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Jeff from Athens, WI

That makes eight. AR12 said in the beginning of the year, “We have a defense,” and the season has shown that we do. In eight games (so far), the Packers’ defense has held the opponent to fewer than 20 points. That is a good way to win football games. Oh, and if you love defense – that is winning pretty.

And the best part is the Packers don’t just have a defense – they have a team. And that team is pretty darn good at finding ways to win football games. Merry Christmas!

Justin from Raleigh, NC

Za’Darius Smith in an emotional postgame interview said all he wanted for Christmas was a shirt and a hat. I’d say he earned them. I’ve never felt so confident about our chances to win in a game we were down 10-3, but if we didn’t spot the Vikings 50-plus yards, it really felt like they weren’t going to be able to move the ball on us. Was that what a complete game looks like, minus the turnovers?

First off, Za’Darius Smith needs to be in the conversation for NFL defensive player of the year. I couldn’t care less about the Pro Bowl at this point. He’s an All-Pro worthy of such consideration. He does it all, both on the field and in the locker room. You’re right. Give that man his hat. He earned it. That was the most complete defensive performance the Packers have had since the opener against Chicago and Za’Darius is a big reason for that.

Justin from Los Angeles, CA

Reggie White and Charles Woodson are the eternal gold standard for free-agent signings in GB, but Za’Darius is quickly moving up the list. What players do you think are above him that he’d have to unseat to move into that three spot?

I can’t think of any other free agents not named Reggie White who came to Green Bay and knocked the doors off the building faster than the Smiths. Even Woodson needed a few seasons to realize an All-Pro season in Green Bay. One Smith, if not both, could wind up doing it in his first year with the Packers.

Edward from Portland, ME

Is the Vikings’ OL that bad or were they just confused with Packers’ defensive schemes? I can’t remember ever seeing such a total mismatch.

I actually think Minnesota’s offensive line is better than it’s been the past few years. The Packers just took it to them from start to finish. That snowball just kept rolling.

Ronald from Panabo, Philippines

Insiders, I love that the Packers came in as underdogs, turned over the ball early (just like San Francisco), overcame that and dominated on defense. This is the signature win of the season, isn’t it?

I said over and over last week how the Packers needed to go into U.S. Bank Stadium and hand it to the Vikings. Sure, it might have been ugly early but the Packers persevered and got the statement win they were looking for. There’s one more piece of business to tend to this regular season. Beat Detroit and rest up.

Howie from Saint Ignace, MI

How do the coaches guard against a letdown versus the Lions after the euphoria of winning the NFC North and beating the second-best team in the division?

Glance down at their shirts: “The North is not enough.” On to the next battle.

Shop the gear the Packers are wearing

Packers NFC North Champions Gear

Wes from South Saint Paul, MN

Losing the turnover battle was totally offset by the dominant defense – just look at the time of possession! The Packers had the ball a full quarter more than the Vikings – that’s how you negate the load of turnovers.

In this game, the only thing more powerful than turnovers is points.

Justin from Black River Falls, WI

Offense identity! Am I the only one that sees the short passing game combined with the run game as being the best way to move downfield? Whenever the Packers tried deep they had trouble connecting.

I’m going to use this Allen Lazard quote from my Monday story on the Packers’ first-year receiver to answer this. I feel like fans and media “have had the answers to the test this whole time and they chose to ignore them.” Aaron Jones and Davante Adams. When they produce, the Packers win. Period.

Stephen from Menomonee Falls, WI

So the Pack is 3-0 in games this year when A-Rod has not thrown a TD pass. Who’da thought?

Craziness. It’s almost like you need more than just one player to win games in this league.

Tom from Iron River, WI

People criticize the Packers for having one receiver in Adams, however, every game Lazard or Kumerow has key receptions and provides consistent run blocking. When are they going to get a little love?

Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were willing blockers but I can’t recall a receiving corps that’s this proficient in blocking during my time on the beat. Marquez Valdes-Scantling had a terrific block on Jones’ 56-yard touchdown, as well. As Jones told me after the game, those blocks aren’t just important because they spring him for big gains – they also keep hits off him. That keeps tread on the tire.

Craig from Milwaukee, WI

How far do you think this team can really go?

To infinity and beyond.

Steve from Land O Lakes, FL

I didn’t notice it until I watched the replay today how many of the offensive linemen were in the end zone to congratulate Aaron Jones on his TD run. That’s a long run especially at the end of a hard game. It’s great to see the offense so tightly bonded.

There’s a lot of mutual respect between Jones and the offensive line.

Mike from Chaska, MN

ML – Coach of the year…by a long shot. EJ – Rookie offensive player of the year. AJ – All-Pro (should be in the Pro Bowl). ZS – Defensive player of the year (should be in the Pro Bowl). MC – Best kicker of the year award. Undrafted rookies/players of the year award…AL and JK. BG – GM of the year…Smiths, Amos, starting guard, starting rookies, hiring ML! Scary thing…This is still a very young team on both sides of the ball with great leadership!

I mentioned on “Unscripted” Tuesday that Gutekunst needs to be in the running for NFL executive of the year. He made a big investment in those four free agents last March and all four have earned those contracts. Gutekunst also drafted Elgton Jenkins and unearthed a few gems in Allen Lazard, Chandon Sullivan, Tyler Ervin and more.

Chris from Cedar Rapids, IA

The Packers Monday night, and perhaps through the whole season, reminded me of the Patriots of the past few years – it never looked amazing but there was an inevitability about them. They just kept moving the ball and didn’t seem to doubt that they would win the game.

You better jump on this team early, because if it’s a one-score game, the Packers are tough to beat in the fourth quarter.

Eric from Stramproy, Netherlands

Wes, Kyler Fackrell drawing a penalty neutralizing the touchdown throw to Johnson with four minutes left does not appear on anyone’s radar. I thought that was big. Don’t know what the Packers defense was doing there, though. Thoughts?

Massive play. Blake Martinez was giving Fackrell praise for it in the postgame locker room. And Fackrell earned every bit of that penalty, too. If he doesn’t get held, Fackrell sacks Cousins. He’s played well this season behind the Smiths.

