Chicago Bears: Ted Thompson

Post-draft storylines in the NFC North

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
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Brian Urlacher, Marshall Newhouse, Josh McCownGetty ImagesFollowing the 2013 NFL draft, the futures for Brian Urlacher, Marshall Newhouse and Josh McCown appear unclear.
NFC North teams added dozens of intriguing young players over the weekend. They filled glaring holes and added to already-established strengths. Some areas remain weak, of course, while other selections created new storylines we hadn't anticipated.

So here's my post-draft plan. We'll use this post to lay out the unfilled holes and new storylines and then circle back over the next days and weeks as needed. I'll also sprinkle in some interesting and/or offbeat stories that emerged from the draft but would have been buried if I had posted them over the weekend.

Issue: The Green Bay Packers continued signaling potential change at left tackle.
Analysis: Coach Mike McCarthy said in March that the team needed better play from its left tackle position, manned last season by Marshall Newhouse. Then the Packers went out and drafted Colorado's David Bakhtiari and Cornell's J.C. Tretter in the fourth round. Bakhtiari has played left and right tackle; Tretter played tackle as well but might project as a guard. Saturday, McCarthy left all options open at the position -- including moving right tackle Bryan Bulaga back to the position he played at Iowa. McCarthy also said he is "really counting" on Derek Sherrod, the Packers' top pick in 2011 who hasn't played since breaking his leg late that season, to compete for the job. Don Barclay, who started four games last season at right tackle (plus another two in the playoffs), is also in the mix. Suddenly, the Packers have six legitimate possibilities to compete for the left and right tackle spots if they want. Moving Bulaga isn't as easy as it sounds, and there is something to be said for leaving him at a position he has excelled at. But it's telling that the Packers are even considering it.

Issue: The Packers drafted 11 players, but none of them were safeties.
Analysis: General manager Ted Thompson said afterwards that he has faith in incumbents M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, who will compete to play alongside Morgan Burnett. We'll see if the Packers feel compelled to kick the tires on a veteran. Among those available are Quintin Mikell, Kerry Rhodes and Gerald Sensabaugh. Historically, the Packers' approach has been to evaluate younger incumbents first before seeking veteran replacements elsewhere.

Issue: None of the Minnesota Vikings' nine draft choices play middle linebacker.
Analysis: We should note that the Vikings used a seventh-round pick on Penn State's Michael Mauti, who has been projected as a middle/inside linebacker by some. But Mauti is recovering from his third career ACL tear and can't be counted on to fill any sort of significant role. Internal candidates include Erin Henderson, the strong-side linebacker whom the Vikings have said could play inside if needed, and 2012 seventh-round pick Audie Cole. The elephant in the room is veteran Brian Urlacher, who was reported at one point this spring to have had conversations with Vikings officials. Urlacher isn't anything close to the profile of the player general manager Rick Spielman typically brings in, but this is an extenuating circumstance. Remember, the Vikings used their nickel defense on 58.9 percent of their snaps last season. Whomever plays middle linebacker for the Vikings could be off the field for two of every five snaps.

Issue: The Vikings used a fifth-round pick to make Jeff Locke the first punter drafted.
Analysis: In the past five years, four punters have been selected with a fifth-round pick or higher. All four became their team's primary punters in their rookie seasons. There is every reason to believe the Vikings plan for Locke to replace veteran Chris Kluwe, perhaps as soon as they get a look at him during their rookie minicamp this summer. I know that Spielman said Locke was brought in "to compete" for the job, but that competition will be short and one-sided. NFL teams don't use draft picks on specialists unless they are certain they want to make a change.

Issue: The Detroit Lions didn't draft an offensive tackle after the departure of both 2012 starters.
Analysis: Riley Reiff, the Lions' top draft choice in 2012, will start at left tackle. The Lions' right tackle could be Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard. That still leaves the Lions thin along the line, especially at right guard if rookie Larry Warford isn't ready to step in right away. Regardless, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew made clear the Lions need to add more depth. "We're really young there so we'll look at some veteran guys there I think over the next few weeks."

Issue: The Lions didn't draft a receiver until the sixth round (Virginia Tech's Corey Fuller), but they almost….
Analysis: According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Lions told Michigan's Denard Robinson that they planned to draft him with the No. 136 overall pick. Mayhew had spoken before the draft about Robinson's potential as a "slash" player from the backfield and/or slot receiver position. Robinson, however, was selected at No. 135 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Eventually the Lions used the No. 166 overall pick to select Notre Dame's Theo Riddick, who is not as explosive as Robinson but is a good receiver out of the backfield in his own right. Ultimately, the Lions finished this draft thin at the traditional receiver position given the injury rehabilitations of Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles.

