We're Black and Blue All Over:
If I counted right, the chances of which are about 50 percent, the Green Bay Packers have received five* vaunted ESPY award nominations. Fans will determine the winners based on online voting, so if this matters to you, get busy. Voting closes July 9 for most categories, and the winners will be announced during the live broadcast July 13.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been nominated for two awards, including Best Male Athlete and Best NFL Player. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is among those nominated for best head coach/manager, and the 2010 Packers are also nominated as the best team. *Update: Linebacker Clay Matthews is also a candidate for Best NFL Player.
As you recall, ESPN The Magazine has already named the Packers the best pro sports franchise.
Continuing around the NFC North:
Rodgers' post-touchdown "Belt" celebration has spiked sales of wrestling belts, according to Tony Walter of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
McCarthy, via Earl Vaughn Jr. of the Fayetteville Observer: "When the lockout lifts, we'll attack it like everybody else. We're not interested in being paper champions. We're going to go back at it the same way we always have, working on fundamentals, the things you do prior to the season. Every NFL season is a long journey. The preparation part is important. Whatever block of time we have to get ready will be the same as our opponents."
Former Chicago Bears safety Doug Plank isn't expecting an offer to return to the organization as a coach, writes Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune.
The Bears' offense is ready to shine, tight end Greg Olsen told ESPN 1000: "For awhile here we've been the stepchild. The offense has always played second fiddle, deservingly so because we've had some of the top defenses and top defensive players in league history. But we feel like we have a good core nucleus of young offensive players and Jay being right up there as the guy. With Matt [Forte] and our receivers, Earl [Bennett], Johnny [Knox] and Devin [Hester], I think we've got a lot of guys who are ready to have a little bit of consistency."
Detroit Lions place-kicker Dave Rayner on the NFL's new kickoff procedures, via Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press: "If it was, like, 10 yards, I would say that would be a big deal. To me, I think the 5 yards is going to have those guys that already hit a ton of touchbacks just hitting more. Returners are going to bring it out if it's 5 [yards] deep. I mean, they do now. So if you're kicking now, and you're averaging [kicking to] the goal line, it's going to go 5 deep. They're still going to bring that back."
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, via Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune: "The reality is if they were really, really wanting me back then maybe something would have been said before the lockout. I had a good meeting with Coach [Leslie] Frazier and [vice president of player personnel Rick] Spielman at the end of the year. Each side expressed how much I'd like to be here and finish my career here. I am hopeful and hope that I can come back and be a Viking again. But I'm also a realist and I've been through this process before. It's not always up to you and you have to be willing to move on."
Fellow Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway harbors no bitterness about the franchise tag, writes Luke Hagan of the Daily Republic.