Uriah from South Vienna, OH

I was thinking the same thing about Minnesota’s choice next week. Do you take a “bye” or try to win? I think I would take the week to rest. Which one would you do, and why?

I’d sit the running backs and Eric Kendricks but everyone else is playing if I’m Mike Zimmer. If the Vikings are going to do anything in the postseason, I’d argue Cousins needs a tune-up fight to get some confidence back after that performance Monday night.

Kristopher from Fulton, WI

What are your thoughts on the five (potentially six) Packer finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020?

As Spoff knows all too well, I’m a massive fan of Cecil Isbell. He undoubtedly would’ve been a Hall of Famer had he not stepped away from the game following the 1942 season. He had the NFL’s first 2,000-yard passing year, while his 24 touchdown passes that season were the franchise’s single-season record for 40 years. I was thrilled to see him included. If I had any gripe, it’s that there are three contributors getting inducted and only two coaches. That should’ve been flipped. It’s much more difficult for coaches to make the Hall.

Barry from Wausau, WI

I liked the way the Monday night game was officiated. No ticky-tack calls and you barely noticed the refs. I was worried that Rodgers might have suffered a concussion on that last sack as his helmet bounced off the turf and saw his reaction when he got back up. Glad to see he was OK. Happy holidays!

Bill Vinovich’s crew is the best in the game, in my opinion. Always clear, concise and generally lets the players play. If you don’t focus on ticky-tack penalties, you’re more likely to catch the real ones.

Jake from Farmington, MN

Did you guys see/hear that the Vikings showed the play where Rodgers got hurt on the big screens before the game? I hope a thousand years of losing curses them for such low-class behavior. May they never win another game.

I’m a big karma guy. I’m not saying others need to be. I can also appreciate the “pro wrestling” aspect of rivalries. But once I saw that clip, I immediately thought to myself, “Oh boy, I wouldn’t have done that.”
Locker Room Pass: Packers at Vikings

Look inside the locker room as Packers players celebrated winning the NFC-North division title.

Lowell from Tuscola, IL

That horn was pretty quiet in the fourth quarter. Packer fans weren’t though.

Horns in the first quarter. Tail lights in the fourth.

Brad from Clemmons, NC

The “Go Pack Go” chant sounded great on TV. How loud were the Packers fans in person?

Pretty darn loud. The reaction to Jones’ 12-yard touchdown run was one of the loudest of the entire evening.

Nathan from Lino Lakes, MN

5-0 in the division? Did not expect that. Do you know the last time the Packers went 6-0 (or undefeated) against division opponents?

Man, y’all really did black out memories of the 2011 season, huh? That’s like the 12th time I’ve gotten that question this year and the third time I’ve answered it.

Gordy from Plymouth, WI

Great team win. Smith Bros. showed they are great cough eliminators, with outstanding support from everyone else. I also want to commend you on the article about Lazard, shows him as a classy receiver.

Lazard has come a long way…and he’s not done yet. He’s going to be an important piece to this playoff puzzle.

Corinne from Madison, WI

Merry Christmas, Wes! I understand that the Pack can get the No. 1 seed if Green Bay beats Detroit and Seattle beats San Francisco. Are there other (reasonably possible) scenarios where Green Bay gets the first seed in the NFC?

The Packers can’t get the top seed with a loss. They can still get a bye with a loss if Carolina turns back New Orleans.

William from Rosedale, IN

Greetings, what a great game. The defense was powerful and had more energy than I have noticed in previous games this year. With the regular season about to end, I would like your opinion of the deal the Bears made to acquire Khalil Mack. Although their defense is amazing, the Bears haven’t achieved much in the postseason. Was giving up all the draft choices a good deal, looking back?

They had no choice. GM Ryan Pace and the Bears needed a playmaker to put that defense over the top. The real issue has been the offense not being able to catch up quickly enough to capitalize on Mack’s arrival.

Brad from Crystal Falls, MI

No question today just a comment. Last night I sat on my recliner, 7-day-old daughter in my arms, dog between my feet, and watched the team I’ve loved my whole life win its division for the first time after a brief drought. I found myself for the first time truly understanding what is meant by “it’s the memories that make us rich.” Thank you Insiders for always keeping the tradition, memories, and family, as they say after every game, of this team and this game in perspective.


Jeff from Tucson, AZ

Merry Christmas to all.

And to all a good night…and a quick shout-out to Cheryl from Strawberry Point, IA, for the wonderful Insider Inbox frames. Spoff and I loved them. “Insider Inbox: A quest for the answers to the questions that won’t go away.”

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Custom Tyler Lancaster Jersey Large

Lancaster (neck/knee) was a full practice participant Wednesday.

Lancaster sustained neck and knee injuries during Sunday’s win over the Giants, but his full participation Wednesday indicates he’s clear of the injuries. The 25-year-old has started eight games this season but mostly sees rotational snaps on the defensive line.

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Custom Montravius Adams Jersey Large

Montravius Adams is not projected to be worth a roster spot based on total fantasy points the rest of the season. His 2 projected fantasy points puts him at #145 behind Folorunso Fatukasi and ahead of Greg Gaines. Montravius Adams is expected to improve on this season-to-date’s #177 fantasy position rank.
#143 Damion Square 2 FP, 1.99 per game 30 FP, 15 gp, 2 per game (#132)
#144 Folorunso Fatukasi 2 FP, 1.99 per game 30 FP, 15 gp, 2 per game (#132)
#145 Montravius Adams 2 FP, 1.96 per game 30 FP, 15 gp, 2 per game (#132)
#146 Greg Gaines 1.9 FP, 1.91 per game 30 FP, 15 gp, 2 per game (#132)
#147 Corey Liuget 1.9 FP, 1.91 per game 30 FP, 15 gp, 2 per game (#132)

These projections power SportsLine’s Computer Picks and Fantasy Data. But for contest winning DFS optimal lineups by top experts like Mike McClure visit SportsLine’s new Daily Fantasy Hub.

