NFC North: Dusty Dvoracek
What made Brian Urlacher special? You have to start, of course, with the way a 6-foot-4, 258-pound man could run, hit and organize a defense on the field. But even an occasional in-person observer of the Chicago Bears over the past decade could notice the reverential stature Urlacher held with his teammates.
If he had enemies, they never surfaced. Urlacher mixed equal doses of dry humor, man's-man competitiveness and two-way respect to keep the Bears' locker room humming smoothly and largely conflict-free during his tenure. So in the moments after Urlacher announced his retirement, I caught up with former Bears defensive lineman Dusty Dvoracek -- who now hosts a sports radio talk show on The Sports Talk Network in Norman, Okla. -- to get a better sense for how Urlacher managed to cast such a popular web.
"Once you became a teammate of Brian Urlacher, you would get the best teammate you could ever ask for," Dvoracek said. "He was one of the biggest superstars in the NFL, but he acted like an average Joe, even to people coming in as a rookie. That matters to people and they don't forget it.
"The first week I was there, he opened up his house and invited me over. It wasn't just me. It was everybody. Not just me. Everybody. He tried to make it as easy and as comfortable for everyone. He was very accepting if you were on his team. He wanted you to do well so the team would do well."
In big media settings, of course, Urlacher could be as grumpy as any player I've covered. His answers could be short, snippy and designed to end the questioning altogether. I told Dvoracek that it was always fascinating to me that a player who seemed as cranky as Urlacher could be so universally hailed and beloved as a leader.
"He is about as opposite of that as you can be in personal life," Dvoracek said. "He really is as nice and as kindhearted a guy as you're going to find in the NFL. A lot of guys put on a show for [the] camera, and behind it they're a jerk. I don't want to say that Brian was the reverse because I don't think he was a jerk to the cameras, but what we saw behind the scenes was genuine and real.
"I mean, he really is a happy guy. He loves to compete at everything he does. He's good at everything. It ticks you off. Whether you're playing pingpong, shuffleboard, basketball or golf, he's really good at everything he does. He's super competitive but really just likes to have a good time with the guys."
Even competitors recognized and appreciated that approach. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told the Chicago Tribune earlier this spring that "I always appreciated his ability to enjoy the game while being competitive. He plays the game with a lot of class and professionalism. He does it the right way."
Rodgers added that when playing the Bears, "you never had to worry about cheap shots around the pile or after the whistle. They played the right way and it was led by Brian."
Emotions always run high when a superstar retires, and those who spent time around him tend to wax nostalgic. They are already beginning the work toward cementing a legend. Based on what we've heard about Urlacher over the years, that work shouldn't be hard.
- The starting quarterback is the most important player on any football team.
- The Chicago Bears finished the regular season 11-5, won the NFC North division title and will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
- Jay Cutler is the biggest reason why.
So, in this case, does 1+2=3? Did the Bears need Cutler as their quarterback to advance this far? Was he the key to their resurgence this season? Or could they have followed the same path without making the 2009 blockbuster trade that cost them three high draft choices? In today's Double Coverage, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert discuss that very question.
Kevin Seifert: Jeff, you've been covering the Bears for years. You saw them go to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. You've lived through Kordell Stewart, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton. You've seen a team win in spite of its quarterback, and you've seen quarterbacks single-handedly lose games. Let's start it off this way: How much credit do you think Cutler should get for the Bears sitting one step from the Super Bowl?
So if the most important player on the field was arguably the best player on the field nearly half the time, I find it impossible to minimize the positive impact Cutler had on the Bears' playoff run. Is he going to run for public office after he's finished playing football? No. Does he care that we're talking about him today, either good or bad? No. But to sit back and say Cutler was simply along for the ride wouldn't be doing his contributions much justice.
And by the way, thanks for bringing up Chad Hutchinson. I was trying to suppress that memory. What's next? Are we going to break down the NFL career of Jonathan Quinn? I could talk bad Bears quarterbacks all day.
KS: Any time. How about this: Cade McNown, Henry Burris, Shane Matthews and Steve Stenstrom. That pretty much covers it for our generation, I think.
