NFC North: Chris Carr
On Wednesday, Detroit Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. told fans at a season kickoff luncheon: "We're going to bring you a Super Bowl." Ford added: "When the Lions win the Super Bowl, this city will have a party like we haven't seen before."
The statement wasn't uncommon for the kind of sports pep rallies you often see around the country, but it's pretty unusual for the Lions under Ford ownership. As it turns out, Michael Rosenberg posted a really insightful column Wednesday about Ford Jr.'s father, William Clay Ford Sr., and why his perceived passive approach to winning has made him "hated" in Detroit.
Rosenberg: "Ford bought the Detroit Lions in 1963. Since then, the Lions have won one playoff game. The losing alone does not explain the anger. No, what really has really driven people in Detroit crazy over the years is that Ford didn't seem to care as much as they did. Sometimes the Lions won, more often they lost, but either way Ford would wake up rich."
Ford Jr. appears to take a more outwardly passionate approach, and it's worth noting that his urging of his father to fire former general manager Matt Millen is what started this Lions renaissance. But I thought his Super Bowl comments provided an interesting juxtaposition with Rosenberg's column on his father.
Continuing around the NFC North after way too much early-morning thinking:
- Quarterback Kellen Moore is one of the Lions' top bubble players in Dave Birkett's projection of the team's 53-man roster in the Detroit Free Press.
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz tries to treat players who get cut with dignity, notes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- The Chicago Bears have released veteran special-teams player/receiver Rashied Davis and also linebacker Dom DiCicco, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com. Both players had suffered relatively minor injuries but were expected to be key special-teams players.
- Davis' release helps the chances of receiver Dane Sanzenbacher making the team, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- The Bears are looking to settle their special teams in Thursday night's preseason finale, writes Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Tribune.
- Rookies Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels are competing to be the defensive tackle next to B.J. Raji in the Green Bay Packers' nickel defense. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains.
- Packers cornerback Tramon Williams had a good summer after overcoming last year's shoulder injuries, writes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush and safety Jerron McMillian could solidify significant Week 1 roles in the coming days, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwakee.com.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has a nice column on the motivations of Minnesota Vikings free agent running back Matt Asiata.
- Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press speaks with Vikings cornerback Chris Carr.
- Mark Craig of the Star Tribune considers how the Vikings might use quarterback Joe Webb in regular-season games this season.
- The team held its fifth consecutive afternoon practice in full pads, and on Friday the temperature had reached 90 degrees by late afternoon. After about an hour of practice, offensive lineman Kevin Murphy left the field with a cold blue towel draped over his head. He left an adjacent area in an ambulance, but coach Leslie Frazier said after practice that Murphy was fine.
- The Vikings worked on their two-minute drill during 11-on-11. The first-team defense got the better of the offense, allowing seven short completions to quarterback Christian Ponder but not allowing the offense past the 30-yard line before time ran out.
- Cornerback Antoine Winfield got a veteran's day off Friday, so the nickel defense included Chris Cook, Chris Carr and Zackary Bowman. The Vikings also used a three-man line at times with Everson Griffen as a stand-up pass-rusher. That seems like an appropriate way to use a defensive end who is an experiment at linebacker.
- Rookie place-kicker Blair Walsh drilled a 55-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights to end practice. The kick had at least another eight yards on it.
- The Vikings ostensibly had a competition set at the right guard position, but for now second-year player Brandon Fusco is holding onto the job. Friday, veteran Geoff Schwartz returned to the Twin Cities to have an abdominal strain examined.
- The team will hold its first night practice Saturday at 7 p.m. local time (CT). Frazier made clear it will not include any live tackling drills.
Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:
Offseason practices revealed there might be less reason to panic about the Minnesota Vikings' cornerback position. Although they took a middling response to a personnel disaster in 2011, the team has some options that should make it competitive, provided key players remain healthy.
Third-year player Chris Cook, reinstated to the roster after last year's legal problems, looked sharp in pass coverage. Veteran Antoine Winfield appears set to work as a slot/nickelback, and the Vikings have some decent options at the other outside positions. Veteran Chris Carr made the biggest impression during camp, but rookie Josh Robinson's speed will help him get on the field. Fellow veteran Zack Bowman, meanwhile, worked mostly with the third team.
