NFC North: Bobby Wade
We obviously can't foresee training camp surprises and disappointments, but I do think we can begin focusing on some relatively well-known players who -- at the very least -- have their work cut out to ensure another year on the roster. Let's take a look:
Look out: Safety Al Afalava
Comment: After starting 13 games last season, Afalava seems to have fallen off the map. Last week, general manager Jerry Angelo mentioned five players while discussing the Bears' safety position. Afalava was not among them.
Not far behind: Tight end Kellen Davis
Comment: Earlier this offseason, it was fair to wonder whether the Bears would keep the younger Davis over veteran Desmond Clark. But based on spring practices, at least, Davis is the one who should be worried.
Look out: Guard Manny Ramirez
Comment: He started 12 games last season, but the Lions acquired Rob Sims to take over at left guard. Stephen Peterman remains in place at right guard, leaving Ramirez to compete for a backup position.
Not far behind: Receiver Bryant Johnson
Comment: The Lions demoted Johnson by signing free agent Nate Burleson, and it's unlikely that Johnson and Dennis Northcutt will both make the team. Based on age and contract, you figure Johnson has the upper hand. But you never know, especially if Johnson's hands don't improve this summer.
Look out: Safety Atari Bigby
Comment: We've discussed his situation pretty thoroughly. If rookie Morgan Burnett is ready to start, the Packers aren't likely to hold him back.
Not far behind: Defensive lineman Justin Harrell
Comment: Johnny Jolly's trial notwithstanding, this might be Harrell's final chance with the Packers. Even if he's healthy, it's difficult to see a spot on the roster for him.
Look out: Receiver Jaymar Johnson
Comment: Not many backup punt returners make a team.
Not far behind: Receiver Bobby Wade
Comment: Whoops. Wrong year.
Here’s something that NFL teams probably don’t want to hear: Minnesota might unleash rookie Percy Harvin as a punt returner later this season.
Vikings coach Brad Childress admitted as much during his Monday news conference. Harvin is a leading candidate for rookie of the year, in large part because of his 30.7-yard average as a kickoff returner. In his first eight NFL games, Harvin has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
“At some point you’ll have a chance to see him returning punts,” Childress said.
Harvin worked some as a punt returner during training camp but appeared much more comfortable on kickoffs. The Vikings are also using him heavily on offense as a slot receiver and occasionally as a running back. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings at least give him a chance to return a punt or two in a key game situation.
Darius Reynaud and Jaymar Johnson have handled the punt returning duties this season. In 2008, the Vikings rotated starting receivers Bobby Wade and Bernard Berrian there during the playoff drive.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf on the value of adding quarterback Brett Favre: “You can see for yourself.” Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune caught up with Wilf.
- Green Bay blitzed Favre on seven of his 25 dropbacks, according to this film review from Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The Vikings have outperformed the Packers on the field this year and in the offseason over the past several years, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- The Packers might go with veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher as their tackles Sunday at Tampa Bay, notes Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee.
- Chicago safety Danieal Manning played a role in two of the Bears’ five takeaways Sunday against Cleveland, notes ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson.
- The Bears were better running left, behind new left guard Josh Beekman, than they were running right against the Browns, according to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
- The Bears’ offense remains out of sync, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Detroit center Dominic Raiola won’t win his fight with fans, writes Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press.
- Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said the Lions can still beat “anybody we play,” according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
As Larry David might say, I’m feeling pretty, pretty good about my decision to leave the nest this weekend.
While I watched Green Bay and St. Louis slug it out at the Edwards Jones Dome, Detroit played its most significant game in two years. Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre added another chapter to his legend and Chicago kept pace with an important victory in Seattle. (More on the Bears in a bit.)
Favre turned up the hype level on what was already going to be a dramatic "Monday Night Football" matchup Oct. 5 with the Packers. If there were any questions about whether he still has magic in his right arm, I think Favre answered them Sunday with an 80-yard game-winning drive. His 32-yard touchdown pass to receiver Greg Lewis is one that recent Vikings quarterbacks would not have attempted, much less completed.
In my book, the Vikings have already gotten their money's worth -- to the tune of $12 million -- out of Favre. There’s no way they beat San Francisco with Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels as their quarterback.
But the most compelling part of the day’s events was that Lewis, of all people, was on the receiving end of the play. (In truth, Lewis’ catch was far more difficult than Favre’s throw.) Talk about chance.
Lewis, you might recall, signed Sept. 10 to provide the Vikings depth at their slot and outside positions. He had played for coach Brad Childress in Philadelphia (2003-05) and was unexpectedly released earlier this month by New England.
Lewis was inactive for the Vikings’ first two games and was in uniform Sunday only because rookie Percy Harvin was suffering from migraines for several days last week. In fact, Lewis was on the field for the touchdown play only because Harvin was winded and Darius Reynaud was injured.
