But Drafting A Wide Receiver Has Worked So Well In The Past…

Beginning with Nate Burleson in the 3rd round of 2003, the Vikings have drafted 11 wide receivers in the last ten years. Just take a minute to review this who’s who of pass catchers:

Sidney showed flashes of talent in a Vikings uniform. That or Lord Favre is just really good at football.

Sidney showed flashes of talent in a Vikings uniform. That or Lord Favre was just really good at football.

  1. Nate Burleson
  2. Keenan Howry
  3. Troy Williamson
  4. Sidney Rice
  5. Aundrae Allison
  6. Chandler Williams
  7. Jaymar Johnson
  8. Percy Harvin
  9. Stephen Burton
  10. Jarius Wright
  11. Greg Childs                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Now, there is a name or three on that list (Burleson, Rice, and Harvin) who has made some noise in the league. Harvin is the only stud. Though, Burleson and Rice are a’ight. But, for each name on the a’ight list, there are three names who have made considerably more noise in the fast food industry slinging Big Macs.

As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, the misinformation coming out of Winter Park is that the Vikings are considering nabbing a wide receiver with the 23rd or 25th pick of the first round. In one of the deeper wide receiver drafts, with no clear cut stud, and not exactly a stellar history of scouting wide receivers, spending a first round pick on a wide receiver might not be a prudent move.

Instead, this Vikings fan hopes that management targets one of the following guys (our range goes from Pipe Dream to Resigned Fate):

Pipe Dream

Dee Milliner (CB) - Look, it is called Pipe Dream for a reason!! Milliner is the kind of corner back that will have Vikings fans saying, “Antoine who?” He is a gritty player who is not afraid to mix it up. His closing speed and smarts are perfect for a corner playing in a zone defense like the Vikings Cover 2. And, even though character has never been a motivating factor for this organization…oh…hey Chris Cook…Milliner is a humble kid who leads by example. Even if it meant trading up to do it, we do have something like 32 draft picks in the last four rounds, landing this premiere corner back would be a great start to the draft for the Vikings.

Star represents a perfect fit for the Vikings with pick number 23. Top 5 talent who just needs a system where he can thrive. Kevin meet Star, Star this is Kevin.

Star represents a perfect fit for the Vikings with pick number 23. Top 5 talent who just needs a system where he can thrive. Kevin meet Star, Star this is Kevin.

Star Lotulelei (DT) - Remember, Pipe Dream people!? Most draftniks do not have Star dropping any lower than the high teens. However, his health might be just enough of a concern for him to slide to the Vikings at 23. He is a versatile play-maker that demands a double team in the interior. Learning from a seasoned vet like Kevin Williams, a player who’s game he emulates, would be a great start to his career. His upside is that he is a Pro-Bowl level players who could anchor this defense for the next 10 years.

Perfect Storm

Alec Ogletree (ILB) – The Vikings need a linebacker and Alec Ogletree is a dude. No getting around it. He fills a pressing need, the middle linebacker position, and he has the athleticism and skill to anchor the defense for years to come. He cut his chops in the SEC and presents a very low risk, high reward pick. Perhaps most importantly, Ogletree has the quickness to get to his drops in the Vikings Cover 2 system. That is something the Vikings have not had out of their middle linebacker since the early days of Ejay Henderson.

D.J. Hayden (CB) – The consolation prize in the Dee Milliner sweepstakes. Hayden is a play-maker. He has the ball skills to be an elite corner back in the league. He does not have the run-stopping, drop-you-like-a-rock hitting capability, but he can mix it up when he needs to. Considering he is slotted to go in the late teens early 20s, getting him with the 23rd pick would be a nice get. Considering the quarterbacks in our division, adding another weapon in the secondary could make taking that next step a reality.

Cordarelle Patterson (WR) – Fine, I could not resist. Here is your wide receiver. Cordarrelle has everything you could want in a wide receiver. He is big, strong, fast, and his hands are the size of has trash can lids. The knock on Cordarrelle is that he might struggle to spell C-A-T if you spotted him the C and the A. The NFL is a cerebral game. If he were a quarterback, an intelligence deficiency would be a problem. Joe Webb, get out of here. This is my column space. And, even though wide receivers do not need to be as cerebral as quarterbacks, they need to understand coverages so that they know which hot routes to run. The hope is that the Vikings, most importantly veteran free agent signing Greg Jennings, could teach him that. At least, that is the hope…

Resigned Fate

Sylvester Williams (DT) – This is the guy most “experts” have the Vikings selecting. He is a solid player. Oddly enough, the knock on him is his vertical. Evidently, he is not much of a leaper. Though, for a defensive tackle, I am not sure why that is a concern. And, even though he will turn 25 this season, he can contribute immediately and be a steady presence in the middle. He is probably never going to the Pro Bowl, but he will also not make plays that will hurt the team. Plus, like with Star, learning from a veteran like Kevin Williams will only help him in the long run.

Oh Manti. Just a riddle wrapped in an enigma battered in a mystery. The most famous cat-fish of all time. Kid has talent. But will he be able to move on and use it...

Oh Manti. Just a riddle wrapped in an enigma battered in a mystery. The most famous cat-fish of all time. Kid has talent. But will he be able to move on and use it…

Manti Te’o (ILB) – Alright, so here we are. Resigned fate territory. Manti is a hunyuck. Either because he got cat-fished on the national stage by a dude poorly pretending to be chick or he lied about a dead girlfriend to give his Heisman candidacy a boost. Either way, hunyuck. And, he looked brutal in the Alabama game, missing assignments and failing to fill the gaps up the middle. Though, in his defense, it was not like he had anything else on his mind. Te’o has incredible, you-cannot-teach-that instincts. Sure, he might be a bit slow for a middle linebacker, but speed can be gained with good workouts and smart angles. Instincts cannot. He fills an immediate need for the team and is surrounded by former teammates (Rudolph, Smith, and Sullivan) and that atmosphere might just help everyone forget about his little romantic kerfuffle. If Manti drops, there is a pretty good chance that the Vikings scoop him up with the 25th pick.

Kevin Minter (ILB) – This is the, “I guess that Manti thing was more serious than we thought” pick. In case you forgot, the Vikings need a middle linebacker. Minter led LSU’s defense for the past three years. Not a real vocal guy, he still manages to hold others accountable. Draftniks have called him a pro’s pro. He also is a step slow, but again, has great instincts. Plus, he honed those instincts in the SEC, so the increase in speed at the next level should not phase him. Could contribute immediately and has the upside to be an elite linebacker for years to come. If I have to go resigned fate, this is the guy I want.

With two picks in the first round, the Vikings need to fill some pressing holes (ILB, CB, DT, and…gulp…WR). Even though the heavy lifting usually comes in the later rounds, as the Vikings brass showed last year, if you can hit on two first round picks (Kalil and Smith), it can turn around your team right quick. Here is hoping they stick with that same winning formula.

Packers Need to Hit On This Draft

It’s the end of April and you know what that means!?! No, it doesn’t mean more snow, though Mother Nature has a menacing way of telling Punxsutawney Phil to pound sand. It’s the three-day event in which Ted Thompson makes his money. Because TT refuses to dabble in free agency, the Packers must hope to improve through this upcoming draft. And improve the Packers must.

The Packers sieve-like defense created a new phenomenon: Kaepernicking.

The Packers sieve-like defense created a new phenomenon: Kaepernicking.

A 26-6 regular season record with back-to-back NFC North titles is a run most teams would thoroughly enjoy (I know my compadre in ‘Sota would enjoy some sustained success after being trapped in Loserville, U.S.A. for the past several years.) But after winning the Super Bowl in 2010 with a team full of players entering their prime, expectations have been high for this Packers team. And back-to-back ugly losses in the playoffs to the G-Men and 49ers has left a sour taste in most fans mouths.