There might not be any 2012 Pro Bowl players in that group, but it has the potential to be more competent than it might appear at first glance.
Harvin said there is "no question" he stands by his earlier statement, which included a threat to hold out from training camp if several unspecified issues are not resolved before then. He eventually said during his second media session that he only wanted to answer football questions, so I asked him about Frazier's plan to get him on the field more often than he was last season -- when he participated in 58 percent of the Vikings' snaps.
Harvin rolled his eyes, shook his head and said: "We'll see. We'll see."
So did Harvin not like the question, or was his body language an indication that the playing-time issue has contributed heavily into his current state of unhappiness? I'm not sure how to read it, but if you're convinced he is simply angling for a new contract, I can tell you that from what I understand, the Vikings' decision-makers were blindsided by his comments and had no inkling that he was upset about anything of substance.
This one will be continued, for sure.
Here are a few thoughts and observations from the first day of minicamp:
- The first uh-oh moment of spring arrived came when new middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley was unable to practice. Brinkley acknowledged afterward that his sore groin is related to the hip injury that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Brinkley needs every offseason snap he can get if he is to replace free agent E.J. Henderson, and it's concerning that the hip is causing residual effects 10 months after surgery. This will be an area of concern for the Vikings all summer. Meanwhile, second-year player Tyrone McKenzie worked Tuesday in his spot.
- Free-agent acquisition Chris Carr worked as the third cornerback. Carr played outside when the Vikings went to the nickel, with Antoine Winfield moving inside to play the slot receiver and Chris Cook holding down the other outside spot. My guess is that's the way the Vikings will go into training camp as well.
- Winfield grabbed an easy interception during team drills when quarterback Christian Ponder seemed to think twice about throwing a pass. Ponder couldn't pull back his arm in time, and Winfield snatched the soft toss from the air.
- The offensive play of the day was a red zone pass from Ponder to tight end John Carlson, who got free between two defenders and then dunked the ball over the goal post for good measure.
- Bears offensive lineman Gabe Carimi confirmed that he practiced Tuesday but said the decision to sit out Wednesday is part of a larger recovery plan for his right knee. Carimi, via ESPNChicago.com: "We're taking it slow right now. I feel like I'm explosive off it right now, and hopefully we'll keep on progressing."
- Receiver Devin Hester suggested he can do a lot of damage with just a little more attention in the Bears offense. The team's plan for a "Hester Package," he told reporters, is "Just getting the athlete the ball. Getting the guy who you know can do a lot of damage with the ball in his hands ... getting him the ball regularly. I can go a season with 40 catches ... the way the offense is designed I only need about 40 to 50 catches and I can get close to 800 or 900 yards receiving. With this offense you might not have a lot of balls but you're going to have a lot of big plays."
- Packers receiver Donald Driver was in uniform for Wednesday's practice and defiantly rebuffed suggestions that he might not make the 2012 roster, despite a newly renegotiated contract. Driver, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "People talk about how this is a young man's game. But I have proven that age is just a number. And I haven't declined. People talk about, well, I didn’t have 1,000 yards. I didn’t have 80 catches. I don't control who throws the ball. Every ball I caught, it was amazing. I made amazing catches, amazing runs. Hopefully when it is all said and done, people will look at that as the game plays, not the age."
- Coach Mike McCarthy didn't discount the possibility that the Packers could keep six receivers in 2012, according to the team website.
- New Packers defensive lineman Phillip Merling did not participate in practice but will on Thursday. McCarthy said: "We'll have him involved in everything tomorrow and see where he is. He's added competition at the defensive line group. We feel he's a good fit for a 3-4 and the sub groups. You can't have enough big guys on your football team and we have excellent competition on the defensive line."
- High upon a hill overlooking the Vikings' practice field, there was some serious talent. Tailback Adrian Peterson (knee) and receiver Percy Harvin (shoulder) got a little competitive during a conditioning drill that goes with their injury participation. The players would jog to the base of the hill and then sprint up it. Harvin admitted that Peterson, who is just about five months removed from surgery, beat him twice. "He's amazing," Harvin said. "I told him the other day that I don't think he's human."
