NFC North: Ian Johnson
Remember all of those weeks last season when the Green Bay Packers listed linebacker Clay Matthews with a shin injury on their weekly report? That injury, Matthews revealed in an interview with Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, was actually a stress fracture.
Matthews: "I don't make a big deal of it. [It happened] some time in the middle of the season. You can't do anything about it. I was just taking practices off and showing up on game day and giving it my all."
The injury might have slowed Matthews' production in the middle of the season, and perhaps ultimately scuttled his chances for winning the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award. But he rebounded well in the postseason, totaling 3 1/2 sacks, and had a critical forced fumble in Super Bowl XLV.
As we discussed during our earlier stop on CampTour'11, Matthews reported to training camp slimmer and in improved cardiovascular shape in an attempt to limit the chance of injury. He told Demovsky he weighed in at 252 pounds, or six pounds less than in 2010.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Packers are contemplating a new base defense alignment to compensate for the loss of defensive end Cullen Jenkins, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In the alignment, B.J. Raji would work at Jenkins' former end position. Ryan Pickett would be the nose tackle and Mike Neal would be the other end.
- Packers coach Mike McCarthy gave all players with at least seven years NFL experience the night off from practice Tuesday, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. It is just practice, after all.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune thinks the Chicago Bears should hold out their key players from Saturday's preseason opener at Soldier Field considering the state of the playing surface. Haugh: "The game won't mean a thing unless somebody gets injured -- and those chances increased exponentially last week when the Park District forgot to turn on the sprinklers."
- Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times takes a closer look at the challenges of replacing the grass at Soldier Field with an artificial surface.
- Bears center Roberto Garza plans to lean on what former center Olin Kreutz taught him, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
- New Minnesota Vikings linebackers coach Mike Singletary is keeping a low profile during his first training camp with the team. Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has more.
- The Vikings' offense is moving forward in fits and starts, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
- Vikings safety Husain Abdullah will miss practice Wednesday to take part in a White House dinner to celebrate Ramadan, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson is having one of the best training camps of his career, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
- Running back Ian Johnson is pushing hard for a Lions roster spot, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com speaks to a noted NFC North expert about the Lions' place in the division.
Let's get to it.
Responding to our post about Detroit's possibilities if St. Louis selects Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at No. 1 overall, Facebook friend Dowveido suggests the Lions take Tennessee safety Eric Berry: He is to me the best player in the draft period.
Kevin Seifert: Our original post focused on the disappointing bench press of Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and the clear signs that Suh had passed McCoy as the consensus best prospect in the draft. Public conversation has centered around St. Louis taking Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford at No. 1 overall, leaving the Lions to draft Suh.
But what if the Rams pass on Bradford and take Suh? Would it still be a no-brainer to take McCoy at No. 2? Dowveido, for one, votes for Berry.
We've all see how an elite safety can impact a defense, from the intimidation of Ronnie Lott to the playmaking of Ed Reed. But on average, it just seems to be an NFL maxim that safeties are rarely taken at the top of the draft. Like it or not, the position is behind at least five others in terms of typical NFL ratings.
Taking a safety at No. 2 overall would be quite a luxury for the Lions, who already have an up-and-coming player at the position in Louis Delmas. When you go back in the history of recent drafts, you'll only find one safety taken No. 2 overall: Eric Turner by Cleveland in 1991.
With all that said, I'm going to stick with what I came to believe last year about Detroit's drafting policy. The Lions aren't going to discriminate among positions. That's what led them to take tight end Brandon Pettigrew with the No. 20 overall pick last year, despite greater needs at other spots. If their talent evaluators determine Berry is the best player in the draft after Suh, then I believe they'll take him take him based on that scenario.
That's a big 'if,' of course. A week bench press alone shouldn't be enough to alter a team's perception of a potentially elite player like McCoy. If I had to guess, I would say it would be an upset for Berry to supplant McCoy in Detroit's eyes.
Mbearased of Clayton, Ind., writes: If your team has no first or second round draft pick, does that mean they can not sign a restricted free agent with a first or second round compensation?
Kevin Seifert: Correct. As my colleague Mike Sando notes, the collective bargaining agreement explicitly requires a team to have possession of the necessary draft pick in order to sign an RFA to an offer sheet.
