NFC North: Derrick Williams

Detroit Lions cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
8:23
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Check here for a complete list of the Detroit Lions' roster moves.

Surprise move: I don't know if it qualified as a surprise, but it was sure jarring to hear earlier Saturday that veteran punter Nick Harris was ousted. Harris has been the Lions' punter since 2003 and hadn't appeared to be in decline. But rookie Ryan Donahue is 10 years younger than Harris and had an equally strong training camp. Age doesn't always apply to punters as it does to players at other positions, but the Lions must believe Donahue can be their punter for years to come. Meanwhile, the Lions activated cornerback Alphonso Smith from the non-football injury list, meaning they believe he will be ready to play before the sixth week of the season.

No-brainers: You don't always see a six-year veteran as a team's No. 6 receiver, but Maurice Stovall proved he will be a valuable special teams player as well as a possible red zone threat. He beat out 2009 third-round draft pick Derrick Williams, whose potential never materialized and who was still dropping passes with regularity during the preseason. In training camp, it was clear that veteran Nate Vasher was behind younger cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald. Both Berry and McDonald remain on the roster. Vasher was cut.

What's next: Lions general manager Martin Mayhew is usually good for a couple of trades and veteran acquisitions during Labor Day weekend. You wonder if the Lions want to fortify their running back depth, which currently includes little-used Aaron Brown and an injured Maurice Morris. Chester Taylor is a Detroit-area native. Just saying.
Reviewing the NFC North’s first game of the 2011 preseason:

Detroit Lions 34, Cincinnati Bengals 3

Preseason record: 1-0

Of interest: The Lions’ first-team offense was done for the night before the first-team defense saw the field. Matthew Stafford's back-shoulder touchdown pass to receiver Calvin Johnson illustrated the connection they now have. Newcomer Rashied Davis made an immediate impact, recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. I loved coach Jim Schwartz’s guilty expression for challenging a play that ultimately got receiver Nate Burleson credit for a 7-yard touchdown pass. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh helped force Chris Houston's interception by slamming into quarterback Andy Dalton on the Bengals' first offensive play. Suh’s personal foul on the subsequent hit wasn’t as bad as the helmet-ripping stunt he pulled against Cleveland’s Jake Delhomme last year, but it will be hard to avoid a penalty when the quarterback’s helmet comes off. The Bengals’ only scoring drive included 30 yards of Lions penalties. Anyone else get a lump in his throat when quarterback Shaun Hill pointed to the sky after his flip over the goal line? Hill’s father died this offseason after falling off a roof he and Hill were repairing. Overall, a strong first-week performance for the Lions. No turnovers. No pressure on Stafford, whose only incompletion in seven attempts was a dropped pass. Johnson’s bruised left shoulder, suffered on the touchdown catch, is believed to be mild.

Local coverage: All but one of Stafford’s passes came from the shotgun, ensuring his protection, notes Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press. Suh didn’t speak to reporters, but of his penalty, Schwartz said, "He's trying his very best. But that's one of those situations where you have to know that the ball is gone. We kept a couple of drives alive with penalties and we have to do a better job of that, but we don't want to slow the guy down." (Via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.) Schwartz didn’t seem too upset about the penalty, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. Receiver Derrick Williams, fighting for a roster spot, dropped the first two passes thrown his way but rebounded later for a 32-yard reception, notes Tim Twentyman of the News. The only thing Stafford didn’t do was take a hit, writes Bob Wojnowski of the News. The Lions’ only downer was their running game, notes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Jerome Harrison was first off the bench to replace starter Jahvid Best but managed eight yards on eight carries.

Next: Friday at the Cleveland Browns

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- I spent three days with the Detroit Lions in training camp last summer. Never once did I see linebacker DeAndre Levy or safety Louis Delmas, both of whom were rehabilitating injuries and wound up missing a big chunk of the preseason.

So even as the Lions have dealt with a number of high-profile injuries this summer, it's worth nothing that Levy and Delmas have provided a constant and reliable presence. Levy hasn't missed a practice since camp began July 29, and Delmas has missed only three because he needed a screw removed from a finger to complete a prior surgery.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Louis Delmas and DeAndre Levy
Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIRELouis Delmas (26) and DeAndre Levy (54) have been on the field making plays this training camp. "Our defense is so much better for that," coach Jim Schwartz said.
"Our defense is so much better for that," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Delmas, Levy, those guys that control a lot of the action, have been out there and going. That's so important."

Levy's health has been particularly important because it's given the Lions an opportunity to experiment with their three likely starters in various roles. During my time here, Stephen Tulloch has lined up in the middle with Levy and Justin Durant on the outside, but Schwartz suggested that Tulloch will see some time on the outside during the preseason with Levy kicked back inside.

"We want to let those guys go out and see what they can do," Schwartz said. "They'll probably play different positions in the preseason games. Probably by the third preseason game, we'll sort of settle on what we feel is the best combination for us and best for the defense."

