NFC North: Duke Preston

We've got our first glimpse of how the Green Bay Packers might move to replace center Scott Wells, who signed Friday with the St. Louis Rams. ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter reported Monday that free agent center Jeff Saturday has visits scheduled with several teams, including the Packers.

It has been widely assumed that Saturday would join forces with longtime teammate Peyton Manning, who plans to play this season for the Denver Broncos. But the Packers' apparent interest in Saturday at least means they haven't ruled out the possibility of signing a veteran to replace Wells. Other options include veteran Dan Koppen, who missed most of last season because of a fractured ankle, and Samson Satele, who spent the past three seasons with the Oakland Raiders.

The Packers haven't dipped their toes into veteran free agency often in recent years, having last done so when signing the immortal Duke Preston in 2009. If they don't sign a veteran, the Packers could either elevate backup Evan Dietrich-Smith or draft a center -- possibly Wisconsin's Peter Konz -- and insert him immediately into the lineup.

Breaking down ages in the NFC North

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
10:41
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


A few interesting notes emerged from the NFL’s annual Week 1 roster analysis. Here in the NFC North, we have the league’s youngest team and one of its oldest.

Rosters change every day, but for the snapshot of opening weekend, here was the average age on each NFC North roster along with its NFL ranking:
6. Detroit (27.15)
10. Minnesota
(26.94)
16. Chicago
(26.57)
32. Green Bay
(25.7)
(NFL average: 26.61)
The Lions, meanwhile, were tied for fifth in the NFL with 15 players who are 30 and over. The Packers had the NFL’s fewest with four.

There are many ways to build an NFL team, and most of them will impact this ranking. The Lions overhauled their roster after last season’s 0-16 record, loading up on veterans they hoped could give them some short-term credibility while they develop their latest draft class. The Packers, on the other hand, maintained their philosophy of building through the draft. They waived both of their free agent acquisitions, safety Anthony Smith and offensive lineman Duke Preston.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Our non-Jay Cutler morning roundup allows us to close the book on Matthew Stafford's private workout with Detroit officials.

David Birkett of the Oakland Press got Stafford on the phone Tuesday night, finding him satisfied that he had put his best foot forward.

Stafford: "I think I did well. At this point I'm not going to say what I feel like my chances [of going No. 1] are. I feel like I've done everything I can. I feel like I've done well every time we've met together. Whether they go with me or with somebody else is not up to me, but I can rest easy at night knowing that I did everything I could."

Stafford said he spent about 90 minutes diagramming plays in a classroom session. A total of eight Lions officials were present, he said, and the on-field drills were led by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

Stafford: "It was good to get out there and get in front of all those people and show them that I had some knowledge of the game."

Lions officials are scheduled to attend USC's pro day Wednesday and are hoping to meet afterwards with quarterback Mark Sanchez. I suspect they'll also be monitoring the Cutler situation from afar.

A few other non-Cutler links for you:

  • Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette profiles receiver Greg Jennings, who has been working with a personal chef and a nutritionist to improve his conditioning. Jennings said he believes "in his heart of hearts" that he will sign a long-term contract extension with the Packers at some point.
  • Offensive lineman Duke Preston's contract with the Packers is a two-year deal worth $2 million, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It includes a $150,000 roster bonus and $50,000 workout bonus.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We're now T-minus one month to the 2009 draft and are entering a period in the NFL offseason when teams wrap up their scouting trips and hunker down to the basement to determine their final draft board. We'll have a trickle of free-agent news and other items of interest, but for the most part it will be all draft, all the time.

Many of the final pre-hunkering steps will happen early this week, most notably with Detroit's private workout of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford on Tuesday followed on Wednesday by the Lions' attendance at the USC pro day to watch quarterback Mark Sanchez. We'll bring you as much information as we can about both events.

For now, let's catch up on a quiet weekend in the Black and Blue:

Weekend Mailbag

March, 28, 2009
3/28/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Lots of issues to delve into after a week at the NFL owners' meeting. Let's get right to it.

Talha of St. Paul writes: Hey Kevin, I am a Packers fan and this may surprise you because I live in Minnesota. I just wanted to get your thoughts on the signing of Duke Preston. How would you rate hi, as a player and also do you see him starting for the Pack this year? Thanks.

Kevin Seifert: Actually, there are so many Packers fans in Minnesota it's really amazing. No surprise to me at all. Anyway, I think Preston is a borderline starter/backup who won't embarrass you if he gets into the game. I doubt the Packers are planning to pencil him in as a starter on the first day of training camp. He provides depth at all three positions and could play anywhere if needed.


Brandon of Huntington Beach, Calif., writes: What are you thoughts on the offensive lineman "trade" the Bears made with the Browns? Did the Bears get the better deal with that or was it basically a wash? Also, do you think this changes the draft strategy back to a receiver in the first round?

