NFC North: Brian Iwuh

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.

Chicago Bears cutdown analysis

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

Surprise move: The Bears have now bid farewell to three locker room stalwarts: Center Olin Kreutz, receiver Rashied Davis and now tight end Desmond Clark. The Bears released Clark as part of Saturday's roster cutdown, deciding to keep undrafted rookie Kyle Adams instead. Clark said via Twitter that "I played my butt off but sometimes it's more about the business." The Bears indicated that he was released with an injury. Regardless, intentionally or otherwise, the Bears have at least temporarily created a player leadership void.

No-brainers: After last week's communication fiasco, there was little doubt that running back Chester Taylor would be part of this cutdown. The Bears need only two tailbacks behind starter Matt Forte, and those roles will be filled by Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell. They also kept fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou. I don't know if the Bears entered training camp planning to keep undrafted rookie receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, but his quick ascension as a slot receiver was obvious by the midpoint of the preseason. Quarterback Jay Cutler loves throwing to him.

What's next: The Bears' depth at linebacker is a little scary. They kept only five at the position, with Brian Iwuh and undrafted rookie Dom DeCicco as the reserves behind Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach. You would think the Bears would at least scan the waiver wire for additional depth, especially with Briggs nursing a knee injury. And with Barber and Bell having suffered preseason injuries, the Bears might check out emergency running back depth as well.
I'll admit I was a bit groggy by the time I posted Monday night's Observation deck on the Chicago Bears' 41-13 loss to the New York Giants. My general impression of the Bears' defense was pretty neutral, especially on a night when the opponent rang up 41 points, and I wrote as much. I saw what I thought was some really sharp play in the first couple of series and thought the Bears' performance dipped at about the same time that coach Lovie Smith began removing his starters.

So I was surprised Tuesday morning to see the teeth-gnashing and general concern about the way the Bears' defense played and, especially, tackled. And I agree with Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune on this much: Smith's postgame criticism is as rare as it gets.

(While talking about the health of his team, Smith interjected: "You've got to tackle a little bit better before you start talking about injuries and things like that." Smith almost never criticizes his players, assistants or team in public.)

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs and Chris Harris
Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireBrandon Jacobs
Maybe my expectations for preseason games are too low, but I go into them thinking they will be sloppy and light on fundamentals. You can get a sense for individual skills and competence in some instances, but once coaches begin sitting their starters, you're riding a slippery slope on any subsequent judgment from a team perspective.

But just for fun, I went back and re-watched the Bears' first four defensive series, after which middle linebacker Brian Urlacher departed. Remember, linebacker Lance Briggs was already sidelined for the game. What I saw confirmed my original thoughts: The Bears' starters missed maybe three tackles, one of them glaring, but also made more than a few secure stops to minimize or break up plays in the early going.

Here's what I saw:

First possession
Second possession
Third possession

  • Defensive end Israel Idonije missed a backfield opportunity on tailback Brandon Jacobs, who went on to a 7-yard gain on first down.
  • Nobody missed a tackle on Jacobs' 18-yard run on third-and-1. The Giants caught the Bears in a man defense, and linebacker Brian Iwuh followed the receiver in motion away from the point of attack.
  • Peppers rushed Manning on two other plays, contributing to incompletions.
  • Jennings tackled Bradshaw 4 yards short of a first down on third-and-10.
  • The Giants caught the Bears in another favorable matchup on fourth-and-4. Manning lofted a nifty 21-yard pass over Moore to receiver Victor Cruz.
  • Urlacher tackled Jacobs after a 4-yard gain in the red zone.
  • Iwuh knocked away Manning's pass for Manningham on third-and-goal, forcing a field goal.
Fourth possession

  • The Giants took over at the Bears' 31-yard line following Devin Thomas' 73-yard kickoff return.
  • Linebacker Nick Roach stuffed a Jacobs run for a 1-yard loss.
  • Harris stopped a reverse to Manningham after a 1-yard gain.
  • Bradshaw gained 13 yards on a screen play largely because center David Baas drilled Iwuh to the turf.
  • On the next play, Wright whiffed on Jacobs at about the 10-yard line and Jacobs dragged Harris about 4 yards into the end zone for an 18-yard scoring jaunt.

To be sure, the night didn't end well for the Bears' defense. Maybe you can excuse a safety getting dragged a few yards by a 275-pound back, but never do you want to see a safety juked by the same guy. Considered as a whole, however, I didn't see nearly enough to panic during those four possessions.