The touchdown catch was Lewis’ fourth play of the game. That’s right, his fourth. Favre literally didn’t know who he was throwing to. He said he had thrown a few practice passes to Lewis and that’s it. “A couple of hitches,” Favre said.
“I didn’t know who caught it,” he added. “I just saw one of our guys streaking across.”
Lewis made the type of catch that hasn’t been seen at the Metrodome since the days of Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Many of us laughed when Childress signed Lewis to replace Bobby Wade, assuming he was another in a line of marginal players Childress has plucked from his days with the Eagles. But Childress said he told receivers coach George Stewart not to be “afraid to put Greg Lewis in the game. He will do just fine.”
Score one for Childress. His decision to pursue Favre, and to a lesser extent Lewis, has already netted one victory this season.
And along the way, he’s given us ESPN types a few more nuggets for Minnesota-Green Bay I. The hype machine will officially start Tuesday here on the NFC North blog.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Your communication flew in from all angles this week -- be it from our fast-moving Facebook page, our ever-growing Twitter feed or just the old-fashioned mailbag. I’ll do my best to answer a representative sample of questions every weekend during the season, beginning … right now.
On with it:
Shawn of Sylvania, Ohio writes: For a perspective on your post about the effectiveness of NFL blackouts: After experiencing multiple blackouts of the Lions last year and expecting more this year. I saved up near the end of summer and got season tickets. While I don't think the blackout rule is going sell out stadiums, if it sells a couple hundred more seats to any given game, then it’s hard to argue with the league for sticking by their policies. They are a business trying to make money in hard times just as anyone else.
Kevin Seifert: On the other hand, Shawn, how many fans might the NFL/Lions lose if the games are consistently unavailable on television? That would affect television ratings, assuming the games eventually were put on air. It would take time for blackouts to have that kind of permanent impact, but it’s definitely a question to consider. Is the revenue uptick of a sellout worth the potential for a smaller – or, at least, less engaged -- fan base?
In either event, your question prompted me to seek out the 2009 Team Marketing Report, which is an excellent resource for most questions about NFL ticket prices. Team Marketing Report takes average ticket prices, along with other gameday fees, to come up with a Fan Cost Index for a day at the stadium. The FCI includes the price of four average tickets, two small beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two caps. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but the numbers in this economy are astounding.
First, here are the average ticket prices in the NFC North;
- Chicago Bears: $88.33 (NFL Rank: 4)
- Minnesota Vikings: $73.23 (NFL Rank: 13)
- Detroit Lions: $65.72 (NFL Rank: 20)
- Green Bay Packers: $63.39 (NFL Rank: 24)
Now, here is the Fan Cost Index at each team’s home stadium:
- Chicago Bears: $501.33 (NFL rank: 3)
- Minnesota Vikings: $386.92 (NFL rank: 16)
- Detroit Lions: $380.88 (NFL rank: 20)
- Green Bay Packers: $376.95 (NFL rank: 22)
Based on this report, it’s not hard for me to understand why the Lions, and to a lesser extent the Vikings, are having trouble selling tickets. (As for the Bears, all I can say is good for them.) For many people, it’s not even a choice between paying $300 for four tickets or sitting at home to watch the game on television. Even those who consider it a priority might not be able to swing it.
Mike of Louisville writes: How come I can't comment on your Vikings vs. Packers WR article?
Kevin Seifert: Plenty of people were able to, Mike, but don’t feel singled out. A number of people have encountered difficulty while trying to post comments. I’ve inquired with the ESPN tech wizards and they are looking into the issue. Please bear with us in the time being. One working theory is that some older versions of internet browsers can’t link up to the server. (Or something close to that.) So if it’s really important to you, consider upgrading to a newer version of your browser.
Keith of Greensboro writes: What will the Bears do at backup running back? Now that Kevin Jones is out of the picture, are they going to use Adrian Peterson, go get a free agent to fill that void and/or will they give Matt Forte more touches as a result?
Kevin Seifert: Keith, that’s a good topic that we didn’t get a chance to delve into enough during the week. One of the Bears’ offseason goals was to lighten the load a bit on Forte, who accounted for a higher percentage of his team's total offensive yards (34.99) last season than any other player in football.
Jones was supposed to be Forte’s primary complement, but his injury has left the Bears -- for now -- with Peterson and Garrett Wolfe for depth. It wasn’t surprising that the Bears didn’t immediately jump out and sign a veteran free agent such as Dominic Rhodes; doing so would have forced them to guarantee his contract for the entire season. If they sign Rhodes or another player as early as Monday, they can pay him on a per-game basis according to NFL rules.
And based on this interview with general manager Jerry Angelo, it sounds like the Bears are hoping that Wolfe can fill the role they envisioned for Jones.
Angelo: “…I see more of an expanded role for Garrett, at least for the time being. He got a lot of work during our OTAs, in training camp and the preseason games as well, so I foresee that. Then we’ll go from there and see how our backs slot themselves.”
