NFC North: DeShawn Wynn

We're Black and Blue All Over:

As you might have heard Wednesday night, the Detroit Lions' trade for Philadelphia Eagles running back Ronnie Brown has been voided because running back Jerome Harrison, whom the Lions packaged as part of the compensation for Brown, failed his physical with the Eagles.

Harrison's exact condition is unknown. He was not on the Lions' most recent injury report, and he remains on their roster. Brown reverts to the Eagles. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Lions worked out four free-agent running backs earlier this week: James Davis, Charles Scott, Chauncey Washington, and DeShawn Wynn. Davis signed to the Lions' practice squad.

It was never clear if Brown was destined to become a significant part of the Lions' offense or if he was going to be a spot player behind Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams. Best's concussion remains an issue and could hold him out of Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, but Morris seemed next in line regardless.

It is clear, however, that the Lions aren't thrilled with their backfield depth as they approach the midpoint of the season.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Lions have a "gaping" hole in the backfield, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com examines the circumstances around Best's concussion.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "It's simplistic to say the Lions won't accept being pushed around anymore. In fact, it's so simplistic, I'm gonna say it."
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com reveals what Green Bay Packers receivers are doing to penalize each other for dropped passes.
  • Packers linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) should be able to return to the lineup in a few weeks, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looks back at the Packers' performances against the Vikings without left tackle Chad Clifton.
  • Dam Pompei of the Chicago Tribune on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's in-game profanity Sunday night: "The message Cutler really sends -- to his coaches, his teammates, his opponent and the public -- is that he lacks respect and self control. Cutler doesn't have to agree with the call, or how it was made, but he does have to show courtesy to the people and the process. That's not football, that's life."
  • Jovial Bears defensive lineman Anthony Adams said he plans to "mess with" some Royal Guards during the team's trip to London. Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com has more.
  • Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, via Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times: "First of all, every team gives their linemen help. I thought we had a good game plan. It's not like, all of a sudden, 'The Bears' offensive line is so bad that they need all this help.' It's that, we haven't been giving them help, so now we're giving them help, it helps settle things down and build their confidence, and gives them a chance to hang in there and not jump the count."
  • Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune looks at the Minnesota Vikings' history of quarterback demotions.
  • Vikings coach Leslie Frazier went out of his way to say he is not giving up on 2011, notes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton hopes to have a Vikings stadium recommendation in place by Nov. 7, allowing for three weeks of hearings and public debate before a potential special session of the state legislature on Nov. 21. Doug Belden of the Pioneer Press explains.
  • The NFL won't stand in the way of the Vikings seeking alternative cities if their lease expires in February without a stadium agreement. Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com explains.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

I was remiss in not addressing a secondary portion of Thursday's radio appearance by Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress. While insisting he does not know if quarterback Brett Favre will play in 2010, Childress did say that he has moved past his disappointment in tailback Adrian Peterson for missing the team's mandatory minicamp last month.

Childress confirmed he has since spoken with Peterson and said they have agreed to disagree on the absence. "You let bygones be bygones," Childress said. "I know how he feels. He knows how I feel, and you keep moving."

In other words, Childress didn't accept Peterson's explanation but isn't going to make it an issue any longer. That leaves open the question as to exactly why Peterson skipped three days of practice to attend a one-day parade in his hometown. Perhaps Peterson will address it when training camp opens next week.

Continuing around the NFC North as we head into the final dark weekend of the offseason:
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com examines the Vikings' tight end position.
  • Chicago-based agent Ian Greengross is the subject of an NFL Players Association investigation into impropriety, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com. The issue involves a phone call made to Chicago Bears safety Danieal Manning.
  • Speaking at a charity cruise he hosted Thursday night, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said: "You can see a totally different attitude offensively from all the guys so it's going to be exciting. We'll see how it works. We've got to get through three or four preseason games and really see what happens [on the field]." Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times provides a transcript of Cutler's comments.
  • The Chicago Tribune has video of Cutler's interview.
  • Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh might hold off finalizing his contract until No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford signs with the St. Louis Rams, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
  • The Lions didn't realize how competent right guard Stephen Peterman was until he missed the final seven games of last season, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com on Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant: "Beginning with Week 8 of the '07 season, when Grant assumed the starting job from DeShawn Wynn during an overtime win at Denver, Grant has rushed for 3,385 yards. The only other player in the NFL in that time span with more? Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, with 3,814."

Packers extend RFA tenders

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
9:23
PM ET
Sorry for the delayed posting on this. Like Chicago did earlier Wednesday, Green Bay announced the restricted free agents it has tendered a qualifying offer to. Here's the list:

Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put together this chart of projected tenders for each player. The key ones to know: Collins would require a first- and third-round draft pick in compensation. Jolly likely would fetch a second-round pick, as would Bigby.