Issue: The Chicago Bears did not draft a quarterback, seemingly leaving Josh McCown as the primary backup to Jay Cutler.
Analysis: The Bears figured to be a candidate to draft a quarterback in part because of coach Marc Trestman's expertise in developing them and in part to end the cycle of searching for a veteran backup each year. In the end, the Bears couldn't justify drafting one given their limited number of picks. (They started with five and through trades finished with six.) Said general manager Phil Emery: "Things would have to line up perfect to take a quarterback with five picks." McCown was relatively impressive during a two-start stint to end the 2011 season, but overall he has played in a total of six games over the past five seasons. I wouldn't call this the Bears' most pressing need, and the Bears signaled as much with their draft results.

Issue: The Bears feel better about their tight end situation than most draft pundits.
Analysis: Many draft analysts thought the Bears would draft Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert if they had a chance, but they passed him up Thursday night in favor of offensive lineman Kyle Long. Eifert went one pick later to the Cincinnati Bengals. It's true that Eifert would have been a luxury pick given the free-agent acquisition of tight end Martellus Bennett, but in the larger sense he would have been another weapon for quarterback Jay Cutler's make-or-break season.

Eight in the Box: FA winners or losers?

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
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» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC North team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Chicago Bears: A hot start in free agency netted left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The Bears had been trying for five years to find a genuine left tackle, and Bushrod's arrival should boost the faith of quarterback Jay Cutler. Bennett, meanwhile, gives the Bears the kind of pass-catching tight end they once had in Greg Olsen. But Bushrod and Bennett accounted for most of the salary-cap space the Bears had budgeted to use, and now they are nibbling the edges. Overall, however, the Bears improved two important positions, making them winners in free agency.

Detroit Lions: The NFC North's most active offseason team has added three new starters in running back Reggie Bush, defensive end Jason Jones and safety Glover Quin. Bush will have a big impact on balancing the explosiveness in the Lions' offense, and Quin will pair with the returning Louis Delmas to give the Lions their best safety duo in recent memory. The Lions have improved as many positions as they could have given their tight salary-cap situation.

Green Bay Packers: It's difficult to win when you don't play, and general manager Ted Thompson is notoriously reluctant to compete financially in the market. He allowed receiver Greg Jennings to sign with the Minnesota Vikings and didn't make a good enough offer on running back Steven Jackson. But the Packers have made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons by following a similar approach. These days, their focus is on saving enough salary-cap space to re-sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews. The Packers won't find two players better than that on the free-agent market.

Minnesota Vikings: In essence, the Vikings traded receiver Percy Harvin for Jennings, along with a first-, third- and seventh-round draft pick. They won't replace Harvin's unique skill set, but that's not a bad recovery. The Vikings are also in a better spot at backup quarterback with Matt Cassel rather than Joe Webb. But they don't have a middle linebacker after bidding farewell to Jasper Brinkley, and they remain thin at cornerback after releasing Antoine Winfield. The Vikings remain a work in progress this offseason. They haven't won or lost yet.

DraftWatch: Mel Kiper Jr. mock 3.0

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
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Amid the unpredictability of NFL free agency we have at least one paragon of stability: ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft Insider. It is an Insider piece, of course, but I thought I would sneak you his choices for NFC North teams before they could be outdated by free-agent activity.

5. Detroit Lions
Kiper pick: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Seifert comment: This pick has been gaining media steam but leaves unanswered the question of whether Ansah could excel right away. The Lions have said they need an immediate contributor with this pick.

20. Chicago Bears
Kiper pick: Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker
Seifert comment: This pick would make sense on many levels but might not be necessary depending on what the Bears do in free agency. Because he is projected as a right tackle, Fluker figures to be available at this point in the first round.

23. Minnesota Vikings
Kiper pick: Cal receiver Keenan Allen
Seifert comment: The receiver position will be a big need for the Vikings even after free agency. They've cleaned house and need a total rebuild with a combination of veterans and rookies. Allen is big enough (6-foot-2) to be a legitimate downfield threat.

25. Vikings
Kiper pick: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
Seifert comment: The Vikings added this pick in exchange for Percy Harvin. One way or the other, they'll need to add some youth to a defensive line that includes three starters who are at least 30 years old.

26. Green Bay Packers
Kiper pick: Alabama running back Eddie Lacy
Seifert comment: Are the Packers really ready to spend a first-round draft pick on a running back? Media analysts seem to think so. It would be a departure from general manager Ted Thompson's recent history, for sure.

