NFC North: 2014 NFL combine

At the time Connecticut middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood stepped to the podium for his media session at the NFL combine, the only team he'd met with up to that point was the Chicago Bears.

That's fine by Smallwood.

"It would be an honor [to play for the Bears]," he said. "They have a great tradition of having great Hall of Fame linebackers over there, so I would be so happy to play over there. But I'm just going to show what I can do and see what happens from there."

Well, the results during on-field testing at Lucas Oil Stadium didn't go quite the way Smallwood would have wanted. He bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times, and ran a 5.01-second 40-yard dash after pulling up with a hamstring injury. Smallwood also posted a vertical jump of 36.5 inches and a broad jump of 9 feet.

He'll receive another opportunity to better those results next month at Connecticut's Pro Day, but apparently the Bears liked what they saw on film of Smallwood, who declared for the draft after his junior season. Smallwood racked up a team-high 118 tackles as a junior, and 120 as a sophomore, with 15 of those stops going for lost yardage, in addition to producing four sacks and forcing two fumbles. It doesn't hurt that he's played for new Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni.

Pasqualoni spent a little more than two seasons (2011-13) as head coach at Connecticut. Going into last season with Smallwood being named to the Bednarik and Butkus Award preseason watch lists, Pasqualoni said told the Hartford Courant that one thing, "I really like about him, which I think is a strength, is that he doesn't process what he sees. He just goes. Some guys look at it and they hesitate, then they go. He's not a process guy. He's a read-and-react guy, which is a big part of the position, too."

Asked what the Bears liked about him, Smallwood said, "I have a high motor. I make plays out there on the football field. I rack up a lot of tackles. That's what they need on defense."

There's no disputing that with the Bears coming off their worst defensive season in franchise history. At this point, however, it's unknown what the club's level of interest in Smallwood really is.

Smallwood (6-2 , 246 pounds) played middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme at UConn for Pasqualoni and is confident he's capable of handling what would be required of him at that position in the NFL.

At the combine, Smallwood, a former high school quarterback, wanted to show "that I'm an athletic Mike. I feel like I can cover the tight ends, the fast tight ends now. I feel that I can stop the run, make plays out there on the football field. I'm able to play with the big boys. The only knock that I had was that I didn't really play any big teams in college. I feel like teams are going to see once I get on the field that I can compete at a high football level."

Smallwood is projected to be taken anywhere from the second to fourth round of the draft. If selected, Smallwood could be in competition with Jonathan Bostic, Shea McClellin and veteran D.J. Williams, provided he's brought back in 2014, for the starting job in the middle.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Because of everything going on at the NFL combine, we had to push back the Bears Twitter mailbag to Monday.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.

Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:

Wrap-up thoughts from the combine

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
INDIANAPOLIS – The media access portion of the NFL scouting combine ended on Sunday afternoon, but events for the invitees and league personnel continues through Tuesday.

Looking back over the four days spent in and around Lucas Oil Stadium, there was plenty to be learned.

Here are some final thoughts from the Green Bay Packers’ perspective.

Lineup changes: This is the time of year where the coaches ponder new roles for new players. We already told you about a possible new role in the defense that might better suit Nick Perry, and coach Mike McCarthy’s desire to turn Eddie Lacy -- and the other running backs -- into three-down players in order to limit substitutions and therefore speed up the offense. Also, cornerback Micah Hyde could add safety to his list of duties, while David Bakhtiari appears likely to remain at left tackle, but there’s been no decision made on where Bryan Bulaga will play.

Salary-cap space: With the 2014 salary cap expected to exceed $130 million and possibly be as high as $132 million, the Packers will have even more room than they expected. Including unused cap space, they could carry over from last season, the Packers will have more than $30 million of salary-cap space available for this offseason.

Tag or no tag: General manager Ted Thompson would not reveal whether he would use the franchise tag as a way to retain cornerback Sam Shields. Although they have the space to absorb the more than $11 million that the tag would cost, Thompson would prefer to sign Shields to a more cap-friendly, long-term deal. Shields’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, was expected to continue discussions with the Packers in Indianapolis.

Talking to prospects: On the final day of media access, among the players who confirmed they have met or will meet with the Packers included Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix III and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville. There are two kinds of interviews -- formal ones that last 15 minutes (teams are limited to 60 of those) and informal interviews (of which there is no limit).

