NFC North: Fred Miller
- Coach Leslie Frazier admitted he erred in deciding to seek a touchdown rather than a short field goal on fourth-and-goal in the fourth quarter. Frazier said his emotions got the best of him and said the "bad mistake" was "purely on me." Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, meanwhile, said he regretted his play call, a handoff to tailback Toby Gehart. Musgrave told reporters he wished he had used a bootleg play to capitalize on quarterback Christian Ponder's mobility. Both men are to be commended for owning up and avoiding tortured justifications. But the admissions won't sit well with those who are concerned about Frazier's game management and/or Musgrave's lack of innovation. One of the primary attributes Frazier seemed to have as a head coaching candidate was his calm demeanor under pressure. But it hasn't always served him as well in his first season as an NFL head coach.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com offered an interesting sidenote in his game column: Frazier has quietly taken some play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Fred Pagac and was calling at least "a chunk" of the defense himself in Atlanta. That doesn't bode well for the future of Pagac, who doesn't have a position to coach. You would think there is going to be some fallout from a season that, to this point, is one of the worst in franchise history. Frazier is coaching this season with a mix of new assistants and others inherited from the staff of former coach Brad Childress. A clean slate might be necessary. If Pagac is fired, you wonder if Frazier would be tempted to promote linebackers coach Mike Singletary, his long-time friend and confidant.
- According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Percy Harvin's 104-yard kickoff return was the longest play in NFL history that didn't end in a touchdown. I threw that note out Sunday night via on Twitter and was surprised at the level of sardonic humor Vikings fans have descended into. My favorite response came from @reverik: "No one almost scores like us." In all seriousness, we should note that Harvin has now accumulated 200-plus yards in seven of his 40 career games. Remember, Harvin is still only 23. He has played the entire season without any reported migraine episodes and is one of the brightest spots of the Vikings' future.
I've suggested that the offensive line should be the Vikings' top priority this offseason, but I'm now wondering if their secondary is in need of more attention. It's injury-ravaged at this point, but even if you assume the full recovery of everyone involved, it's hard to identify a reliable starting combination in 2012. Would you count on any of their safeties to be long-term starters? I'm not sure I would. And the futures of the top two cornerbacks in the program, Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, are uncertain at best.
As promised earlier, here is a look at the prominent and available offensive linemen who can play right tackle. Consider it one guide for Chicago's apparent task of replacing veteran John Tait, who reportedly is leaning strongly toward retiring.
I've organized this list in order of the grades our own Scouts Inc. gave each player. Here's the link to Scouts' offensive tackle page. Insider subscribers also can view expert analysis of each player.
Jordan Gross (Carolina)
Vernon Carey (Miami)
Stacy Andrews (Cincinnati)
Jon Runyan (Philadelphia)
Max Starks (Pittsburgh)
Jon Stinchcomb (New Orleans)
Richie Incognito* (St. Louis)
Willie Colon* (Pittsburgh)
Mark Tauscher (Green Bay)
John St. Clair (Chicago)
Trai Essex* (Pittsburgh)
Fred Miller (Chicago)
Erik Pears* (Denver)
George Foster (Detroit)
Ray Willis (Seattle)
Some notes on the list above:
- Scouts considers anyone with a grade of 60 or above to be starter-caliber. To be safe, I included players who could fit in at right tackle with a score of 59 or above. If you think I missed someone, let me know.
- Players listed with an asterisk (*) are restricted free agents. The rest are unrestricted.
- The Panthers are expected to either sign Gross to an extension this week or make him their franchise player later this week.
- It's conceivable that Carey could also be franchised.
- Runyan has had microfracture surgery on his right knee and will need up to six months to recover. At 35, that's not a good combination.
- Andrews had reconstructive knee surgery and might not be ready to start the season.
- Tauscher is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
- Incognito has mostly played center and guard in his career but could move outside. It's a long shot.
