NFC North: Brandon McDonald

NEW ORLEANS -- There are no major surprises on the Detroit Lions' inactive list for Saturday night's wild-card playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. One minor shift from the recent norm: Cornerback Don Carey is active and cornerback Brandon McDonald is inactive.

That could be a nod toward special teams, considering the Lions secondary will be at full strength with Aaron Berry back in the nickel and Alphonso Smith available to play the dime. McDonald had been active for the past two games while Berry rehabilitated a shoulder injury.

As expected, safety Louis Delmas is active and will start his first game since Thanksgiving Day. That moves Chris Harris to the inactive list; Harris has also been dealing with a back injury.

The rest of the inactives: Quarterback Drew Stanton, running back Joique Bell, linebacker Doug Hogue, guard Leonard Davis and defensive lineman Andre Fluellen.

Final Word: NFC North

December, 23, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 16:

Busted rivalry: When the NFL released its schedule this spring, many of us had high expectations for a late-December matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Instead, an injury-devastated Bears team will limp north as a (deserved) 13-point underdog. It's possible the Packers will have clinched home-field advantage even before taking the field Sunday night, if the San Francisco 49ers lose Saturday at the Seattle Seahawks. If not, the Packers will attempt to secure it against a team playing without quarterback Jay Cutler, running backs Matt Forte and Marion Barber, and receiver Johnny Knox. Third-string running back Kahlil Bell is expected to start, pairing with third-string quarterback Josh McCown -- who has a history of helping the Packers' playoff positioning. (See: Noooooooooooooooo!) One other interesting bit of history: The Packers are one of five teams in NFL history to open a season 13-0 and then lose in their 14th game. All four of the other teams lost their 15th game, too. That list includes the 2009 and 2005 Indianapolis Colts, the 2009 New Orleans Saints and the 1998 Denver Broncos.

[+] EnlargeJames Starks
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireGreen Bay's James Starks is expected to play Sunday against the Bears.
Packers' run game: For several reasons, Sunday night's game would be an obvious target for the Packers to try to enhance their running game. James Starks (ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) are expected to return. The Packers will start a makeshift offensive line that likely will include T.J. Lang at right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard; the best way for offensive linemen to get comfortable is via run blocking. And it's also worth repeating that the Bears historically have done a good job limiting Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' downfield opportunities. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers has completed only five of 26 attempts on throws against the Bears that traveled in the air 21 yards or more. He's thrown for one touchdown, a game-winner to receiver Greg Jennings in 2009, and two interceptions on those passes.

Detroit's challenge: The Detroit Lions will clinch a playoff spot Saturday if they beat the San Diego Chargers in what will likely be a raucous atmosphere at Ford Field. (There are also several scenarios to clinch this weekend even if they lose. They're noted in this post.) Hopefully everyone knows the Chargers are on one of their annual December rolls. They've won three consecutive games after a six-game losing streak. Since Norv Turner took the head coaching job in 2007, the Chargers are 20-2 in December. This will be no cakewalk.

Big targets: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers struggled earlier this season, but he has been the NFL's most efficient quarterback over the past three weeks based on Total Quarterback Rating. Rivers has hit a groove with a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers that will pose significant matchup problems for the Lions. Malcom Floyd has 11 receptions for 233 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games, while Vincent Jackson has caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has been sidelined in practice this week by a groin injury. Lions cornerback Chris Houston (knee) clearly wasn't 100 percent last week against the Oakland Raiders, and the team re-signed Brandon McDonald this week for extra depth. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) also remains sidelined, and backup Chris Harris was cleared Thursday to practice following a concussion.

Make it stop: If you're a big-picture observer, you see ample motivation for the Minnesota Vikings to lose Sunday at the Washington Redskins. One more victory by the Indianapolis Colts, in conjunction with two more Vikings defeats, would give the Vikings an excellent chance to secure the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft. A loss to the Redskins would extend the Vikings' losing streak to seven games, tying a franchise record set in their expansion season of 1961. But I'm not sure what would be worse: tying that record or extending their NFL record of games without an interception, which stands at nine. Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman has thrown at least one interception in his past 10 starts, and he is tied for the second-most interceptions in the NFL (18) despite missing three games this season. Something's got to give.

