We’ve moved

Posted on September 3rd, 2009 – 5:29 PM
By Mark Craig

I had a feeling it was about time that we changed everything once I finally learned how to do this stuff the old way. Of course, I’m old-school. I still walk all the way to the mailbox, reach all the way in, pull out the paper, walk all the way back to the kitchen table, open the paper and read it without videos to help me along.

But it’s not that bad. This blog, like others, has moved to a new server with a new URL. I really don’t know what a server is, but you can access the new URL by clicking here. The new site actually looks pretty good.

And once you get there, you will see our first post includes a link to where you will need to go to register on the Strib site.

K-Rob joins UFL

Posted on September 3rd, 2009 – 2:29 PM
By Mark Craig

We interrupt the Rodney Harrison beatdown to bring you news that former Vikings receiver/kick returner/bad-curfew- driving-decision-maker Koren Robinson was among 11 players who signed with the United Football League’s Florida Tuskers today.

We wish him well.

And, K-Rob, do not leave your luggage unattended. One of the other 10 guys signed on Thursday was former NFL running back/luggage-taker Tatum Bell.

Harrison rips Vikes for signing Favre

Posted on September 3rd, 2009 – 7:54 AM
By Mark Craig

Opinions are like, um, belly buttons. We all have one. Especially where No. 4 is concerned.

Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who could one day join Brett Favre in the Hall of Fame, shared his opinion on Favre and the Vikings during an interview with Sirius NFL Radio.

Rodney wasn’t as angry as the Grumpy Old Fran (Tarkenton) was awhile back. But the former hard-hitting safety didn’t pull up before blasting away.

 ”I don’t think personally that Brett Favre is the answer,” Harrison said. “I think that move really came in and kind of sabotaged that locker room. I mean, you’ve got two guys, young quarterbacks, who were looking forward to competing for a starting job and all of a sudden you get a guy and you pay him $12 million and you anoint him. He doesn’t even come in and earn the position. He just comes in and he takes over.

“So I think he needs to come in, he needs to win the respect of that locker room, and the only way you do that is you go out there and make plays and you handle your business accordingly.

“But I don’t think he’s truly the answer. I don’t think even with this move that Minnesota will get to the NFC championship, let alone the Super Bowl.”

Obviously, Rodney could be right. Or he could be wrong. But I will say the NFC is awfully thin on good teams, and the Vikings are one of the better ones. One doesn’t have to be great to get to the NFC title game. Just consistently good at the right time.

Secondary should concern Bears more than SI jinx

Posted on September 2nd, 2009 – 10:27 AM
By Mark Craig

Taking a look around the rest of the NFC NAVRE while wondering if old Brett has any other tales of potentially broken bones that might want to share with the NFL’s national television partners …  

. In Chicago, the Bears are probably more worried about their already beat-up secondary than they are about the Sports Illustrated jinx. Signing Rod Hood on the eve of the season is a good indication your secondary is thin.

The Bears will get DBs Zack Bowman and Danieal Manning back from hamstring injuries in time for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Browns. Neither has played this preseason. Then there’s CB Charles Tillman, who’s still on PUP because of back surgery. He might not be ready for the season opener. All this has to be making guys named Favre and Rodgers looking forward to playing the Bears.

Then again, SI picks the Bears to win the NFC North. But don’t worry too much, Bears fans. Aaron Rodgers is on the dreaded cover. Heck, I pick the Bears to finish third in the division.

But in the NFC North and pretty much throughout the league, their is a very thin line between first and third.

. In Detroit, the Lions haven’t ruled out playing Daunte Culpepper in their preseason finale at Buffalo on Thursday. But, c’mon, Daunte has a cut on the bottom of his foot that took eight stitches to close. I wouldn’t look for him to play. That leaves the door open for rookie No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford to win the starting job with a decent performance against the Bills.

The Lions have five QBs on the roster right now after picking up former Vike Brooks Bollinger and former Patriot Kevin O’Connell on Tuesday. They signed Bollinger off the street and claimed O’Connell off waivers. The hard luck of Drew Stanton continues today with arthroscopic knee surgery.

. In Green Bay, the Packers are encouraged by the progress of pass-rushing end Jarius Wynn. Although it’s doubtful that Wynn will develop quickly enough to clobber Brett Favre next month, the sixth-round pick out of Georgia does have two sacks and four QB hurries in three preseason games. The Packers have enough depth at end to let Wynn make the adjustment from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. But if he keeps knocking down professional QBs, he’ll force the Packers to give him some snaps during the regular season.

Favre-to-Shiancoe was the early eye opener

Posted on September 1st, 2009 – 8:53 AM
By Mark Craig

I have to say I was impressed by Brett Favre long before he fed Chester Taylor a screen pass that turned into a 28-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left in the first half of Monday night’s 17-10 preseason victory at Houston.