- The only veterans missing from Vikings OTAs this week are linebacker Chad Greenway, who is dealing with a family issue, and defensive end Jared Allen. Typically, Allen does not attend voluntary sessions, but coach Leslie Frazier said he hoped to see him in Minnesota next week. Harvin has been an inconsistent attendee in the past but said he made a point to be in town this year.
- It's rare to see a healthy player walk away from the game, but that's what it appears Vikings cornerback Asher Allen did last week. Allen was a third-round draft choice in 2009 and started 21 games over the past three years before walking into Frazier's office and announcing his decision. Allen, 24, suffered a concussion last season but didn't mention health as a reason for retiring, according to Frazier. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall after the Vikings signed veterans Zackary Bowman and Chris Carr this offseason while also drafting cornerback Josh Robinson in the third round. In three years, Allen earned about $1.95 million, including a $725,500 signing bonus.
That's the way to view their latest move, a one-year deal with free agent Chris Carr that the Jason La Canfora of the NFL's web site first reported Wednesday. Carr was a full-time starter for the Baltimore Ravens in 2010 but appeared in only nine games, and 17.5 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps, in 2011 because of a hamstring injury. He'll turn 29 later this month and will join a crowded if underwhelming group of contenders for the Vikings' 2012 cornerback rotation.
Carr and Bowman will compete for time with holdovers Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook and Asher Allen. If you were hoping for a more significant addition, then I would suggest looking toward the draft. That's where Spielman has said his best players will come from, and it's fair to hold him to that assertion.
Free agent Ted Ginn Jr. visited two of our NFC North teams as he tested the market, presumably in search of a role or contract better than what the San Francisco 49ers were offering. He must not have seen enough opportunity with either the Detroit Lions or Minnesota Vikings, because Ginn returned to the 49ers late Thursday night on a one-year contract.
In Detroit, Ginn would have been at best the No. 4 receiver. It's worth monitoring whether the Lions will bring back Stefan Logan considering Ginn likely would have replaced him.
Meanwhile, the Vikings' primary motivation to pursue Ginn might have been to relieve Percy Harvin of most return duties. The Vikings don't have a bevy of receiver depth, but Ginn took a pass regardless.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Lions general manager Martin Mayhew on linebacker Stephen Tulloch, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Bigger than his production on the field is what he gives us in our locker room and what he means to our football team. His leadership, his toughness, competitiveness, football character, his work ethic, all of those things are really important to us and really a great example for our younger players."
- Tulloch once predicted that Jim Schwartz would become coach of the Lions, notes Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.
- Tulloch's contract value wasn't as high as he had hoped, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
- Free agent cornerback Chris Carr was scheduled to begin his visit with the Vikings on Thursday night, according to Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak needs to sway the Minneapolis City Council into supporting the Vikings' stadium bill by the end of this week, according to the Star Tribune.
- Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel speaks with Packers safety Nick Collins about his upcoming neck examination.
- Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks at the success rate of Packers general manager Ted Thompson in the second round of the draft.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune hammers Bears tailback Matt Forte for his public comments after the team signed backup Michael Bush. Haugh: "The more Forte expresses himself over his ongoing contract dispute, the less he comes across as a good guy. The more yards he gains, the more perspective he loses. This is what nobody in Forte's inner circle will tell him: Complaining about the Bears signing a player that improves the team casts him as a me-first prima donna, a pro sports cliché."
- Many of the contract terms in the Forte dispute aren't known, acknowledges Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- ESPNChicago.com has a photo gallery of the Bears' new faces.
Item: The Detroit Lions re-signed tight end Will Heller and also signed defensive end Everette Brown.
Comment: Heller is back for another year as the Lions' third tight end, presumably at a lower salary than the $1.2 million he was scheduled to earn in 2012. Brown is a former second-round draft pick who didn't make much impact in three years with the Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers.
Item: The Minnesota Vikings are scheduled to host Baltimore Ravens free agent cornerback Chris Carr on a visit, according to multiple reports.
