, the Atlanta Falcons drafted Deion Jones out of LSU to fill a similar role. The 6’1″, 222-pound Jones ran a 4.59 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Unlike Bucannon, Jones played linebacker in college.

In his rookie campaign in 2016, Jones put up similar numbers to what Bucannon did in 2015. Jones had 108 total tackles, one forced fumble and three picks, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

In the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers decided to draft a player who can also be used in the safety/linebacker hybrid role. That player is Josh Jones, who played his college ball at North Carolina State.

The 6’2″, 220-pound Jones ran a blistering 4.41 in the 40 at the combine. The Packers obviously liked what they saw when the 6’1″, 209-pound Burnett was used in that role last season, and now look to use Jones in that same role, as Burnett will stay at his normal safety position.

In fact, at their recent OTAs, the Packers were indeed using Jones at linebacker in the nickel.

The NFL has always been a copy cat league and the use of a safety/linebacker hybrid seems to be a growing trend.

I wanted to see if my assessment of that situation was correct, so I wanted to check with NFL scout Chris Landry to get his take on the matter.

I was able to talk with Landry earlier this week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

Landry agreed that this inclination to get smaller and faster at the linebacker position seems to be on the rise.

“Yeah, as you see more spread offenses and more speed on the field, you see more speed defensively to combat that,” Landry said. “The difference is that Deion [Jones] played linebacker in college, where [Deone] Bucannon was a safety who was converted.

Deone Bucannon

Deone Bucannon

“You are going to see more of that. You are seeing it more in college. You are seeing undersized linebackers and you are seeing undersized defensive ends to get more speed on the field. You need those type of bodies. There is no question that it’s going that way, and one of the counter acts to that offensively is to run power at a smaller unit.”

Landry then talked about the metamorphosis of the safety position.

“The safety position has changed as much as any,” Landry said. “Having a guy who can defend the run, but is athletic enough to cover is what you are looking for now. It’s a tough find. You really need to have that covered, because again, people will scout you out and run the football at your small looks, but then throw against your big looks.

“So that is really a key. Getting guys who can stay on the field for three downs, particularly in college, with all the up-temp offenses, as you can’t substitute as much. It becomes more difficult to do that, when you don’t have huddles. How do you defend that? Defend both the run and the pass? That’s the dilemma. The answer is to get those type of guys, basically safety-looking bodies playing linebacker, who can do both.”

The Packers run a 3-4 defense, but are in their nickel look (five defensive backs) about 70 percent of the time. Why? Because the NFL has become a pass-happy league.

But even with five defensive backs, the linebackers also need to be able to cover, which is why you are seeing safety/linebacker hybrids playing the position. But as Landry says, the safety/linebacker hybrid also needs to be able to be effective in the box as a run defender.

Josh Jones of the Packers definitely has the tools to do the job as a safety/linebacker hybrid. Besides having great size and speed, Jones had great production at NC State. 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.

In addition to that, Jones did not allow a touchdown in coverage as a senior.

Bottom line, the Packers will be very happy if Jones comes anywhere near the effectiveness and production of both Deion Jones and Deone Bucannon at the safety/linebacker hybrid position this  upcoming season.

A Scout’s Take on Who Might Be the Next GM for the Green Bay Packers

Wolf-Schneider-Dorsey(1)

A couple of weeks ago, an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Michael Cohen speculated that Russ Ball, the vice president of football administration/player finance of the Green Bay Packers, could possibly be the next general manager of the team after Ted Thompson decides to move on.

Thompson, who turned 64 in January, is signed through the 2018 season in his current duties as executive vice president, general manager & director of football operations for the Packers.

Ball, who is 57, has been with the Packers since 2008 and his primary duties are negotiating player contracts and managing the salary cap. Before coming to Green Bay, Ball previously spent time with the New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL.

Although I believe Ball is very good at what he does, my guess is the next general manager of the Packers will have a similar background as Thompson has had. Which means having a scouting background.

I wanted to see if my thoughts had merit, which is why I wanted to talk with NFL scout Chris Landry about this situation. I had an opportunity to talk with Landry earlier this week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

I started my discussion with Landry by mentioning the GM speculation about Ball, and that he also had taken over his current position with the Packers from Andrew Brandt.  Plus I also brought up three names who I believe would be better candidates as GM for the Pack.

One name is Eliot Wolf, who is currently director of football operations for the Packers and has spent . Eliot is the son of Ron Wolf, who served as the GM of the Packers from 1992 through 2000.

Wolf, who is still only 35, has now been part of 25 consecutive drafts for Green Bay, either under his dad or in scouting capacity with the Packers. Wolf has also been at 26 consecutive NFL Scouting Combines.

After being pro personnel assistant with the Packers from 2004-2008, Wolf was then promoted to assistant director of pro personnel for three years, before he was promoted to assistant director of player personnel in 2011. He then was named director of pro personnel in 2012, a position he held until his most recent promotion of director of football operations, which was in March of 2016.

Another name to consider is John Schneider, who is currently the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks. Schneider (a Green Bay native) started his scouting career with the Packers in 1993 under Ron Wolf and spent 12 years total with Green Bay in a number of capacities, including being director of football operations for the Packers in 2008 and 2009.

Another person who would have to be under consideration is John Dorsey, who is currently the general manager with the Kansas City Chiefs. Like Schneider, Dorsey also started his scouting career in Green Bay in 1991 under Ron Wolf and spent 20 years in the Green Bay organization all told, which also included being the director of football operations.

Dorsey also spent six years in Green Bay as a player.

Landry first talked about Ball.

“He’s [Ball] an administrator, just like Andrew [Brandt],” Landry said. “Andrew was not a football guy. Russ is not a football guy. He’s an administrator.”

