Zeke Bratkowski Talks About the Mindset of Brett Hundley

Brett Hundley II

Back in the 1960s, Zeke Bratkowski of the Green Bay Packers was widely considered to be the best backup quarterback in the NFL, as he backed up Bart Starr. In the years that Vince Lombardi was head coach, Bratkowski bailed out the Packers on a number of occasions, winning games either as a starter or in relief of an injured Starr.

Bratkowski seemed to have his finest moments against the Baltimore Colts. Three times Bratkowski had to come into the game due to injuries to Starr versus the Colts and in all three instances, the Packers came from behind to win.

The most notable game was the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game at Lambeau Field. Going into that game, the Packers seemed to have a huge advantage at the quarterback position, as Starr would be going up against halfback Tom Matte, who had to play quarterback due to injuries to both starter Johnny Unitas (knee) and backup Gary Cuozzo (dislocated shoulder).

Matte had played quarterback at Ohio State, but was mostly a running QB for the Buckeyes.

The advantage was soon wiped away on the very first scrimmage play of the game, when linebacker Don Shinnick recovered a Bill Anderson fumble and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.

Starr tried to make a tackle near the end zone on the play and hurt his ribs in the process. No. 15 was forced to leave the game due to the injury, although he still came into the game to hold on extra points and field goals.

Into the game came Bratkowski and he led the Packers to a 13-10 overtime victory, as he threw for 248 yards.

Due to his expertise of being as good as it gets as a backup QB in the NFL, I thought it would be nice to speak with Bratkowski about the current state of affairs at quarterback in Green Bay, especially in the aftermath of the broken collarbone suffered by Aaron Rodgers.

It’s yet to be determined whether Rodgers will miss the rest of the 2017 season or still be able to come back late in the 2017 campaign.

Rodgers broke his collarbone early in the game last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, as linebacker Anthony Barr took Rodgers to the ground on his right shoulder after No. 12 had already thrown a pass. But because Rodgers was out of the pocket, no penalty was called.

Backup quarterback Brett Hundley came into the game unexpectedly against one of the top defenses in the NFL, as Minnesota is currently ranked fifth in total defense. As one might expect, Hundley didn’t have great success in his first real playing time in a NFL regular season game, as he was under constant pressure behind a once again banged up offensive line, which saw three starters (LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor and RT Bryan Bulaga) leave the game.

Hundley threw one touchdown pass versus three interceptions for 157 yards, as he completed 18-of-33 passes. No. 7 was also sacked four times.

In what seems to be a Twilight Zone episode, the Packers and their fans now know that Rodgers will be gone for quite some time and that Hundley will be taking snaps at quarterback for the Packers for the next several games.

Which is why I wanted to get Bratkowski’s opinion on what the mindset of Hundley should be, as he is about to get his first NFL start against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field this upcoming Sunday.

“As a backup, you have to prepare like you are going to start, even when the starting quarterback will be playing,” Bratkowski told me on Monday. “Now that he has this one game under his belt, things should improve as he gets more reps.

“I thought Brett did pretty good, considering who he was playing against and the fact that he came into the game cold.”

Bratkowski sees positive things ahead for Hundley, who is now in his third season in the NFL.

“He has had two-plus years of sitting, listening and watching Aaron [Rodgers] prepare and play,” Bratkowski said. “The new technology also helps now with the iPad, where you can look at the other team and their tendencies. You get all of the computer data pretty quickly.

“So between getting help from the coaches and his own study, it’s definitely preparation time. In that preparation, the simplicity of his outlook needs to be studied. For instance, he’ll be going up against New Orleans, who will score some points. He’ll have the challenge there to try and match them.

“He’s got to play not to lose the game. Be aggressive in what you do and take what you can get. You want to stay within the confines of the concept. That would be the best advice I could give him. The Packers have a good concept. They have good and solid receivers, which includes the running backs.”

The Packers will know later in the week whether any or all of the three injured offensive linemen will be able to play against the Saints.

Brett Hundley III

 

Speaking of the Saints, Hundley has a very pleasant memory of playing against them in the final preseason game in 2015. In that game, Hundley completed 16-of-23 passes for 236 yards and four TDs with no interceptions. Hundley’s passer rating in that game was 142.4.

Yes, I know that was just the preseason. But it was during that 2015 preseason when the Packers realized they may have something special with Hundley. Similar to how Rodgers played in the 2007 preseason when Brett Favre was in his final year as the starting QB and how Matt Flynn kept getting better in the preseason backing up Rodgers for four years.

During the 2015 preseason, Hundley led the NFL with 630 passing yards, completed 45-of-65 passes (69.2percent), plus had seven TD passes versus just one pick. That added up to an overall passer rating of 129.6.

Bratkowski talked about some other factors that will help Hundley in playing quarterback.

“Brett has good escapability,” Bratkowski said. “Similar to Aaron. The receivers of the Packers do a great job of finding an open spot when the quarterback scrambles.

“The receivers for the Packers are experienced. They will be able to help Brett throughout the week in their film studies. Letting him know what has worked in the past against the defensive backs they will be facing.”

Unlike the game against the fifth-ranked Minnesota defense in a hostile environment on the road, Hundley will be facing the 26th-ranked New Orleans defense at the friendly confines of Lambeau Field.

Bratkowski will be there to witness the game as a matter of fact. Bratkowski will be joined by many of his former Green Bay teammates like Starr, Jerry Kramer, Dave Robinson, Chuck Mercein, Boyd Dowler, Carroll Dale, Ken Bowman, Bob Long and Marv Fleming, as the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame will be hosting a special 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Hall of Fame Saturday, Oct., 21, in the Lambeau Field Atrium.

In addition to that, the Packers’ 1967 championship team will also be honored.

Bratkowski is looking forward to see his old teammates again, plus is anxious to see how Hundley will perform in front of the home crowd. Bratkowski talked about a couple of other things which will help Hundley succeed.

“An effective running game will help,” Bratkowski said. ” That helps the play-action passing game.”

What also helps is communicating well with the coaching staff.

“I don’t know what Coach [Mike] McCarthy will give him in terms of running the whole offense, but the most important meeting a quarterback can have is when he tells his coach which plays he’s comfortable with.

“Make a list of things that you like. List some things that you might not understand or don’t particularly care for. It’s not that you are being negative, but there are some things that you are more comfortable doing. That’s a big meeting, because the coaches will ask the quarterback that during the week.

“For instance, Brett will be very effective bootlegging and getting outside of the pressure. Plus, as I know from watching him in college at UCLA, that Brett can take off and run. That’s a big plus for him.”

Bratkowski also knows that New Orleans will try some things on defense to confuse Hundley.

“The Saints on defense are going to test Hundley,” Bratkowski said. “They know he’s young and inexperienced. So they are going to give him different looks.”

The key for Hundley according to Bratkowski, is to stay within himself and the offensive concept of the team.

“Brett needs to take what the Saints give him,” Bratkowski said. “That will work out extremely well for him. Don’t ad-lib. Do the reads according to what you have been taught. Just stay simplistic and trust what you have been taught and have learned.”

The Bart Starr Endorsement of Jerry Kramer for Pro Football Hall of Fame

Bart and Jerry

A couple of weeks or so before Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was nominated as a senior candidate by the Seniors Selection Committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 23, Peter King of SI’s MMQB wrote this as part of his answer in a mailbag chat with one of his readers who asked about Kramer and his possible enshrinement in Canton:

Finally, a few years ago, I asked Bart Starr if there was anyone else he thought had been forgotten unjustly in the Hall process, and he said left tackle Bob Skoronski. He was effusive in his praise of Skoronski. I asked him if he wanted to mention anyone else, and he said no. Did he forget Kramer? I suppose it’s possible. But I gave him his chance, and he didn’t mention Kramer.