Two players not on the list are running back DeShawn Wynn and punter Jeremy Kapinos. In this blog post from Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Kapinos strongly objected to any notion he should be held individually responsible for the Packers' special teams woes last season.
OK class, it's time for one of our final lessons in the new world of an uncapped NFL. Before the free-agent market opens Friday morning, each team must first address its entire list of restricted free agents in one of two basic ways:

1. Tendering a 1-year contract, OR
2. "Non-tendering" the player, essentially cutting ties.


Remember, a restricted free agent (RFA) is a player with four or five years of experience whose contract has expired. Those players are free to seek offers elsewhere, but current teams at least have the right to match that offer and keep the player. Depending on the level of contract tender, the team could also receive draft-pick compensation.

If the player doesn't sign an offer sheet elsewhere, and can't agree on a long-term contract, he plays at the salary in the chart below. (There are slightly higher values for players in their fifth seasons.)


Because of the addition of a fifth year to the RFA list in the uncapped year, an additional 212 players are scheduled to be restricted free agents this offseason. Below is a list of the primary RFAs for each NFC North team.

There have been some reports about individual tenders, but no team has officially released its decisions. That will happen sometime between now and Thursday night. When it does, we'll analyze how easy or difficult it will be for those tendered to move on to another team.

Chicago Bears: Defensive end Mark Anderson, safety Josh Bullocks, safety Danieal Manning, linebacker Nick Roach, linebacker Jamar Williams.

Detroit Lions: Defensive end Copeland Bryan, offensive lineman Dylan Gandy, defensive lineman Jason Hunter, offensive lineman Daniel Loper, offensive lineman Manny Ramirez, safety Ko Simpson, linebacker Cody Spencer.

Green Bay Packers: Safety Atari Bigby, defensive back Will Blackmon, offensive lineman Daryn Colledge, safety Nick Collins, defensive end Johnny Jolly, running back John Kuhn, offensive lineman Jason Spitz, cornerback Tramon Williams, running back DeShawn Wynn.

Minnesota Vikings: Offensive lineman Ryan Cook, defensive end Ray Edwards, defensive tackle Fred Evans, safety Eric Frampton, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, cornerback Karl Paymah, fullback Naufahu Tahi.

To read all of our award-winning CBAWatch discussion, click here.

Combine Wrap: Friday

February, 26, 2010
2/26/10
5:53
PM ET

Here's a quick look at what was said around the NFC North on the second full day of the scouting combine.


Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

In the middle of a busy Tuesday evening in the NFC North, rumors started flying that Green Bay had signed tailback Ahman Green to replace injured backup DeShawn Wynn. The report originated with radio station 1250-AM, but by the end of the night no deal had been announced.

Still, Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports there are indications that a deal could be forthcoming. Two players told the newspaper that Green told them a deal was in place. Meanwhile, linebacker Nick Barnett said on his Twitter feed that he saw Green in the Packers locker room on Tuesday. Green’s workout was on Monday.

I’ve heard a lot of consternation about this potential move -- considering Green’s age (32), history of knee injuries and the fact that he hasn’t received much interest around the NFL since Houston released him last winter. But let’s accept it for what it is: A short-term fix for an injury situation.

The Packers aren’t looking for Green, Dominic Rhodes or anyone else to take over for starter Ryan Grant. They just want a little more credibility on the depth chart.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Packers might make a concerted effort to substitute the short pass for running plays, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers cornerback Charles Woodson talks off-the-field topics with Jason Wilde of ESPN Milwaukee.
  • In light of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler’s two-year contract extension, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times looks at the contract expiration dates for other prominent Bears players.
  • Bears linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is contemplating season-ending surgery to repair cartilage damage in his right knee, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Detroit coach Jim Schwartz had to change Wednesday’s bye week practice to a walk-through because of injuries, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News. Meanwhile, the Lions also lost seventh-round draft pick Lydon Murtha to Miami, which signed him off the practice squad.
  • Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the Vikings’ struggles late in games: “Based on the offensive and defensive play calls, the Vikings become more conservative in the fourth quarter, focusing more on routine runs and scaling back on blitzes of linebackers and defensive backs.”
  • The foot sprain of Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield could open the door for rookie cornerback Asher Allen, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.

Ahman Green (!) visits Green Bay

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
6:31
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Maybe you’ve heard by now, but Green Bay worked out two veteran running backs Monday. One of them has a very familiar name: Ahman Green.

Yes, Green and Dominic Rhodes both were brought in for tryouts Monday, according to a source. (This information has also been reported elsewhere.)