Up next: Free agency officially begins on March 11 but teams can start negotiating with free agents on March 8. The next official league gathering is the NFL annual meeting, known as the owners meeting, March 23-26 in Orlando, Fla.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Backup quarterback Josh McCown wants to remain in Chicago, but a market that seems to be heating up for his services could change that.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht wants to add a veteran quarterback to compete with Mike Glennon, as does new Bucs coach Lovie Smith. Given Smith’s familiarity with McCown from their time together in Chicago, the veteran quarterback is a logical option to battle Glennon for the starting job.

“There’s a lot of positions on our team that I’m sure Lovie would agree that we want to anoint as the starter,” Licht said when asked if Glennon is the starting quarterback. “We want competition for Mike.”

There’s a good chance the Jets could also want competition for Geno Smith, based on a report from the New York Daily News.

McCown produced a 3-2 record last season filling in for Jay Cutler, generating a passer rating of 109 and throwing 13 touchdown passes and only one interception. McCown has expressed a desire on multiple occasions to remain with the Chicago Bears, as he was an integral part of the team's implementing a new offense under first-year Bears coach Marc Trestman.

But the Bears are expected to face competition for McCown, who at this point appears to be inclined to remain in Chicago unless he’s given an opportunity to start or handed significantly better financial terms in a contract than his current team can offer.

“I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or biweekly. I’ve talked to him two or three times, anyway, and I’ve texted with him,” Trestman said Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “He’s in the loop into what’s going on. I’ve just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what’s going on. We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he’s going to take his time, see where things are at. When he’s ready to say, ‘I want to come back,’ I know [general manager] Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can, and we’re going to do everything can to make sure he is.”

The Bears haven’t yet submitted an offer to McCown, and because he signed a one-year contract in 2013 under the minimum-salary benefit, the team can’t officially sign him until the start of free agency (March 11), although the sides could agree to a deal anytime before that date. So McCown could be exposed to the market (if the sides don’t agree to a new deal before the league new year), where he’s sure to have plenty of suitors.

“I’d like to see him come back,” Cutler said at the end of last season. “There’s talks about him getting other opportunities, which I think, rightfully so, he’ll have. We’ve had candid talks about what he wants to do. I’ll let Josh address that when he wants to. I know we’d love to have him back. We’d like to have him back in the building. Just the amount of work he does behind the scenes with the younger players and myself, just the experience he brings to the quarterback room, it’s very valuable. We’ll see how it works out. The guys in the locker room are hoping to see Number 12 back next year.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- The group of quarterbacks the Minnesota Vikings will assess during the lead-up to this year's NFL draft include Central Florida's Blake Bortles (6-foot-5), LSU's Zach Mettenberger (6-foot-4) and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas (6-foot-6). It will also include Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (6-foot-2), Fresno State's Derek Carr (6-foot-2), San Jose State's David Fales (6-foot-1), South Carolina's Connor Shaw (6-foot-0) and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (5-foot-11).

That there are so many shorter quarterbacks near the top of this year's draft class owes plenty to Seattle's Russell Wilson, who stands 5-foot-11 and led the Seahawks to a win over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. It also owes something to New Orleans' Drew Brees, the record-setting quarterback and MVP of Super Bowl XLIV who stands just six feet tall. But it also is because of a changing game that's asking quarterbacks to move more and is setting them up to throw in places where being 6-foot-5 isn't as important as it used to be.

More teams are rolling their quarterbacks out and using moving pockets to neutralize pass rushes and keep defenses uncomfortable. Shotgun and pistol schemes have made it easier for short QBs to find throwing lanes. And players like Wilson have done enough to make general managers realize they might have discredited good QB prospects because of one trait.

"It was height, period," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. "But Ill tell you what: He's going to open the floodgates for people breaking through that stigma of, you need a really tall quarterback. You've got to pinpoint, are people batting down passes? He didn't have a lot of batted balls (in college) at Wisconsin. He's able to find those passing lanes that usually you'd think were solely based on height. But he's been effective."

