NFC North: Anthony Adams

DES PLAINES, Ill. -- If Bears free-agent long snapper Patrick Mannelly does not return to Chicago for a franchise record 17th season, the team’s all-time leader in games played (245) would probably lean toward retirement.

That’s the scenario Mannelly laid out to reporters before being honored as the Bears’ 2013 Ed Block Courage Award winner at a luncheon held at Maryville Academy in suburban Des Plaines, Ill., an event attended by team matriarch Virginia McCaskey.

Mannelly
“It would be tough to put on another helmet for another team,” the Mannelly, 38, said.

The only member of the 1998 draft class that is still playing with their original team, Mannelly is almost three months into a four-to-six month rehabilitation process following offseason hip surgery.

Mannelly is scheduled to fly to California Tuesday night to continue his rehab work at EXOS in San Diego -- he is no longer under contract with the Bears and cannot use the facilities at Halas Hall -- but the veteran long snapper is undecided about his future.

"As athletes you always think you can play forever and I’ve been lucky to play for a long time," Mannelly said. "But I really want to listen to my body and see what happens. You always want to play forever. Your heart wants to play forever. Your mind wants to play forever. But we'll see.

"I would feel bad if I didn’t give it everything I had and [slacked] in the offseason. I’m not going to do that. I truly want to find out. I want to put myself in a position where I get sore again and feel hurt every day and see how much I enjoy it and how I bounce back the next morning.”

The Bears are expected to offer Mannelly a one-year contract if he decides to continue for another season, although a drop-dead date has not been set for Mannelly to make a final decision.

“We haven’t really set anything in stone for that,” Mannelly said. “I have some dates in my mind that I want to set to reach certain plateaus and goals to get ready for the season. I’ll leave those dates to me but we will see.”

If Mannelly’s recovery goes according to plan, he could theoretically return to the field when the Bears hold their organized team activities in late May and early June. But the Bears had to protect themselves at the position and agreed to terms on a three-year deal with former CFL long snapper Chad Rempel on Monday.

“It’s a smart move,” Mannelly said. “Phil Emery should do that. I’ll be 39 this year and I don’t know if I’m going to be back. They need to take care of their roster and that’s the most important thing.”

The Ed Block Courage Award is given out annually to one player on all 32 NFL teams who best exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage and serves as an inspiration in the locker room. Teammates vote for the award. Ed Block Courage Award winners symbolize professionalism, great strength and dedication, and are considered role models in the community.

Past Bears recipients of the Ed Block Courage Award include: Nick Roach (2012), Brian Urlacher (2011), Anthony Adams (2010), Israel Idonije (2009) and Charles Tillman (2008).

The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation promotes the prevention of child abuse by raising awareness and assisting agencies that provide for the care and treatment of abused children.
Anthony Adams played five seasons for the Chicago Bears before he was released in March, and I imagine at least some of you are aware of his sense of humor and easy-going manner. Adams, 32, hasn't signed with a new team but has been keeping himself busy with some pretty funny YouTube videos that satirize his plight.

We can't embed more than one video in a post, so I went with "Stuff NFL Free Agents Say," a parody of the YouTube videos by a similar but more profane title. Just as funny is a second video in which Adams proclaims that "basketball was my first love, anyways." (Video link here.)

I know you come to this blog mostly for the breaking news, up-to-the-second analysis and deep insight that the blogger provides. Hopefully you appreciate some humor, too.

Amobi Okoye was the Chicago Bears' top reserve defensive lineman in 2011, recording four sacks and providing an active presence with enough versatility to swing between tackle and end. His one-year agreement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the weekend suggests he had few, if any, opportunities for a bigger role.

So I don't want to say his departure leaves the Bears flummoxed. But when you combine it with their release of defensive tackle Anthony Adams over the winter, you can at least say the Bears will have some new faces in their 2012 rotation.

The question is where it will come from.

When you look at the chart, you see that the Bears essentially used three players at defensive end in 2011: Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije and Okoye. They split time at defensive tackle among Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina, Stephen Paea, Adams and Okoye.

Subtract Okoye and Adams from that list, and you're looking at a defensive line rotation that, at least for the moment, stands at five incumbents. No matter how much confidence the Bears have in their existing personnel, you would think they'll need a significant addition or unprojected progress from a reserve such as Corey Wootton to round out this group.

