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WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUND-UP: Free agent decisions loom for Packers

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Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers' general manager Ted Thompson could have a lot of holes to fill, as he begins to form his 10th team since becoming the GM in 2005.  The Packers have 15 unrestricted free agents.  

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Veteran nose tackle Ryan Pickett tops that list along with tight ends Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless, fullback John Kuhn, receiver James Jones, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, running back James Starks, corner Sam Shields, linebacker Mike Neal, and defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly.  Depending on who leaves in March, when free agency begins, the Packers could end up revamping their entire defensive front line.  As the players cleaned out their lockers yesterday, some said they liked Green Bay but their futures depend on the offers they get here and elsewhere.  Corner Tramon Williams made a pitch for Thompson to sign more free agent veterans, saying the young players have talent but need more time learning the schemes and the more complex preparation the NFL requires.  Thompson has signed relatively few free agents, preferring to build his team with the draft.

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Six of the Packers' eight practice squad players were signed to reserve-futures' contracts yesterday.  They'll be part of the 80-man off-season roster when organized team activities begin in the spring.  The signers were offensive linemen Andrew Tiller, Anthony Adams, and Garth Gerhart -- running back Orwin Smith -- receiver Alex Gillett -- and corner Antonio Dennard.  Receiver Tyrone Walker was not signed, and neither was practice squad guard Lanier Coleman.

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Green Bay Packers' offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga says he'll play wherever he's needed next season.  Bulaga missed all of this past season, after he tore an ACL knee ligament at the Packers' Family Night scrimmage in early August.  The year before, Bulaga was out for the season after Week-Nine with a hip injury.  The Packers' first-round draft choice from 2010 has only played in 21 games in the past three seasons, while missing 27.  That leads to questions about where he might fit in next season.  Bulaga says he hasn't worried about it.  He has spent the last four months doing rehab work at the IMG Academy in Florida.  The Packers went with two relatively new tackles this season.  Don Barclay, who came on late last season as a rookie, was the right tackle for the year.  Rookie David Bahktiari started all 16 regular season games at left tackle.  Pro Football Focus said he was the league's 18th best tackle for pass blocking.  Bahktiari gave up eight sacks and four other quarterback hits.  The Packers were cleaning out their lockers today, after they were eliminated from the playoffs yesterday with a three-point home loss to San Francisco.

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Sunday's Packer playoff loss to San Francisco was the most-watched NFL game since last year's Super Bowl.  The league and Fox TV said yesterday that 47.1 million viewers saw the Packers and 49'ers battle it out on the Frozen Tundra at Lambeau Field before San Francisco walked away with a 23-20 win.  The league said it was most-watched Wild Card game on record.  Fox said it was the highest-rated Wild Card contest on any network since 1988.  In southeast Wisconsin, 80-percent of the TV's that were turned on had the Packer game.  It delivered an overall rating of 58 in Wisconsin's only metered TV market.

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The Green Bay Packers were cleaning out their lockers yesterday, after their home Wild Card loss to San Francisco.  Coach Mike McCarthy normally waits a few days before he holds his season-ending news conference.  Last night, after their 23-20 loss, a few players spoke up for defensive coordinator Dom Capers.  He's been a favorite target by callers on sports talk radio.  Corner Tramon Williams said he would expect Capers to return if he has time remaining on his contract -- which we don't know, because assistants' contracts are normally not disclosed.  Williams said Capers has been a vital part of the Green Bay defense.  Nose tackle Ryan Pickett said he wanted Capers back, too.  Pickett said the coordinator put the players in good positions but quote, "We just didn't make a lot of plays."  Head coach Mike McCarthy said he was proud of his players as they went through the adversity involving many injuries -- including that of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  In his eight seasons in Green Bay, McCarthy said this year's team have worked the hardest.  He said some players went on the field before they were ready and quote, "They stepped in there and went for it."  Green Bay's season ended at 8-8-1, with its third straight NFC North Division championship.  