So consider Sunday night’s game at Lambeau Field to be a one-game tryout for Wolfe as a No. 2 back. I’ve always thought he would be ideal as a third-down back, but Forte’s receiving prowess pretty much negates the need for that. So if Wolfe is finally going to become a consistent contributor to the Bears’ offense, it’s going to have to be as a traditional runner.
Jamie of Manistique, Mich., writes: How about Jeff Garcia to the Packers? Does this make sense to anyone but me?
Kevin Seifert: Well, er, uh, I mean … yes, I can see where you’re coming from. The Packers are entering what could be a special year with a young backup in Matt Flynn. No. 3 quarterback Brian Brohm is on the practice squad. So let’s just say there is a significant dropoff from starter Aaron Rodgers. Garcia is well-versed in the West Coast offense and would probably pick up the Packers offense quickly.
And while he might not have accepted a backup role behind JaMarcus Russell in Oakland, I imagine Garcia would agree to No. 2 status in Green Bay. With all that said, however, the Packers have never expressed public concern about their quarterback depth. And despite plenty of rumors and much speculation, they’ve never actively pursued a veteran backup to my knowledge.
It’s always possible that could change next week, when they wouldn’t be forced to guarantee the contract of a vested veteran like Garcia. He would be a better insurance policy than Flynn, but at this point any acquisition would be a surprise.
Jason of Bloomington. Minn., wants to know why the Vikings cut receiver Bobby Wade and signed free agent Greg Lewis: It can’t be money, and it can’t be injury (unless there is a season ending injury that has not been reported), and it can’t be numbers. So there has to be a back story to this. You should dig some on this and let the fans know what is going on.
Kevin Seifert: We might never get the full explanation. And let’s face it: Wade was the Vikings’ No. 4 receiver. You can’t get too worked up about his departure. But I understand your point. The timing, especially, didn’t make much sense.
What I believe happened is that Wade was very much on the fringe of the roster in the first place. He was a slot receiver on a team with two younger slot receivers in Percy Harvin and Darius Reynaud. Recognizing that dynamic, Wade accepted a 50 percent pay cut last week.
But somewhat unexpectedly, a player that coach Brad Childress knows and likes became available this week. Lewis is a bit more suited to playing on the outside, and thus on paper provides a bit more flexibility and balance to the Vikings’ depth.
It’s not often that a team cuts a veteran who has already agreed to a pay cut and made the final 53-man roster. But it doesn’t appear that Wade had much leeway left with Childress, who I understand was livid this summer when Wade told reporters that he believed Tarvaris Jackson would win the team’s quarterback competition.
It was a harsh move, but it’s clear that Childress didn’t have enough affection for Wade to reconsider.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Well. I’d say Minnesota cut out my legs from under me a full 24 hours before it was time to settle this week’s Have at It topic. The release of Bobby Wade as the final straw for the legions of you who went bonkers when I suggested we debate receiver depth in Green Bay and Minnesota. It’s not a good sign when the coaches who watch a player every day decide he’s not as valuable as a guy who caught a third the number of passes over the past two years.
That’s right. Wade had 107 receptions from 2007 to 2008 while Greg Lewis grabbed 32. Whatever. I still think Wade is a good player, but I don’t mind admitting defeat when it happens. I tried to steer the debate toward depth and away from pure skill at the top, but now even I can’t side with the depth of a receiving corps that features a rookie (Percy Harvin) at No. 3, a journeyman (Lewis) at No. 4 and an essential rookie (Darius Reynaud) at No. 5.
I will say I’m stunned how emotional the debate got. We set a Have at It record with more than 1,000 comments on the original post and another 170 or so on the Wade release. (I hope everyone got the sarcasm of the headline and the last line about the Vikings getting deeper with Lewis.)
Those emotions probably clouded a few nuances of the debate. I never questioned the superiority of the Packers’ Greg Jennings-Donald Driver duo. And while many of you thought I was trying to diminish James Jones by listing his 2008 statistics (based on 10 games), those numbers really were just a reference point to remind people what happened across the board last season.
Of all the responses I got, I laughed the hardest at Keith of Milwaukee’s mailbag note. Keith suggested some future Have at It topics:
- How the Vikes will go 18-0 this year
- Minnesota winters … sublime!
- Everyone looks good in purple
- Brad Childress for President: Let's start the campaign now.
So if you’re bored on a Friday morning, I invite you to arrange your own Vickers (or Packings?) receiver depth chart. Mine would look like this, assuming everyone is healthy:
Remember, we’ll present a new Have at It topic every Wednesday morning and settle it by Friday morning during the season.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Green Bay defensive lineman B.J. Raji wants to play Sunday night against Chicago. We’ll see how good of a lobbyist he is.
