Month: June 2016

Is Big Blake the Missing Piece?

By: Mark Prott

One visit to the twitter page of Blake Martinez @Big_Blake4 is all it takes to realize this is not your average NFL linebacker coming into the league. Sure, standing at 6’2 and weighing 240 pounds, Martinez looks the part of a thumping inside linebacker. But what really might separate Martinez from the rest of his draft class at inside linebacker, and for that matter anyone in his positional group on the current Packers roster, is his mind. His Twitter bio proudly displays his new degree in Management Science Engineering from Stanford University. And yes, the instinctual advanced mind Martinez possesses in the classroom also translates to the gridiron.

Turn on the second half video of his 2015 game at Oregon State and you see a player flashing off the screen, deflecting passes in coverage, shedding blockers, finding the ball, and punishing ball carriers. Exactly the all around, nose for the ball linebacker the Packers have been seemingly chasing for years now.

Every Packer fan in tune with team needs has known the team has had a real need for the inside linebacker position since at least the 2014 draft, when many of us were amateur scouting YouTube highlights from the likes of Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley. Of course, both those players were picked ahead of the Packers eventual pick of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Not that I’m complaining, as Clinton-Dix seems destined to become one of the top safeties in the game, as soon as the 2016 season.

The 2015 draft also contained Eric Kendricks, the UCLA coverage linebacker nabbed by the Vikings in the 2nd round. He was another linebacker I loved for his coverage ability and he enjoyed a solid rookie season with the hated Vikings to make it even worse. But then again, it is hard to argue with Ted Thompson’s top two selections of Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, both of whom flashed big time starter potential in their rookie campaigns.

Although with a seemingly delayed sense of urgency, the Packers began fortifying the inside linebacker position last year with the selection of Jake Ryan in the 4th round. Although Ryan started slow, he steadily improved as he got more playing time throughout the year, showing a knack for run stuffing and finding the ball. The eye test says he’s starter worthy.

But what’s missing? How about putting a linebacker on the field who doesn’t get completely embarrassed by Eagles running back Darren Sproles in the flat? Watch the 0.44-0.48 or the 2:18-2:27 second marked plays here. Painful and cringe-worthy to say  the least. The Packers have voiced multiple times their intent and desire to get Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker in the 2016 season. Rightfully so, as Clay still possesses the most pass rush ability in the front seven and he needs more pass rush attempts than he received the past two years. Moving Clay inside was a band-aid for the defense that worked for awhile but the experiment is over.

To take the next step and make the Green Bay Packers defense Super Bowl worthy again, the Packers need their best pass rusher doing exactly that, rushing the passer. They also need a new man in charge, controlling the middle of the field with smarts, coverage ability, toughness, and instincts. Which brings us back to Blake Martinez, the possible missing piece to the puzzle. Yes, he was only a 4th round pick and his official 40 time of 4.71 at the combine wasn’t blazing. However, there’s too many positives about this player to ignore.

Pro Football Focus graded Martinez as the number one linebacker from the 2016 NFL draft in coverage ability. He racked up over 100 tackles each of the past two years as the leader and heart and soul of the Stanford Cardinal defense. And then there’s the study habits, diligent film watching, and quick grasp of the defense displayed at OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and overall positive impression Martinez has already made on his teammates and coaches so early in the learning process. Coach Mike McCarthy summed up the progress best in an article by Ryan Wood from USA TODAY:

“He looks very comfortable,” McCarthy said. “I think he’s done a really nice job transitioning from the base defense to the sub defense, his command, the echoing of the calls. He’s very bright. Quick. And he definitely is a very instinctive player. He’s off to a very good start.”

Obviously more questions will be answered in training camp when the pads come on and the games begin. But the guess here is Blake Martinez will emerge as an every down starting inside linebacker and the Packers may have finally found the missing long term piece that can help propel the defense and the team back to greatness starting in the 2016 season.

Bucks Rumor Roundup Part 2: Monroe, MCW and Delly

By: Bill Tewes

We are just a little more than 24 hours away from the start of the 2016 NBA Draft and already many rumors are being put to rest. It is being reported by multiple media outlets that there is seemingly little to no interest in the Boston Celtics 3rd overall pick. Whether that is because the asking price is too high, or because Boston is waiting for a better deal is yet to be seen.

The Milwaukee Bucks are still in the headlines as team officials have stated that Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and obviously Johnny O’Bryant are untouchable as far as trades are concerned. This comes as a relief to many Bucks fans who are fed up with seeing the team trade away talent and get burned in the process. The Bucks are also still in the draft night eve headlines for two recent rumors:

Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams trade value

According to some league officials as reported by HoopsHype, the Milwaukee Bucks are  having a difficult time finding a suitor for Greg Monroe. Some unnamed league executives from both conferences stressed that they believe the Bucks can’t even get a lottery pick for Monroe.