This was not the first time King has brought up the conversation he had with Starr.

That is why I wanted to get in touch with Bart Starr, Jr. to see if that statement to King by his father was misinterpreted.

In talking to Bart Jr., he told me that his dad may have indeed misunderstood King’s question. Starr may have mentioned Bob Skoronski, because he felt that No. 76 was one of the unsung teammates of his who he felt deserved a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In terms of Jerry Kramer, Starr had always felt that No. 64 deserved a place in Canton and should have been inducted decades ago. To Starr, that was always a given.

Bart Jr. also mentioned that his father had been suffering from some memory loss and dementia issues around the time of this interview, which also may explain his response to King.

Starr, who is now 83, was debilitated in September 2014 by two strokes and a heart attack.

Since that time, Starr has received stem cell treatment, which has definitely helped No. 15 in his rehab process. Starr is now able to speak and walk, after being at first being confined to a wheelchair due to the effects of the stroke.

That treatment and other arduous rehabilitation allowed Starr to travel from Alabama to Wisconsin to honor Brett Favre on Thanksgiving night in 2015, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.

When Starr made his appearance at halftime of the game to salute Favre, it was a very emotional setting, especially knowing what Starr had overcome to just to be in Green Bay.

When I talked to Jerry Kramer about seeing that moment, he recalled it vividly.

“The thing about that setting at Lambeau on Thanksgiving that made my heart go pitty-pat, was when Bart got out of the cart to say hello to Brett,” Kramer said. “And he said, ‘Hey Mister. How are you doing, Brett?’

“That term Mister, was what Coach Lombardi you to say when he wanted to chew our ass. As in, “Mister, what in the hell are you doing?’ In the last 10 years or so, Bart has adopted that Mister term as a greeting.

“To me, hearing him say that to Brett, told me that not only was his mind working, but his memory was working as well. That really got me pretty emotional.”

In terms of Starr’s current health, the former Alabama Crimson Tide star had a setback about six months ago, but Bart Jr. told me that his father is now at the highest point he has been at this year in terms of his health.

Which is why Starr is planning to make another trip to Green Bay next weekend when the Packers play the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field.

The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame will be hosting a special 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Hall of Fame Saturday, Oct., 21, in the Lambeau Field Atrium.

In addition to that, the event also will honor the Packers’ 1967 championship team. A number of players from that team will be at the event, which now includes Starr, as well as Kramer, Chuck Mercein, Dave Robinson, Boyd Dowler, Carroll Dale, Ken Bowman, Zeke Bratkowski, Bob Long and Marv Fleming.

Bart's Sneak

From talking with Kramer and Mercein recently, they were thrilled and elated that Starr might also be at the event.

Back now to Starr’s comments to King from a number of years ago. When I talked to Bart Jr., I wanted to see if he might be able to address that issue with King.

Yesterday, I received a text from Bart Jr. that certainly does speak to that issue.

Hi Bob- Peter may be pleased to know that today we mailed a letter to the Hall of Fame on behalf of Jerry. Dad’s endorsement could not have been stronger or more sincere. Our entire family has been among Jerry’s greatest admirers for more than 50 years, and we look forward to celebrating with the Kramer family in Canton.

Thank you and very best wishes,

Bart Starr, Jr.

That celebration will be one for the ages, as Kramer will be joining Starr, as well as other teammates like Robinson, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood and Henry Jordan as having forever a place among the best of the best in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kramer will also be joining the man who made it all possible for he and his teammates, head coach Vince Lombardi.

Yes, it will be quite the celebration on that August summer day in Canton in 2018. You can be very sure, that I also plan on being there for that epic event.

 

A Scout’s Take on the 5-0 Wisconsin Badgers

Jonathan Taylor II

So far five games into the 2017 season, the Wisconsin Badgers have to feel good about themselves. The Badgers are a perfect 5-0 for the season, which includes starting out 2-0 in the Big 10, after victories against Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium and against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.

The success of the Badgers this season has not been a surprise. Certainly not to NFL scout Chris Landry, who I talked to back in July about who were the football teams to watch in the B1G this season.

“I like them,” Landry said back in July about Wisconsin. “They are the favorite in the West for me because of their schedule. They’ve got a good team.

“I think there is, in my view, four really good teams in the Big 10 conference. Wisconsin is one of them and the other three are in the East. Ohio State is really good. Penn State is really good. Michigan is getting better and better. So, there are four teams who are really good.”

I had another opportunity to talk to Landry again this week 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

I wanted to get his take on freshman running back Jonathan Taylor and the great success he has had already this season, as well as his opinion about the job new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is doing.

Landry addressed the question about Leonhard first.

“Jim is an outstanding young coach,” Landry said. “He’s an outstanding young coordinator. He understands the game from the back end very well. He’s really adjusted to putting fronts and coverages together. I think he’s done an outstanding job. This is very good Wisconsin team.”

This is only Leonhard’s second season as a coach in college football and he’s already a defensive coordinator after spending his first year as defensive backs coach.

Leonhard certainly has the pedigree to be successful at Wisconsin, as he was a former walk-on who started his collegiate career in 2002 under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove.

The 5’8″, 188-pound Leonhard led the country in interceptions in 2002 with 11 and finished with 21 picks in his career as a Badger, which ties him for first for the most in history of Wisconsin football. Leonhard was also named All- Big 10 for three straight seasons, as well as being named All-American for those three seasons too.

The former Tony, Wisconsin native also played 10 years in the NFL with a number of teams and finished with 427 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 36 passes defensed, 14 interceptions (one for a TD), two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Jim Leonhard

In terms of how Leonhard has directed the Wisconsin defense so far in 2017, let’s take a look at where the Badgers are ranked in a number of defensive categories.

Wisconsin is ranked No. 10 in total defense,  No. 9 in scoring defense, No. 4 in rushing defense, tied for No. 8 in red zone defense, No. 9 in sacks and No. 13 in passes intercepted with eight, three of which were returned for touchdowns.

After talking about Leonhard, Landry turned his attention to Taylor, the very talented freshman running back.

“Taylor is a really big-time back if folks haven’t seen him,” Landry said. “I think people kind of assume that Wisconsin is going to have a good back every year and maybe that diminishes the value of each individual one, but this kid is special. This kid has real special qualities. And he’s exerting it at a very young age.”

The stats certainly bear out Landry’s opinion.

Taylor is currently seventh in the country and first in the Big 10 in rushing, as No. 23 has run for 767 yards and nine touchdowns on just 97 attempts. That’s a 7.9 rushing average in case you were wondering.

Against Nebraska last week in front of almost 90,000 raucous fans in Lincoln, Taylor rushed for 249 yards and two touchdowns on just 25 carries.

Taylor has now rushed for over 200 yards twice as a freshman, becoming only the second player to ever do that in Wisconsin history. The first player to do that was Ron Dayne, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1999.

Landry also talked about the state of this current Wisconsin team, who has gone 26-6 in two-plus years under head coach Paul Chryst.

“I like this Wisconsin team,” Landry said. “I really thought at the beginning of the year that they were a good team, but they were going to be fodder for anyone who wins the East, but I’m here to tell you, although I don’t see Wisconsin as a team who would win if they made it in playoffs, I think right now, they would match up very well and have a great chance of beating Penn State or Ohio State. They are better than Michigan right now.

