McGinn: Building a hypothetical team

Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones (89) makes catch in the first quarter at FedEx Field.

GREEN BAY – In the past I’ve written columns in which a make-believe team was built from players, coaches and front-office personnel who once worked for the Green Bay Packers.

Today, let’s broaden that pool of departed Packers also to include anyone with a background at the University of Wisconsin, all other colleges in the state and high schools across America’s Dairyland.

The Badgers have had 39 players drafted by National Football League teams in the last 11 years. Each year, a few players who played football out of state have won jobs in the NFL.

In the spirit of fantasy football, the task was to assemble the best 53-man roster. A coaching staff and front office also needed to be filled.

About 90 former Packers, Badgers and state players were identified, including those who are on teams and those who aren’t. A personnel director with up-to-date knowledge of virtually every player in the league provided input.

This 53-man roster would count $135.255 million against the salary cap this season, or about $20 million beneath the current cap. The cap figure for each player is his real-life salary, although five players on this 53 presently aren’t with teams and were assigned minimum salaries.

The current Packers, who stand $9.3 million under the cap, have to count players on injured reserve and the practice squad, “dead” money, injury settlements, etc., all charges that didn’t apply in this exercise.

Here’s a look at how a new state team might shape up:

Coaching/front office: Using the same structure as the Packers, someone has to be president and Bob Harlan isn’t coming back from retirement. The choice is De Pere’s Tom Olejniczak, a member of the executive committee since 2013 who has been on the board of directors for 30 years. His father, Dominic, was the team’s president from 1958-’82.

Let’s bring back Mike Reinfeldt, the Baraboo native who played on the last team at UW-Milwaukee, as vice president of administration. Andrew Brandt would handle contract negotiations. For head of public relations, attempts would be made to hire a seasoned pro like Bryan Harlan, an intern for the Packers 35 years ago, from his sports representative work in Chicago or Rob Crane from his legal work in New York. 

John Schneider won a Super Bowl in Seattle, but coach Pete Carroll retains ultimate power. As good as Schneider is, give the general manager’s job to John Dorsey, who does have the authority to fire the coach in Kansas City.

Schneider would be a wonderful vice president of player personnel, and if we could let’s name Washington GM Scot McCloughan as director of college scouting and Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie as director of pro personnel. San Francisco GM Trent Baalke, a native of Rosendale, would become national scout. Kansas City’s Will Lewis, Oakland’s Shaun Herock and Miami’s Lenny McGill would return in various capacities to form what might rank as the NFL’s finest scouting department.

Andy Reid, who sits 15th all-time in victories with 174 (against 122 losses and one tie), is the head coach under Dorsey just as he is in real life in Kansas City. Joe Philbin, presently coaching the offensive line in Indianapolis, would be assistant head coach/offense. Jets coach Todd Bowles, a scout for less than a year for the Packers in the mid-1990s, would be assistant head coach/defense.

On offense, the coordinator is Seattle’s Darrell Bevell, the wide receivers coach is New Orleans’ John Morton (he was a free-agent wide receiver in the Packers’ 1993 training camp), the tight ends coach is the unemployed Jerry Fontenot, the line coach is Washington’s Bill Callahan, the assistant line coach is Seattle’s Pat Ruel, the quarterbacks coach is Cincinnati’s Ken Zampese, the running backs coach is Baltimore’s Thomas Hammock and the quality control coach is Tampa Bay’s Ben Steele.

On defense, the coordinator is Tennessee’s Dick LeBeau (fired by Bart Starr as secondary coach in January 1980), the co-line coaches are Oakland’s Jethro Franklin and Cleveland's Robert Nunn, the pass-rush specialist is Arizona’s Tom Pratt (native of Edgerton), the linebackers coach is Tampa Bay’s Mark Duffner, secondary coach Ed Donatell of Chicago is supported by cornerbacks coach Al Harris of Kansas City and safeties coach LeRoy Butler (making his coaching debut) and the quality control coach is John Rushing.

The special-teams coordinator, Shawn Slocum (Arizona State), is assisted by Seattle’s Chad Morton and Carolina’s Curtis Fuller.