The Bears appear to agree, having aggressively pursued free agent Jeremy Mincey last month before he returned to the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's fair to say that, given a choice, the Bears wouldn't prefer to have their starting defensive ends playing an average of four out of every five plays -- especially when one of them is 32 (Peppers) and the other is Idonije, who is probably best suited for the kind of swing role Okoye served in last season.

At this point, however, the free-agent market is largely picked clean of impact defensive linemen. So while we've spent plenty of time discussing the Bears' apparent needs at offensive line and receiver, you wonder if they won't target a defensive lineman in the opening rounds of the draft.

That's why ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Insider had the Bears selecting Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus with the No. 19 overall pick in his most recent mock draft. Stay tuned.

Quick hits: The week that was

March, 5, 2012
3/05/12
9:45
AM ET
In quick-hitting fashion, let's roll through the news items that occurred during our quiet time last week:

Item: An NFL investigation revealed Friday that the New Orleans Saints ran a bounty program to reward hits on opposing players. Among other things, it established a $10,000 reward if a player knocked Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Favre was pummeled in the game, absorbing two illegal hits and a third the league later acknowledged should have been penalized.
Comment: The Vikings have been privately fuming about the Saints' aggression toward Favre for two years, starting with a next-day complaint to the NFL. But for the team and its fans, this story has done nothing but dredge up a disappointing memory. The outcome of the game won't change. If anything, it raises the respect I have for Favre, who at age 40 didn't miss a snap in the game despite an organized and incentivized opposition determined to knock him out. Given what we're now learning, it should rank as one of the proudest moments of his career.

Item: The Chicago Bears placed the franchise tag on tailback Matt Forte last Friday.
Comment: This has been the likeliest scenario since contract discussions broke off last summer, a strategy so obvious from a club standpoint that it transcended their general manager transition. The Bears owe Forte a relatively affordable $7.7 million or so in 2012. Why turn down that opportunity when the likes of Marshawn Lynch are getting $18 million guaranteed from the Seattle Seahawks? The Houston Texans, meanwhile, agreed to a five-year deal Monday morning with tailback Arian Foster. The next move is Forte's. If the Bears don't modify their offer, will he stay away from offseason workouts and/or training camp?

Item: The Vikings announced a plan last week that would put a $975 million stadium near the current Metrodome site.
Comment: This was an important step toward securing a new facility, mostly because it has the backing of two important Minnesota politicians: Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak. The Vikings will be responsible for raising $427 million, plus $11.5 million annually in operating costs. But the project has two huge political hurdles remaining: approval from the Minneapolis City Council and the Minnesota state legislature. At the moment, a majority of city council members favor a voter referendum to approve the city's $150 million up-front contribution. State legislators advocated for a voter referendum during the debate over a failed proposal from suburban Arden Hills, Minn. Add it all up, and to me the Vikings have just crossed the 50-yard line in this process.

Item: The Detroit Lions face a 4 p.m. ET deadline Monday for using their franchise tag on defensive end Cliff Avril.
Comment: The cost of the tag will be around $11 million, but it might be necessary if the Lions are as committed to keeping Avril on their roster as they say they are. If the deadline passes without a long-term deal, Avril would be eligible to depart via free agency next week. Teams generally don't allow established pass-rushers to leave without compensation, but the Lions are in a tight salary-cap situation.

Item: Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he'll likely leave Charles Woodson at cornerback in 2012.
Comment: My bad for not asking McCarthy that question during an interview session last month at the combine. As we've discussed, moving Woodson to safety requires an adequate replacement as a starting cornerback. McCarthy can't count on nickelback Sam Shields to make that jump yet.

Item: Packers receiver Donald Driver will participate in this season's "Dancing With the Stars" on ABC.
Comment: I'm sure Driver will have a blast and the appearance will raise his national profile. But it won't change the fact that his future with the Packers remains uncertain. He has already said he would take a pay cut to remain with the team, but it's possible the Packers will release him outright to create room for younger receivers.

Item: Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk cut his hair recently to benefit children who have lost their hair during cancer treatment. (Photo here.)
Comment: Hawk originally grew his hair out in college as a tribute the late Pat Tillman, so I'm sure this decision didn't come lightly. But those who have participated in Locks of Love know how much it means to those who benefit from it. Kudos to Hawk for seeing the big picture.

