NFC North: Brandon McGowan
The Bears thought so highly of their safety depth that they traded the promising Chris Harris to Carolina before the 2007 season. On the occasion of his reacquisition Tuesday, I thought I would give you a look at who has manned the Bears’ safety positions during his absence.
The bottom line: eight different starters for two positions over three years. Quite simply, that illustrates incredible turnover. Here you go, with games started in (parenthesis):
Chicago is far from set at the safety position, but the Bears didn't seem to have any interest in bringing former starter Brandon McGowan back for depth purposes. McGowan agreed Tuesday with New England on a two-year contract, according to ESPN's John Clayton.
McGowan opened last season as the Bears' nickel back but missed the final 14 games after dislocating his left ankle. He has since recovered, and after bidding farewell to veteran Mike Brown, the Bears have at least one open starting safety job. It does not appear they considered McGowan an option, however.
During rookie minicamp last week, coach Lovie Smith floated the possibility of moving cornerback Corey Graham to safety if veteran Nate Vasher returns to form. That arrangement would still leave the Bears needing a nickel back, but either Danieal Manning or rookie D.J. Moore could fit into that role. Regardless, it's clear that McGowan did not.
Let's continue our early look at the NFC North offseason with this season's second-place team.
Chicago Bears offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 9-7
- Coaching changes: Hired Rod Marinelli to replace defensive line coach Brick Haley. Put defensive coordinator Bob Babich in charge of linebackers, replacing Lloyd Lee. (Babich won't call defensive signals.) Replaced defensive backs coach Steve Wilks with Jon Hoke.
- Salary-cap space: $17.4 million before end-of-year credits and adjustments.
- Restricted free agents: None of note.
- Unrestricted free agents: Safety Mike Brown, quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Kevin Jones, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, safety Brandon McGowan, offensive lineman Fred Miller, offensive lineman John St. Clair.
- Draft highlight: The Bears have the No. 18 overall selection.
- Free-agency comment: It seems unlikely the Bears will bring back Brown or Grossman. Jones was nearly a nonfactor and reduced to special-teams work. Lloyd's fade in the second half of the season suggests the Bears won't be eager to bring him back.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Playmaking receiver to draw coverage away from Devin Hester. (2) A coverage-oriented safety to replace Brown and protect Kevin Payne. (3) A trusted running back to take some burden off starter Matt Forte. (Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders if holdover Garrett Wolfe might get that chance.)
Wednesday was a tough day for two NFC North safeties: Chicago's Brandon McGowan learned he will miss the remainder of the season because of a left ankle injury and Green Bay's Atari Bigby apparently will miss at least one game because of a hamstring injury.
McGowan, who has been serving as the Bears' nickelback, will need surgery. He's likely to be replaced by Danieal Manning, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. McGowan supplanted Manning in that role during the preseason but coach Lovie Smith told reporters in Chicago:
"We're very comfortable with Danieal playing. He's always been one of our guys, someone has to start. We're real comfortable, Danieal has played a lot of football around here and again we feel real comfortable with him playing again."
Bigby, meanwhile, sat out all of practice Wednesday. Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in Green Bay: "I don't think Atari is going to make it this week."
There is beginning to be some reasonable concern about the short-term future, at least, of Green Bay Packers pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
Gbaja-Biamila had been sidelined with residual soreness in his right knee following offseason surgery, and his return to practice Monday did not go well. He sat out Tuesday's practice and it's not clear when he will return. The Packers have an extra day to prepare for their regular-season opener against Minnesota, which is a Monday night game, but it's not known whether that will make any difference for Gbaja-Biamila.
After Tuesday's practice, coach Mike McCarthy told Wisconsin reporters that the knee "didn't respond very well" to the previous day's work. He did not elaborate on Gbaja-Biamila's timetable. Every team takes its own approach to rehabilitation, but never is it a good sign when an injured player unexpectedly sits out the day after returning to practice.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out that four of Gbaja-Biamila's 9 1/2 sacks last season came against Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie. (Of course, McKinnie might not be eligible for that game if the NFL suspends him for violating its personal conduct policy). The Journal Sentinel suggests the Packers would use Jason Hunter in Gbaja-Biamila's role as the right end in passing situations.
Gbaja-Biamila has a $6.15 million base salary this season and a $7.7 million cap number for 2008, prompting some suggestions that his roster spot could be vulnerable if he does not recover soon. But given how effective he was as recently as last season when healthy, it's hard to imagine the Packers jettisoning him any time soon.
Elsewhere around the NFC North:
- Packers running back Ryan Grant will get about 10 snaps in Thursday's preseason finale against Tennessee, the same number as most of the rest of the team's starters. It will be Grant's first game action of the summer.
- The Chicago Bears were busy Tuesday. In addition to terminating the contract of defensive back Ricky Manning Jr., they decided to remove Danieal Manning as the primary nickel back, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Brandon McGowan is the likely replacement, with Kevin Payne taking over at strong safety. Chicago also is awaiting a decision from veteran offensive lineman Fred Miller on its recent contract offer.
- The Chicago Tribune projects the Bears will attempt to get rookie quarterback Caleb Hanie, a fan favorite, through waivers and put him on their practice squad.
- The Detroit Lions' only notable cut was kicker Dave Rayner, who was let go because incumbent Jason Hanson has recovered from a hip injury.
- Newly-signed quarterback Drew Henson is expected to play at least a quarter of the Lions' preseason finale Thursday at Buffalo.
- Minnesota linebacker Chad Greenway, two years removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, has had an exceptional summer. "I think I'm playing at a level where I haven't been before," Greenway told the Star Tribune.
|AP Photo/Jack Dempsey|
|Aaron Rodgers silenced the doubters for at least one night.|
Rodgers completed 18 of 22 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown in the Packers' 27-24 victory over the Broncos, and in all Green Bay gained 217 yards and 15 first downs when he was in the game. Coming in the most critical of preseason games, the performance eased concerns about his rusty outings in the previous two games.
"I thought Aaron had a very good night," coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in Denver. "I thought he was sharp. I thought he managed the offense, the tempo, was smart with the football, was very good on third down. I thought it was important for our offense to come out and establish some tempo and have some productivity early in the game. We were able to do that and continue it for four quarters."
Rodgers threw a 35-yard pass to tight end Tory Humphrey on the Packers' first play from scrimmage and it was off to the races from there. The Packers also benefited from the return of receiver Greg Jennings, who had four catches for 42 yards.
The night wasn't a total success at the quarterback position, however. In limited time, backup Brian Brohm did not complete any of his four passes. McCarthy indicated Brohm and No. 3 quarterback Matt Flynn will get extended playing time next Thursday against Tennessee.
Elsewhere around the NFC North:
- The Detroit Lions' key offensive players probably will see only 20-25 snaps Saturday against Cleveland. "Injuries are such a significant part in these preseason games," offensive coordinator Jim Colletto told the Detroit Free Press. "And we can't afford to get anybody hurt."
- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (sprained right knee) did not participate in any 11-on-11 drills during practice this week. He is not expected to play in Saturday's preseason game against Pittsburgh.
- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith is vowing to hold some competitive practices in the wake of his team's defensive breakdown Thursday night against San Francisco. Brandon McGowan and Kevin Payne will continue to compete for the starting strong-safety job.
- 49ers running back Frank Gore was asked how long it had been since his team's offense had felt as good as it did against the Bears: "A long time," Gore said. "A long time. A long time."