Monthly Archives: March 2013

Follow Up to LeBron James

This follows up right on the heels of my LeBron post. The podcast took place yesterday 3/25/13, with two of the most renown basketball minds of our time, Bill Simmons and Bob Ryan. Check this podcast out as they discuss the historical relevance of the Miami Heat’s winning streak, LeBron’s play and his place in NBA history. You can go to Grantland.com or just click the link below. A must listen for any basketball fan.

http://espn.go.com/espnradio/grantland/player?id=9097274

-MikeV87

Appreciating Greatness

LeBron James, probably the most scrutinized athlete of all time. He came up right in the advent of social media. He was heaped praise and called “The Chosen One”. He donned the #23 and copied Jordan’s chalk toss before games. We always wondered what James’ ceiling was as a professional. Was he going to revolutionize the game by his unmatched skill set? Could he leave a trail of highlights on YouTube filled with dunks, ally-oops and scoring barrages? Or was he going to be a “champions’ champion” and follow in the steps of  Russell and Jordan? Perhaps he could meet all the above and be considered the greatest of all-time.

But expectations don’t matter, results do. And right now we are seeing a stretch from LeBron that NBA has never seen before. He is right smack in the middle of his “prime”, at the “height of his powers”, LeBron’s “Sistine Chapel” etc. Athletes usually progress to the point where everything comes together and the game slows down for them. And right now, LeBron is tapping into every gift he was blessed with.

In the early going LeBron met the hype but as his star rose to the top of the NBA chain, people expected the total package. And while he delivered on 75% of that. He didn’t have the elusive ring during his Cleveland years. After a year of ranking #1 on “America’s Most Hated Athlete on the Most Hated Team” list, LeBron delivered on his potential in 2012 and captured the Larry O’Brian Trophy. While his raw numbers during the regular season look practically identical if you compare 2011 to 2012. It’s the post-season that matters. Here’s a look at his post-season stats from those two years.

POSTSEASON AVERAGES
SEASON TEAM GP GS MIN FGM-A FG% 3PM-A 3P% FTM-A FT% OR DR REB AST BLK STL PF TO PTS
’10-’11 21 21 43.9 8.3-17.8 .466 1.4-4.0 .353 5.7-7.4 .763 1.6 6.8 8.4 5.9 1.2 1.7 2.7 3.1 23.7
’11-’12 23 23 42.7 10.9-21.8 .500 1.0-3.7 .259 7.5-10.2 .739 2.4 7.4 9.7 5.6 0.7 1.9 2.0 3.5 30.3

All stats from espn.com

LeBron upped his FG%, Rebounding and scoring significantly during the 2012 post-season run. The main complaint of LBJ’s game before 2012 was that he didn’t use his gifts to the fullest extent; i.e. getting into the paint, posting up on the block and being the lead dog. All that came to a head last year in Game 6 of the Eastern Finals in Boston. Facing elimination against their hated rivals and enduring a series worth of trash-talk from Pierce and Garnett (they questioned his game, his toughness and his manhood), something snapped with LeBron, they pushed him too far. He went on to deliver a pantheon worthy performance in an ice-cold, assassin-like manner. I could describe it but you can just watch for yourself:

Die hard Celtics fan Bill Simmons described this performance from LBJ, “For 4 quarters he played like a rich-man’s version of the 5th best player of all-time”. Simmons obviously referring to the legend himself, Larry Bird. Let that line sink in just a little bit…….. James put it all together in that game and did whatever he wanted. He scored at will and from anywhere; outside, in the paint and on the block. He defended 4 different positions at an elite level. And when he wasn’t scoring he was crashing the boards (15reb) and getting his teammates involved. I considered this the launching point in James’ historic run.

We all know what followed, James continued his pace and captured his first title in 5 games. You can take a closer look at some advanced stats that indicate his immeasurable impact during the 2012 playoffs here:

http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/jamesle01.html#playoffs_advanced

All across the board James rose his level of play. His PER efficiency jumped from 23.7 in 11′ to 30.3 in 12′ (anything over 30 is considered extraordinary). All his FG% went up across the board; his defensive rebounding %, assist % and even win shares rose (wins a player is worth to his team). For basketball metric junkies, this improvement correlates to the difference in a 2011 Finals loss and the 2012 Finals championship. Either James delivered or the Heat would fail.

Fast forward to 2013 and the Heat look unstoppable with their 26 game win streak and counting. And if it weren’t already possible, LeBron took his game, more importantly his efficiency, to an even higher level. He became the first player in NBA history to score 30 plus points and shoot higher then 60% in 6 straight games. He also is logging the most minutes of any other player in the league. All the while continuing to lead the team in scoring  (26.7), rebounding (8.2) and assists (7.3). He is also the teams and league’s best on-ball defender (plays 4 different positions). And leads the league in PER efficiency at 31.3. His case for 2013 League MVP is air-tight (already won it 3 times). He’s the league’s best player and it’s not even close, sorry Kevin Durant fans. His team is inching closer and closer to one the most hallowed basketball streaks, the 1971-1972 Lakers 33 game win streak. If anyone one team and player can beat that streak, it deserves to be LeBron and his Heat. His level of play has ignited something special, and I for one am enjoying the ride.

He’s embraced that pressure that once crumbled him. He’s in a zone that will probably continue for the next year or so. When an athlete puts it all together, they usually go on a 18- 24 month tear where they keep raising the level of play. He’s slowly but surely tapping into every skill set and maximizing it to his fullest potential. We don’t know for sure when his peak will officially end. Sometimes it can creep up on you like a thief in the night, Tiger Woods anyone? I know there are still LeBron haters, believe me I was one of them, but he has won me over. And for nearly a year now, I just sit back and continue to be amazed at what this specimen can do on the court. What his ceiling is, I don’t know. But I sure as hell appreciate what I’m seeing.