Landry than talked about Wolf, Schneider and Dorsey.

“As far as where the Packers will go to replace Ted [Thompson], when Ted steps aside, to me, there’s a big difference between an Eliot Wolf and a John Schneider or John Dorsey, guys who have done it,” Landry said. “Eliot, we know his dad’s name, I think that’s awfully risky to put a kid like that type of a role. I don’t think he’s ready for that. But I don’t know what they are going to do or what Ted is going to do.

“I do think that people might say that John Schneider wouldn’t leave Seattle, I don’t know that he would or wouldn’t, but Pete Carroll makes the final decisions for personnel in Seattle. And if John had total control in Green Bay, he might want to do that or he might not.

“The same thing with John Dorsey in Kansas City, in which he answers essentially to Andy Reid. That could be a factor in them taking it [the Green Bay GM job]. We’ll just have to wait and see. John Schneider grew up in Green Bay and went to high school there, while Dorsey obviously had a background working there.

“I can’t really add any insight as to who [the next GM will be]. It can be very political there and Russ very well might get it [the GM job]. It wouldn’t be the move I would suggest.”

This all may be a moot point after the 2018 season, if Thompson decides to continue his role as GM and signs another extension with the Packers.

How the Packers do on the field over the next couple of seasons will most likely play a big role in that decision.

No matter what, I believe the next GM of the Packers will have a history in the scouting profession.

Green Bay Packers: Don Barclay Has Yet Another Role on the Offensive Line

at Nissan Stadium on November 13, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Yes, Packer Nation. He’s back. I’m talking about offensive lineman Don Barclay. Some fans couldn’t believe that the Green Bay Packers re-signed Barclay in 2016 and many had the same opinion three months ago when the Packers re-signed No. 67 yet again this year.

Why? Mostly because Barclay has been inconsistent with his play over the past few years. Which also includes giving up sacks at untimely moments.

On March 10, the Packers brought back Barclay and gave him a very modest contract. According to Over The Cap, Barclay will make just $775,000 in base salary and $250,000 in a prorated/workout bonuses, which makes his total cap number for 2017 just $1,025,000.

That’s not exactly a big investment for a guy who has been in the NFL and with the Packers since his rookie year in 2012.

Speaking of Barclay’s rookie year, I was at training camp that summer on a number of occasions and I wrote an article for Bleacher Report that said Barclay had a good chance to make the team as an undrafted rookie.

That is indeed what happened.

Barclay did not get off to a great start that training camp, but he settled in, as the Packers were using him primarily on the inside of the offensive line, after being a three-year starter at left tackle for West Virginia.

The Packers saw that Barclay’s lack of foot speed would be a detriment on playing tackle in the NFL, so that is why they moved him inside. It was there where Barclay displayed a tenacious style of play which impressed me and more importantly the coaching staff.

But because of injuries, Barclay also got reps at right tackle and that is the position he ended up playing as a rookie. In fact, Barclay played in all 16 games as a rookie, and started the last four games of the regular season at right tackle and two postseason games there as well.

Barclay showed a better than average ability as a run-blocker, but also struggled pass blocking versus edge rushers as a rookie.

In 2013, the plan was for Barclay to get more work inside at guard, plus get some reps at center as well. But when starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL on Family Night, Barclay was pressed to play right tackle again for the entire season.

Once again, Barclay struggled with edge rushers in 14 starts. But all in all, he did a somewhat decent job protecting the quarterback for the most part. The run blocking of Barclay was his again his biggest attribute.

In 2014, the plan was for Barclay to be sort of the Swiss Army Knife for the offensive line and play both inside and outside in reserve. But then he tore his ACL and missed the entire year.

The ACL injury definitely slowed Barclay down in 2015, as he really struggled at each of the offensive tackle positions, as the Packers were hit hard with injuries at that position that year.

No. 67 started five games for the Packers in 2015, four at right tackle and one at left tackle. In those games, Barclay gave up nine sacks and multiple pressures.

Don Barclay

The final straw came after his dismal pass-blocking performance in the Week 16 game against the Arizona Cardinals at left tackle, as the team gave up nine sacks as a team. The Packers never looked at Barclay again at either tackle position the rest of the season or the playoffs.

The most important player on the Packers is quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It’s imperative that the team protects No. 12 with the best possible set of offensive tackles. That’s what the Packers have with Bulaga at right tackle and David Bakhtiari at left tackle. Both are among the best in the league at their respective positions

The Packers wanted to cover themselves in the 2016 NFL draft at that position, which is why they drafted two offensive tackles, Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy.

During the 2016 season, Spriggs was considered the swing tackle, in case there was an injury to either Bulaga or Bakhtiari. Fortunately for the Packers, and for Rodgers, both Bulaga and Bakhtiari started all 16 games last year.

Barclay was going to be strictly used inside, at either guard or center if needed. That is where the Packers envisioned him back in his rookie season of 2012.

Unfortunately for Barclay, things didn’t go well for him when he started a game against the Washington Redskins last year when right guard T.J. Lang was unable to play. Barclay did not play well at all and was later pulled out of the game and Spriggs took his place.

It was later learned that Barclay had hurt his shoulder before the game.

But the Packers still brought him back in 2017. Why? Mostly because the Packers lost both Lang and center/guard JC Tretter to free agency.

The Packers also covered themselves some more after signing Barclay in early March, by signing veteran right guard Jahri Evans just before the draft and then drafting Kofi Amichia out of South Florida, who will play both guard and center for the Packers.

Like Barclay, Amichia was a starter at left tackle in college.

And based on the OTAs last week, it appears that Barclay is now the second string center, as he got that starter’s reps at center, as starting center Corey Linsley is rehabbing from ankle surgery.

