NFC North: Darryl Drake
One of the staples of Super Bowl media day is press gatherings with national television analysts. Most of them are former players who come armed with strong opinions on the league and its trends, and their job is to share them in exchange for publicizing their network.
One of their primary topics Tuesday, it seems, was the Detroit Lions. NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp continued his assault on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, calling him a "blind dog in a meat house" because of the way Sapp thinks Suh ignores run defense in search of the quarterback. Sapp said he watched Suh all season and said: "I never saw this dominant player that you guys are selling." He added that Suh hadn't reached out to him properly for advice. (More from Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.)
Meanwhile, Sapp merely laughed at the Lions' decision to add defensive line guru Jim Washburn to their staff, saying only that Washburn "leaves something to be desired" as a coach but refusing to elaborate. (More from Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.)
And finally, CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said the Lions have done a poor job of surrounding quarterback Matthew Stafford with weapons and balance. Esiason, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "He’s got no running game, he's got Ndamukong Suh running all over the place up there, they bring in convicts. ..."
Yikes. The Lions were 4-12 last season amid some dramatic headlines, making them easy targets for national criticism. Some of the language used Tuesday was inflammatory, of course, and none of the sentiments were new. But the substance of most of the criticism has merit, and it goes along with a high-profile collapse from a playoff season.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Former Chicago Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake isn't sure why Devin Hester has yet to establish himself as a receiver, Drake said in an ESPN 1000 interview.
- The Bears added Brendan Nugent and Carson Walch to their staff as quality-control coaches, notes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune checks in with former Bears special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo at the Super Bowl.
- Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on his ESPN 540 radio show that it has been "a pleasure" playing with receiver Donald Driver, who is not expected to return to the team next season and might retire.
- There is little reason to think that Driver will play anywhere in 2013, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- It's time for the Packers to add a mean streak, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com grades the Minnesota Vikings' special teams, coaching and personnel for 2012.
- The rise of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began with a long run against the Vikings in the preseason, writes Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
General manager Phil Emery hinted at the new approach shortly after the draft. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice and receivers coach Darryl Drake offered some morsels to reporters during last weekend's rookie minicamp, and all that's left now is to see if it actually works.
Part of me wants to roll my eyes and cringe, as we did recently on the blog, as the Bears once again refuse to accept what Hester is and isn't -- at least what he hasn't been yet. They remain unsatisfied with him simply being the best kick returner in NFL history. And another part thinks this attempt could prove to be the most productive balance the Bears have tried yet.
Drake might have best explained the plan last weekend by suggesting the "Hester Package" will limit snaps but elevate targets to make more efficient use of Hester's time on offense.
"The talent has always been there," Drake told reporters. "It's just a matter of not having him play 70 plays and throw to him twice. Play him 15 [plays], let him touch it 13 [times.] In order for him to be effective, we don't need to have him out there playing that many plays. If he's out there, put the ball in his hands. We need to have that package, and Mike Tice -- I promise you -- he's going to do it."
On the surface, it makes sense. Hester's combination of speed and open-field running ability is rare and awfully tempting to expand on. And when you look at the chart, you see what happens when a team doesn't have or utilize the speed to stretch a defense vertically. The 2011 Bears, for instance, had one of the least efficient short passing games in the NFL last season.
But running a full game's worth of pass routes probably takes the edge off Hester's energy in the return game. There is reason to think he could have a similar impact in 15 plays designed to involve him than he could in 70 plays that spread the ball around the field.
That appears to be the starting point for a tweak that appears to have emanated from, or at least endorsed by, Emery himself.
"I want to make sure that we have a special plan for Devin," Emery said last month. "We have the 'Devin Package' -- packages of plays as a receiver. You never know where he's going to line up. I don't want to get too far ahead of that in terms of letting other people know what we're going to do with him, but he will have a package of plays that we feel can bring out his dynamic ability to the forefront and if not only as carrying or catching the ball, but sometimes that's a decoy.
"Devin's speed vertically is something that has to be accounted for. So if that pulls people from coverage, to handle that vertical ball, you've got other people; we've got some awfully big targets to hit."
On the other hand, of course, it's not as easy as it sounds. You better believe that opposing defenses will notice when Hester is on the field, especially now that the Bears have announced they want to get him the ball often in the relatively brief period of time he plays offense. I don't think it will make teams leave, say, Brandon Marshall wide open to account for Hester, but his appearance isn't going to surprise anyone, either.