Anyway, I agree it would be wrong to overlook some of Cutler's individual performances this season. He bounced back from some early hits in Week 2 to throw three touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys in a 27-20 victory. He forgot about the early interception against the New York Jets and went on to throw for another three touchdowns in a 38-34 victory. His performance against the Philadelphia Eagles -- four touchdown passes, 146.2 passer rating -- was superb. And don't forget his late-game drive against the Detroit Lions in Week 13, the one that locked up the division title.
But I think the question at hand is whether the Bears would have won 11 games with, say, Orton at quarterback. To me, Cutler was not among the top two reasons for the Bears' success this season.
More important was the defense, which limited opponents to 17.9 points per game, and the best special teams in the NFL. As a result of those two factors, Cutler and the rest of the Bears' offense had the best head start in the NFL. No offense had a better average start of its drive (33.7-yard line) than the Bears'.
Do you think the Bears win those games with Orton?
JD: I must first admit to being a card-carrying member of the Kyle Orton fan club. Is there a more underappreciated quarterback in the NFL? That being said, I think you could make the playoffs with a guy like Orton, but the Bears are in a better position to potentially win a Super Bowl with a guy like Cutler.
Let me explain.
I firmly believe if Orton quarterbacked the Bears in 2009 they probably would have won three more regular-season games (against the Packers, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers). They would have finished 10-6 and perhaps earned an NFC wild-card playoff berth. Cutler cost the Bears those games because of a barrage of turnovers and terrible decisions. But that's where the ride would've ended with Orton, in my opinion.
Could Orton have beaten the Cowboys, Eagles or Jets in 2010? Maybe. But with apologies to Jim Mora, we're talking playoffs, Kevin, playoffs!
That's why the Bears are better off with Cutler -- because Orton hit his glass ceiling as an NFL quarterback. Cutler has not. Look at how Cutler tore up the Jets. The defense struggled, and it needed a lift from the quarterback position to beat a tough opponent. Cutler delivered. I'm not saying Orton is incapable of leading a team to victory over playoff-quality teams, but the chances Cutler can do it are greater.
Sorry, Kyle. I loved your neck beard. But I have to go with Cutler on this one.
KS: It's all fantasy talk, of course. We'll never know if Orton would have played well enough last year to compel the Bears to keep offensive coordinator Ron Turner this season. We also don't know if Mike Martz would have wanted Orton this season.
But the Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Cutler. Has he provided them enough value for those picks? Or could they have used those draft picks to improve themselves in other areas?
It would be wrong to say that Cutler hasn't had a positive impact on the Bears this season, but I'm not willing to say he was the key to the Bears' division title, either. But if the Bears go to the Super Bowl, no one is going to care about that distinction.
JD: And you know Cutler is happiest when nobody cares!
I guess it's possible Jerry Angelo would have turned those two first-round selections into starting-caliber players. But I've seen the Bears use high draft choices on the likes of Michael Haynes, Roosevelt Williams, Mark Bradley, Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Bazuin, Michael Okwo, Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias. So to assume Angelo would've waved his magic draft wand and taken the right guys? Well, that would be misguided, to say the least. Despite all the warts, I'm happy with Cutler and feel the Bears are now in a better position to win their first Super Bowl since the 1985 season because of him.
I could talk bad Bears draft picks all day.
KS: Spoken like a longtime Bears follower. Basically what you're saying is that while Cutler has demonstrated some flaws, his acquisition nevertheless prevented the Bears from making another series of draft mistakes! Perfect. I love it.
On that note, Jeff, this has been fun. I think we can agree Cutler has made a positive impact on the Bears' run to the NFC Championship Game. Could they have done it without him? That's up for debate.
We’ve touched a bit on the potential changes if the NFL goes to an uncapped system in 2010. One is that players would need six years of experience to become unrestricted free agents instead of four. Below you’ll see a list of NFC North players who would be unrestricted in the current system but would become restricted in an uncapped year. Remember, restricted free agents can shop for contracts with other teams but can have those offers matched or else require compensation to depart.
Chicago Bears: Defensive end Mark Anderson, safety Josh Bullocks, defensive end Dusty Dvoracek, safety Danieal Manning and linebacker Jamar Williams.
Detroit Lions: Safety Daniel Bullocks, center Dylan Gandy, defensive end Jason Hunter, receiver Adam Jennings, guard Daniel Loper, safety Ko Simpson and linebacker Cody Spencer.