“Now, can they get much better? Time will tell. I think that this is not only just a good team, with a soft schedule and on the soft side of the conference, but I think they are pretty good. And I think right now they are as good as anyone in the Big 10.”

The soft schedule that Landry speaks of, has seven games remaining in the season. The opponents are:

  • Purdue (home)
  • Maryland (home)
  • Illinois (road)
  • Indiana (road)
  • Iowa (home)
  • Michigan (home)
  • Minnesota (road)

Landry also put out a warning for the Badgers about their upcoming opponent this Saturday, the 3-2 Purdue Boilermakers.

“I don’t think they [Wisconsin] are going to lose to Purdue, but there is no doubt that the best playcaller in college football right now, with the least amount of talent, is Jeff Brohm of Purdue,” Landry said. “He’s getting stuff done without any real playmakers.

“Now I don’t think they [Purdue] have enough to beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall, but I’m very curious to see how they play this week.”

It certainly should be a great chess match between Brohm and Leonhard this week, as the Badgers will certainly play at their normal aggressive level on defense this week.

On the offensive side of the ball, Taylor has to be licking his chops, as he’ll be facing a defense which is ranked No. 66 in the country in rushing defense, as the Boilers have allowed an average of 151 yards per game on the ground.

When it’s all said and done, expect the Badgers to improve to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the B1G West.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Jones Adds a New Dimension to an Already Dangerous Offense

<> at AT&T Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

Going into their Week 5 game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers had averaged just a paltry 74.5 yards per game on the ground. The season had started slowly for starting running back Ty Montgomery as well, as he had gained just 152 yards on 46 carries with two touchdowns, which equates to 3.3 yards per carry average.

All that being said, the running game wasn’t helped due to the fact that the Green Bay offensive line had used four different line combinations in each of the first four games because of injuries to both starting tackles, David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle).

But the Packers were still 3-1 in those four games, mostly due to the incredible play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and an improving defense that also is dealing with key injuries.

In the Week 4 contest versus the Chicago Bears, the Packers saw Montgomery get off to a quick start with 28 yards in five carries. But in that sequence of carries, Montgomery broke some ribs and was forced from the game. That led to the entrance of rookie running back Aaron Jones.

Like Montgomery, Jones played very well behind an offensive line which had Lane Taylor at left tackle, Lucas Patrick at left guard and Justin McCray at right tackle.

Jones had 49 yards in 13 carries and one touchdown. No. 33 opened some eyes on the Green Bay offensive coaching staff with that performance.

So with Montgomery not be able to play against the Cowboys in Week 5, Jones got the opportunity to start at running back. And did Jones take advantage of that opportunity. The rookie out of Texas-El Paso gained 125 yards on 19 carries (6.6 yard average) and a touchdown.

Jones also caught a pass for nine yards and looked solid in his pass protection picking up blitzes.

And Jones did that behind an offensive line that had Taylor starting again at left tackle, while McCray moved to left guard, as Bulaga returned to play right tackle.

Thanks to another impressive and winning performance by Rodgers on the last drive of the game for Green Bay, the Packers are now 4-1. But it was the success of the running game which caught everyone’s attention.

Up until the game versus the Cowboys, the Packers had only rushed for 298 yards in four games. In the Dallas game alone, the Packers rushed for 160 yards.

Green Bay certainly liked what they saw of Jones in college at Texas-El Paso.

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

The 5’9″, 209-pound Jones was second-team All-Conference USA in 2014 and first-team All-Conference USA in 2016.

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

When the Packers drafted Jones in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL draft, this is what NFL scout Chris Landry said about that selection:

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

Jones was one of three running backs who the Packers selected in the draft, as Green Bay also took Jamaal Williams of BYU in the fourth round and Devante Mays of Utah State in the seventh round.

Although Williams was selected a round before Jones, it certainly appears that Jones has earned the right to be on the field much more often due to his productivity.

Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Packers has noticed. At his press conference on Monday, McCarthy praised his rookie running back, but also said that he’s going to need some help.

at AT&T Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

“I hope I have a 1-4 punch,” McCarthy said via Packers.com. “That’s why we drafted three running backs. It takes time. It’s a young man’s league, I get it, and Aaron had an opportunity he cashed in. I’m proud of him. He’s earned more opportunities moving forward.

“But this is not a one-man show. It’s going to take them all. I want to make hard decisions who’s on the 46(-man roster on game day).”

What this also means is that when Montgomery gets healthy, the Packers could have a running back combination similar to how the Atlanta Falcons utilize Devonta Freeman and Telvin Coleman.

Just imagine a running game getting the type of production that Atlanta gets each week from their two backs. Add that type of performance to an offense which already has a prolific passing game with Rodgers throwing to the likes of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Martellus Bennett, and you are looking at a really dynamic offense.

Just like the dynamic offense that quarterback Matt Ryan of the Falcons leads.

Plus, with the return of Bakhtiari to the lineup, the Packers can start utilizing the best offensive line that they can put on the field each and every week.

The Packers know how important a productive running game can mean to their offense with Rodgers at quarterback. In the 2010 postseason and an eventual win in Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers played lights out (nine TD passes vs. two picks for 1,094 yards and a 109.8 passer rating), but it was the emergence of rookie James Starks who made a big difference with the offense that postseason.

Starks gained 315 yards in four games in the postseason, which led all NFL running backs.

If a defense has to contend with another weapon on offense, namely a productive running back, it really opens up the passing game.

at AT&T Stadium on October 8, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.

Case in point, in the game against Dallas, Rodgers used a play-action fake to Jones, which froze the linebackers and safeties of the Cowboys for a moment, and that led to an easy touchdown pass to wide open Nelson.

Bottom line, the Packers saw how effective their offense can be behind a steady and productive performance by a running back (Jones) in their game against the Cowboys.

Couple that together with bringing back two key players (Bakhtiari and Montgomery) who are getting close to getting back on the field, and one can envision one of the top offenses in the NFL week in and week out.

The Packers will face a very tough Minnesota Viking defense this upcoming Sunday. The Vikings are seventh in the NFL in total defense, which includes being 20th in passing defense and seventh in rushing defense.

The Vikings have only allowed 80 yards per game on the ground. If the Packers can get their running game going similar to how it produced against the Cowboys, it would open things up for Rodgers to exploit the secondary of the Minnesota defense.

Time will tell how Jones will perform down the road in the 2017 season for the Packers in the running game, but in a small window (174 yards on 38 carries, a 4.6 average and two TDs), that future looks very bright.

Not just for Jones, but for the entire Green Bay offense.

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up with “Ice Bowl” Hero Chuck Mercein

Chuck Mercein I

We are nearing the 50th anniversary of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, when the Dallas Cowboys met the Green Bay Packers at frigid Lambeau Field on December 31, 1967.

It’s apropos that the Packers and Cowboys would meet during the 2017 NFL season, although the meeting will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington this upcoming Sunday.

It’s very possible that both teams will meet again in the postseason later on, just like they have done twice in the past three seasons. And you never know, that game could take place at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

I had an opportunity to talk with two of the stars for the Packers on that extremely cold day on New Year’s Eve in 1967, guard Jerry Kramer and fullback Chuck Mercein.

I talked with Kramer first and we talked about the 50th anniversary of the “Ice Bowl”, especially about that epic 12-play, 68-yard drive to win the game in the final seconds, 21-17.

What made that drive even more remarkable, was that up until that point, the Packers had run 31 plays for -9 yards in the second half before that incredible march of the frozen tundra started.