Levy has played every linebacker position in his brief career. It has always been assumed he would settle in the middle, but quite frankly, Tulloch might well prove to be the Lions' best middle linebacker. If that's the case, Levy's multidimensional skills will come in handy.

This conversation would have been moot had Levy not been on the field, but Wednesday he said: "I feel good, and it's going to be nice to go into a season at over 70 percent healthy for a change."

A few thoughts on the Lions' practice Wednesday afternoon, which they conducted in shoulder pads and shorts:

  • Receiver Calvin Johnson was sidelined with a mild ankle injury and rookie Titus Young (hamstring) wasn't even on the field. So I got a good look at the Lions' receiver depth. Many of you have been asking about 6-foot-6 rookie Demario Ballard, but I have to say that another big receiver jumped out to me. Veteran Maurice Stovall made two catches in the back of the end zone during a red-zone drill. At 6-foot-5, Stovall is a bigger dude that I thought he was.
  • Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan singled out another receiver, Derrick Williams, as someone who has caught his eye during camp. "He's played every position for us," Linehan said. "He's jumped in when Calvin has been out. He's jumped in when Nate [Burleson] has been out. He's played the 'X' because Titus hasn't been able to go. ... That's been very important."
  • I spoke with both Linehan and quarterback Matthew Stafford about their third year together, and I'll expand on the topic in a future post. I'll wet your appetite with this: In his third season under Linehan in Minnesota, quarterback Daunte Culpepper had the best season of his career. Culpepper threw for 4,717 yards, 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. I would argue the Lions' offensive personnel this season rivals what Culpepper had to work with that season.
  • Former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher has attended the past two days of practice wearing Lions gear. No, he hasn't been hired as a consultant. Fisher was in Detroit because Schwartz was his protégé with the Titans and his son, Brandon, is an assistant this summer on Schwartz's staff. "Obviously, [Schwartz] took over a challenging situation," Fisher said. "To see them come on like they did last year despite the injuries was quite impressive. The guy's clearly got his stamp on this team."
  • I'll be back at Lions practice in the morning, and my formal Camp Confidential has been slotted to post Monday.

BBAO: Lions WR Titus Young idled

August, 8, 2011
8/08/11
8:50
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

As training camp practices resume Monday morning around the NFC North, it's worth noting that one of the new players who excited many of us this offseason hasn't seen much action to date.

Detroit Lions receiver Titus Young suffered a leg injury in the team's first practice July 29 and hasn't been back on the field since. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press has the details. Young entered camp with a strong chance to win the Lions' No. 3 receiver's job, and that could still happen once he returns to the field. But to this point, Young hasn't been able to escape the Lions' injury list.

As we discussed in May, the Lions hope Young will be able to stretch the field in a way that veteran Bryant Johnson was not. It's hard to get too worried about an injury before the preseason begins, however. Let's see if Young can get back on the field this week.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Thursday evening, we noted the debut of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb and left tackle Charlie Johnson. But from the sounds of it, the player who put on the most eye-catching first-practice display Thursday was Chicago Bears running back Marion Barber.

Barber put on a physical display of running over some defenders, including defensive lineman Vernon Gholston, and stiff-arming others during full-contact running drills, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. At one point, coach Lovie Smith chuckled to himself as Barber obviously raised the intensity of practice.

You continue to wonder if the Bears plan to enter the regular season with three veteran running backs or if it is just a matter of time before they part ways with erstwhile No. 2 back Chester Taylor.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli on Gholston, via Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Vernon's got great speed. He's really put together. Sometimes, for a guy that's played down a little bit more and then he's moved back, sometimes your instincts may possibly get taken away a little bit. But we're going to get him down on the ground, put his hand down there, and just rep him -- over and over and over. Because I know he's got speed, and we've just got to work with him."
  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler via Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com: "It's Year 2 [in offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system], it's completely different. It's night and day. I feel a lot more comfortable with the reads and where I'm going with the ball. So it's just a matter of getting the offensive line worked out and getting me and the receivers' timing. We're kind of playing catch up. We don't really have a lot of time with no OTAs and just getting these guys after six practices. We've got to make it happen pretty quickly."
  • Green Bay Packers tight ends coach Bob McAdoo has no problem with tight end Jermichael Finley's lean 240-pound frame, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Packers cornerback Davon House is making an early impression in camp, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac on the return of defensive end Mike Neal, via Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "I don't want to make any predictions for him. But we're counting on him. We really need him to come through for us."
  • The Detroit Lions have taken a wait-and-see approach to defensive end Cliff Avril's contract situation, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • New Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch thinks he'll eventually be moved to the middle, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • Receiver Derrick Williams will have a tough time making the Lions roster, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Johnson, the Vikings' new left tackle, admitted his first practice was "ugly." Mark Craig of the Star Tribune has more.
  • Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian will be a free agent after this season following a restructuring of his contract, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Some Arden Hills, Minn., residents expressed concern about the Vikings' new stadium plan at an open house Thursday night, writes Miles Trump of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Scramble '11: Day 1 thoughts

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
9:57
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I'm continuing to get my head around the Minnesota Vikings' reported pursuit of quarterback Donovan McNabb, which to this point qualifies as the biggest NFC North development on Day 1 of the 2011 free-agent market. We've also discussed issues from Matthew Stafford's swagger to Aaron Rodgers' free-agent wish list, and I'm sure there will be much more to come.