What the two playoffs losses have revealed is a Packers team that will be a perennial playoff team so long as Rodgers is playing, but is a team that still needs to improve – in many areas – to be a true contender. Now, this may be a tedious distinction because clearly the Packers are contenders with Rodgers. But, as built, the only way the Packers can win in the playoffs right now is if Rodgers reverts to supernatural Rodgers (playing the Vikings with Joe Webb at QB helps too). As good as Rodgers’ is, this is asking a lot.

In order to become a true contender, the Packers need to get tougher, nastier. Last year, TT devoted his draft to improving the defense, with an emphasis on getting “fast-twitched” and “quick” players. But in doing so, guys up-front like Worthy and Daniels were miscast in the 3-4 and had little impact. The result is the Packers’ front-seven on defense lacks toughness and grit.

With that in mind, I fully expect the Packers to draft players designed to bring that toughness and nastiness to the defense. Here is my list of positions of need:

1. DE/DT – With Worthy essentially lost for this upcoming season, the Packers enter 2013 with only Mike Neal boasting any type of pass-rushing acumen out of the DE position. Yup, Mike Neal. The Packers desperately need a difference maker out of the DE position. Similarly, B.J. Raji has continued to perplex fans and coaches with his flashes of dominance surrounded by spells of invisibility. And with a looming contract, the Packers need to have a backup plan to not only spell Raji to reduce his workload, but also in case Raji bolts in free agency.

2. MLB – I don’t hold out too much hope that TT will devote a high selection on MLB after signing Brad Jones to that ridiculous contract and still retaining Mr. T-Rex, A.J. Hawk. But, the Packers need to improve its MLB play. It cannot afford to have two more seasons like Hawk just had – i.e. no forced turnovers, tackles several yards down the field, and poor coverage. Some hope Terrell Manning can become the man (poor pun intended). But, I’d love a selection like Ogletree if he is available in round 1 – a sideline-to-sideline difference maker.

3. Safety – Morgan Burnett has proven to be a reliable and ever-improving safety. But, the Packers have yet to replace Collins – which is no easy task. M.D. Jennings and McMillian played just alright when given their opportunities last season. Neither showed enough to justify not selecting a safety in this draft – even if it is a high selection.

4. Wide Receiver / Tight End – TT has always done a good job of restocking the cupboards for Rodgers. With Jennings’ departure, Driver’s departure, and JMike’s uncertain future, it’s all but a guarantee the Packers will select a WR or TE on day two. Thankfully, TT has a terrific track record in selecting a WR or TE in rounds 2 and 3: Jennings, Jordy, Cobb, Jones, and JMike.

5. Offensive Line – There is no debating that the Packers need stronger play out of the LT than what Newhouse gave them last season. But, after spending first-round picks on tackles in 2010 and 2011 in Bulaga and Sherrod, I will be surprised if TT spends another top pick on OT. Plus, with Barclay’s solid production down the stretch, the Packers have 4 OT’s that give them some flexibility if they are willing to move Bulaga to LT. And as for the inside, Lang and Sitton are signed to long-term contracts, meaning they have solidified their positions. And EDS was recently signed, giving him the lead for the starting center gig. I expect the Packers to add some reinforcements in the mid- to late-rounds.

As for the first round, it is hard to pin-down exactly where the Packers will go. My guess is the Packers address the defensive line with the first pick. I am drawn to the potential of Margus Hunt (DE from SMU). At 6’8″, he has a unique blend of size and speed. He was a workout warrior at the combine, but its debatable whether that translates to the field. But, the potential is intriguing enough to warrant his selection at the end of round 1. Otherwise, there is a bevy of DT’s that will be considered: Sylvester Williams (UNC), John Jenkins (Georgia), and Jonathan Hankins (OSU).

I'm falling for the hype. I want Carradine in the first round!

I’m falling for the hype. I want Carradine in the first round!

My sleeper pick is Matt Elam, the diminutive, yet fearsome Safety out of FL. He is known for being a good tackler that is willing to lay the wood. He’d fill an area of need and, again, bring that nasty temperament so desperately needed. And my dream selection is Tank Carradine. I may be falling for the media-driven hype, but this kid was an absolute beast for FSU and was a likely top-pick had he not hurt his knee in November. Where, exactly, he’d fit in the Packers system is an unknown because he’s around 270 pounds. But, many believe he can bulk up and play DE, or slim down and play OLB. In either event, he’s a tenacious, hard-nosed player that can get after the QB.

Like last year, we will offer instant analysis for the Packers and Vikings selections each night and preview the next day’s rounds. And considering my prediction (kind of) of Casey Hayward last season, it’s readily apparent TT values the insight and analysis I sent him last season before the draft – or at least that’s what I tell myself. Enjoy the draft!

 

 

Gophers Hockey: Primed for Pittsburgh

It’s a good time to be a Gophers hockey fan. The women just completed an undefeated season, capped by a national championship. The men look to duplicate the national championship when the tournament starts tomorrow.

The Gophers received the no. 2 overall seed in the tournament. And their “reward” is a bracket with the North Dakota Sio… North Dakota Wioux, who are ranked 7th in the country. So, unless my gorilla math is wrong, the Gophers clearly got jobbed. Yet another example of the NCAA hating on the WCHA since it housed all four spots in the 2005 Frozen Four. But, ironically enough, this potential second-round matchup against the hated Wioux may be exactly what this team needs. More on that later.

Before getting ahead of ourselves and thinking about the nicknameless, the Gophers face a pesky and brilliant Yale team. Yale is 15th in the country and isn’t to be taken lightly, having beaten both CC and Denver on the road. The Don will be sure to make note of this to make the squad doesn’t overlook the Bulldogs. And as Gopher fans know, you can never overlook the lower seeds after Holy Cross pulled off Miracle 2.0 (or so their announcer thought).

Still, the Gophers should be able to dispatch with Yale. Building off a Frozen Four run from last year, this Gophers squad is deeper and more talented. Most important to this success has been the emergence of freshman goalie, Adam Wilcox. Blessed with an unreal season from Kent Patterson last season, the Gophers have had no drop-off in production when they turned to the freshman. He simply has been great all season. In 38 games, he’s boasts a 92% save percentage and 1.85 goals against. As hockey fans know, its imperative to have hot goaltending to make a run. And the Gophers have that in Wilcox.

The Gophers otherwise have an embarrassment of riches in talent on the blue line and offensively. From Bjugstad and Rau, to Marshall and Schmidt, talent litters the roster from the first line on down. And now the fourth line has really started to come together, reminding some observers of the 2002-03 National Championship teams, where the fourth-line was gritty, hard-working, and, importantly, understood their roles. Every good team needs this.

But, to what’s important. The Gophers are just about as well-balanced as you could wish. They rank 1st in the country in scoring 3.51 goals per game. They house the nation’s top power play, converting on an absurd 25% of their chances. They’re third in the country in only giving up 1.97 goals per game. And, in what is almost disappointing compared to the other stats, the Gophers’ penalty kill ranks merely 7th in the country. Finally, the Don has the Gophers playing strong and disciplined, averaging only 9.05 penalty-minutes per game, good for second-best in the nation.

It’s this overall depth and balance that makes the Gophers what they were throughout the course of the season – the nation’s best team. Because of this, the Gophers should prevail tomorrow over Yale and face the Wioux in the regional final.

As always, the hated Wioux will be a physical game, requiring the Gophers to stay disciplined and let their overall talent take-over. The one elephant in the room for any Gopher fan is the Gophers inconsistency of late in back-to-back’s. The Gophers went from mid-January to the second-week of March without sweeping a series. And even in March, the Gophers swept Bemidji St. in an OT game and another one-goal game. In the one-and-done format, the Gophers cannot afford to be inconsistent.