We won’t see someone put it all together like this for at least another 15-20 years, maybe longer is he keeps this up. In the end, he’s not Russell, Kobe, Jordan or Magic. He’s LeBron and that will mean something 40 years from now. Someday I’ll tell some young fan that I saw LeBron James play. 40 years from now, I’ll tell them I saw greatness.

-MikeV87

Manti Te’o; Draft sleeper or the next A.J. Hawk?

Is Te'o ready for today's NFL?

Is Te’o ready for today’s NFL?

What a difference two months can make. In one second, you could be the first “defense-only” college football player to win the Heisman and sure-fire Top 5 NFL draft pick. And in the next, your draft stock is falling faster than Lamar Odom’s post Lakers career. And let’s put aside the whole Lennay Kekua girlfriend hoax fiasco. Yes I know that character is a big red flag for most NFL teams and it does play a role in Manti’s fall from grace. But this piece is intended to compare two successful college football players who shared a lot more qualities than you think. What spectrum of NFL ready does Manti compare to? A prototype MLB prospect that he was once billed as? Or maybe closer to A.J. Hawk, top 5 can’t miss prospect who turned out……. well, just average is stretching it. It’s all part of the coin flip that NFL personnel people have to figure out. Where does Manti Te’o project as an NFL talent?

Let’s begin, Manti Te’o and A.J. Hawk. Both played for major college programs in Notre Dame and Ohio State, who at the time, were in the national spotlight as championship contending teams. Both had great success through their stints at their respective programs. The both earned All-American honors and both finished top 6 in Heisman voting their senior year(Manti finished 2nd in 2012). They played the same position, Mike linebacker in the 4-3, aka middle linebacker. Both even have the same stature, 6’1″ around 245. Except for the nationality difference, maybe they could be brothers.

Up until the BCS title game and subsequent hoax that blew up in Te’o’s face, he was being projected as a top 5 prospect and even top 5 pick. A.J. Hawk was the same thing. In a draft that had superior athletes like Mario Williams, Reggie Bush and Vince Young, all who had incredibly high ceilings as players. Hawk, who had the potential become a franchise linebacker, but instead was tabbed by many as the safest of all those selections. A.J. ended up being drafted 5th overall by the Green Bay Packers, in part because the Packers couldn’t miss on this draft selection. They went the safe route.

The very same things are being said about Te’o; play-maker, high football IQ, instinctive, safe, low risk and had the potential to be a franchise MLB……….. And then he played Alabama, and was outright exposed by a team full of NFL ready talent on the offensive end. Now I understand that the weight of the world was probably on his shoulders that night with this hoax story about to break at any moment. And if you think it shouldn’t affect elite athletes, just ask LeBron James what happened in Game 5 against Boston in 2010. He mentally checked out and he played some of the worst basketball of his life, it can happen to anyone. But Manti did have a second chance, the NFL Combine. He had an entire season of elite play at the MLB position on tape for scouts to pour over. One caveat though, although he did play extremely well throughout the regular season and on the nationally televised games, it wasn’t against the SEC. The triple A to the NFL’s major leagues. One game could be overlooked against NFL talent and speed, but he had to redeem himself in Indianapolis with his “measureables”. That meant nailing his bench press, vertical jump, board jump, 3-cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, 10 yard split and the ever so important, 40 yard dash.

Here’s a look at both linebackers results at the NFL Combine, courtesy of the Combine themselves;

Pre-draft measurables : A.J. Hawk

Pre-draft measurables
Ht Wt 40-yd dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP
6 ft 1 in 248 lb 4.59 s 1.56 s 2.72 s 3.96 s 6.82 s 40 in 9 ft 7 in 24 reps
40 from Ohio State Pro Day, all others from NFL Combine.

Pre-draft measurables : Manti Te’o

Pre-draft measureables
Ht Wt Arm length Hand size 40-yd dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP
6 ft 1 ¼ in 241 lb 32 ½ in 9 ½ in 4.82 s 1.62 s 4.27 s 7.13 s 33 in 9 ft 5 in
All values from NFL Combine

As you see here, Manti Te’o did not test well. A.J. Hawk out performed Te’o in all the timed test. Also remember the fact that Hawk used his 40 time from his Pro Day (that will be brought up later for Manti). Where Te’o really failed to measure up was in the “athleticism” drills; the 3 cone (used to measure agility, lateral quickness and fluidity), the 20 yard shuttle (measures short area speed and explosion) and of course the benchmark for true speed, the 40 yard dash.

I bring this point up because the way the NFL is going. A.J. out-performed Te’o in all important tests. Hawk had just as much success as Te’o did on the collegiate level. So Hawk, top 5 pick, should have been able to have the same success on the NFL level. Unfortunately for Hawk, he came a little after his time. If you have ever heard the saying,”man that athlete was before his time”. It means that he showcased skills and athleticism that the league had not yet seen or could compete with, say like Michael Jordan, Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor etc. Well A.J. is the complete opposite of that, and I think Manti will fall into that category as well. Hawk probably would’ve been a multiple pro bowl linebacker had he come into the league in 1996 as opposed to 2006. The NFL is just too quick for a guy like Hawk. He came into the league as a 4-3 OLB, had a great rookie year but then slowly regressed as the league got quicker and faster. Even when Green Bay moved him to Inside-Linebacker position in the 3-4 defense, Hawk had a renascence for a year but then was quickly exposed. As of now in 2013, Hawk is a one down linebacker, in the base 3-4. Once the offense forces the defense to go to sub packages, Hawk cannot be relied to cover the ever evolving scat backs (like Darren Sproles, LaMichael James) and the ultimate chess piece in this day’s NFL, the tight end. He really has no chance to cover the likes of Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham (in his defense, few can).