CampTour'12: What we learned

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
3:15
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Marshall-Ponder-YoungGetty ImagesFinal training camp thoughts: Chicago is excited about Brandon Marshall, Christian Ponder has started to embrace his role as a leader, and Titus Young has been a training camp star.
We came, we saw, we conquered. Veni, vidi, vici and all that stuff. Yes, CampTour'12 wrapped up late last week, ending a stretch of spending 11 days at four NFC North training camps over a 15-day period. I took three flights, logged 938 miles on the NFC North blogmobile and limited my Jimmy John's/Chipotle intake to an average of one ingestion per day.

You can find everything I produced on location through this handy one-stop link, and the four Camp Confidential posts are all grouped here.

This division looks every bit as tough as we thought it was before the tour began, and I figure it's going to take 12 regular-season victories (or more) to win it. With that in mind, let's wrap up CampTour'12 with, well, 12, final thoughts and semi-behind-the-scenes observations from my time abroad.

1. The Chicago Bears' risk-reward: Our pre-camp discussion centered around the Bears' improvement and possible eclipse of the Detroit Lions in the standings. After seeing them in camp and in the context of the rest of the division, I still think the Bears are a really good team. But I also think they run the biggest risk of imploding among our top three teams. Already, two offseason decisions to stand part have left them vulnerable. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb has not yet demonstrated the progress expected of him, and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher's now surgically-repaired knee has drawn genuine concerns about his health over a 16-game season. Those are two huge positions on this team, and neither have a credible alternative at this point.

2. Genuine excitement: It was fascinating to watch longtime Bears employees and observers during receiver Brandon Marshall's first full-pads practice Aug. 1. Marshall made the kinds of plays that only a true No. 1 receiver makes, including some fancy sideline footwork at the end of a 35-yard pass from Jay Cutler. Several people gushed that Marshall will prove the team's best skill-position player since Walter Payton. A glance at recent Bears history suggests that's a sound judgment by default. I didn't see Marshall do anything that we haven't seen, say, Calvin Johnson do in this division. But it's been forever since the Bears have had someone do it in their uniform.

[+] EnlargeMike Tice
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMike Tice seems more relaxed with the Bears than when he was at the helm in Minnesota.
3. Tice games: I told Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice that he seemed less frantic and more chill than he was during his time as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach. "I still have my moments," Tice said in words that proved prophetic. Since then, he has reached deep into his bag of tricks to cajole better play from Webb, putting him in a yo-yo personnel rotation and playing him for almost all of the preseason opener. When he was the Vikings' coach, Tice once pulled fans into a non-contact drill to demonstrate mistakes to starting linemen. On another occasion, he required linemen to practice with their hands tied together to emphasize footwork. Sometimes those tactics work. Sometimes they don't.

4. Concussion impact: I wouldn't be surprised if we look back at this summer as the moment concussion treatment -- not just concussions themselves -- began impacting the game. Already, we've seen the Lions and Green Bay Packers acknowledge they are taking a much more deliberate approach to putting players back on the field after they've been concussed or if they are even suspected to have suffered a concussion. Front-line players including Greg Jennings, Marshall Newhouse and Amari Spievey missed the preseason opener because of them.

5. Traffic nightmare: Would you believe that the worst traffic in the NFC North is in the NFL's smallest market? Some of the key roads surrounding Lambeau Field have been torn up for months, including Oneida St. and Hwy. 41 near Lombardi Ave.. I pray to the construction gods that everything is finished by next month. Based on the amount of holes, gravel roads and lane closures I saw, I'm not optimistic. All I can say is to arrive early and often.

6. Camp routine: Because of the new collective bargaining agreement, players were on the field once a day in three of our locales. The only team coming close to two-a-day practices were the Vikings, whose first workout was a 60-minute, half-speed walk-through. Veterans like the Packers' Jeff Saturday were thrilled with the reduced wear-and-tear. Privately, others noted that coaches filled the time once set aside for a second practice with additional meetings. "Some really tedious days," one player said. Said another: "Sometimes the grass is not always greener, you know?"

7. Imagination movers: The Packers lead the division with unique drills and sideline gizmos. For years, they've had sideline speakers set up to broadcast the ravings of special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum. This year, they added a set of red and green lights that flash exactly 2.5 seconds after the ball is snapped in team drills. In essence, they are designed to simulate the quarterback's head clock. I also saw offensive linemen catching passes from a JUGS machine and tight ends doing a basketball-like drill where they weaved the ball around their ankles and through their legs.

8. Ponder charisma: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder seems to have made some strides as a pocket passer. But I can say without a shred of doubt that Ponder has mastered the more ethereal parts of NFL quarterbacking. He has taken ownership of a young roster and moves easily between the inevitable cliques that develop. He is just as likely to share a laugh with fellow second-year player Kyle Rudoph as he is veteran receiver Jerome Simpson, a newly-signed free agent. I watched him call team staffers by name and treat them with genuine respect. Ponder has some work to do on the field, but he has the makings of a franchise pillar off of it.