Week 10 was his best week where he put up 4.5 FPs and was the #21 defensive lineman. Montravius Adams had more below average weeks than above average weeks. The table below has his weekly games played, fantasy points and weekly position rank.

The tables below show projected stats (totals and averages) for the rest of the season and current week. Also included are actual stats from the current and last season.
Rest of 2019 2.00 0.2 0.8 0.0 0.0 0.2
Week 17 @DET 1.96 0.18 0.79 0.02 0.01 0.24
2019 Season 12.5 0 4 0 0 3
— Per Game (10 GP) 1.25 0.00 0.40 0.00 0.00 0.30
2018 to 2019 28.0 1 13 0 0 3
— Per Game (19 GP) 1.47 0.05 0.68 0.00 0.00 0.16

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Custom Jared Veldheer Jersey Large


The Green Bay Packers have activated T Jared Veldheer from the exempt/commissioner permission list and released G/T Adam Pankey. General Manager Brian Gutekunst announced the transactions Monday.

Veldheer (vel-DEER), a 6-foot-8, 321-pound 10th-year player out of Hilsdale College, was claimed off of waivers by the Packers from the New England Patriots on Nov. 29. He was originally selected by the Oakland Raiders in the third round (No. 69 overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft. Veldheer has played in 118 regular-season games with 113 starts for the Raiders (2010-13), Arizona Cardinals (2014-17) and Denver Broncos (2018). He also started three postseason contests for the Cardinals (2014-15). He has started 91 games at left tackle, 21 games at right tackle and a game at center. Veldheer has started every game he has played in since Week 7 of his rookie season. He will wear No. 68 for the Packers.

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Custom Billy Turner Jersey Large


GREEN BAY – Packers offensive lineman Billy Turner hosted a coat giveaway on Friday evening in partnership with the Salvation Army in Green Bay.

Three hundred fifty coats were distributed to families, with 350 more set to be given away in Turner’s home state of Minnesota.

The fashionable lineman teamed up with Miami fashion designer Chad Johnson, Katy Friends, an art teacher at Excelsior Elementary School, and her second-grade students to create designs based on the theme of positivity.

Those designs were sewn onto custom jackets and sweatshirts for Packers players and staff, and in return Turner donated five coats to charity per design in both his hometown and his newfound home in Green Bay.

“Being able to take that platform as a player and giving back to a community that gives so much to our organization is great,” said Turner.
Coats in almost every size were on display in the Salvation Army gym. Kids could walk in, pick out a coat, have cookies, and even play catch with Turner.

“He’s very creative, he always has these ideas and I’m just happy we could bring this one to life,” said Turner’s marketing manager, Asia Ashley, who helped coordinate the night’s event.

“It all stemmed from Billy wanting to promote love peace and the Irie Life. He tries to promote that not only in what he does, but what he’s done on the field and with his teammates,” said Ashley.

The “thank you’s” and smiles were endless on this cold Friday afternoon as kids and their parents came to get a coat and chat with Turner.

“We see a lot of clients here within our programs during the week that are participating in things like a food pantry or free hot lunch, people that are in our transitional housing programs and they’re definitely in need,” said Nicole Hanley, marketing coordinator with the Salvation Army in Green Bay. “Some of them have coats that fit a little snug this season or are a little bit worn out, so it’s amazing for some of them to have the opportunity to come and get a free coat.”

The Salvation Army had recently given out free coats in November, but the need for coats in the community remains imperative – especially as temperatures continue to drop.

Turner made sure to interact with every kid that walked into the gym. He held babies, took pictures and talked with parents.

“It’s great, man, it’s special,” said Turner. “Being able to use my platform as a Green Bay Packer, knowing how big the fan base is here in Green Bay … it’s special.”

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Custom Jake Kumerow Jersey Large

The time has come.

Yes, Jake Kumerow is a bit of a folk hero in the Packers’ fan base. He’s a gritty player that’s went to college in Wisconsin. He’s not the first role player Packers fans have fallen in love with. The fact that he played for UW-Whitewater certainly helps his cause.

That said, Kumerow has had an interesting path to the Packers. He spent two years toiling on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad. An opportunity never really came for him.

His opportunity came in the form of his old state’s team. The Packers called and gave Kumerow a chance to compete in training camp last season.

He was a long shot to make the roster. The Packers had drafted three wide receivers. They still had Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. To make the roster, Kumerow needed to have a big training camp.

He did. It culminated with him diving in the end zone on a preseason touchdown reception. That dive turned out to be ill advised. It gave him a shoulder injury that sidelined him until the ladder part of the season. By the time Kumerow got back, playoff hopes were bleak. He was essentially making an audition for this year’s roster.

Kumerow made the roster again this offseason, beating out former draft pick J’Mon Moore.

Since making the roster, Kumerow hasn’t lit the world on fire. He’s essentially been behind Adams, Geronimo Allison, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He was passed over for Allen Lazard later in the season as well.

As the season has progressed, the Packers have been looking for a reliable second wide receiver.

They were hoping that would be either MVS or Geronimo Allison when the season began. MVS has had opportunities, but he’s been inconsistent.

Allison has struggled mightily this season. He already has a limited ceiling because of his lack of athleticism.

It was his athletic limitations that caused me to say that the Packers should only keep one of Allison or Kumerow this season. Obviously Gutekunst felt differently.

None the less, Allison’s struggles have gone beyond the early season. It’s Week 16. Allison is still struggling to separate, and dropping passes when the ball is thrown to him.

Kumerow, to his credit, has done nothing but take advantage of his opportunities.

Last season, Kumerow caught a long touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers against the Jets. A splash play.

This year, Kumerow has two big plays down the sideline. One against Oakland. One against Chicago.

The play against Oakland resulted in a touchdown. The play against Chicago was a big third down conversion. A play that helped the Packers eventually take a commanding 21-3 lad they would not relinquish.

Perhaps the most damning stat of them all is that Aaron Rodgers averages more than 12 yards-per-attempt when targeting Kumerow.