Manziel's height was as big a topic at the NFL scouting combine as his off-field issues, but the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner said, "I feel like I play like I'm 10 feet tall," and turned heads with an unofficial time in the 40-yard dash of 4.56 seconds (his official time was 4.68). Manziel's hands are nearly 10 inches long, when measured from thumb to pinky, which should eliminate some of the concerns that would naturally come up with his size. The success of quarterbacks like Wilson and Colin Kaepernick should take care of others.

"For those guys, being able to evade a first wave of pass rush, really extend the play just a little bit, be able to move the pocket and do some things like that, it really opens the playbook up a little bit more," Manziel said. " The young guys who are doing that, the guys that I enjoy watching, I think they’re really doing a good job for some of the mobile quarterbacks in college right now."

Shaw, who officially ran a 4.66 40 on Sunday, said he met with the Vikings twice at the combine, and added the team told him "there would be good opportunities if I were to land at that place because they had a little quarterback battle going on." His arm strength has been a concern, and his scouting report on says he "can be too jittery vs. pressure and quick to tuck and run" (remind you of anybody?)

But Shaw will be another quarterback who gets a look because of his speed. Thanks to QBs like Wilson, he won't immediately be discredited because of his size.

"There is not a specific mold you have to fit anymore to be an NFL quarterback," he said. "You see Russell Wilson and he’s kind of proved that. He’s got a shiny rock on his finger now and he’s 6-foot. I don’t think there is a prototypical quarterback size anymore."
INDIANAPOLIS -- As Reggie Jordan and a cousin in Huntsville, Ala. pushed furniture into storage, the Missouri Western tight end’s phone rang with a representative from the NFL scouting combine on the other end.

“They actually called because I didn’t respond to the email [invitation to the NFL combine],” Jordan said. “She sent it to the wrong address.”

Jordan made the necessary email correction and received official confirmation of the invitation. Coming from a small Division II school, Jordan was still skeptical. So he called former Griffons teammate David Bass, who just finished up a promising rookie campaign as a defensive end with the Chicago Bears.

“She sent me the email and confirmation, and I was like, ‘Oh, snap. This is amazing,’” Jordan said. “I called David Bass. I asked him if this is the same email and I forwarded to him. He was like, ‘Yeah, this is the email.’”

Jordan said he speaks with Bass often about what to expect as he participates at the NFL combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in one of the major steps of the evaluation process leading up to May’s draft. A seventh-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2013, Bass wound up playing 12 games for the Bears and producing a sack, in addition to returning his first NFL interception 24 yards touchdown on Nov. 17 in a win over the Baltimore Ravens.

“He actually tried to explain the whole thing,” Jordan said. “You never get used to it until it actually comes upon you. I mean, he tried. But this is just a surreal experience now.”

It started when Jordan arrived in Indianapolis at approximately 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Jordan spent the entire day at the hospital undergoing combine medical evaluations, and left at approximately midnight. Then, at 4 a.m. on Thursday, Jordan hopped out of bed to take a combine drug test.

At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Jordan projects as a longshot in the NFL. But Jordan certainly helped himself with solid performances Saturday during on-field drills. Jordan ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, 4.30-second 20-yard shuttle, and produced a time of 7.22 seconds in the three-cone drill.

Perhaps Jordan might receive an opportunity to join his former Missouri Western teammate Bass in Chicago, considering the club does have a need at the position. Jordan caught 52 passes for 679 yards and 17 touchdowns during his college career.

Chicago’s roster currently features three tight ends in Martellus Bennett, Fendi Onobun, and recent addition Zach Miller. Bennett and Miller are the only players on the roster with regular-season experience.

“I think I stretch the field well, catch out of my frame,” Jordan said. “I think my blocking is very good. [At Missouri Western] they had me moving all around. I played a little H-back, moved me to tight end, had me out in the flat.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings started preparations for the 2014 league year, they always did so knowing they would have money to work with. The Vikings have just over $100 million in cap commitments heading into 2014, which is currently the sixth-smallest cap figure in the league. With Jared Allen's $17 million cap hit coming off the books, the Vikings could plan to have money to spend.

Now, it appears they might be able to plan on having a little more.

According to ESPN's John Clayton, the 2014 NFL salary cap is projected to rise to $132 million, up $9 million from 2013's cap figure. That would give the Vikings nearly $32 million to spend before 2014, putting them in position to improve their defense through a major free agent signing if they choose to do so.