Vernon burns A.J. up the seam

Vernon burns A.J. up the seam

Just for comparisons sake, here’s the measurables of a recent Top 10 drafted linebacker:

Patrick Willis-2007 Combine

Pre-draft measureables
Ht Wt 40-yd dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP Wonderlic
6 ft 1¼ in 242 lb 4.51 s 1.53 s 2.62 s 4.46 s 7.23 s 39 in 9 ft 11 in 22 reps 12
All values from the 2007 NFL Combine

Willis is your prototype MLB in today’s NFL (3-Down Linebacker)

So where does this leave Manti? He is still considered a potential fringe 1st round pick, although that hinges on his performance at his Pro Day. If a team is picking a linebacker in the first round, he needs to have the ability to be a 3-down linebacker, in essence, he won’t need to be taken off the field because he is a liability to the defense, like what A.J. Hawk has experienced. Manti will be counted on to first and fore-most call and the lead the defense (no concern there). But he’ll need the speed to hit the run gaps and fill the hole quickly. Have the ability to cover backs out of the backfield. And be able to cover the tight end on crossing routes and seam routes. So far his measureables show a lack of elite athleticism to properly do that on a consistent basis.

Now while Manti did not live up to Hawks’ measureables, but he did out-perform Willis in a couple area’s. The Combine is not a pass or fail result for most draft prospects, ask any NFL scout and they will tell you the majority of weight is put on the scouting tape of games played. Football isn’t played in spandex shorts and Under Armour shirts, it’s played by technique and instinct. The NFL uses a term “game speed”, where a prospect might lack the measureables of timed tests, but when put into a game, the football skills take over and they play faster than they test. As of now, that is Manti Te’o’s only saving grace sans his Pro Day at Notre Dame. He NEEDS to improve that 40 time to a low 4.7, anything in a 4.6 range and you can expect him to shoot back up that draft board in the mid-first round.

My opinion, he’ll be a serviceable MLB talent, but not what he was billed at during his 2012 Heisman campaign. Manti is what he is, he came after his time. He would’ve been a perfect fit in the 1990s covering lumbering tight ends and chasing down bigger backs. In today’s NFL, I think you’ll see what we all saw against Alabama, a player that is a step too slow. Just like A.J. Hawk, not a bad player, but not a good one either.

-MikeV87

The Last of a Dying Breed, a tribute to the career of Charles Woodson

From Heisman to Super Bowl Champion and everything in between

From Heisman to Super Bowl Champion and everything in between

November 22nd 1997. I am 9 years old and in my grandfathers den. He turns on the TV to the Michigan vs Ohio State game. I knew nothing of college football or any of its players. My limited sports knowledge consisted of the NFL and MLB. I sat through a hard hitting 1st half of the rivalry game. Michigan led 7-0 and the half was winding down. Ohio State punts, #2 on Michigan catches the ball. I remember it like it was yesterday. He darts left immediately. Then in an instant cuts up field as he splits both defenders and jukes left along the sideline. #2 just out runs the whole Ohio State return team for a game changing touchdown. The Ann Arbor crowd goes nuts. The announcers are falling over themselves with praise for this football player. That was the moment I was officially introduced to college football, that was the first time I saw Charles Woodson.

Fast forward to February 15th 2013, Charles Woodson was released by the Green Bay Packers. My heart sank with the news. I knew it was all but a certainty that C-Wood would be let go. Not because his skills were non existent, that is far from the truth. But because his cap number for 2013 was just north of 10 million. The NFL is a business, and extensions are looming for younger guys like BJ Raji, Clay Matthews and former MVP Aaron Rodgers. 10 million is lot to pay a 36 year old SS. I still hold out hope that the market will be low enough that Woodson decides to accept a cap friendly number and come back to Green Bay. The place that resurrected his career after it was all but assured that he was a washed up malcontent with injury issues in that fateful spring of 2006. The story of Charles Woodson is an interesting one. Just like a roller coaster ride, he has had his highs and his lows. But in his time in the NFL he has cemented his place in Packer lore, NFL lore and Canton. When Woodson does finally decide to hang them up, he be the last of his kind, a unique blend of defensive skills from a cornerback that we may not see for awhile.

The Michigan Years (1997 and the Heisman Race)

Lets start at the beginning. As said before, I never started following Woodson till late into his junior year campaign in 1997. Although after that Ohio St. game I followed Charles as much as i could. I soon learned that the performance vs Ohio St. was just the tip of the iceberg. His 1997 stat totals were impressive to say the least; 44 total tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 8 interceptions, 12 receptions for 238 yards, 2 receiving touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown and 1 punt return touchdown. All that in 12 games, yes 12 games! Heisman worthy is an understatement. Woodson’s performance helped propel the Wolverines to a share of the National Championship and a Heisman finalist.

The 1997 Heisman race has been one of the most debated races in college football history. The 5 finalists came down to Texas RB Ricky Williams, Marshall WR Randy Moss, Washington State QB Ryan Leaf, Tennessee QB Peyton Manning and Michigan DB/WR/RET Charles Woodson. With the favorites being Manning and Woodson. Here are a couple of the quotes from the people who voted:

‘I had Manning at the beginning, and even though I fluctuated at times, when I look back on the big picture of the whole season, I still think he was the greatest player in college football,” Richard Scott of the Birmingham (Ala.) Post-Herald said.

Added Jimmy Hyams of The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel: ‘‘I’m voting for Manning because he had a great, great season. I think the folks who say he never wins the big game are wrong. It’s true he never beat Florida, but he beat three teams in the top 10 this year and he’s beaten 11 ranked teams in his career. And I think Manning’s intangibles are unmatched.”

But many of the voters felt Woodson’s impact on No. 1 Michigan’s success couldn’t be denied.

Said Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: ”He had the ability to control a game from the cornerback position, and that’s just as valuable as controlling a game from the other side of the ball.”

But Kirk Bohls of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman said it’s impossible to overlook Woodson,’‘What does the guy have to do, kick field goals, too?” Bohls said. ”I mean, if a defensive player can’t win the Heisman after the year he had, they might as well rename it the Heisman Quarterback Trophy.”

