NFC North: Chris Simms

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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Those of you who read Wednesday's post on Chicago's lack of activity on the free agent market, especially as it pertains to wide receivers, would be interested to note the comments of Bears general manger Jerry Angelo on the topic.

Angelo's Q&A with ChicagoBears.com was published Wednesday afternoon and included this response when asked if he will upgrade the Bears' receiving corps:

"Naturally, we're going to look at that real hard, in all likelihood in the draft. We're not looking for backup wide receivers. What we want are potentially starting wide receivers. We have a nucleus of receivers that we feel good about in terms of twos, threes, fours and fives, and if we carried six, a sixth receiver. Part of that ties into special teams. What we're looking at is the top of the wide receiver position. Where does that come from? It comes with a premium receiver in free agency if there's one out there and/or in the draft. Yes, it's a position that we are looking at."

As we discussed Wednesday, it's difficult to find immediate help from a receiver in the draft -- hence the need to scour the free agent market first. But Angelo said in another response that the price for a starting-caliber veteran receiver, notably T.J. Houshmandzadeh, was too high:

"Houshmandzadeh is a fine receiver. Would we have entertained him? Yes, but we wanted to see what his marketplace was. In this case, we felt like [what he received from Seattle] was an exorbitant amount of money. Remember, he was a No. 2 in Cincinnati. That's not to say that what Seattle did wasn't right for them; their situation is different in my mind than ours. They had an inordinate amount of injuries with receivers and they felt like they needed to get somebody that was established and healthy."

A lot of teams would have liked to have had Houshmandzadeh. But he's going to be 32 in '09 and the price that you're paying for that receiver we felt was very high. You have to look at economics when you look at players. Who doesn't want Houshmandzadeh? But you have to look at the economics: What are the implications to the cap going forward and what does that prevent us from doing in other areas within our team and/or in free agency?"

Some might suggest Angelo is overestimating the potential of his current group of receivers, but it's only fair to present his comments here to help flesh out Wednesday's post.

Continuing around the NFC North on a Thursday morning:

  • Sirius NFL Radio host Pat Kirwan suggested on air Wednesday that Angelo is facing financial constraints from Bears ownership. But Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Bears have not put strict limitations on Angelo.
  • Quarterback Chris Simms, whose name has been linked to the Bears and Detroit in media reports, agreed to a two-year deal with Denver. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean has the story.
  • For at least this season, the Lions don't plan on issuing Corey Smith's No. 93. Smith remains missing in after a boating accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press reports.
  • In addition to signing nose tackle Grady Jackson, the Lions also inked free agent cornerback Phillip Buchanon. Here's the report from John Clayton of ESPN.
  • Green Bay has targeted free agent linebacker Kevin Burnett for a weekend visit, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but Burnett could be signed elsewhere by then.
  • Former Minnesota center Matt Birk corroborated the Vikings' public statement on his departure, confirming he wanted a change of scenery: "There is something special going on out here [in Baltimore] and I knew this was the place and had to be a part of it." Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune the story, which also addresses some differences Birk had with coach Brad Childress.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

INDIANAPOLIS -- A day after one NFC North coach suggested he is satisfied with the status quo at quarterback, another expressed similar sentiments.

Chicago's Lovie Smith went out of his way Saturday to say he would be comfortable entering training camp with an inexperienced backup for starter Kyle Orton. His roster currently includes Orton, second-year player Caleb Hanie and newcomer Brett Basanez. Asked if he would be fine with that trio in 2009, Smith said:

"Yes I would," Smith said. "I mean, everybody wants a veteran. And that's good. And who knows? We haven't shut the door on any of our positions right now. But I think sometimes you have to go with young talent. Of course, Brett has played a little bit in the league. And what I saw from Caleb Hanie last year, it gets you excited."

The Bears have been connected in media reports to a handful of veteran free agents, including Byron Leftwich and Chris Simms. It's always possible that Smith is positioning the Bears to reduce the leverage of any veteran they might enter into negotiations with. And on follow-up, Smith didn't rule out pursuing a veteran, saying: "In the offseason we don't shut the door on anyone."