While we discussed the drive, Kramer talked about the many players who came up big in that drive. Obviously there was quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Donny Anderson, wide receiver Boyd Dowler, left tackle Bob Skoronski and Kramer himself.

Plus, there was also Mercein. In fact, Mercein picked up 34 of the 68 yards in that extraordinary drive just by himself.

Kramer certainly remembered how important No. 30 was for the Packers in that drive.

“Chuck was huge in that drive for us,” Kramer said. “He went to Yale and he had the intellect to prove it. Plus, Chuck was a tough kid and he was strong. In fact, he threw the shot put 61 feet one time. That was  stunning. I set a state record in high school in Idaho in the shot put with a toss of 51 feet, 10 inches. And Chuck beat that by 10 feet.

“Chuck made a number of big plays for us in that drive. Hell, Chuck came up big for us the week before in the playoff game against the Rams as well. I remember Chuck talking to Bart shortly after he missed Willie Townes on a block and Donny was tackled for a big loss. That was the first time I recall Chuck ever talking to Bart in the huddle.

“Chuck told Bart that the linebacker was going back really deep and that he would be open on a swing pass because of all the room he was given. Sure enough, Bart throws a swing pass to Chuck that gains 19 yards. That was a really key play for us in that drive.”

Later in the evening, I had an opportunity to talk with Mercein. Not only to talk about the “Ice Bowl”, but also his strange set of circumstances joining the NFL and also the Packers.

Mercein came into pro football in 1965, which was a point in time when the NFL and AFL were bidding against each other for the top players in college football.

Mercein was certainly that coming out of Yale, which is why he was named to the College All-Star squad to play against the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1965. Mercein score 10 points in that game, as he also kicked as well as playing fullback.

Mercein talked to me about the ongoing process of bidding for his services between the two leagues.

“I knew the Buffalo Bills were going to draft me in the AFL to replace Cookie Gilchrist, who was going to retire,” Mercein said. “I was already in discussions with the Bills before the NFL draft even took place.

“So when the NFL draft did take place, my phone rang right away in the first round around the eight or ninth spot in the draft, when I talked to William Ford, who owned the Detroit Lions. He told me that he wanted me to play fullback for the Lions, because Nick Pietrosante was retiring. I thought that was very fortuitous, because it looked like I would be able to play right away there.

“The first question Ford asked me was whether I had been talking to the AFL at all. Of course, I said yes. I didn’t have an agent then. None of us had agents then. I was very open and honest with him. He also asked if I had signed anything. I said no. He then asked where I was in my negotiations with the Bills.

“I was frank with him. I said that the Bills had offered me a three-year, no-cut contract, with $25,000 per year in salary and $25,000 a year in bonuses. So basically it was for three years and $150,000.

“And Ford says, ‘No, we could never pay that!’ I said that I didn’t understand his position. Ford then told me he wasn’t going to get into a bidding war with the AFL. So then I asked him what he would offer me. Ford said he could give me one year with $25,000 in salary and $25,000 in bonuses.

“I mean, I was married with a kid coming in August, so I told him him if that was his best offer, not to draft me. So, he didn’t. The Lions took Tom Nowatzke instead. Anyway, the phone didn’t ring at all again in the first round, so I was a little upset. It didn’t ring in the second round either. Finally I get a call in the third round at the the first pick of that round by the New York Giants.

“Wellington Mara (owner of the Giants) told me that Alex Webster was retiring and he wanted me to replace him. I was a bit wary at that time. So I told Mr. Mara that I had heard this before and that if he wasn’t going to compete with the offer I received from the Bills, then we should stop right there. I gave him the terms and Mara said that he would compete with that offer.

“Wow, I was excited. I then asked him one more question. I asked why the Giants took Tucker Frederickson, who also played fullback, in the first round and then wanted to take me. Mara told me that Allie Sherman (head coach of the Giants) told him that Frederickson was going to play halfback (because Frank Gifford had just retired) and that I was going to play fullback. So I said great and I thought I was all set.”

Things didn’t turn out quite the way Mercein had planned playing under Sherman in New York. For one thing, Frederickson did not play halfback for the Giants, but instead played fullback, which made Mercein his backup.

Right away Mercein had been misled by the Giants. But it was not the fault of the owner.

“That did not happen because of Wellington Mara, who was not that person. He was very honest and was a great guy. He was really wonderful to me and helped get me over to Green Bay when he recommended me to Coach Lombardi.

“It was all Sherman. I never trusted him again after that. He also wasn’t that happy with me because I went to Yale instead of a bigger program. I did have over 50 offers from from various schools, including those in the Big 10, but I liked Yale because of their standards academically and the fact that they were undefeated  my senior year in high school. Plus a good friend of mine, Mike Pyle, was on that team.”

In his rookie year with the Giants, Mercein rushed for 55 yards and scored two touchdowns, plus kicked a field goal.

In his second season with the G-Men in 1966, Mercein led the team in rushing with 327 yards, plus caught 27 passed for 152 yards. All that happened while Mercein was hurt for half of the year.

Even with the nice year Mercein had in 1966, Sherman didn’t give Mercein a fair shake in 1967 competing for playing time and instead cut the fullback at the end of training camp.

Mercein was later brought back to the Giants, but only to be used as a kicker. Sherman told Mercein that if he missed a kick he would be waived again. Mercein made an extra point on his first kicking attempt, but because the Giants were holding, it didn’t count and the next attempt was 15 yards further out. As luck would have it, Mercein missed the kick and his time with the Giants was over.

Mercein was all set to sign with the Washington Redskins after his release by the Giants, as he had played for head coach Otto Graham in the College All-Star game, but before that could happen, he received a call from Wellington Mara.

The night Mara called was the same day that both halfback Elijah Pitts and fullback Jim Grabowski were lost for the season with injuries when the Packers played the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium in Week 8.

Chuck Mercein III

“So the phone rings and it’s Wellington Mara,” Mercein said. “He told me that he had heard that I was talking to the Washington Redskins about playing with them. He was also very apologetic about what happened with me in New York. Anyway, he said if I didn’t sign anything, that he had recommended me to Vince Lombardi and that he was interested in bringing me to Green Bay. Mara told me the next call I would be getting would be from Lombardi himself.

“Sure enough five minutes later, Lombardi calls. It was quite something. It was like the voice of God on the other end of the phone, as I had so much respect for him as a coach and the Packers as a team. Lombardi was very frank about everything and he said that the Packers could really use my help. He also said that I could help the team win another championship.

“I told Coach Lombardi that I would be thrilled to join the team. After I hung up, I told my wife to unpack the car because we were going to play for the Green Bay Packers.”

The Packers were 6-1-1 when Mercein joined the team and were well on the way to winning the NFL Central division championship.

After the season-ending injuries to Pitts and Grabowski, the Packers utilized Anderson and rookie Travis Williams at halfback, while Ben Wilson and Mercein split time at fullback.

It’s amazing to know that even with the loss of Pitts and Grabowski, plus knowing that this was the first year under Lombardi that both fullback Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung were no longer in Green Bay, that the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

Mercein was embraced by Lombardi and his teammates on the Packers when he came aboard the team.

“Right away, Lombardi welcomed me,” Mercein said. “I had to earn his trust, obviously. It wasn’t easy at first, but the players were very welcoming and it was just a wonderful time.”

By the end of the season and into the postseason, Mercein became the starting fullback. In the Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium versus the Los Angeles Rams, Mercein scored on a six-yard run in the Green Bay’s 28-7 victory over the Rams.