The 1997 Heisman Race

Charles Woodson, CB/WR, Michigan..7 int, 11 rec, 231 receiving yards, 3 total TDs….1815 pts

Peyton Manning, QB, Tennessee…287-477, 3,819 passing, 11 INT., 36 TDs……1543 pts

Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington St….210-375, 3,637 passing, 33 TDs……861 pts

Randy Moss, WR, Marshall……..90-1,647 receiving, 25 TDs..253 pts

Ricky Williams, RB, Texas…….1,893 rushing, 6.78 avg., 25 TDs…..65 pts

Woodson captures the Heisman

Woodson captures the Heisman

Charles Woodson went on to become the 1st primarily defensive player to win the coveted Heisman Trophy and the only one since. He was a college football rarity, his litany of skills beat out 2 future 1st ballot NFL Hall of Famers. In 2007 he was named #11 on College Football’s Top 25 Players of All-Time. College Football has not seen a player like Woodson since.

The Raider Years(1998-2005)

Woodson declared for the NFL draft following his junior season at Michigan. He was selected 4th overall by the Oakland Raiders. His first couple years in Oakland were nothing short of outstanding. He was voted 1998 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in which he tallied 64 tackles, 5 INTs, 1 INT for touchdown and 1 forced fumbled. He was also voted to the Pro Bowl. Woodson then followed that up with 3 consecutive All-Pro seasons in 1999, 2000 and 2001. By his fourth year Woodson was one of the top if not the best all round cornerback in the league. He had the lock down cover ability of a Champ Bailey, the ball skills and instincts of a Dion Sanders and the ability to come off the edge in either run support or a blitzer like Rod Woodson. In his first 4 years Charles Woodson didn’t miss one game, he was a constant on a Raiders team that was inching ever closer to Super Bowl contender status.

All that came to a head in the 2001 Divisional Playoff game in Foxborough. The Raiders and the up start Patriots dueled in a snow covered mess through 4 quarters. On a pivotal drive for the Pats to try and send the game into OT. Woodson comes off the edge and sacks former Wolverine teammate Tom Brady. He forces a fumble which is recovered by the Raiders. Due Woodson uncanny timing on the blitz, Brady never saw him coming. The play was ruled a fumble and the Patriots fate was sealed. But everyone knows what ensued. The “Tuck Rule” was born, the Patriots dynasty run of 3 Super Bowls in 4 years started and the Raiders were subjected to yet another playoff heartbreak.

The turning point of two careers

The turning point of two careers

Woodson and the Raiders would reach the Super Bowl the very next year but that game, like Woodson’s 2002 season, was an underwhelming performance. Injuries started to set in for the All-Pro corner. He suffered his first major injuries of his NFL career in 2002, missing 8 games with a fractured shoulder and sustained a broken leg toward the end of the season. The Raiders continued to nose dive under the leadership of Bill Callahan to a 4-12 mark in 2003. Woodson grew unhappy with the coach and voiced his thoughts publicly. His contract was set to expire in 2004. Reluctant to commit long term to the now oft injured Woodson, the Raiders elected to use the franchise tag not once but twice on Woodson. He suffered broken leg injuries in the 2004 and 2005 seasons playing only a combined total of 19 games in two years. The Raiders had seen enough. Once the bench mark for cornerback play in his first 4 years, the organization had believed his skills had eroded pass the point of no return. From 1998-2001 Woodson amassed 251 tackles, 11 ints, 4 Pro Bowls, 3 All-Pro’s and played every single game. From 2002-2005 he was a shell of himself; 205 tackles, 6 ints, 0 Pro Bowl or All-Pro selections and missed 35 games. The Raiders cut bait with their former face of the franchise who they now determined to be an old, washed up malcontent with no serviceable corner skills left. At 29 Woodson was on the open market, only problem, nobody wanted him.

The Packer Years(2006-2013)

Nearly two months into free agency and Charles Woodson’s phone was barely ringing. The NFL can be like a girls locker room, once word gets out about someone, it spreads like wildfire. The league had cooled considerably on Woodson. By late April 2006 only 2 teams had contacted him; the Buccaneers (who wanted him to convert to safety) and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers were the only team willing to give Woodson a shot at playing cornerback and the only team willing to pay him a reasonable salary. But Woodson resisted, Green Bay had gotten a rep from many of the players around the league that it was no place for a “black man”. Not from a racial standpoint but from a social one. The area was primarily rural, quiet and lacked the requisite night life that many of the other cities offered around the league. Certainly nothing comparable to that of Oakland. And he wasn’t that far off, Ryan Longwell once stated that if he wanted to take his wife out to a nice place, the best option was Applebees. Nick Barnett, MLB for the Packers from 2003-2010, once tried to invest and build a nightclub in Green Bay to accommodate something resembling a nightlife, but his approval was voted down by the city and his plans squashed. As the days ticked by Woodson would ask his agent if anybody had called? “No one new but Green Bay left a message again the other day, their still interested” replied his agent. Eventually Woodson caved, on April 26, 2006 he signed a 7 year deal with the Packers that could be worth up to $52.7 million if all performance escalators were met. Charles made it clear he did not want to come to Green Bay but was “forced too” because they were the only ones who offered him a contract.

2006-2008(Returning back to form)

2006

Another person arrived in Green Bay in 2006, newly hired head coach Mike McCarthy. During their first 6 months together, they were hardly a match made in heaven. Woodson still harbored the same malcontent attitude he had brought from his stint in Oakland. During practice one day Woodson was just itching for a fight and he got into a heated verbal altercation with the coach. McCarthy kicked Woodson out of practice. Some players weren’t sure if this new addition in Woodson would work out. According to both of them, this opportunity gave them a chance to “clear the air“. “Ever since then, he knew what to expect from me and I knew what to expect for him. And it’s been good relationship ever since” stated Woodson. Good was an under statement. Finally healed up and free from all the nagging injuries in Oakland, Woodson went on a tear, the likes of which the National Football League had never seen.