Green Bay Packers: Safety Atari Bigby, cornerback Will Blackmon, guard Daryn Colledge, safety Nick Collins, defensive end Johnny Jolly, fullback John Kuhn, safety Derrick Martin and center Jason Spitz.
Minnesota Vikings: Tackle Ryan Cook, defensive end Ray Edwards, nose tackle Fred Evans, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, cornerback Karl Paymah and fullback Naufahu Tahi.
Thanks to everyone for hanging in through Friday's technical meltdown. For those of you who like to peruse the archives, you'll notice that most of last week's posts are missing. We're hoping to get those restored soon.
But it's full speed ahead in the meantime. We hit the highlights of Green Bay's romp in Arizona here, and here are a few thoughts about Detroit's preseason game against Indianapolis. The Lions have a 1 p.m. ET kickoff scheduled at Ford Field.
I'll check back in later Saturday, after the Lions game concludes. In the meantime, here's what's happening in Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota:
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press wants the Lions to just announce that Daunte Culpepper will be their starting quarterback. Sharp: "I guarantee you if Detroit home blackouts weren't a serious issue this year, [coach Jim] Schwartz would've long ago rendered Culpepper as his starter."
- The Lions are keeping their scheme close to the vest this summer, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Free Press.
- Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago analyzes recent Bears drafts after defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, a third-round pick in 2006, was lost for the season with a knee injury.
- Bears receivers Brandon Rideau and Devin Aromashodu remain in the thick of competition for roster spots, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Minnesota coach Brad Childress is wearing a customized headset this season because of a hearing problem, write Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
- Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press profiles new Vikings safety Tyrell Johnson.
Our friends over at Football Outsiders put together an interesting study with a very Black and Blue conclusion: If Chicago defensive lineman Dusty Dvoracek misses this season because of a knee injury, he'll qualify as the NFL's most-injured player this decade.
That's right. Dvoracek has missed 34 of a possible 48 games during his first three seasons. If surgery scheduled for Friday reveals he has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, as has been reported by multiple media outlets, he'll miss all 16 games in 2009.
With a total of 50 missed games, Dvoracek will surpass former Baltimore linebacker Dan Cody -- who missed 45 between 2005 and 2008.
It would be a dubious honor, for sure, one we don't wish on anyone. Dvoracek has already come back from a torn ACL in his right knee in 2006 and been sidelined by a foot injury in 2007. He also suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle last season.
We already know that Dvoracek has a sprained medial collateral ligament in the right knee. If doctors somehow find the ACL to be intact, he'll be available to play this season. We should know more on Friday.
Here's the latest in the saga of Dusty Dvoracek: The Chicago defensive lineman will undergo knee surgery Friday to determine the extent of the damage in his right knee.
The Chicago Sun-Times and ESPN Chicago have reported Dvoracek has a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but the Bears have only confirmed he has a sprained medial collateral ligament. According to a story on the team's Web site, doctors will repair the ACL during Friday's procedure if they determine it is torn.
These days, with MRI exams and other medical technology, it's rare that doctors are unable to diagnose a torn ACL before surgery. The NFL's injury misinformation campaign has me so jaded that I don't know what to think about this story. We'll know more in a few days.
We're in a bit of a holding pattern on the future of oft-injured Chicago defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday morning that Dvoracek will miss the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, news that ESPN Chicago confirmed Monday afternoon.
But Dvoracek told the Chicago Tribune that the information is "wrong," and Bears coach Lovie Smith would only confirm that Dvoracek has a sprained medial collateral ligament. The team is awaiting results from more tests, Smith said, according to ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson.
It's a lot of commotion for a player who might not have made the team, regardless of his health. But that's where we stand as of Monday evening.
Again? Wow. Chicago defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek has suffered another season-ending injury. This time it's a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
It's the fourth consecutive year that Dvoracek has suffered an injury that ended his season. The Bears weren't counting on him to be a starter, but the injury is still a blow to their depth as well as another career disappointment for a player who clearly appeals to coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo.
