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About Steve Hartman

Digital Sales Manager at Rivertown Multimedia. Huge sports fan from basketball to tennis, golf to football and everything in between.

Packers Training Camp: 6 Things to Watch

Nearly a week into NFL training camps here are 6 things I’m watching at Packers camp in Green Bay.

How will Julius Peppers fit in?

For Julius Peppers’ entire 13-year NFL career he has played defensive end in a 4-3 system. After signing a 3-year, $30 million deal as a free agent this off-season, he will make the switch to OLB in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. Some have predicted Peppers’ presence will free up Clay Mathews from double-teams and create a nightmare scenario for opposing offenses. However, Peppers is 34 years old and at the tail end of his career. His 7 sacks in 2013 were his lowest since 2007 and tied for his 2nd lowest single-season total of his career. Peppers still possesses the size to be intimidating but will he be agile enough to make plays in coverage or will he be relegated to 3rd down pass-rushing situations only?

Will the offensive line that starts together stay together?

Obviously the Packers are set at quarterback, but keeping Aaron Rodgers upright and healthy is, and has been, the key ingredient to Green Bay’s success. GB won the NFC North last season at 8-7-1, but easily could have been 11-5 or better had Rodgers not gotten hurt. JC Tretter is taking over at center. Having a 2nd-year player, one who didn’t play a snap in 2013, making calls at the line could be a scary situation for Packer fans. However, the rest of the offensive line is in tact, with some depth at both tackle positions behind G Lang and Tackles Bakhtiari and Bulaga. I can’t remember the last time the Packers went a season without some injuries on the line. To their credit, they’ve been able to weather those injuries and still win games. Staying healthy and being consistent could set the stage for a huge offensive year from the Pack.

Can the secondary be healthy & productive?

Expectations are high for the Packers secondary, even from within the team. But health and production will dictate their success. Casey Hayward looks to have a bounce-back season after hamstring problems hampered his 2013 campaign. Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix comes in highly touted, but has yet to play a snap in the NFL. Micah Hyde will push Clinton-Dix for the starting spot. But again, the depth here is great as Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett solidify a group looking to replace Seattle as the best secondary in the NFL. Watch the safety position specifically. Corner is the strength of this team, but any injuries or poor performances from the safeties could spell problems against high-powered offensive teams like Chicago and Detroit.

How does Lacy build on his rookie season?

Second-year RB and 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy is looking to follow his sensational rookie season with an even bigger year in 2014. Lacy rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 TDs in 2013 giving Green Bay it’s most potent running game since Ahman Green. When Rodgers is behind center it all but guarantees less than 8 in the box and plenty of running lanes for Lacy. Teams are unable to deal with the Packers passing attack and therefore leave them susceptible to Lacy’s punishing running style. Look for another big season from Lacy, perhaps not in yards, but in TDs and Yards per Carry.

Who fills TE spot with Jermichael Finley’s departure?

The easy answer to replace Finely, still recovering from a neck injury and unsigned as of today, is free agent Andrew Quarless. The former Detroit Lion only had 2 TDs and just over 300 yards in 10 games during the 2013 season. The team says it has depth and hopes to have a starter earn the spot. That is coach-speak for “we don’t have anyone we feel great about and hope someone steps up.” Another option is 3rd-round pick Richard Rodgers, who has shined in mini-camp, OTAs and training camp. How does the saying go, “If you have 7 TEs, you really have none”? Even this guy has a chance to make the team! This is the one position on GB’s offense that lacks star power and stability. But the Packers weapons on offense are plentiful and if they get adequate play from this position they’ll score plenty of points.

Cobb, Nelson and who else?

It’s been proven Rodgers can make WRs look really good. (Picking up on a theme? I REALLY like Aaron Rodgers.) So maybe it doesn’t matter who the other WRs are, but the battle for the 3rd and 4th spots should be exciting to watch. Local favorite Jarred Abbrederis is in the mix and is getting lots of cheers at training camp. The former Badger has lots of company though. Fresno State rookie Davante Adams has also impressed. Jarrett Boykin proved in 2013 that he’s more than capable of making plays and being a top target in the Packers system. The battle between these 3 should be exciting for fans. Regardless, all will likely see the field and be complementary pieces to Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. This group will be tough to handle for opposing secondaries.

Stay tuned for my “6 Things to Watch at Vikings Training Camp” coming up next week. After the 3rd week of preseason games I’ll post my 2014 predictions for both teams.