The numbers when targeting Allison are a paltry 5.4.


The idea at the beginning of the season had to be that Allison was reliable and sure-handed. He had some success in short samples with Aaron Rodgers. That’s where someone like Allison can succeed.

The problem is he has not made those plays. Kumerow can, at minimum make those plays. There’s also some potential for bigger plays down the line.

Matt LaFleur said in his Monday press conference that it was time for Kumerow to see the field more. It’s been over due, but the Packers have to be hoping he continues to do what he’s always done with his opportunities.

Make the most of them.

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Custom Allen Lazard Jersey Large

llen Lazard walked into the Buffalo Wild Wings in Ames, Iowa, full of excitement and brimming with anticipation for what was to come on April 28, 2018.

After watching the first two days of the NFL Draft at home, Lazard had more than 40 of his closest family and friends come together to see where the 6-foot-5 receiver would land following his record-breaking run at Iowa State.

A few even flew in just to be part of the post-draft celebration, with Lazard projected to go anywhere from the fifth to the seventh round by most scouting agencies. The Des Moines Register was there to document the occasion, while the Iowa native smiled and greeted everyone who had shown up.

Internally, Lazard still tempered his enthusiasm. Because you never know what could happen on draft night.

The fourth round came and went without any action. No problem. In the fifth, his former coaches traded confused looks when the Indianapolis Colts drafted receiver Daurice Fountain out of Division I-AA Northern Iowa, but Lazard maintained his poise.

And then the sixth round passed…and slowly the seventh.

By the time SMU receiver Trey Quinn was announced as the 256th and final selection of the draft, Lazard knew he would be signing as an undrafted free agent with Jacksonville, but those closest to him could still sense his disappointment.

“We stayed until the final pick, my wife and I and a couple assistant coaches,” said Brad Bjorkgren, Lazard’s former basketball coach at Urbandale High School. “My heart just went out to him. It’s like, ‘Man, you must really have to be good to be in the NFL because this is the most special athlete I’ve ever coached.’”

The crowd dispersed. The friends went out, but Lazard sat and quietly reflected about what had just happened – not just in the draft, but everything leading up to this moment.

Once the top receiver recruit in the country, Lazard kept his word to Iowa State, even when the Cyclones went 3-9 during his senior year at Urbandale and bigger offers were flooding in.

An almost immediate starter, Lazard left Ames as the school’s all-time leading receiver and only the second Cyclone to be named first-team All-Big 12 in multiple seasons. His 241 receptions are 65 more than any other receiver in program history.

And yet, despite 33 receivers being drafted in 2018, Lazard now needed to take an undrafted detour to achieve his NFL dream. There was no tantrum or woe-is-me moment. That isn’t the way they handle adversity in the Lazard household.

Instead, Lazard waded through a quiet catharsis and came to a resolution. He has to prove it to them. Like he always has.

“I obviously thought I was going to (get drafted), and had the hopes and dreams for it,” Lazard said. “It was just a realization that my future is completely dependent on me. I knew whatever I wanted in life, I had to go get it myself.”
‘Hakuna Matata’

Lazard was barely four years old when his father, Kevin, sat him and his brother, Anthony, down to watch film – and not just the typical X’s and O’s.

Yes, sometimes Kevin would bring up tape from his playing days at Iowa State but other times it would be ESPN highlights, the good and the bad. If a player acted out or let his emotions get the best of him, Kevin would discuss it with his children.

“I always made sure to point out to them, ‘Look at how this person handled this. Maybe you should handle it this way or maybe before you answer this way,’” Kevin said. “Examples of how to handle themselves and the type of character they want to display to other people to let them know who they are.”

From the start, Kevin and his wife, Mary, preached the importance of maintaining character through adversity. A defensive back and team captain for the Cyclones in the early ’90s, Kevin never went to a bowl game or won more than five games in a single season.

Frustrating? Sure. But those teams remained tight-knit. He’d bring Allen with him to Iowa State football games and letterman reunions, and proudly show him the stadium and facilities. The younger Lazard’s passion for ISU athletics started there, quickly learning every member of the football and basketball teams.

By the time Allen could walk, he was a natural athlete. With a small football tailored for his hand, Allen would fire tight spirals to his dad and punt balls with perfect technique before he was even in elementary school.

A gym rat in every sense of the word, Allen was a fixture in the weight room in middle school. Blessed with height from his mom’s side of the family, Allen shined in football, basketball and baseball growing up.

Tim TeBrink, an assistant football coach who also coached track at Urbandale at the time, convinced Allen to come out in the spring. As a freshman, he won a state title as a member of the shuttle hurdles team.

“He was a hard worker. He was raised that way with his mom and dad,” TeBrink said. “They’re both good quality people who taught him and his brothers, and his sister how to work hard. And that carried through. He pushed himself.”

The father’s even-keeled temperament transferred to the son. Allen was as competitive as they come, but there also was a lighter side to him. When Lazard wasn’t playing sports, he often could be found watching the movie “The Lion King.” A lot.

“The VHS tape got wore out,” Kevin Lazard said. “He knew every song, every lyric, everything.”

“Little Allen” took a big liking to the film and adapted its popular catchphrase “Hakuna Matata” as his own personal mantra. Even today, Lazard can be seen wearing a shirt with that inscription around the Packers’ locker room.

And he lived it. He had that “clutch gene,” a cool-as-a-cucumber approach that allowed Allen to drain every last-second free throw, or make a difficult pass or critical tackle.

“He never flinched at all his entire life, which always kind of amazed me,” Kevin said. “He has that motto, ‘Hakuna Matata.’ I believe that was something he really took into his own character and made that one of his main skills. To just not let things get to him.”
‘Your word is your bond’

Iowa isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for elite Division I talent. So when Lazard began to shine in sports, he “stuck out like a sore thumb” in the Des Moines metro area.

By his sophomore year at Urbandale, Lazard had narrowed his focus down to football and basketball. A savvy and smart student of the game, Lazard was a standout in both sports.