Which brings me back to the start – facing the Wioux in the second round in a back-to-back setting may be exactly what this team needs. There is simply no way the Gophers won’t be fired up and mentally ready for a regional final game against the hated Wioux.

This Gophers team is primed, not only for a Frozen Four run, but also a run at their 6th national championship. The quest starts tomorrow. Ski-U-Mah!

In Ted We Trust. But…

Ted's first pick proved to be his best. But, is his draft-and-develop philosophy now holding the Packers back?

Ted’s first pick proved to be his best. But, is his draft-and-develop philosophy now holding the Packers back?

To be clear from the start, I am a Ted Thompson apologist. He inherited a team rife with aging and overpaid veterans, along with a cap figure that left little wiggle room. He tore it down before rebuilding it into one of the best teams in the league on an annual basis. And to top it off, Thompson used his first ever draft pick on Aaron Rodgers – mind you, Favre was still a near-elite QB that wanted more weapons to make one final push for a SB. Instead, Thompson trusted his board and his philosophy, and took the best player available. It proved to be the best selection he ever will make. But, making that selection was gutsy for a new GM. So, yes, I’m an apologist and will always respect and trust Ted.

But, that trust is being pushed.

The Packers are in a precarious position in that there are 2 looming contracts that are about to set new benchmarks. Rodgers will sign the most expensive contract in league history, and he deserves it. Rumors have Rodgers set to make 1/6 of the Packers total cap figure. And the Claymaker may well approach the most expensive defensive contract in league history; he, too, deserves it (Don’t buy into the theory that his nagging hamstring warrants a reduced wage. He’d get a near max deal on the open market if he ever were to hit it. He’s not named the Claymaker without a reason.) The Packers could be having nearly a quarter of their cap devoted to two players in the near future – potentially as soon as the beginning of this coming season. (And this also explains why the likes of SF and Seattle are able to be such players in free agency – $700K salary to Kaepernick and $600K to Wilson. Makes a difference.)

Then, the Packers need to continue to retain its core players, many of whom have expiring contracts in the near future: B.J. Raji, Sam Shields, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, JerMichael Finley, Morgan Burnett, and Desmond Bishop. It’s a daunting task to figure out how to get all or most of these players retained in order to keep the critical core of this team together.

Of course, Thompson planned for this, which explains the nearly $20M in cap room currently available – likely ready to be shipped to Rodgers and/or Clay. This also explains why Thompson has yielded the free agency spotlight to others – again.

So, Thompson cannot be a major player in free agency. But, the Packers are not completely hamstrung by the cap either. They just have to spend their money wisely. And this is where I’m losing faith in Thompson, for two reasons.

First, Thompson does not dabble in free agency, at all. Teams in the Packers’ position – i.e. one of the SB favorites every year – has only a few holes that need to be shored up to solidify its chances at the SB. Filling these holes can be accomplished by adding a veteran – at the right price – via free agency.

For instance, the Packers run game has been nonexistent for years. Combinations of Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson, James Starks, Alex Green, and Cedric Benson have been unable to take advantage of one of the most lethal passing attacks in the league, which should open up plenty of space for the run game. This offseason, Stephen Jackson signed a 3-year, $12M deal with Atlanta. Yes, he’s old. But’s a rare breed of running back that inflicts the punishment rather than taking it. Plus, even if his play is on the decline, it’s still a step-up from what our running game has been. A thunder-lightning combo of S. Jax and DuJuan Harris could have finally ignited the running game. At $4M a year, it was an affordable deal that would have paid huge dividends.

Similarly, the Packers defensive line needs immediate upgrades, especially with Jerel Worthy’s late season injury making his return this season doubtful. The Packers have been unable to find Jenkins’ replacement since his departure. And, predictably, the defense has struggled mightily with the lack of pressure being a major reason why. This offseason, both Chris Canty and Cullen Jenkins signed team-friendly deals. Either would have improved our line play.

Thompson rarely takes this approach. And, I believe, failing to will prove costly come playoffs.

Second, Thompson has developed a nasty propensity to resign his own players at inflated values. A.J. Hawk was inexplicably signed to a huge contract extension following the 2010 Super Bowl run. Hawk proved to be reliable, but reliability doesn’t justify the amount of money Thompson gave him. Eventually, he became the 5th highest paid player on the team. Hawk rewarded the Packers with two consecutive seasons without a turnover and being the definition of an average starter. Thankfully, he took a big pay cut this offseason, but such a contract certainly limited the Packers’ maneuverability.

The starting ILB that was part of the reason why Kaepernick single-handedly defeated the Packers now is the 10th highest paid player on the team.

The starting ILB that was part of the reason why Kaepernick single-handedly defeated the Packers now is the 10th highest paid player on the team.

Unfortunately, Thompson didn’t learn his lesson. Just recently, the Packers resigned Brad Jones – the former special-teams, third-string LB – to a 3-year, $11.25M deal, $3M guaranteed. He is now the 10th highest paid player on the team. To put this deal into perspective, Jones is making just under what S. Jackson will make. Who’d you rather have? A bruising running back that routinely accumulated 1,300 total yards for one of the worst offenses or Brad Jones, a special-teamer and backup LB?

And in case you think this overvaluation is strictly limited to linebackers, John Kuhn is scheduled to make $2.35M next season.

There is simply no excuse for these types of deals. Thompson, always the penny-pincher when evaluating outside talent, needs to be consistent and evaluate his own players in the same fashion. Hawk, Jones, and Kuhn – though valuable players to a 53-man roster – can be replaced without a drop-off in production at a much lower cost, clearing up room that could be better spent to fill in the holes on the roster.

Thompson’s draft-and-develop philosophy allows for sustained success. But, drafting-and-developing – especially when you continually draft in the lower part of each round – rarely yields the type of immediate impact players needed for Super Bowl contenders. Thompson must invoke a better balance of drafting-and-developing combined with dabbling in free agency.

With Rodgers at the helm, the Packers will always be one of the best teams in the conference, routinely challenging for a Super Bowl. But, the window of opportunity continues to shrink with each passing year. Do we trust Ted to put the Packers in the best position possible to succeed in January and February?

Tweetbag – Gophers v. Gators Recap (Let the Fire Tubby Chants Begin…)

Welcome to a special Sunday edition of the Tweetbag!! Everyone wants to know if the Madness will continue for your Minnesota Golden Gophers.

As always, we are using your tweets, as they happen, to tell the game recap. Y’all are far more interesting.

Giddyup…

Even this Florida hoops squad --- the first --- might have outwitted Tubby's overmatched Gophers' squad.

Even this Florida hoops squad — the first — might have outwitted Tubby’s overmatched Gophers’ squad.

15:34 – Gophers 7 Gators 10

@AmeliaRayno – “Interesting lineup here as the #Gophers go zone on Florida.”

Interesting is one word Amelia?! Why does Tubby think he can play zone defense against a team that loves, and I mean LUUUUUUUUUVS to rip it from outside. Very questionable coaching decision. Roasio immediately punishes the Gophers with 2 3PTs to extend the lead to 16 to 10.

13:02 – Gophers 12 Gators 19

@daddycoolguy – “3 straight 3 point possessions = no good, you guys. #Gophers #Gators.”

First off, love the handle. Second, could not agree more. No good indeed. The Gophers offense looks like the offense from their 5-15 stretch to end the season, not the 15-1 stretch that they had to start the season and flashed on Friday evening against the Bruins.

Gophers started the game by isolating the Gator guards on the low block and taking advantage of their size and strength. Worked great. Hollinsanity both got open looks. However, they missed a couple of those looks and completely abandoned that plan. Need to get back to it.