Woodson reclaimed his spot as a top cover corner during his 2006 campaign. The Packers put him to use in as many ways as they could. He could be counted on to cover either outside position and or the opposing team’s top target. They even had him returning punts for the first time since 2001. He posted career highs in interceptions (8) and tied his total of defensive touchdowns (1) and passes defensed (20). Woodson also played a full season for the first time since 2001. He helped resurrect the Packers from a 4-12 season in 2005 to 8-8 in 2006. And he and Al Harris formed one of the top cornerback duos in the league. He was not voted to the Pro Bowl that year, although his numbers and performance as a #1 CB suggested otherwise. C-Wood was back and dare i say better then ever.

2007

2007 showed that Woodson’s play was no fluke. Although his raw numbers took a little bit of a dive, his play helped rejuvenate a once porous Packers defense and secondary into top 10 unit. Throughout the year Woodson’s play making ability showed up when the Packers needed it most. I remember two such instances; Week 6 vs Washington and Week 9 vs Kansas City. Against Washington, the Packers were reeling from a loss against the Bears and couldn’t afford another one. They trailed for most of the game, it was 14-10. Woodson had helped keep the Redskins at bay earlier by intercepting a ball deep in GB territory. But the Redskins had the ball and were marching across mid field as the 3rd quarter was coming to a close, the Packers needed a spark. Washington handed a reverse to Santana Moss, Woodson closed quickly. A Packer linemen swiped at the ball as Moss was turning up field. The ball pops loose and falls behind Moss, everyone is in slow motion, unaware the ball is out, everyone except for Charles Woodson. He dives over two lineman to recover the ball. While being surrounded by four Redskins he jumps to his feet, jukes out QB Jason Campbell and returns the fumble 57 yards for a game changing touchdown, the Packers lead and go on to win 17-14.

Against Kansas City four weeks later, the Packers had previously trailed 16-22 with 4 minutes to go. They scored 10 points in 2 minutes to claim a 26-22 lead with 1:40 left in the game. KC picked up a couple of first downs to start off and were driving. Every Packer fan had that deep sinking feeling of a defensive let down. And then, right on call, Woodson jumps a crossing route and races 46 yards for a game clinching defensive touchdown. Those are the two plays that are embedded in my memory that sum up Woodson’s play in the clutch. Especially that Washington play, McCarthy went on to say after that game, “Charles Woodson is the most instinctive player I’ve ever been around”. For the second year in a row Woodson was not voted to the Pro Bowl, his teammate Al Harris was. Every fan in Green Bay knew the truth, Woodson was back to that level and the league needed to recognize that. Green Bay went 13-3 that year and advanced to the NFC Championship Game where they were an overtime away from going back to the Super Bowl. Leave no doubt it, Woodson was a big reason why.

Woodson after his fumble return for a TD

Woodson after his fumble return for a TD

Sir Charles pick six

-2008

2008 would be a year of transition, turmoil, division, hope and disappointment all wrapped into one for the Green Bay Packers. But not for Woodson. While the team was trying to endure the Summer of Favre and it’s transition to heir apparent but yet relative unknown Aaron Rodgers, Woodson posted his best statistical season to date. While the defense had climbed into a top 10 unit in 2007, it regressed in 2008 as a whole due to the scheme of coordinator Bob Sanders. In Week 3 vs Dallas, Al Harris suffered a freak spleen injury that sidelined him for most of the season. The defense now counted heavily on Woodson to be a shut down corner/run defender/turnover machine/catalyst all in one. While the rest up the defense failed to hold up it’s end of the bargain. Woodson posted career highs or near career highs in interceptions (7), sacks (3) and defensive touchdowns (2). Finally the team had begun to tap into Woodson potential as an in the box defender and blitzer. But due to injuries and lack of proven depth, the team had to have Woodson on the outside covering the teams best receiver constantly. The defensive scheme was predictable and much of the time Woodson would be covering a decoy. The Packers and defense collapsed down the stretch and lost seven of their last 9 and finished a disappointing 6-10 after a 13-3 campaign the year before. But even at 32 years of age, usually the death knoll for most elite cornerbacks, Woodson was elected to his 5th Pro Bowl and first since joining Green Bay. He was playing the best football of his life and was proving all the doubters wrong. But he still wasn’t being utilized to his full potential, he needed a change. That change came in 2009 when Dom Capers and the 3-4 defense came to Green Bay.

2009-2010(The Human Swiss Army Knife)

2009

The 3-4 defense has been around for some 20 odd years now. It first originated in the early 1990s in Pittsburgh. Specifically, 1992, when two defensive minds came together. Dick Lebeau and Dom Capers. Now the foundation of the 3-4 defense will always be Lebeau’s, he first started this scheme long before he got to the NFL. But everyone can agree it was perfected in early 90s by both Lebeau and Capers, effectively being called “Blitzburg”. With Capers coming on board in 2009, the Packers needed to set the foundation of the 3-4, all three tiers of the defense needed to have a staple. The 2009 Draft covered the first 2, a big nose tackle to occupy blockers and let the inside linebackers roam free, B.J. Raji. A pass rushing OLB that had to be able to stand up in coverage and also be a disruptive force on the edge, Clay Matthews. But Capers needed a a lynch pin to the defense, a catalyst if you will. Someone who could be a safety, a corner, a linebacker and blitzer all rolled into one. He already had what he was looking for on the team, Charles Woodson.

Capers envisioned the effect Woodson would have on the defense to the likes of Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and his very own CB on the 1992 Steelers, Rod Woodson. In Charles he had his very own Swiss Army Knife; Woodson could cover the elite receivers on the outside, could play the role of a center field SS, be down in the box as a hybrid linebacker in run support, be a threat as a blitzer off the edge or he could be a combination of the previous two and play the coverage nickle corner spot. While it might have taken a little time for rookies Raji and Matthews to get up to speed. Woodson assimilated to his duties fairly quickly and put together his best season as a professional and one of the greatest statistical seasons by a defensive back in NFL history. I, as a Packers fan, was consistently amazed at how many times he would come up with a game changing play during that season. It led me to coin the phrase, “Charles Woodson is single-handily saving football in Green Bay.” And even then, I might not have been doing him full justice.