McNabb
McNabb
For now, let's review in rapid-fire fashion a number of other developments that merit comment but maybe not their own blog post:

Item: Former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson agreed to terms with the Seattle Seahawks, where he will reunite with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Comment: Someone in the Seahawks' building clearly wants someone else to win the starting job, be it Charlie Whitehurst or Matt Leinart. As much as I respect Jackson as a person, I don't see him as an NFL starter -- and neither do many other people in the league.

Item: The Vikings agreed to terms receiver Devin Aromashodu, formerly of the Chicago Bears, to a one-year contract.
Comment: Aromashodu isn't a possible replacement for Sidney Rice or even Bernard Berrian, should he be released. Aromashodu remains an intriguing big target who had a career game against the Vikings in 2009, catching seven passes for 150 yards and a game-winning touchdown. Opponents don't forget games like that.

Item: Free agent receiver Santana Moss agreed to terms with the Washington Redskins.
Comment: Send your condolences to Bears receiver Devin Hester, who publicly lobbied the team to sign Moss.

Item: The Bears have interest in free-agent receiver Brad Smith, according to a report by ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright.
Comment: Smith offers a bigger look than the rest of the Bears' receivers and could also return kickoffs following the expected departure of Danieal Manning. Bring him on.

Item: The Bears want free-agent linebacker Nick Roach to return as a backup, according to a report by ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson.
Comment: That means the Bears still need a starter at strong-side linebacker. They are interested in Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Justin Durant, according to a ESPNChicago.com report.

Item: The Detroit Lions will release receiver Bryant Johnson, according to report by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Comment: It wouldn't have made sense to bring Johnson to training camp after drafting Titus Young as the likely No. 3 receiver. That gives a player many of you have asked about, Derrick Williams, a fighting chance to make the team as a No. 4 receiver.

Item: The Vikings have told defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy he won't return in 2011, according to Kennedy's Twitter feed.
Comment: Cross off another candidate to start at defensive tackle if free agent Pat Williams signs elsewhere and during Kevin Williams' expected four-game suspension.

Item: The Bears are the only NFC North team to release a list of undrafted free agents they have signed.
Comment: All 26 names are published over at ESPNChicago.com for your enjoyment.

Item: And today will be better than yesterday.
Comment: That's my friend Buster Olney's signature blog sign-off. I like it.

NFC North weekend mailbag

July, 23, 2011
7/23/11
8:00
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In a way, I was right.

Last week did provide us the final dark weekend of the NFL offseason. I realize we don't yet have labor peace and the lockout is still on. But players will soon vote on the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), possibly this weekend. And even if the delay continues, U2 is playing a certain NFC North city Saturday night. Ah yes, it will be a beautiful day. See you there.

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town
You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you're not moving anywhere
You thought you'd found a friend
To take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand
In return for grace
It's a beautiful day
Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away


Harass me through the mailbag, Twitter or Facebook.

I've gotten a surprising number of missives similar to this one from John of Bremerton, Wash.: Though I grew up in Wisconsin and am a Packers fan, I am now losing my interest in the NFL as a whole. In an economy as bad as it has ever been in my 54-year life, players and owners to me are just an illustration of greed. Throw in the agents, lawyers, used car salesman, Wall Street hedge fund guys, politicians -- GREED RULES and I am checking out. They all could care less about the fan. Well this fan no longer cares about any of them. I have enjoyed your column but will no longer be following the NFL.

Kevin Seifert: My general sense throughout this dispute has been that fans would easily move past it provided no regular season games were canceled. After all, it's the games that count -- for everyone. To me, only the most hard-core fans would feel lasting effects of a delay in free agency or the cancellation of minicamps and organized team activities.

But as John points out, there is another segment of fans who are simply turned off by owners and employees of a successful industry brawling over how to divide a $9 billion pie, even if they do it during the offseason. Some of you also find it repugnant that the NFL draws a percentage of its revenues from taxpayer-funded stadiums and believe that fact should mitigate the extent of their capitalism.

I know financial people will note that NFL business growth has slowed in recent years, a classic warning sign for realigning costs. You could find any number of economists who understand why owners locked out players. But some of you don't want to hear about it. I'm guessing the NFL is willing to sacrifice your patronage, in the short-term at least, with the knowledge that a much larger segment will come racing back as soon as the doors open with few questions asked.


Dustin of Dell Rapids, S.D., writes: With James Jones likely leaving via free agency, and Donald Driver growing older, will the Packers re-sign Jermichael Finley to a long term contract during/after this year? After Jones and Driver leave, if Finley is gone, our offense much less of an imposing force. Finley will likely be looking for some big money, but is he worth re-signing, even at a Vernon Davis size contract?