No. 30 also helped open some holes for Williams, who received most of the playing time at halfback, as the “Roadrunner” rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

That set up the NFL title game the next Sunday at Lambeau Field versus the Cowboys. Unlike the game against the Rams, Lombardi gave most of the playing time at halfback to Anderson, instead of Williams. Mercein remained the starter at fullback.

The 1967 NFL title game was later nicknamed the “Ice Bowl” because it was extremely cold that day in Green Bay, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

If you added the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game.

The Packers the jumped to an early 14-0 lead as Starr threw two touchdown passes to Dowler. But fumbles by Starr and punt returner Willie Wood led to 10 points by the Cowboys and the score was only 14-10 at the half.

The Packers couldn’t do anything in the second half until their final drive, while the Cowboys were moving up and down the field. Thankfully the defense of the Packers, led by linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, kept Dallas out of the end zone in the third quarter.

But on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys ended up taking a 17-14 lead when wide receiver Lance Rentzel caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Dan Reeves on a halfback option pass.

That was the score when the Packers started their 68-yard trek down the frozen tundra of Lambeau Filed with just 4:50 remaining in the game.

The drive started with Starr completing a swing pass to Anderson which gained six yards. On the next play, Mercein ran the ball for seven more yards off tackle to the 45-yard line and near the sideline of the Packers.

Chuck Mercein II

Mercein vividly recalled that moment.

“I remember that play well, as it was the our initial first down of the drive,” Mercein said. “That was a big confidence booster for me and the team. Because at that point, none of us had done anything in the second half. I’ll never forget because I kind of got shoved out of bounds right in front of the Green Bay bench. I could hear Coach Lombardi yell, ‘Atta boy, Chuck!’ That really brought my spirits up. It was wonderful.”

On the next play, Starr completed his only pass to a wide receiver in the drive, as Dowler caught a pass that gained 13 yards and another first down. Dowler ended up having to leave the game for a bit, as he was shook up a little after his head hit the frozen turf hard after he was tackled.

This is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Defensive end Willie Townes broke through and tackled Anderson for a nine-yard loss.

Mercein explained what happened on the play.

“It was the Green Bay sweep and my responsibility was to block the defensive end there,” Mercein said. “I expected Townes to be on my outside shoulder, but he rushed inside instead, and I only was able to brush him with my left shoulder. I didn’t give him a good enough pop and he was able to get through and put us in a big hole.

I felt particularly bad about that because of my bad execution. It was the lowlight of the drive for me.”

Mercein would make up for that mistake soon enough, however.

First though, Starr completed two swing passes to Anderson which gained 21 yards to the 30-yard line of the Cowboys and another first down by the Packers.

It was at that point when Mercein caught the 19-yard swing pass from Starr after first conferring with No. 15.

“Sure enough, I was open just like I expected and Bart flipped the pass to me that got caught up in the wind a bit and I caught it over my outside shoulder, ” Mercein said. “I was able to outrun linebacker Dave Edwards and took the pass to the 11-yard line, plus was able to get out of bounds.”

The next play was a running play, known as a give play to Mercein.

“Bart saved that give play for the right exact time,” Mercein said. “Bart later said it was the best play call he ever made.”

On the give play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulls to the right, which then opens up a hole as defensive tackle Bob Lilly followed Gillingham down the line. Still, left tackle Bob Skoronski had to seal off defensive end George Andrie to make the play work.

“The hole was great and I can still see that hole,” Mercein said. “I can still hear myself clomping down on the ice with the noise of my cleats hitting the ice. It was very loud. Forrest Gregg was coming down from the right tackle spot and if I could have cut, I think I could have scored.”

As it was, the Packers had a second and two from the three-yard line of the Cowboys. Anderson than took a hand off from Starr and to many it appeared that Anderson scored on the play. But the referee instead placed the ball about 18 inches from the goal line and it was first and goal.

Then on two straight dive plays, Anderson slipped both times trying to score and didn’t get in. It was now third and goal when the Packers called their final timeout with just 16 seconds to go in the game.

Bart Starr QB sneak II

I’ll let Mercein explain what happened next.

“Bart came into the huddle and called a 31 wedge play,” Mercein said. “We had put that play in earlier in the week when Jerry [Kramer] suggested it to Coach Lombardi because Jethro Pugh played high on short-yardage plays.

“We didn’t have many goal line plays. We definitely didn’t have a quarterback sneak. Anyway, when Bart made the call, I was excited. It was brown right, 31 wedge. The 3-back, me, gets the ball and goes to the 1-hole, which is in between the center and the guard.

“I take off thinking I’m going to get the ball and after one and a half steps or less, I see Bart was keeping the ball. Now I’m thinking that I can’t run into him because that would be assisting him and be a penalty. But I can’t really stop, so I go flying over the top of Bart with my hands in the air, not because I’m signalling touchdown, but to let the refs know that I wasn’t assisting Bart.”

The Packers won the game 21- 17 on that legendary play as Starr was able to find his way into the end zone behind Kramer’s classic block on Pugh.

After the game, Mercein heard some kind words from Grabowski, who said that he couldn’t have played any better at fullback.

That victory put the Packers in Super Bowl II in Miami, where they would be facing the AFL champion Oakland Raiders.

Now one would think that Mercein would be starting again at fullback for the Packers, especially after playing so well against the Rams and Cowboys.

But shortly before the game, Mercein heard some very disappointing news from his head coach, who said Wilson would be starting at fullback instead.

“I was terribly disappointed,” Mercein said. “I didn’t understand why. I knew I was a little banged up. But Coach was a real hunch player and it was hot down there in Miami  and it was the kind of weather that Ben Wilson was used to playing in, as he had played at USC.

“Plus, Ben was fresh and he hadn’t played a lot. So it was just a hunch, but it turned out to be the right hunch as Ben had a big game.”

The Packers beat the Raiders 33-14 and Wilson led the Packers in rushing with 65 yards.

Looking back on that year with the Packers, there are a lot of fond memories for Mercein.

“The 1967 season for the Packers was a team effort,” Mercein said. “Coach Lombardi made that team what it was. He was the difference. He made us all better. He made me better. Bart better. Jerry better. Boyd better. That’s what a great coach does. He takes players and makes them better than they thought they could be.”

Packers vs. Bears: Green Bay Can Jump Ahead in the Series for the First Time in 85 Years

Packers-Bears Helmets

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have been playing against each other since 1921 when the NFL was called the American Professional Football Association. Since the two teams have been battling each other, in a series which goes back almost 100 years, the teams are tied with 93 wins apiece, with six ties.

Just to show you how even this series has been, the Packers have scored 3,300 points in 192 games, while the Bears have scored 3,284.

When the Packers beat da Bears 30-27 last December at Soldier Field, Green Bay was able to even the series between the two clubs for the first time since 1933.

And with a win on Thursday night at Lambeau Field vs. Chicago, the Packers can hold an edge in the series for the first time since 1932, when they held an 11-10-4 mark over the Bears.

That’s 85 long years ago, folks. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was just elected to his first of four terms as President of the United States that year.

In terms of where each stands in NFL lore, the Packers have been in the NFL since 1921 and have won 13 NFL titles and four Super Bowls.

The Bears have been in the NFL since 1920 and have won nine NFL titles and one Super Bowl.

No team in NFL history has won more NFL championships than either the Packers or Bears.