Conceivably, however, there is a way around that rule. Here's how it work, using fake names that of course have no reflection in reality:
1. RFA receiver Landon Farshall signs his tender offer extended by his original team, the Donkos.
2. The Donkos trade Farshall to the Dears for first- and third-round picks in the 2011 draft.
3. The Dears sign Farshall to a long-term contract extension.
4. And all of Rhicago rejoices.
Mark of Denver offers this brain twister: I was just reading the conversation between Mike Sando and John Clayton about the new proposed overtime rules, and I had a question that was not asked. What if, under the new rule, a team has to kick off, but they opt for an onside kick and recover. Then, said team then goes down and scores a FG. Technically, the game should be over, seeing as how the other team had a chance to have possession, but they were thwarted. (Don't they consider onside kicks turnovers?). Or, suppose a team scores a field goal, then they onside kick and recover, again, you would assume they would win, right?
Kevin Seifert: Ultimately, this would have to be explicitly explained in the wording of the rule. But just my opinion, and Mike shares it as well: I would hope that a failed kickoff recovery wouldn't count as a possession. That would defeat the purpose of the rule by allowing a team to lose by an overtime field goal before its offense gets on the field.
I'm also not certain how often a team would try the onside-kick strategy. If the other team recovers, it has a short field to drive for a touchdown to win it, or a field goal to put serious pressure on the offense. It might not be the wise move, regardless.
On Minnesota's backup running back situation, Noah of St. Paul writes: As a University of Iowa alum, I have to put in a good word for former Hawkeye Albert Young. I tend to think Ian Johnson would be better in this position, though, given how he was used as more of all-purpose back at Boise State. What are your thoughts on this? Is it that specialized of a role that we need to put a premium on LaDainian Tomlinson's proven ability (and risk that he's worn out)? Or are fresh legs equally important on third down? I see this potential signing as more of hype-generating tactic than an actual personnel strategy.
Kevin Seifert: Interesting take, Noah. Pursuing Tomlinson has certainly generated hype, but I do think he has a lot to offer in the role the Vikings have mapped out for him. Remember, Chester Taylor got 94 carries last season behind Adrian Peterson. That's an average of less than six per game. I think Tomlinson has six decent carries per game in him.
On third downs, the most important word is "reliable." The third-down back must be able to pick up blitzes, and he must have good hands. Making people miss and breaking big plays is secondary. As a veteran, Tomlinson is a more than competent pass-protector and his hands are trustworthy.
I would have some reservations about putting an unproven player like Ian Johnson in charge of protecting Brett Favre on third downs, assuming Favre plays in 2010. (Johnson spent last season on the Vikings' practice squad.) But with that said, there are a lot of people -- including Favre himself -- who think Albert Young could be ready for the job.
During his recent visit with coach Brad Childress, Favre mentioned Young's name several times. Said Childress: "Albert Young is a guy that has developed here tremendously in the last two years. As a matter of fact, Brett Favre and I had a long conversation about him when we were down south and he believes he's got a chance to be a good back in this league."
So I understand why the Vikings have pursued Tomlinson. But if it doesn't work out, Young could be the guy.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Minnesota managed to get quarterback John David Booty through waivers and onto its practice squad Sunday. It would have been a surprise had someone claimed him, but stranger things have happened.
For what it’s worth, we now have three NFC North teams with a quarterback on their practice squad. Booty joins Brian Brohm in Green Bay and Brett Basanez in Chicago; in the latter two cases, the maneuver allows the team to use only two active roster spots on quarterbacks. Given the relative rarity of a No. 3 quarterback actually playing in a game, it’s definitely the preferred scenario.
Tight end Garrett Mills, a strong pass-catcher who spent most of the past two seasons with the Vikings, also signed back to their practice squad. The remainder of Minnesota’s list:
INDIANAPOLIS -- We hit Minnesota's quarterback competition pretty thoroughly Friday night. But ESPN.com has learned that Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson weren't the only players on the field Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
So in honor of the other 78, let's consider five (non-quarterback) observations from the Vikings' 13-3 victory over Indianapolis:
- Minnesota's first-team defense played only one series, a six-play drive that ultimately netted the Colts zero yards. The Vikings sacked quarterback Peyton Manning three times, and afterwards Colts coach Jim Caldwell had seen enough. He called it a night and yanked Manning from the game. "It's hard for them to catch it with the ball in his hands," coach Brad Childress said. Consider it an efficient night for a defense that hasn't gotten much attention this summer.
- The Vikings' special teams played with the urgency to be expected from a group that needs to make serious improvement from last season. The Colts' average starting point in 10 possessions was their 21-yard line. They averaged 15.3 yards on four kickoff returns and 6.0 yards on two punt returns. And Vikings newcomer Glenn Holt made a spectacular tackle in the third quarter to stop Colts punt returner T.J. Rushing. The end result was a fumble for Rushing and a 52-yard net for punter Chris Kluwe. "I thought those guys were whipped up pretty good," Childress said.