Bjorkgren, who coached for 27 years at Urbandale before accepting the head coaching position at Division III Simpson College a few years ago, holds Lazard in high esteem.

Capable of dunking as a freshman, Lazard broke a school record with six dunks in a single game on opening night of his junior year. As a senior, Lazard dunked 47 times in games.

A power forward and physical post player, Lazard starred on two state-qualifying teams at Urbandale. While football was his primary sport, Lazard received plenty of interest from D-I basketball programs across the Midwest.

In the process, Allen formed a strong bond with Bjorkgren, whose mother, Norma, became one of Allen’s biggest fans all the way until her passing a week ago at 95 years old.

“She didn’t miss a Green Bay game because of Allen Lazard,” Bjorkgren said. “She’d be like, ‘What time is the Packer game? What channel is it going to be on?’ I’d get those calls all the time.”

The football field is where Lazard really separated himself, though. He was thrown into the starting lineup as a free safety during his freshman year after injuries hit. Kevin was his position coach at the time.

When he was younger, there were times Allen would get a little peeved when his dad would sit him down to watch film, but he started to see the benefits of that approach in high school. He saw the game at a different level and set him up for success at his natural position of receiver.

By junior year, Lazard was playing both sides of the ball. His production caused Urbandale to alter its triple-option offense and incorporate more spread concepts to capitalize on Lazard’s big-play potential.

TeBrink, an Iowa State alumnus, remembers a conversation he had with then-Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads about Lazard as early as his freshman year of high school. Legacy or not, TeBrink was convinced Lazard was a player Iowa State needed to pursue.

“I had played at Iowa State and Coach Rhoads had recruited me before he left to go to be a DC at Pittsburgh,” TeBrink recalled. “He walked over at a basketball game and we were talking, and I said, ‘I think this is a kid you’re going to want to get on your radar pretty quick if he’s not there already.’”

Iowa State began recruiting Allen during his sophomore year, while also trying to get his older brother Anthony to walk on to the football team.

Kevin never pressured his son to play for the Cyclones. He loved his experience in Ames but that was his experience – and also his only D-I offer coming out of high school. If he wanted to go to rival Iowa, Kevin told his son: “For those four years or five years, I’ll wear that Hawkeye sweatshirt because you’re there.”

The only thing Kevin asked was for his sons to think long and hard about their decision. Because once they committed: “Your word is your bond. If you say you’re going to do something, then do it.”

Anthony eventually walked on at ISU, and Allen followed suit after his junior season, committing after the Cyclones’ six-win campaign that earned them a trip to the Liberty Bowl. By this time, Allen had emerged as one of the top recruits in the country after catching 40 passes for a whopping 928 yards and 11 touchdowns.

As more scouting bureaus caught onto Allen’s hype, offers came in from the likes of Notre Dame, Stanford, California, Oregon and LSU. Coaches would come to Urbandale’s basketball practices just to watch Lazard.

The interest from programs with national title aspirations was tough for Allen to process, especially after Iowa State went 3-9 during his senior year of high school.

“I went through a period of time of being very unsure,” Lazard said. “Having a foot in each door, half-in, half-out, but then I realized when I close my eyes and I picture myself playing college football, there’s only one uniform I pictured myself in. It was Iowa State.”

It was one down year, Allen convinced himself. As tempting as it might have been to go play for a more established program, Allen felt like he could help Iowa State put together a run of “bowl games all four years.” If only it was that simple.
‘You can’t write that story’

It wasn’t one down year. It was several for the Cyclones. Iowa State went 2-10 and 3-9 during Allen’s first two college seasons, winning just two Big 12 Conference games.

Individually, Allen was a smash hit. A big-bodied receiver who could high-point a ball, Lazard caught 99 passes for 1,411 yards and nine touchdowns during those first two years.

As a team, however, Iowa State went into full rebuilding mode. Rhoads was fired after 2017 and Toledo’s Matt Campbell was brought in.

Allen considered transferring but he also had visions of possibly enrolling early for the NFL Draft, if his junior year went well. If he left, he’d have to sit out an entire year.

Instead, Lazard had a 1,000-yard season as a junior, and like his father, was named a team captain. But the Cyclones suffered another three-win year and Allen was dangerously close to going his entire college career without a bowl appearance like Kevin did.

“Usually once you get to mid-October and get to loss five or six, it’s a little bit of realization we’re not going to get to a bowl game again,” Lazard said. “It was really kind of hard to stick with it through those times.

“But looking back, it really taught me how to persevere, how to handle adversity, how to be a leader, and ultimately not to worry about the exterior things and form that bigger picture mentality.”

Lazard returned for his senior year and was rewarded with an eight-win season that included a monumental 38-31 upset victory over No. 3 Oklahoma on Oct. 7. Allen caught three passes for 69 yards in the game, including the game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass with 2:19 remaining. The photo of his touchdown catch still hangs in Bjorkgren’s office.

It also came almost exactly 27 years after the Cyclones beat No. 16 Oklahoma 33-31 on Oct. 20, 1990, during Kevin’s freshman year.

“You couldn’t make that up. You can’t write that story,” Kevin said. “I was just so proud, excited and happy for him. It’s amazing. It’s a miracle.”

Lazard capped his college career with a 21-20 win over Memphis in the Liberty Bowl, marking only the fourth bowl victory in program history and Iowa State’s first bowl win since 2009. He finished his run at ISU with five school records.

“Carrying my dad’s legacy on and our last name meant a lot,” Allen said. “Obviously, my career there didn’t go as planned, but the way I left and the way the program is now was everything I could have asked for.”
The big break

The NFL Draft was over and Lazard was headed to Jacksonville.

He’d heard all the stats about how undrafted free agents make up such-and-such percentage of NFL rosters and those who succeed are eligible for a second contract one year earlier than players who were drafted.

That was all well and good, but statistics also mean precious little when you’re fighting for a job against established veterans and draft picks.

Lazard was guaranteed nothing other than the modest signing bonus the Jaguars gave him. Predictably, he didn’t play much in the preseason, was cut at the end of camp and signed to the practice squad.

