Author: Jim Boyce

Thanksgiving: Wisconsin Sports Edition

The sports world can be hectic with non stop news and hot takes from talking heads. Sometimes we forget what we like about sports in the first place. In the spirit of Thanksgiving let’s look at some things Wisconsin sports fans can be grateful for.

hall of fame quarterbacks

An obvious place to start and one we should always be grateful for. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have given the Packers hall of fame quarterback play for 25 seasons. If you found yourself taking a player like Rodgers for granted then watching Brett Hundley should change that. The Packers have been in the playoffs for the vast majority of those 25 seasons and have two championships. Look at how other teams have struggled to replace hall of fame QB’s. The 49ers experienced similar good fortune with Joe Montana and Steve Young but that’s about it. Once Rodgers returns to the field be sure to enjoy it.

Giannis and the new bucks

Between the time Ray Allen was traded and Giannis Antetokuonmpo was drafted the Bucks were the definition of mediocrity. Never a threat to advance in the playoffs but never truly bottoming out. The Bucks were not even an NBA laughingstock, they were simply forgotten. The franchise became so bland that even much of Wisconsin stopped paying attention.

Nobody was really expecting much from a 15th overall pick with an impossible to pronounce name, but slowly the Bucks fortunes have turned. The Bucks selected star Forward Jabari Parker in the 2014 draft. Herb Kohl sold the team to new ownership who quickly rebranded and began securing a new arena. NBA hall of famer Jason Kidd came to town as coach and in 2015 the Bucks landed Greg Monroe in free agency. The latest sign that the Bucks are no longer NBA outcasts came earlier this fall when Eric Bledsoe named Milwaukee as a place he would like to play.

Antetokuonmpo has become an All-Star, potential MVP type player and the Bucks are an exciting club with a bright future. The on court product may still be rough at times but no one can deny that the Bucks are back on the NBA landscape. A welcome change from the apathy of the 2000’s.

David Stearns

Stearns has been with the Brewers for a short time but has already experienced success. It became obvious in 2015 that the Brewers had peaked with that group of players and a rebuild was necessary. Stearns immediately began restocking the farm system which was regarded as one of the worst in baseball at that time. Fast forward to 2017 and the Brewers are regarded as a top 10 farm across all publications.

Stearns crowning moment thus far was sending Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to Texas for Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell. Neither Lucroy or Jeffress are with the Rangers anymore, Brinson and Ortiz are nearly ready for the majors and Cordell was used to acquire reliever Anthony Swarzak last season. Oh and as for rebuilding, the Brewers won 86 games in 2017 and now face an important offseason which Stearns will oversee.

PAUL CHRYST

Paul Chryst is from Madison, WI. He went to school in Wisconsin, coached in Wisconsin and even just sounds like Wisconsin. Chryst is about as Wisconsin as it gets and under him the Badgers are in great shape as a program. Hopefully Chryst remains in Madison for a long time.

Wisconsin sports overview

Bad things are always going to happen in sports whether it be an injury to a key player or a tough loss. However we as Wisconsin sports fans do have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. The Packers with Rodgers are always in the hunt. The Bucks are as exciting as they have been since 2001. The Brewers rebuild is roaring along and the Wisconsin Badgers have a shot at the College Football Playoffs.  Here’s to our teams, may they continue to give us fans reasons to cheer.

 

 

The Aftermath: What Needs to Happen For Brett Hundley to Succeed

The Packers season was dealt a major blow but here is how they can survive

As Aaron Rodgers was carted off the field on Sunday afternoon it felt like the 2017 season went along with him. No one denies that Rodgers is a hall of fame player and the main reason for Green Bay’s success over the last decade. The Packers can not dwell in the past though, the injury happened and it is what it is and opponents are not going to let up on the Packers. Brett Hundley is the man going forward whether we like it or not. We have not have seen much of Hundley over the years so it is difficult to know what to expect. Here are a few things the team can do to help Hundley succeed.

Good Protection

Green Bay was finally able to see their starting line in action in Minnesota, but boy it did not last long. David Bahktiari, Bryan Bulaga, and Lane Taylor were all sidelined by the games end. The extent of the injuries is unknown but this is the biggest concern going forward. Brett Hundley may or not may not be a good quarterback, but he has no chance if he’s getting crushed on every pass attempt. In Minnesota Hundley was under constant duress which no doubt hurt his final line which included 3 interceptions. The Packers need to find a way to get healthy and give Hundley time to go through his progressions. If not, Mike McCarthy needs to scheme a way to get the ball out of Hundley’s hand quickly. Otherwise he might be joining Rodgers in the trainers room.