And with the release of center Jacob Flores last week, Barclay now has a chance to prove him self once again with the Packers at that position.

Over his career, in which he has played 62 games over five years, including 24 starts, Barclay may not have impressed a lot of people in Packer Nation, but he is obviously respected and well liked by his teammates and his coaches.

That includes his position coach.

“He’s been in some really tough spots as a freshman, his rookie year and he came flying through,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “Now he overcame a bad injury, flying through. This will be the second year off of (the torn ACL). I have all the confidence in the world in Donny Barclay. Donny is a pro’s pro. Love him.”

Barclay’s quarterback seconds that motion.

“Bringing Don back was a big thing for us,” Aaron Rodgers said. “He stepped into the backup center role and has done a fantastic job in the IPWs and now in the OTAs. He has really improved his game. You’re looking at a guy who has started at tackle for us, started at guard for us and now is in line to be our backup center. That’s fantastic. I give him a lot of credit. He’s had a great approach, he’s a great teammate and I think this is an important offseason for him to continue to show this team how valuable he is to it.”

The man who will make the final decision about who stays and who goes regarding the 2017 roster of the Packers, also likes the qualities of Barclay.

“Don Barclay has so many excellent attributes,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “You look at someone who can play all five positions and has played tackle, guard and center in our system, so his versatility, his work ethic, he’s a great locker room guy. Most importantly he’s from Pittsburgh. That goes a long way around here.”

Yes, Barclay is definitely appreciated by his coaches and teammates for all he has endured and overcome so far in his time in Green Bay and the NFL.

Don Barclay at center

But nothing is a given in the NFL. Barclay will be pushed by Amichia for reps at backup center. Who ever performs the best will win that job. Both will not only get plenty of reps in the OTAs, but also in the preseason, a the Packers will be careful about the playing time allotted to Linsley once he returns from rehabbing his ankle injury.

Linsley likes what he sees so far from Barclay.

“Donny is always wanting to learn more about the position,” Linsley said. “This is his second year kind of playing it, although last year he filled in a lot at guard and not really center. So he’s kind of got his foundation set and he’s getting a lot better at different things. We have a great working relationship.”

We shall see what happens. But for now, Barclay is the Rodney Dangerfield of the offensive line to many in Packer Nation. As in, he gets no respect.

But to his coaches and teammates, Barclay gets plenty of admiration.

Jerry Kramer Talks About the Power Sweep

Paul Hornung running the power sweep

When Vince Lombardi was head coach of the Green Bay Packers, the running game was extremely efficient. In fact, in seven of the nine years Lombardi coached the Packers, Green Bay was in the top five in rushing the football in the NFL seven times.

In the approximately 50 years since Lombardi last coached the Packers, being in the top five in rushing in the NFL has rarely happened for Green Bay. In fact, it’s only happened twice.

Once in 1971, when Green Bay was fourth in rushing in the NFL, led by John Brockington and also in 2003, when the Packers were third in rushing in the league, led by Ahman Green.

Now there have been some good rushing teams in Green Bay during that time span and the Packers have been in the top 10 in rushing seven times (1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 2003, 2004 and 2013), but for the most part it’s been the passing game which has been the key staple for the Packers offensively.

Especially over the past quarter of a century when Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have been under center.

But it was different when Lombardi was head coach.

In 1958, the year before Lombardi came to Green Bay, the Packers were 10th in the NFL in running the football. The team finished 1-10-1 that season under coach Ray “Scooter” McLean.

A number of talented players were on that team, which won only won game in 1958—players like Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

The focus of the team offensively changed when Lombardi came to town. The Packers would live or die on offense with a play called the power sweep, which Lombardi had successfully used in New York with the Giants when he ran their offense.

In one of my many talks with Kramer, he mentioned up why he thought taking the Green Bay job was so attractive to Lombardi. It had to do with the power sweep and also a player named Paul Hornung:

“Hornung was the reason I believe Coach Lombardi came to Green Bay,” Kramer said. “Bart [Starr] was an unknown then. There were three or four guys trying to become the quarterback then, and we didn’t know who the hell the quarterback was going to be.

“But we did know who Mr. Hornung was. And Coach Lombardi said many times, ‘That the power sweep was the number one play in our offense. We will make it go. We must make it go. And Hornung is going to be my [Frank] Gifford.’

“Hornung was the key with all that. To me, it seemed like Hornung was probably more instrumental in what Coach Lombardi had envisioned for his offense than who his quarterback was. So I think Hornung was the number one reason why Coach Lombardi came to Green Bay.”

The running game did become the focal point of the offense under Lombardi. And the power sweep was the big reason why.

In 1959, the Packers improved to finish third in the NFL in rushing. From 1960 to 1964, the Packers were ranked either first (three times) or second (twice) in the league in that category.

In fact, the running game became so dominant for the Packers in those years that Hornung was the NFL MVP in 1961, and Taylor earned that same honor a year later.

Some of you may ask, what is exactly is the power sweep? It’s an offensive play in which the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back, who will then attempt to run the ball to one side of the offensive line.

The primary ingredient which makes a power sweep unique is that the offensive line will have a number of players who might pull as blockers, as well as using the other running back as a lead blocker. The guards are the key, as they sometimes will get an opportunity to make second or third-level blocks against their defensive opponents so the back can gain more yardage.

The team leaned on Starr and the passing game more in 1965 and 1966 (Starr was the NFL MVP), as the running game was not as effective in those two seasons, but the Packers did finish second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

And that says a lot. Both Hornung and Taylor were now gone from Green Bay. Both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, were lost for the season in the eighth game of the season.