NFC North at night

December, 22, 2011
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Checking in on Thursday's newsbits in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: Tight end Kellen Davis (back) and defensive end Julius Peppers (not injury related) returned to practice Thursday. Still missing were linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle), running back Marion Barber (calf) and kick returner/receiver Devin Hester (ankle). None have been ruled out for Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

Detroit Lions: Cornerback Don Carey (concussion), safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), defensive tackle Corey Williams (hip) and defensive end Willie Young (ankle) all missed practice. The Lions re-signed cornerback Brandon McDonald to bolster their depth as Carey's concussion lingers.

Green Bay Packers: Running backs James Starks (ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) participated fully in practice and should be ready to play Sunday night. Linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf) and offensive lineman Chad Clifton (hamstring/back) made it through their second consecutive day of practice. Defensive lineman Howard Green (foot) was limited in practice. Defensive end Ryan Pickett (concussion) has still not been cleared.

Minnesota Vikings: The decision by USC quarterback Matt Barkley to return to school could have an indirect impact on the Vikings. If the Vikings ultimately want to trade down from their perch atop the first round, it would have helped to have another blue-chip quarterback to increase the value of their pick. Meanwhile, cornerback Asher Allen and guard Steve Hutchinson (concussion) missed practice for the second consecutive day.

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 9, 2011
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Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Safety Major Wright (shoulder) was ruled out of Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos. Craig Steltz is expected to start in his place. Other than quarterback Jay Cutler (thumb) and running back Matt Forte (knee), all other players will be available.

Detroit Lions: Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) are doubtful and not expected to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring), who did not practice Thursday or Friday, is questionable. So is defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), who did not practice all week. The Lions signed free agent defensive tackle Jovan Haye and waived cornerback Brandon McDonald, presumably for more depth along the defensive line.

Green Bay Packers: Running back James Starks (ankle) and linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf) missed a third day of practice Friday and were declared out for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders. Tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) and linebacker Vic So'oto (back) were also declared out. But linebacker A.J. Hawk (calf) practiced for the first time since suffering the injury Nov. 24 and is listed as questionable. D.J. Smith is expected to start for Bishop, and Robert Francois would play for Hawk if he isn't able to go Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback Christian Ponder (hip) and running back Adrian Peterson (ankle) practiced Friday as limited participants. Neither player is close to 100 percent, and Ponder took only a handful of practice repetitions all week. The Vikings listed both players as questionable for Sunday's game. At 2-10, you wonder if the Vikings will risk further injury to either of their marquee offensive players. Joe Webb would start at quarterback if Ponder can not.

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
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After Detroit Lions' 31-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing a loss to the Saints, the Lions take their turn in the examination room.
    Lions coach Jim Schwartz benched right tackle Gosder Cherilus in Week 2 because of a personal-foul penalty he committed at the end of a Week 1 victory. It was an aggressive, clear precedent for future offenses, and it seemed to work in Cherilus' case. But the message seems lost among many of Cherilus' teammates. If he wants to recapture control of this team, Schwartz needs to sit multiple players for next Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings, including receiver Titus Young, kick returner Stefan Logan and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Given the Cherilus precedent, anything less will imply tacit consent and almost certainly disappoint veteran players who are hoping to make their first legitimate playoff push in Lions uniforms. For two consecutive weeks, post-whistle penalties have played a direct role in the outcome of Lions games.
  2. The Lions' mistakes Sunday night weren't just of aggression. They were of technique as well. Reasonable people can debate the merits of the first offensive pass interference penalty against receiver Nate Burleson. But after a call like that is made, Burleson needed to adjust to ensure that he didn't give officials a chance to make it again. Instead, Burleson was whistled two more times and negated a total of 67 passing yards. In records dating back to the start of the 2011, ESPN Stats & Information couldn't find a prior instance of a player receiving three offensive pass interference penalties in one game.
  3. Sunday night gave us our first glimpse of rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who started for the suspended Ndamukong Suh. Fairley responded with three tackles and his first NFL sack before leaving in the second quarter after appearing to re-injure his surgically repaired foot. Schwartz said Fairley's foot isn't broken but that it's "sore." It's been obvious that Fairley has been doing his best to play through what clearly wasn't a fully healed injury this season, and he deserves credit for that. It's not clear whether he'll need more time away to heal, but Lions fans should be excited about what Fairley could do next season when he is presumably fully healthy.
And here is one issue I don't get:
The Lions held the Saints 10 points below their home scoring average, but 31 points was still too much to give up on this night. With cornerbacks Chris Houston and Brandon McDonald sidelined, it's not surprising that Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 15 of 18 passes outside of the numbers. But with Suh out and Fairley injured, you wonder if the Lions should have moved off their season-long strategy of mostly four-man rushes. They entered the game rushing four or fewer on 79 percent of opponents' drop backs, and Sunday night that percentage was 77 percent. Against that front, Brees completed 22 of 28 passes for 297 yards and three scores. Brees does well against the blitz, too, but perhaps the Lions needed to mix it up more on this occasion.