Comment: Carr has been a starter on one of the NFL's better defenses, but a hamstring injury limited him to one start last season. He is very much the definition of the second-tier free agent market.
Item: New Chicago Bears running back Michael Bush hasn't spoken yet with starter Matt Forte, who didn't react well Thursday to his arrival.
Comment: Hopefully no one takes out their anger on Bush. Forte's issue is with the team, not him.
Item: The Lions hosted Bears free agent cornerback Corey Graham on a visit Thursday.
Comment: The Lions have an opening for a starter after Eric Wright's departure, and Graham is looking for an opportunity to play more cornerback in addition to special teams.
Item: Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch's five-year contract is worth $25 million, including $11 million guaranteed, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
Comment: As my NFC West colleague Mike Sando noted, the market for inside linebackers has been flat for a while, probably due to the NFL's passing focus. For context, consider that former Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson signed an almost identical contract six years ago.
Earlier this week, we posted Scouts Inc.'s top 10 free agent cornerbacks, including those who are restricted free agents. That list is down to seven, and there is no indication the Lions are in on negotiations for Nnamdi Asomugha. I've published the amended list below.
Let's not consider these names the Lions' only possibilities. General manager Martin Mayhew is well known for his trading prowess, and it's possible 2010 starter Chris Houston will return. But if you were hoping they would splurge on one of the top two or three cornerbacks available, you're probably going to be disappointed.
I haven't abandoned my expectation that the Detroit Lions will add at least one free-agent cornerback in the coming days. We should point out that one candidate is already off the market; the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to terms with incumbent Ike Taylor late Tuesday night. Other than an expectation that the Lions won't "go big," there is no clear indication what direction they're headed in here.
So until we get a better feel for their approach, I'll leave you with the top 10 remaining cornerbacks on the free-agent market, as ranked by Scouts Inc. (You need an Insider subscription to see the entire list.)
Note that Chris Houston, the Lions' ostensible No. 1 cornerback last season, isn't in this ranking. And remember that restricted free agents require draft-pick compensation if the current team chooses not to match an offer sheet extended by the new team:
The Rod Hood sweepstakes, won Tuesday by Cleveland, means that at least two NFC North teams will continue to seek depth at cornerback. Hood visited both Chicago and Detroit in recent weeks, revealing some level of concern in both markets.
The Bears are practicing without two incumbents, Charles Tillman and Trumaine McBride, who continue to recover from offseason surgery. Cornerback Corey Graham has been moved to safety, leaving Zac Bowman and rookie D.J. Moore as the team's top backups. Veteran Ken Lucas visited earlier this offseason before signing with Seattle, and it's clear the Bears would like to add some extra bodies at the position.
The Lions, meanwhile, have been collecting bodies at cornerback since the moment the NFL rang the free agency bell. They acquired Anthony Henry from Dallas and signed Phillip Buchanon and Eric King; Hood and Chris Carr are among the veterans who visited but signed elsewhere. Incumbent starter Travis Fisher, meanwhile, was released.
You would assume that Buchanon and Henry will have a good chance to enter training camp with the first team, but the Lions aren't in a position to turn down interest at the position.
As we look ahead following a wild opening weekend of the NFL's free agent market, the ESPN blog network will take a look at what's next. Let's have some fun and try matching a remaining player with an NFC North team:
It won't sound exciting to many Bears fans, but offensive lineman John St. Clair looks like a pretty important figure right now. The signing of free agent tackle/guard Frank Omiyale gives the Bears some flexibility, but there is still no obvious successor to retiring right tackle John Tait.
St. Clair is an ideal short-term fit for that role, much as he was in 2008 at left tackle. He hasn't attracted a ton of interest from other teams, and it is in both sides' interest to find a common ground.
It's been a long time since the Lions have had a consistent returner, and they could use more depth in their defensive backfield even after acquiring Anthony Henry and Eric King over the weekend. This makes Carr a real value.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported the Packers might target San Diego's Igor Olshansky, who would give them another option at defensive end as they convert to a 3-4 defense.
Olshansky isn't exactly a household name, but the Packers don't have a proven pass rusher at this point to play either end position.
Ok, let's have some real fun.