If necessary, however, Smith is ready to let Basanez and Hanie compete for the No. 2 position this summer.

 
  AP Photo/Andy King
  Brad Childress indicated on Friday that the Vikings are considering bringing back QB Gus Frerotte to compete with Tarvaris Jackson.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

INDIANAPOLIS -- Forgive my geekdom, but as I considered Minnesota's quarterback situation Friday, I couldn't stop thinking of a phrase we had to learn in middle school Latin:

Morturi te salutamus.

(Translation: We who are about to die salute you.)

Whoops! Not that one.

Let's try again:

Tempus iter nunc.

(Translation: The time of the journey is now.)

Yes, the Vikings are on the verge of the most important offseason decision in their recent history: Should they give quarterback Tarvaris Jackson another chance to prove he can be their long-term starter? Or do they acquire a veteran to replace him and guide an otherwise skilled roster for the next few years?

On the second full day of the annual scouting combine, Vikings coach Brad Childress came as close as he ever will to tipping his hand. Childress said he wants to create training camp competition for the position, but his first candidate for Jackson's foil is the man who finished the 2008 season as Jackson's backup.

Childress confirmed has had multiple conversations in recent weeks with veteran Gus Frerotte, who went 8-3 as a starter in 2008 but expressed public displeasure when Childress re-established Jackson as the starter in December. There have been indications that Frerotte might seek his release or retire, but Childress said there is an "open door" for Frerotte to return and said, "That could be the source of the competition."

Whether or not Frerotte agrees to the arrangement -- and I have my doubts about how authentic the competition would be -- it seems clear the Vikings have no interest in pursuing a blockbuster deal to find a new starter. That would seem to rule out a run at New England's Matt Cassel, and as of Friday the team had displayed no indications it would pursue pending free agent Jeff Garcia.

In fact, during an extended interview with a small group of reporters, I asked Childress if he could envision a scenario in which the Vikings would pursue a player to be their new and unquestioned starter. Childress paused several seconds and said: "There might be." Then, he added: "But right now I would be honest with you and tell you I wouldn't know who that person would be."

2009 Available Quarterbacks*
Player 2008 team
Matt Cassel New England
Kurt Warner Arizona
Kerry Collins Tennessee
Jeff Garcia Tampa Bay
Derek Anderson Cleveland+
Byron Leftwich Pittsburgh
Chris Simms Tennessee
J.P. Losman Buffalo
Charlie Batch Pittsburgh
Rex Grossman Chicago
Kyle Boller Baltimore
J.T. O'Sullivan San Francisco
Dan Orlovsky Detroit
* List based on Scouts Inc. rankings
+ Under contract with Cleveland but likely available via trade

A day earlier, Vikings vice president Rick Spielman also downplayed the Vikings' realistic chances of finding a new starter:

"I think you ask yourself this: How many quarterbacks do you face in a year that you are actually scared of playing? There's maybe a handful that you say, 'Yeah, this guy can carry a team for you.' But if there's a guy that's unique out there and you think he's going to be out on the free-agent market ... the last guy that was o
ut there was Drew Brees and he had a shoulder [injury]. Quarterbacks don't get out there that are unique."

So let's quickly review. Without mentioning Cassel, Garcia or Cleveland's Derek Anderson by name, the Vikings' top two decision-makers are on record saying they don't believe there is a difference-making quarterback available to them. And their first option is to make no changes to their 2008 depth chart.

There's only one conclusion to draw.

The Vikings are giving Jackson another chance.

This decision is borne of the mentality that could allow Jackson to enter three consecutive training camps as the Vikings' most likely starter. Childress believes deeply both in Jackson's ability and his own history in developing quarterbacks. He noted Friday that "we need him [Jackson] to improve" but quickly added: "I believe he will."