And that’s where Lazard toiled for most of his rookie year. Jacksonville got off to a slow start and players got injured, but Lazard remained on the scout team. By December, he was worn down mentally.

Lazard had just finished a Tuesday lift for the practice squad when he received a call from the Packers, offering him a chance to sign to their 53-man roster. Lazard immediately accepted.

“As a wide receiver, there’s only a few teams you don’t pass up for quarterbacks,” Lazard said. “This is obviously up there just from that standpoint, let alone all the exterior stuff. I’m also getting closer to home. Being back in the Midwest, it’s more of my element. I like the cold. I think I play better in the cold, too.”

Lazard flew up, picked up the playbook and even caught a pass in the team’s regular-season finale when Pro Bowler Davante Adams was inactive with a knee injury.

The whole experience gave Lazard a much-needed jolt and a renewed focus entering the biggest offseason of his football career.

Reflecting on 2018, Lazard felt like there were two prevailing reasons why he didn’t get drafted. Scouts felt he’d maxed out his potential at Iowa State, and teams didn’t know whether he was a tight end or a receiver at the next level.

In college, he felt like being a bigger receiver worked to his benefit. In the pros, it seemed like everyone viewed that negatively. In the offseason, Lazard wanted to change that.

“I look at the guys in my room and I’m comparing myself to them all the time,” said Lazard, who reported to Jacksonville at 233 pounds. “Looking at the tight ends, I started to realize I was getting closer to the tight ends than the receivers. And I didn’t want to do that.”

Training in Denver, where he lives with his girlfriend, Lazard became ultra-conscious of his weight and diet. He cut McDonald’s and fast food out and put together a training plan.

Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who held the same post in Jacksonville during Lazard’s rookie year, mentioned recently how the receiver appeared 20 pounds lighter when he reported for training camp in July.

That’s because Lazard literally was…and it’s been reflected in his play.

“I just feel a lot lighter. I feel a lot more explosive in running,” Lazard said. “Before, I did feel like I was kind of carrying something. Now, I feel more aggressive and powerful in my running.”
‘It’s a blessing’

Even with a new lease on his football life, Lazard still faced long odds to make the Packers’ 53-man roster last summer.

The 6-foot-5 receiver was staring up at a depth chart that included Adams, veterans Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow, and three returning 2018 draft picks in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore.

That didn’t stop Lazard from methodically stating his case, though. He made play after play in practice, and caught six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games.

“He wants to obviously be a factor on this football team and I think during camp he showed that,” receivers coach Alvis Whitted said. “He works his tail off. He’s what you want and he wasn’t given anything.”

All the changes Lazard installed appeared to put him in contention for a roster spot, especially after St. Brown was placed on IR with an ankle injury and Moore was released during final cuts.

However, the Packers chose to keep undrafted rookie Darrius Shepherd as their sixth receiver and exposed Lazard to waivers on cut-down day. He was hanging out at cornerback Kevin King’s house when he got the news. Dejected but not defeated, Lazard was again on the outside looking in.

“When I got told I was getting cut, Kevin was the person I was with,” Lazard said. “He hung up his phone immediately and started talking to me. That’s something I really appreciated at that time.”

Lazard cleared waivers and was offered a place on Green Bay’s practice squad. The reactionary thing to do would have been to sign elsewhere, but Lazard wanted to stay and make all his work over the past eight months pay off.

He stuck around, and three days later when rookie tight end Jace Sternberger was placed on IR, Lazard was promoted to the active 53.

Kevin Lazard has made the six-hour drive up for nearly every Packers home game this season. He’d planned to go to the Packers’ Monday night contest against Detroit on Oct. 14 before finding out Allen had given his tickets to another player.

Kevin had no problem with it. Instead, he stayed with his wife and watched on DirecTV. Not wanting to miss a single play of Allen’s, the couple fell minutes behind after constantly rewinding to watch their son on special teams.

That’s when both of their phones had started to blow up. Their son Anthony, now a strength and conditioning coach at Appalachian State, was among the excited masses.

“They’re all saying, ‘Great catch!’ And we’re like what happened?” Kevin said. “So we kept watching and then finally got to the part where it happened and we just screamed our heads off.”

Looking for a spark, the Packers called Lazard’s number on offense in the fourth quarter. In only 17 snaps, he caught four passes for 65 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown with nine minutes remaining to bring the Packers back within two points of the Lions.

Green Bay eventually completed the comeback and quarterback Aaron Rodgers praised Lazard afterward for his clutch performance in the 23-22 victory.

“Anytime you hear someone say any great things about your child, it’s a blessing,” Kevin said. “It was a surreal moment. I don’t think we even went to sleep that night we were so excited.”

The Lazards didn’t make the same mistake twice. When Allen caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown earlier this month in New York, Kevin and Mary watched it all in real time.
No limit

The journey isn’t over. With everything he’s had to overcome, Lazard freely admits this dream could end at any moment.

Right now, however, it’s still very much real. In 14 games, Lazard has caught 26 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns. A valued contributor on special teams, Lazard also has seven coverage tackles on coordinator Shawn Mennenga’s units.

At the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, friend and former Iowa State teammate Hakeem Butler said it was “bogus” Lazard wasn’t drafted. Ask anyone close to the Cyclones program and they’re likely to say the same.

Always confident in his abilities, Lazard won’t say “I told you so” but there is a part of him that laughs when people talk about his emergence in flabbergasted tones.

“That’s why I don’t understand why people are so blown away, because I feel like they’ve had the answers to the test this whole time and they chose to ignore them,” said Lazard with a smile.

“That’s why I don’t really try to focus on what other people say or how other people try to limit me or try to put me in a box or whatever. I’ve just always stayed true to myself and I think that’s what’s really helped me with my success now.”

The Lazard family bond remains as strong as ever. During the dark times, it was that foundation that often lifted Allen back on his feet.

Like when he was little, Allen acknowledges his dad will still send him clips from NFL games, inquiring if he’d seen them. More often than not he has, but Allen still appreciates the gesture.