The first game where he put the team on his back was Week 2 vs the Bengals. He recorded 10 tackles and two game changing interceptions that preserved the Packers lead. Including a 37 yard INT for a touchdown. Unfortunately it was in a losing effort. He proceeded to get 6 tackles, one for a loss and a game clinching interception in a win over the Rams the following week. Charles continued to play at an absurdly high level in the coming weeks. But two games stick out down the stretch where King Chuck simply took over games the Packers needed to have after starting 4-4; Week 10 against the Cowboys and Week 12 @ Detroit on Thanksgiving.

Woodson turns the game

Woodson turns the game

After giving up 38 points the previous two games and blowing a 28-17 lead to the win-less Bucs, something needed to change. Dallas came into Lambeau riding a hot streak for an NFC showdown. Woodson proceeded to have his most complete and dominant game of the season when the Packers needed it most. In a tight and hotly contested 17-7 grind-out style victory, the defense stood tall. They rode #21 and his momentum shifting play. Midway through the 2nd quarter, game still knotted at 0-0, Tony Romo completes a 40 yard pass to a streaking Roy Williams. The pass will give the Cowboys the ball deep GB territory, the first big play of either team. Roy turns up field, Charles is the last man remaining to tackle him. Roy jukes and evades Woodson’s tackle, but Charles gets one hand on the ball and slaps it out of Williams hands, Packers recover. What assuredly was going to be at least 3 points from the Cowboys if not a touchdown drive, turns into a momentum killer for Dallas.

Fast forward to the 4th quarter. The Packers hold a slim 10-0 lead as the Cowboys have the ball with 10 minutes to go. Its 2nd and 6 from there own 32 yard line. Romo goes back to pass, little does he

Woodson breaks the game wide open

Woodson breaks the game wide open

know that Woodson is coming on a nickel corner blitz off the left edge. Romo never saw him coming, he is blindsided for a sack and forced fumble. The ball fumbles and squirts around as eventually Clay Matthews recovers and is forced out at the Cowboys 5 yard line. So far Woodson is responsible for two forced fumbles. One saving Green Bay 3-7 points and the other directly giving the Packers the ensuing 2 yard touchdown pass a few plays later. At 17-0, the Packers have taken control of the game. But Charles wasn’t done just yet.

Green Bay is protecting a 17-0 lead, Woodson and the defense has been outstanding the entire game. But Cowboys are knocking on the door, 1st and goal from the Packers 2 yard line. Needing someone to provide a spark, Woodson answers the bell again. Showing his versatility as a cover man. He disguises his intentions, crowding the line as if he’s going to blitz, Romo sees that, checks to a quick pass to the right flat for his All-Pro TE Jason Witten. Woodson responsibility is Witten all along. He knows Romo’s check, jams Witten at the line, lets him go to the flat only to jump Romo’s perfect pass with a diving interception at the one yard line.

King Chuck jumps the route

King Chuck jumps the route

It’s one of the greatest displays of intellect, timing and athleticism all wrapped into one play. And with that game changer, Woodson effectively seals the game for the Packers. Charles so far has saved the Packers anywhere from 10-14 points just by himself. The Packers needed this win badly. And Woodson and the defense rose to the occasion. His final stat line for the game is jaw dropping; 9 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception. He played 4 different positions that day; corner, slot corner, safety and linebacker…….Did someone say Swiss Army Knife?

If the Dallas game was Woodson blockbuster moment of the 2009 campaign. Then the Thanksgiving Day match-up with Detroit was his sequel. Returning home to where his collegiate ball was played, Woodson delivered a stat line, the likes of which the NFL had not seen done (or since). 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced and recovered fumble, 2 interceptions and a defensive touchdown. All on the national stage of Thanksgiving. He even stuck a Heisman pose for the Detroit faithful, many of them still remembering his glory days at U of M. It was another complete game for Woodson who again showcased his many talents. From covering Calvin Johnson to forcing fumbles on tight ends. Woodson’s final numbers that year, 74 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 9 interceptions, 18 passes defensed and 3 defensive touchdowns.The Packers vaulted to the #2 defense in the NFL.These two games were not only the catalyst to a season turnaround for the defense and the Packers (won 7 of their final 8). But a statement, he was making an air tight case for Defensive Player of the Year.

At 11-5, the Packers season came to a close as they earned a birth in the postseason in a Wildcard game vs the Arizona Cardinals. The Packers were eliminated in a thrilling OT quarterback duel 51-45. As disappointing as that exit and defensive performance was, Charles Woodson was honored a few weeks later with the 2009 NFL DPOY award. A career first for him and a remarkable achievement for a 33 year old CB. The award race came down between two cornerbacks, Darrell Revis and Woodson. While Revis that season was the best pure cover/shutdown corner in the league, his impact on the game as a whole was no where near Woodson’s. As I stated earlier, Woodson could effect the game from multiple positions, while Revis was regulated to just one. Woodson became just the 5th cornerback in the 36 year history of the award to win. Also the first defensive back to win it since Rod Woodson and Dion Sanders went back to back in 1993 and 1994. Never in my life had I seen a defensive back play to the level that Charles Woodson did that year. He truly did do anything and everything for the Green Bay Packers. He finally had tapped into his full potential and the NFL had finally taken notice. But there was still something missing…….

-2010

Up until this point, Woodson’s career had been like one of those rides you see at Disneyland. Starting out fast, having its ups and it’s downs. Sometimes coming to a screeching halt and at other times, everything is upside down. What ensued for the Packers during 2010 season would be much of the same. After a gut wrenching defeat at the hands of the Cardinals the year before, many pundits were predicting the Packers as the “sexy” Super Bowl pick that year. With a young dynamic offense headline by Aaron Rodgers and a defense that had a good mix of ascending players and savvy veterans like Woodson, why not. But much like Charles’ career, nothing ever really goes according to plan.