Anthony Adams and Marcus Harrison have been the Bears' top new nose tackles this summer in practice. Tommie Harris and Jarron Gilbert are the top two "under tackles" in the Bears' rotation. Still, this is some unwanted news for the Bears at the start of a new week.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Bears don't need Devin Hester to develop into a true No. 1 receiver, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. Haugh: "One day, Hester may develop into that 85-catch, 1,200-yard receiver that accompanies the No. 1 receiver tag. But, objectively, that day does not look close. Nor does it have to be this season now that [Jay] Cutler is the quarterback."
- Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times writes that Cutler brings the Bears "a dimension the offense really never has had in the modern era, and it should scare defenses out of the eight- and nine-man fronts the Bears have endured for years."
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette projects Jason Spitz as the Packers' starting center, Josh Sitton at right guard and Allen Barbre at right tackle. All three jobs have been up for competition.
- Rookie running back Tyrell Sutton is giving himself a real chance to make the Packers' roster, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Detroit may have a winner in its quarterback derby by default, not achievement, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- The two Lions players who fought before Saturday night's game in Cleveland -- defensive lineman Dewayne White and tight end Carson Butler -- were among the few who played well, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com wonders why Aveion Cason is still returning kicks for the Lions.
- Minnesota is keeping quarterback Brett Favre on a "pitch count" in practice, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- The Vikings are hoping to realize a cash-flow boost similar to what Favre brought the New York Jets last year, according to Sean Jensen of the Pioneer Press.
As we review preseason action this summer, I won't pretend to bring you brilliant insight from games I don't cover live. We'll save that kind of thorough analysis for the games that I actually see and conduct interviews at afterwards. (Yes, there was some sarcasm there. Lighten up. It's Sunday morning!)
With that said, it's important to get a feel for every NFC North preseason game in a timely fashion. So while I covered Friday night's Minnesota-Kansas City game, below are some thoughts on the three games that took place Saturday night. I've also included links to the local coverage of reporters who were in attendance as well as some NFL.com video so you can see for yourself.
Chicago 17, New York Giants 3
- Everyone can agree that quarterback Jay Cutler was sharp (8-of-13) and productive (17 points in his first three drives) during his second start of the preseason. He threw well on the run, scrambled once on his own for 12 yards and threw a beautiful touch pass to receiver Devin Aromashodu for 38 yards. Working at times from the no-huddle, the Bears gave their future opponents plenty to think about with their passing performance. Cutler and backup Caleb Hanie combined to complete 18 of 31 passes for 241 yards.
- If you were worried about tailback Matt Forte's hamstring, it didn't look bad Saturday night on a 32-yard touchdown dash up the middle. Overall, Forte finished with 58 yards on nine carries. On the downside, backups Kevin Jones and Garrett Wolfe each lost a fumble.
- Defensive tackle Tommie Harris started but didn't show up in the box score. Fellow defensive linemen Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Dusty Dvoracek and Marcus Harrison all finished the game with a sack.
Cleveland 27, Detroit 10
- Incredibly, the Lions fought among themselves before the game. Defensive end Dewayne White and tight end Carson Butler were the culprits, fighting long enough that they both ended up on the ground. It's always good to be in a "fighting mood" during pregame warm-ups. But actually fighting? Unheard of. I'm guessing Butler, at least, will have his ticket punched out of Detroit soon.
- Quarterback Matthew Stafford had a tough night. Getting a start as he competes with Daunte Culpepper, Stafford threw an interception on his first pass and later overthrew two wide-open receivers (John Standeford and Adam Jennings) on passes downfield. Overall, Stafford completed 5 of 13 passes. Neither he nor Culpepper led the Lions to a score. We go to Week 3 of the preseason with no better idea of who will win the starting job.
- Let's just say it: Saturday night was terrible all around for the Lions. The special teams gave up two touchdown returns to Cleveland's Josh Cribbs, although one was called back by penalty. And Browns quarterback Derek Anderson picked apart the Lions' defense for 130 passing yards.
Green Bay 31, Buffalo 21
- The Packers' top defense held Buffalo scoreless in the first half and continued to swarm the ball. Safety Nick Collins forced an early interception, and Green Bay got some good pass rush out of its 4-3 nickel alignment. Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly finished with two sacks. The Packers led 21-0 when starters left the game. The only downside: Collins left with a rib injury.
- Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was locked in, completing 8 of 9 passes for 98 yards and two scores. His 5-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver was an athletic play, and fantasy players everywhere are going to like that he connected multiple times with second-year tight end Jermichael Finley.
- Backup quarterback Brian Brohm got extended playing time because of a shoulder injury to Matt Flynn that isn't deemed serious. But Brohm didn't give anyone reason to believe he can overtake Flynn on the depth chart if everyone is healthy.
The weekend mailbag returns with a vengeance, leading off with Angry Tom's latest missive. AT contacted me through traditional means of the mailbag, but remember you can also get your message across via our piping-hot Facebook page and our steadily-humming Twitter feed.
Speaking of which, I want to thank those of you who have responded to our expansion efforts on Facebook and Twitter. I'm getting more efficient with both applications and fully plan to continue communicating through them during the season. So tell you friends! The more people we have, the better and more vigorous our discussions will be.
Now, on with it.
The aforementioned Angry Tom writes: I have read before in your blog that your general assessment of the BEARS defense is "aging." I am thinking the Vikings are not quite as young as you think.
Kevin Seifert: It's a fair point Tom, and one that produced some interesting results when I looked into it. At the outset, however, I should say that I consider aging to be not only a numeric figure but also a less specific depiction of wearing down over time. (We all know there are plenty of 50-year-olds in the general population who are in far better physical condition than a lot of 30 year-olds.)
With that said, I've compiled the average Opening Day ages for Chicago and Minnesota's projected defensive starters. You'll find the Bears are about a half-year younger than the Vikings, on average. Both teams have nine projected starters under the age of 30. Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams (36) is the oldest and Bears safety Craig Steltz (23) is the youngest. (Corey Graham, who could beat out Steltz, is one year older at 24.)
I'll have a few more comments below the chart:
Defensive end Jared Allen: 27
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams: 29
Defensive tackle Pat Williams: 36
Defensive end Ray Edwards: 24
Linebacker Chad Greenway: 26
Linebacker E.J. Henderson: 29
Linebacker Ben Leber: 30
Cornerback Antoine Winfield: 32
Safety Tyrell Johnson: 24
Safety Madieu Williams: 27
Cornerback Cedric Griffin: 26
Avg. age: 28.2
Under 30: Nine of 11
Defensive end Alex Brown: 30
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris: 26
Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek: 26
Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye: 32
Linebacker Lance Briggs: 28
Linebacker Brian Urlacher: 31
Linebacker Piso Tinoisamoa: 28
Cornerback Charles Tillman: 28
Safety Craig Steltz: 23
Safety Kevin Payne: 25
Cornerback Nate Vasher: 27
Avg. age: 27.6
Under 30: Nine of 11
Two of the Bears' oldest starters, Ogunleye and Urlacher, have slipped in recent years. Ogunleye's sack total dropped to five last season and the Bears tellingly made no move to extend his contract, which expires after this season. Urlacher, meanwhile, has now gone consecutive years without making the Pro Bowl. And while defensive tackle Tommie Harris is 26, his creaky knees forced the Bears to ration his repetitions last season as if he were a much older player.
That's a nutshell illustration of the Bears as an aging defense: Key players whose performance has descended from their previously elite levels.
The Vikings have some age at key positions as well, most notably with Williams and Winfield. But it's only fair to point out both players made the Pro Bowl last season. They are aged but to this point haven't played that way. Minnesota officials have some long-term planning ahead of them in eventually replacing Williams and Winfield, but they have every reason to expect elite performances from both in 2009.
Via Twitter, AMSERV writes that Brett Favre missing part of Minnesota's training camp isn't as big of a deal as everyone thinks. Tons of players -- rooks thru vets -- hold out til after training camp starts.
Kevin Seifert: A late arrival isn't unprecedented, but it's typically accompanied by angst, distraction and a mad effort to catch up from a physical and mental standpoint. Green Bay tailback Ryan Grant, for example, held out for the first week of training camp and promptly developed a sore hamstring that bothered him for much of the season.
A late arrival would give Favre even less time to develop a rapport with his teammates and, particularly, his new stable of receivers. I know Favre overcame that obstacle last year with the New York Jets, but it's far from preferable.