Skill Players going above and beyond

The Packers have a wealth of talent at wide receiver and these players will need to play at an extremely high level to help Hundley. Jordy Nelson was around when Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn took snaps in 2013 and still finished with solid numbers. He along with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams will need to get open and be the dependable targets Hundley needs. The receivers do not worry me, however the running backs could take a huge load off Hundley by being effective. Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones, and the offensive line absolutely needs to be productive and maintain offensive balance. The Packers can not ask Hundley to step in and win games on his own the way Rodgers can. Martellus Bennett also needs to ramp up his production and give Hundley a reliable target in the middle of the field.

Time For The Defense To Step Up

If the Packers are going to stay in the playoff hunt they will need their defense to play well. There really should be no excuses for Dom Capers group at this point. The Packers defense is stock full of high draft picks. There are five first round picks alone among the starting 11. Many others were selected in rounds two through four. It is time for these players to play at the level they are capable of. The defense did keep the Packers in the Vikings game by forcing two turnovers in the 2nd quarter. Overall they did not break as the Vikings were limited to 23 points, but the next two games are against Drew Brees and Matt Stafford. Brett Hundley can not get into a shootout against QBs of that caliber, the Packers defense will need to make impact plays and get off the field on third down.

Final Outlook

There is no point denying reality, the injury to Rodgers is bleak. With him the Packers were looking at home field advantage, now it’s fair to wonder if they will make the playoffs. Brett Hundley has a great chance to help the team as well as himself. If he plays well he could be traded next offseason and start for another team. As fans we can only cling to hope right now. Maybe Hundley plays well enough to win the Packers some games. Nonetheless he will need help from the rest of the squad. Football is the ultimate team game, that is never more apparent than now.

 

The X-Factor: Aaron Jones Could Take The Packers To Another Level

The Green bay packers offense is already good. Aaron Jones could make it elite.

The NFL season is well underway as we enter week six and the Packers are off to a good start. Among the top teams in the NFC, some things have gone as expected. Aaron Rodgers continues to be an elite QB and the WR group is producing. One of the main storylines coming into the season was Ty Montgomery and the running game. Montgomery has proven to be a dynamic player, but the traditional running game had struggled through the first three weeks. The Packers did play several good defensive fronts to go with their own injuries upon the line, but Montgomery barely eclipsed three yards per carry. This is where Aaron Jones enters the equation.

Montgomery was off to a solid start week four but unfortunately sustained an injury. Later that game Aaron Jones entered after yet another injury, this time to Jamaal Williams. What has happened in the game and a half since has been extremely encouraging. Jones has rushed for 174 yards on 32 carries and added 2 touchdowns. Against Dallas the rookie put up 125 on 19 carries, showing great patience and vision as he was able to set up his blocks and generally keep the offense in favorable down and distances. While it is a small sample size there is reason to believe the Packers may have found a keeper in the 5th round pick out of UTEP. If Jones is the real deal, pairing him with the pass catching threat Montgomery could take the offense to a new level.

offensive balance

The Packers draft strategy did not involve spending a high pick on a running back. Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon were both on the board when Green Bay opened up the 2nd round and neither got the call. Ted Thompson did not want to put all his eggs in one basket with a high pick instead taking three players in the later rounds. Not a bad idea by any means, late round running backs can be successful. Jordan Howard, for example, was 2nd in the NFL in rushing in 2016 as a 5th round pick. Aaron Jones’ college tape showed a dynamic player who dominated his competition. In an offense led by Aaron Rodgers the pass will always be the first option. Nonetheless the Packers need a good running game if they want to be serious contenders.

While the Packers have been consistent playoff contenders in the Rodgers era, they have been at their best when balanced. During the Super Bowl run in 2010 James Starks was used heavily in the playoffs. His 123 yard performance in the Wild Card game was crucial that season. In 2011 the Packers running game struggled. When Rodgers and the receivers had an off day against the Giants the season was over. 2014 brought us the strongest Packers team since the Super Bowl victory. Aaron Rodgers was league MVP but they also had Eddie Lacy running for over 1200 yards. Jones, Montgomery, or any other player may not get enough carries to put up those kind of individual stats but the Packers could put up huge numbers as a team.

Conclusion

Aaron Jones will be an exciting player to watch for the rest of the season. Coach McCarthy has always preferred to use multiple backs, so he should receive plenty of carries even with Montgomery healthy. Both runners offer the ability to be receiving threats as well. This will make Green Bays offense less predictable and should allow Aaron Rodgers to exploit defenses even more than he already does. Time will tell if the Packers got a day three steal with Jones, if they did the rest of the NFL should watch out.

 

 

Green Bay Packers Preseason: Why You Should Watch

Preseason marks the return to the hallowed grounds.

The games don’t count but they are still important.