The team still stayed strong in the running game that season behind players like Donny Anderson, Ben Wilson, Chuck Mercein and Travis Williams.

Jerry leading the sweep in Super Bowl I

Kramer also talked about what needed to happen to make the power sweep successful:

“If Forrest [Gregg] hit that defensive end with a forearm, he would occupy him for the running back who was going to block him,” Kramer said. “Then Forrest would have a really good shot at getting the middle linebacker.

“Then if [Jim] Ringo could make that onside cutoff block on the tackle, then it was a stronger play. And Ringo was very good at the onside cutoff.

“So it was a much stronger play starting with those two blocks. Those were critical blocks. They had to be made properly or the play never got out of it’s tracks.”

Kramer then talked about what it was like blocking for a players such as Hornung or Pitts on that particular play as it broke outside:

“Hornung had such wonderful instincts,” Kramer said. “Elijah would sometimes run past me. It took Pitts around two years to learn to stay behind me so the play would be more successful.

“Hornung knew that the first time he ran it. He was just more instinctive. He wasn’t as fast as Elijah, but he knew exactly where everything was, and he could see the field very well.

“He could set you up, Bob. He knew the precise instance that the defender had to make a commitment, and then Paul would either step inside or outside and set the player up and go the other way. He was just sensational in doing that on a consistent basis.”

The power sweep became a very successful play for the Packers to run. And this comment from Kramer should tell you why:

“Bobby, in the first three years we ran that play, we averaged I believe 8.3 yards a carry.”

Which brings me to ask once again why Kramer is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The power sweep played a large part in the success of players like Ringo, Gregg, Taylor and Hornung. All of whom have busts in Canton now.

In essence, the power sweep was the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi.

The signature moment under Lombardi which cemented his legacy, was Starr’s quarterback sneak in the 1967 NFL title game at Lambeau Field, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game.

Starr scored behind arguably the greatest block in NFL history, as Kramer made a textbook  block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh of the Dallas Cowboys, as Starr tumbled into the end zone with the game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds left in the game.

So in both the signature play and the signature moment of the Lombardi Packers, Kramer played a key role in their successful outcomes.

But Kramer still waits for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That fact totally baffles me. No. 64 was an AP first-team All-Pro five times and also named to three Pro Bowls. He was also on the NFL All-Decade for the 1960s.

Kramer would have received even more honors if not for injuries and illness.

Kramer missed half of the 1961 season when he broke his ankle in a game versus the Minnesota Vikings at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Kramer missed almost all of the 1964 season and was hampered in the early part of the 1965 season, as he went through nine operations to resolve an intestinal issue.

Jerry was also a member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969 and the only guard named to that squad. Unbelievably, Kramer is the only member of that first team still not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kramer also played very well in NFL title games. The Packers won five NFL championships in seven years under Lombardi, which included the first two Super Bowls. Kramer played a huge role in the victories in three of those championships.

The 1962 NFL championship game was played at blustery Yankee Stadium versus the Giants, which also had 40 mph winds gusting around the storied stadium that day. Green Bay won that hard-fought battle 16-7. The difference in the game was three field goals.

The three field goals were kicked by Kramer, who doubled as a right guard and a kicker on that very frigid day.

The 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field featured the Packer one-two punch of Taylor and Hornung versus the great Jimmy Brown of the Browns. Brown gained just 50 yards in his last ever game in the NFL, while Hornung ran for 105 yards and Taylor 96 in muddy conditions.

The power sweep of the Packers totally dominated the Browns’ defense, as Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston kept knocking down linebackers and defensive backs leading the way for the Packer backs.

Jerry in the '65 title game

One play in particular stands out: Hornung’s last ever NFL championship touchdown.  Kramer pulled on a left power sweep and first blocked the middle linebacker, then a defensive back, as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.

I previously mentioned the “Ice Bowl” game. Let me set up the ending for you.

The Packers had to drive 68 yards with only 4:50 remaining under arctic conditions, trailing the Cowboys 17-14. The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game time temperature was 13 below zero.

In 31 plays prior to that final drive, the Packers had been held to minus-9 in yardage. It didn’t look too promising for the Packers at that point. But Green Bay somehow persevered on a 11-play drive which put the ball near the goal line of Dallas.

It came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.  If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short, the game is over.

Starr called a 31 wedge play on the 12th play of the drive in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball because of the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. Starr followed Kramer’s classic block on Pugh, and he found an opening behind No. 64 to get into the end zone with the winning touchdown.

It was Kramer’s study habits watching film that made that play successful. That play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’

In a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune, Lombardi said this about Kramer:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

Bottom line, Kramer should have been inducted into Canton decades ago. He was a finalist nine times between 1974 and 1988. The last time he was nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee was 1997.

That was 20 years ago. That time lapse is just as troubling as Kramer not being enshrined with so many of his teammates and peers in the 1970s and 1980s. And those Hall of Fame players know that Kramer belongs in Canton among the best of the best.

The biggest endorsement that Kramer ever received was from Merlin Olsen, who many feel was the best defensive tackle in NFL history. Kramer and Olsen had many a battle in the trenches over the years.

Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, which is the all-time NFL record shared by Bruce Matthews, the uncle of Clay Matthews of the Packers.

Olsen was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen says:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Jerry's block on Jethro

This August, the seniors committee needs to do the right thing and nominate Kramer as one of the two senior nominees.

Then on the Saturday before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Kramer can finally get what he rightfully deserves, which is induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the entire 48-member selection committee.

Then Kramer can get a knock on his hotel door by David Baker, who is the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And these will be the words that Kramer will hear from Baker:

“Jerry, it is my great pleasure to tell you that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.”

