NFC North: James Harris
On Thursday, we identified the Big Receiver that Got Away from the Minnesota Vikings. But as they prepare for Sunday's game against Sidney Rice and the Seattle Seahawks, the Vikings are trying to figure out why the current "big receiver" hasn't been more productive this season.
As Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes, Jerome Simpson has caught seven passes for 95 yards this season. (Simpson has also drawn more than 80 yards in pass interference penalties.) He has dealt with a back issue, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave admitted there have been a few plays where it appeared he was having trouble separating from defenders. But Musgrave also told reporters the Vikings need to use Simpson in different ways.
"[W]e need to do a better job of asking him to run different types of routes," Musgrave said. "... He ran some good routes in Detroit, that first week back (from a three-game suspension). Now we're still working through his issue with his [back], and I think he's getting better each and every week."
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Vikings never seriously considered acquiring receiver Dwayne Bowe or any other receiver at the trade deadline, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
- Vikings safety Mistral Raymond (ankle) should be available for part-time work Sunday against the Seahawks, notes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
- Chris McCosky of the Detroit News on Detroit Lions executive James "Shack" Harris: "He's about as anonymous and unassuming a trailblazer as you will ever meet." Harris was the first black quarterback to start a season for an NFL franchise.
- Lions linebacker Justin Durant is looking forward to hitting some of his former Jacksonville Jaguars teammates Sunday, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz on having rookie receiver Ryan Broyles, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "A lot of people were shocked when we drafted a wide receiver in the second round, but then you see what happens. Last year our wide receivers were healthy the whole year. We got very lucky last year." Broyles has replaced the injured Nate Burleson in the Lions' rotation.
- The Chicago Bears could turn to Kelvin Hayden as their nickelback if D.J. Moore doesn't straighten out his game, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- The Bears might have the NFL's two best cornerbacks this season, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com.
- It's "nearly impossible" to think of the Bears playing this kind of defense without middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, despite Urlacher's bad knee, writes Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- The Green Bay Packers seem more focused on throwing to their receivers, and less on tight ends, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers cornerback Charles Woodson on the progress of his broken collarbone, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "We'll go with the medical timeline right now. I will say, it's feeling a lot better. I have pretty good strength in it. It's just a time issue with a bone. You have to let it heal. At this point, I feel pretty good. Hopefully I'll be back sooner rather than later."
- Packers linebacker Erik Walden has responded to the offseason challenge he received from the team, writes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Receiver Greg Jennings had his surgery Thursday to repair an abdominal tear, notes Wilde.
The Lions shipped Alexander to Jacksonville and managed to get a player that can probably help them this season. Receiver Dennis Northcutt isn't a Pro Bowl player, but like most of the Lions' offseason acquisitions, he is a serviceable veteran who can bring more credibility to his position. Detroit's receiving corps looks a bit more respectable with Bryant Johnson, Ronald Curry and now Northcutt competing for time opposite Calvin Johnson.
Alexander has recovered from a neck injury that limited him to five games last season, but he turned out to be the odd man out from a group that includes rookie Louis Delmas along with veterans Kalvin Pearson, Daniel Bullocks, Marquand Manuel and Stuart Schweigert. Delmas almost certainly will start at one of the safety positions, leaving the other four veterans to compete for the second role.
It's worth noting that Lions senior personnel executive James Harris signed Northcutt as a free agent in 2007 when Harris was the Jaguars' vice president of player personnel.
Team needs: Many after 0-16. But here's one stab at the top three: Quarterback, offensive tackle, middle linebacker.
|Tom Hauck/Getty Images|
|Is Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford too risky for the No. 1 pick?|
Plan B: Assuming they can't trade down, the safest pick is probably Curry. He is a top playmaker and would step in right away at middle linebacker. But Curry played on the outside in college and would need to make an adjustment. Smith, or possibly Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, might offer the best long-term fit for the Lions. Jeff Backus would move to left guard and the Lions would have accomplished the important goal of upgrading their offensive line. Stafford could ultimately be their choice, but only if they are convinced that his accuracy and consistency issues in college are correctable.
Scouts Inc. take: "It's hard for me to see them taking Aaron Curry after they traded for Julian Peterson to play on the strong side. I know Curry could play middle linebacker, but I don't see him being the best player in the draft as a middle linebacker. That's what you have to weigh. If I were Detroit, I'd figure out a way to draft Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. [Lions coach] Jim Schwartz could make Raji into the next Albert Haynesworth in his defense. You don't take Raji at No. 1, but maybe they can maneuver things somehow. That would be huge for them." -- Jeremy Green, Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Martin Mayhew is entering his first draft as the Lions' general manager after eight years as an assistant in the Lions' front office. Mayhew is taking guidance from senior personnel executive James "Shack" Harris but has responsibility for all draft-day decisions.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Take this for all that it's worth: On the first full day of the 2009 scouting combine, five of Detroit's key decision-makers went to dinner with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford. The two-hour affair at a local steakhouse included:
- General manager Martin Mayhew
- President Tom Lewand
- Senior personnel executive James "Shack" Harris
- Coach Jim Schwartz
- Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan
Stafford entered the combine as the consensus top pick of the draft, and the Lions are evaluating whether to take him, go the safer route with an offensive tackle or trade out of the position.
Stafford is scheduled to speak with reporters here at the combine on Friday. We'll bring you his thoughts as soon as we can.