Item: The Bears released defensive tackle Anthony Adams and offensive lineman Frank Omiyale.
Comment: Adams was relegated to part-time status in 2011, playing just under 26 percent of the team's defensive snaps. Omiyale proved to be one of the worst free-agent signings of former general manager Jerry Angelo's career, failing as both a guard and tackle after signing a four-year contract worth $11.5 million in 2009.

NFC North links: Vikings have stadium plan

March, 2, 2012
3/02/12
8:45
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Chicago Bears

The fact that the Bears have yet to place the franchise tag on running back Matt Forte means the two sides remain in serious discussions, writes ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright.

The team made the release of defensive tackle Anthony Adams official, and announced that offensive lineman Frank Omiyale has also been cut. Those two moves cleared $3.15 million in salary-cap space.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune looks at the Bears' options if they look to upgrade their tight end corps in free agency.

Detroit Lions

In an interview with KTAR-AM in Phoenix, Ndamukong Suh said he'd like to model his game after Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. "I think I have a lot of work ahead of myself to even be considered [among the best defensive tackles]," Suh said. " ... One of them that I definitely consider a top defensive tackle is Haloti Ngata. He's consistently doing it from year-in and year-out, and I look to kind of follow in those footsteps in being a consistent football player." Listen to the full interview here.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers sold more than 268,000 shares in the team's fifth ever stock sale, adding more than 250,000 new shareholders, reports Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Are the Packers going to go with Chad Clifton or Marhsall Newhouse at left tackle?

Minnesota Vikings

Gov. Mark Dayton and Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf unveiled a tentative agreement to build a $975 million stadium next to the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The plan still has to be approved by Minneapolis' city council and the state legislature. Under the plan, the team will pay $427 million to build the stadium.

Running back Adrian Peterson has been doing some light running in a pool at Vikings headquarters as part of his rehabilitation program from a torn ACL, Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press reports.

NFC North links: Packers' plan for Woodson

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
8:42
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Chicago Bears

Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune writes that the Bears have plenty of defensive ends to choose from with their first-round pick.

Defensive tackle Anthony Adams handled his release from the Bears with class, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Detroit Lions

If the Lions want to roll the dice and gamble on a high-risk, high-reward player, they should draft Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, writes Chris McCosky of The Detroit News.

Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders is divorcing his wife, Lauren Sanders, after more than 11 years of marriage.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers plan to keep Charles Woodson at cornerback, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Coach Mike McCarthy vows the Packers will be better at tackling saying, "If guys don't tackle, they're not playing. They're getting just pulled off the field," McGinn reports.

Minnesota Vikings

The draft-day landscape has been altered for the Vikings now that the Rams are interested in trading the second overall pick.

Unless the Vikings swing a trade, they won’t be picking in the right spot to make Dontari Poe their defensive line anchor of the future.

NFC North links: Burfict a fit for Lions?

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
9:50
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Chicago Bears

The Bears informed veteran defensive tackle Anthony Adams that they plan to release him.

Coach Lovie Smith weighs in on how his defensive linemen played in 2011.

The Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei breaks down how the top receivers performed at the NFL combine.

Detroit Lions

The Lions have some decisions to make at quarterback, as the contracts for both backups — Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton — expire in 2012.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press looks at how Vontaze Burfict, who declared Sunday he was the best linebacker in the draft, would fit with the Lions.

Green Bay Packers

With Matt Flynn's future with the Packers in doubt, the team could draft a quarterback in the later rounds, writes the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Doughtery.

The Packers met with the agent for Texans center Chris Myers, who is one of the top free agents available at his position, at the NFL combine.

Minnesota Vikings

Could the Vikings pass on USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall? The Star Tribune's Dan Wiederer examines the argument for not taking a tackle so early.

Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press looks at this draft's strong class of cornerbacks, a position of need for the Vikings.

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
4:21
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Getting inside the Friday injury report on what has become a frantic day here in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: The Bears listed two players as questionable for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs -- Defensive tackle Anthony Adams (back) and cornerback D.J. Moore (ankle). Neither is expected to play.

Detroit Lions: Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) are doubtful for Sunday night's game at the New Orleans Saints. Neither practiced this week and both are expected to miss the game. Running back Kevin Smith (ankle) is questionable but told reporters he would play Sunday night. Cornerback Brandon McDonald (thigh) did not practice this week and is listed as questionable. The Lions might end up starting Aaron Berry at cornerback and using Alphonso Smith at nickel. Finally, running back Jahvid Best (concussion) has been cleared to begin working out, according to the Lions' website. Best is on injured reserve and can't play again until next season.