NFL, NCAA stories take twists

For those following the Vikings/NFL and NCAA Men’s Basketball closely these won’t be new topics. But controversial stories with potentially long-term ramifications came out in recent weeks.

Kluwe vs Vikings

This story has dragged on for longer than it should have, but with today’s news that former Viking punter Chris Kluwe will not file his lawsuit against the team and would rather talk it out brings up some interesting storylines. It appears that Kluwe has felt the backlash from his supposed supporters who believe in gay rights and gay marriage. Here’s a great analysis from Outsports. His issues with the Vikings go well past his dismissal because of his views. Kluwe now claims that this case is about opening up the Vikings for covering up illegal activity and a total lack of transparency. How we got here, I don’t quite know. MPR maybe does. But Kluwe’s a very smart guy, son of a doctor and biofuels executive. My take is he’s mad he got let go by 2 teams, looked for someone to blame, noticed the timing of being released came after his controversial stance and appearances and figured he should get something because of it. He fails to assume any personal responsibility for being let go, such as his downward production, rising age, and relatively high salary for his position. That’s not to say the Vikings are a clean organization always on the moral high ground. The contrary actually, they rank 2nd in NFL arrests since 2000. This is the reason I’ve failed to fully commit to Purple Pride. The Vikings are well-known has having troubles off the field. However, both sides need to move on. Kluwe rescinding his lawsuit, for at least today, is a good sign they will.

College recruit goes overseas

Last week, Emmanuel Mudiay, one of the top-ranked players coming out of high school last year, made news by de-committing from Southern Methodist University (SMU) and legendary coach Larry Brown. Mudiay opted to sign a reported $1.2 million dollar contract to play professionally in China. His signing at SMU was a surprise to many to begin with and gave the impression that SMU was on the rise. Mudiay cited family issues, not grades as was initially reported, as his reason to go overseas rather than play in college. The reason he gave was that he wanted to provide for his family and mother. This is a completely reasonable and noble reason to skip college. Many of us would do the same if millions were at stake and our family was in dire straits.

What I find interesting is how this affects the group who demands college players be paid because so many others make money off athlete production on the court, field, etc. People have said for years it’s not fair and could be illegal for players to risk their bodies and health but yet never see a dime. “How can coaches, presidents, athletic directors make so much off young people?! Pay the players now.” This group makes it seem that there are no other options and the marketing players receive in the NCAA is the only way to the professional ranks. Listen, it’s the players/students choice to go to college. If you do, there are rules in place and you have to follow them. But there are options. If you don’t like playing for free in the states under the guise of the NCAA, feel free to go overseas, or to the NBA’s D-League. Make money for a year and enter the NBA draft. That is allowed. If you don’t like the NCAA rules, don’t go to colleg. And the best result for all would be enough players skip the NCAA ranks, play overseas where no one can watch and ratings, attendance, etc go down. That would FORCE the NCAA to change their rules. Until then, this is what is in place and make your decisions accordingly.

Brewers Slide Continues, McIlroy Becomes 3rd Youngest to Win 3rd Major

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Milwaukee Brewers were hoping to turn around their July skid. Things looked good after a 4-2 win Friday night over the Nationals. However, they dropped the final two in Washington and actually dropped out of 1st place until St. Louis lost later Sunday. The Brew Crew have lost 12 of their 15 games since July 1st. The Brewers, having had a sizable lead for much of the season, now are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals, and lead Pittsburgh, who just swept Colorado, by 1.5 games and Cincinatti by only 2.5 games. Ron Roenicke’s squad opens a 3-game series versus the Reds tonight in what has become a huge homestand. The Brewers need to regain some momentum and could do that by winning the series against Cincy, and by winning 3 of 4, or sweeping the series, against the NY Mets in the last part of the homestand.

The problems seem to be relatively minor, but minor mistakes in close games can cost you division championships and a chance at the playoffs. Manager Ron Roenicke was not happy after the most recent loss, a 5-4 setback to the Nationals after the Brewers were able to tie the game in the 9th inning. It comes down to mental mistakes. Rickie Weeks’ was thrown out at 2nd on the back-end of a double-steal with Carlos Gomez. In the bottom of the inning and a runner on 1st, leftfielder Khris Davis overthrew the cutoff man allowing Anthony Rendon to score the winning run with 2 outs. Obviously the manager isn’t happy, but the fans have to be on edge as well. One thing to be positive about, the Brewers are still on top of the division. However, there is a log-jam in the division AND the wild card race. Every game is important and Milwaukee needs to tighten things up.