NFC North at night

December, 1, 2011
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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.

NFC North at night

November, 30, 2011
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Let's hit Wednesday's newsbits in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: We've already hashed through comments from quarterback Jay Cutler, who admitted he doesn't know for sure whether he will return to play this season. Cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) didn't practice Wednesday but is expected to return Thursday. Cornerbacks D.J. Moore (ankle) and Zack Bowman (groin) were limited.

Detroit Lions: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's appeal of a two-game suspension will be heard Thursday afternoon by appeals officer Art Shell. A decision is expected by the weekend. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) missed another day of practice, as did running back Kevin Smith (ankle). Cornerback Brandon McDonald (thigh) was a limited participant.

Green Bay Packers: Coach Mike McCarthy indicated that linebacker Erik Walden will play Sunday against the New York Giants. Walden was arrested last Friday on suspicion of domestic violence but hasn't been charged yet. Guard Josh Sitton (knee) has been ruled out of Sunday's game, as has left tackle Chad Clifton, who now has a back injury on top of his hamstring issue. Linebackers A.J. Hawk (calf) and Desmond Bishop (calf) didn't practice Wednesday but could get back on the field Friday. Meanwhile, cornerback Pat Lee told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the NFL fined him $15,000 after getting ejected from last Thursday's game against the Lions.

Minnesota Vikings: Tailback Adrian Peterson (ankle) and linebacker E.J. Henderson (shoulder) didn't practice. We'll know more later in the week on both players' status for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) returned to practice. Meanwhile, the Vikings could catch a break this week after Broncos linebacker Von Miller had thumb surgery. He hasn't been ruled out but at best will be limited in Sunday's game.

NFC North at night

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
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Catching up on some NFC North newsbits as a busy day winds down:

Chicago Bears: Linebacker/special-teams ace Brian Iwuh was waived after suffering a minor hamstring injury last Sunday. An injury settlement will follow. Iwuh had a team-high 14 special-teams tackles this season. The Bears promoted linebacker Patrick Trahan from their practice squad to take his place.

Detroit Lions: Four starters didn't participate in a bonus Tuesday practice: Cornerback Chris Houston (knee), safety Louis Delmas (leg), running back Kevin Smith and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (suspension). Defensive back Brandon McDonald (leg) also didn't practice. Delmas isn't expected to play Sunday night at the New Orleans Saints and likely will be replaced by Chris Harris. The Lions gave themselves some depth behind Delmas and Harris by promoting practice-squad safety Ricardo Silva. Punter Ryan Donahue was placed on injured reserve to create that roster spot.

Green Bay Packers: Linebacker Erik Walden, arrested last Friday after a domestic incident with his girlfriend, apologized to his teammates and in an interview session with reporters. Walden has not been formally charged.