This quote neatly encapsulates Childress' thoughts on the situation:

"I think [Jackson] gave some glimpses coming in off the bench and doing the things he did. Obviously he needs to eliminate some of those turnovers. We need him to change that touchdown-to-turnover ratio. And then we need to put somebody in place that will push him and compete with him, and I think competition is the nature of the game. At some places it may not be ... [but] in our situation we need to have a good healthy competition because I think that makes everybody better."

Some optimists will read that quote and believe Childress will simply pick the best training camp performer to start. But Childress made clear at the end of last season that he believed Jackson gave the Vikings a better chance to win than Frerotte.

So I think it's only fair to question how legitimate a summer competition between Jackson and Frerotte would be. Wouldn't Jackson need to slump badly to change the dynamic? And if it's not Frerotte, who could the Vikings sign to bring true competition? Chris Simms? Byron Leftwich, who has never played in a West Coast offense? Kerry Collins, who has already been promised Tennessee's starting job?

Childress said "it's up to me" to facilitate a fair fight. But knowing Childress' history with Jackson and the Vikings' desire to lock down the position long term, well, it's only fair to conclude Jackson is the odds-on favorite.

I asked Childress what he would say to convince Frerotte that he wouldn't face a stacked deck. Childress offered a winding answer, but it boiled down to this: "We've always had a relationship based on honesty."

In other words, Childress will ask Frerotte -- or whichever other veteran the Vikings ultimately bring in -- to take his word. The journey has already begun.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We offered a thorough breakdown of Detroit's situation heading into this week's scouting combine, but we've recently learned there are three other teams in the NFC North. So let's play a little catch-up and check in with Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota on the eve of the year's greatest draft-related event held during the third week of February:

CHICAGO BEARS
Three points of interest:

  1. The Bears must prepare for right tackle John Tait to retire, even though general manager Jerry Angelo has said he hopes Tait plays at least one more season. As we noted, the free-agent market at right tackle is pretty thin. But 2009 might prove to be a strong year for tackles in the draft. It's not out of the question, according to ESPN.com's Todd McShay, that four tackles could be off the board by the time Chicago picks at No. 18. In either event, McShay has five offensive linemen with first-round grades.
  2. The Bears signed free-agent quarterback Brett Basanez earlier this month, but at this point you have to assume they will further stockpile their depth. The free-agent market should continue to clarify as the weekend approaches, giving us a better idea if players like Chris Simms plan to re-sign with their current teams or test the market.
  3. The draft rarely offers immediate impact at the receiver position, so the Bears almost certainly will have to scour the free-agent market if they want to upgrade their corps. We've suggested Pittsburgh's Nate Washington as a potential fit, but there are plenty of other possibilities. Here are the receiver rankings from Scouts Inc.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
Three points of interest:

  1. We should get a better sense of how much, or little, personnel turnover the Packers are planning as part of their shift to the 3-4 defense. General manager Ted Thompson isn't a big fan of free agency, and he offered a bit of a winding answer when Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal asked about the Packers' personnel plans.
  2. Many mock drafts are suggesting the Packers will draft Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins with the No. 9 overall pick. Some analysts have suggested Jenkins might project better as an NFL safety. This topic should be well-discussed at the combine.
  3. The Packers used tailback Ryan Grant an awful lot in 2008, giving him 312 carries. You would think they'll look to spread the ball out a bit more in 2009. Will Grant's partner be backup Brandon Jackson? Or will the Packers seek help from elsewhere? Here's a link to Scouts Inc.'s ranking of running backs.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Three points of interest:

  1. The big question is whether the Vikings will pursue a starting-caliber quarterback or merely look to add depth behind starter Tarvaris Jackson. At least two veteran starters are available. Will we get any hint that the Vikings are going to pursue Matt Cassel, New England's franchise player? Or will they attempt to sign Jeff Garcia?
  2. The Vikings will join the Bears in the hunt for a right tackle. Starter Ryan Cook is under contract for 2009, but it's possible he'll be moved to center to replace veteran free agent Matt Birk. If not, Cook is one of the few personnel weak links on the Vikings' otherwise talented roster.
  3. It'll be interesting to see how the Vikings will approach their defensive tackle position with the suspension of Pat Williams and/or Kevin Williams still a possibility. (Their legal cases remain under consideration.) Both of their 2008 backups, Fred Evans and Ellis Wyms, are pending free agents. Evans is restricted, so the Vikings could match any offer he receives. The Vikings might need to amplify their depth when it's available so they aren't caught surprised later if either Williams loses his legal case.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The Chicago Bears are hoping right tackle John Tait will reconsider his plans to retire and went to the length Tuesday of posting a story about his situation on the team's Web site. Here's the statement that Bears general manager Jerry Angelo provided:

"John informed us a few weeks ago that he was considering retirement. He has been a great player and representative of our team since joining us in 2004. We would like to have him back for another season, but certainly respect his decision if he chooses to retire."

This marks the team's first public statement on the issue since reports emerged last weekend. The Bears aren't exactly deep at the position; presumptive left tackle Chris Williams will be their only tackle on the roster when free agency begins. Tait's skills are declining, but he might provide a better option in 2009 than anyone the team could scrounge up on the free-agent market.

Expect the Bears to scout the right tackle position heavily when the annual scouting combine begins this week. Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times takes a look at the looming process.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Wednesday marked quite a spike in our sleepy NFC North offseason news cycle. Not only did we have the retirement of former Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, but also a final announcement of Detroit's coaching staff, an interesting twist in Chicago's possible pursuit of quarterback Chris Simms and a couple of group interviews out at Minnesota's facility that I didn't even get to.

(Those stories all buried my planned feature for Wednesday, a Hot Button look at the NFC North's offseason.)

So here's the (new) plan: I'll wrap up the Favre story here by passing along reaction from around the division. Later Thursday, I'll follow up on the Lions' staff and give you my take on two Vikings stadium pronouncements that could have some bearing on their long-term situation.

For now, let's take a look at how the Favre retirement affects the division:

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune points out Favre's departure adds the New York Jets to the NFL's list of teams searching for a quarterback. In essence, the Jets could provide some level of competition for the Bears on the free-agent market.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News makes a similar point, except in the Lions' case it helps their leverage in potentially trading the No. 1 overall pick. A team that fails to solve its problems in free agency might turn to the draft, where it could select Georgia's Matthew Stafford.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune believes the Vikings would have been a better landing spot for Favre last year because of their structure and makeup. If he does play again, Pompei writes, Minnesota is his best bet.
  • Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thinks Favre's entire 2008 season was just a bad dream.
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Too bad he didn't stick to his original instincts and hang it up in 2008. Favre, along with the rest of the football world, would have been spared a lot of consternation, disappointment, bitterness and disillusionment."
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
 Simms

It's nice that Tennessee officials have told quarterback Chris Simms they want him back in 2009. But it would be surprising if he re-signs with the Titans without first testing the free-agent market, where the Chicago Bears and other teams might be waiting with interest.

It's possible Simms knows something about the Titans' personnel plans that we don't. But as it stands now -- Tennessee is trying to re-sign starter Kerry Collins and has no plans to move backup Vince Young -- Simms would be no better than the No. 3 quarterback in Nashville. That might be his ultimate lot for 2009, but he doesn't need to be in a rush to be anyone's No. 3 quarterback.

No one knows for sure if the Bears would pursue Simms if he was available. But he fits the profile general manager Jerry Angelo is looking for as a backup/possible challenger to Kyle Orton: A veteran player with starting experience.

You would thinks Simms would at least test the market next month before deciding to return to Tennessee.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Hi there. As we move into this fine Tuesday, I'll be working on a few projects that will limit the frequency of posting Tuesday morning and early afternoon. I expect to be back at full blogging strength by mid-afternoon. Please plan your day accordingly.

Among other tasks, I'll be searching out some of the blogroll information you requested after last week's post. To review, we have the ability to link to reference material or other areas of note along the right hand side of this blog. The list has slowly been growing. If you haven't already, let me know in the mailbag what you'd like to see. I'll accommodate as much as I can.