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (who played for coach Mike Zimmer) and Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner (who played for new defensive backs coach Jerry Gray) could be candidates to join the Vikings. But the infusion of new cash, coming partially from the league's new TV deals, could also mean a more robust bidding war for free agents.

Assuming the cap figure is $132 million, 14 teams would have at least $20 million in cap room at the start of the new league year. There could be plenty of teams who would decide not to spend to the cap, but a $9 million spike in the cap certainly would provide players and agents with more leverage. The Vikings, though, are well-positioned for the 2014 market, and would be in even better shape if the cap figure winds up at $132 million.

The Vikings currently have just $1.78 million in dead money, which is the ninth-least in the league. They could clear more cap space by restructuring the deals of players like tight end John Carlson or linebacker Chad Greenway, but a cap figure that high might prevent the Vikings from having to redo many contracts.

Turnaround on defense is coming

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
PeppersAP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Bears might make Julius Peppers a salary-cap casualty, part of an expected defensive overhaul.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman delivered a quick anecdote prior to taking questions at the NFL combine on Thursday to draw a parallel between the offense’s surprising turnaround in 2013 and the challenge Chicago faces in resurrecting its dud of a defense.

Days earlier as they wrapped up a staff meeting at Halas Hall, the coaches “put up our roster as it looked last year at this time,” Trestman explained. “There were 10 players on the offensive side of the ball that were not on the roster at this time last year, and who significantly impacted our football team in a season. I just note that because this is a process we’re going through, filtering through our team, filtering through the free agents and building our team through the draft.”

In essence, Chicago plans to take an approach with the defense over the coming months similar to what it employed last offseason in revamping an offense that woefully underperformed the year before. The Bears achieved success in turning around the offense through a series of additions in the draft (left guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills), free agency (left tackle Jermon Bushrod, tight end Martellus Bennett, and guard Matt Slauson), and a scheme change brought about by an entire new coaching staff that pushed a rededication to fundamentals at every position.

Would a similar approach on defense work to turn around a unit coming off a 2013 season in which it allowed the most yards (6,313) and points (478) in franchise history? That is an unknown the Bears certainly exude confidence about answering in 2014.

It’s true, Chicago doesn’t fully know what it plans to be on defense in 2014 in terms of scheme and personnel, just as most of the details about the most recent incarnation of the offense were unknown at this time last offseason. The Bears gradually pieced together the personnel and matched the schematics on offense with the players trickling into the building from the draft and free agency as training camp approached.

So while it appears concerning that Chicago is strapped in terms of cap room, and expected to make defensive end Julius Peppers a cap casualty ($18.183 million cap hit in 2014), not to mention that there is a slight chance the club could lose as many as six defensive starters in free agency (defensive tackle Henry Melton, cornerback Charles Tillman, safety Major Wright, defensive end Corey Wootton, and linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams), the Bears' brass continues to keep cool.

“I’m not stressed,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “I’m excited, very excited. It’s a great challenge, and it’s one that we all sign up for: an opportunity to put together a team and be consistently in the hunt to win championships. We’re in this to win it. So no, it’s not stressful. It’s a process just as we went through last year. Obviously, really from a cap perspective, we were tighter dollar-wise after we signed the UFAs [in 2013] than we’ve ever been. So it’s a process. You just keep working through it. We have a collective group of very talented people in the building to help in that process.”

They successfully navigated “the process” Emery often likes to refer to with the offense in 2013, which is why -- from this vantage point -- the team’s confidence is warranted.

In the days of former head coach Lovie Smith, 17 was the magic number. Hold a team to 17 points or fewer, and you win about 80 percent of the time. In fact, over the past 10 years, the Bears own a record of 50-13 when they hold an opponent to 17 points or fewer. But the problem under Smith was Chicago couldn’t score on offense.

The Bears fixed that problem in 2013, only to take a nosedive on the other side of the ball. In 2012 with a pedestrian offense and its usually strong defense, the Bears put up a 10-6 record, but the offense never scored more than 17 points in any of the losses. Then in 2013 with an offense that finished second in the NFL in scoring, the Bears finished 8-8 and scored 17 points in all but one of the losses as the defense gave up at least 20 points in every game.

How significant is that? Well, the Bears are 39-58 over the past 10 years when they allow 18 points or more.