Ben Wallace's jumper was so bad, teams would encourage the Pistons to pass him the ball 10+ feet from the hoop - Oto is entering the Wallace Zone. Ick.

Ben Wallace’s jumper was so bad, teams would hope the Pistons would pass him the ball. Oto is entering the Wallace Zone. Ick.

10:15 – Gophers 14 Gators 24

@Gopherapolis – “Why are we going so deep to our bench so early?! This is what infuriates me the most about Tubby. Oto should never leave the bench. #Gophers.”

Trust me, @Gopherapolis, it is not just you that is infuriated. Oto’s mom is angry at the amount of minutes he is getting for this team. He has never developed into the solid SG that he was represented to be when Tubby recruited him. The main reason for that is because he cannot shoot. He should get single digit minutes if that, only enough to spell either of the Hollins cousins.

What is worse, opposing teams know that and basically leave Oto alone like he is the second coming of Ben Wallace. Just no respect for his jump shot. And remember, he is supposed to a shooting guard.

7:54 – Gophers 15 Gators 30

@dip4516 – Lady who screams right before every #Gophers free throw: shut the hell up.”

I am not sure when this started, but it seems like this year’s tournament is the year of the “screaming like a maniac during the opposing team’s free throw.” Frankly, this has got to stop. I am not pushing a golf-like restriction on crowd noise, but we, as fans, need to use the gray matter between their ears. Call it a a common sense test. If everyone WATCHING ON THEIR TV is annoyed with the screaming, that is probably too much.

Oh, and Oto just air-balled a 15 footer. Again, this guy is  a shooting guard?!

4:24 – Gophers 18 Gators 37

@DustyTrunks – “You laugh at Oto now, but next year when he is starting, you will laugh even harder. #Gophers”

Okay, last one. I just could not resist.

3:42 – Gophers 21 Gators 39

@kskrigbaum – “At the moment Billy Donovan looks bored. #gophers”

Never good when the opposing coach is checking out and we are not even through the 1st half. Serious problems. Evidently he was only playing though, he just drew up a defense to thwart the Gophers side-inbounds play. No joke, Gophers could not execute a side-inbounds play.

More than anything this season, the Gophers inability to inbound the basketball is direct reflection of Tubby. I know the players need to make plays, but seriously?! An inbounds play?! You run these when you first decide to pick up a basketball. It is embarrassing that the Gophers struggle with this as much as they do.

Not sure if the Gophers are so frustrated with Tubby that they miss Clem, but we are getting close.

Not sure if the Gophers are so frustrated with Tubby that they miss Clem, but we are getting close.

3:12 – Gophers 25 Gators 39

@krewmom – “I hope they can pass the “wake up juice” to the #Gophers!”

Whoa, whoa, whoa @krewmom. We already are celebrating a Final Four that did not happen, thanks Clem, not sure we want to have to take down our “Round of 32″ banner from this year because of PEDs.

All kidding aside, a little energy from someone not named Hollins would be nice. Though, at this point, even Tubby looks to have checked out of this game. Body language on the Gophers’ sideline looks like someone died. What was that, this team murdered its fan base’s hope and expectations for this year and potentially years to come…aaaahhhh…that explains it.

Half – Gophers 27 Gators 48

@GophersSports – “Back to Back National Champs! RT to congratulate @MNWomensHockey on winning the NCAA title! #Gophers”

And that is where we are ending the Tweetbag. That is right, the Gophers women’s hockey team clutched up and ran its winning streak to 49 games. Won its second national championship. Evidently the sports gods could only allow the U to succeed in one sport on this particular Sunday in March.

Sure, Dre Hollins made a run in the 2nd half. He quite literally made a game of it all by his onesy. However, aside from him, the rest of the team was lethargic. And when Dre was not on the floor — he got a 4th foul and Tubby obviously took him out — the lead quickly ballooned to 15+. This move is a perfect example of Tubby not knowing what to do. This was a not a regular season Big 10 game. It is survive and advance. Dre was the ONLY Gopher putting points in the basket. Trust the kid to play with 4 fouls.

Instead, it is another lackadaisical performance from the Gophers. As a result, Tubby will yet again come under fire. There is a decent chance that he gets his walking papers. A lot of Gophers fans would not complain if that happened. The good news is that Shaka’s VCU Rams lost too, so maybe his buddy Norwood will convince Shaka to jump ship. Or perhaps Andy Enfield, coach of the darling of this year’s tourney – Florida Gulf Coast University – is interested in graduating to the Big 10.

Worst case scenario, if Tubby does stick around, next year’s squad (and perhaps the year after) is not going to be good. Sure, Hollinsanity is going to be around, but our inside presence will be nonexistent. And, Tubby has not locked up either of the stud Minnesota recruits — Tyus Jones or Rashad Vaughn.

I was one of the fans who initially loved the Tubby signing, but the romance is over. There have been to many coaching deficiencies. The U needs a change of leadership. Hopefully, this drubbing at the hands of the Gators is enough to convince the U’s brain trust to move forward with that change.

 

Tweetbag: Gophers v. UCLA Recap

Here we go!! The Madness is about to begin for your Minnesota Golden Gophers.

As always, we are using your tweets, as they happen, to tell the game recap. Y’all are more interesting than the standard recap anywhoo.

Giddyup…

16:27: Gophers 2 UCLA 0

@Christopher_Stewart – “#gophers will beat #ucla 79-68.” 
We got a ways to go to hit that number. Yikes. Gophers 2-run HR (i.e. Hollins’s FTs) the difference in this one early. No flow for either team. UCLA’s Drew travels a sloppy foul from super-senior Trevor Mbakwe. Gophers have shown that, in games where the offense clicks, Rodney and Mbakwe get going early. Both teams are a combined 0-18 to start. Not. Good. 
The zebras in tonight's game were not close to good. We probably would have done better with actual zebras refereeing the game.

The zebras in tonight’s game were not close to good. We probably would have done better with actual zebras refereeing the game.

14:20 – Gophers 4 UCLA 2

@VitrualMurph – “Ok officials in Austin, we get it. You’re on the court too. #gophers”
No joke. UCLA already in the bonus!?!? Check that, double bonus. Hold on, triple bonus. Oh man, these refs are out of control. If the refs are going to call this like a UCLA Alumni Choir pick-up game, this bruising Big 10 squad is in trouble. Plus, and maybe most importantly, Gophers cannot win a race at the charity stripe.
11:42 – Gophers 9 UCLA 9
@ammarden – “Whistle whistle whistle. Basketball or train station? #ncaa #Gophers”
Love the old school reference. Wish it was not true though. This game is so disjointed. Neither team can get into a flow with all the whistles. Both teams are already in the bonus. Again, race at the charity stripe is not a race the Gophers want to be involved in. Gophers shoot 68% from the stripe. UCLA clocks in at nearly 73%.
10:59 – Gophers 12 UCLA 9
@FromTheBarn – “MOmentum!”
Great run from the big fella, Mo Walker. His 4 points off the bench currently account for a 1/3 of the team’s total. What is so infuriating about big Mo is that, if he lost 15 to 20 lbs, he could be a dominant big. Instead, all he has are moments or flashes of good plays. It is never sustained.
8:32 – Gophers 14 UCLA 13
@vikingsrube – “Free throw shooting is going to be the factor #Gophers”
Okay, now I am worried…Mbakwe just air balled the front end of a 1 and 1. Really. Not. Good.
E Squared's relationship with Dre could prove a promising one for Gophers' fans. Particularly if E Squared improves on the defensive end.

E Squared’s relationship with Dre could prove a promising one for Gophers’ fans. Particularly if E Squared improves on the defensive end.