Preseason football can be a drag. We are happy to see the games return after a long offseason, yet almost immediately we long for the regular season. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson will not be on the field much if at all. Players are not familiar with their teammates and ball security issues tend to dominate. Play can be sloppy and the outcomes don’t matter. So why even bother watching these exhibition games? Here are a few reasons.

the rookies

The NFL draft is almost an American holiday by now. As our favorite teams announce their picks we begin to have visions of these players making plays on the gridiron. Preseason is our first chance to see those visions become reality. Vince Biegel and Montravius Adams are out with injuries but Kevin King and Josh Jones are healthy. Expectations should always be tempered with rookies, and King had a couple rough moments in the first preseason game. We hopefully will see some splash plays from the pair before the month is over.

Running back is a position to watch this August. Three rookie runners are vying for spots on the roster. Jamaal Williams seems to be the leader, but Devante Mays and Aaron Jones will receive plenty of opportunities. Which of these runners will separate themselves and become a big part of the offense in 2017? Ty Montgomery is the starter but the others will be needed for the Pack to be successful.

Preseason position battles

Ted Thompson will have no choice but to cut one or two good receivers. Beyond the locks like Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams there appear to be seven players fighting for four spots. Trevor Davis and Deangelo Yancey made nice plays against Philadelphia that stood out. Jeff Janis scored a touchdown and Max McCaffrey was targeted numerous times. Have you heard of Michael Clark? An intriguing prospect who also scored against the Eagles. The Packers simply won’t have room on the roster for all these players and competition will be fierce.

The cornerback and safety positions feature a lot of depth behind the starters. The corners are especially interesting, as any number of players could move into a starting role with a solid camp. Also worth watching is QB Brett Hundley, he isn’t going to take Rodgers job, but a solid showing could land him a starters role elsewhere. Packers fans should be used to this by now, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, and Aaron Brooks are players who proved their value in Green Bay before starting with other teams.

it’s football

Be honest here, you want to watch football even if it is preseason. Heck, use it as a tune up for yourself. If you haven’t grilled in awhile fine tune your skills so you are ready for Week 1. Practice some clever insults for the officials that will make your friends laugh. Enjoy the return of football, the team is on the field again and will be until February if all goes well!

 

A Fork In The Road: Should the Milwaukee Brewers Buy at the Trade Deadline?

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Is the brewers rebuild coming to an end? or should david stearns stay the course?

The Milwaukee Brewers trade deadline activity might be heating up, especially after they have defied the odds all season and have a 5.5 game lead in the division. Even the most optimistic fans did not see the division as winnable after expectations were low to start the season. Many others, myself included, figured there were too many unknowns with this club for it to come together this early. Yet here we are at the All-Star break and the Brewers are 50-41 and leading a surprisingly mediocre NL Central.

Many fans are thinking playoffs and are right to think so. The Brewers offense has shown an incredible amount of power despite Ryan Braun appearing in less than half of the 91 games played. Pitching has held up thanks to big first half performances by Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, and Corey Knebel.

The trade deadline is merely weeks away and some big names are available. Both the Oakland A’s Sonny Gray and Chicago White Sox Jose Quintana had been named as potential targets of the Brewers. Quintana is now off the board after the Chicago Cubs traded their top two prospects plus others for his services. Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers is also rumored to be on the trade block. The Brewers may be tempted to make a splash with a rare opportunity to make the playoffs looming. Should they though? We’ll take a look at the arguments for and against buying at the deadline.

Milwaukee Brewers trade deadline and buying in

The Brewers have a 5.5 game lead in the division with 71 games to play. If they hold a similar lead by the end of July, the division will be theirs for the taking. One big reason to buy at the deadline is that playoff appearances are unfortunately rare in Milwaukee. Aside from 2008 and 2011, one must go back to the 1982 squad to find a playoff team. The Brewers have one of the highest rated farms in baseball, but there is no guarantee that the prospects will pan out as expected. Why wait around for something that may not happen?

General Manger David Stearns does not care about history though, his focus is on the future. Sonny Gray could be a smart pickup as he is under 30 and has two seasons of affordable team control remaining. This would not be a half season rental like C.C. Sabathia back in 2008. Gray would immediately be, at worst, the number 2 starter in the rotation.

The Brewers farm system is loaded with talent with a surplus in the outfield. Stearns could flip a couple prospects and not damage the overall health of the franchise. While they would still be underdogs in the NLDS, a playoff rotation of Gray, Nelson, and Anderson could at least keep the Crew competitive. If Stearns feels like the roster is built to compete within the next several seasons then adding a starting pitcher could be the final piece needed.