Green Bay Packers: Rookie linebacker D.J. Smith is likely to make his first NFL start Sunday against the New York Giants after the Packers ruled out inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, who have calf injuries. Robert Francois could start at the other inside spot, but you never know when defensive coordinator Dom Capers will come up with a new alignment that minimizes the number of inexperienced players on the field. Smith will call the defensive signals. Tight end Andrew Quarless missed practice Friday because of a groin injury but is probable. Meanwhile, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) returned to practice Friday and is expected to play Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings: As we noted earlier, the Vikings ruled tailback Adrian Peterson (ankle) out for the second consecutive game. He has never missed three consecutive games in his career. Receiver Percy Harvin (illness) missed practice and is listed as questionable, but at this point the Vikings believe he will play Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson (shoulder) returned to practice but is questionable for Sunday's game. Cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) are also questionable, but coach Leslie Frazier indicated that Henderson and Rudolph have good chances to play. Finally, guard Anthony Herrera (knee) is probable and should play for the first time in more than a month.

NFC North at night

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
5:45
PM ET
Let's get to Thursday's newsbits in the NFC North, including an eye-opening quote from the defensive coordinator of the next team that will try to knock the Green Bay Packers off their undefeated perch:

Chicago Bears: Cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) and Zack Bowman (groin) were back to full participants in practice. Defensive lineman Anthony Adams (back) did not practice. Receiver/kick returner Devin Hester missed practice for personal reasons.

Detroit Lions: Running back Kevin Smith (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis, spurring hopes he could play Thursday against the New Orleans Saints. Safety Louis Delmas (knee), cornerback Chris Houston (knee) and cornerback Brandon McDonald (thigh) all missed practice again.

Green Bay Packers: Linebackers A.J. Hawk (calf) and Desmond Bishop (calf) both sat out a second consecutive day of practice. Coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers have given Brad Jones some practice snaps at inside linebacker for depth purposes if Hawk and/or Bishop can't play Sunday against the New York Giants. Meanwhile, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell told reporters in New York that his players will get after Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. Fewell, via Mike Garafalo of the Newark Star-Ledger: "[W]e just have to get after his [butt], okay? And if we do that and he scrambles then that's the price he's going to have to pay because we're going to hit him. We're going to hit him."

Minnesota Vikings: Joe Webb will move up to No. 2 quarterback in the wake of Donovan McNabb's departure, a move that will change plans to use Webb more as a receiver over the final five games. Running back Adrian Peterson (ankle) and linebacker E.J. Henderson (shoulder) again missed practice. Peterson told reporters that he hasn't given up hope for playing Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Meanwhile, the Minnesota state government announced it has an unexpected $876 million budget surplus over the next two years. But for those who hope that money could go toward a new Vikings stadium, be advised that the state is legally obligated to use the entire amount to replenish emergency reserve accounts.

Lions-Bears II: New punter for Lions

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
3:00
PM ET
CHICAGO -- The Detroit Lions will have a new punter for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

Ryan Donahue was deactivated before the game because of his strained right quadriceps. As expected, newcomer Robert Malone will punt and hold for place-kicker Jason Hanson, who returned from the bye week with stitches in his left knee after an accident.

Watching Hanson in pregame warmups has been interesting. Amid windy conditions, Malone bobbled one snap, just after Hanson had hit the right upright from 47 yards. On the next kick, Hanson badly pulled a 52-yarder left of the uprights. After changing sides, Hanson slipped during an attempt from about 30 yards. Hanson, who has one of the strongest legs in the NFL, was significantly short from 49 yards at that end.

Meanwhile, Bears kick returner/receiver Devin Hester (ankle) is active for this game. The Bears made one notable change to their starting lineup, announcing that Anthony Adams will start at nose tackle.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

As you might have heard Wednesday night, the Detroit Lions' trade for Philadelphia Eagles running back Ronnie Brown has been voided because running back Jerome Harrison, whom the Lions packaged as part of the compensation for Brown, failed his physical with the Eagles.

Harrison's exact condition is unknown. He was not on the Lions' most recent injury report, and he remains on their roster. Brown reverts to the Eagles. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Lions worked out four free-agent running backs earlier this week: James Davis, Charles Scott, Chauncey Washington, and DeShawn Wynn. Davis signed to the Lions' practice squad.