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Former Packers' head coach and general manager Mike Sherman was fired yesterday as the offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.  Sherman took the fall after a pair of losses knocked the 8-8 Dolphins out of playoff contention.  Dolphins' head coach Joe Philbin, himself a former Green Bay assistant, said Sherman has been a mentor to him throughout his coaching career since the late 1970's -- and he wished Sherman the best in the future. Sherman's Miami offense was the 26th lowest in scoring in the NFL and 27th in total yards.  The Dolphins were held to 19 points or less in six of their eight losses.  The 59-year-old Sherman spent six years coaching the Packers before they let him go after the 2005 campaign.  He then coached at Texas A&M before Philbin hired him to run the Dolphins' offense two seasons ago.  Meanwhile, former Vikings' coach Leslie Frazier was hired yesterday by new Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith to run the Buccaneers' defense.  Frazier was let go by the Vikings a week ago.  Smith was out of football after Chicago fired him at the end of the 2012 season.

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The hottest team in the NBA will roll into Milwaukee tonight.  The Golden State Warriors have a nine-game winning streak, and will play a Bucks' team that has only seven wins all season.  Former Bucks' center Andrew Bogut has helped the Warriors go 5-0 against Eastern Conference opponents on their current road trip.  Meanwhile, the Bucks are picking up the pieces after teammates Larry Sanders and Gary Neal got into a heated argument while reporters were trying to conduct interviews after Saturday's 16-point Milwaukee loss at Phoenix.  Yesterday, Bucks' coach Larry Drew met with each of his players individually to discuss the incident and try and get the team back on track.  Drew called the argument an isolated incident, and something that can happen in a long season -- and he wanted to stop a snowball effect from taking place.  Sanders indicated that he didn't want to see a repeat of last season's unhappy Bucks' locker room that spilled over in a spat between Sanders and former Buck Monta Ellis as they were being shutout in the first round of the playoffs by Miami.  Neal said the Bucks can make progress this season, and they need to keep grinding.  He said opponents are motivated to play against them for the wrong reasons and quote, "We've got to try to correct that."

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University of Wisconsin women's basketball senior Taylor Wurtz is the Big Ten Player-of-the-Week.  The Brandon native tied a career-high with 27 points, and had a career-best 19 rebounds in a Badgers' victory over Illinois last Friday. There were no college basketball games scheduled last night involving Wisconsin teams.  Only one game is on the docket tonight -- a men's game in which UW-Green Bay travels to Chicago State.

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Wisconsin is still No. 4 in the new Associated Press men's basketball media poll released during the noon hour.  Also, the Badgers moved up from fifth-place into a tie for fourth in the USA Today coaches' poll.  The Badgers are 15-0, and can set a new record for the best start in school history on Wednesday night vs. No. 22 Illinois.  The Top-Five in the AP media poll remains unchanged from a week ago.  Arizona is first, Syracuse second, Ohio State third, and Michigan State fifth.  The coaches' poll has the same Top-Three, with Michigan State tied for fourth with the Badgers.  All but the Spartans remain unbeaten.  

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University of Iowa men's basketball head coach Fran McCaffery apologized today for his outburst that got him ejected in Madison last night.  He was tossed with about 12 minutes left, after he was upset about a no-call at one end of the floor, and a foul against his team at the other end.  He exploded in a frenzy as a TV timeout was just beginning, and he bumped an official along the way.  McCaffery was given back-to-back technicals and ejected.  In a statement today, McCaffery said he's sorry for getting too emotional -- and he regretted that his actions put the Iowa men's basketball program and his school in a negative light.  Hawkeyes' athletic director Gary Barta said McCaffery knows he crossed the line -- and the AD said the coach has his full support going forward.  Iowa was leading by two points when the outburst occurred.  Wisconsin rattled off five straight points after that, and ended up beating Iowa 75-71.

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For the second week in a row, Nigel Hayes of Wisconsin is the Big Ten Conference men's basketball Player-of-the-Week.  Hayes has scored in double digits in three of his last four games.  This past week, he averaged 13-and-a-half points and five rebounds in Wisconsin's victories over Northwestern and Iowa.