5:24 – Gophers 26 UCLA 19

@andrewlacy52 – “Elliott playing well so far with four point. #Gophers”
Make it six Andrew!! E Squared cans a 20 footer off an Mbakwe double team and then lays in a pretty shot off a strong cut to the rim. The guy has been instant energy all season. He does have his deficiencies on the defensive end, but on offense he is solid.
If he can continue to improve on the defensive end. He actually might be able to replace Mbakwe next year down low. He does not have Mbkawe’s grittiness in the post, but he can definitely be a contributor on that end of the floor.
4:25 – Gophers 33 UCLA 19
@AmeliaRayno – “As a #Gophers beat writer, you learn not to assume to much from a 33-19 lead.”
We have our first Amelia sighting!! Welcome back to the Tweetbag Amelia. Though, what is up with the negativity. I mean, sure, the Gophers are shooting their highest percentage of the year. But, that does not means they are going to start missi…nevermind. You are right. Preparing myself for the worst.
1:32 – Gophers 35 UCLA 22
@goldandgopher – “Here we go. Mbakwe hits a jumper. #Gophers up 35–22. Shabazz has had no impact.”
Mbakwe shows a little versatility with a 15 foot jumper. Then, in true Gophers form, he misses another front end of a 1 and 1. Normally a very solid shooter at the stripe, he has now left 4 points there in the first half. Gophers need to tighten up the way the officials are calling this game. Also, need to buck the trend and start earning their scholarship at the stripe.
Half – Gophers 35 UCLA 25
@redma032 – “Up 10 at half, how are they going to blow this one? #gophers”
Amelia?? Is that you?? Are you ghost tweeting as @redma032??
In true Gophers fan fashion, no one is comfortable. No one knows how to react. In fact, I think if the score were flipped, Gophers fans would feel far more comfortable.
It is not like you can blame us. We have watched the tale of two teams act all season. The one blessing from this game is that at least the good half came first. This means the Gophers have a better chance of hanging on down the stretch.
Gophers need to continue feeding the bigs. Mbakwe, Eliason, and Walker accounted for  19 of the Gophers 35 points. We clearly have an advantage there. Plus, considering UCLA’s foul trouble, every shot should go right at the rim.
18:13 – Gophers 39 UCLA 27
@timegan2 – “RODNEY WILLIAMS!!!”
I appreciate the EMPHASIS Tim. Rodney flexes the potential by hammering home an offensive rebound. Gophers are pounding the rim and are relentless on the glass on both ends. Need to keep that up.
For Gophers fans who wanted to see Coach Saunders leading the maroon and gold, this performance against the Bruins may have assured Tubby's continued reign.

For Gophers fans who wanted to see Coach Saunders leading the maroon and gold, this performance against the Bruins may have assured Tubby’s continued reign.

14:56 – Gophers 44 UCLA 34

@flip_saunders – “#gophers looking good. We are so much quicker and more energized. Next 5 minutes huge! Bury em. Luv changing defenses.”
Coach Saunders…errrrr…I mean, Flip!! Spot on analysis. Changing defenses are causing this young Bruins squad headaches. Though, Gophers need to be careful. UCLA still has not made a run. One is coming. Burying em would be very nice. And now is the time.
13:32 – Gophers 50 UCLA 41
@MINNESOTA_NICE – “I am extremely confused as to why Otto O. has played so many minutes. #Gophers.”
Ouch. Is that handle sarcastic? I mean, I agree with you, but ouch.
11:54 – Gophers 54 UCLA 42
@Border_Rivals – “Terrible call against Oto?!? Guy actally makes a positive play and the refs take it away from him. #ZebrasHaveToGo #LetThemPlay #Gophers
Okay, I could not resist. I feel a little bad piling on Oto, but it really was a great play. Slid in front of David Wear and took a charge. But, these tewible refs decided to call a block. I thought these refs were supposed to be elite.
7:04 – Gophers 69 UCLA 54
@GopherHole – “Wow, Andre Hollins is playing fantastic tonight!! #Gophers”
Fantastic might be an understatement. Dre just canned his 5th 3 PT of the night. He has 24 total and has abused all UCLA defenders who have tried to keep up with him.
His performance tonight is looking a little like the run he put together in the NIT last year. If he can get on that kind of run, this Gophers team can be very dangerous.
 3:28 – Gophers 79 UCLA 56
@kellerjustin – “Good show, #gophers. Equally fortuitous draw, lucky they didn’t face Florida Gulf Coast. UCLA is flat out turrrrrible.”
Love the Sir Charles reference. This one is over. Gophers are up by 20+ and continue to attack. Not even the Tubby-led Gophers could find a way to lose this one.
If Dre plays even in the ball park of how he played today, Florida is going to have its hands full on Sunday.
We will be running a Tweetbag for that game too. Enjoy the Madness.

In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass, Hire A Packer

After the controversial trade of trouble-making wideout Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seachickens, things must have been getting tense at 9520 Viking Drive. Shortly after the Harvin trade, the Vikings brain trust watched available wide receivers Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Brandon Gibson, and Anquan Boldin sign with or get traded to other teams. Prior to Friday, the Vikings number one wide receiver was Jerome Simpson. Yes, THAT Jerome Simpson. He of 26 receptions on 52 targets fame. Yikes.

On Friday night, the Minnesota Vikings announced that they agreed to terms with former Packer wide receiver, Greg Jennings. Across Minnesota, a collective sigh of relief could be heard.

Jennings is the perfect fit for the Vikings offense. Sure, he is a little old for a wide receiver, he has knocked out 29  birthdays to date, but he still possesses the qualities, great route running and steady hands, that the Vikings receiver corps has been missing since Cris Carter hung up his cleats and started whining talking professionally for ESPN.
Jennings is great route runner with steady hands in the mold of Cris Carter.

Jennings is great route runner with steady hands in the mold of Cris Carter.

And I know what you are thinking, wait a minute, Cris Carter?!? Are you forgetting about Troy Williamso…errrrr…Randy Moss. No. Moss was a great wide receiver, but he just flew down the field and took the ball away from opposing defensive backs with his other-worldly athleticism. Jennings is precise. He uses his route running and physicality to get open 5 to 20 yards down the field. This is perfect.

If Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder showed anything last year, it was a hand cannon for an arm. Just kidding, I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. What Ponder showed was a propensity for making the right play when the down and distance was between 8 and 10 yards. His passer rating in those instances was nearly 100. Jennings thrives on those kinds of plays.
In 2011, when he was not dealing with a hamstring injury, Jennings caught only 8 passes more than 20 yards down field. That means 59 of his 67 receptions were for less than 20 yards. And, of that 59, 41 were for 10 yards or less. Right in Ponder’s wheelhouse.
The next time Vikings fans see Cheech, he will be lining up across from Chris Cook --- in a Seachicken jersey.

The next time Vikings fans see Cheech, he will be lining up across from Chris Cook — in a Seachicken jersey.

Jennings’s deal is for 5 years and $47.5 million, with $18 million guaranteed. That is $7.5 million less than the Seachickens just guaranteed former Viking Percy Harvin. On its face, the trade of Harvin for a mess of draft picks (2013 1st and 7th – 2014 3rd) and the signing of Jennings for $1.5 million less seems like a great outcome. Was it tense there — sure. Considering the next best free agent wideout was Laurent Robinson (yikes), the stress was merited. But, in case of emergency, the Vikings went with a tried and true approach.