Go with Kansas City’s Barry Rubin as strength coach because he has worked alongside Reid for nine years. Rock Gullickson of Los Angeles and Kent Johnston of San Diego are hard not to hire. Rubin’s assistants are Cincinnati’s Jeff Friday (UWM grad) and Indianapolis’ Darren Krein.

Wide receivers: Fortunately, the trading deadline isn’t until Nov. 1. Dorsey and Reid would need help in the worst way.

The No. 1 would be old pro James Jones, who was cut by the Chargers Aug. 30. The No. 2 would be Charles Johnson ($606,000 cap salary), who has played 72.7 percent of the snaps for Minnesota after three games but has all of three receptions for 20 yards.

After that, there’s rookie Alex Erickson of Cincinnati ($459,000) and two players, Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow, who would be signed off the Packers’ and Bengals’ practice squads, respectively. Perhaps Greg Jennings, 33, could be coaxed out of retirement.

Tight ends: The starter is the Rams’ Lance Kendricks ($4.506 million), who has played 94.2 percent of the snaps and is solid. His backup would be Kansas City’s Demetrius Harris ($1.35M), the ex-UWM basketball player who has made significant strides in his third season.

“Harris has made some big-time plays on special teams,” an NFL personnel director said. “Running down and hitting people. He’s a big target with natural hands. He can run. Obviously, he’s a backup, but he’s a pretty good one.”

The next two are Andrew Quarless, cut by the Lions Sept. 20, and the Jets’ Brandon Bostick ($605,000), who has played 39 snaps in three games.

Offensive line: There was a wealth of 11 current starters from whom to choose, including five ex-Badgers.

The list includes Cleveland’s Joe Thomas ($9.5M) at left tackle; Los Angeles’ Rob Havenstein ($622,000), Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner ($1.677M), Dallas’ Doug Free ($4.006M) and the Giants’ Marshall Newhouse ($1.55M) at right tackle; Chicago’s Josh Sitton ($6.75M), Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler ($8.076M), Philadelphia’s Allen Barbre ($1.8M), Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks ($12.006M) and San Francisco’s Andrew Tiller ($606,000) at guard; and Dallas’ Travis Frederick ($3.948M) at center.

From left to right, our four-Badger starting lineup would be Thomas, Sitton, Frederick, Zeitler and Havenstein. Keeping salaries in mind, the backups are Brooks, Barbre, center Evan Dietrich-Smith ($2.506M) of Tampa Bay and tackle Bryan Witzmann ($450,000), the No. 4 tackle in Kansas City who hails from Somerset.

“Witzmann is 6-7, 311 and has tools to work with,” the scout said. “He needs to get stronger, but he’s got a chance to be a potential swing-type guy.”

Few, if any, offensive lines would be a match for this one.

Quarterbacks: In the real world, Seattle’s Russell Wilson ($12.348M) and Dallas’ Tony Romo ($8.506M) probably couldn’t co-exist. But with the need to meet minimum spending requirements vis a vis the salary cap both made the roster.

The Colts’ Scott Tolzien ($1.756M) would be No. 3.

“The (exhibition) game I saw, Tolzien didn’t play well,” said one scout. “There was a question if he was going to make it.”

Running back: San Diego’s Melvin Gordon ($926,000) has bounced back from the knee injury that shortened his rookie season with four touchdowns, tied for the NFL lead. His former teammate at UW, New England’s James White ($606,000), is off to an excellent start as well.

“White is a good little player,” one scout said. “He’s got receiving skills, run after the catch. He really fits what they do.”

San Francisco’s DuJuan Harris ($716,000) is the No. 3. At fullback, rookie Derek Watt ($580,000) of San Diego gets the nod over veteran John Kuhn of New Orleans.

Defensive line: Help wanted. Immediately.

The only current starter is left end Lawrence Guy ($1.256M), who was the Packers’ seventh-round draft choice in 2011 from Arizona State.

Guy (6-4 ½, 305) suffered a concussion on the fifth day of camp as a rookie and spent all that season on the practice squad. In 2012, he was cut in late August and then plucked off the practice squad in mid-October by the Colts.