In fact, my eyes were opened with 5:11 left in the first quarter and the Vikings facing third-and-seven from their 26. Favre was in the shotgun. He got the snap and in less than a blink, he about knocked over tight end Visanthe Shiancoe with a laser over the middle.

Yeah, the Vikings later punted on that drive. But the 11-yard completion to Shiancoe was an example of what Favre can give the Vikings if his arm is healthy: Instant recognition and the gun to get it there before the defense reacts. And after that throw to Shiancoe, there’s no question Favre’s wing is just fine entering the season.

I also was impressed that Shiancoe caught not only that bullet, but also an earlier 19-yard pass while being tightly covered over the middle.

Favre-to-Shiancoe over the middle could be quite a combo if Favre’s arm stays strong and Shiancoe’s hands stay soft. 

Favre also had a perfect throw that Percy Harvin should have caught in the right corner of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Percy is going to be a good one. But young Percy also looks like a rookie right now.

Favre isn’t expected to play Friday night against the Cowboys. You’d like to see him get another warmup, but a ridiculous preseason schedule that has the Vikings playing Monday-Friday makes the decision to sit Favre and most of the starters a wise one.

Other thoughts …

. Darrell Bevell needs to get Favre the heck off the field in the Wildcat formation. I’m sure Favre didn’t mean to hurt the DB with that crackback block. Something like that is going to happen when you got a 39-year-old QB lined up at receiver and trying to make a block to impress his new teammates. The Vikings are lucky Favre didn’t get hurt. If they want to run the Wildcat, which they should, put T-Jack on the field.

. Peterson is an MVP candidate, but you can see why the Vikings are reluctant to use him in pass protection. AD stands for All-Day, except when protecting a soon-to-be 40-year-old QB.

. Favre still can move his feet, but he sure seems to have taken a lot more hard hits since he left the Packers.

. Phil Loadholt is a rookie, but he’s a major upgrade at right tackle.

. If Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler play as well during the regular season as they did in Week 3 of the preseason, the NFC North could be an entertaining division to watch. 

Cutler smirk-o-meter on the rise in Chicago

Posted on August 31st, 2009 – 8:35 AM
By Mark Craig

A glance around the rest of the NFC North while wondering if Broncos owner Pat Bowlen will fire Josh McDaniels or simply return him to his mommy …

. In Chicago, Bears QB Jay Cutler gets to keep that spoiled little smirk awhile longer after the Bears’ 27-17 win at Denver. Probably only Broncos and Browns fans could see the irony in Cutler’s most impressive drive of the evening. It was a 12-play, 98-yarder that Culter capped with a short touchdown pass to give the Bears a 17-3 lead. That’s the same length as ”The Drive” — John Elway’s 98-yard march through then-Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer’s !$#%# prevent defense during Denver’s win at Cleveland in the AFC title game during the 1986 season.

I wouldn’t start printing NFC North championship t-shirts in Chicago just yet, but I will say Cutler is looking more comfortable than I thought he would at this point. He now has touchdown drives of 90 yards or more in back-to-back weeks. And while it was the Broncos’ defense, but he did complete 71 percent of his passes and post a 106.1 passer rating on Sunday night.

By the way, have you noticed Cutler trying to change his image? He’s trying to say all the right things now. To me, they come off so disingenuous because of all that’s happened. He’s a good addition for the Bears and a big loss for the Broncos, but he’s still a pouty little boy who got his way in the spring and then went back to Denver and got it again Sunday night.

As for McDaniels, he looks more like a little boy lost at the mall than an NFL head coach.

I feel bad for the kid because he’s so completely overmatched. I covered him when he was a quarterback at Canton McKinley High School. His younger brother, Ben, followed him and was the better QB. Their father, Thom, was the head coach. Thom would make a much better NFL head coach than Josh.

Thom’s a legend in high school coaching circles in Northeast Ohio. Heck, he even got the most out of  Maurice Clarett while coaching in Warren, Ohio.

Meanwhile …  

. In Detroit, it’s looking as if Daunte Culpepper will start the regular season at quarterback. If that’s the case, he’ll probably start the second week of the season against the Vikings at Ford Field. It’s good to see Daunte get his so-called roll on again following a touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson in the Lions’ 18-17 preseason win over the Colts. Culpepper may have botched his career by acting as his own agent, but I can’t help but pull for the guy. Like him or hate him, you have to admit it’s tough to keep the guy down.

. In Green Bay, is it me or have the Packers changed punters twice a week for the past five years or so. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much. Well, it appears Jeremy Kapinos has won the job for this year. For now, of course. In seven preseason punts, Kapinos leads the NFL in net punting (46.0) and is seventh in punting average (46.4). He’s played in five NFL games since graduating from Penn State in 2006, including four last year in Green Bay. This is his first NFL training camp. Vikings fans should be thankful for Chris Kluwe.