Kevin Seifert: Once again, I'm surprised at how many people are worried about this issue. Finley's contract does expire after the 2011 season, and Finley's wife tweeted this week that family members are already asking where Finley will play in 2012.

Despite Finley's enormous talent, longtime Packers beat writer Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel isn't convinced the Packers will re-sign him. A knee injury derailed Finley last season on the way to what appeared a breakout season, and the fact is he has yet to put together an elite-level 16-game season. The Packers have also invested heavily in a number of core players already, from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to receiver Greg Jennings to safety Nick Collins and cornerback Tramon Williams. Linebacker Clay Matthews will probably soon be up for an extension.

The 49ers signed Davis signed a six-year deal that included $23 million last September.

To me, Finley will answer this question himself by the type of 2011 season he produces. If he becomes the type of 16-game weapon many people believe he can be, it's going to be hard for the Packers to part ways with him.


Michael of Tallahassee, Fla., writes: How does the exemption(s) work that I'm hearing about regarding the salary cap? Specifically is this something that will be a permanent part of the upcoming labor agreement or is it a temporary thing to benefit the teams who are currently over the proposed salary cap and will go away in a couple of years.?

Kevin Seifert: For something like this, it's best to consult with former Packers contract negotiator Andrew Brandt, who is now an analyst for ESPN and the National Football Post. This year, writes Brandt, teams can reduce one player's cap charge by $3 million. So, in essence, the cap will be $120 million plus a $3 million exception, or $123 million. In 2012, the exception will be $1.5 million, but the exception is not built in to every year of the proposed CBA.


Zayne of Houston writes: What do you think of the chances that Clinton Portis comes to the Vikings? He is widely known as the best blocking RB in the league and the Vikings could definitely use him on third down with a rookie QB for protection and a safety gauge much like they used to use Chester Taylor.

Kevin Seifert: I suppose anything is possible, especially with a new coaching staff that surely has different ideas than its predecessor. And it's true, the Vikings first tried to sign LaDainian Tomlinson as a third-down back last season before drafting rookie Toby Gerhart.

But like Tomlinson, I don't think Portis would consider the Vikings his top option. As long as Adrian Peterson stays healthy, the No. 2 back in Minnesota won't play a lot. I'm not sure if the Vikings want a veteran backup for him, and I really don't think Portis would prefer to sign there if he had options.


Wayne of Lake Worth, Fla., writes: Receiver Derrick Williams of the Detroit Lions...In or Out?

Kevin Seifert: With Stefan Logan as a kickoff/punt returner, and rookie Titus Young expected to serve as the No. 3 receiver, the best Williams could do is the No. 4 receiver. He's had two years in that role. I wonder if the Lions' patience has run out.


Anton of Lowell, Ark., saw last week's discussion of the Bears' aging defense and wrote: Can you detail the Bears' talent pool of up and coming players on defense? It seems like they have failed to develop new draft picks (ala Lance Briggs) lately, and I'm scared we'll be seriously hurting once the 2000-04 guys are out the door. Can you shed any positive light on recent draft picks? Is our player development seriously lacking? If so, what can we attribute our recent dry spell to? Why have our new guys on D not taken the next step (Nick Roach, Corey Graham, Zack Bowman)?

Kevin Seifert: The Bears don't have much patience with their cornerbacks. I will say that. We've seen some really good play from Graham and Bowman in the past two years, but both got pushed deep down the depth chart after a couple of poor games. I especially wouldn't rule out the possibility of Bowman re-emerging as a starting-quality player, but it'll take an exceptional training camp to win back the Bears' trust.

One young player I really like is nickel back D.J. Moore, who had four interceptions, eight pass breakups and one touchdown last season. He seems to have a knack for the ball and understands pass coverage. Of course, we were saying the same about Bowman last year at this time. But if you're looking for some hope among the Bears' younger veterans, Moore is a worthy candidate.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Hello there. In a master stroke of scheduling, I wrapped up my time away Thursday and am popping back on the blog on Friday. It'll take me some time to catch up and find out what people are mad at me for -- apparently my ballot in ESPN.com's latest Power Rankings didn't go over well -- but let's start back into routine right away.

We'll start with a pair of stories on new Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey, who has taken over the job from older brother Michael McCaskey. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune chronicles McCaskey's hard-working personality and reverence for the Bears' past. Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times describes McCaskey's everyman attitude and notes he drives a Honda Accord.
McCaskey, via Biggs: "Life is different. The game is evolving. The business is evolving. You can't be tied in to that kind of analysis. But it can be helpful. One of the things we talk about ... 'What would Dad have done? What would Grandpa have done?' I think if you had the opportunity to ask them, (they would say), 'Do the right thing.' "