The "Hester Package" has already conjured comparisons to the "Randy Ratio" that Tice used after taking over the Minnesota Vikings' head coaching job in 2002. As you might recall, a study of the Vikings' 2001 season showed they won every game they targeted receiver Randy Moss on at least 40 percent of their throws. Tice announced he would make that goal a centerpiece of his offense.
The "Randy Ratio" wasn't a schematic adjustment as much as it was Tice's attempt to cajole the notoriously anti-authoritarian receiver to buy in as a team leader. It backfired on a number of fronts, and Tice himself acknowledged over the weekend that it "came back to bite me in the [rear end]."
Turning serious, Tice said: "Devin is going to be on the field. If he's not on the field, then they should fire me."
That final line speaks to the extent the Bears have prioritized Hester's potential contribution. You know the old saying: If at first you don't succeed, try try again.
On Tuesday, we downplayed the individual impact of three incidents Detroit Lions players have had with marijuana in the past three months. They are mostly misdemeanors and aren't likely to have lasting consequences from a legal perspective. If anything, they seem more significant when bunched together as a reflection of the organization.
Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press takes a different tack, writing the Lions should release defensive tackle Nick Fairley and running back Mikel Leshoure. They don't need "another ticking time bomb," Sharp writes. He adds: "Just because marijuana usage is perceived as more casual than other drugs doesn't mean the punitive measures should be equally nonchalant."
The timing of these incidents, which also include offensive lineman Johnny Culbreath, suggests the Lions will have to create a more effective internal deterrent. But parting ways with these players would be an awfully harsh, and probably unrealistic, punishment. I think Sharp was trying to snap people out of downplaying the significance of NFL players using marijuana, and the message was heard.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "The arrests have put a cloud over what has been a mostly optimistic and promising offseason for the Lions."
- Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher wants to finish his career with the team, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- The Bears were happy to see the "GSH" on their jerseys be restored to its original size in the Nike uniform change, chairman George McCaskey told the Sun-Times.
- Bears general manager Phil Emery, coach Lovie Smith and receivers coach Darryl Drake were all at Notre Dame's pro day on Tuesday to see receiver Michael Floyd. Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has more.
- An exact date for a meeting between the Green Bay Packers and safety Nick Collins has not been set, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It is expected sometime next week.
- Packers tight end Jermichael Finley likes the gloves he can wear as part of the new Nike uniform, reveals Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports.
- Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com wonders if the Minnesota Vikings have put coach Leslie Frazier in a spot to fail, and risk being fired, in 2012. Their offseason hasn't exactly given them a personnel jump that would allow them to improve dramatically off a 3-13 performance.
- The Vikings haven't been their usual selves off the field lately, writes Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune.
- Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has started running during his knee rehabilitation, notes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The Vikings are hosting all of their 30 draft-eligible visits this week, notes Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com has the details.
Kendall Wright has been considered one of the fastest receivers available in the draft and a likely first-round pick. He ran a relatively slow 4.61 at the NFL scouting combine in February, but on Wednesday he improved that time to 4.43 seconds.
The Bears' need for receiver help seems less acute after the acquisition of Brandon Marshall, but it's doubtful the Bears would send their receivers coach to Waco, Texas, if they weren't genuinely interested in learning more about Wright. They have the No. 19 overall pick in the first round, which might be high for Wright, but that doesn't mean they won't have an opportunity to trade into a later position to draft him.
Here's something that might catch you by surprise: Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson is on an extraordinarily productive run dating back to Week 16 of last season.
As Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes, Nelson has caught 34 passes for 610 yards and five touchdowns over the Packers' past eight games, including the playoffs. Greg Jennings is the only receiver who has caught more passes for more yards over that span, but Nelson has him beat by a touchdown.
Consider this development another example of where the Packers' purported starting lineup doesn't necessarily correlate to playing time or production. Already, backup tailback James Starks is getting substantially more playing time than starter Ryan Grant. And by the numbers, at least, Nelson is the Packers' No. 2 receiver next to Jennings.
Nelson isn't getting more playing time than other receivers; according to Dunne, he was on the field for 33 of 58 plays last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. But he is capitalizing on the opportunities he does get, and opposing defenses would be well advised to catch on.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Packers are hoping punter Tim Masthay finds a rhythm soon, writes Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The Packers are upset about a roughing-the-passer call against linebacker Desmond Bishop in last Sunday's game, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Chicago Bears might start Craig Steltz and Brandon Meriweather at safety Sunday against the Packers, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake believes his group gets enough separation to merit throws, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- It appears receiver Roy Williams (groin) is on track to play Sunday, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
- Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas isn't a big fan of playing at the Metrodome, writes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
- Sunday will be receiver Nate Burleson's first return to the Metrodome since he departed the Minnesota Vikings after the 2005 season, notes the Detroit Free Press.
