NFC North: Chester Pitts

BBAO: Cliff Avril ready for new role

July, 20, 2010
7/20/10
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Tribune takes a look at the Bears' offensive line.

NFL Films president Steve Sabol picked Dick Butkus as the game's greatest defensive player and Walter Payton as the game's greatest running back.

Former Bear Steve McMichael talks about his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Detroit Lions

The Lions will open 20 training camp sessions to fans.

Cliff Avril is battling for the Lions' left defensive end position after Kyle Vanden Bosch claimed his right defensive end spot.

Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Press-Gazette has a profile on Marv Fleming, who was recently inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

Minnesota Vikings

Offensive lineman Chester Pitts, who is recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee, will work out for teams in Arizona. The Vikings are one of several teams that have shown interest.

An unsettled labor situation leaves the Vikings -- and other NFL teams -- treading unchartered waters.

BBAO: Chmura to enter Packers HOF

July, 16, 2010
7/16/10
10:07
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler says he's comfortable with the receivers on the Bears' roster and does not think the team should go out and sign Terrell Owens.

The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed Eric Metz, the agent for Harvey Unga, whom the Bears took in the supplemental draft on Thursday.

Detroit Lions

The Lions didn't draft fourth-round offensive lineman Jason Fox with the intention of him seeing the field this season.

Cornerback Jonathan Wade isn't letting the fact the Lions have won just two games during the past two seasons lower his expectations. He predicts a 9-7 record and a playoff appearance for the Lions this season.

The Lions are hoping their revamped defensive line will allow more playmaking opportunities for Julian Peterson and the Lions' linebackers.

Green Bay Packers

The Detroit News takes a look at the Packers' shrinking profits as player salaries continue to outpace revenue.

The Packers will unveil their alternate third uniform on a Dec. 5 game against the 49ers. The jersey will be navy blue with a gold circle in the middle that includes the player's number.

Former tight end Mark Chmura, who went to three Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl during the 1990s, will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

Aaron Rodgers will be on the cover of ESPN the Magazine's upcoming fantasy football special edition. Here's a peek from the photo shoot.

Minnesota Vikings

Sage Rosenfels is left waiting for Brett Favre to make a decision, again.

NFL.com's Mike Mayock evaluates the Vikings' offense. Mayock likes the Vikings' playmakers but their lack of depth on the offensive line is a concern.

Free agent offensive lineman Chester Pitts, who is recovering from microfracture surgery, should be ready to work out for teams next week. Pitts said the Vikings are among the teams that have shown interest in him.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

AFC West colleague Bill Williamson lists four teams that could be interested in acquiring San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, an expected training camp holdout because of a contract dispute. The Chicago Bears are one of them.

We've been over the Bears' receiver situation numerous times this offseason, watching as other teams chased down veterans while the Bears consistently expressed confidence in their skilled but inexperienced group. Would they pursue Jackson if the Chargers look to move him? History suggests their interest would be tepid, considering their pass on veteran receivers over the past few seasons, but I wouldn't rule this one out.

Jackson has no known connection to Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, but the Chargers' offensive system has its roots in the same concepts as Martz's scheme. He has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, catching 16 touchdowns over that span, and has only missed one game over the past four years. At 27, he should have a long career ahead.

Just something to think about, as well as a reminder that the player acquisition season never ends.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com thinks the Bears won't want to give up much for Jackson: "Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has said multiple times this offseason that the club is ducking out of the business of giving up high draft picks to acquire talent."
  • Bears linebacker Lance Briggs admitted he was upset and hurt when the team released defensive end Alex Brown, according to an interview with Comcast transcribed by Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Brian VanOchten of the Grand Rapids Press on Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand: "Lewand needs to provide a full explanation of his actions. He has accomplished too much in such a short time since replacing [Matt] Millen and helping rebuild the franchise. He has helped put the Lions on the right path. He needs to prove he is on the right path."
  • Mr. Irrelevant, Lions receiver Tim Toone, will be honored with a tongue-in-cheek banquet Wednesday in Newport Beach, Calif. Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times has more.
  • Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe wouldn't comment on reports he is seeking a new contract, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The Vikings don't seem to have much interest in free agent guard Chester Pitts, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • It has been assumed that Green Bay Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang would be ready for training camp after having surgery in April to repair a fractured wrist. But here's what Lang said recently, according to Mike Spofford of the team's Web site: "I'm expecting to be out there on the field the first day of training camp. My wrist will probably still be bugging me a little bit. I'll probably have to play with a heavy brace, if not a cast, but as long as I'm out there running around, getting more comfortable with the plays and with the position I'll be at, I'll improve pretty quickly."