For now, let's take a romp through the rest of the division:
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com reports the Lions will release or trade quarterback Jon Kitna before he is due a $1 million roster bonus next month. Schwartz was vague on the issue Thursday.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that it's possible the Bears could draft an offensive lineman with left tackle traits to play on the right side.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald looks at the top tackles in the draft: Alabama's Andre Smith, Baylor's Jason Smith, Ole Miss' Michael Oher and Virginia's Eugene Monroe.
- Schwartz and Pittsburgh director of football operations Kevin Colbert both noted the difficulty of making the kind of switch to a 3-4 defense that Green Bay is planning. Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal has details.
- Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf loves to spend money in free agency, but there might not be enough targets available for his cash, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Former Vikings fullback Thomas Tapeh is likely to work out with Seattle next month, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The end of the NFL season ushers the return of the Black and Blue mailbag. Check in every weekend this offseason for an exciting new installment -- and feel free to send your questions here at any time.
Detroit writes: Any news on what the Steelers are going to do with Larry Foote? And his comments on playing in Detroit for his final seasons. Are the Lions interested in him and would that be possible if the Steelers release him?
Kevin Seifert: Yes, Foote has been vocal about wanting to end his career in Detroit. I'm not saying this is the case, but I wonder if he isn't trying to create a little leverage with the Steelers. Pittsburgh doesn't typically break the bank on free agents. I don't get the sense the Lions are looking to make too man big-money expenditures in free agency, which would at least make Foote a possibility for them.
Jim writes: I believe stability is huge in team chemistry, potential, and success. Would you care to comment on the stability of each of the NFC North Division team -- as you see it?
Kevin Seifert: I guess it depends on how you define stability. For the purpose of this question, I'll consider it from a big-picture, franchise standpoint. Under that definition, I think the Packers are the most stable team in the NFC North. They've got a high revenue-producing stadium and a stock ownership structure that eliminates some of the front-office drama many teams face. We're still learning about Mark Murphy, the president and CEO, but I don't expect him to have a quick trigger on personnel decisions. Chicago has been relatively stable under team president Ted Phillips. General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have been given time to carry out their vision. The Vikings have gained a measure of stability under new owner Zygi Wilf, but the looming expiration of their stadium lease means they could move as early as 2012. But Detroit has to be the least stable team. The Ford family subjected itself to eight years of misery under president Matt Millen and then promoted two of his subordinates to replace him.
Very quietly, the Detroit Lions are wrapping up their search for a personnel man to join new general manager Martin Mayhew in the front office. One name frequently mentioned in recent days is James "Shack" Harris, the former vice president of player personnel in Jacksonville.
Harris, former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage and former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist have all been mentioned as possible candidates. Although things could change, there have been recent indications that the Lions were focusing in on Harris.
Harris would fit the description of what Mayhew has said he was looking for: An experienced talent evaluator to serve as a second pair of trained eyes. Such an arrangement would lend credibility to a front office that hasn't engendered much lately.
Of course, at this time in the NFL offseason, that's not an easy job description to fill. The vast majority of qualified candidates are locked in with their current teams until after the draft. Typically, teams set the contracts of their personnel executives to expire in May to ensure continuity during this critical time of the season. And because the Lions aren't offering a job that would include final say on personnel issues, teams could block any interview requests for candidates under contract.
That leaves the Lions considering a pool of men who are currently unemployed. It's believed that Savage wasn't interested in joining the team in a subordinate role, but Harris is said to be ready to get back to work.
Harris wasn't perfect during his tenure in Jacksonville, where he shared final authority with coach Jack Del Rio. The Jaguars had some questionable draft choices during his tenure, from receiver Reggie Williams (2004) to receiver Matt Jones (2005), and they misfired last year when signing receiver Joey Porter to a free agent contract.
But Harris has more than a decade of experience in building playoff-caliber teams, something no one else in the Lions' front office can say. Prior to his stint in Jacksonville, Harris spent six years in Baltimore and was part of the Super Bowl championship team in 2000.
Hiring Harris as general manager would have been a suspect move. But bringing him in as a mentor of sorts for Mayhew would seem to be a good fit.
The future of the St. Louis Rams' head-coaching position -- and thus, that of Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier -- remained clouded in intrigue Saturday morning. But there were indications things could clear up as soon as Saturday afternoon and certainly by Monday.
Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and his wife were set to spend Friday night in St. Louis but both Garrett and general manager Billy Devaney said no offer has been made. Here's a link to the story from Jim Thomas and Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It's hard to imagine that Garrett isn't the top choice at this point, considering he already had his finalist interview with owner Chip Rosenbloom. But there has been no official announcement.
Here's one oddity to keep in mind if Garrett gets the Rams job: Frazier would become the first Vikings defensive coordinator to return for a third consecutive season since Foge Fazio in 1998.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- New Detroit coach Jim Schwartz met with the Lions' 13 assistant coaches who remain under contract, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. Schwartz did not release them from their contracts but said they were free to interview for other positions.
- The Lions' next order of business is to hire a personnel executive to assist general manager Martin Mayhew, according to David Birkett of the Oakland Press. The executive is expected to be a talent evaluator and could be a big name. Possibilities include former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage, former Denver general manager Ted Sundquist and former Jacksonville vice president James Harris.
- Green Bay is expected to interview longtime NFL assistant Dom Capers sometime this weekend for its open defensive coordinator job, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Capers' name first surfaced as a candidate Friday.
- New Chicago defensive line coach Rod Marinelli gave an interview to Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. His assessment of the Bears' talent level: "There's very good talent. Tommie [Harris] is special. That's what you've got to have at the 'under tackle,' and you've got good ends here and a couple guys that can go in and play that nose position."