- The Lions are preparing to deal with the return of Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson still has a big salary cap number under his new contract, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
- The city of Minneapolis is claiming about $30 million in proceeds if the Metrodome is sold, according to the Star Tribune.
- The Vikings' pass defense hasn't been the same since safety Darren Sharper left after the 2007 season, writes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
On Wednesday, we discussed in several installments the future of Green Bay Packers tailback Ryan Grant. Let's consider the (presumable) final word on the topic.
Although Grant agreed to a $1 million reduction in his base salary, the remaining $2.5 million is fully guaranteed, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That means the Packers would owe Grant the entire $2.5 million if they release him, and any team that acquires him in a trade would be inheriting the same $2.5 million guarantee.
That fact, on top of the previous knowledge that the Packers have already paid Grant a $1 million-plus roster bonus, makes it less likely from a financial perspective that the Packers will enter the season without him. There is nothing precluding them from doing so, but generally it's not good business to part ways with a player whose salary you've just guaranteed.
As we discussed Wednesday, it would still require a perfect storm of circumstances for this all to make sense. Moving on ...
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks at the Packers' roster to see who is a lock and who is on the bubble. Interesting bubble names include tight end Andrew Quarless and safety Charlie Peprah.
- The Packers are looking for special-teams contributions from their young receivers, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Chicago Bears are planning no personnel changes on their offensive line, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com. Offensive line coach Mike Tice: "We had some guys get better across the board. I think each one of the guys got better at some thing, some guys got better at multiple things. Mental errors were at a minimum and they played hard. We played with good technique, for the most part, so it was a good stepping stone for us. But we've got a long way to go still."
- Bears wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher has a pretty big booster in quarterback Jay Cutler. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune explains.
- Here's what Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake had to say about receiver Roy Williams, via Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: "He's not where he needs to be, and he knows that. He and I have talked about that -- and the good thing is, you've got Johnny Knox, who's fighting and working hard. And believe you me, Roy understands Johnny's there. Johnny's hungry, and Johnny wants his spot back. If things don't start changing, then Johnny's going to be in there. That's straight from the horse's mouth."
- Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe had a mild setback on his return from a hamstring injury and won't play in the team's preseason game this weekend, according to Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune. That means Shiancoe is likely to miss the entire preseason assuming coach Leslie Frazier doesn't play many starters in the final week.
- Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson appears to have won a starting job by default, notes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
- Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press speaks with Vikings rookie defensive tackle Christian Ballard, who has made an impression this summer.
- Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News on Detroit Lions tight end Will Heller: "Entering his 10th season in the league, Heller is certainly that, playing all of the above positions for the Lions. His primary position remains tight end, but he's also playing the 'H' back when offensive coordinator Scott Linehan chooses to go to a two-back set. In those sets, Heller can either be a fullback, a pass protector or receiver."
- Lions rookie receiver Titus Young is still recovering from a hamstring injury but made a nice catch in practice Wednesday, notes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- All three of the linebackers who started in Week 1 last year for the Lions last season are out of the league, notes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Rookie receiver/kick returner Randall Cobb has been the talk of Green Bay Packers training camp. But will he disappear from the public spotlight during the walk-up to the regular season? An unusual injury has called his immediate availability into question, notes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Cobb apparently suffered contusions on both knees during a kickoff return during last weekend's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. He has not practiced since, is walking somewhat gingerly and can't say for sure that he will play in the Sept. 8 season opener against the New Orleans Saints.
These types of injuries are why teams build depth, and the Packers at this point are more than prepared to absorb it. Rookie Alex Green could return kickoffs while Jordy Nelson and Chastin West are candidates to return punts. And if anything, they have a surplus of receivers to use on offense at this point.
Obviously everyone wants to see a dynamic playmaker on the field right away. But it's not yet clear if that will happen for Cobb.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Packers had an unusual fight Tuesday in practice, notes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Two offensive linemen, Marshall Newhouse and Nick McDonald, had to be separated by teammates and coaches at the end of a team drill.
- The Packers' young offensive linemen need more time to develop, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune is starting to wonder if Chicago Bears receiver Roy Williams is going to make the impact the team has hoped for. Pompei: "Williams has pedigree, having been the seventh pick of the 2004 draft. He has history with [offensive coordinator Mike] Martz on the Lions and with receivers coach Darryl Drake at Texas. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he has the size that causes matchup problems. What he does not have is evidence, at 29, that he is a dynamic receiver."
