Category Archives: Al Harris

23

April

Packing the Stats: How the Packers Invest

Packing the StatsOne thing that many fans have noticed over the years is that Ted Thompson does not like to draft interior offensive linemen, instead preferring to draft tackles and converting them into the interior once they reach the NFL.  This concept seems to indicate that in the NFL there is a premium placed on some positions while not others; for instance quarterback is naturally considered the premium position of premium positions, traditionally followed by some combination of pass rushers and wide receivers.  However each team is different, for instance while the Packers do not put much stock into interior offensive linemen, the Packers have shown a love for fullback/H-backs which most team’s don’t even keep a roster spot for anymore.  So the question is, what are the positions that Ted Thompson favors or is willing to spend precious draft resources for and does Thompson’s weight of draft investment differ significantly with other teams?

To measure this, I took every draft selection made by Ted Thompson during his tenure with the Green Bay Packers, assigned each player to the position they played for the majority of the time and then assigned them a draft value based on which pick they were selected using the “Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys” draft trade chart as a metric.  Some caveats of course is that the Packers did switch from a 4-3 bump and run style defense to a blitzburgh 3-4 defense in 2009, which obviously changes what type of players the Packers select and where players ultimately end up playing (for instance AJ Hawk was supposed to play OLB in the 4-3 and moved to ILB in the 3-4).  Also the trade chart has come under scrutiny as of late (myself included); it’s unlikely to be all that accurate or precise in determining trade value and it’s likely that every team has their own modified chart with different values for each draft pick.  However, since all of this information is kept tightly in war rooms (unless you happen to be ironically the Dallas Cowboys), the original trade chart will be used knowing that the rough values are likely to be similar.

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27

January

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays With No Packers Football

Surviving Sundays With No Packers Football

Sundays with Packers football are over for a long time. In fact, there is no football at all this Sunday (the pro bowl doesn’t count), so it’s time to resurrect Surviving Sunday. As long as I have time and as long as I remember, I’ll try and do a Surviving Sunday every week to muse about some sort of topic and recap the week in Packers news ad other nonsense.

This week, I want to talk about the atmosphere at Lambeau Field.

At the end of this column about the Packers being too soft to join the NFL’s elite, Bob McGinn takes a dig at Packers fans:

And the crowds at Lambeau Field have started to remind me of those staid assemblages at the University of Michigan. It’s the place to be seen and all that, but it has been a long time since a visiting coach or player went on and on about how difficult it was to hear and play in Green Bay.

Nowhere is it written that the Packers shall contend for if not win the Super Bowl every year, but some fans sure seem to think it is.

So, McGinn thinks Packers fans are just as soft as the players. I’m not sure how he can reach that conclusion while sitting far above the unwashed masses in the press box, but I respect his opinion.

I don’t think Packers fans have gone soft, but I’ve only been attending games at football’s Holy Grail for about six years. Perhaps those of you that have been going to Lambeau your whole lives do, in fact, see a quieter and more finicky type of fan occupying the metal bleachers. I know I sometimes wonder if I’m at a cold-weather version of Mardi Gras or a football game while at Lambeau, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.

McGinn thinks teams don’t “fear” playing at Lambeau any more. Where do NFL teams fear playing these days? Seattle? Maybe. The Metrodome? Perhaps because of the noise. Soldier Field? Only because the bad turf might lead to a torn ACL?

Most NFL players are millionaires. They travel first class, stay in the finest hotels, eat meals catered by world-class chefs, and have team employees handle all of their equipment and other miscellaneous things. Why would anyone in that situation “fear” going on the road. It sounds like something to look forward to!

16

May

It’s Sam Shields’ Turn to “Improve From Within”

Sam Shields - Green Bay Packers defensive back

Sam Shields sends the Packers to the Super Bowl.

Think back to the beginning of the 2010 season for a minute. The Packers defense was coming off an embarrassing playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals and the secondary faced many of the same questions that the pass rush faces today.

But instead of answering those questions in the draft, Ted Thompson’s solution was to plug in an undrafted rookie free agent that few people had heard of and actually had more experience as a wide receiver than a defensive back. Sam Shields came into camp with the reputation as a speedster, and that’s about it. Besides his ability to run really fast, nobody knew much else about him.

“This is how you’re going to fix the secondary, Ted?” Packers fans asked.

“Yup,” Thompson replied before taking another sip from his bottled water and turning away.

“Improving from within” was a talking point that Thompson and Mike McCarthy hammered home through training camp and the preseason. By 2010, most reasonable Packers fans understood that Thompson was rarely going to sign a free agent or make a trade that grabbed headlines.

