NFC North: Caleb Campbell
I guess it's possible that Smith's thumb surgery revealed a more significant injury than originally thought. But it's more likely that the Lions decided against carrying another longer-term injury on their 53-man roster. Already, quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and place-kicker Jason Hanson (knee) are in that category.
Smith had been working as rookie Jahvid Best's backup, but the drop-off from Smith to Maurice Morris and Aaron Brown probably isn't significant enough to continue carrying him on the roster. Campbell will give the Lions a fresh body on special teams and give them a chance to evaluate him in a regular-season environment over the last two months of the season.
Sorry for the late start. Technical issues.
It was a nice run for our 2010 training camp tour, which ended Wednesday in Mankato, Minn. It was great to embed with each NFC North team for three days, and hopefully we all have a much better feel for the division than we did two weeks ago.
I've got plenty of information left in my notebook, and the plan is to sprinkle it into the blog over the next few weeks as we ramp up for -- gasp -- the start of the regular season. Amazing, isn't it?
While we all re-claim our bearings, mostly me I guess, let's take a jaunt around the division:
- Don't forget that Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz once coached the offensive line in San Diego. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has more.
- Safeties Danieal Manning and Major Wright are in a first-team rotation, according to ESPNChicago.com.
- Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The consensus around town for some time now is that the giant doomsday clock is running out on Bears coach Lovie Smith and his staff. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lovie. Even if you believe that, here's an indisputable fact: the Bears aren't coaching like it."
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com: "The Detroit Lions' scouting department believes [cornerback Amari Spievey] has a lot of ability and can be a productive player. The coaching staff thinks otherwise."
- Frustration is mounting for Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, who has missed 11 consecutive days of practice because of a back injury. Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News has more.
- Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham on the status of linebacker Caleb Campbell when he worked out for the team this spring after two years away from the game: "It was beyond rust. It was like dust." Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press has more.
- Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Breno Giacomini has finally started putting things together, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Packers figure to favor tight ends over fullbacks when it comes down to their final roster decisions, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examines the Packers' financial decisions in recent years and moving forward.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com doesn't consider the Minnesota Vikings to be in a placekicking competition.
- Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley, the understudy for returning starter E.J. Henderson, has been having a good camp, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
- Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Aside from the uncertainty surrounding quarterback Brett Favre, the battle for right cornerback is the most intriguing story line at Vikings training camp."
Now hear this: After a long offseason, we've made it! The first set of NFC North players will report to training camp TODAY. And yes, the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings will take the field Friday for their first practices of the summer. It is so on.
The start of camp always heightens attention on contract negotiations with draft picks, and here's what we can tell you as of Thursday morning: The most difficult contract in this division is likely to be that of Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Lions' negotiations with Suh are moving "slowly." On the other hand, the Green Bay Packers reportedly are in position to strike a deal with offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga in time for their first practice Saturday, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bulaga is the final unsigned Packers player.
As for me, I'll be departing for my first training camp stop this evening. Details shortly.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel isn't a big fan of the Packers' running back position: "Given the robust health of the Packers' other skill positions, running back rates as just middle of the pack by comparison."
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "After his rookie season, Clay Matthews already ranks as probably the Green Bay Packers' second-best defensive player, behind only cornerback Charles Woodson."
- The Packers will hold their annual shareholders meeting Thursday morning, with an audience that includes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
- The presence of quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Julius Peppers has Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune bullish on this year's Bears team. Pompei: "[M]aybe I'm caught up a little in this feel-good time of year. But as the players are packing their pillows and gadgets for training camp, I like what I see in this Bears team. In fact, I feel better about this Bears team's makeup than I've felt about any Bears team in recent memory. In hindsight, the 2006 NFC champion Bears were better on paper than this team is today. But this team has the potential to be better than that team."
- The Bears are going to need a more consistent ground game this season, writes Michael Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
- Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times looks at three of the Bears' key training camp battles.
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune writes it is "astounding" for the Minnesota Vikings to bring back the same 22 starters for most of two consecutive seasons.
- Brett Favre shot at an armadillo during his visit with Vikings coach Brad Childress last week, according to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. OK then.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has a primer on Vikings training camp.
- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is poised to make a big leap in his second season, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Lions linebacker Caleb Campbell is ready for his first live hitting in two years, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
Campbell had planned to use the U.S. Army's alternative service option to begin playing immediately after the draft. Ultimately, however, the Army required him to serve two years before joining the team.
Originally drafted as a safety, Campbell now weighs 237 pounds and will work as a linebacker for the Lions. He signed his contract this week.
I think some Lions fans are getting ahead of themselves in believing Campbell will challenge for the position left open by the trade of Ernie Sims, but I do think he'll have a strong chance to make the team as a special-teams player.
Here's what Campbell told the Lions' website about the past two years:
It was really tough for me, initially. But I knew I had to carry on with my orders. I allowed that pain I was feeling of having your dream at your fingertips and then having it taken away from you, I guess you can say I embraced it, and allowed it to make me a better person.
Over the last two years I've definitely matured as a person and I think that pain and that hard time built character. Over the past two years it's been a blessing still and I've matured in a lot of ways off the field.
“It wasn’t just the Lions that liked him when he came out,” Schwartz said to Detroit-area reporters. “We did a lot of work on him. He was a guy that almost everybody projected as a linebacker. He’s still that same guy. He’s a very instinctive football player. He’s a very hard worker, he’s very smart and all of those different things. The thing that happened with us is that he came back and he looks like a linebacker. He doesn’t look like a safety anymore. He’s 235-plus pounds, he ran really well, so our interest went a little bit farther. Hopefully that’s another one that can get finished up.”
Campbell is waiting to hear whether the Army will give him an early release so he can participate in a rookie minicamp next month. At worst, he should be eligible to participate in late-spring organized team activities. It’s probably best to view him as a player who would add athleticism and aggressiveness to the Lions’ special-teams coverage groups.
The Army indicated Campbell could be eligible to play in 2010, and it appears Campbell is attempting a comeback. He told the Times Herald-Record that he worked out Tuesday with the Lions as a linebacker and was offered a one-year contract after running a sub-4.5 40. The next step is submitting paperwork to initiate his release from active duty.
The Lions originally thought they would have Campbell in their 2008 training camp, thanks to a proposed alternative service option that would have allowed him to play while fulfilling his duties on days off and in the offseason. The Army eliminated that option on the day before he was scheduled to report to training camp. He is currently stationed at Fort Sill, Okla.
It will be up to the Department of Defense to determine whether Campbell can participate in the early portion of the Lions' offseason program or if he must wait until May. We'll keep you updated.
Terry Foster's Q&A with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz included this nugget about the NHL playoffs, via the Detroit News:
Schwartz: "I was watching Game 7 of the Red Wings playoff game against Anaheim in my hotel room. It was an exciting game so I said I don't need to be watching this in my hotel room. I snuck out -- or I thought I was sneaking out -- to a sports bar to watch it with fans. They figured out pretty quickly who I was and it was exciting to watch it with them. I think the Red Wings scored with like three minutes left and the place went absolutely nuts."
On top of rebuilding an 0-16 team, Schwartz has taken a lead role in connecting the team with fans. He allowed some season-ticket holders to watch offseason practices and seems to be in favor of moving training camp to a more public location so that more people can watch it.
Schwartz: "I think it's important for them just to reconnect with the team. I want them to see the direction that we're taking. I think if you watch practice, you can see sort of the philosophies that we're going to have and you see a lot of different faces and you need to get reacquainted with your team. I think it's important for those guys to see the direction that we're taking."
I can tell you there are more than a few NFL coaches who would resist having fans at practice for fear that video would end up on YouTube or other secrets could be sent out on Twitter. But for now, Schwartz and the Lions have bigger things to worry about and are taking the right approach with their loyal but weary fan base.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Former Lions draft pick Caleb Campbell, whom the U.S. Army ruled ineligible to play in the NFL last season, is now competing for a spot on the 2010 Olympic Bobsled team. Clay Travis of AOL Fanhouse has the story.
- Denver cornerback Champ Bailey gave his insight into new Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler during an appearance Monday on ESPN 1000 radio. Bailey: "He reminds me of a [Dan] Marino-, [John] Elway-type of guy, and he's going to be a great winner for them."
- Brokers are selling tickets for Minnesota's Nov. 1 game at Lambeau Field for more than $300, according to Scott Venci of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The agent for cornerback Antoine Winfield said he has had some talks recently with Minnesota officials but no deal is imminent, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Winfield said over the weekend that he was unhappy without a contract extension.
- Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports the Vikings this summer will have their shortest training camp since 2000.
Caleb Campbell sounded a bit weary Wednesday evening as he packed his bags in a Detroit-area hotel room. But Campbell had made up his mind to react positively to news that the U.S. Army has called him into traditional active duty, rescinding an alternative service option that would have allowed him to be the first Army player to move directly to the NFL after leaving school.
"I was at West Point last week and they told me everything was good to go," Campbell said. "So this news was definitely a surprise. But I know that when I went to the academy, my goal and plan was to be an officer in the United States Army, and that's what I'm going to be. I can't be disappointed in that."
Campbell, a second lieutenant, will serve as an assistant football coach at Army during the college season. He plans to stay in shape and will pursue an NFL job when he becomes eligible in May 2010. But that will come after missing two seasons of the game.
In the interest of full disclosure, Campbell had agreed to keep a diary for ESPN.com during training camp and completed his first entry earlier this week. In it, he wrote that he was looking forward to being the "poster child" for the alternative service option and added: "I feel like I'm setting the pathway for other players to follow."
Wednesday's news scuttled that plan and could ultimately mean the end of his football career. But, Campbell said: "My original plan was to be an officer and that's what I'm going to be. I'm really excited to be a soldier and to lead our troops."
For those who are wondering, the Lions will get no compensation for using a seventh-round pick to draft Campbell. They will retain his rights until the 2009 draft.
What? Could one whole day have passed without an update in the Brett Favre saga? It appears as though both sides rested Sunday, at least publicly, in anticipation of a key week for the Green Bay Packers. So we'll take our cue and go Favre-less ourselves -- for now -- in this edition of Black and Blue all over.
- It's not clear if Chicago Bears wide receiver Mark Bradley will be ready for the start of training camp after offseason surgery on his right knee. With the departures of Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, Bradley has an opportunity to finally establish himself as a front-line receiver. But he has to get on the field. And stay there.
- Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times endorses Kyle Orton for the Bears' starting quarterback job based on one qualification: He isn't Rex Grossman. "I have slightly more faith that he'll make fewer mistakes than Rex Grossman," Mariotti writes.
- Rookie safety/linebacker Caleb Campbell (Army) is expected to report to Detroit Lions camp on Wednesday, according to the Detroit News. Campbell's status has been in some doubt as the U.S. military reviews the "alterative service option" that will allow him to defer and modify his post-graduate service obligation.
- Among the issues that have been swept under the (public) rug recently is the Green Bay Packers' concerns at defensive line, according the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The Packers traded Corey Williams and then watched Justin Harrell tweak his back and Johnny Jolly get arrested this month for drug possession in Houston. Jolly could eventually face NFL discipline.
- The Packers are hoping to identify a clear-cut No. 2 running back behind Ryan Grant, assuming Grant signs a contract and reports to camp on time. Brandon Jackson will get the first crack, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress will keep in mind the NFL's new 80-man roster limit while monitoring his players' workload in training camp. "You don't need to be a slavedriver," Childress told the Star Tribune.
Today's best in the NFC North...
- Interesting that Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy felt compelled to reaffirm his support in GM Ted Thompson, whose (in)actions have been scrutinized publicly as quarterback Brett Favre considers coming out of retirement. "I really think Ted is handling this situation very well," Murphy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It's very delicate and he's handled it well, very professionally." While Thompson visited Favre two years ago to sell him on continuing his career, Murphy said, this year he "wanted Brett to be able to make the decision himself."
- This Packers shareholder -- who also works for the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana -- wants no part of Favre coming back in 2008. "Don't do it!" he writes. "Even if Favre wants to unfairly force the Packers' hand, the team has the right to tell him it can't be in Green Bay." As for the possibility of Favre being released and signing with an NFC North team, Steven T. Gorches writes: "We, as owners, will not let that happen."
- Caleb Campbell, a rookie safety from Army, is hoping to make the Lions roster this summer and play under a special exemption that allows him to fulfill his military commitment as a recruiter in the Detroit area. The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday that the Army is reviewing the policy that led to Campbell's exemption. As of earlier this week, our information was that Campbell at least would be allowed to attend training camp.