- In general, this list shows why there are a lot of people suggesting the Bears really need to re-sign St. Clair. He's not the highest-rated player on the board, obviously, but he knows the offense and will need minimal adjustment to slide over to the right side.
Let's continue our early look at the NFC North offseason with this season's second-place team.
Chicago Bears offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 9-7
- Coaching changes: Hired Rod Marinelli to replace defensive line coach Brick Haley. Put defensive coordinator Bob Babich in charge of linebackers, replacing Lloyd Lee. (Babich won't call defensive signals.) Replaced defensive backs coach Steve Wilks with Jon Hoke.
- Salary-cap space: $17.4 million before end-of-year credits and adjustments.
- Restricted free agents: None of note.
- Unrestricted free agents: Safety Mike Brown, quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Kevin Jones, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, safety Brandon McGowan, offensive lineman Fred Miller, offensive lineman John St. Clair.
- Draft highlight: The Bears have the No. 18 overall selection.
- Free-agency comment: It seems unlikely the Bears will bring back Brown or Grossman. Jones was nearly a nonfactor and reduced to special-teams work. Lloyd's fade in the second half of the season suggests the Bears won't be eager to bring him back.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Playmaking receiver to draw coverage away from Devin Hester. (2) A coverage-oriented safety to replace Brown and protect Kevin Payne. (3) A trusted running back to take some burden off starter Matt Forte. (Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders if holdover Garrett Wolfe might get that chance.)
I haven't heard an outcry since the dissolution of our Friday "Revealed" feature. But just so you know our thinking, it seemed like re-printing the entire Friday injury report was more confusing than helpful. So we've streamlined things a bit and will now tell you, as my NFC West colleague Mike Sando would say, about the "injuries that matter."
So here you go:
Chicago: Receiver Marty Booker (knee) has been declared out of Sunday's game at St. Louis. It will be interesting to see if the injury opens an opportunity for rookie Earl Bennett. ... The Bears also ruled out linebacker Darrell McClover (hamstring) and tackle Fred Miller (shoulder). Everyone else should be available.
Detroit: Receiver Mike Furrey (concussion), center Dominic Raiola (hand), cornerback Keith Smith (hand) and defensive end Dewayne White (calf) all will miss Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. ... Safety Dwight Smith (foot) and guard Edwin Mulitalo (knee) are questionable. Their status will be determined Sunday.
Green Bay: The Packers still have one more day of practice before Monday night's game at New Orleans, but the big question is whether receiver James Jones (knee) will play. Jones was added to the injury report Friday and is listed as questionable. He appeared to re-injure his knee last week against Chicago. ... Cornerback Jarrett Bush (ankle) hasn't practiced all week.
Minnesota: Tailback Adrian Peterson returned to practice, was removed from the injury report and will start Sunday at Jacksonville. Peterson was wearing a wrap on his right knee, but coach Brad Childress said it was nothing out of the ordinary. ... Defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder) was limited in practice but should play. Tight end Garrett Mills (ankle) is doubtful and isn't expected to be in uniform.
The Chicago Bears' decision to sign veteran tackle Fred Miller on Wednesday gives them the depth they've needed at the position since first-round draft pick Chris Williams had back surgery last month.
The Bears have been talking to Miller for the better part of a month. By signing him after the first game of the season, Chicago won't have to guarantee his base salary this season. The Bears did give him a $40,000 signing bonus, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Miller's arrival isn't likely to shake up the starting lineup. John Tait will remain the starter at right tackle with John St. Clair on the left side. Miller will back up Tait, who can also play left tackle and would be the likeliest candidate to slide over if something happened to St. Clair.
Sometimes a player's best attribute is his name. If you're a Detroit Lions fan, and you hear that your team is working out running back Rudi Johnson -- one of the AFC's top running backs in recent years -- you naturally are going to get excited. It makes you feel like your team is serious about winning and that it won't sit pat if it believes there is a way to improve.