But Sam Shields? Really? The Packers were supposed to be a Super Bowl caliber team and Thompson’s answer to the team’s main weakness was an undrafted converted receiver? This decision really put the “In Ted we Trust” mantra to the test.

Well, we know how it worked out. Shields had an excellent rookie season and sealed the Packers trip to the Super Bowl with a game-clinching interception in the NFC championship. Shields was so good, the Packers cut fan favorite Al Harris halfway through the season.

The Packers improved from within, alright. But it was Shields — an unknown outsider — who kickstarted some of that improvement.

The following season didn’t go so well for Shields, or the entire Packers defense. There were too many games where the defense looked outmatched like they were against Warner and the Cardinals. But instead of taking the improve from within approach again, Thompson used almost all of his draft picks on defense. He even signed a few free agents.

That doesn’t mean improving from within doesn’t apply to this group. Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Heyward and the others are nice additions, but they’re not going to rescue this defense by themselves. Several players are going to have to get better, or improve from within. Shields tops the list.

6

February

Green Bay Packers Offseason: Another Veteran Purge Could Be Coming

Packers WR Donald Driver

Packers WR Donald Driver might be a cut Ted Thompson makes this offseason. (Photo: Getty images)

It didn’t take long into Ted Thompson’s reign as Green Bay Packers GM for the unwavering 52-year-old to firmly establish that football moves under his direction would be made without the cling of emotion, void of any sentimental feelings that could effect a given decision one way or the other.

Among Thompson’s first moves as GM in 2005 were the releasing of guard Mike Wahle and safety Darren Sharper and declining to re-sign guard Marco Rivera, three players that were stalwarts for Packers teams that had won consecutive NFC North titles from 2002-04. Despite their undisputed contributions, each was shown the door both because of age and Thompson’s need to manage the Packers’ out of control salary cap.

Wahle was 28 years old and had played in 103 straight games when Thompson released him, but the move saved over $11 million in cap space. Axing Sharper, a 29-year-old All-Pro safety, saved another $4.3 million. Rivera went on to sign a five-year, $20 million contract with the Cowboys after Thompson let him walk at the age of 32.

All three of the moves were spurred by the Packers’ cap situation as he entered the job. No matter how unpopular, each needed to be made to get Thompson back into his salary cap comfort zone.

And while a drastic makeover like 2005 hasn’t been seen since, similar decisions to the ones Thompson made in that offseason have. In the end, making those tough decisions are a big reason why the Packers’ salary cap has never again reached 2005 levels.

Over subsequent years, Thompson released veterans Na’il Diggs (80 career starts, saved $2.9 million) and Bubba Franks (Three-time Pro Bowler, saved over $4 million), traded away an unretired Brett Favre, and let Ahman Green (the Packers franchise leader in rushing yards) and Aaron Kampman (owner of 54 career sacks in Green Bay) walk in free agency.

In 2010, Thompson released cornerback Al Harris, who started seven straight seasons for the Packers but was 36 years old and struggling to come back from a catastrophic knee injury in ’09.

Starting to sound like a broken record?  There was still more roster reshaping to do even after Thompson’s 2010-11 Packers reached the top of the NFL mountain.

28

December

Former Packers CB Al Harris Retires from the NFL

Former Packers CB Al Harris has retired from the NFL after 14 seasons. (Photo: Jim Biever)

Former Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris, who spent seven seasons with the Packers from 2003-09, has retired after 14 NFL seasons.

Harris announced the decision over the St. Louis Rams’ Twitter page on Wednesday. Another knee injury factored heavily into his decision.

Harris tore his right ACL while making a tackle back in Week 10 and has surgery scheduled on the knee for Jan. 13. The Rams placed him on season-ending injured reserve on Nov. 14.

“That’s just God’s way of telling me it’s time to turn the page. I had an awesome time,” Harris said through Twitter. “I thank God for Spags [Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo] giving me the opportunity to come out and I hope I left a positive impression on everybody.”

Harris said that he’d like to stay involved in football through coaching in the future.

In his seven years with the Packers, Harris made 102 regular season starts and intercepted 14 passes.

The Packers acquired him during the offseason in 2002 by trading the Philadelphia Eagles a second-round selection for Harris and a fourth-round pick. Harris went on to start the next 80 games for the Packers at cornerback, pushing himself into the elite status at the position with his patented bump-and-run style.

The most memorable moment in Harris’ Packers career came during the 2003 NFC Wildcard game against the Seattle Seahawks, as he intercepted an over-confident Matt Hasselbeck in overtime (“We want the ball and we’re going to score, Hasselbeck said after winning the overtime coin toss) and returned it for a game-winning touchdown.