Minnesota Vikings: The Minnesota state Senate held the first of two public hearings on the Vikings' stadium issue. This hearing centered around site options. The team wants the project built in suburban Arden Hills, Minn. But Vikings officials were encouraged during the hearing to work with Minneapolis officials to select one downtown option for comparison's sake, if nothing else. Meanwhile, the Vikings signed long-snapper Matt Katula to replace Cullen Loeffler, who suffered a fracture in his lower back Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
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After the Detroit Lions' 27-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertAfter falling to 7-4 following a loss to the Packers, the Lions take their turn in the examination room.
    Lost in the discussion over Ndamukong Suh's third-quarter ejection was how critical the accompanying penalty and his subsequent absence was. You almost forget that the Lions had stopped the Packers on third-and-3 at their 3-yard line. The Packers probably would have set up to kick a short field goal in hopes of taking a 10-0 lead. Instead, they got another set of downs and ultimately scored a touchdown on John Kuhn's 1-yard run. The penalty cost the Lions four points, and it also opened the floodgates for the Packers' offense. In the end, they scored 20 points with Suh off the field. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 10 of 15 passes when Suh was in the game. Afterward, he hit on seven of nine and averaged 16.9 yards per attempt. According to ESPN Stats & Information, all seven of those completions came against the Lions' four-man pass rush, one obviously watered down without Suh.
  2. As fallout from the Suh incident continues, it's probably only a matter of time that people start connecting Suh's style with the personality and approach of fiery coach Jim Schwartz. That's essentially what Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole wrote in the aftermath of Thursday's events. Cole made clear that Schwartz wouldn't encourage a player to do what Suh did Thursday. But, Cole wrote, "It's no surprise that Jim Schwartz's Detroit Lions are out of control" and added: "It's also not much of a surprise that the same coach who earlier this season stormed after San Francisco counterpart Jim Harbaugh is now watching his team's best player face a suspension for losing his cool." Schwartz's role in the incident with Harbaugh doesn't excuse Suh for his actions. But I agree with Cole in this sense: The coach sets a tone for his program. If the coach occasionally flies out of control, that's the example for decorum he has set for his players -- consciously or otherwise. The bottom line, according to ESPN Stats & Information, is that the Lions have had more personal fouls called against them since the start of Schwartz's tenure in 2009 than any other NFL team. Patterns always emerge over time.
  3. It's amazing how central running back Kevin Smith became to the Lions offense in such a short time, and that's why the Lions are keeping their fingers crossed on further tests to his right ankle. Smith touched the ball on four of the Lions' first five plays and had 10 touches in just over a quarter of play. X-rays were negative on the injury, and Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson reported on air Thursday that the Lions believe Smith has a high ankle sprain. Starter Jahvid Best (concussion) was at the game, but there is no indication when or if he will return or if he will play again this season. The Lions will have to hope that their extended weekend will give Smith enough time to heal. It's obvious they deem him a preferable option over current incumbents Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
How many defensive starters will the Lions have to replace for their nationally televised Dec. 4 game at the New Orleans Saints? It's quite possible Suh will be suspended. And the Lions finished Sunday's game with half of their secondary sidelined by injuries. Things got so thin that veteran Rashied Davis was pushed into emergency duty as a cornerback. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) didn't return after their injuries, leaving Chris Harris and a combination of Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald in their respective places. The Saints lead the NFL in total offense (436.9 yards per game) and are second in scoring (31.7).

Aaron Berry, Erin Henderson won't play

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
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A few pregame notes as we await Week 11 kickoffs:

BBAO: A thrilling start to 2011

September, 9, 2011
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

NOT FAR FROM GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Well. Our 2011 regular season got off to a bang Thursday night, didn't it? In a few hours, I'll post our weekly Free Head Exam post to review the Green Bay Packers' 42-34 victory against the New Orleans Saints, discussing among other things quarterback Aaron Rodgers' uncharacteristic postgame expression of vengeance.

My plans for Friday also include a Final Word on the rest of Sunday's games, which obviously and unavoidably have gotten the short shrift here this week. At some point, I also need to make it back to NFC North blog headquarters. But while we have a moment, let's catch some reaction to the game from around the country and also spin ourselves around the division:

Detroit Lions cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
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Check here for a complete list of the Detroit Lions' roster moves.