Signing away Packer greats has worked before — think Sharper, Longwell, and, of course, Brett Favre. Getting Jennings make the Vikings a lot better than they were 48 hours ago. However, the current outcome assumes one big thing: that the Vikings could not have found a way to keep both Harvin and Jennings.
The ticket-buying public has no idea what happens behind the scenes with Percy. Because he was traded, we can assume there were some significant issues. Percy being Percy. On the field, he is one of the most talented players in the league. A receiving corps of him, Jennings, and the emerging Kyle Rudolph would have been very hard to stop — no matter how well the quarterback played.
Unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened had the Vikings paid both guys. The cap room was there, but — at least in Harvin’s case — the attitude was not. Moving forward, with the emergency in the rear view, the Vikings need to nail this year’s draft like they did last year. Another wide receiver (please be Keenan Allen) and a some additional help in the secondary would be welcome additions to a team that is at a crossroads. Either take the next step and become a contender or take two steps back to the bottom of the division.

Tweet Bag — Gophers v. Nebraska

Welch was really steady at the point for the Gophers. But, can he continue the solid play against Diet Wisconsin??

Welch was really steady at the point for the Gophers against Penn State. But, can he continue the solid play against Diet Wisconsin??

Well, the Gophers get a chance to continue their winning ways against a slow, unathletic Nebraska squad. Think of them as Diet Wisconsin. Nebraska will use 32 of the available 35 seconds on the shot clock. They will be lucky if they have one dunk all night. And yet, they still might find a way to stay in this thing. Hopefully not.

As always, these are actual tweets from during the game.

20:00: Gophers 0 Nebraska 0
@AmeliaRayno – And as expected, Ingram and Welch are both starting. I can’t really believe Andre Hollins is coming off the bench for this lineup. #Gophers

Amelia!! Good to have you back in the tweet bag.

I am not sure what I think about Tubby’s new line-up. I know they dominated Penn State. But, it was Penn State. I know they beat Michigan. Though, in all fairness, Big Blue was probably looking past the mighty Nitanny Lions to their border rival: Michigan State.

Supposedly, having Welch in the starting line-up allows Dre to play off the ball — definitely his more natural position — and supposedly feed Mbakwe in the post. We will see…

15:14 – Gophers 7 Nebraska 9

@apearson #gophers no longer dead to me. For heavens sake don’t blow it at Nebraska.

This is the sentiment of most fans. After the thrilling win against Indiana and the stomping of Penn State,

9:19 – Gophers 15 Nebraska 15

@tsquared2001 – Nebraska reminds me Englishmen playing basketball for the first time. Hack, hack and hack all the time #Gophers

I am not entirely sure what this means, but both teams look like Englishmen playing basketball. Very slow pace (even for a Big 10 game). We are on pace for just south of a 47 to 43 game. Not sure that style fits the Gophers game. They always do better when they are running and pushing the tempo.

7:52 – Gophers 17 Nebraska 17

@MarkWittig – @icedavis5 I did not know you let football players play basketball at Nebraska. #gophers

To provide a little insight to this comment, Nebraska has a…guy…Andre Almeida, who looks like he could eat Mbakwe (whole) playing center. No joke, this guy looks like he could be Honey Boo Boo’s older brother. Amazingly though, he has incredibly quick feet and soft hands. He is sort of the anti-Mo Walker. Or, because he is Brazillian — and let’s face it, Brazillians are smooth — he might just be the Brazillian Mo Walker.

3:53 – Gophers 19 Nebraska 20

@FromTheBarn – Defense by the #gophers is pretty pathetic tonight.

Why limit it to the defense Jonathan? The offense is not exactly lighting the world on fire. Currently 17 of the 19 points are from Mbakwe, Ingram, and E Squared. That does not paint a rosy picture for the second half. Also, our projected final score is decreasing by the minute.

The one bright spot (and I swear this is not a jinx): Julian Welch. He has actually looked pretty comfortable as the PG. He is making good decisions and forcing the ball down low. Literally seconds after I write this, he bricks two FTs. Never mind.

1:54: Gophers 19 Nebraska 23

@FromTheBarn – lazy basketball by the #gophers, with a side of stupid

I think you are getting warmer Jonathan. Yikes. Gophers look absolutely amateur on offense and defense. About the only thing keeping them in this game, Nebraska’s inability to hit WIDE OPEN jumpers. Cannot continue to rely on that.

0:43: Gophers 21 Nebraska 23

E Squared has been a strong presence in the post for the Gophers the last two games. Maybe losing Mbakwe next year won't cripple the squad...maybe...

E Squared has been a strong presence in the post for the Gophers the last two games. Maybe losing Mbakwe next year won’t cripple the squad…maybe…

@DailyintheBarn – Eliason, who averages 2 points per game, leads the #Gophers with 7. Minn. down 23-21 w/ 43 seconds before half.

If not for E Squared, who is playing well in his homecoming, the Gophers would be in BIG trouble. Eliason has hit open 15 footers and been a presence inside. He is on quite a run now and looks to be a promising player for next year’s squad, IF, and that was intentionally a big if, he can continue to get stronger. Perhaps next year’s team will not be a complete step backwards.
HALF: Gophers 21 Nebraska 23
The Gophers looked pretty lifeless in the first half. This was definitely not the team that beat the number one team in the country. This looks a lot more like the team that lost 8 of 10 going into that Indiana game.
If the tempo does not pick up, the energy does not get cranked to 11, then there is a good chance the Gophers squander away the capital they have added to their resume the last two games. They need to get back to what they do best: pound the ball inside, crash the offensive glass, and play solid man-to-man defense.
20:00 Gophers 21 Nebraska 26
@Border_Rivals – Most telling statistic: Gophers average 8.1 steals a game. In today’s tilt: 0. Yikes. #Gophers #ActiveHandsTimes??
Okay, I had to help out a bit. But seriously?!?! Zero steals??? Brutal. The bigs are playing well. Mbakwe, Ingram, and E Squared looking good. Need the Hollins Cousins to step up and play like they have all season. Right now, completely absent from this game.
16:30: Gophers 22 Nebraska 28
@gopherjon – Not going to win many games if you can’t make free throws…#gophers
Not that Tubby’s teams have ever been great at shooting FTs. Though, this particular Gophers squad loves to get themselves in trouble by regifting points at the charity stripe. Cannot win games like that. In tonight’s game, they are currently connecting on just under 29% of their FTs. #brutal
14:11: Gophers 24 Nebraska 33
@gopher33j – SET A SCREEN!!! #Gophers
Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s slow down a bit Jon. Maybe we teach them what a screen is AND THEN we ask them to set one. The offense is beyond stagnant and stale, it is entering the rigomortis phase. Just not good. If it were not for the impromptu block party, the Gophers would be down 15+ right now.
11:45: Gophers 26 Nebraska 34
@Amelia Rayno – In his time of need, Tubby has gone back to his original starting five. But #Gophers playing under pressure now.
Amelia!! Don’t jinx them!?! It is bad enough the Gophers are having a hard time figure out how to go about getting the ball through the orange rim, let’s not add to the pressure.
Need to make a mini-run in the next 4 minutes. Something in the range of 8-0 or 12-2. Make it close with 6 to 8 minutes left. They should be able to escape with the win if they can do that.
11:36: Gophers 29 Nebraska 34
@goldengopher – *puts in Journey record* ‘Don’t stop…….believiiiiiiiiing’ #Gophers
I used to love that song. Gophers need two offensive rebounds off missed FTs to score 2 points. I am not belieeeeeeeving.
10:23: Gophers 32 Nebraska 36
@knategiesen – Take over the game Mbakwe! We need you to win this for us!
Could not agree more Knate. Mbakwe grabs ANOTHER offensive rebound off a missed FT and slams home the dunk. Hopefully he has another solid 10 plus minutes left in him tonight.
My fault for the long delay here. This 6 minute gap represented a period of basketball that was so horrendous, like Snooki in the club at 3:30 a.m. horrendous, that I thought it was wrong to capture it in writing. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
4:28: Gophers 37 Nebraska 41
@937JohnGaskins #Gophers 6-16 at FT line, down 4, 4:58 left. Couldn’t capitalize on 3-on-1 drive. Credit Gallegos forcing tear drop #Huskers
You know you are in trouble when the Husker fans are starting to believe. Or…excuse me…beliiiiiiiiieve.
Gophers in the double bonus the rest of the way. Normally, you would say get to the rim so you can get to the stripe. Something tells me John and his fellow Husker fans would be all for that strategy.
Trevor did all he could against the 300 pound behemoth. Unfortunately, his guards do not understand how to get him the ball. Not. Good.