Just looking back on the history between the two teams, it all started with George Halas (with the then Chicago Staleys) and Curly Lambeau. Each were founding members of their respective clubs, not to mention also being the head coach.

From 1921 through 1949, when the Packers and Lambeau took on the Bears and Halas, Green Bay went 18-32-4 in the regular season versus Chicago and also 0-1 in the postseason.

During that period, the Packers and Bears were considered the cream of the crop in the NFL, as Green Bay won six NFL titles, while Chicago won five.

When Vince Lombardi was the head coach and general manager of the Packers from 1959 through 1967, Green Bay won 13 of 18 games against Halas and the Bears. The Packers also won five NFL titles and two Super Bowls during that time, while the Bears won the 1963 NFL title.

The quarterback for the Packers in the Lombardi years was Bart Starr. No. 15 was 12-2 versus Chicago in that period.

Bart vs. da Bears

Jerry Kramer told me a great story about the game when Starr showed the Packers that he was truly the quarterback to lead the team under Lombardi. And the game was against the Bears.

“We were playing the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. “Bill George was their middle linebacker at the time. On a deep pass attempt, George thought he would try to intimidate Bart.

“Bill took about a five-yard run and he gave Bart a forearm right in the mouth. George timed it perfectly and put Bart right on his behind. He also cut Bart badly, from his lip all the way to his nose. After that, George said, ‘That ought to take care of you Starr, you pu**y.’ Bart snapped right back at George and said, ‘F— you, Bill George, we’re coming after you.’

“My jaw dropped after that exchange, as I was shocked. Meanwhile Bart was bleeding profusely. I told Bart that he better go to the sideline and get sewn up. Bart replied, ‘Shut up and get in the huddle.’

“Bart took us down the field in seven or eight plays and we scored. That series of plays really solidified Bart as our leader and we never looked back.”

In terms of the overall series, the Packers fell behind the Bears mostly because of their play in three decades…the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s. The Packers were just 39-79-2 in the ’50s, 57-82-5 in the ’70s and 65-84-3 in the ’80s.

The Bears really dominated the series when Mike Ditka was head coach of the Bears from 1982 through 1992, as the Bears won 13 of 18 games. Da Bears won Super Bowl XXV during that period.

The Packers have been able to tie the series with the Bears over the past quarter century thanks to the quarterback play of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have won two Super Bowls in that time, one with Favre leading the team (Super Bowl XXXI) and one with Rodgers leading the team (Super Bowl XLV).

Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Packers when the team won Super Bowl XXXI, while current head coach Mike McCarthy was on the sideline when the Pack won Super Bowl XLV.

Favre was 22-10 versus the Bears in his career in Green Bay, while Rodgers has been even better than that. No. 12 is 14-4 against Chicago (plus is 1-0 in the NFC title game).

Rodgers has been magnificent for the most part when he plays the Bears. In the 18 regular season games he has played versus Chicago, No. 12 has thrown 38 touchdown passes, compared to just nine interceptions for 4,417 yards.

Rodgers celebrates at Soldier Field

That adds up to a stellar career passer rating against the Bears of 105.7.

So far in three games in the 2017 NFL season, Rodgers has thrown six touchdown passes versus three interceptions for 967 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 93.1, which would be great for just about any other QB in the NFL, but not Rodgers.

Why? That mark is 10 points less than his career passer rating of 103.8, which just happens to be the best rating in NFL history.

But when it comes to playing the Bears, Rodgers always seems to be on his A game. Yes, there will be some issues with a very banged up offensive line playing in front of No. 12 on Thursday night.

But if history is a blueprint for the future, expect a big night for Rodgers on Thursday. The frosting on the cake would be a Green Bay victory which would put the Packers ahead in the series with the Bears for the first time since 1932.

That would be two years before Starr was born. 37 years before Favre was born. And 51 years before Rodgers was born.

Together, the three greatest quarterbacks in the history of the Packers have gone 48-16 versus the Bears.

A win on Thursday night would take that mark to 49-16 and Rodgers would improve his individual record to 15-4.

Expect that to happen.

Green Bay Packers: Ted Thompson Has Changed His Modus Operandi in 2017

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy

Going into the 2017 NFL season, general manager Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers had built up a very solid track record in terms of doing his job. Especially since he hired head coach Mike McCarthy in 2006, a year after Thompson took over control of the front office.

Since that partnership took place, the Packers have had 115-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances (including eight straight currently), four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

For the most part during his tenure as GM, Thompson has utilized a a draft-and-develop program under the guidance of McCarthy and his coaching staff.

The Packers also were a team that retained a lot of their own core free agents and the team almost never cut a draft pick in the season they were selected.

In that time, it’s been rare that Thompson would dip his toes into “pure” free agency, when he picks up a veteran NFL player who has had decent success with another team or teams in the NFL. Instead, Thompson depends much more on the draft and signing “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents.

When Thompson does sign a veteran free agent, he usually goes the route of signing a player who was released by his former team. Examples are defensive back Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders) in 2006, defensive lineman/linebacker Julius Peppers (Chicago Bears) in 2014 and tight end Jared Cook (St. Louis Rams) last year.

Every one of those three examples turned out great for Thompson and the Packers, especially Woodson and Peppers.

In his seven-year career with the Packers, Woodson put together a brilliant resume. Woodson picked off 38 passes, including nine for touchdowns. Woodson also forced 15 fumbles, recovering six more. Woodson had 11.5 sacks to boot.

In addition to that, Woodson was also named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Plus, Woodson was named to four Pro Bowls and finally won a Super Bowl ring.

Peppers had a great three-year run with the Packers as well. Peppers had 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions, which were both returned for touchdowns. The Packers were in the NFC championship game in two of the three years Peppers was a Packer.

Cook was also a good signing, even though his stay in Green Bay was only one year. Cook suffered an ankle injury early in the 2016 season, but once he returned to action in late November, the offense of the Packers became a force with his addition.

Also, in three games in the postseason, Cook had 18 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers advanced to the NFC title game.

Thompson likes signing players who were released by their former teams because they won’t have an impact on the compensatory picks a team will receive in the NFL draft the following season.

Signing a free agent who wasn’t released by his team does factor into the compensatory picks equation. An example of signing a player like that was in 2006, when the Packers signed defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (St. Louis Rams), who had a nice eight-year run in Green Bay.

But things changed a bit for Thompson and the Packers in 2017. For one thing, the Packers lost a number of their own free agents. The list included Peppers, Cook, guard T.J. Lang, running back Eddie Lacy, offensive lineman JC Tretter, defensive back Micah Hyde and defensive lineman/linebacker Datone Jones.

The Packers also released Sam Shields, their top cornerback, due to concussion issues.

Thompson used both the draft and free agency to offset those losses. In free agency, Thompson shocked the football world by signing free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett after negotiations with Cook broke down.

The Packers signed Bennett to a three-year deal that will figure into the compensatory formula because he was hadn’t been released by the New England Patriots at the time of his signing.

But that signing will definitely be offset with all the losses the Packers had in free agency.

After signing Bennett, Thompson kept adding veteran players who were released by their former teams. This list included tight end Lance Kendricks (Los Angeles Rams), cornerback Davon House (Jacksonville Jaguars), Ricky Jean Francois (Washington Redskins and recently released by Green Bay), guard Jahri Evans (New Orleans Saints), linebacker Ahmad Brooks (San Francisco 49ers) and defensive lineman Quinton Dial (San Francisco 49ers).

That free agent group is by far the largest assortment of players that Thompson has ever signed in his tenure as GM with the Packers.