Woodson 10th career defensive touchdown

Woodson 10th career defensive touchdown

Starting out of the gates fast with a 3-1 start, things were looking good for Charles and his Packers. Woodson again tormented the Lions in a 28-26 victory; posting 13 tackles and yet another pick six, which was his 5th consecutive season with at least one defensive touchdown. His score ended up being the deciding difference in the game for the Packers. But as the Packers cooled off, losing their next two games, Woodson’s game changing plays became less and less frequent. The Packers were being decimated by injuries, especially the defense, on a historical level. In the first 6 weeks the Packers lost their starting MLB, SS, DE and OLB. Some defensive spots were a revolving door of who’s healthy this week. But Woodson remained a constant of reliable play. After beating Brett Favre and his Vikings in Week 7, Woodson and the defense found their groove. Over the next three games, the defense gave up only 10 points. Including a shutout over the Jets on the road. Woodson had yet another pivotal interception to quell a promising Jet drive, old reliable came through yet again. Over the second half of the season the defense really began to jell as a full unit, but after giving up 31 points and a loss against the Patriots late in December, serious questions were being raised about the playoff viability of this team. At 8-6 with two games remaining, the whole team needed a sense of urgency.

In the Packers 6 game run to the Super Bowl, many facets of the team stepped up. But none were more consistent then the defense. They played 6 championship worthy teams during that stretch and never gave up more than 25 points in any game. Many times, they were counted on to close out those tightly contested match-ups. While Charles game changing plays were scarce, his heady and consistent play were the backbone of a defense that was one of the best in the league. By the end of the 2010 season Green Bay had risen to the #2 overall defense. And while Wood was a big part of it, he was flanked by play makers all around him. B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins led a fierce interior pass rush. Desmond Bishop provided the athletic tackle machine needed for a 3-4 MLB. The defensive secondary had Pro Bowl talents in Tramon Williams and Nick Collins, with a rising star Sam Shields coming up. But along with Woodson was the dynamic, relentless, do-it-all OLB Clay Matthews who was in the running for the 2010 NFL DPOY. The defense was now a force to be reckoned with. A unit that could carry the load if the offense had a bad day. The Packers and Woodson were primed for a run to the Super Bowl.

The Packers closed out the season with 2 must win games; beating the New York Giants 45-17 and the hated Chicago Bears 10-3. The defense and Woodson helped hold the opposing quarterbacks to passer ratings of 63.6 and 43.5, while sacking them a combined 7 times and forcing 6 interceptions and 2 lost fumbles. Next up was a Wildcard rematch with the Philadelphia Eagles and their electric MVP candidate QB Michael Vick. Woodson added yet a another responsibility to his many talents, QB spy for the dynamic Vick, who had run amok on the NFL during the 2010 year. Vick was neutralized in the game, and his effect was minimal till the 4th quarter. But the Packers sealed his fate with an interception in the end zone for a 21-16 victory. On to Atlanta. After a heartbreaking loss in the regular season, Woodson and the Packers were out for revenge. They got it in a resounding performance from Aaron Rodgers and a 48-21 throttling of the Falcons. Woodson came up big twice off the edge, one that led to a sack for Charles. The other, a key 3rd down sack by Matthews early in the 2nd quarter. Charles was just 2 games away from accomplishing his ultimate goal, a Lombardi Trophy.

All that stood in the way of Woodson was the hated Chicago Bears, the team the Packers had to beat to seal a playoff birth. What ensued was a classic grudge match between the NFL’s oldest rivals. The defensive dominance over Jay Cutler continued as the Packers knocked him out of the game. While Woodson was overall quiet, his play allowed other players like B.J. Raji and Sam Shields to burn the Bears for game changing interceptions. The Packers advanced on to Super Bowl XLV. It was Woodson’s first time back since the 2002 season. Afterwards in the locker room, Woodson gave a speech that would echo the theme for the Super Bowl in the following weeks. As the unquestioned emotional leader of the Packers, Woodson words struck a cord with every Packer player; “Hey, I want ya’ll to think about one thing….One…..For two weeks think about one thing…….Let’s be one mind, let’s be one heartbeat, one purpose, one goal for one more game….One… Lets get it

One

One

February 6th, 2011. Super Bowl XLV, Packers vs Steelers. At 34 years old, Charles knew he wouldn’t get too many more opportunities to perform on football’s biggest stage. As he said before the game, this was as good as he’s ever felt. The defense came out strong in the first half. Woodson had already amassed 3 tackles and was threat to be accounted for. Green Bay had only yielded 3 points so far and took a 14-0 lead when Nick Collins returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown. Trailing 21-3 with the half winding down, Pittsburgh needed a score badly. Showing he still had some juice left, Woodson lined up man to man on Mike Wallace, possibly the fastest WR in the NFL. With no safety help, Woodson jammed him perfectly and ran step for step with Wallace on a go route. Woodson played perfect defense and even tried to make a diving grab on the overthrown ball, CRACK! Woodson was slow to get up, he rolled around for a little bit, pain reverberated through his entire left arm and shoulder. He stuck it out for one more play but quickly retreated to the sideline and went straight into the locker room. The Steelers rallied and scored a touchdown with 39 seconds left, 21-10 heading into half. The game was far from over.

Goes toe to toe with Wallace

Goes toe to toe with Wallace

Not a lot was reported on what happened in the Green Bay locker room during halftime, even much less was said till after the game when Greg Jennings painted a picture. Donald Driver ruled out, Charles Woodson ruled out with a broken collarbone. Emotions ran high, coaches scrambling to fix their game plans……… Charles spoke up, “You guys know how bad I want this“, he choked up with tears, the frustration clearly visible to his teammates. After gathering his composure for a few moments he managed to get out, “Get it done……get it done“. He knew he would not be able to go to war with them to finish the job. After a career of going to hell and back, on this stage, Charles would be relegated to the sideline. Jennings was right when he called Charles, “the heart and soul of our team”. Up 21- 10, the second half started slowly for the Packers. The offense’s 3 and out gave way to a Steelers touchdown in which they proceeded to run the ball right down the Packers throat, 21-17. Ball and momentum on Pittsburgh side, they were marching to what would appear to be a game leading touchdown, with just over 12 minutes to play; Ryan Pickett, Desmond Bishop and Clay Matthews combined for the biggest play of the day. Pickett “spilled” the RB dive, Matthews’ hit forced the fumble and Bishop recovered it, Packer ball. Aaron Rodgers then marched GB down the field and hit a wide open Greg Jennings for the touchdown, 28-17 Packers.