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Keifer Sykes of UW-Green Bay was named today as the Horizon League men's Player-of-the-Week for the fourth time this season.  Sykes, a junior guard, had 24 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds against Youngstown State on Saturday.  He also had 15 points and five boards against Cleveland State.  Jarod Williams of Detroit is the men's Freshman-of-the-Week.  The women's top freshman is UW-Milwaukee guard Bre'Zall Warren.  She had 11 points and four rebounds off the bench in UWM's 20-point win over Nebraska-Omaha yesterday.  Forward Ruvanna Campbell of Illinois-Chicago is the Horizon women's Player-of the-Week.

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Former Indiana University men's basketball center Luke Fischer is about to transfer to Marquette.  The former high school All-American from Germantown tweeted his intentions yesterday.  Marquette coach Buzz Williams cannot comment under NCAA rules until Fischer enrolls and shows up on the Milwaukee campus.  Indiana coach Tom Crean -- a former Marquette coach -- said he didn't want to see Fischer go, but the 6-11 player was looking for a better fit. Fischer, who led his high school team to consecutive state championships, was hurt before the season began, and he averaged about three points and two rebounds in 13 contests.  

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The University of Wisconsin women's hockey team remains at No. 2 in a new poll this afternoon from U.S. College Hockey Online.  The Badgers have won five straight, after sweeping Saint Cloud State 3-1 and 4-0 on the road this past weekend.  Mark Johnson's Wisconsin team is 16-2-2 overall.  Minnesota is still the women's No. 1.   Wisconsin dropped one spot to No. 14 in the men's poll after splitting a home series with Alaska-Anchorage. MInnesota is still the No. 1 ranked team despite losing a shootout to below .500 Colgate in the Mariucci Classic over the weekend. In Division III, UW-Stevens Point moved up one place to second in the men's College Hockey Online poll.  The Pointers are 11-1 overall.  Saint Norbert remains fourth.  UW-Eau Claire dropped one place to 10th.  River Falls jumped one spot to 13th.  Adrian is the new men's leader.  Plattsburgh fell from first-to-third.  In the Division III women's poll, Stevens Point is still at No. 5.  River Falls is still seventh.  Superior remains ninth.  Plattsburgh is the women's No. 1.

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The Milwaukee Admirals won a 4-3 shoot-out victory over the Iowa Wild last night at the Bradley Center.  Admirals' goal-tender Magnus Hellberg saved all six shots he faced in the overtime period, and then four more in the shootout to preserve the victory.  Taylor Beck had a goal and an assist in regulation -- and he scored the deciding goal in the shootout.  Milwaukee improved to 4-and-0 against Iowa this season.  Almost 2,500 people braved the sub-zero cold to attend the game.

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One of the heroes of the Milwaukee Brewers' 2011 division championship season wants to return to the big leagues.  Outfielder Nyjer Morgan has spent the last year in Japan.  He has recently switched agents.  Jonathan Maurer says he has spoken with 6-to-8 Major League teams that have expressed an interest in signing the 33-year-old Morgan.  His most productive season was in 2009, when he hit .307 with 42 stolen bases for Pittsburgh and Washington.  Morgan's finest moment came with the Brewers, when he hit the game-winning single against Arizona in the 10th inning that gave Milwaukee its first playoff series clincher since 1982.  It was in that season in which Morgan promoted his "Tony Plush" alter-ego -- something he tempered in 2012, when he struggled before leaving Milwaukee as a free agent.

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While most Wisconsin golf enthusiasts can only dream of being outdoors, state PGA pros Jerry Kelly and Mark Wilson are gearing up for a tournament in Hawaii.  The Sony Open begins Thursday in Honolulu.  It's the PGA full-field event of the New Year.  Kelly, of Madison, won the Sony Open in 2002.  Wilson, of Pewaukee, won it in 2011.

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