It’s got to stop, and with Emery and Trestman there is a good chance it will. The Bears already hired a couple of demanding assistants in defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring to coax the most out of the young talent expected to be infused into the roster in the coming months. The scheme will morph into something that features multiple fronts, which is part of the reason Emery and Trestman made sure to bring in experienced coaches with backgrounds in several defenses.

According to a league source, the defense worked fewer practice repetitions than a typical defensive unit would during workouts last season as the Bears focused more on the offensive side of the ball. So even some of the finer details, such as how the Bears practice on defense are expected to change, along with the scheme and all the expected roster additions.

“What we're doing is we're looking at the existing scheme and going through the process of putting a system of football together to accommodate the players that we have when we get going, and we're not going to know who those players are for quite some time,” Trestman said. “So to lock ourselves in and be so narrow-minded that ‘this is what we're going to be’ when we don't have the players to get it done would be, to me, not very good time on task.

"We said it last year, [when the question was asked of] what kind of offense [the Bears would be in 2013]. We didn't know what kind of offense we were going to be, we're going to put a system in place to accommodate the players that Phil [Emery] gives us and that we decide are going to be on our football team, and that's certainly the case defensively as well. To lock in and say ‘this is what we're going to be’ wouldn't be fair at this point in time. It's a process, just like the evaluation of bringing players in and letting players move on. I'll circle back to the point I made, last year there were 10 guys on offense we didn't know we were going to have. But we were putting in a system of offensive football together to accommodate who we had at that time, and that's exactly the same process we have to go through defensively.”

Chances are good it yields similar results, too.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers would like to get back into the business of developing young quarterbacks like they did throughout the 1990s -- when Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks all came up through their system.

The problem is, this isn't the 1990s.

The rules of the collective bargaining agreement that was put in place following the 2011 lockout greatly reduced the amount of time coaches can work with players in the offseason, a time often set aside for individual and group instruction. For Packers' quarterbacks, that means four weeks have been shaved off coach Mike McCarthy's quarterback school.

Nevertheless, the Packers have come to the NFL scouting combine with one eye on finding a developmental quarterback prospect and hope to take four quarterbacks into training camp this summer.

"I think we definitely need four," McCarthy said at the combine, "So I'm hopeful that we can get a young guy in the draft."

The Packers have only two quarterbacks under contract for 2014 -- starter Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien, who was signed to the practice squad last September and then promoted to the active roster after Rodgers broke his collarbone on Nov. 4. Tolzien has yet to go through an offseason in McCarthy's training program, having been with the San Francisco 49ers for his first two seasons.

Matt Flynn was re-signed last November and became the fourth quarterback to start for the Packers last season, but his contract was only for the 2013 season.

"I thought Matt Flynn came in and did a number of good things," McCarthy said. "There's a lot of stability he brings to the quarterback room as far as the role that he needs to play and his role to the starting quarterback to help them scout and so forth, so Matt is obviously a good fit for our program. I thought he definitely gave us a shot in the arm when we needed it. Free agency is upon us, we'll see what happens."

Whatever happens, the Packers don't want to be stuck in the position they were in at the end of last summer, when the trio of Vince Young, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman all failed to win the backup job, forcing the Packers to sign veteran Seneca Wallace the week of the season opener.

That general manager Ted Thompson has drafted only one quarterback -- Coleman in the seventh round in 2012 -- since he took Brian Brohm (second round) and Flynn (seventh round) in 2008 would seemingly indicate that it's time to take another one.

"We're always looking," Thompson said. "Coach McCarthy's a quarterback guy. He likes to have a group, so you never stop looking, turning over rocks, that sort of thing."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Two seasons into his NFL career, former first-round draft pick Nick Perry still hasn’t fully shown he can make the transition from collegiate defensive end at USC to NFL outside linebacker with the Green Bay Packers.

He might not have to this year.

Among the ideas the Packers have considered to tweak and improve their defense is to use an elephant defensive end position, and Perry is one of the players whom coach Mike McCarthy sees in that role, he said Friday during an interview at his hotel during a break from the NFL scouting combine.

“We’re looking at different combinations,” McCarthy said. “That’s part of the thing I was talking about [earlier in the day at the combine] utilizing personnel better.”

McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers actually toyed with the position last offseason, but never employed it. McCarthy explained the elephant end position as someone who is a “tweener.” Perry was considered that by scouts who debated whether his best position in the NFL would be defensive end or outside linebacker.

