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Is back. Yes, yes please save your applause and do not gesticulate wildly in front of your computer or you may frighten your loved ones.
It's been over a month since I've done a proper Wank so let me just clear some things up for anybody who might happen to visit this site for any reason other than the link to a picture of Tamia that happens to be in my article archives.
1. I didn't stop posting because the Packers stopped winning. The Packers losing ways this season while concerning haven't caused me to spiral into sports fan despair. I grew up in the '80's as a Packer fan, 'nuff said.
2. The state of Wisconsin sports is sucking just a tad bit right now.
3. I have a lot of respect for the many blogs that cover Wisconsin sports teams and manage to post on a consistently regular basis, I'm not worthy.
You know what it is, let's get down to it.
Could the Pack deserve any other grade for a season as dismal as this one turned out to be (well I know it could be lower, but we're not the Lions)? Even after what was probably one if not the most controversial offseasons in the franchise's history expectations for the Pack were still pretty high. We thought we knew that if A.R. held up the Packers should at least be able to make the playoffs with a stingy D as our strong suit (yeeeeaaah that didn't work out so well). Well A.R. turned out to be the real deal. I don't think you could throw any 1st year starting QB into a situation like the Packers and expect a better result (switch places with him and Offensive Rookie of the Year Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and I think we end up with the same record). But the defense came off like a horrible impersonation of last year's unit. Without DT Corey Williams taking up a lot of room LB's Nick Barnett and Hawk got exposed big time like most middle line backers do when their defensive line couldn't stop the push of a lightly gusting wind. The secondary, which had been heavily maligned by fans and the media in the off-season for giving up big plays last year, wound up being our strength this season and even sent two members to the Pro Bowl. But key injuries to starters Al Harris and Atari Bigby seemed to harm the continuity of the unit and their performance slipped considerably down the stretch. In fact the only thing the Packers managed to do on a fairly consistent basis this season is lose in the same way. This season it didn't matter what had happened in the game prior to the last minutes. If the other team had the ball last needing a score to win they were going to get it. It was frustrating to the point of laughing to keep from crying watching our defense generate these interceptions and turnovers but not being able to come up with one stop to save a game. And while, overall, A.R. was solid in his first full season as a starter, the offense has to share some of the blame for late game collapses for not being able to sustain drives when they need to. In several of those losses the Pack had the ball late with the lead needing only to get a couple of first downs to run out the clock but were unable to avoid a 3 and out.
I believe the root cause (and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out) for the sub par performance of the offensive and defensive units respectively comes back to talent in the trenches. Despite a lot of homers out there still saying The Great One would have had this team back in the SB this year, there are a lot of stats out here in the cyberverse that suggest that A.R. was one of the best players on the team this year. I say his play gets even better when he has time to develop a rhythm behind consistent blocking. Good blocking from good linemen, the kind T.T. needs to go out and find because this group ain't cutting it. Same on D. If we could find some linemen that actually needed to be blocked maybe Hawk and Barnett could revert to their former selves.
I hate to say it but looking back now last year was an aberration, a charmed season. The team did (does) have some good talent but also got a lot of good fortune: Grant comes out of nowhere to save the running game, Greg Jennings exploded on the scene, we had a relatively injury free year, some players had career years; those things all factor in when chasing a championship. Sometimes things just fall a certain way to enable something good to happen, we didn't get that this year. But with some tweaks and upgrades (and a show of favor from the football gods) we could be right in the mix again next season.
Before this turns into one long rant on the Packers some other quick thoughts:
I too am troubled by A.R.'s ability (inability?) to make things happen offensively at the end of close games a'la The Great One. I don't think A.R. needs to be a gunslinger, but I do agree with (gulp) Lovie Smith's observations about how QB's are ultimately evaluated in this league; how do they perform at the end of games in crunch time.
The Packers will have the 9th pick in the draft this summer. That should be high enough to get a ready-to-start impact DE, but are there any like that coming out this year? Should TT trade it for a talent upgrade?
I saw a poll in local Milwaukee paper Shepperd Express last week that asked readers if they would welcome back Mike Holmgren as coach of the Packers and 62% responded yes. WTF?!
I can't give them lower than that after they just beat the Spurs the other night (although these are not the same Spurs as say 2 years ago). Bucks are in 3rd place in the Central at 15-17, 6-4 in their last 10. Like many fans in southeastern Wisconsin this time of year I've been a little too busy angsting about the Pack to pay close attention to the Bucks. But they do bear some observation this season. They have a new coach, new GM, couple of new players so it's been, ahhh, interesting watching their progress when I've had the chance so far this year.