The Packers have no obligation to sign either player, and the only cost is the price of a plane ticket. (UPDATE: Actually, Green still lives in the Green Bay area. So no plane ticket for him.) Teams often bring in veterans to test their conditioning to help formulate an emergency plan should one of their own players get injured, but you wonder if the Packers aren’t giving some thought to improving their depth behind starter Ryan Grant. Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn have combined for 25 yards this season.

Green, 32, last played in 2008 for Houston after spending the bulk of his career with the Packers. Rhodes was released by Buffalo last month and hasn’t played in a game this season. Stay tuned.

NFC North Friday injury report

October, 16, 2009
10/16/09
4:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: To little surprise, tailback Adrian Peterson (knee) and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) are doubtful and won’t play Sunday night at Atlanta. Defensive lineman Israel Idonije (knee) returned to practice and has a shot to play. Defensive tackle Anthony Adams (toe) is questionable, as is linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. But Tinoisamoa is expected to play.

Detroit Lions: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (knee) and receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) are listed as questionable but missed practice Friday and likely won’t play Sunday at Green Bay. The Lions are also likely to be without three other starters: Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill (ankle), defensive end Dewayne White (hamstring) and defensive end Jason Hunter (ankle). That could leave Turk McBride and Cliff Avril as the starting defensive ends. Safety Ko Simpson (hamstring) is doubtful.

Green Bay Packers: Korey Hall (calf), tackle Mark Tauscher (knee) and tailback DeShawn Wynn (knee) won’t play. The Packers should have all other players available, including tailback Brandon Jackson (ankle) as the primary backup to Ryan Grant. That also includes left tackle Chad Clifton (ankle).

Minnesota Vikings: Punt returner Darius Reynaud (hamstring) isn’t expected to play Sunday against Baltimore. Receiver Percy Harvin (shoulder) is listed as questionable but should play. If right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) can’t play, Artis Hicks would start in his place.

NFC North at night

October, 14, 2009
10/14/09
5:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Catching up on a busy day of news in the Black and Blue:

Chicago Bears: Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) was one of four players to sit out practice. It doesn’t look like he’ll be ready for Sunday night’s game at Atlanta. The same is probably true for tailback Adrian Peterson (knee) and defensive lineman Israel Idonije (knee).

Detroit Lions: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (knee) returned to practice and took the first snap with the starting offense, according to this Associated Press account. That increases the possibility that Stafford will make a quick return from a dislocated right knee, but coach Jim Schwartz said no decision will be announced until just before Sunday’s game at Green Bay. … Receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) did not practice Wednesday, and ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported that Johnson is unlikely to play Sunday. … Including Johnson, eight Lions players missed practice. That list includes six starters: Fullback Jerome Felton (shoulder), defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill (ankle), defensive end Jason Hunter (ankle), Johnson, safety Ko Simpson (hamstring) and defensive end Dewayne White (hamstring).

Green Bay Packers: Safety Atari Bigby (knee) and tackle Chad Clifton (ankle) both practiced Wednesday and appear on track to play Sunday. … Fullback Korey Hall strained his calf in Monday’s practice, and coach Mike McCarthy said he likely will miss several weeks of action. … Linebacker Brady Poppinga missed practice because he was ill. … Tailback DeShawn Wynn (knee) did not practice, but tailback Brandon Jackson (ankle) did.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback John David Booty was waived from the practice squad, and while coach Brad Childress said it is possible he’ll be re-signed at some point, I think you should have a pretty good idea of his long-term future with the team. The Vikings needed an extra practice squad offensive lineman with right tackle Phil Loadholt limited by an ankle injury. .. Receiver Percy Harvin (shoulder) and punt returner Darius Reynaud (hamstring) did not practice.

Packers: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
7:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Check here for a full list of Green Bay’s player moves.

Biggest surprise: Brian Brohm was the 56th player taken in the 2008 draft, the third quarterback overall. For that reason alone it’s a shock the Packers have given up on him so quickly, despite another shaky preseason in which he finished with a passer rating of 54.5. He made some incremental progress this summer, and it’s possible the Packers will re-sign him to their practice squad Sunday. But it’s clear they were willing to risk losing him altogether. It’s a stunning fall for a player the Packers originally thought was polished and ready to immediately step in as the No. 2 quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers.

Second-biggest surprise: The Packers kept all three of their fullbacks while leaving their tailback depth pretty thin, at least for now. Fullbacks Korey Hall and John Kuhn are good special teams players, but doesn’t one make the other expendable? The Packers obviously don’t agree. They kept both players -- along with rookie fullback Quinn Johnson -- while waiving tailbacks Tyrell Sutton and Kregg Lumpkin. The decisions leave DeShawn Wynn as the only healthy backup behind starter Ryan Grant. (Brandon Jackson is recovering from an ankle injury.)