Ben of Iowa City writes: Just wanted to know why you have consistently left Breno Giacomini out of the competition at RT for the Packers. He will be squarely in the mix.
Kevin Seifert: I'm not so sure about that. Giacomini missed much of the offseason program because of an ankle injury. He's running a distant third to Allen Barbre and T.J. Lang, and the No. 3 tackle doesn't usually get much opportunity to compete for a starting job. Barring injury, there is a high likelihood that either Barbre or Lang will be the starter.
Lion-O of Atlanta writes: Will Matt Stafford be able to sit and adjust to the league as say an Aaron Rodgers or will he be pushed out to the field because of the money Detroit is paying him?
Kevin Seifert: I don't think he'll get the three years Rodgers did, but if the Lions' new regime is true to its word, Stafford won't play until he's ready. There's no doubt that $41.7 million in guarantees will be burning a hole in his pocket, but that's an investment in the long-run. If I had to guess, I'd stay Stafford won't open the 2009 season as the starter but he will in 2010.
Susan of Glendale, Ariz., writes: I'm a huge Viking fan who struggles to get good info on the team living down here in the desert for the past 4 years! I've been looking for a status update on E.J. Henderson and haven't found a thing. Do you know how he's doing and will he be back in camp?
Kevin Seifert: Henderson's status has been the topic of a steady stream of offseason questions, but the reality is that he's been healthy since the end of last season. In fact, coach Brad Childress said Henderson could have played in the postseason had the Vikings not decided to place him on injured reserve. So to my knowledge, Henderson is 100 percent and ready for the start of training camp.
Jim of Des Moines writes: I was wondering if you could let us know how the recovery of Nick Barnett is going.
Kevin Seifert: Earlier this month, Barnett joked he is "93.758" percent healed from last season's torn anterior cruciate ligament. Most people believe he will be ready to start the regular season, but it's possible he'll open training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. That's a decision the Packers will make toward the end of next week.
Via Facebook, Eddie writes: My number one Bears question mark continues to be the secondary. Can you give me a very brief overview of how you see it playing out? It just seems like there are conflicting reports of who has the upper hand everywhere I look. I know that Tillman is going to start at the one corner, and I am guessing Payne wil
l start at safety. What do you envision after that?
Kevin Seifert: I would agree that Tillman and Payne will be two of the starters. The fact that coaches moved Graham to safety means it's more likely than not that Vasher will re-claim his starting cornerback job. That would leave Graham and Steltz to battle it out for the other safety position. If Steltz wins, Graham could end up as the nickel back. But if I had to predict a winner, I'd say it will be Graham.
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:
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:
2001: 2 (Tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola)
2004: 1 (Smith)
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)
2000: 1 (Linebacker Brian Urlacher)
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)
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)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
2000: 1 (Offensive tackle Chad Clifton)
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)
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)
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)
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.
As they prepare for their mandatory mini-camp to open Tuesday, the Chicago Bears announced a series of inside-baseball news items on their Web site. Here's a run-down with a few comments from yours truly:
- There is a long list of veterans who won't participate because they are still recovering from various surgeries: Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Trumaine McBride, safety Kevin Payne, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. Comment: That's one of the downsides of having mini-camp two months earlier than normal. Around the NFL, there are scores of players who wouldn't be ready to get on the field this early in the offseason.
- Second-year defensive back Zackary Bowman will be moved from cornerback to free safety. Comment: Makes sense considering the relative lack of depth at that position, where the Bears last week signed former New Orleans safety Josh Bullocks.
- New offensive lineman Frank Omiyale has played tackle and guard in his career, but he will work exclusively at left guard this week. Comment: It's been expected that Omiyale will replace Josh Beekman at that position. But that could change if the Bears don't re-sign free agent John St. Clair.
- The Bears will give second-year receiver Earl Bennett a chance to win the starting job opposite Devin Hester. Comment: By process of elimination, Bennett is the only internal candidate for the job. That's a lot to ask from a player whose next NFL catch will be his first.
A couple of notable personnel moves already have taken place Tuesday in the NFC North.
In Chicago, the Bears signed receiver Devin Aromashodu off Washington's practice squad and placed defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek on injured reserve. The move, coming during a short practice week, suggests the Bears don't think they'll have receiver Marty Booker for Thursday night's game against New Orleans.