You could make the argument that backups should play better than the way the Bears' did Monday night. You can question whether they have the depth to withstand any significant injuries. Specifically, you could argue that Wright shouldn't have continued to miss tackles later in the second quarter just because he was playing with some non-starters.

But you're on your own there. In my experience, you're much better off under-analyzing preseason games than overanalyzing them. I understand why Smith was upset. He is a stickler for physical football, and he can't excuse the play of backups and mishmash lineups. But we can. So let's everyone calm down and move on.

Three things: Bears-Giants

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
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Three things to watch for in the Chicago Bears' preseason game at the New York Giants on Monday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN.

1. Offensive line progress. No shocker here. The Bears gave up nine sacks in their preseason opener, including four by the first team, and have yet to soothe fears about the state of their biggest question mark. The hold of two starters on their respective positions is tenuous at best, and the future of left tackle J'Marcus Webb and right guard Lance Louis could ride on demonstrable improvement against the Giants. (Yes, the Giants are the team that sacked quarterback Jay Cutler nine times in one half last season.) Otherwise, the Bears might be tempted to fall back on Plan B, which would include sliding center Roberto Garza to right guard, inserting Chris Spencer as the center and/or replacing Webb with veteran Frank Omiyale. It might be now or never for this group.

2. Defensive replacements. Linebacker Lance Briggs won't play because of a bruised knee and likely will be replaced by Brian Iwuh. More interesting to me, however, will be the play of two young defensive starters the Bears have put in important positions this summer. Defensive tackle Henry Melton and free safety Major Wright both had nice debuts last week, but preseason or not, it will be important to see them take the next step of starting a night game on the road. Both are in playmaking roles in the Bears' scheme.

3. Using the big receiver: The Bears inserted Roy Williams into their starting lineup earlier this month, displacing former starter Johnny Knox. But by all accounts, Williams and Cutler are still developing an on-field relationship. Williams didn't catch a pass last week, and it's fair to expect at least a hint of the production the Bears are expecting out of him. Knox had a strong week of practice last week and has not willingly accepted his demotion, so stay tuned.

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.
Getting inside a lengthy and star-studded Friday injury report.

Chicago Bears: Linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle) is officially listed as questionable but did not practice at all this week and is highly unlikely to play Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Instead, Brian Iwuh is the likely starter at weak-side linebacker. It will be only the fourth game Briggs has missed in his career. The Bears kept Iwuh on their 53-man roster over special-teams ace Tim Shaw because they thought Iwuh was a better defensive replacement. We should find out if that's a wise decision.

Detroit Lions: Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy (ankle/groin) is out and backup Landon Johnson (concussion) is questionable. If Johnson can't play Sunday against the New York Giants, Ashlee Palmer is the likely starter. Defensive end Turk McBride (ankle) and cornerback Nathan Vasher (nose/biceps) have also been ruled out. Receiver Calvin Johnson (shoulder) is questionable but would be limited at best if he plays. The Lions listed quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) as questionable, but there is no way he plays Sunday.

Green Bay Packers: First, the good news: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (concussion) practiced for the second consecutive day and is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins. Now for the bad news. Linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) is doubtful and seems highly unlikely to play. Brady Poppinga will likely still take his spot in the starting lineup. Right tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder) is also doubtful and will miss his second consecutive game. Defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (ankle) and Mike Neal (shoulder) are both questionable, which is why the Packers re-signed veteran Mike Montgomery on Friday morning.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback Brett Favre is questionable because of elbow tendinitis that coach Brad Childress has downplayed all week. Friday, Childress admitted Favre struggled with his accuracy this week, but there seems to be no chance Favre will miss Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys. Jon Cooper is expected to start at center for John Sullivan (calf). Cornerback Chris Cook (knee) is listed as questionable but would have to make a lot of progress by Sunday morning in order to play.

Rounding up Sunday's NFC North moves*

September, 5, 2010
9/05/10
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If the Green Bay Packers are planning any significant player moves before resuming practice this week, it won't be through the initial waiver process. Packers general manager Ted Thompson said Sunday during a news conference that the team did not put in a claim after NFL teams cut down their rosters to 53 Saturday.