You might not be interested in the life history of the latest McCaskey to run the Bears, but you should. Over time, an NFL franchise takes on the personality and vision (or lack thereof) of its owner. Future front office and coaching hires, financial decisions and franchise philosophy all flow from the top.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Bears safety Chris Harris doesn't believe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's assertion that ticket prices could decline after the lockout, notes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • During a visit to Miller Park, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said: "At some point, if this lockout persists, then there is no doubt we're going to get together." Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has more.
  • The family of former Packers coach Vince Lombardi insists that his grave site has never been in a state of disrepair, it said in a letter to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Detroit Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch on the latest set of players-only workouts, which end Friday, via Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com: "You're not going to make a ton of progress and I don't know if the things we did this week and the things we did last month are going to have a direct effect on our wins and losses, but it doesn't hurt. And it shows the commitment of our guys. Like I said, I couldn't be happier with where the players are at right now.''
  • Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing the dual role of coach/quarterback during these practices, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
  • Lions receivers Derrick Williams and Bryant Johnson will compete for one roster spot, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin is planning to work with new quarterback Christian Ponder in the near future, Harvin said in a television interview via Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.

BBAO: Packers revenue steady

May, 31, 2011
5/31/11
7:10
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

I hope everyone had an enjoyable and meaningful holiday weekend. Now let's get back to work.

In explaining why the Green Bay Packers haven't yet instituted pay cuts during the lockout, president/CEO Mark Murphy made an interesting revelation: The franchise's revenue hasn't yet fallen off. Here's what Murphy told Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette:
"Each team has to make their own decisions, and some teams have been affected already. We're very fortunate I think with the type of fans we have and the success we had last year. We haven't seen a drop-off in ticket revenue or premium seats, where some of the other teams in the league, they've already seen losses in revenue."

The Packers have seen a small reversal in corporate sponsorships, as Murphy suggested they might earlier this spring, but to this point Packers fans haven't reacted to the lockout in a negative way with respect to their wallets. We've extensively discussed the idea of paying for season tickets during a lockout when no games are guaranteed, but it's clear that the alternative -- giving up and heading to the back of a long waiting list -- isn't a realistic option for many.

To this point, at least, that decision has saved jobs and maintained payrolls within the Packers organization.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
12:00
PM ET
» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Chicago Bears

Best choice: My initial thought was to nominate receiver Johnny Knox, a fifth-round pick two years ago out of Division-II Abilene Christian. Knox has 96 receptions in two seasons and is as close to a No. 1 receiver as the Bears have. But the 2006 decision to draft kick returner Devin Hester in the second round was inspired. Hester has changed the game and has become one of the best returners in the history of football. He has also made steady improvement as a receiver after converting from cornerback. Hester it is.

Worst choice: The Bears made Central Michigan defensive end Dan Bazuin a second-round pick in 2007. He was taken No. 62 overall but never played a regular-season down for the team. A left knee injury ended his rookie season and a second operation on the knee led to his release in the summer of 2008. I'm not sure if the Bears could have projected the knee problems, but bidding farewell to a second-round pick after one year is problematic.

On the bubble: Chris Williams, drafted as the left tackle of the future in 2008, missed almost half of his rookie season because of a back injury and has started at three different positions in the ensuing two years. As of today, the Bears aren't saying where he will play in 2011. The position changes could merit credit for flexibility, or they could be grounds for criticism because the Bears haven't been able to lock him down at left tackle as they have hoped.

Detroit Lions

Best choice: If you had the option between a pass-rushing, playmaking defensive tackle and a freakishly skilled receiver, which would you take? I would go with the former, which is why I'm making defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh my top Lions choice over the past five years. Receiver Calvin Johnson is an elite player, but to me, Suh plays a more important position. I realize Suh wasn't exactly a surprise pick at No. 2 overall in 2010, but it's rare that a player taken at that spot lives up to the hype so quickly.

Worst choice: This discussion is limited to the past five years, so we can't nominate receiver Mike Williams (2005). Many of the Lions' now-discarded draft picks were selected with former coach Rod Marinelli's Tampa 2 defensive scheme in mind, so it's not surprising they would no longer be around. There is no smoking gun in this time period, so I'll go with receiver Derrick Williams, a third-round pick in 2009 who has failed as both a No. 3 receiver and a kick returner.

On the bubble: Quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, has missed more games (19) than he's played (13) in the past two years. His three-game appearance in 2010 suggested improvement over his 20-interception rookie season, but like any player, Stafford must find a way to stay on the field or he will be a bust.

Green Bay Packers

Best choice: Trading back into the first round in 2009 to select linebacker Clay Matthews was an inspired move. And tight end Jermichael Finley, you might recall, was a low third-round pick in 2008. But in this case, I have to go with finding one of the top receivers in the game at the bottom of the second round of the 2006 draft. Greg Jennings was the No. 52 overall pick that year and not exactly a household name after his Western Michigan career. But he was productive from the moment he arrived in Green Bay and earned a well-deserved Pro Bowl berth last season.