Third-biggest surprise: Veteran receiver Ruvell Martin was released in favor of first-year receiver Brett Swain. I’m guessing this was a special teams decision, as Swain was having some success on coverage teams this summer. But Martin has been a productive reserve over the past three seasons, and I didn’t hear too much about his roster spot being in jeopardy.

Fourth-biggest surprise: Safety Anthony Smith, signed to a free agent contract this offseason, was released. There have been suggestions he was pushing starter Atari Bigby. Not anymore. Neither of general manager Ted Thompson's veteran free agent pickups, Smith and center Duke Preston, made the final roster.

No-brainer: Placing defensive lineman Justin Harrell (back) on injured reserve was dramatic but needed to be done. The Packers have carried him on their 53-man roster for the past two years even though he has missed more games (19) than he has played in (13) because of various injuries. He wouldn’t have made it to training camp this year if he weren’t a first-round draft pick. It was time for the Packers to cut their losses.

What’s next: One way or the other, the Packers will have to address their quarterback depth. It might simply mean adding Brohm or a waiver claim to the practice squad. But it’s also possible the Packers will look elsewhere for depth behind Rodgers. In news reports, they have been linked to Tampa Bay’s Luke McCown; but it will likely take a draft pick to pry him away from the Buccaneers. Backup Matt Flynn has been limited by a shoulder injury, so from the outside it would seem risky to enter the season with Rodgers and Flynn as the only active quarterbacks.

Previewing tonight's 'action'

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


If you were ever to make an argument for shortening the NFL preseason, this would be the week. Be careful about blinking; you might miss the players you were hoping to watch as teams approach their final game hoping to preserve health above all else.

We’ll truncate our coverage of these games accordingly, but I still want to take a look at the three NFC North matchups set for Thursday evening. (Minnesota will wrap up Friday night against Dallas.)

Detroit at Buffalo (6:30 p.m. ET)

Starters will play… An undetermined amount of time. But coach Jim Schwartz did say that quarterback Matthew Stafford will be on the field for the first 20 or 25 plays.

I’ll be watching… Stafford to see if he can lock down the starting job with a strong performance. It’s possible that Daunte Culpepper will make a surprise return from a toe injury, but otherwise Stafford is in the driver’s seat. Brooks Bollinger and possibly Kevin O’Connell will follow Stafford. … Whether we like it or not, we’ll also get a look at the Lions’ depth at cornerback. Starters Anthony Henry and Philip Buchanon aren’t expected to play. Neither will linebacker Ernie Sims, giving Jordon Dizon another chance to prove himself. … We’ll also get a chance to see whether Daniel Loper can hold off Manny Ramirez in the competition at left guard.

Cleveland at Chicago (8 p.m. ET)

Starters will play… no longer than the first quarter.

I’ll be watching… to see how rusty cornerback Zack Bowman (hamstring) and safety Danieal Manning (hamstring) are. Both will make their preseason debuts and are projected starters if they can make it through this game. … Fans will also want to see veteran Adrian Peterson put the finishing touches on his bid to win a roster spot. It seems Peterson will have to beat out tight end Michael Gaines. … Plenty of people have been watching to see which receivers new quarterback Jay Cutler feels most comfortable with. We know the group includes Greg Olsen, Earl Bennett and Matt Forte. But will his apparent chemistry with Devin Aromashodu help determine the final depth chart at receiver?

Green Bay at Tennessee (8 p.m. ET)

Starters will play… likely one series. Two at the most.

I’ll be watching… to see which tailback lays claim to the No. 2 job behind Ryan Grant. Brandon Jackson is sidelined by an ankle injury. So will DeShawn Wynn grab the job? Rookie Tyrell Sutton? Kregg Lumpkin? … Linebacker Nick Barnett will make his preseason debut. Will his performance be enough to convince coaches to put him in the starting lineup when the regular season begins? … With quarterback Matt Flynn (shoulder) still sidelined, we should get a long look at quarterback Brian Brohm. That might or might not be a good thing, depending on your perspective. You wonder if Brohm will get released if he can’t demonstrate some progress. That would leave the Packers in the market for quarterback depth when teams begin paring down their rosters this weekend.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Crazy night at Lambeau Field, where Packers officials waited about 90 minutes for a slow-moving thunderstorm to pass through before canceling the annual Family Night scrimmage. From a football perspective, the weather robbed the team of an important game-like practice but also gives players two days to rest and heal after a physical first week of training camp.