 

Don Horn to be Inducted into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame

Don Horn

On Friday June 23, Don Horn will be inducted into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame at Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa in Las Vegas. The organization honors former players, coaches and contributors for their accomplishments on and off the field.

You may ask, what is Gridiron Greats? Well, here is their mission statement from their website:

The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund’s mission is to assist dire need retired NFL players who were pioneers of the game and who have greatly contributed to the NFL’s status as the most popular sport in America. Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund provides hands-on assistance to help retired players and their families deal with hardships they face after football. The services include medical assistance, transportation costs for medical evaluations and surgeries, housing assistance, financial assistance for utilities, medication, and coordination of services for food, automotive payments, and childcare.

Speaking of the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, this is a description of what is does, which also from their website:

The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund (GGAF) is a non-stock, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization providing financial grants and ‘pro bono’ medical assistance to retired NFL players in dire need. The organization focuses on the humanitarian side of post-football related issues, which include coordination of social services to retired players who are in need due to a variety of reasons including inadequate disability and/or pensions.

The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund’s mission is to assist dire need retired NFL players who were pioneers of the game and who have greatly contributed to the NFL’s status as the most popular sport in America. Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund provides hands-on assistance to help retired players and their families deal with hardships they face after football. The services include medical assistance, transportation costs for medical evaluations and surgeries, housing assistance, financial assistance for utilities, medication, and coordination of services for food, automotive payments, and childcare.

Gridiron Greats was originally founded by legendary right guard Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers back in 2007. It all started when he had a Super Bowl ring stolen. Kramer subsequently had a replica ring produced. Kramer later discovered his original ring was being auctioned online.

The auction company then returned the original Super Bowl ring to Kramer. In return, Kramer gave his replica ring to the auction company where $22,000 was raised. Kramer then founded Gridiron Greats and the $22,000 became the initial capital of the organization.

Currently, the organization is headed by Mike Ditka, the Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end who played with the Chicago Bears, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. Ditka also was head coach of da Bears when they won Super Bowl XX and was 121-95 as a head coach with the Bears and the New Orleans Saints.

Sitting with Ditka on the Board of Directors for Gridiron Greats, is Gale Sayers, Marv Levy, Kyle Turley and Matt Birk.

Besides inducting Horn later this month, Gridiron Greats is also enshrining Matt Birk, Dave Casper, Mike Golic, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, John Niland, Jonathan Ogden, Jim Otto, Andre Reed and Jason Taylor.

Wow. That is quite a class!

Gridiron Greats has been inducting members into their Hall of Fame since 2009. Here are the past inductees for the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame, going year by year:

2009: “Bullit” Bob Dudley, Charlie Sanders, Ron Kramer, John Panelli, Roger Brown, Wally Triplett, Reggie McKenzie, Darris McCord, John Conti, Rocky Bleier, Albert Wistert, Earl Morrall, Jimmy David, Terry Barr and Jerry Green

2010: Mike Ditka, Joe Schmidt, Lem Barney, Pat Summerall, Lloyd Carr, John Green, Lynn Chandnois, Tom Nowatzke, Walt Kowalczyk, Bob Chappuis, Tom Matte, Lomas Brown, Mike Lucci and Dave Brandon

2011: Alex Karras, Gale Sayers, Dick LeBeau, Herman Moore, Desmond Howard, Anthony Carter, Pat Studstill, Gail Cogdill, Dorne Dibble, George Guerre, Sam Williams, Jon Jansen, Dexter Bussey and Tommy Watkins

2012: Marv Levy, Angelo Mosca, Dan Dierdorf, Bobby Bell, Joe DeLamielleure, Gary Moeller, Al “Bubba” Baker, Kyle Turley, Archie Matsos and Hank Bullough

2013: Man of the Year: Kevin Turner Class Inductees: Joe Greene, Jim Marshall, Chris Spielman, Dean Look, Rick Volk, Grady Alderman, Greg Landry, Roger Zatkoff, George Perles, George Reed and Hugh Campbell

2014 in Michigan: Dan Reeves, Brian Westbrook, Jim Brandstatter, Mike Utley, Matt Dunigan, Maxie Baughan, Doug English, Derrick Mason, Mushim Mohammed and Eddie Murray

2014 in Las Vegas: Men of the Year: Paul Hornung and Mike Lucci Woman of the Year: Sylvia Mackey Courage Award: David Humm Class Inductees: Ricky Watters, Hugh McIlhenny, Jon Arnett, Conrad Dobler, Jim Plunkett and Tom Flores

2015 in Las Vegas: Woman of the Year: Chie Smith Class Inductees: Al Davis, Abner Hayes, Jim McMahon, Bob St. Clair, Dave Wilcox, Fred Biletnikoff, Ray Elgaard, George Kunz, Tom Mack, Raymond Chester, Dick Vermeil and Jim Covert

2016 in Las Vegas: Sylvia Mackey Woman of the Year: Chanda Brigance Class Inductees: Cliff Branch, Billy Kilmer, Daryle Lamonica, Don Maynard, Ed Flanagan, Dan Pastorini, Ron “Jaws” Jaworski, Robert Brazile, Danny McManus, Eddie Meador and Jim Taylor

That is quite a Hall of Fame!

You may notice one name missing. That would be the founder of Gridiron Greats, Jerry Kramer. But don’t worry, Gridiron Greats has reached out to Kramer to induct him, but Kramer’s schedule helping out with the Vince Lombardi Golf Classic has put off his induction up to this point. But trust me, Kramer’s induction will happen.

Now, getting back to Don Horn. The former San Diego State star played eight years in the NFL, with four of those years in Green Bay.