The Packers did have a number of their cuts claimed by other teams, however, and there has been a good level of activity in and around all four NFC North teams Sunday. I'll keep a running list on this post of the most significant players involved:
  • Ex-Packers running back Kregg Lumpkin was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Packers had hoped to bring him back on the practice squad to be their quasi-No. 3 tailback. Last year, the Packers lost tailback Tyrell Sutton to the Carolina Panthers in the same way.
  • As we discussed earlier, the Detroit Lions claimed ex-Packers tight end Spencer Havner. Of cutting Havner and keeping four other tight ends, Thompson said: "It was a very tough call, as it was with all of our guys. Spencer has played well for us. I think it is more a reflection of the play of the other four fellas that we have. We think they played very, very well and you have to get down to 53. Not an easy call at all."
  • Ex-Lions defensive tackle Landon Cohen was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. I think that speaks to the depth the Lions have created at the position. They were forced to make what qualified as a difficult cut.
  • The Lions released receiver Dennis Northcutt, possibly to make room for Havner, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Northcutt had been earmarked as the Lions' punt returner, meaning Derrick Williams could take over that role in Week 1.
  • Ex-Chicago Bears linebacker/special-teams ace Tim Shaw was claimed by the Tennessee Titans. General manager Jerry Angelo said Saturday that Shaw was released because the team thought linebacker Brian Iwuh would give it a better look at linebacker if the Bears needed him to play.
  • Ex-Bears quarterback Dan LeFevour was claimed by the Cincinnati Bengals. LeFevour didn't show much this summer to indicate he will develop into a starting-caliber quarterback, but the Bengals proved how difficult it is to move any young quarterback through waivers.
  • As we discussed Saturday, Minnesota Vikings fans need to cut back on the T.J. Houshmandzadeh hysteria. Coach Brad Childress said Sunday that he's not interested in adding Houshmandzadeh "right now." If anything, Childress said he would like to add a younger receiver. For now, however, two of his receivers are likely to be his primary returners -- Percy Harvin on kickoffs and Bernard Berrian or Greg Camarillo on punt returns.
  • *Update: The Lions released linebacker Rocky Boiman to make room for kick returner Stefan Logan, whom they claimed earlier in the day. That must mean they're awfully confident that middle linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin) will be ready for the Sept. 12 opener against the Chicago Bears.

Chicago Bears cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a full list of Chicago's roster moves.

Biggest surprise: There were no earth-shattering moments Saturday for the Bears. But it was sobering to see them give up on three members of their 2009 draft class, including defensive end Jarron Gilbert, receiver Juaquin Iglesias and safety Al Afalava. Defensive lineman Henry Melton squeezed onto the roster, and the class did produce two 2010 starters: Receiver Johnny Knox and right guard Lance Louis. Meanwhile, guard Josh Beekman was put out of his misery. The Bears have been trying to replace Beekman for two years and finally released him. Finally, the Bears kept four tailbacks -- Matt Forte, Chester Taylor, Kahlil Bell and Garrett Wolfe. Forte and Taylor are expected to get all of the offensive snaps, but Bell and Wolfe have special teams value.

No-brainers: There was plenty of excitement when the Bears drafted quarterback Dan LeFevour, an Illinois native, but it was apparent early in training camp that he wasn't destined to make the roster. The Bears devoted all of their offensive reps to starter Jay Cutler and then-backup Caleb Hanie. Todd Collins has taken over at No. 2 because of Hanie's shoulder injury, and there was no way the Bears were going to release Hanie and keep LeFevour. You wonder if he won't end up back on their practice squad.

What's next: The Bears are going to have to get their special teams re-situated after releasing Tim Shaw, who led the team with 30 special teams tackles last year. It appears Shaw was released to make room for linebacker Brian Iwuh, who the team believes is more suited for its defensive scheme.
We're Black and Blue All over:

A plea for everyone: Hold on. I can't always control the tilt toward Brett Favre coverage on this blog, but rest assured that my training camp tour schedule remains intact this year. That means I'll be with the Detroit Lions for another day before heading off to spend three days with the Green Bay Packers.

But we do have a couple of new Favre angles to touch on since we last met. First, as you might recall, we discussed the possibility Tuesday of the Vikings offering Favre more money to ensure he plays this season. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune reports they have already done just that.

According to the report, the Vikings are offering him a $3 million raise with another $4 million in incentives. That means he would earn at least $16 million and up to $20 million this season. We'll see if that entices him.