"I think it will benefit me greatly," running back Ryan Grant said with a smile.

Players are off Sunday and will resume practicing Monday at 2 p.m. As for me, I'll be heading south to Bourbonnais, Ill., so that I can parachute in on the Bears. Look for my official Packers Camp Confidential report by midday Sunday. Reports from Bears camp will start Monday.

A few notes before calling it a night:

  • Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy said 50,787 people were in attendance at Lambeau. A little more than 61,000 tickets had been sold and distributed.
  • Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he saw this sign in the stands: "Rodgers is our 'Favre-ite' Quarterback."
  • Coach Mike McCarthy said running back DeShawn Wynn has a knee injury that "snuck up on him" and would have kept him out Family Night. Overall, McCarthy said the health of the team is his biggest concern. He is hoping most of the Packers' injury list will dissipate by Monday's practice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham became something of a folk hero a few years ago when HBO caught his crusty act on film while filming the Kansas City Chiefs for "Hard Knocks." Cunningham has brought that lovable intensity to the Lions, apparently a welcome tonic to the doldrums of training camp.

A former Chiefs head coach, Cunningham went out of his way to say he likes working for the Lions and living in Detroit. He is keeping players on edge with intense blitz sessions, but he is also making each day interesting for the entire team in what he says is the swan song of his long career.

Cunningham: "This is my last stop. I may die out there [on the field], because I'm gonna give you everything I got. And I know Jim [Schwartz] and the staff is, too. And that's what we're trying to sell to the players -- who we're here for. We're not here for the money. We're here for this city and to make the fans cheer."

You can read more about Cunningham -- and find out which player joked that Cunningham is "missing a couple screws" -- in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and on Mlive.com.

Continuing around the NFC North:

NFC North training camp preview

July, 21, 2009
7/21/09
11:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
 
  AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
  Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears will need a young receiver to step up in camp.

Chicago Bears
Training camp site: Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, Ill.)

Campfires
The only Bears receiver with a guaranteed job is Devin Hester. Otherwise, the position is wide open. Veterans Earl Bennett and Rashied Davis will compete with rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox for the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 receiver positions. If general manager Jerry Angelo doesn't like what he sees, the Bears could pursue a proven veteran later this summer.

The free safety position is also wide open as the Bears replace the departed Mike Brown. Craig Steltz ended spring practice atop the depth chart, but he'll have to battle converted cornerback Corey Graham. Former New Orleans starter Josh Bullocks is also on the roster as a third, if distant, option.

Although the Bears hope it never matters, they'll have to sort out their depth behind new quarterback Jay Cutler. Unproven Caleb Hanie is set to battle free agent Brett Basanez in a competition that, like receiver, could ultimately give way to a veteran from outside the organization. Hanie, however, is a favorite of coach Lovie Smith and will get every opportunity to win the job.

Camp will be a downer if ...
... the Bears realize this summer that they haven't given Cutler enough weapons. While young players don't always develop on a convenient timetable, it should be pretty clear by mid-August if the Bears have enough mature depth at the receiver position. Adding a veteran at the end of the summer is an imperfect solution and would limit his chances to develop a rapport with the new quarterback.

Division Camp Previews
Tuesday: NFC North | AFC North
Wednesday: NFC East | AFC East
Thursday: NFC South | AFC South
Friday: NFC West | AFC West

MORE
Camp battles: AFC | NFC

Schedule: Training camp dates

The best-case scenario is if Bennett can parlay his familiarity with Cutler -- they were college teammates at Vanderbilt -- into a quick claim on the No. 2 job. That would lessen the pressure on the rookies and relieve the need to rely on Davis, who isn't a starting-caliber receiver. But if Bennett stumbles, the domino effect could significantly diminish the Bears' passing attack early in the season.

Camp will be a success if ...
... Smith can lay the groundwork for a revived defense. Smith has taken over as the de facto defensive coordinator and will call most defensive signals during games. He'll need to restore the Bears' core values -- producing a pass rush with the front four and making big plays in the secondary -- in order to meet the standard his defenses set earlier this decade.

It might be difficult to judge the success of this venture during camp and even in the preseason; Smith isn't likely to give away too much from a schematic standpoint before the regular season begins. But make no mistake: The origin of any improvement must come during technique and drill work in training camp.

O-verhaul
Quietly, the Bears shook up 60 percent of their offensive line this offseason. Center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza are the only returning starters. Chicago is hoping that left tackle Orlando Pace, left guard Frank Omiyale and right tackle Chris Williams can breathe some life into a group that grew stale last season.