The Case For Standing Pat

David Stearns has repeatedly said that his goal is to build a long term winner in Milwaukee. Selling off prospects for a pitcher now could help this year, but could also hurt the Brewers down the road. The Brewers have done a remarkable job over the last two years flipping veterans for prospects. The team could very well sell off some prospects, getting burned in the process when a player they acquire does not live up to expectations.

In fact the Brewers are already benefiting from the trades they’ve made as Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, and Corey Knebel are big contributors now. The sheer amount of talent in the Brewers farm could have them set up to be a playoff caliber squad for a decade. Given Milwaukee’s rather non-competitive history I think most fans would welcome a sustained period of success.

In the end it’s about trying to bring a championship to Milwaukee and two seasons of Gray is unlikely to push the Brewers over the likes of the Dodgers, Astros, or Nationals. The Brewers have shown that they will go all in to acquire a front line starter; Sabathia in 2008 and Zack Greinke in 2011. Stearns may not feel that 2017 is the time for the big push, especially if either the Cubs or Cardinals close the divisional gap by the deadline.

My Opinion

The idea of acquiring Gray is tantalizing for sure. Winning the division title over the heavily favored Cubs would be sweet considering the meager expectations heading into the season. However I would not expect the Brewers to pull the trigger on a large scale deal this season. They might make another low risk trade similar to the one made for reliever Tyler Webb, but not much else.

The reality is that the Cubs gave up two of their top prospects to get Quintana. The A’s will want a similar deal for Gray which might require the Brewers to trade two of Lewis Brinson, Josh Hader, or Isan Diaz. Given the potential of those players I expect Stearns will pull out of any trade talks. There will come a time when the Brewers add a top line starter for a World Series push but it is unlikely to be this season.

 

The Other Guys: Packers 2017 Free Agency Review

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The Packers did not make the big splash, but they still helped themselves in Free Agency.

The longstanding criticism of Packers GM Ted Thompson has been his unwillingness to dip into free agency. While some of this criticism is unwarranted there are instances where it would have been helpful to look at available veterans. In the NFC championship loss in Atlanta the Packers had 14 rookies on their active roster. This inexperience can be dangerous in big games and it has burned the Packers the last several seasons.

The Packers faced a lot of uncertainty heading into the 2017 off-season. Several familiar faces departed for other teams. It appears Thompson finally reached a point where he realized the roster could not be filled solely through the draft. The Packers added some quality depth to the roster and were prudent in doing so. Here is a look at some guys who will help when injuries inevitably hit.

DEFENSIVE DEPTH

A vast majority of the defensive additions were made through the draft. The Packers added speed and versatility to the defensive backfield in Kevin King and Josh Jones. However they made two depth signings that could come in handy. Davon House returned after a two year stay in Jacksonville to compete for a spot at corner. It was obvious that Cornerback needed to be addressed given the struggles of Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins last season. House is far from a sure thing, but he is an option with some upside. Considering his meager contract that signing could pay dividends.

I really like the signing of Ricky Jean Francois. He has been a useful NFL player for a while now and should provide key depth in the defensive line rotation. Adding Francois should allow the defensive linemen should remain fresh deep into the 4th quarter.

NEW ELEMENTS ON OFFENSE

Tight End is a position the team clearly wants to emphasize in 2017. The Packers were a different offense when they had Jared Cook on the field. Cook will not be back but the Packers look as strong at that position as they have in years. While he may not accumulate the statistics he did during his time in Chicago, I expect Martellus Bennett to be very effective working with Aaron Rodgers. Lance Kendricks has had an inconsistent career but should be a more than capable second Tight End. He also offers insurance in case of an injury to Bennett. A big plus with both of these players is they are willing blockers. With both on the field the defense will have a tough time predicting whether a run or pass is coming.

REPLACING A MAINSTAY

The biggest lost the Packers suffered was T.J. Lang departing in free agency. There was no one available in free agency or the draft who could come in and be the same player Lang has been the last half decade. It was a smart move nonetheless to acquire Jahri Evans when he became available. While no longer the Pro Bowl player he was in his prime, Evans still provided a solid season for the Saints in 2016. At 33 he should have enough left in the tank to fill the void for this season. Players at that age always carry some risk, but it was a weak draft class for Guards. Evans also provides more experience and consistency than the guys currently on the roster.

CONCLUSION

Ted Thompson is fairly predictable at this stage of his career, but on paper this looks like one of his better off-seasons. The Packers lost more players than they usually do which could be problematic, but Thompson added solid depth players. Thompson will still receive the maximum amount of compensatory picks in 2018. I am also a fan of Thompson’s strategy in the 2017 draft. Between the rookies and new veteran faces there should be quite a few battles for roster spots in training camp. Hopefully this results in a stronger 2017 Green Bay Packers.