Harris would then go onto to make the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2008, and was an All-Pro pick in ’07.

During the 2009 season, Harris had a catastrophic injury to his left knee on a non-contact play against the San Francisco 49ers. He suffered damage to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), lateral cruciate ligament (LCL), fibular cruciate ligament (FCL), iliotibial band and lateral hamstring. Harris had surgery eight days later and missed the rest of the ’09 season.

GM Ted Thompson put him on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list to start the 2010 season, but Harris would never play another down for the Green Bay Packers. He was released on Nov. 8, 2010.

17

October

Packers vs. Rams: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 24-3 Win over St. Louis

Photo: Mark Hoffman, Journal Sentinel

Aaron Rodgers threw three first half touchdowns, including strikes of 93 and 35 yards, and the Packers (6-0) defense made enough plays to keep the Rams out of the end zone as Green Bay rolled to a 24-3 win over the still winless Rams (0-5).

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Quick start

For the third time this season, the Packers scored 24 points in the first half of a game. For a team that has occasionally gotten off to slow starts in the past, that’s an encouraging sign. The Packers got a field goal from Mason Crosby—his franchise record-tying 17th straight made kick—on their first possession in the first quarter. After a punt on the next series, the Packers scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to essentially put the deflated Rams away. The first score came following James Starks’ 15-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play. Aaron Rodgers’ run-action fake gave him all day as he rolled to his left, and James Jones worked his way back from the righthand of the formation to haul in Rodgers’ perfectly thrown pass in the end zone. In a wind that gave both special teams units problems, Rodgers’ throw couldn’t have been placed any better.

Rams punter Donnie Jones pinned the Packers at the 7-yard-line to begin their next drive, but Jordy Nelson’s perfectly ran sluggo route on former Packers Al Harris allowed him to get behind the Rams defense for a 93-yard score. Harris bit hard on Rodgers’ pump, but there’s no doubting that Nelson has proven to be a home run hitter through six games in 2011. He has 20 catches for 409 yards and four scores, with three of the touchdowns coming from 50 yards or further out.

Rodgers’ final touchdown pass, this time to Donald Driver, capped an 11-play, 77 yard drive that gave the Packers a 24-point lead with under two minutes left in the first half. Facing a second-and-goal, Rodgers again rolled to his left, and Driver made a veteran move to get space in the end zone for a sidearm throw from Rodgers. At that point, Rodgers had 234 yards passing and three scores for a perfect 158.3 rating. Any scoreline from the Packers seemed attainable with the way the offense was clicking to start the game. It probably goes without saying, but the Packers will be a tough out if they continue to play that well to begin games.

16

October

Packers vs. Rams – Game Day First Impressions, Unfiltered: Packers 24, Rams 3

Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Green Bay Packers vs. St. Louis Rams:

Here is my unfiltered game day blog post of comments, observations and first impressions.

It’s #Throwbackweekend in Green Bay and the Packers are looking to go 6-0 against the winless Rams. Al Harris returns to Green Bay, along with Brady Poppinga. Harris will be matched up against the Packers’ explosive receiving corp and will have all he can do to make his homecoming a successful one. Good luck, Al. You’re going to need it.

Mike McCarthy Pregame Show on 620 WTMJ:

Sorry, no pregame comments again this week. I was making a batch of chicken and wild rice soup and lost track of time. Call me Martha Stewart. Or Betty Crocker.

Packers vs. Falcons – First Impressions – First Half:

That club on Morgan Burnett’s hand looks vicious. I wouldn’t mess with him if a scrap breaks out on the field.

The Rams move the ball on their first drive, but stall and settle for a 47-yard field goal attempt that Josh Brown misses. Jackson ran up the middle on 3rd and 11, a conservative call to make sure the Rams remained in FG range. I hate the conservative call on 3rd and 11 if I’m a Rams fan. You’re the Rams. You’re 0-4. Three points won’t beat the Packers. Take a chance and go for the first down.

Weird holding call on Newhouse, but Rodgers takes a sack anyway and the Packers have to settle for a FG. I have a sense that this offense will have no problem moving the ball today even though they were held to a FG on this first drive.

AJ Hawk is showing some life today.

DJ Williams blocks nobody and Starks gets stuffed for a loss. I much prefer Crabtree to line up as the blocker on those plays.

Kuhn stopped on 3rd and 2. You have Aaron Rodgers and a bunch of good WRs, and your third-down call is a pitch to Kuhn from the shotgun?

The Rams get the ball back and start moving it again. I’d like to see a little better pass rush from the Packers on early downs.

Packers stop the Rams on 4th down and take over near midfield.