Pace is the short-term key. Injuries have caused him to miss 25 games over the past three seasons. His health and conditioning will be monitored carefully in training camp. It will be interesting to see if the Bears also work Williams at left tackle -- his natural position -- as a contingency should Pace suffer another injury.


Detroit Lions
Training camp site: Team facility in Allen Park, Mich.

 
  Rashaun Rucker/zuma/Icon SMI
  The Lions would like Daunte Culpepper to earn the starting quarterback job ahead of Matthew Stafford to start the season.

Campfires
No Black and Blue battle will be more scrutinized than the competition between Lions quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford. Conventional wisdom suggests Culpepper will win the job as long as he maintains his offseason conditioning level. But coach Jim Schwartz has said Stafford will start as soon as he meets two criteria: when he is ready and when he surpasses Culpepper as the team's best option.

Stafford's status as an underclassman suggests he faces a steep learning curve this season. That, along with Culpepper's familiarity with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's scheme, imposes a two-pronged challenge for Stafford to win the job in training camp.

Another rookie, safety Louis Delmas, appears to be one of the few locks to start in the secondary. You would assume Phillip Buchanon will win one cornerback spot, but the other two starting roles seem wide open.

Anthony Henry could start at cornerback, or he could move to safety. Other safety candidates include Daniel Bullocks, Marquand Manuel, Kalvin Pearson and Stuart Schweigert. The competition will be wide open as the Lions look for defensive backs who are aggressive and eager for contact.

Camp will be a downer if ...
... every player on the roster suffers a season-ending injury on the first day of camp. Otherwise, there is nowhere to go but up for a team that went 0-16 last season.

Seriously, there is one position where Detroit is keeping its fingers crossed. The Lions signed 36-year-old nose tackle Grady Jackson to help tighten their run defense and also keep offensive linemen off their talented trio of linebackers. But Jackson missed all of spring practice after undergoing knee surgery in February. Jackson is as important as any player the Lions acquired this winter and he needs to get at least some practice time in training camp to ensure he will be ready for the season.

Camp will be a success if ...
... Culpepper can win the job outright, rather than become the starter simply because Stafford isn't ready. If Culpepper can recapture some of his previous magic with Linehan, the Lions will have a much better chance to be credible in Schwartz's first season.

And despite the protestations of modern-day thinkers, Stafford can only benefit from some time on the sidelines. That doesn't mean he should sit for three years. But rare is the quarterback who can start -- and succeed -- on day one. A rejuvenated Culpepper is the first step in the Lions' rebuilding project.

Linebacker city
Through trade and free agency, the Lions have put together a competent group of linebackers in Julian Peterson, Larry Foote and Ernie Sims. It will be interesting to watch defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham experiment with ways to utilize their playmaking skills.

Cunningham has said he plans to blitz 40 percent of the time this season. Peterson could make some big plays if he has maintained the athletic skills of his prime. The same goes for Foote. We'll get a good idea of how much each player has left in the tank this summer.

(Read full post)

Weekend mailbag

July, 11, 2009
7/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We had a little action last week in the NFC North, but as expected, the news certainly slowed as all four teams enjoyed some time away from their practice facilities. We got an update on the Williams Wall story, debated the pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and argued over the identity of the NFC North's breakout player in 2009. (I say Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin, you say Chicago tight end Greg Olsen.)

But there's always material for the mailbag, thanks to your intrepid participation. Remember, you can contact me through said mailbag, our lightning-fast Facebook page or Twitter. Phones? They're, like, sooooo 2008. I don't even know why I have one.

OK, let's get on with it:

Brad of Chicago notes our breakdown of Detroit's drafts this decade, hooked to the release of linebacker Alex Lewis, and asks for a comparison with the rest of the division.

Kevin Seifert: Thanks for the assignment, Brad. Seriously, it's a good idea. As it turns out, the Lions rank last among the four NFC North teams in this category. The Packers lead with 33 players. Of course, these numbers can be skewed based on the total number of draft choices. But over time, it's at least a decent gauge of overall draft success.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown:

DETROIT LIONS
2000:
0
2001: 2 (Tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola)
2002: 0
2003: 0
2004: 1 (Smith)
2005: 0
2006: 2 (Linebacker Ernie Sims, safety Daniel Bullocks)
2007: 5 (Receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Drew Stanton, defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis, guard Manny Ramirez, cornerback Ramzee Robinson)
2008: 7 (Tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Jordon Dizon, tailback Kevin Smith, defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, defensive end Cliff Avril, fullback Jerome Felton, defensive tackle Landon Cohen)
TOTAL: 17