A long time ago, Lazard’s grandfather, Ernie Allen, told him “you can only learn from listening” and the 24-year-old has applied that adage to every part of his life and football career.

“He knows what he’s capable of and he just kind of goes out there and proves it,” Kevin said. “He lets the other people do their talking and whatever they want to do, and he goes out there and shows I’m going to outwork you and beat you, and you can’t do anything about it.”

Allen still has the list of names from his draft party in his Google Drive. He’s thankful for that disappointing day. It’s a reminder that “You’re not given opportunities – you have to go take them.”

He also remains grateful to those who helped him along his journey. When Bjorkgren attended the Packers’ game in Kansas City earlier this year, Lazard was texting his former coach hours before the game to make sure he was set up with pre-game passes.

Meanwhile, Kevin has established an email chain to keep all of his friends and former coaches in the loop.

“I told a kid today at school that I said I’ve watched more Packer games this year than I’ve ever watched in my life,” said TeBrink, now the head football coach at North Polk High School in in Alleman, Iowa. “It’s fun to see a kid who worked hard, you got to work with, and who’s humble and has done things the right way.”

Last Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Lazard signing with Green Bay last December. Over the past year, he’s sat next to Rodgers in meetings and taken every note possible from veterans around the locker room.

Because he doesn’t want to be a feel-good story. He wants to play in the NFL for a long, long time. As for the winding road he had to take to get there, well, “Hakuna Matata.”

“You can never get too down because, in life, bad things are going to happen to you,” Lazard said. “It’s more so how you handle it, how you adjust to it and the steps that you take to learn from your mistakes.”

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Unless they’re making mistakes, the offensive line usually flies under the radar, but for the Green Bay Packers in 2019 they have been excellent. Especially in pass protection.

Not to open old wounds but it was clear that the 2018 Green Bay Packers had a myriad of problems, one of which was the overall play and health of the offensive line. Both David Bakhtiari and Byran Bulaga would miss some time with injuries. Meanwhile Lane Taylor was playing through injuries which caused his performance to suffer and Byron Bell was a revolving door at right guard.

In the end, the Packers would give up 53 sacks last season, the fourth most in all of football. Now, to defend the offensive line for a second, Aaron Rodgers did hold the ball too long at times and this was a very pass-happy offense. Meaning, there were simply more opportunities for sacks to be allowed. But with that said, it was still a down season overall.

Fortunately, 2019 has been a different story. Incoming free agent Billy Turner and rookie Elgton Jenkins have helped solidify the guard positions while the unit as a whole has been relatively healthy. And the end result is the Packers having one of, if not the best pass protection unit in the NFL.

When trying to evaluate offensive line play it’s not as easy as looking at other positions where there is an abundance of different statistics to pore over. But there are metrics available that can measure the effectiveness of an offensive line.

The first and most obvious is sacks allowed. While there are still two games to be played in the regular season, the Green Bay Packers have given up just 26 sacks up to this point. Certainly a far cry from last year’s 53. Not to mention that the 26 allowed ranks as the sixth fewest in all of football.

Another measurement created by the ESPN analytics department is called Pass-Block Win Rate. What it does is it tells the rate at which an offensive lineman can sustain their block for 2.5 seconds or longer, which is then considered a “win.” Broken into position groups, David Bakhtiari rank second among tackles with a win rate of 95 percent. Meanwhile Elgton Jenkins is the third ranked guard with a 96 percent win rate. And Corey Linsley is leading all centers with a rate of 98 percent. As a team, the Green Bay Packers are first in the league with an overall win rate of 71 percent.

Lastly we can take a look at how long Rodgers has on average to throw the ball. And according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Rodgers holds the ball for an average of 2.9 seconds, which is the fourth longest of all quarterbacks. Certainly a reflection of the time that his offensive line unit has given him in the pocket.

Not to mention that the Packers’ offensive line has been this dominant against some of the best pass-rushers the NFL has to offer, including Khalil Mack, Von Miller, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Danielle Hunter just to name a few.
Next: 3 Packers who need more snaps in final weeks

As always there are a number of factors for the Green Bay Packers’ success in 2019 but a big contributor has been the play of the offensive line. And although the passing game has been inconsistent this season, for the most part, that has nothing to do with Green Bay’s pass protection.

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Bryan Bulaga and his wife Abbie have done their best not to think too far into the future.

With the Green Bay Packers headed to the NFC playoffs and Bulaga in the midst of what might be the best season of his 10-year NFL career, the right tackle — an impending unrestricted free agent — has kept his focus on the present.

With one exception.

“I don’t talk about it too much, but we did talk about it over the bye week — ‘What if? What if we’re not back?’” Bulaga said at midweek as the Packers prepared for Monday night’s NFC North meeting with the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. “To me, there’s a lot left in play here. So just make the most of it. I think that’s the biggest thing.
Aaron Rodgers readies for Vikings and ‘house of horrors’ — if you can call it that — of U.S. Bank Stadium
Pro football
Aaron Rodgers readies for Vikings and ‘house of horrors’ — if you can call it that — of U.S. Bank Stadium

JASON WILDE For the State Journal

“I can’t control what’s going to happen in March. What their plan is, I don’t really know it. And if I’m part of it or not, I really have no idea. I can just control what is right now, and that’s playing to the highest level I can and helping this team win.

“It’s been 10 years here. We’ve had a lot of fun here, we’ve grown up here, got married while we were here, we had both kids while I’ve been a Green Bay Packer. Made a lot of memories — been in the same house for 10 years. So, yeah, there’s a lot of nostalgia that goes along with thinking about (leaving). But business is business.

“I’m not quite thinking about that because there is a lot left here — big games, big things ahead of this team right now.”