After another stop in San Diego, Guy had 4½ sacks in six starts for the Ravens last year and another sack this year in 42.9 percent playing time in a 3-4 defense.

Rounding out LeBeau’s base front would be Philadelphia’s Beau Allen ($606,000) at nose tackle and C.J. Wilson, who was signed by Chicago on Wednesday, at right end.       

The backups, such as they are, would be Detroit’s Khyri Thornton ($531,000), Washington’s Cullen Jenkins ($927,000) and Buffalo’s Jerel Worthy ($606,000). Their playing times are 36.1 percent for Thornton, 16.9 percent for Worthy and 38.5 percent for Jenkins, who joined the Redskins after the first game but is now their starting nose tackle following the season-ending hamstring injury suffered by Kedric Golston.

Jenkins, who has rarely played nose tackle, is 35.

Houston’s decision to place J.J. Watt on injured reserve Wednesday with a back problem removed the best player on this team. His cap salary of $10.506M would have been delightfully welcomed.

Linebackers: Clearly, the defense wouldn’t be as good as the offense.

On the outside, the starters would be the Chiefs’ Frank Zombo ($1.4M) on the strong side and the Colts’ Erik Walden ($4.005M) on the weak side. Backing up would be Cleveland’s Joe Schobert ($1.083M) and Buffalo’s Lerentee McCray ($675,000).

If Mike Neal, 29, could be cleared of wrongdoing in a possible performance-enhancing drug scandal, he’d be signed and starting ahead of Zombo within a few weeks.

Zombo has played 73.2 percent of the snaps thus far as Tamba Hali eases into a pass-rushing role. Walden has been a fixture for four seasons in Indianapolis, whereas Schobert has played 32.9 percent and McCray has played 33.3 percent.

On the inside, the hope is that Detroit’s DeAndre Levy ($5.256M) would recover from injury to join the Giants’ Jonathan Casillas ($2.75M) as starters. With his fourth team in eight seasons, Casillas has played 74.9 percent of the snaps and leads the team in tackles (25).

The backups would be Carolina’s A.J. Klein ($680,000), the 49ers’ Nick Bellore ($810,000) and the Chiefs’ Sam Barrington ($675,000).

Secondary: The strength of LeBeau’s unit would be cornerback. Safety is a disaster.

Minnesota’s Trae Waynes ($1.03M) and Jacksonville’s Davon House ($6.006M) are capable starters, and Casey Hayward ($6.806M) is off to a great start as the nickel back in San Diego with three of the team’s four interceptions and five passes broken up in 68.8 percent playing time.

“He’s helped them,” one scout said, referring to Hayward. “He’ll never be a front-line guy, but he’s smart and instinctive.”

Tramon Williams ($6.505M) is 33 and nearing the end, according to one scout. He has played 70.3 percent behind starters Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor.

San Francisco’s Marcus Cromartie ($606,000) is the fifth corner.

Where, oh where, are the safeties? They’re not here, that’s for sure.

One starter might be Will Blackmon ($1.056M), a 10-year veteran cornerback who resurrected his dormant career last year. Now, because free safety DeAngelo Hall suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday, Blackmon has to start inside for the Redskins.

Next to him would be either Baltimore’s Anthony Levine ($1.006M), who was signed by the Packers out of Tennessee State as a free agent in 2010, or rookie Eric Murray ($1.05M), a cornerback for the Minnesota Gophers who was moved to safety by the Chiefs.

Filling out the roster is Philadelphia’s Chris Maragos ($1.506M), a force on special teams.

Special teams: Neither the Packers nor the Badgers have produced many kickers. That leaves Josh Lambo ($531,000), the Chargers’ second-year man who was a soccer goal-keeper for half his freshman season (2005) in Middleton.

At punter, let’s give Seattle veteran Jon Ryan ($3.406M) the edge over Brad Nortman of Jacksonville and Tim Masthay. At long snapper, Carolina’s J.J. Jansen ($1.59M) gets the nod over Cincinnati’s Clark Harris.

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