Bennett, House and Evans will all be starters, while Kendricks, Brooks and Dial figure to get more than ample playing time during the season.

In addition to the free agent news, the Packers also released three of their ten draft picks from 2017, which is almost unheard of under Thompson’s watch. Two of the three released players (wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey and offensive lineman Kofi Amichia) were signed to the practice squad however.

What does this all mean? It appears that Thompson realizes that the Packers have been knocking on the door of getting to the Super Bowl in two out of the last three years with teams which have been among the youngest in the NFL.

In 2017, he has added more of a veteran presence to the squad, which will hopefully help out at crunch time.

Aaron Rodgers and Martellus Bennett

Add to that, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be 34 in December, and although No. 12 is still playing at an elite level, the Packers need to surround Rodgers with as many still-effective veterans on both offense and defense.

Thompson has tried to help that cause going into the 2017 season.

It’s still very early in the 2017 season, but the 17-9 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener at Lambeau Field was a very positive start to the season.

In fact, Bennett made the game-clinching catch for 26 yards late in the game which allowed Rodgers to use the kneel down to run out the clock. No. 80 was also a very effective blocker during the game.

The Packers will need that type of performance by Bennett and the other veteran newcomers to the team throughout the course of the season and postseason. If so, the Packers will have a chance to do what Bennett did after Super Bowl LI when he was with the Patriots.

That is, hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis after Super Bowl LII.

A Scout’s Take on Undrafted Rookie WR Michael Clark of the Green Bay Packers (Practice Squad)

Michael Clark

If you attended the training camp of the Green Bay Packers this summer, you saw that one player certainly made a name for himself. I’m talking about undrafted wide receiver Michael Clark, who played his college football at Marshall.

Clark had a number of plays in camp that reminded some people of another NFL wide receiver out of Marshall…Randy Moss. Clark sometimes looked like a man among boys with some of his acrobatic catches, which highlighted his size and jumping ability.

Clark also had four catches this preseason for 34 yards and a touchdown.

But seeing that wide receiver is one of the deepest positions on the Packers, and also that the Packers selected two wide receivers in the 2017 draft, the odds of Clark making the final 53-man roster were somewhat slim.

In the end, Clark did not make the final roster, but he did find a spot on the 10-man practice squad. And if history is a blueprint for the future, things could get interesting for Clark and the Packers down the road.

Case in point, look at wide receiver Geronimo Allison. The former Fighting Illini star had a great training camp with the Packers in 2016, as he was also undrafted, but Allison missed out on getting on the 53-man roster.

But the Packers were able to keep Allison on their practice squad and then elevated him to the roster in late October last season. Allison then had 12 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, plus had five receptions for 65 yards in the postseason.

Allison will be serving a one-game suspension in Week 1 of the 2017 season, but has established himself as the fourth wide receiver in the pecking order of the Packers, behind Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.

Allison and Clark have a couple of things in common. One is size. Allison goes 6’3″, 202 pounds, while Clark is even bigger, as he’s 6’6″, 217 pounds.

Both players are from the Tampa Bay area. Allison is from Tampa, while Clark is from St. Petersburg.

I wanted to get a good read on Clark, who only played one year of college football, by talking to NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had an opportunity to talk with Landry about Clark last week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, as we also talked about the Packers signing outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

I mentioned to Landry that Clark had shown real athleticism in training camp with his size and leaping ability, but still was a bit raw, due to his lack of experience, as he also played some college basketball. I also asked what type of future Clark has in the NFL.

“Well, you described him [Clark],” Landry said. “He’s very lanky. He can elevate. He’s got very good natural hands that can catch out of frame. Very raw as a route-runner.

“But he’s is certainly a guy who is going to make it and be a big slot and can play X. He’s really a good physical specimen with some ability.”

Clark now gets to practice and keep learning under the guidance of his wide receivers coach Luke Getsy, along with getting some tutelage from the veteran receivers on the team.

Clark and fifth-round draft pick DeAngelo Yancey were the only wide receivers that made the practice squad, as both seventh-round draft pick Malachi Dupre and Max McCaffrey did not.

McCaffrey had an exception training camp as well, and he ended up signing with the New Orleans Saints to join their practice squad.

Meanwhile, Clark has a great opportunity to shine in Green Bay down the road. He has the natural athleticism and size to be a force in the passing game, but needs to continue to get better in running routes and learning the nuances of playing wide receiver in the NFL.

Time will tell what will happen down the road with Clark and his future with the Packers, but this past training camp tells us that Clark can be a real weapon at some point fairly soon.

A Scout’s Take on the Addition of OLB Ahmad Brooks by the Green Bay Packers

Ahmad Brooks sacking Aaron Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers addressed a depth problem at outside linebacker on Wednesday, as they signed Ahmad Brooks, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners cut Brooks last week, which gave the Packers a chance to add some sorely needed help at the outside linebacker position.

Injuries have been piling up at the OLB position, as Clay Matthews suffered a groin injury against the Denver Broncos last weekend in Green Bay’s third preseason game, plus Nick Perry suffered an ankle injury the week before playing against the Washington Redskins.

Head coach Mike McCarthy indicated to the media that both Matthews and Perry should be ready to go in the season opener versus the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field on September 10.

Still, there is cause for concern, as the team expects the brunt of the pass pressure on opposing quarterbacks to come from Matthews and Perry, who both have had been somewhat injury prone in the respective careers.

In the past five seasons, Matthews has missed 13 games due to a variety of injuries, while Perry has never played in all 16 games in any given season in his career and has missed 20 games in his five years in Green Bay.

Matthews has 72.5 sacks in his eight-year career in Green Bay, but only has 11.5 sacks the past two seasons combined. It’s important to note however, that No. 52 was used mostly as an inside linebacker in 2015, plus also started three games there again last season.

Perry had a career year in 2016, as he had 11 sacks, which is almost as many sacks (12.5) as No. 53 had in the four previous seasons.

In 2016, Matthews and Perry were joined in the outside linebacker rotation by Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. Both Peppers and Jones left the Packers via free agency this past offseason, so the Packers were hoping that both Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott would step up their play in 2017.

In addition, the Packers also drafted Vince Biegel of Wisconsin in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft.

Fackrell has been sort of a non-factor so far in his development, while Elliott has been hampered by a back injury.

Biegel has not been cleared to practice yet due to having foot surgery back in May and will most likely start the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list.

That made the signing of someone with the background of Brooks somewhat imperative. The 6’3″, 255-pound Brooks was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006, but was waived in his second year and picked up by the 49ers. It was in San Fransisco where the career of Brooks blossomed.

In eight years with the 49ers, playing OLB in a 3-4 front like the Packers use, Brooks had 370 total tackles, 53.5 sacks, three interceptions (one for a touchdown), 12 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Brooks was also named to the Pro Bowl squad in 2013, plus was named second-team All-Pro in 2012 and 2013.

Ahmad Brooks sacking Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau

I wanted to get the take on the addition of Brooks by the Packers from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had another opportunity to talk with Landry shortly after the Packers signed Brooks on Wednesday, on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

“Ahmad Brooks has not played real well for the Niners,” Landry said. “He is someone who I expected to get another chance, as they [49ers] are getting a little younger there.

“We’ll see if Green Bay can get something out of him. Situationally on a better team, it makes more sense. They [49ers] were rebuilding and he really wasn’t all that thrilled with being a kind of guy who was going to lead a bunch of young guys in San Francisco.

“So we’ll see if it will work out. I would temper my enthusiasm. Other than getting him spot play, which he can be very effective in doing, his play has regressed quite a bit.”