Kevin Seifert: My biggest reaction is that it's always interesting how NFL teams sometimes value other teams' players more than their own. The Bears had John St. Clair for four years and have a pretty good sense for what kind of player he is. They made a financial offer to him in accordance with that evaluation, but the Browns doubled it. I'd trust the Bears' evaluation over the Browns' in this one. Unfortunately for Chicago, it leaves them with a player the Browns didn't want to continue with. The Bears' contract for Kevin Shaffer was a bit lower in value than St. Clair's. It's basically a wash, but at least the Bears paid a slightly lower figure. And I don't think this changes the Bears' need for a long-term answer at right tackle. St. Clair and Shaffer are both journeymen and short-term answers.


Ben of Iowa City writes: What do you think about the Packers taking Andre Smith at the 9th spot? They desperately need an OT, and Smith was a monster 3 straight years at Alabama. I'm willing to forgive his combine mishap. Is Ted Thompson? In my opinion, the Packers have to take him, do you agree?

Kevin Seifert: I think that's going to be one of the NFC North's questions as we head down the home stretch before the draft. The Packers' short- and long-term needs at tackle have been well-documented, with Chad Clifton seemingly nearing the end of his career and Mark Tauscher's left knee a question mark. I'm sure Thompson would like to add a big-time pass-rusher for the 3-4 defense, but everyone agrees Smith is immensely talented. If all things were equal, he'd be off the board by No. 9. I know there are concerns about his departure from the combine, but to me the biggest concern is that he was still in pretty average shape for his pro day. The Packers have a really, really difficult decision to make here.


Gerald of Jennings, La., writes: Hey Kevin, I'm not a big Lions fan, but I love to see a team that's been down succeed the following season. My concern is that everyone seems focus on the Lions taking Matthew Stafford, but I think with there position it would be a huge mistake picking a quarterback with their first pick. Its pretty obvious that after going winless they have a lot of areas to work on, but with Daunte Culpepper as quarterback it seems they have something to work with in that position for now. I believe the Lions should take the safe course like the Dolphins did last year and maybe draft an OT like Jason Smith or any other OT or maybe an LB like Aaron Curry. And with their other pick in the first pick maybe Sanchez or some OT or LB will also be available, but I'm not sure using the first pick on Stafford is a good idea. What is your take on this?

Kevin Seifert: I am still in the camp that the Lions are best off solidifying their line and other positions unless their scouts believe Stafford is a once-in-a-generation prospect. He's definitely the top quarterback in the draft, but that doesn't necessarily make him the best player overall. You also have to wonder how Stafford would develop on a team that has so many other issues from a personnel standpoint. I reserve the right to change my mind, but that's where I'm coming from now.


K. of Wisconsin writes: TE Tony Gonzalez has said that he wants out of KC. Last year he showed interest to the Packers but the organization was unwilling to give up a 2nd or 3rd rd draft pick. Should the Packers try to go at it again to try to compensate something from FA or do you think they will do well with Finley and Lee at those positions?

Kevin Seifert: To this point, we've heard nothing to suggest the Packers still have interest in Gonzalez, but the Chiefs have also said they have no plans to trade him. I think they have high hopes for Jermichael Finley at the position, even though he seemed pretty immature last year. I don't know that you make a decision on Gonzalez one way or the other because of Finley, but I don't sense the Packers consider it a primary goal right now.


Marc of Minneapolis writes: A lot of discussions are had regarding a draftee's Wonderlic test scores before and after the draft. My question is, do teams ever get players' high school and college transcripts? It seems as though finding out a prospect's class load and grades would help just as much, if not more than any other measure as to whether or not they have the ability to learn complex offensive and defensive schemes in the NFL. Thanks!

Kevin Seifert: I suppose the transcripts are available if needed. But I don't know if I'd want to base any judgments on an athlete's class load. Who knows what goes into picking the classes a player takes? To me, it's better just to judge the results of that education. You can debate whether the Wonderlic is the best way to determine that, but I like it better than a transcript review.


Wisconsin writes: Will the Vikings sign Antoine Winfield to a longer contract? I know he is going to be 32. He is still very productive.

Kevin Seifert: They're definitely working on it. It might not be imminent, but I think it's pretty likely something will happen before the regular season begins.


Steven writes: If the packers sign Duke Preston at 326 lbs, do you think that signals a move away from their mediocre version of the zone blocking scheme?

Kevin Seifert: Well, they did sign Preston after you sent this note. But I don't think it necessarily means they'll stop using the zone-blocking scheme. Mike McCarthy has talked about wanting to get bigger on the offensive line, but there are plenty of teams that zone block with bigger guys. It's not mandatory at all to be undersized when it comes to zone blocking. That's just the way Denver did it.


Dale of San Clemente writes: Why don't the Vikings trade up and draft Mark Sanchez or trade for either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson?

Kevin Seifert: For the same reason they haven't tried to get anyone else of that magnitude: Brad Childress has strong faith that Tarvaris Jackson will develop into their long-term starter.


Shawn writes: Great blog. I read your post about the Vikings stadium problem and the L.A. stadium push to maybe get the Vikes there. My question is how the fan base of our rivals in the NFC North might feel about the Vikings moving? As a Viking fan I hate the Packers and the Bears but look forward twice a year to play them. I couldn't see anyone else in the north.