Bills VP gives early North nod to Packers

Posted on August 28th, 2009 – 9:05 AM
By Mark Craig

A look around the NFL while hoping for a schism-free weekend for you and yours …

The Packers have looked very good this preseason. How good?

Good enough that Tom Modrak, Bills VP of college scouting, went out on a limb and called them the team to beat in the NFC North this year.

“It’s too soon, and I’ll regret saying this because it happens every year … but this has got to be the team to beat in that division,” Modrak told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel during halftime of last Saturday’s Bills-Packers game at Lambeau. “Now three weeks from now I guess I could change my mind, but at this moment, I’m thinking, `Who’s better?’ I know Minnesota has done some things on offense, but …”

This is only the second time this decade that the Packers have started 2-0 in the preseason. The other time was 2007 when they went 13-3 and made the NFC title game. 

Modrak also praised the Packers for switching to the 3-4 defense this year.

“In the 3-4, you’re always attacking,” he said. “It’s an attack defense, and it’s good.”

The Packers very well could win the NFC North. Heck, the way the NFL is, even Detroit can’t be eliminated just yet. But to call the Packers the team to beat is probably a stretch.

The Vikings won the division last year and look better now than they did then. So I’d put the pressure right smack dab on the Vikings to win this thing again.

Elsewhere in the league …

. In New Orleans, RB Mike Bell seems to be reviving his once-promising career. He had 100 yards on 10 carries last week and admitted that he had gotten too cocky, which resulted in his career tumbling off the radar and out of Denver.

“I had to go through (being released) because my head was too high in the clouds,” he said. “I probably couldn’t even fit in the door.”

. In Seattle, coach Jim Mora refuted an NFL.com report that cited league sources saying LT Walter Jones’ knee injury could be season-ending. The Seahawks are counting on him returning fairly soon. Of the national online report, Mora said, “That’s just some guy who decides he wants to throw it out there and see if it sticks.”

. In Houston, where the Vikings will play a preaseason game on Monday night, it’s looking more and more like DT Shaun Cody is taking a starting job from Amobi Okoye, the 10th overall pick in 2007. Cody, the former Lion, signed as a free agent this offseason.

. Also in Houston, one of the best stories few people know about is Texans LG Chester Pitts. The Texans have been around since 2002. In their seven-year existence, the Texans have had the same starting left guard. In fact, Pitts has missed only one offensive series in the team’s history. Pitts is back practicing after undergoing elbow surgery during the offseason. He missed the first two preseason games, but will be starting against the Vikings on Monday.

. And in Cleveland, where the Vikings will open the regular season on Sept. 13, the Browns celebrated – well, not really — the 30th birthday of RB Jamal Lewis. Traditionally, the big 3-OH is the most dreaded of all birthdays for NFL running backs. It’s basically the brick wall of their careers, if they make it that far. “Now, I’m actually 30, not 29 or 28,” Lewis said. “And I still feel like I did yesterday.”

Although Browns sixth-round draft pick James Davis has been a preseason surprise and a lot faster than Lewis, coach Eric Mangini will use Lewis as his feature back. “I don’t have an age bias,” Mangini said.

Mangini was with the Patriots in 2004 when 30-year-old Corey Dillon had 1,635 yards and 12 TDs for the Super Bowl champions. And last year, Mangini was head coach of the Jets when 30-year-old Thomas Jones had an AFC-best 1,312 yards and 12 TDs.

. And one Did You Know?:

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is the only person in NFL history to work 20 or more seasons as an assistant coach and 15 or more seasons as a head coach.

The beauty and baloney of an unnamed `schism’ report

Posted on August 27th, 2009 – 8:24 AM
By Mark Craig

What do you get when you mix 53 players, unnamed sources, a 24-hour news cycle and a month of mind-numbing boredom that is preseason NFL football?

A quarterback controversy, of course. In olden times, the controversy had to be real. Today, it’s pretty much optional.  

The latest involves the Vikings and is being called a “schism” by ESPN’s sources. The beauty of a ”schism” story based on unnamed sources is there’s no way to prove or disprove it. (Kind of like the old saying that if a Vikings fullback falls in the woods after a 1-yard completion and no one is there to see it, did it really happen?)

Ten players could pinky swear on the record the schism doesn’t exist. But the story stands because, A, they aren’t the source or B, they could be lying. 

(And if you’re naive enough to think every player is telling the truth, then you probably believed Bears QB Jay Cutler yesterday when he praised Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, telling the Denver media during a conference call that in, “Just the brief amount of time I was able to spend with [McDaniels], he’s impressive.” Good one, Jay.) 