The Packers plan to utilize Brooks in just the way Landry believes he will be effective. That is getting him on the field on a situational basis.

Before the Packers signed Brooks and he was just in for a visit, associate head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss said this about the possibility of Brooks playing for the Packers.

“He can do everything that we would ask him to do in our scheme,” Moss said. “He can play to the tight end side, he can play to the open-end side. He can play the outside linebacker, he can play the elephant. If he were to be placed on our roster – however that decision goes down – he could come right in and fit right in.”

Time will tell how things will work out with the 33 year-old Brooks playing for the Pack. Green Bay signed Peppers when he was 34 years-old and got three productive seasons (25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions for touchdowns) out of him.

No matter what happens with Brooks, the Packers still need to get some production from Fackrell, Elliott and Biegel at some point during the 2017 season.

But at least the team now has a solid veteran who has only had less than six sacks in a season once in his career in San Francisco. That was when Brooks had five in 2010. Other than that, Brooks has always had at least six sacks per season in eight years with the Niners.

Brooks also plays the run well, which is also an important asset to have at OLB.

Bottom line, expect Brooks to be part of a four-man rotation at OLB in 2017 for the Packers, along with Matthews, Perry and Fackrell. Matthews and Perry will get the bulk of the snaps. If Fackrell doesn’t step up his play, Elliott will get his shot in the rotation, plus Biegel will get his opportunity as well once he is cleared to play.

Jerry Kramer’s Nomination for the Pro Football Hall of Fame: ‘A Wonderful Honor’

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

The moment that so many people had been waiting for actually happened on Thursday afternoon, August 24. Yes, right guard Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Besides Kramer, linebacker Robert Brazile of the Houston Oilers was also nominated as a senior candidate. On Friday, former Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard was named as a contributor nominee.

Kramer, Brazile and Beathard immediately became finalists for enshrinement in Canton. The modern group of finalists is yet to be determined. The entire group will be voted on by the 48 members of the entire Selection Committee of the Hall of Fame on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

This process has been a long road for Kramer, who is now a finalist for the 11th time, but only the second time as a senior candidate.

I tried to lay out the reasons why Kramer deserved to be a senior nominee this year in a recent story, as I wrote a presentation piece as to why No. 64 should be one of the two senior candidates.

Here is part of what I wrote:

In 1969, Jerry was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team.

The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell, Lou Groza and Kramer.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are now enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Mr. Kramer.

Plus, let’s not forget that Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named First-Team All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Kramer is one of those 11 First-Team All-Decade players who have yet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Now looking back on Kramer’s career with the Packers, No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. Kramer would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

Kramer also played a large role in the success that the Packers had under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. The Packers were 9-1 under Lombardi in the postseason, which included five NFL championships in seven years. That included victories in the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer was a huge component in the NFL title victories in 1962, 1965 and 1967.

In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at very cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest.

Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

jerry-in-the-65-title-game

In the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.

Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback, as the “Golden Boy” made his way into the end zone.

Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

When one looks back on the consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Finally, besides being named to the NFL 50th anniversary team and being named All-Decade in the 1960s, Kramer also has the respect and admiration of many of his peers who he played with and against during his era.

Peers who now have busts in Canton.

Kramer has been endorsed by legendary defensive tackles such as Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly, who were not only All-Decade in the 1960s, but also in the 1970s. Kramer was also endorsed by Alan Page, who was named All-Decade in the 1970s.

Kramer was really honored with the endorsement he received from Olsen, as Merlin was the finest defensive tackle he ever faced. In fact, there are many who believe Olsen was the best defensive tackle in NFL history.

Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, plus was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well.

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.”

Kramer has also been endorsed by other contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Kramer has been recommended for the Hall of Fame by teammates like Starr, Hornung and Willie Davis, along with opponents like Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

he absolute proudest endorsement Kramer ever received came from his head coach.

This is what Vince Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

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

Jerry pulling in Super Bowl I

I do know from talking with Rick Gosselin, who was at the Seniors Selection Committee meeting on Thursday, that he along with Bernie Miklasz, were the two people responsible for convincing the other three members of the committee gathered in Canton that day that Kramer deserved to be one of the two nominees.

I also talked with Kramer himself and he shared his thoughts about how this all went down. My first question was where Kramer was when he heard the news.

“I was having lunch,” Kramer said. “Chad Ovitt from Kenosha called me. I had done an autograph session for Chad on Sunday. Chad said, ‘Congratulations!’ And I said, ‘For what?’ He said, ‘The nomination.’

“I was caught a bit off-guard, as I was somewhat aware of this situation, but I made it a point to not focus on it. Not to pay a lot of attention to it. Not to participate. And to not get all worked up emotionally about it.

“When I put my phone down after I hung up with Chad, I saw I missed a couple of calls from David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame). And I couldn’t believe it. It really did happen!”

Kramer related his thoughts to me about the conversation he had with Baker about his nomination.

“I had a nice chat with David and others in the room,” Kramer said. “There were congratulations all around. My stomach was doing flip-flops. My heart was pounding a bit. It was sort of surreal setting. Like is this real? Is this my imagination again or am I really on the phone with David Baker, thanking him for selecting me as a nominee?

“I had played that scenario in my head a number of times. Sometimes, I got real nasty and would tell them to stick it in their ear. And sometimes I’m very polite, thoughtful and considerate and all that. I go back and forth depending on my mood I guess.

“But when the moment came, I became all wishy-washy, all gooey and all emotional with them on the phone. I allowed my emotions to come out. I gushed a little bit. It was really a wonderful moment for me. I thanked them and thanked them and thanked them.

“All the bad and the negative stuff I might have said didn’t appear. It was all thank you and I appreciate it. And what a wonderful honor this is. I was just very happy about it all and the negative guy didn’t show up and didn’t even get in the room.”

The people who Kramer talked with included Baker, Gosselin and the other committee members, consultants Art Shell and Carl Eller, plus Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Joe Horrigan.

During the conversation, Horrigan told Kramer, “Jerry, this will reduce my mail by 90 percent!”

As we talked, Kramer made it a point to thank all of his fans, especially those in America’s Dairyland.

“Wisconsin fans are absolutely sensational,” Kramer said. “You can’t define them well enough for people to understand how wonderful they are and how wonderful they have been to me. Specifically over the years. We are still having that love affair.”

Kramer also mentioned how his phone has been blowing up with calls of congratulations from so many people.

“There are so many people who have come forward with congratulations, best wishes and all kind of things,” Kramer said. “It’s heartwarming. Especially at this particular point in time in my life.

“To have so many people weigh-in and say, ‘Hell of a job’ or ‘Congratulations’ mean a lot to me. You can feel their happiness. They are pleased just like they were nominated. In a sense, they were. They were part of the process, writing letters and they helped. It is really a state-wide, nation-wide and even world-wide effort on behalf of these people.”

Still, the job has not been completed just yet. Kramer needs to get at least 39 members of the 48-person Selection Committee to vote for him on February 3 so he can get his rightful place in Canton.

That is the second step of this process. But the first step was taken care of on Thursday, when Kramer was nominated.

Jerry's block on Jethro

In terms of where Kramer is, regarding his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, using an analogy, the ball is now inside the one yard line with just seconds remaining in the game. It’s definitely time to call the 31-wedge play.

It will be very apropos that 50 years and basically a little over a month after that famous play was called on December 31, 1967, that Kramer finds himself in the end zone once again.

But this time the end zone will be an entrance to be among the best of the best in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.