Trevor did all he could against the 300 pound behemoth. Unfortunately, his guards do not understand how to get him the ball. Not. Good.

3:15: Gophers 41 Nebraska 43

@sullivanneal – Gophers need to find a way win thus one. #Gophers #BiG
Right on cue, Maverick snags an offensive board off a Hollins air ball and puts in the reverse. Then, after a slow rotation let’s the mini-Cody Zeller, Ubel, exact a little revenge, Dre goes into cold-blooded mode and cans an open 3.
2:20 Gophers 46 Nebraska 46
@goldengopher – Dre Hollins is fouled on the rebound. David Rivers…HE GONE! 2nd player to foul out. #Gophers on the line to tie.
The refs are really bailing out the Gophers. Unfortunately, the Corn Huskers daywalker uses a HUGE screen from Andre Boo Boo to create a three point play. Gophers still down with less than two minutes to go.
0:35: Gophers 46 Nebraska 49
@ratty918 – Can’t wait to see this play Tubby draws up
Have to love the confidence in the coach. Though, turns out to be very prophetic. Gophers end up with a forced shot from Dre (that nearly goes in), though it had nothing to do with Tubby’s play design. At least, I hope it didn’t considering the result.
Somehow, Nebraska gives the Gophers (and Tubby) another chance to scheme a play to tie. The Huskers turned the ball over on the in bounds. However, the iPad-less Tubby comes through again and the Gophers get a 25 footer from Maverick Ahanmisi with 6 seconds left in the game. Not that giving the ball to Hollins (our SG) would have been a better idea considering he had 0 points on the evening.
Overall, another frustrating loss for the Gophers. Even though their ticket to the tournament was stamped a week ago, this loss assures them of a low seed, probably something in the 8 to 11 range. And, if they lose this weekend against a game Purdue squad or in the first round of the Big 10 tournament, it could be much worse.
At this point, I want to beliiiiiiiiiieve, but I am not sure I have the patience.

Packers Have a Leadership Void

Packers lost its defensive leader with Woodson's release.

Packers lose its defensive leader with Woodson’s release.

In a move that should have surprised few, Charles Woodson was released after 7 productive years in green-and-gold. TT’s signature free-agent signing in 2006, Woodson revitalized the Packers defense. He amassed 38 INT and 10 TDs donning the G. And he was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Accolades aside, there is little doubt that Woodson’s play declined this past year. He was noticeably a step slower in coverage, resulting in plenty of PI and holding calls that he used to get away with. He could still support the run well. But he was simply a liability in the secondary. With Hayward’s emergence, Woodson became expendable.

Still, the Packers will miss Woodson because of his leadership. He was, without question, the leader of the defense. He primarily led by example, but he took a vocal leadership role in the later years, most noticeably during the 2010 Super Bowl run. Many players credit his halftime speech – following his injury – as inspiring their play. Heck, his post-NFC Championship speech is engraved in the Super Bowl ring.

Woodson’s release follows on the heel of Driver’s retirement. Like Woodson, Driver’s play regressed this past year – to the point he only earned a roster spot by playing on special teams. Also like Woodson, Driver was a leader of the receiver corps. When it was announced he’d return this past season, the young WR’s – many of whom would eventually fight Driver for playing time and a roster spot – spoke highly of Driver’s presence and leadership role.

Now, the Packers enter the 2013 without two of its veteran leaders. Already a young team, the team just got younger. It is imperative to the Packers success for new leaders to step up and take over the void that is left by Woodson and Driver.

Filling Woodson’s leadership role will be tough because the secondary is full of young players. Tramon would be the most obvious replacement because he is the elder statesmen of the group. But he’s not making the calls for adjustments and getting players into position like Woodson did. For this reason, I expect Morgan Burnett to become more assertive in the secondary.

Burnett’s play was not flashy last season. But, he was one of four non-offensive linemen that played every single snap. An amazing accomplishment considering the amount of injuries that plagued last season’s defense. But this reliability creates a sense of comfort in the secondary, knowing that Burnett is always going to be back there getting them in the right position.

Filling Driver’s leadership role will fall to James Jones. With Jennings also leaving the Packers, the WRs will be markedly different next year. And with Jones’ emergence this past season after rediscovering his hands, he becomes the senior member of the group and also its most productive.

This is a perfect role for Jones too. Always quiet in the way he goes about his business. Ascending as he did last year, Jones will provide leadership through example: work hard, stay patient, and trust that Rodgers will get you the ball when you are open.

Burnett and Jones are positioned to assume the leadership positions for their respective position groups. But, the Packers team leadership roles will fall to young stars: Rodgers and Clay. Primed to earn the richest contracts for offensive and defensive players, both Rodgers and Clay must become the team leaders.

Rodgers has already assumed this mantle to a certain extent. But he was also deferential to the veteran leaders. Now, Rodgers is the fourth oldest player on the team. He is the veteran leader.

For Clay, he’s still young and hasn’t appeared to take true leadership role on the team. But, with a new contract comes new responsibilities. He is bound to inspire players with his relentless play and heart. He will be looked to assume a bigger leadership role beyond just setting an example.

It’s a young man’s game. And the Packers are a young team that just got younger by losing Woodson and Driver. Its imperative to next season’s success that new leaders fill the leadership void left by them. Burnett, Jones, Rodgers, and Clay must be ready to fill it.

Illinois v. Gophers — Realtime Recap — Like You Were There

The Gophers need a win tonight. After a decent showing against the Spartans, they need to hold serve at home. That starts with a game against the giant-slaying Fightin’ Illini, who took down #1 Indiana on Thursday in dramatic fashion.

The only twist to tonight’s match-up, Gophers forward Rodney Williams is not playing. He is nursing a sore shoulder and, even though he warmed-up, reports are that he is unlikely to play. Considering his solid play, of late, this is a big loss for the Gophers. He is probably their second or third best perimeter defender, so we will see how that affects the Gophers.

Here we go…

1st Half

19:46: So much for Joe Coleman repeating the outstanding performance he had against these very same Illini. He clangs an 18 footer to start the game. Not a good sign for the Gophers.

16:10: Wait — so Trevor Mbakwe is a horse?!?! You are kidding??? Gophers feed the beast for two buckets. When Mbakwe is engaged early and often, the Gophers are a tough team to beat. While they cannot continue to feed the post with Elliot Eliason, getting Mbakwe touches is definitely the recipe for success.

He positions himself so well on the block and he has great body control. The body control allows him to get to the rim in a variety of different angles. And his massive shoulders make it very difficult for shot blockers to come over the top without fouling him. Put me down for the obvious statement of 2013, as Mbakwe goes, so goes this team. When he is not involved, the offense is pretty stale.

Gophers fans are usually not thrilled to see Maverick racing up the floor. It usually means bad things are happening for the team.

Gophers fans are usually not thrilled to see Maverick racing up the floor. It usually means bad things are happening for the team.