As recently as 2006, Rudi Johnson was a 1,300-yard runner. And even though injuries dropped his production considerably last season, he still sounds like an improvement over Tatum Bell as the primary backup to rookie Kevin Smith.
In reality, Johnson is an almost completely unknown quantity. A hamstring injury sidelined him for much of this summer, and he reportedly entered training camp at least 10 pounds heavier than the Cincinnati Bengals wanted him. He did not play in the preseason and, let's face it, at 28 -- and with 1,441 career carries -- Johnson is statistically past his prime in running back terms.
The good thing is Johnson would not be asked to carry the full load for the Lions. Smith is expected to start, and whether Bell remains with the team, the Lions also claimed a promising rookie in Marcus Thomas over the weekend.
From this vantage point, signing Johnson seems to be a low-risk, potentially high-reward move for the Lions. They are serious about running the ball this season, and if he is healthy enough to play -- something the Lions will find out Monday during a workout and physical -- Johnson could contribute to their success while mentoring Smith. Lions fans could probably live with that.
Elsewhere around the NFC North on this last day of summer (in our book):
- Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Scott Hunter, who replaced Hall of Famer Bart Starr in 1972, empathizes with current Packer starter Aaron Rodgers, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has some advice for Brett Favre: Let it go. Favre, traded to the New York Jets last month, continued his criticism of general manager Ted Thompson last week.
- The Chicago Bears are still trying to sign free agent offensive lineman Fred Miller, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison will back up Pro Bowler Jared Allen this season, but he still thinks he will play enough to get 10 sacks this season, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
The Chicago Bears weren't ready to pull the plug on rookie left tackle Chris Williams after doctors repaired a herniated disc in his back Thursday, but they seemed more hopeful than confident.
Williams, who also had back trouble during his college career at Vanderbilt, hasn't practiced since the Bears' first day of training camp, a development that stalled the team's plans to revamp its offensive line. While it's possible doctors could clear Williams to play at some point during the season, the Bears will have to decide if it's worth carrying him on their active roster until that point -- and if he would be well-suited by returning after missing essentially all of training camp and probably a good portion of the regular season as well.
"We have to wait and see probably for a few weeks and see how the rehab is," general manager Jerry Angelo said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
In the meantime, the Bears have some tough decisions to make along the offensive line. Veteran John St. Clair has been filling in for Williams, but the Sun-Times reported the team could ultimately move right tackle John Tait back to the left side and signing veteran Fred Miller to play right tackle. In that scenario, St. Clair would compete for the starting left guard job.
Those are not the kind of decisions the Bears wanted to be making during the first week of the preseason.
Around the division after a bit of a late start for us Friday morning. (Call it a Favreover).
- The Bears' first-team offense didn't exactly light it up in a 24-20 preseason loss to Kansas City. Chicago trailed 14-3 at halftime, and neither Kyle Orton nor Rex Grossman distinguished himself in the team's quarterback competition. Orton dropped the ball while scrambling on a third-down play, while Grossman fell on his back while dropping back from center. Meanwhile, the Chiefs' offense sliced through the Bears' first-team defense on its opening drive.
- Second-year quarterback Drew Stanton took his first live snaps in nearly two years during the Lions' 13-10 victory over the New York Giants. Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press suggests that Stanton could buy coach Rod Marinelli another season as head coach if he makes him the starter later this season. "Stanton might become Marinelli's coaching safety net," Sharp writes.
- Rookie right tackle Gosder Cherilus was called for two false starts and a holding penalty Thursday night.
- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and the rest of the team's starters will play about a quarter in Friday night's preseason opener against Seattle.
- OK, you can relax now. The makers of Madden NFL 09 said Thursday they will release an update that puts quarterback Brett Favre with the New York Jets. The store edition of the game will continue to feature Favre win a Green Bay Packers uniform on the cover, but if it helps, the manufacturer will send you an updated, downloadable cover to print out.