This is hard for me to believe as Monroe averages a double-double nearly every night and even though he signed a player friendly contract with Milwaukee, should still have appeal to a contender. Even though the league is going in a small ball direction, it was quite obvious that the Golden State Warriors desperately needed Andrew Bogut’s skillset as they got killed in the paint against the Cavaliers. Monroe still provides a lot of offensive value, even if his defense is lacking. A contender could certainly use the points in the paint and an above average free throw shooter for being a big.

As for Michael Carter-Williams, it seems as if the former Rookie of the Year’s trade value is at an absolute all time low. Carter-Williams had a poor showing last season which ended in him having hip surgery. If the Bucks could part with Carter-Williams in a multi player deal and get some value back for him, it might be worth pulling the trigger on a trade. Otherwise the Bucks may be wise to hang on to Carter-Williams and hope he increases his trade value or can be used as bench depth moving forward.

Dellavedova and Jason Kidd’s obssesion with him

I cannot quite figure out what the Bucks’ brass (err Jason Kidd’s) deal is with Matthew Dellavedova. Last year Delly had an incredible NBA Finals series against the Golden State Warriors in place of the injured Kyrie Irving. But since Irving came back and destroyed Golden State in this years’ finals, I cannot see the appeal for giving Dellavedova a lot of money. Dellavedova saw limited playing time in this years’ Finals and we saw more of the #52 than we probably expected to see (Mo Williams).

ESPN Cavaliers writer Brian Windhorst believes that the Bucks are absolutely obssesed with Dellavedova. Windhorst stated on Zach Lowe’s podcast that the Bucks have a certain infatuation with Dellavedova:

“For some reason, (chuckles) and I got a pretty good idea why, the Milwaukee Bucks attended Cavs games in the playoffs like they were a fan of the team. They had scouts there…Jason Kidd came to one of the games. I think the Bucks have zeroed in on Dellavedova. I think they intend to offer him a bunch of money.”

If the Bucks do indeed sign Delly, I think it would be another questionable move on “Kidd’s” part as de facto GM of this team. Even though there has been speculation that Bucks management has been less than thrilled with Jason Kidd’s personnel moves, this latest rumor adds even more concern that Kidd is meddling in places where he should stay out of. Kidd already got burned by his desire to have Michael Carter-Williams as this team’s court general and I think the Bucks would be remiss if they pursued Dellavedova.

 

 

Middleton to Celtics? Let the Rumors begin!

By: Bill Tewes

One of the first major trade rumors of the 2016 NBA Draft involves none other than the Milwaukee Bucks and shooting guard Khris Middleton. Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge is kicking the tires on a potential trade that would send their 3rd overall pick as well as their 16th pick in this years’ draft and an expiring contract for Middleton and our 10th. Hoopshype tweeted Charles Gardner on John Hammond’s reaction to this rumor:

midsrumor

This trade would be highly problematic for Milwaukee. The issue here, is that outside of the first two picks (which barring a catastrophic change of heart, will be Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram) there is no real guarantee that the Bucks will get a player they can groom into a star.

Khris Middleton has made major strides since being drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Detroit Pistons. The Milwaukee Bucks got a steal by trading an underwhelming Brandon Jennings to get Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton. Middleton has become an incredible two way player for Milwaukee and easily their best defender. The Bucks would have to be less than thrilled with Middleton’s progression as a potential leader for this team in order to cut ties with a budding star to take a gamble on an unknown at 3rd overall.

I think it would be another huge mistake in a long line of mistakes that Bucks management has made over the years, by trading players before we can see what they truly offer. While the 3rd overall pick is certainly intriguing, I’m not certain it is worth giving up on Middleton and the chemistry he brings to the table.

Ainge knows Middleton’s value and the Boston Celtics desire a dynamic scorer that can help them win now. Adam McGee of Behindthebuckpass.com stressed Middleton’s importance to this team by noting his relatively cheap contract and that he lead the league in steals post All-star break. As of right now, Middleton is really the only player on this roster that can consistently knock down the three and it would be difficult to replace that production of an established two way player with a rookie if we trade away Middleton.

When the dust settles from all of these rumors and we get to draft night, I cannot see the Milwaukee Bucks parting with a key piece of our current Big 3. But seeing as how the Bucks have made some big splashes via the trade market, I could very well be in for a shock Thursday night.