For now, let's take a quick tour through most of the NFC North:

  • Former Green Bay linebacker George Koonce, a member of the Marquette athletic administration, is a candidate for the athletic director's job at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel considers Koonce's candidacy.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune notes the disappearance of two pending free agents from the market: New York Giants quarterback David Carr and Tampa Bay quarterback Luke McCown. Both fit the profile of the type of backup the Bears are looking for, although Chicago has most often been associated with Byron Leftwich and Chris Simms, two other free agents.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com notes that Detroit quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper ($2.5 million) and Jon Kitna ($500,000) are due roster bonuses on Feb. 27.
  • The Lions won't use their alternative black jerseys anymore, team president Tom Lewand confirmed to the Detroit News. Instead, they'll use their throwback jerseys when it comes time to use a third uniform style.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Two of the more prominent names circulating as possible quarterback targets for Chicago are pending free agents Chris Simms (Tennessee) and Byron Leftwich (Pittsburgh). Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times takes the pulse of both situations in his Inside the Bears blog.

Leftwich is two years removed as a starter. But speaking to reporters in Tampa this week, he said his year with the Steelers has made him a better quarterback:

"Just picking up from a Pro Bowl quarterback like Ben [Roethlisberger], the way he does things. And just being around good football players, any time you are around good football players, the Troy Polamalus and Hines Wards, you become a better player by understanding guys who have been in this league longer than you and what they do on a day-to-day basis."

Meanwhile, Simms' father said he is unaware of any interest the Bears might have in his son but said he is the "wrong guy to ask." Phil Simms, who was in Tampa this week as part of his broadcasting duties with Inside the NFL, also said he believes that potential free agents won't view Chicago as a place they can go to win a job:

"I was on the record all year, I know Kyle Orton. I followed him through college, I saw him early with the Bears and I thought he grew up. He was a different-looking guy this year. I thought he had a little moxie to him. There is a little something he has that I like. Whoever goes in there, it would be awfully tough to think that you're going to take Kyle Orton's job. I know that.''

Orton will be the Bears' starter in 2009, but backup Rex Grossman is likely to depart and the Bears probably don't want to enter training camp with second-year player Caleb Hanie as their backup. Simms is right: Whomever Chicago signs will almost certainly be in line for a role as a strict backup.

Continuing around the NFC North on a Thursday morning:

  • Former Bears defensive tackle Bryan Robinson, who now starts for Arizona, said he knows what most Bears fans are asking: "I know people may be like, 'How is Bryan Robinson still in the league?'" David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Robinson at the Super Bowl.
  • Green Bay will hire Dave Redding as its new strength and conditioning coach, according to Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Redding is considered one of the pioneers of modern strength training in the NFL. He worked for Kansas City when current Packers coach Mike McCarthy was the Chiefs' quarterbacks coach.
  • Former Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders has surfaced as Buffalo's new defensive line coach. Here is the Bills' press release on the news.
  • Former Detroit president/general manager and current NBC broadcaster Matt Millen isn't talking to the media during the Super Bowl buildup, but he did take a blimp ride with Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.
  • Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson won the FedEx NFL Ground Player of the Year award. FedEx will donate $25,000 to Safe Kids USA in Minneapolis in Peterson's honor.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

If Chicago officials are looking for a blue-chip quarterback, they weren't likely to find it at the Senior Bowl this week, reports Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Two of the top quarterback prospects, Georgia's Matt Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez, didn't attend and thus couldn't be evaluated. Mulligan suggests the Bears remain most likely to seek a mid-level veteran quarterback this offseason to back up Kyle Orton rather than draft a high-caliber rookie.

Free agents Chris Simms and Byron Leftwich are two likely targets, with Simms the "clear leader," Mulligan reports. The Bears are certain to allow Rex Grossman to depart via free agency.