BBAO: Packers trio skips OTA

May, 19, 2010
5/19/10
7:25
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Participation in organized team activities are voluntary, and players miss them for all sorts of reasons. Most of them don't matter unless they're tied to a specific contractual issue.

That's the only reason we're noting the missing trio of starters in Green Bay. Neither defensive end Johnny Jolly, safety Atari Bigby nor cornerback Tramon Williams participated in the Packers' first practice of the spring Tuesday. All three are restricted free agents who have yet to sign their tenders, as Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com reports.

But even this story has limited legs. The players can't move to another team unless they're traded. They have to sign their tenders by June 15 or face a possible reduction in their proposed 2010 salary.

For me, the most interesting development will be whether rookie safety Morgan Burnett will take advantage of the situation this spring to put himself in a legitimate competition with Bigby for a starting job once training camp arrives.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Daily mailbag: Sims and Detroit

April, 1, 2010
4/01/10
10:05
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Steve of Colorado Springs, Colo., checks in on reports that Detroit is interested in Seattle guard Rob Sims, a restricted free agent who would require fourth-round compensation. (A trade could change those terms, of course.)
Ok smart guy, let me ask you this. If the Lions acquire Rob Sims, what does that mean for Jeff Backus and draft day? ... If we get Sims, does that mean Martin Mayhew is simply keeping options open? Creating more of a mystery as to whom the Lions will take? Does it mean he wants Russell Okung and then move Jeff Backus to the right side?

I definitely like your conspiratorial line of thinking, Steve. This time of year, alternate theories are always fair game. But in this case, I think it's a simpler case of the Lions turning over every rock in their search to upgrade at left guard.

Last year's rotation, which included Manny Ramirez and Daniel Loper, simply didn't work. Both players have signed their RFA tenders and are eligible to participate in the offseason program, but the Lions clearly want and need more. They hosted free agent Chester Pitts on a visit last month, and in Sims they would have a pretty proficient left guard whom the Seahawks deem expendable because he doesn't fit their new zone-blocking scheme.

I could be wrong, but if the Lions acquire Sims, I assume he would slide into the left guard position with Backus remaining at left tackle. If they draft Okung as well, it eliminates the need to force him into a starting role immediately.
As we plow through college basketball's March Madness, the NFL typically pauses as it awaits its annual owners' meetings. That gathering is set to begin Sunday in Orlando, Fla., so as of this moment we don't have a ton of news going on around the NFC North.

However, one interesting development came out of Minnesota on Thursday: The public commission that operates the Metrodome has agreed to replace the FieldTurf two years earlier than scheduled because of excessive wear caused by sharing it with baseball's Minnesota Twins. Here's a full report from Kevin Duchschere of the Star Tribune.

The Twins have moved into their new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis, leaving the Vikings as the only tenant at the Metrodome. Officials will spend $1.3 million to install new turf and convert the Twins' former offices into a Vikings hospitality room. The project should be completed before the 2010 preseason.

This project makes sense. There were obvious patches and divots caused by turf carve-outs for baseball's bases and pitcher's mound.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Free agent guard Chester Pitts visited Detroit on Thursday and is now headed to San Francisco for a visit, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on his visit to Detroit, via the Lions' Web site: "I'd fit in great here. How I wanted to play in college is how they play here, but we played a certain type of defense in college and I had to play within the scheme of the defense. I think that's really what made me successful as I was because I played within the scheme of the defense."
  • Kentucky fullback John Conner will visit the Lions on Monday, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette wonders if the Packers would hire Scot McCloughan if he permanently leaves his job as San Francisco's general manager. McCloughan was once a college scout in Green Bay.
  • Chicago needs to continue improving its defensive personnel, writes Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:00
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NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Chicago Bears

Last month: The Bears started five different safety combinations last season and have a pressing need for a ball-hawking free safety. Al Afalava could fit as a strong safety, but the Bears don't seem to trust any of their incumbent safeties in deep coverage. The Tampa 2 scheme doesn't always put safeties in position to make big plays, but the Bears' free safety has too often been a liability. Chicago could also use depth at defensive end after the death of Gaines Adams and the expected departure of Adewale Ogunleye.

Now: The Bears have addressed some of the needs we first identified last month via the free-agent market, signing defensive end Julius Peppers to replace Ogunleye and Chester Taylor to provide premium depth in the backfield. But both safety positions remain noticeably untouched. There have been some suggestions that the Bears pursue St. Louis safety O.J. Atogwe, a restricted free agent who would require no compensation to pry from the Rams. Barring a run at him, safety ranks with offensive line as the Bears' top needs with the draft looming in five weeks.