And Bulaga has been at the heart of it. Despite a gruesome late October finger injury and a partially torn MCL in his right knee in late November, Bulaga has started all 14 games the Packers have played this season and is on course to make all 16 starts for only the second time in his star-crossed career.
Facing respected nemesis Mike Zimmer’s ‘challenging’ scheme, Aaron Rodgers preps for ‘a bunch of great players’
Pro football
Facing respected nemesis Mike Zimmer’s ‘challenging’ scheme, Aaron Rodgers preps for ‘a bunch of great players’

JASON WILDE For the State Journal

“He’s been absolutely critical,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Saturday. “First of all, I think he’s playing at a really high level. And, he’s been instrumental. It’s always important, especially when you talk about the offensive line, the cohesiveness in that group. If you can get all 16 games with the same starting five, that’s huge. That didn’t happen for us, but for the most part, we’ve been healthy up front.”

As has Bulaga, for the most part. He dislocated his right ring finger at Kansas City on Oct. 28 — an injury so painful he expected to see a bone protruding from his glove when he looked down — and missed the final offensive possession, then suffered the knee injury on the ninth play of the team’s Nov. 24 loss at San Francisco. Remarkably, he was in the lineup the next week at the New York Giants in part because he doesn’t want to miss a moment of the Packers’ unexpected success after all the injuries he’s endured in past seasons.

“It wasn’t comfortable, it’s still not comfortable. It probably won’t be comfortable until I’m down in Florida training (in the offseason), not doing anything for a while,” said Bulaga, who suffered season-ending injuries midway through 2012 (hip) and in training camp in 2013 (ACL tear) before another ACL tear ended his 2017 season.

“It’s just one of those things where, if I feel like I can go out there and do it and still be productive, and play at a high level, I’m going to go out there and do it. I’ve missed a handful of games in my time here, and if I can go out there and play, I’m going to go out and do it. It doesn’t feel great, but you deal with it and go out there and get the job done.”
Packers’ Kenny Clark is finding his playmaking groove again
Pro football
Packers’ Kenny Clark is finding his playmaking groove again

JASON WILDE For the State Journal

And Bulaga has. During a season in which the Packers’ offensive line has been among the NFL’s best, it’s no coincidence the group’s two worst games came in the wake of Bulaga’s injuries: He played poorly at the Los Angeles Chargers when he was overcompensating for the awkward protective splint he wore on his right hand, and the line clearly missed him when he left that 37-8 loss to the 49ers after just nine snaps.

Remarkably, since left guard Lane Taylor’s season-ending biceps injury after two games, the Packers have started the same five linemen — David Bakhtiari at left tackle, rookie Elgton Jenkins at left guard, Corey Linsley at center, Billy Turner at right guard and Bulaga at right tackle — in the 12 games since. Bakhtiari, Linsley, Turner and Bulaga have all made all 14 starts, and not only have they kept quarterback Aaron Rodgers safe (32 sacks) but their blocking for backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams (1,916 combined yards from scrimmage, 23 total touchdowns) has been excellent.

“I think the line has been fantastic. And I think Bryan Bulaga has had a fantastic season,” Rodgers said. “Bryan has been an absolute rock for us at right tackle. He’s an absolute warrior when it comes to playing through injuries. Dave gets a lot of credit and well-deserved. Dave is a generational talent at left tackle, but I think Bryan has been fantastic on the right side.”

Even so, it was Bakhtiari who was voted to his first Pro Bowl team, while Bulaga wasn’t selected.

“He and I actually just talked about it the other day. I think this is the best year since I’ve been here that we’ve been together,” said Bakhtiari, who became the team’s starting left tackle as a rookie in 2013 after Bulaga was slated to start there but suffered that season-ending knee injury during the annual Family Night scrimmage. “Who’s better? I told him, quite honestly: I think he’s played better than me. He’s had some outstanding games against some of the best pass rushers. He’s showed up and showed out.”

Asked if he believes right and left tackle should be treated as separate positions in the Pro Bowl voting, Bulaga replied with a laugh: “I would advocate for that, yes. But I don’t want to say I’m ‘disappointed.’ Obviously every year, you have goals — making the playoffs, winning the Super Bowl. But then guys have personal goals, as well — Pro Bowl, All-Pro, statistics-wise, whatever. I think every guy’s goal in here is to make an All-Pro team, to make a Pro Bowl. But it doesn’t always work for right tackles.”

Right now, there are more important things anyway. Bulaga was the youngest player in NFL history to start a Super Bowl when the 2010 Packers won Super Bowl XLV with a 20-year-old rookie at right tackle, and now he’d like to make it back – regardless of the uncertain future ahead.

“There’s still a lot of football left, but overall, I feel like I’ve done a solid job,” he said. “I’ve gone out there, I’ve done my best to help the team win, to help win football games and create good running lanes for Aaron and Jamaal, and give the ‘other’ Aaron time to throw the football.

“We’ve played some really good defenses this year and I feel like as a unit, we’ve done a really good job. And I think I’ve done all right.”

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Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari is about to become the campaign manager for Za’Darius Smith’s All-Pro candidacy.

In the locker room following the most dominant performance of Smith’s season on Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings, Bakhtiari – a three-time All-Pro – had a simple message.

“You’re an idiot if you don’t vote for him for All-Pro, he is a stud,” Bakhtiari said, via John Doran of Fox 11 News in Green Bay.

Smith produced 3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for losses and five quarterback hits, helping the Packers dominate the Vikings offensive line and hold Kirk Cousins to only 82 net passing yards.

Smith became just the sixth player since 2006 to tally at least three sacks, five tackles for losses and five quarterback hits in a single game. Only Smith, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack have done it since 2015.

Through 15 games, Smith has 13.5 sacks, 35 quarterback hits and 17 tackles for losses. Only two other players have hit all three numbers in a single season since 2006: Donald, and J.J. Watt.

Smith currently ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks, third in tackles for losses and first in quarterback hits.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Smith leads the NFL in total pressures. Next Gen Stats has him as the league leader in quarterback disruptions.

Smith wasn’t among the edge rushers included in the initial Pro Bowl rosters released last week. He’s an alternate.

Bakhtiari was twice an All-Pro without making the Pro Bowl, so he knows the feeling. And he knows Smith is following a similar path in 2019.