It was never clear if Brown was destined to become a significant part of the Lions' offense or if he was going to be a spot player behind Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams. Best's concussion remains an issue and could hold him out of Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, but Morris seemed next in line regardless.

It is clear, however, that the Lions aren't thrilled with their backfield depth as they approach the midpoint of the season.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Lions have a "gaping" hole in the backfield, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com examines the circumstances around Best's concussion.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "It's simplistic to say the Lions won't accept being pushed around anymore. In fact, it's so simplistic, I'm gonna say it."
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com reveals what Green Bay Packers receivers are doing to penalize each other for dropped passes.
  • Packers linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) should be able to return to the lineup in a few weeks, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looks back at the Packers' performances against the Vikings without left tackle Chad Clifton.
  • Dam Pompei of the Chicago Tribune on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's in-game profanity Sunday night: "The message Cutler really sends -- to his coaches, his teammates, his opponent and the public -- is that he lacks respect and self control. Cutler doesn't have to agree with the call, or how it was made, but he does have to show courtesy to the people and the process. That's not football, that's life."
  • Jovial Bears defensive lineman Anthony Adams said he plans to "mess with" some Royal Guards during the team's trip to London. Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com has more.
  • Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, via Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times: "First of all, every team gives their linemen help. I thought we had a good game plan. It's not like, all of a sudden, 'The Bears' offensive line is so bad that they need all this help.' It's that, we haven't been giving them help, so now we're giving them help, it helps settle things down and build their confidence, and gives them a chance to hang in there and not jump the count."
  • Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune looks at the Minnesota Vikings' history of quarterback demotions.
  • Vikings coach Leslie Frazier went out of his way to say he is not giving up on 2011, notes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton hopes to have a Vikings stadium recommendation in place by Nov. 7, allowing for three weeks of hearings and public debate before a potential special session of the state legislature on Nov. 21. Doug Belden of the Pioneer Press explains.
  • The NFL won't stand in the way of the Vikings seeking alternative cities if their lease expires in February without a stadium agreement. Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com explains.

Previewing preseason Week 3

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
12:00
PM ET
In which we look ahead to NFC North preseason football over the next two days.

Green Bay Packers
Opponent:
Indianapolis Colts
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Coach Mike McCarthy estimated that starters will play midway through the second quarter. Although they could see extra time, it's not expected that McCarthy will bring them out for the third quarter. ... Receiver/returner Randall Cobb (knees) and defensive end Mike Neal (knee) aren't expected to play. Receiver Greg Jennings (knee) could join them on the sideline. Running back James Starks (ankle) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) should return from a week off.
Focal point: I'm curious to track how the Packers' offense performs when it is not in the no-huddle. That alignment has given them most of their success in the preseason, but I'm assuming they won't be running it every play during the regular season. From a competition standpoint, it's worth keeping a close eye on how tailback Ryan Grant performs and if Starks picks up where he left off before the ankle injury. Could Starks lay claim to the starting job with a strong showing?

Chicago Bears
Opponent:
Tennessee Titans
Location: LP Field
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Most starters will play at least a half. ... Receiver Sam Hurd (ankle), linebacker Lance Briggs (knee) and defensive tackle Anthony Adams (calf) have been ruled out. Tight end Kellen Davis (back) could miss the game, while cornerback Zack Bowman (concussion) appears likely to resume playing.
Focal point: The Bears' current offensive line configuration could lock itself into a Week 1 assignment with a solid outing that builds off last week's performance against the New York Giants. On the other hand, receiver Roy Williams needs to make a few catches in order to assure the Bears he is worthy of the starting job they handed him in training camp. Like most NFL teams, the Bears would like to see their offense produce a few touchdown drives before the preseason is over. Finally, I would like to see the Bears' defensive line rotation start shaking itself out. It's not clear at this point if they have a legitimate backup defensive end or if any of their two reclamation projects, Vernon Gholston and Amobi Okoye, will provide any help.