9. Defensive dilemma: Much of the camp discussion surrounding the Vikings has centered around Ponder and the changes they've made to the offense. But the Vikings have just as much, if not more, work to do on defense. There are at least four positions -- nose tackle, middle linebacker and both safety spots -- where the presumed starter remains completely unproven. The San Francisco 49ers gashed them for 260 rushing yards in the preseason opener.

10. Eye-opening: Someone asked me along the trail to name the best NFC North player no one has heard of. The first two names to come to mind are both on the Lions' roster. You've no doubt heard of receiver Titus Young, but probably for the wrong reasons after his offseason fight with safety Louis Delmas. Young has been a training camp star, twisting and turning over defensive backs in every drill I watched. From a physical standpoint, Young can be a star. The other was defensive end Willie Young, who got elevated reps because of Cliff Avril's holdout and Kyle Vanden Bosch's knee injury. Willie Young is a high-energy, full-effort pass-rusher who has to get on the field more substantially this season.

11. Redshirt season?: Perhaps the most notable sign of the Lions' roster strength is that their top two draft picks might get a quasi-redshirt season, assuming the players in front of them stay healthy. Offensive lineman Riley Reiff isn't going to beat out left tackle Jeff Backus and probably not right tackle Gosder Cherilus, either. And receiver Ryan Broyles has been limited all summer because of residual soreness from knee surgery. At best, he will be the Lions' No. 4 receiver when he does get on the field.

12. Serious bid'niss: I realized how serious this NFC North race would be shortly after returning from CampTour'12. Check out this photo tweeted by Chris Jenkins of The Associated Press. It shows Saturday, Cedric Benson and Reggie Wells in Packers uniforms. These three are the kind of veteran free agents the Packers turned away from for years under general manager Ted Thompson. This season, Thompson has loaded up on a relative scale. In this division, this year, there is no time to wait for development. Answers are needed now.

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

Phil Emery: Bears find their Ted Thompson

January, 28, 2012
1/28/12
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In retrospect, the Chicago Bears' 25-day search for a general manager played out exactly as they said it would. Team president Ted Phillips made clear he wasn't looking to turn the organization upside down after firing Jerry Angelo on Jan. 3. No, as we discussed at the time, the Bears wanted someone who could bring a better hit rate as a talent evaluator.

Kansas City Chiefs executive Phil Emery emerged as a favorite early in the process because of his unique qualifications under those criteria, and for that reason it was far from surprising to hear that the Bears hired him Saturday.

Emery spent seven years as a Bears scout from 1998-2004, making him relatively familiar with the inner workings of Halas Hall and unlikely to pursue a massive overhaul. He was part of a Bears scouting department that drafted eight future Pro Bowlers, from receiver Marty Booker to linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to safety Mike Brown and cornerback Charles Tillman. Later, he drafted receiver Roddy White and quarterback Matt Ryan, among others, as the Atlanta Falcons' director of college scouting.

Emery surely will bring his own tone and vision to the Bears' front office. But initially, at least, he'll do so by assimilating the existing infrastructure and minimizing the side effects of transition.

The Bears have missed the playoffs in four of the five seasons since their appearance in Super Bowl XLI. But whether you agree or not, Phillips said he thinks the team has suffered from inconsistent talent evaluation rather than larger-scale issues. So in essence, he has swapped one longtime scout-turned-general manager for another in hopes of getting better results.

Phillips said Jan. 3 that the Bears needed to close the "talent gap" that exists between the Bears and their two most competitive NFC North rivals, the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. In many ways, the decision to bring back Emery reflects the Packers' hiring of general manager Ted Thompson in 2005.

Thompson spent eight years with the Packers in various personnel roles between 1992 and ‘99 before returning as general manager in 2005. Emery brings a similar reputation as a blue-collar scout and workaholic who figures to spend a good portion of his years on the road personally scouting college players.

Thompson, of course, had the authority to remake the Packers franchise as he saw fit. Much of the front office remained intact, but he fired coach Mike Sherman after one season and hired Mike McCarthy in 2006. The Packers won Super Bowl XLV with a 53-man roster that included 49 players acquired after Thompson's arrival.

That's a tough ideal for Emery and the Bears to pursue, but I wouldn't be surprised if it comes up at some point during Monday's news conference to introduce him formally. The Bears wanted a low-key leader who would focus on talent evaluation and, like Thompson, stay below the radar. By all accounts, Emery fits that bill.

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