12:32: Maverick Ahanmisi bails out the Gophers with a wild, bank shot as the shot clock expires. Tubby’s mass substitutions now have Maverick, Oto Osieniks, Mo “Cheeseburger” Walker, Andre Ingram, and Austin Hollins on the floor. Not a recipe for offensive success. Maverick has provided a jolt or two for the Gophers in the past, but he is definitely a liability. Hopefully, the starters can catch their breath and get back in after the media timeout.

8:08: Mbakwe continues to take the ball right at the Illini defenders. He definitely has the right attitude. His dominance and Austin Hollins’ shooting has propelled the Gophers to a 10 point lead.

6:34: Austin Hollins continues to carry the Gophers. He has really stepped up for Rodney Williams, who at this point, is definitely a scratch for this evening. If the Gophers could stop recent YouTube sensation Tyler Griffey, they would be up by 20+. Instead, Griffey’s 7 early points are keeping the Illini in the game.

3:14: Let’s assess the situation — the Gophers have spent the last three minutes running the offense through  Mo “Cheeseburger” Walker who, no joke, is a man amongst boys, but who is too big and slow to play college basketball at this level. Furthermore, on the defensive end, his slow rotations left D.J. Richardson open for two consecutive threes. All of sudden, a 12 point lead is down to 4. Oh, and the Cheeseburger just turned the ball over on an offensive charge where the Illini defender literally had enough time to set his feet, tweet the following message – “Man, when is that big boy going to get here?! #Cheeseburger,”  finish a term paper, and then draw the foul. Tubby needs to stop playing Mo until he drops another 15 pounds. Period. I do not care how much he looks like a fat Royce White.

1:16: The Illini continue to rip 3 pointers to stay in the game. Brandon Paul, who has some of the worst looking shots in the conference, drains a pretty 3. For a guy who consistently clangs jump shots, when he makes one, the stroke is outstanding. Osieniks then compounds the issue by getting lazy with the ball, gifting Paul a steal, and then fouling Paul immediately.

Tubby has had little to smile about in the last half dozen Big 10 games. This one is shaping up no differently...

Tubby has had little to smile about in the last half dozen Big 10 games. This one is shaping up no differently…

Half: Gophers close the half like a junior varsity high school team. Hold up, that is an insult to junior varsity high school teams everywhere. It was more like a pick-up squad at a local YMCA (and even they might have played it better).

The Gophers take three terrible shots with the shot clock below 20 seconds. Rather than reset the offense following a pair of offensive rebounds and take the last shot of the half, the Gophers jack up three terrible shots. The Illini finally grab the defensive rebound and rush down to the other end to drain ANOTHER 3 and take a 1 point lead into the half.

This lack of execution falls on Tubby. No excuses. These are EXACTLY the type of plays that have come back to haunt this team.

2nd Half

19:46: Evidently the “…guard that Griffey kid speech fell on deaf hears. He quickly cans a 3 and puts the Illini up 4. The Gophers are struggling to guard an entirely one-dimensional team. This again falls on Tubby. All the Illini can do is hit 3s. That is it.

17:42: The Illini are wisely doubling Mbakwe (turns out we are a bit one-dimensional too). I guess the Illini coach actually tailors his team’s defensive strategy to the other team’s strengths. Crazy bastard. Thankfully, Dre finds a way to split the double off the pick and hit a rolling Mbakwe. Unfortunately, Joe Coleman continues to struggle. More than any one player, his season is the perfect analogy of the team as a whole.

Coleman started off the season hot as a pistol. He really looked like he had taken a jump and was ready to become one of the top players in the conference. That is not an overstatement. After a few solid games in the Big 10 (including a huge game against these very Illini), he has just fallen off the face of the earth. His jump shot was last seen on a milk carton at Washburn Elementary in Minneapolis, MN. His defensive intensity has waned and he consistently fails to rotate on the perimeter. If he ever regains the form from earlier this season, the Gophers will be a tough team to beat. Right now, he is a liability. When Rodney comes back, Eliason needs to get more minutes and Williams needs to slide over and play the 3.

14:06: Speaking of Elliot, Eliason continues to bring a lot of energy and intensity to the squad. However, having him feed the post or cutters on the baseline is like trying to landscape with hand grenades. It might work a few times, but the end results are probably going to be ugly. Coleman cannot handle Elliot’s fastball as he cuts to the rim. Turnover. Gophers should go back to feeding Mbakwe.

10:58: News flash!! The Illini can hit the 3 pointer. No, seriously. That Griffey kid cans another one. Looks like he wants to play the role of hero for another night. Unless Tubby can figure out a way to tighten up that defense, this game is going to end poorly for the home squad.

8:21: We have a Julian Welch sighting! His desperation 3 as the shot clock expires puts the Gophers back up 1. In fact, a little 6-0 run fueled by two 3 pointers has the Illini getting a taste of their own medicine. The Gophers cannot rely on this formula though. Shooting 3s is not a strength. They need to get back to pounding the ball inside and getting to the line. That is what this team does best.

6:49: Why is Andre Ingram getting minutes?!? He mishandles a great pass from Dre and the Gophers turn the ball over again. Still down 1.

The Gophers have been unable to find Hoosier-killer Tyler Griffey. He is looking to add Gophers to his hit list!!

The Gophers have been unable to find Hoosier-killer Tyler Griffey. He is looking to add Gophers to his hit list!!

5:08: Thursday’s hero likes the cape-look. Clearly. Griffey, who was 0-22 prior to the game against the Hoosiers, just canned his 4th 3 pointer of the evening. Evidently, Tubby’s game plan has been that the Gophers will refrain from guarding Griffey and see if he can beat them. Right now, he is annihilating them.

2:38: Austin Hollins, who has played a great game, commits the ultimate hoops no-no: fouling a shooter behind the line. D.J. Richardson hits two out of three and puts the Illini up 3. This is the EXACT kind of play that has killed the Gophers chances of being something more than a one-and-done tournament team.

1:12: The Gophers finally catch a break as a loose rebound bounces off of the Illini. Tubby has to draw up a good play here. Only down 1, the Gophers need to take the lead and put the pressure back on the Illini. Hopefully, something for one of the Hollins cousins.

Instead, Mbakwe panics when the double team comes and throws it into the 4th row. He has not handled the double team well this half. While he is normally a strong passer, the double team has really thrown him for a loop. Tubby should have recognized this and kept the ball in the Hollins’ cousins’ hands.

You just have a sense that the Gophers do not have the moxy to win this game. And just like that, Abrams promptly cans a 3 in Elliot Eliason’s grill. Play is eerily reminiscent of Austin Rivers’ 3 in Tyler Zeller’s face in a match-up between Duke and UNC. And right now, the Gophers are (shockingly) about as good as the struggling Tar Heels.

Final: Illini 57 Gophers 53

Couple of other quick things. Tubby’s offensive strategy, from game-to-game is brutal. As a head coach, the whole blaming the players schtik only lasts so long. The Gophers had a distinct advantage in the post and only rarely were running plays to capitalize on that advantage. Instead, the Gophers tried to kick and slash our way to the rim against a fairly athletic Illini squad. And I get that Rodney was a scratch, but still. Even in the game in Champagne, the Gophers carried the day by dominating in the paint. There was no such prolonged dominance in this game.

On the defensive end, it was the same old story. Poor rotation on the perimeter resulted in numerous opportunities from deep for the Illini. It was no suprise to anyone that the Illini were going to try and shoot the 3. I knew it. The fans knew it. The people watching the red carpet coverage at the Grammy’s even knew it. And yet, the Illini were 11 for 23 from deep. Nearly 50%. That is pitiful.

Until the Gophers coaching staff can figure out how to take advantage of their advantages on the offensive end and utilize their athleticism on the defensive end, this team will be, at best, nothing more than a one-and-done tournament team. At worst, we might as well book our tickets for the NIT right now to try and save on the flights.