CHICAGO BEARS
2000: 1 (Linebacker Brian Urlacher)
2001: 0
2002: 2 (Defensive end Alex Brown, tailback Adrian Peterson)
2003: 2 (Cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs)
2004: 2 (Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, cornerback Nate Vasher)
2005: 0
2006: 5 (Safety Danieal Manning, receiver Devin Hester, defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, linebacker Jamar Williams, defensive end Mark Anderson)
2007: 6 (Tight end Greg Olsen, running back Garrett Wolfe, guard Josh Beekman, safety Kevin Payne, defensive back Corey Graham, cornerback Trumaine McBride)
2008: 9 (Tackle Chris Williams, tailback Matt Forte, receiver Earl Bennett, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Zackary Bowman, tight end Kellen Davis, defensive end Ervin Baldwin, linebacker Joey LaRocque)
TOTAL: 27

GREEN BAY PACKERS
2000: 1 (Offensive tackle Chad Clifton)
2001: 0
2002: 1 (Linebacker Aaron Kampman)
2003: 1 (Linebacker Nick Barnett)
2004: 1 (Center Scott Wells)
2005: 4 (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, safety Nick Collins, linebacker Brady Poppinga, defensive end Michael Montgomery)
2006: 7 (Linebacker A.J. Hawk, guard Daryn Colledge, receiver Greg Jennings, center Jason Spitz, cornerback Will Blackmon, offensive tackle Tony Moll, defensive tackle Johnny Jolly)
2007: 9 (Defensive end Justin Harrell, running back Brandon Jackson, receiver James Jones, safety Aaron Rouse, offensive tackle Allen Barbre, fullback Korey Hall, linebacker Desmond Bishop, placekicker Mason Crosby, running back DeShawn Wynn)
2008: 9 (Receiver Jordy Nelson, quarterback Brian Brohm, cornerback Pat Lee, tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker Jeremy Thompson, guard Josh Sitton, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, quarterback Matt Flynn, receiver Brett Swain)
TOTAL: 33

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
2000: 0
2001: 0
2002: 1 (Left tackle Bryant McKinnie)
2003: 2 (Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, linebacker E.J. Henderson)
2004: 2 (Defensive end Kenechi Udeze, tight end Jeff Dugan)
2005: 0
2006: 5 (Linebacker Chad Greenway, cornerback Cedric Griffin, offensive lineman Ryan Cook, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, defensive end Ray Edwards)
2007: 5 (Running back Adrian Peterson, receiver Sidney Rice, cornerback Marcus McCauley, defensive end Brian Robison, receiver Aundrae Allison)
2008: 5 (Safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback John David Booty, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, center John Sullivan, receiver Jaymar Johnson)
TOTAL: 20


Dictionary Guy objects to our use of "apocryphal" in a post about Brett Favre's appearance in the iconic "There's Something About Mary." Writes DG: Think about your demographic for about 5 seconds, then think about whether they know what apocryphal means. If you're not sure about the intelligence of your readers, try reading the comments sections. I have a college degree and I had to look it up. might want to dumb it down at least a LITTLE.

Kevin Seifert: What "college" did you go to, DG? Seriously, I get this type of note more often than you might care to believe -- and I hardly consider myself a wordsmith. My reading of the comments section reveals pretty much what we already know: The world is made up of geniuses, yokels and a lot of people in between. On this blog, we'll cater to everyone. And if you occasionally have to consult a dictionary, by gosh, consider making it a habit. It won't bite you.


VikingJ of Wausau, Wis., writes: Saw an ESPN story yesterday about certain teams allowing seasoned vets to go home during camp and not force them to stay in a college dorm room. You then hear coaches say that training camp is a period to build team unity (whatever that means). What are your thoughts on this subject, and what direction are the NFC north teams taking?

Kevin Seifert: You probably were reading about Washington coach Jim Zorn following in the footsteps of what ex-Baltimore coach Brian Billick once did with the Ravens.

I have often heard veterans complaining about off-site training camps. Some players don't like being away from their families. Many are uncomfortable in tiny dorm rooms and old mattresses, a legitimate concern when you consider how much energy they must expend during practice. For those reasons, I can see how it might help to sleep in your own home and bed. And to me, relationships can be formed during training camp whether you're sleeping at home or in the dorms.

Because let's be clear: Regardless of where you sleep, camp is a daily 18-hour affair. Typically, players are scheduled from about 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. If you're not practicing, you're either eating or in meetings or napping. For that reason, some players would prefer staying and sleeping in dorms because they're the closest thing to them. The long hours wouldn't really give them much chance to see their families anyway.

I'm not aware of a sleep-on-your-own policy in the NFC North. Everyone sleeps in dorms (Chicago, Minnesota and Green Bay) or in a hotel (Detroit).