The results have been mixed so far. Something seems to have happened to Andrew Bogut since the Olympics as he's not being very aggressive offensively this year. But his rebounding is up, so maybe my hunch that the ankle injury from the Games was worse than Bogut let on and has been affecting his play is way off. He certainly showed his ass against Tim Duncan with 29 and 10. And with him being the leading percentage shooter on the team (but only taking the 5th most shots on the team) we need more of that kind of play on a consistent basis. And enough about the 'development' of his game already. If the Bucks are going to make any kind of run at the playoffs Bogut has to 'bring it all together' this year.
Michael Redd started of the year kinda hot, but was quickly sidelined by an injury and ended up sitting out almost a month. If you look closely you can see the beginning of the end for Redd in his game. Never the most athletic guy you can see age starting to mess with the form of his pretty jumper and robbing him of what little explosion to the hoop he used to have. He's almost like Chuck Person now without the gimpy knees. So, of course, rumors are strong now that the Bucks are actively shopping him, looking to get as close to equal value as they can while they can (at the beginning of the season Bucks blog Bob Boozer Jinx proposed a hypothetical trade with the Suns getting Redd for Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw, too bad Charlotte beat us to it).
A couple of the draftees are coming along nicely. Ramon Sessions, who was last year's pick and did real well in the D-Leauge, has taken his opportunity at increased playing time and ran with it literally. He's had several games where he finished with double figures in points and assists while coming off the bench. I think we can at least say he and Luke Ridnour are providing what we lost in Moe Williams: scoring (and a little more efficiency). And the Prince Mbah Moute has been a welcome surprise. With the ability to defend at the NBA level from day one (and better than you think offense) Luc has been a fixture in the starting lineup since a couple of games into the season. He's going to be fine but if he keeps playing like this and improving we may have to pay to keep him when his rookie contract expires. This year's pick F Joe Alexander's troubles were well documented during the summer and they pretty much have carried over to the season. Still learning, still developing, still looks lost at times when he does touch the floor (which isn't often).
As I recall, one of the knocks against Scott Skiles in Chicago is that he didn't seem to have any consistency or reason to his lineups and substitution patterns. That doesn't seem to be a problem here so far. Right now he seems to just be concentrating on getting everyone on the same page offensively and defensively getting them to play the style he wants, smart and tough. The Bucks were roundly picked to be the worst team in the league this season but so far they're not rolling over for anyone.
Well since we lost out on C.C., things are pretty quiet on the off-season front for the crew. There were a few moves made like signing Julio Jorge, 3B Mike Lamb, former Red Sox Trot Nixon and a few more players to minor league contracts, but nothing major. Trading Mike Cameron to the Yankees has been dead since Doug Melvin was turned off by getting the brush off from Yankees GM Brian Cashman while he was wrapping up the C.C. and A.J. Burnett signings. The latest semi-big name pitcher linked to the Brewers in rumors is Braden Looper, who I last remember as being an effective closer for the Mets. In my last Wank, I mused that Ben Sheets might end up staying a Brewer after all, as I hadn't really heard much talk about other teams interested in him. I still haven't heard anything much but it would seem to me that the Brewers would be the very last resort at this point for Sheets because that would basically amount to him accepting whatever the Crew can offer because he won't get anything better anywhere else. Sorta sucks for Ben because with his age and injury history his career window for that big payday contract is closing pretty fast (if it's not shut already).
Brewer's owner Mark Attanasio was still feeling the pain from losing out on C.C. last week and said some stuff. And I agree because without revenue sharing teams like Milwaukee will never be able to compete on a consistent basis. I mean, wasn't baseball like this before free agency? Back then, teams kept a stranglehold on players' contracts to build dynasties, nowadays they keep a stranglehold on the players through their greed in seeking the most money.
University of Wisconsin football: D
The season on the whole was a big disappointment. The Badgers were supposed to challenge for the Big 10 championship this year but instead ended up mired in inconsistency. It came to an end mercifully last weekend with our shellacking at the hands of Florida State in the Champs Bowl. Going into it I was confident we had a good shot at winning this game but the defense quickly showed they were not up to the task of stopping the Seminoles offense and we made some key mistakes that we weren't good enough to recover from against a team of that caliber. Next year will be even more of a question mark after losing a lot of senior leadership that was supposed to be the strength of the team this season. Bielema and his coaching staff need to prove that they can do a better job of developing talent as there were several guys who were expected to make big contributions this year but seemed to digress a little. One of the hallmarks of the Alvarez era was the coach's ability to take mid level recruits and turn them into above average college players and that is one of the biggest necesseties required to coach here because we will always lose out to the Michigans and Ohio States in terms of high level recruits.