Kevin Seifert: It would definitely take some getting used to. I saw one bit of speculation that the Vikings and St. Louis could switch divisions if Minnesota lost its team. I wonder whether Bears, Packers and Lions fans would want to see the Rams twice a year.


Kevin of Marshfield writes: Why are the Packers dragging their feet on signing Greg Jennings & now Nick Collins to contracts? Aaron Kampman's is coming up too. Are the Packers going to pull a Brewers and not pay there players there dew and just keep on signing cheep ones now? I am huge Packer fan but hate how the front office does their business sometimes.

Kevin Seifert: I don't think we've reached dragging-their-feet-status yet. This is the time of year when negotiations typically begin. As long as it happens before the season starts, there usually isn't much acrimony. In Collins' case, I think it's more about the Packers showing no interest in even starting talks. That will eventually subside. He knows that the longer he keeps playing well, the more his price will go up.


Noah of St. Paul writes: Why are the Vikings so reluctant to sign or retain a pro bowl caliber fullback? Although Adrian Peterson may prefer to run without a lead blocker, few would argue that the loss of Tony Richardson wasn't a significant blow to the Vikes' ground game in 2008. Now, faced with a mere $350k premium on Leonard Weaver over resigning the mediocre Naufahu Tahi, they balk again. What gives?

Kevin Seifert: I don't think they balked at Weaver's price. From what I understand, it was the other way around. Weaver didn't want to play for them.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Green Bay agreed to terms Thursday night with free-agent offensive lineman Duke Preston, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal and Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.

Preston started 11 games at center last season for Buffalo and could join the competition between Scott Wells and Jason Spitz at that position. But Packers coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week Preston could provide depth at guard at well. Daryn Colledge is expected to play left guard, but the right guard position is less settled.

Here's what McCarthy said about Preston earlier this week:

"I was very impressed with Duke. Very bright. I like the way he presented himself. I found it to be a very positive visit. ... He's a big guy. It says 6-5. You watch him on film, then you meet him, and he's a big guy. He's young and I think he's got a lot of good football ahead of him."

Preston joins safety Anthony Smith as the two free agents the Packers have signed this offseason. They also matched an offer sheet for defensive back Jarrett Bush, who was a restricted free agent.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Minnesota must decide Friday whether to match the $1.4 million offer sheet that fullback Naufahu Tahi signed last week with Cincinnati, notes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Coach Brad Childress said earlier this week that the team was in no rush to announce a decision because of salary-cap implications. I'll have a comment on that stance later Friday based on the team's decision.
  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune isn't a big fan of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler: "The central question to any discussion involving the Bears and the possibility of acquiring Cutler is not how much general manager Jerry Angelo would be willing to give up in a trade or how the offensive scheme would have to be tweaked to accommodate all of his considerable talents. It's this: You're going to entrust the Bears' offense to a guy who, at the first indication of 'adversity,' basically quits on his team?"
  • Quarterback Drew Stanton, a second-round draft pick in 2007, is an afterthought in Detroit's plans for 2009, writes David Birkett of the Oakland Press.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was kind enough to step into the Black and Blue late Monday afternoon here at the NFL owners meetings. We'll sprinkle his comments into the blog all week, but here are the newsiest portions of the interview:

McCarthy acknowledged that safety Nick Collins, who is entering the final year of his contract, hasn't yet participated in the offseason program. Collins is hoping to jump-start negotiations for an extension but thus far the Packers have not acquiesced. McCarthy predicted the sides will "work it through" but offered no timetable for Collins' return.

"He's got [the contract] on his mind," McCarthy said. "That's obvious to everybody. It's important, really, in my conversations with Nick, we both agreed you need to separate football from business. And that's what we're going to do here in the near future."

McCarthy said Collins has kept "everybody in the building" informed of his plans.

"What you always ask from players when you have disagreements is to make sure there is constant and open communication. He's done a very good job of that. He's talked with [safeties coach] Darren Perry. He's talked with everybody he's needed to talk to. I've talked to him a couple times."

McCarthy also provided some insight into the evolving situation at offensive line, confirming that free agent Duke Preston visited Lambeau Field last week. If signed, Preston would provide depth at guard and center.

Daryn Colledge is likely to wind up at left guard rather than right tackle, McCarthy said, and Jason Spitz is expected to compete with Scott Wells for the starting center job. Overall, McCarthy reiterated he plans to elevate the competition along the offensive line with the hope that it "will take a big step" in 2009.

"I've said it over and over again and I'm going to say it again," McCarthy said. "I do want to create competition upfront and let those guys do their jobs, and try to get a little more continuity in the way we practice and the way we play."

Preston enters picture for Packers

March, 23, 2009
3/23/09
12:23
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

DANA POINT, Calif. -- This might not be the name that Green Bay fans have been asking about, but the Packers have expressed interest in free-agent guard/center Duke Preston and could know whether he will sign with them before the NFL owners' meeting ends this week.

Preston started 11 games at center last season for Buffalo and the Bills remain interested in re-signing him. The Packers would seem to be set at center with incumbent Scott Wells, but both guard positions are in flux.

Preston was scheduled to visit Lambeau Field last week. He was originally the Bills' fourth-round pick in 2005.

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