Rory 3rd youngest to 3 Majors

I was listening to a prominent local radio host in the Twin Cities and the discussion was about Tiger Woods and the lack of talent filling the void while he’s been off his game. The argument was that this allowed Tiger a chance to still win major championships despite not playing the best golf of his career. It looks like Rory, along with a slew of other young players, have no fear of Tiger and have plenty of toughness to win majors for years to come. Rory led from start to finish and looked dominant at times, despite a shaky finish to become the 3rd youngest player to win 3 majors. The other two? Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. That’s pretty elite company for McIlroy, winner of the 2011 U.S. Open, 2012 PGA Championship,  and now the 2014 Open Championship.

It’s obvious he’s going to fill the void, but he won’t be doing it alone. Players like Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and many others will continue to create compelling and exciting golf tournaments. Tiger’s run is over. No matter if you were a fan or not, that’s the truth. McIlroy, 25, is here to stay and he’ll be winning tournaments for many years. The question used to be “Will Tiger catch Jack in majors?” I’d argue the more relevant question is “Will Rory catch Tiger?”.

Lebron Goes Home, Carmelo Stays, Love Waits

I didn’t want to feed the beast with wild speculation on projected landing spots for various NBA stars. I figure 90% of what we hear from “sources” is nonsense and spin, meant to provide more leverage to teams, players and agents. Hence I stayed out of the conversation. All the “experts” do is guess. They have no more knowledge than you or I. Sources can’t always be trusted, and information isn’t always reliable.

But now that two of the NBA’s biggest stars have landed, we can begin looking at the landscape and assessing what’s going to happen next. Admittedly, Lebron going back to Cleveland was a bit of surprise to me. However, it makes sense from a story, legend, legacy standpoint. He can “right his wrongs” and bring a championship back to his home state. That is if Johnny Manziel doesn’t do it first. 

Carmelo Anthony resigned with the Knicks. This was not a shocker at all. He’s from New York, he played college in-state and, oh yes, NY is the #1 media market in the country. ‘Melo wants to be a star, wants to take shots and both of those things trump winning to him, at least that’s my observation.

Teams looking to make big improvements this off-season outside of Cleveland and New York, now look at Kevin Love as the biggest prize still available. Though he’s technically not a free agent, he is in all reality because the Timberwolves either trade him now or risk losing him for nothing but emptiness on the payroll after the 2014-15 season. Rumors still swirl that Love is going to Cleveland IF the Cavs offer up 2014 #1 overall draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, and a combination of Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, 2013 #1 pick Anthony Bennett, or a 1st round pick in the 2015 draft. This has to be Flip Saunders ideal situation. However, the Cavs could be fine with a rotation including Kyrie Irving (another #1 overall pick), Wiggins, Lebron and any other two players from your office. If that’s the case, the next-best option is the Golden State trade possibility of Klay Thompson and David Lee, though reports vary on what the Warriors are willing to offer the Wolves.

Pau Gasol to Chicago is another intriguing move, as is Luol Deng to Miami. The Bulls now have 2 of the best passing big men in the NBA with Joakim Noah and Gasol. But winning in the NBA now is about guards, small forwards and the ability to space the floor and hit 3′s (see Spurs, San Antonio; Heat, Miami; Thunder, Oklahoma City). The Bulls get markedly better from Derrick Rose returning from injury if he’s healthy, than Pau joining Noah in the frontcourt. Deng with Bosh and Wade in Miami is behind Cleveland and Indiana in the Eastern Conference hierarchy. But if losing Lebron and adding Deng allows Miami cap space to upgrade their inside play or point guard, and IF Wade can find some new legs, they can still be a top 4 seed in the East.

The intrigue of the NBA off-season is over, but storylines are still out there. Teams will still be trying to improve. Summer League is giving teams a look at their recent draft picks. The big moves have been made, but the most important moves, the supplement pieces that win championships could still be coming.

More from MLB’s All-Star Weekend

Exciting times at FanFest Friday for myself and my buddy, Derek. We were interviewed by Fox Sports for “All Star Fan Trivia.” This allowed me to drop my extensive knowledge on, among other things, ZUBAZ! Take a look below.