Raji is trying to recover from a sprained ankle suffered in last Thursday’s preseason finale and didn’t perform well in a medical test Tuesday. But he returned to practice Thursday in a limited capacity and doesn’t think he would set himself back by appearing in the game, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
“I’m definitely going to play,” Raji said, noting the Packers gave him the final call on whether to practice Thursday. (I should also point out that Raji said in June that he would not hold out.)
Raji is going to find out that the final decision isn’t his, at least not yet. Coach Mike McCarthy said he will take all factors into account, including the big picture of a 16-game season. But if Raji is healthy enough, he’ll provide important depth at both end and nose tackle for the Packers.
We’ll check back later with our weekly attempt to interpret the Friday injury report. For now, let’s take a morning spin around the NFC North:
- The Packers’ new defense has multiple ways to cover the tight end, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That should be an interesting twist for Bears tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark.
- Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press wonders whether new Lions coach Jim Schwartz knows what he’s getting into: “Before we kick a single ball in this 2009 Lions season, we should salute the greatest act of courage we are likely to see all year…. Jim Schwartz is about to coach his first official game for Detroit.”
- The Free Press’ Drew Sharp on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford: “The Lions already have a win. Their first victory is that Matthew Stafford isn't Joey Harrington.”
- Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News rightfully points out that people should move their focus away from Stafford and wonders whether the Lions' defense is going to be able to stop anyone this season.
- Plenty of questions remain about this Chicago team, writes Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher feels “confident in my body again,” notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago.
- Watch out for oddly aligned defensive linemen under the Bears’ new defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Minnesota’s midweek decision to cut receiver Bobby Wade was met with disappointment and anger in the Vikings' locker room, according Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Receiver Bernard Berrian was wearing Wade’s jersey during morning meetings.
- Benny Sapp has won the Vikings’ nickel job, writes Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Rookie Asher Allen will push for playing time.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Ok. Ok. Okaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyy!!!!!! You win. Egg, meet face.
That’s right. Minnesota didn’t do me any favors Thursday morning by releasing receiver Bobby Wade and reportedly replacing him with veteran Greg Lewis. (It’s probably a bad deal for Wade, too, but this isn’t his blog. It’s mine.) The move doesn’t suggest the Vikings had the same opinion of Wade’s ability to provide depth as I did in this week’s Have at It feature.
I think most everyone is surprised by the timing, if not the substance, of this move. Wade, after all, restructured his contract last week and took a 50 percent pay cut in the process. Typically when a veteran agrees to such an arrangement, the understanding is that he will make the team. Otherwise, the player is released and gets an opportunity to sign elsewhere during the mad rush of final-cut weekend.
I’m not totally sure why this happened, but here are some possible explanations:
- The Vikings are more concerned about the health of receiver Bernard Berrian’s hamstring than they are letting on. Berrian suffered the injury in the first quarter of the Aug. 14 preseason opener at Indianapolis and missed the rest of the preseason. He was limited in practice Wednesday but all indications have been that he’s ready to come back. But if the Vikings are worried about him, Wade -- a slot receiver -- probably wouldn’t have been an ideal replacement. Lewis is more of an outside/speed receiver.
- Childress has long had an affinity for players he once coached in Philadelphia. Lewis, whose career with the Eagles dates back to 2003, joins a long line of ex-Eagles players to have paraded through Minnesota over the past four years. The list includes offensive lineman Artis Hicks, fullback Thomas Tapeh, receivers Billy McMullen and Todd Pinkston, and quarterbacks Mike McMahon and Koy Detmer.
- The Vikings didn’t want to guarantee Wade’s new contract, which is believed to be worth $1.5 million. That would have happened if he were on the roster this weekend. As it is, the Vikings still had to pay Wade for one day of practice. At $1.5 million per year, Wade would receive a Week 1 “game check” for $88,235.29. That’s nothing for the Vikings, however. They once paid Detmer more than $90,000 to practice for three days in 2007.
- Childress grew weary of Wade’s refreshing but highly public profile. I doubt it’s the reason Wade is gone, but he did use a crude word to describe Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler this summer and also told reporters it was clear that Tarvaris Jackson would defeat Sage Rosenfels in a training camp competition at quarterback. Like most coaches, Childress isn’t big on players making news with their mouths.
We may never get a full explanation. But at least the Vikings improved their receiver depth today, right?
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
As it turns out, four sentences -- on a Saturday morning over the holiday weekend -- caused quite a stir. For the third bullet point in our daily installment of “Three and out,” I wrote that Minnesota has the deepest group of receivers in the NFC North.
Gasp! Ohhhhhhhh! No he didn’t!
Yes, that was enough to open the floodgates from Wisconsin and the rest of Packer Nation. I believe Jerry of Omaha struck the collective tone: “This just confirms that you go to bed every night with your purple and gold jammys. What a joke having you cover the NFC North for ESPN. Just crawl back to Minneapolis and work for the Star Tribune again. You have zero credibility and objectivity.”