Worst choice: Tennessee defensive lineman Justin Harrell had a history of injuries when the Packers made him the No. 16 overall pick in 2007. Not coincidentally, injuries have prevented Harrell from establishing any sort of career. He has played in 14 games over four seasons, felled by back and knee ailments, among others. Because of the value of his draft position, Harrell gets the nod over Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, who bombed after the Packers took him in the second round in 2008.

On the bubble: The Packers don't have a player who fits neatly into this category, but on a relative scale I would go with guard Daryn Colledge, a second-round pick in 2006. Colledge has started all but three games over the past five years, making several position changes along the way, but the Packers never seem willing to commit to him for the long term. That trend continued last month, when they tendered him as a prospective restricted free agent but didn't seem interested (yet) in a multiyear contract. Is this the year they find someone to take over his left guard spot?

Minnesota Vikings

Best choice: Defensive end Ray Edwards has 29.5 sacks in his five-year career, including 16.5 in the past two season, some significant numbers for a player taken in the fourth round of the 2006 draft (No. 127 overall). But it's hard to get past the value the Vikings have gotten from receiver Percy Harvin, their first pick (No. 22 overall) in 2009. They put a substantial amount of pre-draft work into his background, and he has not been responsible for any off-field issue that has been publicized. In two seasons, moreover, Harvin has 131 receptions and has been a force as a kickoff returner as well. The Vikings didn't fully grasp Harvin's migraine history, but I'm not sure if many teams did at the time.

Worst choice: Safety Tyrell Johnson, whom the Vikings targeted and traded up to the No. 43 slot in 2008 to draft, has been a disappointment and is not guaranteed a starting job in 2011. But as far as impact on the organization, it's hard to look past the decision to trade into the second round of the 2006 draft and select quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. There is no doubt Jackson had some physical skills to get excited about. But ultimately, that decision -- along with former coach Brad Childress' faith in his future development -- set back the franchise and left it in desperation mode this spring.

On the bubble: Right tackle Phil Loadholt was the No. 54 overall pick in 2009 and has started 31 of a possible 32 games since. But is that because he deserves to be an established starter in the NFL, or was he simply the Vikings' best option? There are mixed opinions about Loadholt's performance over that stretch, and it's not clear if the Vikings' new coaching staff considers him an unquestioned starter moving forward.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
12:00
PM ET
» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Chicago Bears

It's no secret that the Bears patched together a serviceable offensive line last season, one born of trial, error and desperation. But with an entire offseason to prepare, they will need a better Week 1 plan. The Bears need help across the line, and you could make an argument for any of the five positions as their top need. Center Olin Kreutz could relieve the situation by re-signing when the free-agent market opens, but otherwise the Bears don't have a single position with an established starter. It's not clear where incumbents Frank Omiyale, Chris Williams, Roberto Garza or J'Marcus Webb will play in 2011. Meanwhile, the release of defensive tackle Tommie Harris highlighted the Bears' need for an upgraded interior pass rush. The Bears would benefit from a pass-rushing defensive tackle as well as some depth behind defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.

Detroit Lions

The Lions have only two experienced cornerbacks under contract, Nate Vasher and Alphonso Smith. They offered 2010 starter Chris Houston a contract tender, but he is likely to be made an unrestricted free agent when the market opens. The Lions would like him to return but the situation's uncertain. In either event, cornerback is the Lions' top need this offseason. Running a close second is outside linebacker after the Lions released one starter, Julian Peterson, and issued a qualifying tender for another, Zack Follett, whose 2010 neck injury could preclude his return. There has been some discussion about moving middle linebacker DeAndre Levy to the outside, but that probably would still leave the Lions in search of two new starters. Finally, the Lions want more production from their No. 3 receiver after Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams combined for 21 receptions last season. Good depth at tight end mitigates the urgency of this need, but the Lions are one injury away from a shortage at receiver.

Green Bay Packers

The Super Bowl XLV champions will get an internal boost at several positions from the 15 players who finished last season on injured reserve. As a result, this roster doesn't have many obvious shortcomings. But at the top of a short list is outside linebacker, where the Packers rotated three players opposite Clay Matthews last season. The Packers also must continue crafting their succession plan for longtime offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Last year's No. 1 pick, Bryan Bulaga, replaced Tauscher in Week 5. Bulaga could stay at right tackle, or he could ultimately take over for Clifton. In either case, the Packers eventually will need further reinforcements. The same is true at receiver, where veteran Donald Driver is 36 and No. 3/4 receiver James Jones could sign elsewhere as a free agent. Jordy Nelson remains under contract, but Driver's age and Jones' uncertain status make receiver a secondary area of need for the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings

As we've been discussing for months, the Vikings need to acquire at least one and perhaps two new quarterbacks. Their dream scenario is to draft one who is ready to start right away, but that might be difficult if they stay in the No. 12 overall slot. Short of that eventuality, the Vikings might be forced to draft a future starter and sign or trade for a short-term answer. The Vikings are also looking to replace two starters on their defensive line, left end Ray Edwards and nose tackle Pat Williams, and could have three starting positions in their secondary up for grabs. Only cornerback Antoine Winfield seems guaranteed of a starting spot. The receiver position could need an overhaul if they lose Sidney Rice to free agency and Bernard Berrian is ultimately released, as has been speculated.
Julius Peppers & Ndamukong SuhUS PresswireFeared pass rushers Julius Peppers and Ndamukong Suh will showcase their talents tonight.
Something has been missing from my life, and perhaps yours as well. Our extended postseason run and an unusual start to the offseason has delayed a follow-up I've been meaning to write for some time. So while we have a moment, let's finally restore order around here.