The elephant position would essentially cover both spots. McCarthy described it as a position in which a defensive player would never line up on the inside shoulder of an offensive tackle. Instead, the elephant end would play what’s called a 7-technique, which lines up on the inside shoulder of a tight end.

It was a position that Charles Haley of the San Francisco 49ers made famous in the 1980s and 1990s.

That might suit Perry, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds. In parts of two seasons in which he was slowed by injuries, Perry has played in 17 regular-season games and has six sacks. He has been most effective using his powerful bull-rush move.

A year ago, the Packers decided to try defensive end Mike Neal at outside linebacker, and it was largely successful. According to McCarthy, Neal was never supposed to play as much at outside linebacker as he did.

“We developed a position called the elephant and we never really [used it],” McCarthy said. “We trained it in training camp. Just the way the injuries went, Mike played pretty much outside linebacker most of the year. That wasn’t the plan or the vision of his job description.”

McCarthy said he believes that Neal’s best position, especially on third downs, remains the 3-technique position, which is a lineman who plays opposite the guard.

“I think he’s a real force in there,” McCarthy said.

Some of the plans could hinge on whether Neal returns. He was in the final year of his contract last season, and is scheduled to become a free agent next month.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It is at once both a priority and somewhat of a luxury, an odd situation when you’re the Detroit Lions and you have the consensus top wide receiver in the game.

Calvin Johnson is always going to draw attention and, since 2009, has counted at least $8 million or more against the Lions' salary cap -- including $13.058 million in 2014. But one of the main lessons for the Lions in 2013 is how the team fared when Johnson was limited or not in the game.

The results were ugly, so while Detroit has a lot invested in one star at the position, the team also knows they need to put more resources there in order to have a successful offense.

The Lions’ offense struggled without Johnson at points in 2013, so as the team evaluates talent at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, receiver will be a position of interest to assist their star.

“It’s something obviously that we have to really take a real strong look at, obviously, because of the fact that he’s one that’s going to draw a little extra attention in terms of double coverage like he’s always done,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “And with that being the case, we have to find a way to make certain whoever is on the other side that may be getting singled in some situations can do some damage against the defenders.

“I think that’s extremely important, so I think that’s something that obviously we’ve taken a good hard look at and one way or another we’re going to come up with a guy that’s going to give us some balance in that area.”

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew dismissed the suggestion that part of the search for a young receiver on the outside in this draft could be viewed as a potential replacement for Johnson in a few years.

The 28-year-old has put up three straight seasons of 1,400 yards or more. He routinely draws multiple defenders and potential scheme changes when opponents face them. But he has had knee issues the past two seasons and healthy knees are critical for wide receivers to keep their speed, agility and jumping ability -- and therefore, their success.

“We want quality across the board,” Mayhew said. “We want guys that, if, for whatever reason Calvin is getting doubled or he’s not playing in a particular game that he can go out and make plays by himself. That was one of our things last year, when Calvin was injured, we struggled offensively a lot of times to get off or other players to get off.

“We’re going to be looking for receivers who can win one-on-one battles, win one-on-one matchups and make plays down the field.”

Mayhew didn’t have a height-weight-speed metric for what the team would like in a receiver, either through free agency or the draft, but Caldwell has typically had only starting receivers over 6 feet during his time in Indianapolis and Baltimore. That goes for both on the outside and in the slot.

Mayhew’s focus is more on whether the receiver can get separation, get open and make tough catches when necessary. That, and being able to potentially deflect attention away from Johnson, are the most important qualities.

There is a reason a rookie might be a better fit here than a veteran, though, despite the typical inexperience that comes with anyone entering the NFL. Any rookie or younger player coming to the Lions has a built-in advantage of knowing he won’t be receiving the majority of the attention, kind of like what happened in Cincinnati in 2012 and 2013.

With A.J. Green attracting a lot of attention from defenses, it allowed Marvin Jones to catch 18 passes for 201 yards as a rookie and then 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

And some rookies notice the situation could be a beneficial one for whomever the Lions select.

“I would love to play with a guy like Calvin Johnson because you know he’s going to get all the attention,” said former UCLA receiver Shaq Evans, who talked with the Lions at the Senior Bowl. “It’s going to make you have to step up your game and that’s what you want to do.