We won’t go through that whole issue again, but I am curious if everyone agrees on the substance of the objection. (It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve swung and missed.) It’s a particularly interesting topic that could spawn a lively debate, especially if you care about the difference between depth and skill.
I think it’s pretty clear that the Packers’ 1-2 punch of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver is unmatched in Minnesota. Jennings and Driver are without question more skillful. But in a top-to-bottom comparison, it gets more interesting. If a starter went down in Green Bay or Minnesota, which team is better equipped to absorb the loss? To me, that’s the definition of depth.
For your reference, ESPN.com editor Jonathan Hudec has given you a position-by-position comparison of each team’s receivers from No. 1 through No. 5. Your job is to decide if you prefer the Packers’ top-heavy construction, or if you would play it safer and take a Minnesota group that includes first-round pick Percy Harvin at No. 3 and ex-leading receiver Bobby Wade at No. 4. Tell me what you think, and we’ll meet here again Friday to hash it out. Have at it.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Three quick hits on the Minnesota Vikings:
1. The biggest question among the Vikings’ final cuts is which -- if any -- quarterback will be released. There have been arguments made for all three of Brett Favre’s backups to go. Tarvaris Jackson probably needs a fresh start. Sage Rosenfels has been inconsistent during training camp and the preseason. John David Booty hasn’t outplayed either Jackson or Rosenfels this summer. But there are also reasons to argue that each should stay. Jackson is most familiar with the Vikings' scheme and had a good preseason. Rosenfels cost a fourth-round pick and signed a contract extension a few months ago. Booty is still very much in the development phase. But you wonder if the Vikings won’t ultimately try to sneak Booty onto the practice squad.
2. Amazingly, the Vikings are still waiting to find out if they’ll have the services of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams early this season. A federal appeals court has yet to rule on the latest twist in their legal challenge to their four-game suspensions. The court has indicated it will rule before the start of the regular season, but until then the Vikings know a suspension is still a possibility, depending upon the legal ruling. Fred Evans and Letroy Guion would be the likely starters in their absence.
3. The Vikings suddenly have the deepest group of receivers in the NFC North, so much so that their leading receiver from the past two years -- Bobby Wade -- accepted a demotion and pay cut to stay with the team. Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin figure to get most of the playing time this season, if everyone is healthy. Wade will provide insurance for three players who have been limited by injuries at various times in recent years. Youngsters Darius Reynaud and Jaymar Johnson also have playmaking ability.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
MINNEAPOLIS -- I think it’s fair to say Minnesota coach Brad Childress isn’t entirely comfortable with the quarterback depth on his roster even after the arrival of new starter Brett Favre.
Childress was steamed late Friday night about the play of backups Sage Rosenfels and John David Booty, each of whom had interceptions returned for touchdowns in the third quarter of a 35-31 loss to Dallas. Childress admitted he intentionally benched both of them for the transgression -- a rarity in the scripted world of the preseason -- and didn’t sound like a coach who has decided on the final configuration of the position.
Asked to assess the team’s quarterback play on a night Favre watched from the sidelines, Childress said, “At times it was embarrassing. And I’ll end up putting that on myself some, not having them ready to come out of the locker room at halftime. [But] all of the quarterbacks I’ve ever coached have some regard for the football and you can’t throw it them.”
Tarvaris Jackson started the game and played four series, completing 2 of 4 passes for 42 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown to tight end Jeff Dugan.
But on the first play of the third quarter, Rosenfels threw a short out pass into the hands of Dallas safety Patrick Watkins, who returned the interception 23 yards for a touchdown. Booty replaced Rosenfels for the next series. One the fifth play of that possession, however, he forced a pass to receiver Vinny Perretta. Dallas linebacker Steve Octavien grabbed it and dashed 44 yards for a score.
Then we were back to Rosenfels. Asked why he flipped quarterbacks the first time, Childress said: “Because he threw an interception for a touchdown.” Asked if that also explained why Booty sat down after one series, Childress said: “Pretty much, yep.”
Rosenfels seemed much less disturbed after completing 7 of 15 passes for 115 yards, noting that even Favre has thrown an interception or two (or 310) in his career.
“It always seems like you want to take back one play,” Rosenfels said. “I wish I could get that play back. Just a bad play by me. Other than that, I felt comfortable out there and did a pretty good job of executing the offense, other than that one play. So I’m going to keep firing. I talked to Brett. Brett’s overcome his fair share of interceptions. I think he has the NFL record. And he just keeps firing. So just keep firing and keep plugging away.”
Entering the game, we wondered which of the Vikings’ four quarterbacks would be spending his last day on the roster. After watching Childress’ reaction to Friday night’s game, it’s hard to imagine it being Jackson. For one night, at least, Jackson appeared to be the Vikings’ second-best quarterback. The team reportedly has been trying to trade him, but at this point I don’t believe Childress would feel comfortable with what he would be left with.