One of our primary themes for the 2010 season was the NFC North's response to its precedent-setting passing numbers in 2009. In a pre-training camp post, we suggested the division race would turn on the degree to which each team's pass defense could catch up to our passing offenses.

Would the Chicago Bears' acquisition of defensive end Julius Peppers pay off? How much better would the Detroit Lions' pass rush be with their retooled defensive line, one that now included a former Pro Bowl defensive end (Kyle Vanden Bosch) and the No. 2 overall pick of the draft (defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh)? Would the Minnesota Vikings sustain their historic passing efficiency of 2009 while improving their own pass defense? Could the Green Bay Packers straighten out the personnel shortage that led to an epic collapse in the wild-card playoffs?

Our theory: The most effective response would clinch the division and, perhaps more. And although there were a few exceptions here and there, the end result proved illuminating.


As the charts show, the Bears won the NFC North after making a 24-spot jump in the NFL's rankings for defensive passer rating. The Packers, who fielded the league's best pass defense and No. 3 passing offense based on quarterback rating, won Super Bowl XLV. The Vikings improved their pass defense, but the collapse of their passing offense was the single biggest factor in their 6-10 record. Finally, the Lions' progression in both categories mirrored their four-victory improvement from 2009.

Sorry, run-and-run-defense enthusiasts. Success in today's NFL requires efficient passing and pass defense. Passer rating isn't a perfect common evaluator, but I like it better than the NFL's traditional measure using total yards. And as Kerry Byrne of Football Facts points out, defensive passer rating is one of the most reliable indicators of championship-caliber teams.

"This game is made for offensive players, I think," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said recently. "The rules are, and all that kind of stuff."

In turn, any team that can take either special advantage of those rules and make headway against them on defense -- or both -- figures to be in the playoff conversation. So let's take this quiet moment in the NFL offseason to measure each NFC North team through the passing lens. Where are they and how can they improve?

Chicago Bears

Quarterback Jay Cutler threw 10 fewer interceptions in 2010 after getting assimilated into Mike Martz's offense, and the entire team figures to benefit from its familiarity with Martz's system. With that said, I see two pass-related areas the Bears should focus on this year: Pass protection and interior pass rush.

The Bears gave up an NFL-high 56 sacks last season, a figure that doesn't directly apply to passer rating but assuredly affects a quarterback's accuracy and decision-making over time. In a recent interview with the Bears' website, coach Lovie Smith noted "the number of hits Jay took this past season." On many levels, the Bears need to enter 2011 with a better Week 1 plan for their offensive line.

Meanwhile, the release of defensive tackle Tommie Harris reminds us the Bears don't have an established interior pass-rusher who has typically defined their defense. Matt Toeaina, who replaced Harris in the starting lineup last season, was credited with two sacks.

Detroit Lions

The Lions are hoping that Vanden Bosch returns at full strength following neck surgery. If so, their biggest pass-related need this offseason is continuing to rebuild their cornerback position. They did not re-sign starter Chris Houston before last week's deadline, but it's possible he could return to the team after testing the free-agent market. At the moment, however, the Lions have only two established cornerbacks under contract: Alphonso Smith and Nate Vasher.

Meanwhile, the Lions have acknowledged the need to improve at their No. 3 receiver position. Although they can mitigate this issue with the smart use of tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, the Lions' offense would take a substantial hit if either Calvin Johnson or Nate Burleson were forced from the lineup for an extended period. Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams combined for a substandard 21 receptions last season.

Green Bay Packers

Thompson will need to sort out his receiver depth in anticipation of James Jones' pending free agency. Jones said Monday he wants to be a starter, an indication that he will look to sign elsewhere when the market opens. The Packers could use Jordy Nelson as their unquestioned No. 3 receiver and seek further depth in the draft, a reasonable path that could make Jones' departure inevitable.

[+] EnlargeSidney Rice
AP Photo/Paul SancyaSidney Rice is expected to test the free-agent market this offseason.
The Packers' other big challenge will be replacing defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who led their linemen with seven sacks despite missing five games because of injury. Jenkins is a pending free agent and appears set to move on. Rising second-year players Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson could vie for that job. Reviews on both players have been good, but are they seven-sack good? Another possibility is veteran Johnny Jolly, who has applied for reinstatement after a one-year suspension.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings might have more passing-game work ahead of them than the rest of the NFC North combined.