Chances are ESPN is right about this Purple Schism. But another beauty about a schism story is it can be right and meaningless all at the same time. 

As a person who has held a full-time job since 1987 (although it’s still early in the day), I can confirm that schisms — GASP!! — do exist in the work place. No, no. Really. It’s true that some of us don’t hold hands at the company picnic or even know if there is a company picnic, but still do our jobs.

And, finally, the last and most beautiful part of a schism story based on unnamed sources is usually the end. In this case, the report I saw on ESPN this morning ended with how none of this will matter if Brett Favre and the Vikings win.

In other words, if Favre and the Vikings lose early and often, that will be a bad thing that can be traced back to the schism. But if Favre and the Vikings win early and often, they will have triumphantly overcome the Great Schism.

Brilliant. Now can we PLEASE start the regular season?

Bears’ big problem needs little receiver

Posted on August 26th, 2009 – 8:49 AM
By Mark Craig

It was 2005 or 2006 when I first interviewed Bears receiver Rashied Davis. And like most people who first meet the personable little guy, I remember thinking, “What a cool story.”

Davis is 5-9, 187 pounds and looked a lot lighter when I first talked to him. He didn’t even play football in high school. He went to a junior college, where he played cornerback. Then he went to San Jose State when nobody else wanted him.

When no NFL team wanted him coming out of college, he went to the Arena Football League to make a name for himself. His other job at the time was at BestBuy.

There was no way this little man could make it in the NFL, right? Yet there he was in a Chicago Bears uniform, making it at the highest level.

Davis helped the Bears get to a Super Bowl. In 2006, I remember talking to him a second time after he caught the game-winning touchdown to beat the Vikings early in the season.

I mention Davis’ name up now because I had been wondering what was going on with him in Chicago. The Bears are hurting big-time at receiver and I was thinking maybe the little man would have a much bigger role this season.

But the first two preseason games passed and I didn’t see much about Davis. Today, Mike Mulligan, the NFL writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, gives us an update on Davis.

It seems Davis’ future with the team is in doubt. He’s the only receiver on the team that hasn’t caught a preseason pass from new QB Jay Cutler. And he has only three preseason catches, all thrown by backup Caleb Hanie.

Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are the starters. And when the Bears go to three wideouts, it’s Bennett who lines up in the slot while another receiver comes in to play wide. Davis is a natural slot receiver with his small frame and shifty moves.

The Bears like Bennett. Apparently, they also want to keep rookie receivers Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox, and taller receivers Brandon Rideau and Devin Aromashodu.

Davis could be on his way out. That doesn’t seem right considering the Bears are a total mess at receiver, and this is their most experienced player at the position.

If Davis is released, the Vikings should take a look at him. Especially if Bernard Berrian’s hamstring injury lingers.

Packers commit to change on offensive line

Posted on August 25th, 2009 – 8:34 AM
By Mark Craig

Thinking of something else while trying not to type the words Brett Fa…

The Vikings aren’t the only team in the division that’s overhauling its offensive line. While the Vikes will have two new starters in center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt, the Packers apparently have committed to three new faces, including the entire right side of their offensive line.

Jason Spitz has beaten out three-year starter Scott Wells at center. Josh Sitton will start at right guard and Allen Barbe will start at right tackle. Like the Vikings, the Packers will keep the left side of their line intact with tackle Chad Clifton and guard Daryn Colledge.

Change isn’t always a bad thing, so it’s possible both teams will be happy with the new guys up front.

So far, the Vikings have to be hoping their offensive line eventually plays as well as the Packers’ offensive line has played this preseason. QB Aaron Rodgers has had time to throw and has been highly effective.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, it’s too early to tell how You Know Who and his offensive line will mesh. In their limited time together, it wasn’t pretty. You Know Who played two series against the Chiefs and was completely out of sync with the line.

Despite the shameless praise heaped on You Know Who by Mike Mayock, the Vikings’ hand-picked preseason TV analyst, Favre and the Vikings’ offense looked terrible together. Two series, one 4-yard completion, nary a hint of a first down and Favre taking a huge hit on a blitz.

Mayock made it sound like You Know Who was 32 and in midseason form when the reality was You Know Who and the offense looked like a baffled outfit that had been together only 2 1/2 days.

It was nothing to panic about, but at least of hint of objectivity would have been nice from the TV booth on Friday.

P.S. — Need some help from any gambling gurus who might be reading this. (And, let’s face it, the top three reasons Americans watch the NFL is 1, Gambling; 1a, Fantasy Football; 1c, Gambling on Fantasy Football).

I’m interested to know what the odds were on the Vikings to win the NFC before Favre was signed and immediately after he was signed.