Don Horn with Coach Lombardi in Super Bowl II

It all started when he was drafted by the Packers in 1967. Horn recalled that moment, as he was sitting in the public relation director’s office at San Diego State listening to the draft on the radio.

“So we’re listening to the draft and I hear that the Lions selected Mel Farr with their pick in the first round,” Horn said. “And I’m thinking that those guys [the Lions] didn’t tell the truth about picking me.

“So as we getting near the end of the first round, I’m kind of ticked because all these teams who said they were going to pick me, didn’t. All of a sudden the phone rings and I believe it was Coach Lombardi’s secretary, and she said, ‘Is this Donald Horn?’ And I said yes. She then told me to please hold for Coach Lombardi.

“At first I thought someone was playing a trick on me. Then Lombardi and his distinctive voice gets on the phone. He says, ‘Donald,  this is Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. The Kansas City Chiefs are picking right now. We are considering making you our next draft choice. Do you have any reservations about playing for the Packers?’ I said no sir.

“Then Coach asked if I had signed any contracts with other leagues like the Canadian Football League. Again, I said no sir. Lombardi then said he would get back to me in about 15 minutes. About 15 minutes later, I get the call and Lombardi says, ‘Don, you are now a Green Bay Packer.’

“I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was 10 feet tall. It was like walking on water!”

Horn had two very memorable games at quarterback for the Packers.

One was the last game of the 1968 season, when the Packers faced da Bears at Wrigley Field.

The Packers were already eliminated from the NFL Central division race and had a 5-7-1 record going into the game. The Bears, on the other hand, were 7-6, and a win would give them the NFL Central title.

Horn did not expect to play in the game.

“I got out of the Army about 10 days before the game,” Horn said. “I missed pretty much the whole season because I was in the service. So I got up there and practiced with the team a little bit with the team the week before.

“I had a reserve meeting that Saturday night in Milwaukee. I got out of the reserve meeting around 11:00 and I drove down to Chicago, and I think we were staying at the Drake Hotel. I went in there about 2:30 in the morning. My roommate was Ron Kostelnik.

“Anyway, get up the next morning and went down to the team breakfast. And Lombardi is there and he was still the general manager of the team and is pulling the strings. He tells me, “I’m thinking of having you suit up today.” Bart had broken ribs, so I was going to be the third-string quarterback. Zeke (Bratkowski) started the game but got hurt and he had to be carried off the field.

“Billy Stevens was the other quarterback. Billy started throwing the ball on the sideline getting ready to go into the game. Just then, I think it was coach Schnelker who said, ‘Horn, get in there.’ The first series I struggled, and it seemed like Dick Butkus and company knew exactly what I was doing. The next series it got better. I remember I called one play, and Boyd Dowler says, ‘You can’t call that play here, it won’t work.’ And I said, “It’s the only play I can remember, ready break.” And I threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Jim Grabowski on the play.”

When the game was over, the Packers had beaten Chicago 28-27. Horn ended up throwing for 187 yards, plus had two touchdown passes without throwing a pick. No. 13’s quarterback rating for that game was a robust 142.4.

Then came the last game of the 1969 season, as the Packers were trying to stay over .500, as their record at the time was 7-6. Horn had been 3-1 that season as a starting quarterback up until this last game of the season versus the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

December 21, 1969 was special in many ways for the Packers. For one, it was Willie Davis Day at Lambeau, as the Packers were honoring No. 87, who announced he was retiring after the season.

Horn made it even more special. The Packers whipped the Cardinals in that game, 45-28. Horn had a fantastic performance, as he threw for 410 yards and also threw five touchdown passes. At the time, Horn was the first quarterback of the Packers to ever throw for more than 400 passing yards.

Horn reflected on that game.

“Bob Schnelker had a great game plan,” Horn said. “And back then, you called your own plays. Everything just worked. I would call the right plays at just the right time. Great game plan by Schnelker. Great execution by the offense. I was on cloud nine. Everything was clicking and we were on all cylinders. Everything fell into place.”

1970 was not a particularly good year for Horn or the Packers, and the team fired head coach Phil Bengtson after the season and hired coach Dan Devine.

Horn had a conversation with Devine about a week before the 1971 NFL draft, telling him he was happy in Green Bay and wanted to get his contract situation resolved and was looking forward to working with the former Missouri head coach. Devine seemed pleased with the discussion and told Horn he would fly him into Green Bay after the draft to get a new contract done.

But on the morning of the draft, Horn received a phone call from Devine. In a very short conversation to the best of Horn’s recollection, Devine said this, “Don, this is coach Devine. I’m just calling you to let you know that I just traded you to the Denver Broncos. Good luck!”

That was the end of Horn’s career in Green Bay.

Horn played two years with the Broncos and then one each with the Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers before retiring from football after the 1974 season.

Looking back, Horn still has strong feelings about his time in Green Bay.

“I wouldn’t trade my time in Green Bay for anything in the world,” Horn said. “I feel very fortunate to be in that great era of the ’60s and to be part of that great team. There were a lot of great characters on that team. Ray Nitschke. Willie Wood. Herb Adderley. Robby (Dave Robinson). Lee Roy Caffey. Bart (Starr). Forrest Gregg. Jerry Kramer. A great bunch of ball players, who also had great character.”

Speaking of Kramer, Horn was at a reunion/autograph session a few years ago with a number of the players on the Super Bowl II team, including Kramer. Horn overheard Kramer talking about stem cell treatment.

“When I first found out about this, I had bad knees, bad ankles and my hip and shoulder were bothering me as well,” Horn said. “So I went back to Wisconsin for a reunion about four years ago. 24 guys showed up for it. And over half of those guys had gone through hip, knee, shoulder replacement surgeries.