Surprise move: I don't know if it qualified as a surprise, but it was sure jarring to hear earlier Saturday that veteran punter Nick Harris was ousted. Harris has been the Lions' punter since 2003 and hadn't appeared to be in decline. But rookie Ryan Donahue is 10 years younger than Harris and had an equally strong training camp. Age doesn't always apply to punters as it does to players at other positions, but the Lions must believe Donahue can be their punter for years to come. Meanwhile, the Lions activated cornerback Alphonso Smith from the non-football injury list, meaning they believe he will be ready to play before the sixth week of the season.

No-brainers: You don't always see a six-year veteran as a team's No. 6 receiver, but Maurice Stovall proved he will be a valuable special teams player as well as a possible red zone threat. He beat out 2009 third-round draft pick Derrick Williams, whose potential never materialized and who was still dropping passes with regularity during the preseason. In training camp, it was clear that veteran Nate Vasher was behind younger cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald. Both Berry and McDonald remain on the roster. Vasher was cut.

What's next: Lions general manager Martin Mayhew is usually good for a couple of trades and veteran acquisitions during Labor Day weekend. You wonder if the Lions want to fortify their running back depth, which currently includes little-used Aaron Brown and an injured Maurice Morris. Chester Taylor is a Detroit-area native. Just saying.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

During Tuesday's SportsNation chat, David of Florida asked whether Jordy Nelson or James Jones would be the Green Bay Packers' best candidate for the No. 2 receiver. It was as if veteran Donald Driver was no longer in the picture.

That's clearly not the case, as Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette points out. Driver remains entrenched in the Packers' No. 2 role, well accustomed to the annual questions about his future.
Driver: "I said I want to play until I'm 40. Will that day come? I hope. If not, I'm willing to know when it's over, it's over. And right now for me it's not over. It's been a proven fact I'm still playing at a high level. I'm competing at a high level."

If Nelson and Jones continue their development, it's going to be hard to keep them off the field. The emergence of rookie Randall Cobb also adds a layer to that dynamic. But Driver isn't ready to concede anything, nor should he.

Continuing around the NFC North:
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are once again navigating the loss of a significant player, and the dark irony is that their greatest asset in such pursuits is experience.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford was lost before halftime in Week 1 last season to a shoulder injury. The same thing happened to cornerback Aaron Berry, a surprise starter as a nickelback. In the wake of tailback Mikel LeShoure's torn Achilles tendon, receiver Nate Burleson reminded teammates that he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 1 of the 2008 season while playing for the Seattle Seahawks. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch missed 13 games of his rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals and all of his third season because of injuries.

So coach Jim Schwartz had an easy answer on Tuesday when I asked how he would combat the kind of "woe is us" response that could naturally result from LeShoure's injury.

"We've been though that with a lot of different players," Schwartz said, "and we have a lot of players on our team who have been through stuff like that."

If there was a silver lining to the timing of LeShoure's injury, it's that it came during the experimentation of the Lions' offensive scheme. We have all assumed the Lions planned some sort of one-two combination between LeShoure and starter Jahvid Best, but Schwartz said: "I don't know that we had mapped it out that much, anyway."

No doubt repeating the message he gave his team, Schwartz emphasized what we discussed Monday: While the loss will impact the offense, it's not as if the team has been left barren.

"That's one of the reasons you go through the preseason," Schwartz said. "It's to find things that guys can do and how you're going to use them and the best way to utilize that talent. It's not like we don't have other good players on offense and it's not like our plans have been dashed because of this.

"[LeShoure] was going to be an important part. He was doing very, very well, not just physically but mentally for a rookie. But we still have a lot of time and we still have a lot of good players."

At the same time, I think the Lions really missed out by not convincing free agent tailback Ricky Williams to sign Tuesday. Schwartz acknowledged the Lions had interest and said "there were other names, too," but in the end the Lions had veterans Mike Bell and Jerome Harrison on the field for practice.

Williams' hard-charging style would have complemented Best much in the way LeShoure was going to, but he chose to sign with the Baltimore Ravens instead. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lions continue to scan the market for other possibilities as the preseason rolls on.