Detroit Lions
Opponent:
New England Patriots
Location: Ford Field
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Starters will play around half of the game... Running back Jahvid Best (concussion) and Maurice Morris (hand) aren't expected to play, so the Lions are likely to start Jerome Harrison. Mike Bell, Aaron Brown and Stefan Logan will be available to rotate in. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder) is a strong candidate to sit out as well.
Focal point: The Lions' uncertain depth at running back will be on full display. By the end of the night, we should have an idea if they have someone capable of carrying a significant load while sharing the job with Best. On the other hand, fans might get their first look at rookie receiver Titus Young. Meanwhile, the countdown continues for the first preseason hit on quarterback Matthew Stafford. He told reporters this week: "You guys can ask all you want. I don't think about it. I just play football and whatever happens, happens."

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent:
Dallas Cowboys
Location:
Metrodome
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Some starters are expected to play into the third quarter. ... The Vikings have a long injury list. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring), linebacker Heath Farwell (hamstring), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (hip), tailback Toby Gerhart (ankle), defensive tackle Kevin Williams (foot) and cornerback Asher Allen (toe) are among those who won't play.
Focal point: The Vikings' first-team offense has produced three points this preseason and isn't likely to be on the field much in the preseason finale. So Saturday night is their best and last chance to build some momentum for the regular season. The offense hasn't appeared disorganized or confused. It just hasn't had much punch yet and its personality is far from defined. It would also be helpful if rookie Christian Ponder can establish himself as the No. 2 quarterback so the Vikings can free up Joe Webb to focus on the Wildcat and other unique packages.
One of the least heralded engines of the Chicago Bears' run to the Super Bowl in 2006 was a pair of well-matched defensive tackles. Tommie Harris was the quick playmaker who had five sacks in 12 games. Tank Johnson was a 315-pound run-stuffer who kept centers and guards away from linebacker Brian Urlacher.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireThe Bears are counting on defensive lineman Henry Melton, 69, to be a disruptive force this season.
That duo came to mind the other night as I watched the Bears' first-team defense practice with Henry Melton at Harris' former position and Matt Toeaina at Johnson's nose tackle spot.

Veteran Anthony Adams was sidelined by a minor injury and could ultimately supplant Toeaina, and it's also possible that rookie Stephen Paea could work his way into the rotation. But based on recent personnel moves, and the lack thereof, it seems clear the Bears are counting on Melton to provide the interior disruption at the so-called "under tackle" position that is considered a fundamental building block of the Bears' scheme.

Fans who follow the Bears closely know that Melton flashed a few signs of promise at the end of last season, collecting 2 1/2 sacks over the final two months of the season, but no one can credibly stand up and say he is indisputably ready to take on a such a critical role on the defense.

"I'm just trying to establish myself right now," Melton said. "It's time for me to go out there and prove something."

Melton's relative inexperience at the position is stunning. He began his college career at Texas as a 280-pound running back, scoring 16 touchdowns during his first two seasons. He transitioned to defensive end midway through his career, actually losing 15 pounds to meet the program's size requirements, and didn't become a defensive starter until his senior year.

The Bears made him a fourth-round draft choice in 2009, and after a year on injured reserve, Melton played in 16 games last season as a reserve defensive end and occasional inside pass-rusher.

Is that the type of pedigree a Tampa-2 defense should be looking for in its under tackle? It's true that you can't have a proven veteran at every position, and the Bears can put All-Pro defensive Julius Peppers next to him. But they are without question taking a leap of faith with a player of unique athletic background but little seasoning at the position.

When I asked Peppers how he thought the Bears line was shaping up this summer, his answer was revealing.

"It hasn't shaped up," Peppers said. "It's still early. When we make the final team and see who we've got, we'll see what our expectations are. Right now it's kind of up in the air."

I don't think Peppers was implying the Bears will seek a new lineup via free agency or trades later this summer. He just put words to what is obvious: It's impossible to know if Melton is ready to take on this job. But the Bears have been talking up his candidacy for months, so I expect them to give him a long leash as the season begins.

To wit: In March, general manager Jerry Angelo said: "We feel, physically speaking, he's got everything you want in terms of size, speed, toughness. That's not any question. Now it's just a matter of learning the position and that will come with the repetition of more play."

To prepare for the role, Melton gained nearly 30 pounds and is now 295. He said the footwork he learned as a running back will help him because "you've got to position your feet around your opponent before you start using your hands" and suggested it is just a matter of time before he locks down the position.

"It's really just repetitions," he said. "You've got to really get in your groove. Once you get things going, the game really starts slowing down for you."

We'll see.
In this topsy-turvy post-lockout world, we have all assumed that the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) would be formally ratified by Thursday. In turn, all players who agreed to new contracts since last Monday would finally be allowed to begin practicing.