Meanwhile, Detroit cut ties with cornerback Brian Kelly, whom they once hoped to pair with Leigh Bodden as a formidable cornerback duo. But the Lions' failure to utilize Kelly this season -- he was held out of two games for which he was dressed and active -- is but one illustration of the flat-out chaos that has characterized their defense.
In the first game Kelly sat out, Oct. 5 against Chicago, Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry said he never intended to keep him on the bench for the entire game. After the second instance, Sunday against Minnesota, Lions coach Rod Marinelli attributed it to the use of a three-safety scheme designed to stop Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson.
But as Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press points out, the Lions used Bodden and Travis Fisher as their top two cornerbacks in passing situations. Kelly reportedly was disgruntled with his situation, hastening the move. Can you blame him?
Catching up on some news around the NFC North on Thursday evening:
Chicago: Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye and defensive tackle Anthony Adams missed practice for the second consecutive day Thursday. As Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune points out, the Bears already are thin along the defensive line after a season-ending arm injury to nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek. You would expect to see Mark Anderson and rookie Marcus Harrison get any playing time vacated by Ogunleye and Adams, respectively.
Detroit: Sunday's game against Minnesota will be blacked out on local television, the Lions' fourth blackout of the season. ... The Lions are getting short on receivers. They placed Mike Furrey on injured reserve earlier this week, and Shaun McDonald suffered an ankle injury Wednesday in practice. It seems likely that Keary Colbert, who signed earlier this week, will be active and play a prominent role. ... The starting defensive ends Sunday will be rookies Cliff Avril and Andre Fluellen.
Green Bay: Center Scott Wells hasn't practiced this week because of a concussion he suffered last Sunday against Carolina. But coach Mike McCarthy told reporters he anticipated Wells being cleared on Friday. Barring a setback, that means Wells will play Sunday against Houston. ... The team promoted linebacker Spencer Havner from the practice squad after Chicago tried to sign him Thursday, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Thursday should be another interesting day in Minnesota, where there could be action in two different courthouses pertaining to the NFL's suspension of six players for taking a banned diuretic.
First, there will be some kind of follow-up on the temporary injunction issued to Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams in Hennepin County District Court. At this moment, the players can return to the Vikings' practice facility and prepare for Sunday's game at Detroit, but the NFL seems likely to seek an immediate reversal of the injunction from Judge Gary Larson.
Second, the NFL Players Association is expected to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to overturn all six suspensions, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported late Wednesday night. One of the judges in that court is David Doty, who has maintained a long-time purview over the league's collective bargaining agreement.
The bottom line is that we're headed toward an unprecedented legal fight to get these six players eligible for Sunday's games. A final answer should come by Friday.
We'll keep you informed and also try to do a better job than we did Wednesday of spreading our coverage to the other teams in this division. Thanks for hanging in with is. This blog will always be a work in progress.
So let's take our morning spin:
- Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune wonders if the latest Vikings drama will motivate owner Zygi Wilf to wash his hands of the franchise and sell.
- Minnesota state law has some unique facets that could aid Kevin Williams and Pat Williams in their legal fight, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy defended his play calling on the goal line late in last Sunday's loss to Carolina, writes Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. McCarthy, who called three consecutive runs before opting for a short field goal, said: "If you go and watch the film and you call my play calling conservative, I wouldn't agree with that. I mean, we pushed the ball down the field. We're not a conservative offense so I don't even know why we're talking about it. The quarterback threw the ball 45 times in the game."
- The Packers plan to use linebacker Brady Poppinga more as a designated pass-rusher, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Chicago defensive tackle Anthony Adams will get a shot to prove he can be a full-time starter over the final four weeks of the season, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald. Adams will be replacing the injured Dusty Dvoracek in the starting lineup.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune doubts that the Bears can win all four of their remaining regular-season games.
- As of Wednesday, the Detroit Lions had about 8,000 tickets remaining for Sunday's game against Minnesota and were facing another local television blackout, according to the Detroit Free Press.
- Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky is close to being ready to play again, but he is out for Sunday, writes David Birkett of the Oakland Press. Daunte Culpepper will start and it's likely Drew Henson will be his backup.