WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUND-UP: Rodgers defends Packer organization for handling his injury
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers held a light walk-through practice on Christmas Eve, as they get ready to play the Bears in Chicago on Sunday for the NFC North Division title.
The players are off for the holiday, and practice resumes tomorrow. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on his weekly ESPN-Milwaukee radio show that he hopes to be taking snaps with the No. 1 offense, like he's done for part of the last two weeks. He said a decision would be announced tomorrow on whether he'll play against the Bears. It's been 51 days since Rodgers broke his left collarbone, and he had another medical scan yesterday. The results are pending. Fullback John Kuhn said the team would be ready for anything. Receiver James Jones said he thinks we'll get quote, "good news." Rodgers said he's frustrated that the injury hasn't healed faster -- but all he can do is wait for the bone to heal, and for the team doctor to clear him. Rodgers defended the way the Packers have handled and discussed his injury -- and he says the criticisms of team physician Patrick McKenzie, general manager Ted Thompson, and coach Mike McCarthy are unwarranted.
It may not seem like it, but Mike Neal has been an ironman for the Packers this season. Despite having an abdominal injury early in the season, Neal has played in all 15 of Green Bay's contests -- and he has started nine in his first season at outside linebacker. He had a stinger in last Sunday's home loss to Pittsburgh, but Neal says he's okay. The Packers are counting on Neal and rookie linebacker Andy Mulumba to step up their games with Clay Matthews out due to an aggravation of his broken right thumb -- and Nick Perry still trying to deal with a foot injury from earlier in the season. Neal yesterday said the only pressure he feels is to help the Packers get victories -- and not to be Clay Matthews. Neal lost 30 pounds this season before moving from his previous defensive end position. He's tied for third on the Packers with five sacks this year.
Pewaukee native J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans says he'll consider having plastic surgery after the season. Watt, a former Wisconsin Badger standout, suffered a deep gash on the bridge of his nose in the fourth week of the season. It required six stitches, and the wound has reopened in every one of his games since then. Watt said his mother Connie is trying to get his face under the knife -- and that's pretty much why he's thinking about the plastic surgery. As Watt put it, "My mom doesn't like it at all, so she's hoping I get it fixed."
The University of Wisconsin football team leaves today for Orlando, where they'll play South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. Senior linebacker Chris Borland said the Badgers have faced a lot of adversity, as every team has -- and Wisconsin has handled it well. Borland is one of 22 seniors who will play their final game next week. This season alone, they've been hit with things like senior defensive end Tyler Dippel's absence for two weeks due to a difficult personal matter -- and the controversial loss at Arizona State in September. That was when the officials improperly let time tick off the clock before the Badgers could kick a game-winning field goal. Senior defensive end Pat Muldoon said the loss could have made for a disastrous season, if it wasn't for the team's strong leadership. Coach Gary Andersen earned high marks for the calm way he handled the situation. The Badgers are 9-3 going into next week's bowl game.
A billboard in downtown Milwaukee shows at least one fan group's frustrations with the Bucks. It has a photo of ping-pong balls, with a message that reads, "Winning Takes Balls." Save Our Bucks.com took out the ad, hinting that the Bucks need to keep losing in order to score big in the NBA Draft Lottery and get a high pick next June. The sports Web site Deadspin picked up on the billboard, and the Journal Sentinel writes today about the group. Spokesman Paul Henning attends several Bucks' games a year, and his group does not mince words about the team with the NBA's worst record at 6-22. The Save-Our-Bucks Web site has an executive summary stating that the team has employed quote, "a very chaotic management structure that consists of a number of long-time front office people, supplemented by whoever are the head coach and general manager the time," supported by owner Herb Kohl on a "case by case basis." Henning did say that Kohl's recent announcement to find new investors is positive news -- as is the discussion of a possible new arena. The fans are not filling the Bradley Center right now -- far from it. The Bucks average just over 14,000 fans a game in the 19,000-seat facility. That's about 900 fewer fans a game than last season. The Bucks' next game is on Friday night at Brooklyn.
Former Bucks' coach Terry Stotts went overseas soon after Milwaukee fired him in 2007. He said wanted to get some perspective from the game's top international coaches -- and he even considered coaching in a foreign country before he got another chance in the NBA a season ago. Stotts now coaches the Portland Trail Blazers, who are off to a 23-5 start -- the third-best in the team's history. Portland leads the league in three-point shooting, and the Blazers combine it with a solid pick-and-roll offense to rack up points. They've scored more than 105 points in their last 13 games, the longest streak of its kind in the NBA since Denver did it in 2008. Stotts said the Blazers are playing the style of basketball he envisioned -- unselfish, quick, and versatile with a lot of shots from downtown. Stotts coached two seasons in Atlanta and two in Milwaukee, and was fired both times. The Bucks let him go with 18 games left in 2007 -- and that's when we went to Europe to get advice from coaches in Moscow, Istanbul, and Greece. Stotts played in Europe, and he says he's always been intrigued by the international style of play. He brought some of those ideas to the Dallas Mavericks when he was an assistant under Rick Carlisle in 2011 -- and it helped the Mavs win the NBA title. Carlisle said Stotts has a great overall feel for the game and quote, "He's the best offensive coach I've ever been around."