85th All-Star Game Fan Fest experience

I was lucky enough to take some time this weekend to attend the All-Star Game Fan Fest at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It was truly a great experience that I could do over and over. Every lap we took I found something new and interesting to check out. I highly recommend any baseball fan check it out. It’s not every day Jackie Robinson uniforms, the World Series trophy, and stars from then and now are in one building, one city. Here are just a few of the items I saw.

Painted emblems on the street direct fans to events throughout Minneapolis

Not to scale. Kirby Puckett only stood 5’8″.

Game-worn Jackie Robinson uniform from his days in the Negro Leagues.

The Jackie Robinson Award for Rookie of the Year.

World Series Trophy.

Member of the 1965 AL Champion Twins, as well as former Twins manager, Frank Quilici.

It wouldn’t be a “true” fan experience without Giant Bean Bag Toss!

All-Star Game Tidbits

An exciting weekend is ahead as the baseball world descends upon Target Field and the Twin Cities for MLB’s Mid-Summer Classic, the All-Star Game. Personally, I’m attending Fan Fest Friday night and I’ll be sure to post pictures and notes.

In other big news, Twins 2B Brian Dozier was selected by American League Home Run Derby captain, Jose Bautista, to compete in the State Farm HR Derby. It was a nice gesture by Bautista to appease the hometown fans with a local player in the derby. I’m not expecting much out of Dozier, 13th in MLB with 16 HRs, when players like Bautista, Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton among others are competing. But it will be fun to see if Dozier can replicate Justin Morneau’s 2008 Derby Championship.

Speaking of Morneau, the Colorado Rockies 1B, is in the Final Vote to be selected to the National League All-Star team. The “Big Canadian” was my favorite Twin during his run in Minnesota. His combination of power and average at the plate were only thwarted by injuries. He never fully recovered from his 2009 concussion and was dealt to the Pirates last season. Despite fans hoping for a return to the Twins this offseason, Morneau caught on with another former Twin, Michael Cuddyer, in Denver. Morneau was snubbed from the NL All-Star team despite his .313 avg, 13 HR and 59 RBI, tied for 2nd most in the NL. His return to the All-Star game in Minneapolis would bring tears to 40,000+ fans filling Target Field. I’m all aboard the #VoteMorneau train!


Sports Updates that Matter to You

Hey everyone! Thanks for stopping by Rivertown Sports Roundup.

The goal of this Vlog (Video Blog) will be to provide weekly updates on local sports in the area, including the following communities in the Rivertown Multimedia footprint:

Wisconsin – Somerset, New Richmond, Hudson, River Falls, Ellsworth & Prescott

Minnesota – Woodbury, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Red Wing, Farmington & Rosemount

I’ll touch base regularly with sportswriters from each of our community newspapers. Their expertise and insight of local sports in their communities is second to none. We will also take a look at regional and national sports topics, including the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild, Golden Gophers and Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers & Bucks, and Wisconsin Badgers.

My day job is Digital Sales Manager for Rivertown Multimedia, but my passion is sports and talking sports with anyone who will listen. You can follow me on Twitter @coachhartman or on Instagram @coachhart3

Now, on to the news of the week!


- Woodbury resident Bob McEnany nearly completed a bike ride across America. Unbelievable story can be found here.

- Menomonie (6-0 Eau Galle Division), River Falls (5-0 Red Cedar) & Prescott (7-0 St. Croix) sit atop the St. Croix Valley Baseball League Standings

- Nick Connelly, Red Wing, commits to play football for the Golden Gophers. Story here.

- Somerset AD resigns

- Ellsworth wrestling coach, Steldt, departs state championship program to be closer to family in southwest Wisconsin.


- World Cup: USMNT is about to take on Germany in their final match in Group G. Scenarios for how the U.S. advances can be found here. And of course, Suarez has a problem keeping his mouth from running into bodies.

- NBA Draft is tonight. Who goes No. 1? Will Embiid slide? Will Kevin Love be traded tonight? Lot of intriguing storylines tonight. Great coverage on Grantland.com

- SF Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum pitched his 2nd career no-hitter. However, the talk continues to be about that outstanding/disgusting mustache.


- Twins lose 2 in a row to Angels after sweeping the White Sox. ChiSox are THAT bad. Twins have now lost 7 straight on the road. I can’t figure this team out.

- Jabari Parker, former Duke forward, could be a Buck.

- Brewers win 9-2 over the Nationals. They remain hot, tied with Oakland for the most wins in MLB.