Two minutes to go, Packers lead 31-25. Woodson was having flashbacks. Just over a year ago the Packers were in the same situation against the Steelers, Ben drove the length of the field and threw a game winning TD with no time left, Steelers won 37-36. Charles was nervously looking on as the defense needed one last stand to seal Super Bowl XLV. There was no need to worry. Tramon Williams swatted the ball out of Mike Wallace’s hands on the 4th down, the game was over, Woodson and the Packers were World Champions. As confetti rained down upon him, his left arm in a sling, a smile on his face and the Lombardi Trophy in his right hand, Charles Woodson had reached the mountain top, pro football’s pinnacle. After all the arduous years in Oakland, the rebirth in Green Bay, the playoff heartbreak from years past, he was a champion and no one could take that away from him. His legacy was complete.

The Mountain Top

The Mountain Top

Will we ever see a player like Charles Woodson again? You tell me; A play-maker with a multi-tooled skill set, the first defensive Heisman trophy winner (1997), 1997 College Football National Champion, Top 5 NFL draft pick, 1998 NFL Rookie of the Year, 8 time Pro Bowler, 7 time All-Pro, 2009 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl XLV Champion. Woodson was a unique football player. With the NFL becoming more and more specialized, we might not see a defensive back who could literally play all over the field. He truly is the last of his kind. And that will land Sir Charles in football’s final resting place, Canton. He was a mix of the old and new school. I for one am thankful I got to see him compete from beginning to end. He will be one of the players I tell my grandchildren about as they look up his highlights on whatever passes for YouTube or an iPhone in the future. And I’m sure that when they see what I saw week in and week out, their jaws will drop, just like mine did when I saw him play.

(2011-2013)Prologue-

I wanted to end on the 2010 season because it really was the peak of Woodson’s career, a ride off into the sunset if you will. But I also wanted to give him justice for his final two years in Green Bay. He defended the Packers championship in 2011 to the tune of a 15-1 season. And his numbers were again stellar, 74 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 interceptions and yet another defensive TD. But winning masks a lot. It was clearly visible that Woodson had lost a step. And so had the defense. After being #5 in 2010, they plummeted to #32 in 2011, statically the worst pass defense in league history. Part in due to the departures of players both in Free Agency and to injuries. While they did lead the league in interceptions, the gambles they did take resulted in big play after big play. Everything came to a head in the 2011 Divisional Game vs the Giants. Woodson was responsible for allowing Hakeem Nicks to catch 37 yard Hail Mary pass at the end of the half to completely change to momentum of the game. The Packers ended up losing 37-20 and squandered 15-1 season.

2012 was focused on improving the defense, in the 2012 draft, the Packers used 6 picks on defensive players. Woodson would be asked to move to safety permanently in the base 3-4 defense. Although he was still used as a cornerback in the sub packages, his speed was declining and the Packers had some young guns ready to fill the void. While the defense did in fact rebound from the #32 ranking to #14, they failed to deliver in the big games against quality opponents. Woodson also suffered his first major injury of his Packer career in Week 7. Another broken collarbone would knock him out the remainder of the regular season. The Packers, much like 2010, suffered a rash of injuries but trucked on through to finish 11-5. Woodson returned for the Wildcard game vs the Vikings, got 6 tackles and a tackle for loss in the Packers 24-10 victory. But he, like the Packers defense in the Divisional game in San Francisco, got exposed in an embarrassing effort against the 49ers. They proceeded to give up a season high 579 total yards of offense and an NFL single game record for rushing yards by a quarterback, 181 to Colin Kaepernick. Packers lost 45-31. For the second year in a row the Packers and Woodson fizzled out in the Divisional round. For the second year in a row the defense was primarily to blame. Changes were coming.

When Charles Woodson signed his contract in 2006 worth up to 52 million, some thought it was overpaying for a washed up has been. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. He was worth every penny during his duration with the Packers and more. But as his play was diminishing, his salary cap number kept moving north. With the NFL salary cap actually regressing since 2010, teams had to be more frugal about who earned the big money. Everything came to a head on February 15th, 2013. Woodson was either to negotiate a cut in salary or be out right released, the latter happened. Woodson couldn’t have handle the decision with more class. As evidence of how Packers GM opened up about Woodson’s departure, “We are grateful for all that Charles has given to the Green Bay Packers over the past seven years,” General Manager Ted Thompson said. “He has been an integral part of the Packers’ success and our Super Bowl title in 2010 would not have been possible without his contributions. A once-in-a-generation talent as a player, he is also a great leader and ambassador for the organization off the field. Charles will always be a member of the Packers family and we look forward to his eventual induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We wish him and his family all the best.

To me that quote sums up Charles Woodson perfectly. A rare blend of a football player that we will not soon forget. And that we might not see again.

THE KING IS GONE........BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

THE KING IS GONE……..BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

-MikeV87

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We have just opened for launch and look forward to providing you with an informative, analytic and entertaining opinion on sports. My name is Mike Visconti and I run this site with my friend Tim Tamblyn. Our hope is to cover all major sports in all different formats; opinion, rankings, prediction and tributes. Our goal is to provide you with a steady flow of posts that will inspire debate among yourselves. We encourage you to view our Bios to get a sense on where our interest lie, as sports fans we are all partisan to a degree. But we strive to give an unbiased opinion on all topics. With that i hope you enjoy this blog and please spread the word about us.

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