“You want to have that role where you step up your game because you know they are going to double Calvin and you’re a guy that can step in for that No. 2 spot or No. 3 spot.”

After releasing Nate Burleson last week, the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers are the likely spots the team is looking to fill. Now, the Lions need to figure out who they want for those spots, either through a deep free-agent pool or a deep rookie class.

“There are a lot of different ways to go about it. One way to look at it is we have a big receiver in Calvin, let's get a smaller guy who can run routes and get open and slide into the slot on third downs,” Mayhew said. “Another way to look at is what Chicago did with two big guys.

“So it really can go either way. It's kind of who you can get.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery possess such a dry sense of humor, it's difficult every now and then to differentiate between his jokes and serious statements, but he certainly seems very willing to trade the club's 14th overall pick in May's NFL draft.

Asked at the NFL combine inside Lucas Oil Stadium whether it would be more difficult to trade down because of the depth of the 2014 class, Emery mentioned for the second time during the interview session that several offensive playmakers are expected to be available in Chicago's slot at 14.

"It's always difficult to trade down unless you're willing to give up a lot of value, and we're not going to do that," Emery said. "We're going to make sure there's equal value. Unless we just see that that potential pick we're getting out of the deal is going to be in a significant spot where we can make some good out of it. The depth is good, especially on offense. I'm sitting here at 14, there are going to be some really good offensive playmakers on the board."

That's probably true, and there's a decent chance several teams might want to come up into that range to land one of them. Emery will certainly field calls from teams looking to trade up, but he's got to find an offer enticing enough to strike a deal and potentially gain a pick.

"I know at 14, I'm going to be sitting there and there's going to be a lot of offensive playmakers on the board," Emery said just minutes earlier. "This is a deep draft in offensive playmakers, and I'm sure my peers recognize that."
Mike ZimmerAP Photo/Johnny VyCoach Mike Zimmer said Friday at the combine that he wants the Vikings to be "smart players."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The image much of football-watching America, and ostensibly a good chunk of Minnesota, has of new Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is the one portrayed in HBO's "Hard Knocks," where Zimmer could be seen delivering corrections or admonishments well-seasoned with expletives. Zimmer was branded as fiery, or a disciplinarian, or some similar catch-all term meant to depict a coach who does a lot of yelling and swearing.

That will certainly be part of Zimmer's on-field persona, and it will stand in stark contrast to the stoic demeanor of Zimmer's predecessor Leslie Frazier. But both the coach and general manager Rick Spielman have been working hard at the NFL scouting combine to chip away at the image of Zimmer as a drill sergeant who didn't get a shot to be a head coach earlier in his career because he was too blunt for his own good.

"He may be gruff between those lines, but if you ask -- and I called agents with players who played for Mike Zimmer -- as demanding as he is, I've never heard so much respect for a coach, that guys love to play for this guy," Spielman said. "He has that 'it' factor, on being able to hold guys accountable, and get them to play to their utmost ability. The players love him for that."

Zimmer certainly doesn't come across as a coach who will suffer fools. He talked on Friday about how much he likes smart players, and said "I'm not a patient person with anybody" when talking about whether Christian Ponder could get another chance to start at quarterback. But if Frazier's calling card as a coach was leadership, Zimmer's could turn out to be education.

He talked in detail on Friday about how he ordered a renovation of the Vikings' meeting room at their team facility, swapping out a flat floor and tables for stadium seating, where the coach could meet the eyes of every player in the room. He recalled more details from the film session he recently conducted with team scouts and front office members, detailing the specific responsibilities of each position in his defense and what kinds of players could best meet those responsibilities. And he largely declined to offer sweeping assessments of the Vikings' current players, saying he wanted to wait until he'd had a chance to work with them and observe them on the field this spring.

"I try not to prejudge that," he said. "Number one, I don't know if a guy's a smart guy, yet. I don't know what they were being told to do. I think you can make a lot of mistakes by guessing, 'Well, he should have been doing this,' but maybe the coach was telling him to do something else. Whatever they were telling him could be right or wrong, or maybe the player was in the wrong, too. But there are so many different ways to do it, it's what you believe in and how you do it."