Continuing around the NFC North on a Friday morning:

  • Two ex-Bears, Jimbo Covert and Trace Armstrong, are among the finalists to replace the late Gene Upshaw as executive director of the NFL Players Association, notes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Detroit seems unlikely to pry Brian Schottenheimer away from the New York Jets to be its offensive coordinator, reports John Niyo of the Detroit News. Might be a good thing. Lions coach Jim Schwartz said he is looking for someone to "execute his vision" of an offensive scheme rather than asking his next coordinator to implement his own.
  • Former Utah State defensive backs coach John Rushing is joining Green Bay as an offensive quality control coach, reports Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The Packers also have an interview scheduled with former Oakland coach Keith Millard, likely for their defensive line position.
  • There has been no contact this offseason between Minnesota and the agent for center Matt Birk, whose contract expires next month. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune updates the situation.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

NFL executives are only beginning to formulate their offseason plans at this time of year, and rarely do they give an honest preview even when those plans are finalized. But I tend to believe Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson, who said in a series of interviews Tuesday that he doesn't expect to hit the free-agent market any harder than he has in recent years.

Here's what Thompson told Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

"We're going to try to improve this team like we always do. People talk about free agency, draft. We'll use whatever avenues we can to try to improve this team. But again, I'm still going to preach the thing we've always preached: The best way to get better, the most consistent way to get better, is to improve from within. Some of our freshmen are going to be sophomores and some of our sophomores are going to be juniors. These guys are going to have to develop into better players. In order to be successful in the NFL long term, that's how you have to do it."

If you recall, Thompson signed one free agent last winter: linebacker Brandon Chillar, a part-time starter. The Packers have needs at several positions this winter, most notably in multiple spots along the defensive line, but overall Thompson believes the Packers are closer to success than their 6-10 record in 2008 indicates.

"Collectively, you could sense it in our locker room after our win the other day [against Detroit] and in the building, we feel like we could have been better," Thompson told Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "We all feel like we should have had more wins. So we'll work on it and see if we can get to the bottom of it and try to get better."

Continuing around the NFC North on a fine New Year's Eve day:

  • Minnesota plans to request at least a 24-hour extension on selling out Sunday's wild-card playoff game at the Metrodome, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
  • Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell was inspired by Tiger Woods, his offseason neighbor in Orlando, to find ways to improve even while still kicking at a high level. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press explains.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune expects the Bears to pursue a mid-level free-agent quarterback this offseason along the lines of a Chris Simms or J.P. Losman.
  • Here's a full transcript of Bears general manager Jerry Angelo's news conference Tuesday, courtesy of Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Here's how new Detroit president Tom Lewand responded when asked about the relationship of the team's finances and its coaching search: "The mandate we've been given is to find the right coach. It's finding the right person. It's not, at the end of the day, about dollars and cents." John Niyo of the Detroit News reports.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News on new Lions general manager Martin Mayhew: "... I'm trying to judge Mayhew objectively, and there's an understated intelligence about him that's intriguing. He made no silly proclamations Tuesday. He didn't try to explain away his connection to Millen, because he can't. He also made it clear, sternly and repeatedly, that he's different, that the Lions have a different plan they swear they're sticking to."

Quarterback depth a weekend focus

August, 29, 2008
8/29/08
1:40
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

As we head into final-cut weekend, quarterback depth remains an issue for each team in the NFC North. We know who will open the season as the starter: Kyle Orton in Chicago, Jon Kitna in Detroit, Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and Tarvaris Jackson in Minnesota. Nevertheless, a few backup situations could change in the next few days.

Let's take a look at each team's situation:

Chicago Bears: Orton will start and it's pretty likely Rex Grossman will back him up. The big question among Bears fans is what will happen to undrafted rookie Caleb Hanie, who showed promise during the preseason, and most important, doesn't have "Orton" or "Grossman" in his name.

For roster flexibility, the Bears could be tempted to keep only two quarterbacks. In that scenario, they would waive Hanie for the purposes of putting him on the practice squad. (They would probably do the same thing if a veteran they want to add -- Josh McCown? Chris Simms? -- becomes available over the weekend.) The risk is that another team could claim Hanie on waivers, an endgame that would enrage Bears fans but wouldn't exactly impact the outcome of the season.