While there has been no formal announcement, it is by far a done deal that those players will be on the field Thursday -- especially for teams that have morning practices. Wednesday evening, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told The NFL Network that free agents might not be eligible to practice Thursday. As a result the Minnesota Vikings have pushed their main practice to a 4 p.m. ET start, hoping the CBA will be ratified by then.

In the NFC North, some big names have been standing on the sideline awaiting final ratification. I've included an extended, but not necessarily all-inclusive, list below. We'll keep you updated when and if final word comes down Wednesday night.

Chicago Bears: Defensive tackle Anthony Adams, running back Marion Barber, defensive end Vernon Gholston, cornerback Corey Graham, receiver Sam Hurd, linebacker Brian Iwuh, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, punter Adam Podlesh, linebacker Nick Roach, tight end Matt Spaeth, center Chris Spencer, receiver Roy Williams

Detroit Lions: Receiver Rashied Davis, cornerback Chris Houston, place-kicker Dave Rayner, linebacker Justin Durant, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch, cornerback Eric Wright

Green Bay Packers: Place-kicker Mason Crosby, tight end Spencer Havner, running back John Kuhn, receiver James Jones.

Minnesota Vikings: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, nose tackle Remi Ayodele, receiver Bernard Berrian, receiver Michael Jenkins, offensive lineman Charlie Johnson, place-kicker Ryan Longwell, quarterback Donovan McNabb.
In the chaos of Scramble'11, the Chicago Bears added two big receivers in Roy Williams and Sam Hurd. They re-signed two important role players, defensive tackle Anthony Adams and cornerback/special teams ace Corey Graham. They even added the luxury of a third veteran running back, Marion Barber, who might or might not help them in short-yardage situations.

[+] EnlargeChris Spencer
Tony Medina/Icon SMINew center Chris Spencer will have a short time to grasp Chicago's complicated scheme.
What they haven't done, however, is substantively address their universally acclaimed roster weakness. Other than their much-debated swap of center Olin Kreutz for Chris Spencer, the Bears haven't added a single guard or tackle to their roster. They reportedly pursued free agent tackle Willie Colon, but ultimately Colon re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

During a news conference with reporters Sunday, general manager Jerry Angelo suggested there aren't many intriguing possibilities left on the free agent market and implied the Bears were prepared to take their lumps while developing their own incumbents.

"These offensive linemen are tough to find," Angelo said. "We've got a good nucleus of young guys with traits we look for, but they've got to come together. We can't just run up and down the starting line, get a guy with a few games under his belt, and think that's the answer. They've got to come together. We like our young players. We need to develop some of them. How are you going to develop them if you don't play them? And if you don't play them, then how do they know you believe in them?"

"It's a catch 22. We brought in an experienced center who is in the prime of his career. That's the best we could do."

Angelo went on to chide reporters for identifying problems rather than offering solutions. ESPN.com's free agency tracker will show you all of the offensive linemen who re-signed with their previous teams and those who were willing to jump. That latter list includes guards David Baas (New York Giants), Daryn Colledge (Arizona Cardinals), Harvey Dahl (St. Louis Rams) and Robert Gallery (Seattle Seahawks).

But what's done is done. There is no sense harping on the Bears' decision/failure not to add experienced veterans to this group. It's more productive to look ahead at how the Bears will deal with the hand they've dealt themselves. In short, this situation gives offensive line coach Mike Tice the most difficult job of any NFC North assistant for the second consecutive season.

Once again, the Bears will ask Tice to build a line from scratch in the shortest timetable imaginable. Last season, it took nearly half of the regular season before the Bears found a happy medium between their scheme and personnel.

In addition to working Spencer into the mix, Tice will have to bring along rookie Gabe Carimi, who has opened camp as the second-team left tackle but almost assuredly will replace Frank Omiyale with the first team in short order. Tice will have to coax significant development from left guard Chris Williams and right tackle J'Marcus Webb, and he'll have to hope that Roberto Garza's shift between guard and emergency center doesn't set him back.

I'll agree with Angelo on this much: An aggressive move on free agency doesn't guarantee improvement. As it stands now, two of their five positions -- center and left tackle -- are likely to have been turned over by the start of the regular season. Is that enough? Or have the Bears sentenced themselves to another year of fits and starts on offense?

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