“Half of those guys were complaining that their situation was no better now than it was before the surgery. Jerry was sort of in the corner listening to the guys complain about their aches and pains. Then he started talking about stem cell treatment, as he recently had his hip injected in Florida.

“Jerry was raving about how great the process was. I was sort of intrigued and listened closely to what Jerry had to say. So I go back to Colorado and talked to some doctors there. They referred me to a clinic north of Denver, which was then called Orthopedic Stem Cell Institute (now Premier Regenerative Stem Cell and Wellness Centers). I went up and met with them and observed a procedure where they actually worked on a guy’s spine. I was really impressed.

“To make a long story short, I had them do work on my knees and I’ve had good results. So I’m thinking to myself, that there were a lot of guys I know who had the same issues I had. So since then, I’m kind of the NFL liaison to help promote stem cell treatment.

“We have probably had close to 175 former NFL players who have had a stem cell procedure done, some of whom are in the Hall of Fame. We also recently signed an exclusive deal with the NFL Alumni to be their official stem cell resource.”

Horn has also been a liaison for Premier to partner with Gridiron Greats. Horn worked closely with Kandace Stolz, who is the President and CEO of Premier, as they gained this association with Gridiron Greats.

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Mike Ditka with Kandace Stolz

Gridiron Greats and Premier Regenerative Stem Cell and Wellness Centers have partnered now for two years to help lessen the debilitating effects of long-term injuries that NFL players often suffer from.

Premier certainly has a strong advocate for stem cell therapy in Kramer, as Horn talked about earlier in the story. Kramer is also a member of the Premier Regenerative board of advisers.

Through their exclusive partnership, Premier Regenerative has helped many of the former players avoid extensive surgeries and medication that they may not have been able to afford. Many of the Gridiron Great patients credit Premier Regenerative with a significant improvement in their quality of life and pain management.

Gridiron Greats and Premier Regenerative also partner to work towards facilitating comprehensive treatment for military veterans and retired professional sports athletes through the nonprofit, After The Impact Fund. This fund is designed to help these individuals recover from injuries and get stem cell treatment and other mental health and medical services as needed.

Stolz is proud of this relationship.

“Our work with both Gridiron Greats and After the Impact Fund is an integral part of our company culture'” Stolz said. “We thrive on helping people recover and live a pain-free life; we’re proud to work with organizations that have the same vision.”

Horn has played a large role in helping out former NFL players, just like he himself was helped years before. One of my favorite stories involves Lance Alworth, the former star wide receiver of the San Diego Chargers, who was nicknamed “Bambi” during his playing days.

“Lance came out a couple of years ago,” Horn said. “He was all set to have a knee replaced, but I told him to come out to Premier to have his knee looked at. The doctors looked at his knees and he was not considered a candidate for stem cell treatment.

“I mean, his knee was worse than mine. But because of who he was and because he made the trip from San Diego, they gave him an injection of stem cells into his knee. Six weeks later Lance calls me and says, ‘Don, I can’t thank you enough. I can walk again and I can golf. I’m 85 percent better and the pain is virtually gone.’

Horn is the key promoter of stem cell therapy to former NFL players and the list of players wanting treatment keeps growing. His efforts were aided by Stolz when she came aboard Premier.

“Kandace has such an affinity and a sincere desire to help people, ” Horn said. “”They really want to help former players get better. Kandace saw my value and that helped to open some doors because of my contacts. She saw that I had an ability to communicate well with people, just like Jerry Kramer.

“Kandace put together a marketing and business plan to push this thing further up the ladder. We have added many more former NFL players, and are branching out to other professional sports like the NHL. Plus, we are working with military veterans who we are helping out as well.”

That networking led to a relationship with Gridiron Greats. One can see why Gridiron Greats is inducting Horn.

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Don Horn with Dan Pastorini

Horn was certainly grateful when he heard the news of his induction.

“I’m very proud and honored by the news of this induction,” Horn said. I’m very humbled about this as well. Especially knowing some of the names who have previously been inducted. I’m just thrilled. I’m kind of blown away with this honor.

“I just want to continue to help out my brothers, just like the previous inductees have. It’s just so humbling to be mentioned with all the great previous inductees.

“When I get out there and give my acceptance speech, I definitely want to point out Jerry Kramer. It was all his brainstorm that got this whole thing started. I’m proud to be not only a teammate of his, but also proud to be a friend of his.”

The Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays Have a Lot in Common

brewers-rays

There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball (MLB). Unlike other major professional sports, like in the NFL, NBA and NHL, there is no salary cap in MLB.

That means there can be a huge disparity among teams in terms of payrolls. There are four teams currently in MLB with payrolls that top $200 million, according to spotrac. This includes the Los Angeles Dodgers ($245,982,272), the New York Yankees ($202,347,501), the Boston Red Sox ($201,819,709) and the Detroit Tigers ($201,496,375).

Now compare that two the two teams with the lowest payrolls in MLB. That would be the Tampa Bay Rays ($72,053,720) and the Milwaukee Brewers ($61,080,781).

But even with the enormous discrepancy in salaries, the Rays and Brewers are two of the surprise teams so far in MLB in 2017.

Based on their 2016 records, both the Rays (68-84) and Brewers (73-89) were expected to be on the bottom of their respective divisions this year.

However, the Rays currently have a 29-27 record and have won six straight series. But in the tough American League East, the Rays are still only in fourth place, 4½ games behind the New York Yankees.

The Brewers meanwhile, are currently 29-25 and lead the National League Central. That is somewhat shocking at this point, seeing as the World Champion Chicago Cubs and the always tough St Louis Cardinals reside in the same division.

Now I know it’s only early June. But if both teams are still playing well at the All-Star break in July, then there might be some cause for real excitement in terms of gaining a spot in the MLB postseason.

