Vince Lombardi's Birthday

    In honor of the Packers legendary coach, and tomorrow being the 100th anniversary of his birth,  we will kick off this season of Burke's Blog just a little bit prior to training camp.   The Packers have their last OTA practice tomorrow, and here are just a few thoughts moving forward into the 2013 season.   At this point, after tomorrow's final organized team activity (which is a fancy way of saying "practice")   all players are free to do whatever they want with the rest of their summer. That is until Thursday July 25th when they will report back the day before training camp.  For those counting.....that's 45 days until the real deal begins.  When it comes to veteran players, missing time right now really means NOTHING in the big picture.  What matters is whether or not they are in shape, and ready to go when they put on the pads and helmets.  Last week's three day minicamp was mandatory. But it was really only 2 practices, with 1 reserved for dodgeball.  OTA's are technically "voluntary", but if you're a young player or undrafted free agent, you better make sure you are treating every one of these practices like they could be your last.  For quite a few of these guys, they will be.   The dream of playing pro football could be only another two months at best for some.  

5 topics to ponder:

Mike Neal moving to OLB will not work out
.   The Packers DE had his best season as a pro last year and not so coincidentally was healthier than in each of his past seasons.   Neal is absolute workout freak and about as big and ripped muscularly, as any defensive lineman to ever play the game.  That still does not mean he could even cover John Kuhn out of the backfield in the flat on a swing pass.   Neal could be set up for failure in much the same manner that Aaron Kampman was when Dom Capers 3-4 scheme was implementented  OLB coach Kevin Greene said it best when asked about his potential.  "Can you imagine a 285 pounder like Mike Neal screaming off the edge and getting to the QB?"   True that sounds great for an OLB, but if Clay Matthews is coming the other side and rushing the quarterback, then is more like a tradition 4-3 on passing downs.   Dom Capers and company can come up with all kinds of Hippo or Psycho formations, but it's really about disguising and bringing blitzes that overload and allow players to break free to the quarterback. Sometimes its simply a numbers game and it's likely that in the end, Neal will be an end.  I'd bet he sees more snaps on the inside as a backup, or rotating in for the aging Ryan Pickett once the regular season rolls around. 

A reason to be Jolly.   
This "2nd chance" should work out for both sides, and the Packers really don't have much too lose either way.  By taking a chance on Johnny Jolly, Green Bay just got bigger and more importantly tougher up front.  Jolly is a run stuffer and can rush the passer with the best of any interior defensive lineman.  He also brings some of that much needed attitude that you simply can't measure.  What you can measure is Jolly's weight and waist line, and he will need to lose a few pounds to be in shape and ready to go.

Optimal O-line.   Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton should benefit the most from the Packers decision to shuffle the offensive line a bit.   Bulaga was an All-American in college at left tackle, so the transition will be smooth for him.  Sitton is a bulldozer on either side of center and having Bulaga next to him again will be an easy switch.   TJ Lang is Mr. Versatility up front and he should enjoy finally being in one spot for an entire season, while Evan Dietrich-Smith has entrenched himself as the center of the future at least for now.   That leaves one open job at right tackle.  Don Barclay filled in admirably last season when Bulaga was injured, so he and Marshall Newhouse should have a spirited battle with a few others trying to get in on that heavyweight fight.

Run to daylight?   When I was a kid, one of the first real football books I ever read was written by Lombardi.   At the time I didn't have any idea what I was really reading,  or how much it would mean later on, but the breakdown of film and weekly preparation was in great detail.   At the time I remember thinking "All that for a football game?"   Work fast and efficient. Make the complex things look routine.   And be able to run the football.   That is something the Packers haven't really been able to do since  Ryan Grant did it for a few years, or when Ahman Green was in his prime.   Since we just talked about those who block, those who run could make a serious impact this season.  The entire RB group became a little more crowded with the additions of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.  They are about as different in style and substance as they are to do an interview with.  And both should provide some much need punch to a rushing attack that has been lackluster for the most part in the last three seasons, with the exception of James Starks during their Super Bowl run at the end of 2010.  Things just got a little more crowded in the backfield and someone will be left out of the picture at the end of training camp.

Aaron Rodgers will not have a "contract" letdown.   Becoming the highest paid player will have no effect on the kind of preparation that the Packers MVP puts into developing his craft.  At some point having more money is not the issue, and Rodgers will continually be motivated by the things that have pushed him to this point in his career.  Fear of failure, the desire to prove the doubters wrong, and the need to carve out his own identity in Green Bay Packer history will always be there for #12.  He's already secured a resume worthy of an honorary statue someday, and another Lombardi trophy would only add to his football legacy.  

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