At the top of the list is finding short- and long-term answers at quarterback, a job that could require multiple acquisitions. Former Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice is a pending free agent and wants to test his value on the market, and last season ended with high-priced veteran Bernard Berrian as an afterthought. A significant rebuild of the receiving corps could be on the horizon.

Defensively, the Vikings probably are looking for two new starters on their defensive line. Left end Ray Edwards, who recorded 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons, appears set to move on in free agency. (Backup Brian Robison signed a new contract last week.) Nose tackle Pat Williams also isn't expected back.

Finally, the Vikings enter the offseason certain of only one starter in their secondary: cornerback Antoine Winfield. The health of fellow cornerback Cedric Griffin (knee) is uncertain, and at the very least, safeties Madieu Williams and Husain Abdullah will have to earn their starting jobs in training camp.

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 10, 2010
12/10/10
5:01
PM ET
Getting inside the Friday (non-Brett Favre) injury report:

Chicago Bears: Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) won't play Sunday against the New England Patriots. Linebacker Nick Roach (hip) is questionable. All other players are expected to be available.

Detroit Lions: Right tackle Gosder Cherilus (knee) is doubtful for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers and likely will be replaced by Corey Hilliard. Receiver Derrick Williams (ankle) was placed on injured reserve. Linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba (knee) is questionable, but all other players should be available. (Except quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill.)

Green Bay Packers: The big news is that cornerback Charles Woodson, who sprained his ankle in practice Wednesday, appears fine. He's listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Lions. Left tackle Chad Clifton (concussion) is also probable. Three players were ruled out, to no one's surprise: Fullback Korey Hall (knee), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) and cornerback Pat Lee (ankle). Backup safeties Atari Bigby (hamstring) and Anthony Smith (ankle) are questionable.

Minnesota Vikings: Receiver Percy Harvin is doubtful because of what the Vikings say is a two-week migraine headache. It's a near-certainty that Harvin won't play Sunday against the New York Giants. The Vikings have also ruled out cornerback Chris Cook (knee) and safety Tyrell Johnson (knee). Left guard Steve Hutchinson (thumb) is listed as questionable but interim coach Leslie Frazier said "it's going to be difficult" for Hutchinson to play. Defensive end Ray Edwards (ankle) is listed as questionable and is likely to be a game-time decision.

Free Head Exam: Detroit Lions

September, 27, 2010
9/27/10
11:15
AM ET
After the Detroit Lions’ 24-10 loss Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings, here are three issues that merit further examination:
Head Exam
Kevin SeifertThe Detroit Lions take their turn in the examination room after losing to Minnesota.

  1. I thought it was interesting to hear how the Vikings prioritized the task of stopping the Lions' offense. “The key was not letting 44 get going,” said Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, referring to tailback Jahvid Best -- and not receiver Calvin Johnson. Best had 25 yards rushing and 13 yards receiving at halftime and was limited the rest of the way by a toe injury. We’re not certain how serious the injury is, but this much seems clear: After two NFL games, Best was drawing more defensive attention than Johnson. We’ve been discussing this dynamic since training camp. If Best eases pressure on Johnson, the latter should have more opportunities for big plays. When Best was in the game Sunday, however, that didn’t seem to be the case.
  2. The Lions showed some spunk mixed with frustration as the game turned chippy in the second half. You never know how these things get started, but one early flash point came midway through the third quarter when Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams flattened receive Derrick Williams at the end of a play, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty. It culminated with quarterback Shaun Hill, of all people, shoving and chasing after Vikings defensive end Jared Allen in the fourth quarter. “All I have to say about that,” Hill said, “is that I , we, are not going to be anybody’s punk out there. You know what I mean? That’s all I have to say about that one.” It’s nice to have a quarterback defending his teammates, but you can view it as a frustration release as much as anything.
  3. I got handfuls of tweets during the game on Ed Hochuli’s officiating crew, which called a total of 20 penalties on the two teams -- 12 for the Vikings and eight for the Lions. To be sure, there were some questionable calls against the Lions, among them a holding penalty on center Dominic Raiola that wiped out Jerome Felton's run to the Vikings’ 8-yard line in the second quarter. But it’s hard to gripe too much about officiating when the Lions made as many unforced errors as they did. Safety C.C. Brown had a rough game in particular, failing to cover Vikings receiver Percy Harvin on a wide-open touchdown in the first quarter and then getting sucked too far playside on Adrian Peterson’s 80-yard cutback run in the third quarter.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
I agreed with coach Jim Schwartz when he said: “I think if you look at our first three games, I think it’s obvious that we have enough ability to play.” The Lions look better than their recent teams, and in particular they have more spark and fight in them. But ultimately, they’re 0-3. Schwartz, meanwhile, is 2-17 in his first 19 games in this job. What is keeping this team from getting over the hump? “We need to be able to make plays that win us the game rather than have the play that cost us an opportunity at the game,” Schwartz said. He has accomplished the task of raising the energy level and competitiveness of the team, but that next step is proving more difficult than he might have anticipated.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some important pregame notes here at the Metrodome:

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