We also expressed caution in ever trusting a Favre retirement announcement, much less indications he might be giving behind the scenes. According to former NFL coach Steve Mariucci, Favre is telling some people that he simply wants more time to let his ankle heal. If that's the case, it's unclear why he would be telling some players that he's not planning to play. He has at least one week and probably more before the Vikings would need him to start practicing.

Again, I'll be out at Lions practice this morning and am ready to see defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on the field, probably for the afternoon session. For now, let's catch up on the rest of the division:
Hope everyone had a pleasant weekend. Those of us who stayed with LOST to The End are a bit bleary-eyed here Monday morning. But then again, what is a Monday without a few yawns?

In the offseason, Monday morning "Black and Blue all over" entries (BBAO!) are about catching up from the weekend, and so we'll start by noting this tweet from longtime NFC North friend and current New Orleans safety Darren Sharper. Here's what Sharper had to say late Friday night after learning of quarterback Brett Favre's left ankle surgery:

  1. Darren Sharper
    sharper42 Well y'all seen Brett had surgery on that ankle we got after in the championship game. Come Thursday night 1st game. X marks the spot.

Sharper, of course, is referring to the Minnesota-New Orleans season opener Sept. 9. It was also a nod to a third-quarter play in the NFC Championship Game, when Saints defensive end Bobby McCray grabbed the same ankle and yanked down Favre after a pass. The NFL later fined McCray $20,000 and said he should have been penalized for the play.

You don't hear players speaking publicly about it often, but this is a standard part of what the NFL game has come to -- and it's why some coaches are so hesitant to release injury information. When a player is reported to have a weakness, real or imagined, you can expect opponents to pounce.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • ESPNChicago.com has everything you want to know about the Chicago Bears' three-day minicamp on its Bears blog, including the news that veteran free-agent linebacker Brian Iwuh is set to sign a contract.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune refers to the Bears' defense as "radically different" from last year's group.
  • The Bears have discussed the possibility of signing currently-retired quarterback Trent Green as a backup, according to Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press on Lions linebacker Julian Peterson: "Now it seems Peterson could play an important role next season. The Lions' active offseason has left him as the only established starting linebacker and a big beneficiary of a revamped defensive line. The Lions are going to need him to make plays, and he should be in better position to make them."
  • The Lions are happy with the progress of linebacker Zack Follett, who is trying to win the starting job vacated by the traded Ernie Sims, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Free Press.
  • Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Daryn Colledge is hoping to remain at left guard because it's "my best position," he told Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Packers defensive lineman Justin Harrell: "It's hardly a stretch to say it's a make-or-break year for him."
The position swap between Green Bay Packers defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett wasn't the only newsworthy change visible at Wednesday's organized team activity. As Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette notes, the Packers have also moved Will Blackmon from cornerback to safety.

Blackmon is rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament and above all else is considered a kickoff and punt returner. But the move is interesting in the sense that Blackmon had been thought to be among the group of players the Packers were counting on for cornerback depth after struggling with that in the second half of last season.

At this point, the Packers have Charles Woodson at one cornerback position. Fellow starter Al Harris is also working back from a knee injury, and Tramon Williams is not participating in OTAs. Depth behind Williams includes Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood. Bush worked with the first team Wednesday, according to Demovsky.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said he was "shocked" that college teammate Brian Cushing was suspended four games for violating the NFL's anti-doping policy. Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more.
  • A rarity: oft-injured Green Bay defensive lineman Justin Harrell was practicing Wednesday, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher on his surgically-repaired wrist "I'm pretty confident it's going to hurt for a while, until I get all the movement back. But it's better than I thought it would be.'' Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has more.
  • The Bears will bring in former Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Brian Iwuh for a workout Friday, according to Michael Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Here's some advice for Vikings owner Zygi Wilf: Don't threaten the people of Minnesota, people who have been as loyal to your franchise as any collection of fans anywhere in the nation. All it does is alienate them."
  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on his gut feeling of Brett Favre's intentions: "I'm not going to share it. But I think everybody has their feeling. And I think everybody is pretty much on the same page." Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune has more of Jackson's interview.
  • The next installment of the Williams Wall legal affair will be announced Friday morning. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com explains.
  • Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press: "At the Lions' charity bocce tournament Tuesday, coach Jim Schwartz sat down for a few minutes with Red Wings Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay."
  • The Lions believe rookie cornerback Amari Spievey can add a physical nature to their secondary, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.

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