Detroit Lions

Last month: Depth is an issue at most positions, but none moreso than in the Lions' interior offensive and defensive lines. They are in position to draft an elite defensive tackle with their No. 2 overall pick, be it Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy or Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh. They also will be scouring the nation for candidates to play both guard positions alongside center Dominic Raiola. A receiver to steal some coverage from Calvin Johnson should be a priority after the middling performance of free-agent acquisition Bryant Johnson last season. There could also be a need at tight end, where starter Brandon Pettigrew is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and his two backups -- Casey Fitzsimmons and Will Heller -- are eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Now: The Lions have addressed the interior of their defensive line, acquiring defensive tackle Corey Williams from Cleveland and hosting defensive tackle/end Anthony Hargrove, a restricted free agent, on a visit. Veteran guard Chester Pitts is scheduled for a visit, but the left guard position might ultimately be filled through the draft. It's also not out of the question that the Lions target Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung with the No. 2 overall pick. The Lions have addressed their No. 2 receiver position with free agent Nate Burleson and re-signed Heller, two other areas of need we discussed.

Green Bay Packers

Last month: Both of the Packers' starting offensive tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, are pending unrestricted free agents. At 34 and 33, respectively, neither player has a long career ahead of him. The Packers might have addressed one of the positions by drafting T.J. Lang last year, but they could use additional depth and options considering both positions must soon be turned over. Injuries last season revealed a need for depth in the defensive backfield, especially at cornerback, and the Packers also need to determine whether they will replace outside linebacker Aaron Kampman.

Now: Clifton and Tauscher have both re-signed, but finding a left tackle of the future remains one of the Packers' top priorities as the draft approaches. Clifton signed a three-year deal, but it's not clear how long he will play. As per their philosophy, the Packers haven't addressed any needs by signing free agents from other teams. They'll target their remaining need positions in the draft. In addition to left tackle, that positional list should also include outside linebacker and cornerback.

Minnesota Vikings

Last month: Whether or not quarterback Brett Favre returns in 2010, the Vikings must establish a succession plan at the position. They've drafted three quarterbacks in the past four years, but among that list -- Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty -- none are signed for 2010. There's no reason to believe the Vikings consider Sage Rosenfels a long-term solution, so drafting a quarterback would seem to be among their highest priorities. Another area of need is at cornerback, where starter Cedric Griffin is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and nickelback Benny Sapp is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Now: The Vikings re-signed Sapp to give them an alternative if Griffin isn't ready to start the season, but cornerback could still be a high priority in the draft. The loss of Taylor makes depth at running back an issue, but that is one position where it makes sense to go young. As draft boards begin to shape up, it will be interesting to see if the Vikings get an opportunity to fill their need for a long-term quarterback answer. Will there be anyone of that description available with the No. 30 overall pick? That debate remains unsettled.
Green Bay tight end/linebacker/special-teams ace Spencer Havner fractured his scapula during a weekend motorcycle accident, his agent confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Green Bay Press-Gazette. But agent Mark Humenik denied a report that Havner was also charged with driving under the influence in connection with the accident.

Here's Humenik's full statement: "Spencer Havner suffered only minor injuries this weekend in an accident, including a broken scapula, but he should be fully recovered in short order. Despite unfounded media reports to the contrary, he has not been charged criminally with driving under the influence of alcohol or any other substance."

A broken scapula is a minor injury only in the sense that Havner has plenty of time to recover before training camp starts. It often takes up to two months to recover from.

We'll keep you updated.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Greg A. Bedard of the Journal Sentinel objects to the Packers' re-signing of right tackle Mark Tauscher. I have also maintained the Packers need to create a succession plan for both tackle positions, but I think they learned a lesson last season about putting too much faith in an untested starter with no safety net.
  • Monday in Detroit included hosting Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung and restricted free agent Anthony Hargrove. The Lions also will be hosting free-agent guard Chester Pitts, who is recovering from microfracture surgery. Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com wraps it all up.
  • New Detroit backup Shaun Hill speaks to Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.
  • Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News on Lions quarterback Drew Stanton: "Some say Stanton never has been given a fair shot with the Lions -- that he never was fully given the reins of the offense to learn and make mistakes without having to look over his shoulder. I say rubbish. Stanton was given every opportunity to earn his playing time in practice and in the preseason. He was simply never impressive enough to secure the starting job. When he did get his chance, because of injury or futility of those in front of him, Stanton never looked completely comfortable on the field and never took advantage of the opportunity."
  • Minnesota hired Matt Sheldon as its assistant defensive backs coach. Sheldon was on Brad Childress' original Vikings staff in 2006 for a few months before leaving to take a better job with Buffalo.
  • Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com wonders if the Bears will be interested in free-agent quarterback Chris Simms, who Denver released after acquiring Brady Quinn.

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