The managers that run both clubs know what it’s like to win a World Series, plus both grew up in the same region where the two teams play.

Kevin Cash grew up in Tampa and played with five MLB teams (including the Devil Rays) over eight seasons. Cash also played with the Boston Red Sox in 2008 when the Sox won the World Series.

Craig Counsell

Craig Counsell grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, which is a suburb of Milwaukee. Counsell also played with five MLB teams (including the Brewers), but played 16 years in the big leagues. Counsell was part of two World Series-winning teams, the 1997 Florida Marlins and the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.

Counsell was the NLCS MVP in 2001, plus scored the game-winning run in the 11th to defeat the Cleveland Indians in 1997 World Series.

Both teams epitomize the hard work ethics of their managers when they were players. Neither Cash or Counsell were overly talented, but their grit and determination kept them in the Big Show for a combined 24 seasons.

The front office of each team uses the analytical approach in adding talent to the team. Each team has to use that approach, based on their limited spending ability.

Both teams are in the top 10 in terms of their farm systems. The Brewers rank fifth, while the Rays are ranked 10th.

The front office of the Rays is headed by Erik Neander, while David Stearns handles the same job with the Brewers. Both general managers are very young, as Neander is 34, while Stearns is just 32. Both are also New York natives.

Stearns dipped into the front office of the Rays when he was hired in 2015, as he hired Matt Arnold away from the Rays, naming Arnold as the assistant general manager of the Brewers. Arnold was the Rays director of player personnel before he came to Milwaukee.

Both teams rely heavily on their farm systems.

Neander has been part of the Rays organization since 2007, and that is how the the Rays became a force in the AL East, as then GM Matthew Silverman built up an outstanding farm system. The result? Four postseason appearances and one World Series appearance from 2008 through 2013.

Stearns came to Milwaukee from Houston, where he was assistant general manager. The Astros used the same approach in terms of adding talent, as they built up their farm system and now have the best record in MLB (38-16).

Stearns took over from Doug Melvin in 2015 as GM, as the Brewers badly needed to upgrade their farm system. Melvin had traded a number of prospects to acquire players like C.C. Sabathia and Zack Greinke to help the team gain a playoff spot. The Brewers did just that in 2008 as a Wild Card and again as NL Central division champs in 2011.

Add to that, the farm system wasn’t at a top level any way for the Brewers, but Stearns has definitely changed that since he has become GM.

Besides using their farm systems to add talent to their rosters, both Neander and Stearns have to be thrifty and shrewd when they make trades and pick up free agents.

For example, Neander traded for Corey Dickerson in 2016. No. 10 is having an All-Star season for the Rays in 2017. Last year, Dickerson only hit .245, but did have 24 HRs and 70 RBIs. This year though, Dickerson is hitting a robust .341, with 12 HRs and 25 RBIs.

Eric Thames

Two examples of that for Stearns and the Brewers have been the 2017 offseason acquisitions of 3B Travis Shaw (trade with Red Sox) and 1B Eric Thames (free agency via Korea). Shaw is hitting .292, with 9 HRs and 36 RBIs, while Thames is hitting .277, with 14 HRs and 28 RBIs.

The ownership of each team is also similar.

The Rays are owned by Stuart Sternberg, who is originally from Brooklyn, New York and is a Wall Street investor. Sternberg has been the managing general partner for the Rays since 2005.

The Brewers are owned by Mark Attanasio, who is originally from The Bronx, New York and is in the investment business. Attanasio has owned the Brewers since 2004.

Because of their great farm systems, both the Rays and Brewers should be consistently successful for years to come.

Currently the Brewers have a big advantage there, as the team plays at Miller Park, which is one of the better venues in baseball and provides a source of revenue.

The Rays, on the other hand, currently play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the venue is considered one of the worst in baseball, mostly because of the aesthetics. Plus, the Rays generate very little revenue at “The Trop” currently.

The good news is for the Rays is that things are moving along for a new stadium, although nothing has been finalized as of yet. Nor has the location, as both Tampa and St. Petersburg want the Rays to play in their locale.

But from a purely baseball standpoint, both the Brewers and Rays have to be excited about their futures. Both have excellent farms systems and both seem to have the right management people in charge in the front office.

Plus, the teams are led by managers who know how to win it all.

Counsell wants to take the Brewers back to the World Series for the first time since 1982, when they were known as Harvey’s Wallbangers, as the Brew Crew lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

That was the Brewers only World Series appearance.

Kevin Cash

Cash wants to do the same with the Rays, as the team made it’s only World Series appearance in 2008 versus the Philadelphia Phillies, when Philly won in five games.

It’s apropos that the Brewers and Rays will meet each other this season, as Milwaukee will travel to St. Petersburg to take on the Rays for three games on August 4th, 5th and 6th.

Time will tell how the 2017 MLB season will go for both the Brewers and Rays, but hope is definitely on the horizon, because of the talent in their farm systems.

We saw what happened last season with a team who had a similar situation with tons of talent in their minor league farm system. Yes, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.

Plus there was a Rays/Brewers connection for the Cubs as well. The manager of the Cubs is Joe Maddon, who used to be the skipper for the Rays when they were regularly making postseason appearances. He also had two former Rays on his World Series-winning club, Ben Zobrist and Mike Montgomery.

Also, former Brewer Chris Bosio is the pitching coach for the Cubs.

Like the Cubs did, the Brewers and Rays have to keep adding pieces from their talented farm systems and also add pieces here and there via trades or through free agency to get to the ultimate goal in MLB.

No matter what, both the Brewers and the Rays should be contenders for that goal in the near future, based on the great young talent each club has down on the farm.

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.”