Jimbo of Chicago writes: Kevin, what's the inside scoop on the other Adrian Peterson? With Matt Forte and Kevin Jones getting the bulk of the carries, and the Bears talking about how they need to get Garrett Wolfe on the field more this year, where does that leave a veteran like AP? Does he even have a spot on this team? Do they really hold a spot for him just to play special teams?

Kevin Seifert writes: Jimbo, there are a couple of interesting factors in play here. First, you wonder if the Bears really would keep four tailbacks on the 53-man roster. If they only keep three, the competition conceivably would be down to Wolfe and Peterson. To me, we'll find out once and for all if the Bears are serious about using Wolfe on offense. That would be the primary reason to keep him over Peterson.

Second, Wolfe showed proficiency as a special teams player last season, leading the team with 21 tackles. The Bears put a strong emphasis on coverage and wouldn't part easily with Peterson. But at least they would know that Wolfe can handle coverage assignments.


Randall of Monoma, Wis., writes: If the Williams Wall wins, why couldn't the Wisconsin legislature pass legislation forbidding the calling of penalties against the Packers in home games at Lambeau Field, as a violation of their employee rights?

Kevin Seifert: Haha. (I think. I'm presuming you're joking.) Randall, of course, is referring to the lawsuit filed by Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Essentially, the players are arguing that the NFL's steroid testing policy violates Minnesota state law. (The NFL contends the policy, which is part of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, should be subject only to federal laws.)

But I cordially invite the Wisconsin legislature to take a break from its busy schedule to pursue such a law. Just to see what happens. And I'm guessing there would be more than a few legislators willing to take up the issue. Revolution!


Joseph of Fort Meade, Md., writes: As a Bears fan I'm glad to see the "Williams Wall" case delayed. At the end of the day, the NFL doesn't care about the state of Minnesota's stance on drug testing. The wall will lose. So hopefully they can be suspended at a more critical time in the season.

Kevin Seifert: Joseph, you actually bring up a good point. We have no way of predicting how long the legal process will take here. One month? Three months? Six months? Who knows with these things. But if you strictly go by the regular season schedule, the Vikings' first four games might represent the best stretch for them to miss if it comes to that.

None of their first four opponents -- Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco and Green Bay -- had winning records last season. And from a preseason perspective, at least, the only running game I would fear in that group is the Packers'. If the players' legal case ultimately results in them missing games later in the season, it could play a more important role in the Vikings' playoff aspirations. No doubt.

Tags:

Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Offensive tackle Chad Clifton, E.J. Henderson, Alex Brown, Jordy Nelson, Will Blackmon, Devin Hester, Nate Vasher, Calvin Johnson, Aaron Rouse, Charles Tillman, Marcus harrison, Joey LaRocque, Ernie Sims, Mark anderson, Kevin Smith, John David Booty, Tommie Harris, Mason Crosby, Lance Briggs, Ramzee Robinson, DeShawn Wynn, Brian Urlacher, Kevin Payne, Letroy Guion, Brandon Jackson, Marcus McCauley, Brian Robison, Ervin Baldwin, Detroit Lions, Zackary Bowman, Daniel Bullocks, Johnny Jolly, Adrian Peterson, John Sullivan, Matt Flynn, Kevin Jones, Bryant McKinnie, Linebacker Chad Greenway, Gosder Cherilus, Nick Barnett, Allen Barbre, James Jones, Brady Poppinga, Pat Lee, Matt Forte, Kenechi Udeze, Sidney Rice, Josh Sitton, Aaron Kampman, Craig Steltz, Ray Edwards, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Jeff Backus, Jim Zorn, Minnesota Vikings, Nick Collins, Center Scott Wells, Greg Jennings, Mary, Dominic Raiola, Manny Ramirez, Jordon Dizon, Andre Fluellen, Kellen Davis, Earl Bennett, Williams Wall, Greg Olsen, Jerome Felton, Chicago Bears, Brian Billick, Breno Giacomini, Jason Spitz, Josh Beekman, Danieal Manning, Landon Cohen, Jaymar Johnson, Garrett Wolfe, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Michael Montgomery, Kevin Williams, Trumaine McBride, Tyrell Johnson, Brett Swain, Dusty Dvoracek, Pat Williams, Brian Brohm, Drew Stanton, Green Bay Packers, Aundrae Allison, Cedric Griffin, A.J. Hawk, Daryn Colledge, Korey Hall, Jamar Williams, Chris Williams, Corey Graham, Cliff Avril, Jeremy Thompson, Ryan Cook, Desmond Bishop, Alex Lewis, Tarvaris Jackson, Jermichael Finley, Tony Moll, Justin Harrell, Jeff Dugan, There\'s Something About Mary

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