Detroit Lions: Dan Orlovsky won the No. 2 job by default after Drew Stanton sprained a ligament in his right thumb. Stanton will be unavailable for the first month of the season, and the Lions will have to determine whether to keep open his roster spot or place him on injured reserve.

It's likely they'll hold a spot for him, but then coach Rod Marinelli will have to decide whether to play that first month with two healthy quarterbacks or whether they should keep Drew Henson around. It's believed Henson still has practice squad eligibility.


Green Bay Packers: Rookie backups Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn played like, well, rookies for most of the preseason, posing a significant risk for a team with playoff aspirations if Rodgers were sidelined. Coach Mike McCarthy wouldn't rule out the possibility of signing a veteran backup this weekend -- Daunte Culpepper is one possibility -- but it would be difficult to imagine anyone getting up to speed in time for the Sept. 8 opener against Minnesota.

Regardless of whether they bring in a veteran, the Packers have to determine how Brohm and Flynn stack up against each other on the depth chart. Brohm was a second-round draft pick, which would seem to give him the edge, but those who have watched the Packers closely consider it a toss-up from a competitive standpoint.


Minnesota Vikings: Jackson and Frerotte are set as the top two quarterbacks, but coach Brad Childress seemed hugely disappointed in both Brooks Bollinger and John David Booty after Thursday night's preseason finale at Dallas. Normally, the No. 3 quarterback isn't considered the highest of priority decisions. Keep in mind, however, that in each of the past two years, the person who opened the year as the Vikings' No. 3 quarterback has gotten on the field in a meaningful way.

(Overall, the Vikings have had four different starters in the past 32 games: Jackson, Bollinger, Brad Johnson and Kelly Holcomb.)

You would think Booty has the upper hand in this competition; the Vikings traded up in the fifth round of the draft to get him, but it wouldn't be out of the question for both players to be released if a more intriguing developmental quarterback becomes available this weekend.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

This is as good as it gets in Detroit. No one, after the Lions' long history, can claim that hope springs eternal when training camp begins. But Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press comes as close as he reasonably can: "The Lions are doing things right," Rosenberg writes. "Now, that doesn't mean they're doing things well."

Fair enough. In other news:

  • The Lions opened practice Thursday by signing cornerback Leigh Bodden to a four-year contract extension. But they were missing second-round linebacker Jordon Dizon, whose contract talks were at an impasse.
  • Lions running back Kevin Smith could be the steal of the draft, according to the Grand Rapids Free Press. (Smith might want to surrender that title. The last NFC North running back to claim it was Minnesota's Onterrio Smith, and that didn't work out too well).
  • About 10,000 people showed up for the Green Bay Packers' annual shareholder meeting. Some approached general manager Ted Thompson to encourage him to re-think the team's position on quarterback Brett Favre, but the event was hardly a riot. "Families sometimes disagree," Thompson said.
  • The quarterback derby between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton is getting plenty of attention, but the Chicago Bears are monitoring the Chris Simms situation in Tampa Bay, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Bears cornerback Nate Vasher went through a long contract negotiation with the team but never held out. His advice to kick returner Devin Hester: "The most important thing is to play and things will take care of themselves. [Hester] might feel a little underappreciated. You have to be here, though."
  • Constant discussion of the Favre story has taken attention away from the Vikings' offseason improvements, writes Mike McFeely of the Fargo Forum. They have their first practice of the summer Friday morning.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Catching up on a few NFC North tidbits:

  • You have to wonder whether Darrion Scott will play again in the NFL. The former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman would have to sit out the first three games for any team that might sign him, having violated the NFL's personal conduct policy. Scott is a good all-around player and could definitely help a team for the final 13 games of the season. But Scott might not be good enough to overcome a pair of legal entanglements in the past 12 months, the second of which involved child endangerment.
  • The Detroit Lions aren't known to be looking for quarterback depth. Their starter is Jon Kitna and Drew Stanton could one day take over the job. But the Tampa Tribune reported that the Lions are among the teams to have inquired about Chris Simms. The report also suggests the Chicago Bears as a possible suitor, which makes a bit more sense considering Chicago's current situation with Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22