Jackson finished the preseason with a 118.4 passer rating, having completed 23 of 36 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’ve been having fun the past few weeks and that’s really all I can say,” Jackson said. “I feel like regardless of what happened here, my future is still bright in the NFL. I can’t control exactly what happens here. I can only control what happens on the field.”
Childress doesn’t seem to have the same comfort level with Rosenfels, but it would be foolish for the Vikings to release him four months after trading a fourth-round draft pick for him. That leaves Booty, who is still developing but could find his way to the practice squad.
I asked Childress about the possibility of keeping four quarterbacks on the active roster. He didn’t seem enthused by the idea.
“The No. 3 only plays a very, very small percentage of the time,” Childress said. “We’ve done some studies about that. Unless you think you have somebody that somebody else covets and might be able to get something for, that would be a reason to hold on to somebody. [You’re] hoping that you’re not getting to No. 4 during the season.”
We’ll know more Saturday. NFL rosters must be pared to 53 by 6 p.m. ET.
A few other points before we call it a night:
- Childress managed to sit all 22 starters. (Fullback Naufahu Tahi played on special teams only.) Also held out were backup receivers Percy Harvin and Bobby Wade, reserve linebacker Heath Farwell and backup tailback Chester Taylor. My instinct is to make a sarcastic remark about Childress taking it easy on so many players, but after watching Chicago and Green Bay on Thursday night, I suppose I understand. The Bears lost tailback Kevin Jones (ankle) for the season, while Green Bay rookie B.J. Raji limped off the field with an ankle injury.
- Receiver Darius Reynaud might have locked up a roster spot by returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown.
- A sight to see: Defensive tackle Letroy Guion fumble while trying to move the ball to his left hand as he returned a second-quarter interception. Linebacker Kenny Onatolu recovered to maintain possession for the Vikings.
- Not sure what this means, but every time I noticed Favre on the sideline, he was talking to left guard Steve Hutchinson. Like Forrest and Jenny, they were two peas in a pod.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
We’re expecting some NFC North teams to begin paring their rosters Friday in anticipation of the NFL’s Saturday deadline for forming 53-man rosters. But one “bubble” player that appears to be safe is Minnesota receiver Bobby Wade, who has agreed to take a pay cut in anticipation of what appears to be a reduced role in 2009.
Wade has led the Vikings in receptions the past two years, but the arrival of rookie Percy Harvin has squeezed him out of his regular role as the slot receiver. Many of us have wondered if the Vikings would keep Wade as a No. 4 receiver when he was scheduled to make almost $3 million in base salary this season.
According to Zulgad, Wade agreed to reduce his salary to about $1.5 million. That’s more in line with the role he is expected to play this season. Receivers Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice and Harvin are expected to get the majority of snaps if everyone stays healthy. But all three players have histories of injuries, so Wade is now a moderately priced -- and proven -- backup.
We’ll do our best to keep you updated with the flurry of roster moves expected over the next few days. Teams must make their cutdowns by 6 p.m. ET Saturday and they can begin signing players back to the practice squad at noon ET Sunday.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- I'll be headed out to Chicago's practice here in a few hours on what is predicted to be a 92-degree day in the greater Bourbonnais-Kankakee area. That's football (practice) weather if I've ever heard of it.
Three-fourths of the NFC North was off Sunday, but one news item caught my eye Monday morning: Green Bay hasn't made any progress on Michael Vick, but it has moved a bit closer in contract negotiations with first-round draft choice B.J. Raji, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. A deal might not be imminent, but Denver's agreement with No. 12 overall pick Knowshon Moreno seems to have had a positive effect on the Raji talks.
The Packers are back on the field at 3 p.m. ET Monday. You would think Raji's deal will be done at some time this week, but we're now entering the territory where his availability for the first preseason game will be in question. The Packers will host Cleveland on Saturday night.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Detroit practiced in brutal heat Sunday, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. It was 93 degrees when practice started and the heat index was 106.
- Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew (thigh) returned to practice after missing a week, notes Monarrez. Safety Daniel Bullocks, meanwhile, traveled to Birmingham, Ala., to have his troublesome knee checked out by Dr. James Andrews.
- Minnesota receiver Bobby Wade clarified his comments regarding Minnesota's quarterback competition, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Wade seemed to indicate over the weekend that Tarvaris Jackson will win the job, but Sunday he said, "I have no clue" whether Jackson or Sage Rosenfels will be the starter. Sounds like someone got to someone.
- Minnesota center John Sullivan indicates that he's a few inches shorter than what the Vikings have him listed at in this interview with Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald writes he is "more than a little concerned" about the long-term future of Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris.