- The Vikings were downplaying an apparent hamstring injury for receiver Bernard Berrian, but you wonder if it will shorten or possibly end his preseason. While there is some value to having Berrian work with the Vikings' quarterbacks in game situations, it's more important to have his legs fresh when the season begins. There's nothing worse than a receiver with a bad wheel. I'd be surprised if Berrian plays much more during the preseason.
- If the Vikings keep a third running back they'll have a tough choice between first-year player Albert Young (58 yards on 14 carries) and rookie Ian Johnson (50 yards on nine carries). Both are compact backs but run hard and move straight up the field.
- First-year receiver Jaymar Johnson returned punts and kickoffs in the absence of rookie Percy Harvin (shoulder). The good news: Johnson is smooth and appears to have excellent hands and confidence. But if Johnson has a burst to get past the first wave of coverage, he didn't show it Friday night.
Many of you are asking about the college free agent signing period, which began immediately after the draft ended Sunday night. Sometimes these players get more money and have a better chance to make the team than low-round draft picks.
Chicago and Minnesota have made formal announcements, while reports of Detroit and Green Bay are trickling in from local media outlets. Keep in mind that teams add and subtract from these lists regularly as training camp approaches. Also, note that some of the links take you to players who have been invited to rookie mini-camp this weekend on a tryout basis.
Here's a quick look with links if you're interested in all the gory details:
Total known signed undrafted players: 9 (Courtesy Chicago Bears)
Highlight: Cal fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou. A powerful blocker at 5-11 and 253 pounds, Ta'ufo'ou has a chance to stick.
Total known signed undrafted players: 4 (Courtesy the Oakland Press)
Highlight: Wake Forest receiver D.J. Boldin. He's the brother of Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Total known signed undrafted players: 10 (Courtesy the Green Bay Press-Gazette)MINNEOSTA VIKINGS
Highlight: The group includes five receivers, temporarily giving the Packers 13 receivers on their roster.
Total known signed undrafted players: 14 (Courtesy Minnesota Vikings)
Highlight: Boise State running back Ian Johnson, who proposed to his girlfriend immediately after the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press tackles the delicate task of juxtaposing Matthew Stafford's record-setting contract with the severe economic problems facing his new city.
Sharp: "Stafford's a Detroiter now. The richest rookie contract in NFL history ensures that he'll never share the economic upheaval gripping many in his newly adopted city, but it's important that Stafford proves that he at least hears their pain. He must prove himself worthy of the work ethic that still defines Detroit, especially in crisis."
So far, so good, according to Sharp. Stafford will receive $41.7 million in guaranteed money over the next few years, but he spoke genuinely about finding a way to help Detroiters. I jumped into his interview session Sunday and heard him say he wanted to find an avenue he is "passionate" about so that he could participate in the recovery beyond simply writing a check.
Sharp suggested buying tickets for families who have lost their jobs, or buying some foreclosed homes and turning them over to families in need. Whatever it is, Stafford seems interested in helping. The best thing he can do, of course, is turn the Lions around.
Stafford: "I also want to give them something to cheer about on Sundays. Winning football games takes a lot off people's minds, and we have the unique opportunity as NFL players to provide an entertainment source for people."
We're getting a bit of a late start here Monday but I hope you understand. Before we start the sprint, let's take a quick look around the division on the morning after the draft. (Yes, it is still morning.)
- Stafford isn't assuming he will open the season on the Lions' bench, writes Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News. "I'm going to fight like hell to get out there as soon as I can," Stafford said.
- Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune on the Vikings' draft: "[Brad] Childress and [Rick] Spielman -- with a financial assist from [Zygi] Wilf -- have built something close to a championship-caliber roster. If, that is, Childress and his quarterbacks are ready to take advantage of their advantages."
- Among the undrafted players the Vikings signed was Boise State running back Ian Johnson, the player who proposed to his cheerleader/girlfriend immediately after the Fiesta Bowl two years ago. The Star Tribune has a preliminary list of signed players here.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on the second day of the Packers draft: "... [Ted] Thompson's second day was like his first in one way: The emphasis was on big-body positions on both sides of the ball."
- The Packers are no closer to knowing who their starting right tackle is after this draft, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Chicago is projecting third-round pick Jarron Gilbert as a defensive tackle, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Third-round receiver Juaquin Iglesias has the best chance of contributing to the Bears right away, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.