- Williams isn't in good enough shape, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- The Bears should be happy about the way their offensive line played Monday night against the New York Giants, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
- The Detroit Lions sold out Saturday's preseason game against the New England Patriots, notes the Detroit News.
- The Lions have been practicing this week with a number of important veterans on the sideline, including defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder) and running back Jahvid Best (concussion). Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com has the complete list.
- Maurice Stovall is trying to make the Lions' roster as a receiver/special-teams ace, notes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- It will be good for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to get a hit a few times this weekend by the Patriots, writes Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press.
- Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has brought stability to the franchise, writes Judd Zulgad, who is now with 1500ESPN.com.
- Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on that topic: "Apparently, there is something to be said for tranquility."
- Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion is turning some heads in Vikings training camp, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
Detroit Lions: Long-snapper Don Muhlbach’s concussion forced the Lions to sign free agent long snapper Nathan Hodel. The Lions also claimed guard Roy Schuening off waivers from Oakland. They released fullback Terrelle Smith and tight end Dan Gronkowski to make room on the roster. Safety Louis Delmas (ankle), receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) and quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) were among those who did not practice.
Green Bay Packers: Linebacker Nick Barnett (knee) returned to practice. Cornerback Brandon Underwood (hip) missed practice for the second consecutive day.
Minnesota Vikings: Receiver Percy Harvin (migraines) missed another day of practice, making it more difficult to imagine he will be available for Sunday night’s game against Carolina. Receiver Sidney Rice (illness) did not practice because of an illness.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
CHICAGO -- Yes. You read that dateline correctly. I’ve arrived in the (mildly, at least today) Windy City to kick off our Week 4 FourFecta of NFC North coverage.
I’ll be heading down to Soldier Field in a few hours to take in Bears-Lions, and then I’ll be in Minnesota on Monday night for Packers-Vikings. I don’t know about you, but I’m pumped. What a great weekend for anyone in Black or Blue.
Forecasters are expecting a nice fall day by Lake Michigan, where we will have partly sunny skies and a high near 60 degrees. For now, let’s take our morning spin around the NFC North:
- Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake is getting rave reviews for his work with the Bears’ young group, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- The Bears believe they are close to ironing out their struggles on the offensive line, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- There are many parallels between Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- Next up for the streak-busting Lions: They have a 13-game losing streak on the road, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Ted Thompson’s “worst nightmare has come to pass,” writes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- The screen pass has “fallen into disuse and disrepair” under Packers coach Mike McCarthy, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee runs through the Packers' injury list, suggesting defensive end Johnny Jolly will play Monday night and defensive lineman B.J. Raji is a likely participant.
- Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at the matchup between Vikings defensive end Jared Allen and Packers left tackle Daryn Colledge.
- Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams has assumed ownership of the rocking chair that once sat in front of quarterback Brett Favre’s locker, notes Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Chicago remains abuzz about the Bears' prospects for adding a veteran receiver to go along with new quarterback Jay Cutler.
Coach Lovie Smith didn't rule out the possibility of pursuing Torry Holt or Plaxico Burress, although the agent for Holt recently told Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times that he doubted Holt will visit the Bears. Holt played for St. Louis when Smith was the Rams' defensive coordinator, and Smith told reporters Tuesday that Holt is a "great player, great guy." His comments on Burress were less expansive, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
Smith: "Would we like to get another receiver? Possibly. As for how we'll get it, free agency or the draft, we really don't know."
The Tribune's David Haugh suggests the Bears back off any interest in Burress: "Burress coming to town would be bad for everybody around here, except possibly bail bondsmen."
The Bears continue to seem more likely to pursue a receiver in the draft. According to the Sun-Times, receivers coach Darryl Drake put Oklahoma receiver Juaquin Iglesias through a private workout Tuesday. Drake is scheduled to work out Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi on Wednesday. Both players are candidates for the Bears' second-round selection.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette names defensive end as the Packers' greatest position of need: "'Desperate' is not too strong a word to use when describing this position."
- Tight end Tory Humphrey's one-year contract with the Packers is worth $460,000, according to the Press-Gazette's Rob Demovsky.
- Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson reiterated he wants to gain 12 pounds during the Vikings' offseason strength and conditioning program, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Peterson: "God willing [I will get to] 225, 230 just to see how it feels. Before the season starts I look forward to having my weight up so I will be able to see how it is when I run and cut and do different things like that."
- Detroit is scheduled to host Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin, according to Scout.com via John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Lions safety Gerald Alexander, who suffered a fractured vertebra last season, is on the mend. Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press has the story.