A couple of notes from the Lions' indoor practice in helmets and shorts:
  • Offensive lineman Jason Fox returned with relatively good news from a visit with a North Carolina foot specialist. He does not have a fracture and won't need surgery. Instead, he will be immobilized in a cast for a period of time and then begin rehabilitation.
  • Receiver Titus Young (leg) was again held out of practice and was walking on the sideline with an obvious limp. There is no sense on speculating how long it will take him to recover, but it doesn't look like it will be anytime soon. For now, the Lions can't expect a contribution from any of their top three draft choices.
  • I spent some time watching Berry, especially after hearing so much about him despite very limited practice and game time last season. In one instance, at least, Berry covered receiver Calvin Johnson as well as could possibly be expected. He was physical, remained stride-for-stride and forced Johnson to make an extraordinarily difficult catch on the sideline.
  • In nickel packages that I saw, the Lions were inserting Brandon McDonald and removing linebacker Stephen Tulloch. While Tulloch was in the middle during first-team drills, Schwartz said it is likely he will rotate between the middle and the outside during the preseason. Tulloch made a nice play during positional drills to knock a pass away from Best.
The Green Bay Packers' decision to release cornerback Al Harris was "not a physical decision," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. Instead, McCarthy said, "this is a big-picture roster decision."

Translation: The Packers didn't have much use for a reserve cornerback who wouldn't be a special-teams contributor and might hinder the development of a younger player.

Harris obviously wasn't going to reclaim his starting job from Tramon Williams, and the Packers like what they've seen from rookie nickel back Sam Shields. So at best, Harris would have been the Packers' dime back assuming everyone ahead of him remained healthy.

Every team has its own philosophy in roster building, and the Packers lie on one extreme of the spectrum. Whether you like it or not, the Packers almost always use young players to fill out the back end of the roster in hopes they will one day develop into starters. That pipeline produced Williams, Shields, linebacker Desmond Bishop and others.

Teams rarely turn loose good cornerbacks, however, so you have to wonder if McCarthy wasn't just being nice when he said he has "no doubts" that Harris can still play. Remember, Harris suffered a much worse knee injury a year ago than originally believed. But if the Packers truly do believe Harris can still play, then they are a rare team which has jettisoned a cornerback who is at least serviceable because he doesn't fit their roster profile. Moreover, they were willing to overlook last season's personnel disaster at the position in making this move.

If you recall, the Packers lost Harris, Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee and Will Blackmon to season-ending injuries and entered the playoffs with a patchwork group. Even an aging Harris would have some value this season if they experienced another personnel shortage.

"We feel this is the best path for us," McCarthy said. "There is a lot of different variables involved, and those were all discussed. ... The course we've taken, particularly at corner and the whole secondary, all the players involved, the other responsibilities that the players also have, this is the decision we made."

Like all veteran players released after the trading deadline, Harris is now subject to waivers. He told Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he believes he could land with an NFC North team.

The Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings all have varying needs for a cornerback. The Lions might be the most needy, and they have the best position among division teams on the waiver wire. It's also worth nothing that Harris and Vikings quarterback Brett Favre remain close friends. Let's take a closer team-by-team look:

Chicago Bears

Starter Charles Tillman has been struggling, and the Bears could move to a rotation situation when Zack Bowman (foot) returns to the field. But with Tim Jennings starting on one side and D.J. Moore providing strong depth, the Bears are pretty well set at both spots. *Update: Coach Lovie Smith said Monday he is pleased with his current depth.

Detroit Lions

Starter Chris Houston dislocated his shoulder Sunday against the New York Jets, and the Lions have banished former starter Jonathan Wade to the dime position. Alphonso Smith is starting at one position on the other side, and on Sunday, Brandon McDonald was serving in the nickel role. The Lions have been relying on Nate Vasher for depth, but Harris would certainly be an upgrade over Vasher.

Minnesota Vikings

Starter Cedric Griffin is out for the season, and teams have picked on replacement Asher Allen. Rookie nickel back Chris Cook has been uneven, and the Vikings have two veteran free-agent pickups -- Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker -- playing in the dime. Based on that depth, Harris could start or at least play nickel for the Vikings. *Update: Coach Brad Childress said Monday that "I don't know if there is a spot for us right now in that area."

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