The natural tendency in the NFL is to replace a fired coach with his opposite, or at least perceive that the replacement must inherently be the opposite of the fired coach. Frazier reached players through quiet motivation; therefore, Zimmer must do it through loud force. Those narratives might encompass some fragments of reality, but they can also be overly simplistic.

Zimmer will be more animated than Frazier, and if he is fiery, he'd follow Jerry Burns and Dennis Green in the tradition of Vikings coaches who have been that way. But for as many players as have credited Zimmer for getting the most out of them, his methods must be more nuanced than sheer volume and obscenity.

At the combine this week, he and Spielman have offered a part of his platform: Zimmer will have exacting standards for his players, but he'll make sure he's equipping them with enough knowledge to do the job.

"Bill Parcells used to have a big sign in the facility -- and I may put one up, too -- that said, 'Dumb players do dumb things. Smart players very seldom do dumb things,' and it's true," Zimmer said. "I want us to all understand that we all represent one another, and all of our livelihoods are based on how (we all) do. That's one of the things that we tried to do, tried to [set up] a good educational environment, football-wise."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson should be recovered from groin surgery in time to participate in the team's pre-draft minicamp at the end of April, coach Mike Zimmer said at the NFL scouting combine on Friday.

Peterson was limited to 18 carries in the Vikings' final four games, and missed two of those, because of a groin injury that stemmed from the sports hernia surgery Peterson had after the 2012 season. He seemed unable to cut effectively or accelerate like he normally could because of the injury, and decided to have adductor release surgery in Philadelphia last month.

"He’s doing great," Zimmer said. "I got a report from (athletic trainer) Eric (Sugerman) yesterday, and he said he’s doing great -- better than they expected and should be great to go.”

Peterson turns 29 in March, but Zimmer seemed unconcerned with the possibility the running back might break down after more than 2,000 carries in seven NFL seasons.

"This guy isn’t an average 28- or 29-year-old back," Zimmer said. "This guy is special, and some of the things, when we were fixin' to play him (last December in Cincinnati), some of the things that I thought, I watched him and I was like, ‘Wow, if we’re not really good in the way we line up and contain and be in the right positions, we’re going to have a hard, hard day.’ He could have been 20 months old for all I care.”

Ex-NIU QB Lynch meets with Bears

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
INDIANAPOLIS -- Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch is determined to prove he can be an NFL quarterback.

“I’m a quarterback first,” the former Northern Illinois star said on Friday. “I always say I’m a quarterback first and I’ve been proving people wrong ever since I started playing. There is no doubt in my mind I will continue to do that. What I tell teams is that they are going to make a huge mistake if they don’t put me at quarterback.”

Lynch, a graduate of Mt. Carmel High School, started two years for the Huskies and led the school to a 24-4 overall record. He finished his college career with 6,209 passing yards, 51 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. Lynch also rushed for 4,343 yards and 48 touchdowns.

Even after posting such impressive numbers at Northern Illinois, draft analysts still question Lynch’s arm strength and size -- 6-foot, 216 pounds.

But Lynch said on Friday that NFL teams have not been scared off. The MAC conference player of the year feels he demonstrated acceptable arm strength to NFL scouts during the practices leading up to the East-West Shrine collegiate all-star game in January.

Lynch reports he’s received nothing but positive feedback since he arrived in Indianapolis.

“We just got here yesterday so I’ve only had one day to talk to teams, and I’ve spoken to about 10 of them,” Lynch said. “They’ve showed a lot of interest. With the way quarterbacks are going these days, teams are looking for that mobile guy, someone who can come in and run that zone option read. I think I fit well for them.

"I’ve talked to the Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns. Those are the ones I specifically remember.”

Smaller quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL. A perfect example is the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl winning quarterback Russell Wilson, the player Lynch tries to model himself after. Lynch actually feels that standing 6-foot gives him an advantage in the pocket.

“I’m not that 6-foot-5 pocket passer that stands in the pocket,” Lynch said. “One of those things about being 6-foot is that it does play to your advantage at times. Being that small, you’re sitting in the pocket and not a lot of defensive backs can get a read on your eyes. That’s one of the advantages of being a shorter guy. I throw with anticipation. I throw to spots. Sometimes I can’t really see the receiver so you have to buy into the system, trust the system and throw on time.

"I’m a winner. I’m a competitor. I find a way to win.”