- The Bears are trying to shape Danieal Manning in the mold of versatile defensive backs Aeneas Williams and Ronde Barber, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
At least one member of the Detroit media has called Detroit's quarterback competition in favor of rookie Matthew Stafford. Here's what Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com posted late Saturday:
"Stafford isn't perfect, and he's going to make plenty of mistakes as he develops, but the first overall pick in the draft is showing he's the real deal. The Lions aren't saying anything publicly because they have nothing to gain by making an announcement in the next week or two. But trust me, when the scouts and coaches watch the practice tape every night, they're grinning from ear to ear."
Kowalski writes that his opinion is not so much based on a negative evaluation of Daunte Culpepper as it is the confidence and poise of the 21-year-old Stafford.
It's probably a little early for the Lions to make any final decisions. Preseason games are better indicators of how players react in pressure situations. But if nothing else, Stafford is giving the Lions plenty to think about.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated Saturday in Detroit that he would not change the league's blackout policy to help the Lions get on local television, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- ESPN's Chris Mortensen notes the Lions have turned over about 50 percent of the roster since last season.
- Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times notes another benefit to trading for quarterback Jay Cutler: The Bears didn't have to worry about using a high draft pick on a quarterback and then wonder if he wouldn't sign his contract until late in training camp.
- Bears receiver Devin Hester wants to make the Pro Bowl as a receiver as well as a punt returner, writes Melissa Isaacson of ESPN Chicago.
- Does Minnesota receiver Bobby Wade know something we don't? Check out this quote, as reported by Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune: "Obviously, [Tarvaris Jackson] missed a couple of days so that always plays a toll. ... You know the timing's really important for every single one of our receivers, the timing with Tarvaris, and Sage [Rosenfels] for that matter but especially Tarvaris knowing he'll be pretty much the named starter going into the season so timing is everything in this offense."
- Rookie cornerback Asher Allen is reminding some Vikings of a young Antoine Winfield, including Winfield. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press explains.
- Even after Denver signed tailback Knowshon Moreno, the No. 12 overall pick of the draft, there is still a gap between Green Bay and first-round pick B.J. Raji. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette breaks down the situation.
- Speaking to Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay center Scott Wells details the torn labrum he suffered last season and his arduous rehabilitation during the offseason.
|AP Photo/Jim Mone|
|With Brett Favre out of the picture, the Vikings' quarterback competition comes down to Tarvaris Jackson (7) and Sage Rosenfels (2).|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
MANKATO, Minn. -- The scene was set for a rock concert. Now, temporary bleachers sit empty at one end of the practice fields at Minnesota State University, Mankato. A super-sized interview tent now seems out of place. One lowly blogger sits in the overflow media room.
Vikings training camp opened to a quiet and anticlimactic scene, one that once seemed destined to be dominated by the arrival of quarterback Brett Favre. Instead, the Vikings have been left with Plan B and C at quarterback as they prepare to defend their NFC North title. And a largely veteran roster has been left to pick up the pieces and steer clear of the letdown that surrounds it.
"That's our job as adults," defensive end Jared Allen said. "We're not in high school. You don't need to carry little grudges with you. It's professional football. [We're] professionals. Let's go do our job. Our job is to win games, defend our division championship and hopefully win the Super Bowl."
It's a fair question. After all, in a combined 11 NFL seasons, neither player has proved worthy of a full-time starting job. For what it's worth, camp hardly started in ideal fashion. Rosenfels appeared still to be growing comfortable with the offense while a sprained knee felled Jackson in the third practice.
Jackson's injury is not serious, but his long injury history illustrates the perils of counting on him to be a full-time starter. Rosenfels, meanwhile, is a career backup who now realizes the Vikings' offense isn't as familiar as he previously believed. His transition from Houston's version of the West Coast scheme will take some time.
|Tom Dahlin/Getty Images|
|Rookie Phil Loadholt is the early favorite to win the starting right tackle spot.|
But at this point, the Vikings have given themselves no choice but to count on one of them to step up after Favre turned down their overtures last month. In the competitive NFC North, that gambit could mean the difference between the division title and missing the playoffs.
2. Can the offensive line withstand the addition of two new starters?
Rookie Phil Loadholt appears set to take over the right tackle position, and his sheer girth -- 6-foot-8, 343 pounds -- will make it difficult for most defensive ends to get around him. Loadholt also looked relatively smooth as a run-blocker early in camp, and it's hard to imagine him losing a competition for the starting job.
The prognosis for new center John Sullivan, however, is not as certain. He is universally recognized as a smart player, but his ability to match up with the NFL's top defensive tackles has not been measured yet. From a physical standpoint, Sullivan might be at a disadvantage. The Vikings list Sullivan at 6-foot-4, but he has an odd build -- short legs and a long torso -- that make him look and play much shorter.
I asked Pro Bowl nose tackle Pat Williams if he thought Sullivan was ready.
"He doesn't have a choice," Williams said. "That's all we've got. He's still learning, but I think he'll be a good center for us."
Williams, however, also noted the long list of big defensive tackles Sullivan will have to match up against this year -- starting with Cleveland's Shaun Rogers in the Sept. 13 season opener.
"He's got to be strong," Williams said. "The guys he is going to be playing are some big dudes."
3. Are the Vikings prepared for the possibility of losing the Williams Wall?
The team is developing a contingency plan in the event that defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are forced to serve their four-game suspensions. (A Minnesota judge will decide by Aug. 7 whether the players' legal case can proceed in state court.) Few teams have starting-caliber defensive tackles in reserve, but the Vikings are hoping to patch together a decent lineup if they have to.
Fred Evans, Jimmy Kennedy and Letroy Guion have been working as the second-team defensive tackles during practice. Guion also has been working with the first-team nickel defense when Pat Williams takes a breather.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier acknowledged it will be "a bit of a drop-off" if Evans, Kennedy and/or Guion is forced into the starting lineup. But Frazier added: "We feel confident we will still be able to play good defense with those other guys in the lineup."
I think that's a fair way of looking at it. The question will be whether the replacements can hold their own, not whether they can maintain the NFL's top-rated run defense. That's an unrealistic expectation.
You have to wonder where veteran receiver Bobby Wade will fit in after the Vikings drafted receiver Percy Harvin and welcomed back a healthy Sidney Rice. Even with Harvin unsigned at the beginning of training camp, it seemed clear that Wade will lose some playing time after leading the team in receptions the past two seasons.
If everyone stays healthy, early indications are that Bernard Berrian, Rice and Harvin are first in line for snaps this season. Wade could share some slot responsibilities with Harvin, but the Vikings want the exciting rookie on the field as often as possible.
It's hard to imagine Wade not making the team after catching 107 passes since 2007. But he does appear to be in a fight for playing time that also includes youngsters Jaymar Johnson and Darius Reynaud. Depending on how many receivers they carry on the roster, the Vikings might have to decide whether to keep a reliable veteran or an intriguing up-and-comer.
Newcomer to watch
Harvin missed the first three days of training camp, but it wasn't difficult to see the multi-faceted role the team has mapped out for him.
Reynaud played Harvin's role during practice, roving all over the field -- much like Harvin did while playing at the University of Florida. It's also possible the Vikings will use Harvin as a punt and kickoff returner if he gets into camp soon enough.
Harvin is the kind of open-field runner who can change the dynamic of a game on one play. He'll give the Vikings the best weapon they've ever had in taking defensive attention away from tailback Adrian Peterson. If he and Peterson stay healthy, Harvin is an early candidate for rookie of the year.
Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is back after a pair of dislocated toes caused him to miss the final 12 games last season. In his first practice this summer, Henderson brought the entire defense together to discuss his goals for this season. "You could hear a pin drop in our huddle," Frazier said. Henderson is normally a quiet leader. "For him to do that," Frazier said, "it makes everyone feel as if this is for real. No more playing around." ... The Vikings signed free agent Karl Paymah ostensibly as their nickelback, but early in camp he was playing with the third team. Benny Sapp, Marcus McCauley and rookie Asher Allen were rotating at nickel. ... Coaches would like to get Peterson more involved in the passing game, but so far tailback Chester Taylor has gotten most of the third-down snaps. "We have a Chester Taylor and we might as well use him," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. ... Peterson on rushing for 2,000 yards in a season: "It is something I think about and dream about." ... With Loadholt the likely starter at right tackle, Ryan Cook is getting a chance to win a backup center/tackle job.
The headline above Brad Biggs' piece in the Chicago Sun-Times said it best: By all accounts, the Bears had a "dreamy" first day of training camp Friday at Olivet Nazarene University.
Last summer, they opened to the distraction of a quarterback competition, the surprise holdout of receiver Devin Hester and the revelation of a back injury for first-round pick Chris Williams. This year, a crowd estimated at 7,000 people were thrilled by the sight of new quarterback Jay Cutler tossing lasers to Hester, Earl Bennett and Greg Olsen.
The Bears are scheduled to practice in full pads Saturday night. That should take the excitement up another notch.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris doesn't think his team's current defense has a long time left to play with one another, according to Biggs.
- Safety Danieal Manning began cramping during the first practice and was replaced by Craig Steltz, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Brian Van Ochten of Mlive.com on Detroit coach Jim Schwartz: "To see him put his arms around the monumental challenge of resurrecting these losers -- and do it with such chutzpah following a 0-16 finish last season -- is what's refreshing about his approach to such a stale franchise."
- Lions Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders considers Brandon Pettigrew a "complete tight end," writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- Green Bay is a stable and seasoned team as it enters Mike McCarthy's fourth year, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Packers linebacker Nick Barnett said he is "not really" upset to have been placed on the physically unable to perform list but said he is eager to get back on the field, according to Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune thanks Minnesota receiver Bobby Wade for adding some life to the start of the Vikings' training camp.