NFC North: Jason McKie

We're Black and Blue All Over:

Part of me wishes I could have been a fly on the wall Thursday during Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz's speech to the Michigan Associated Press Sports Editors association. Access and information are always important issues for state APSE groups, and Schwartz has presided over a significant tightening on injury details disseminated by the team.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Schwartz gave a "long explanation" for his approach. Asked specifically about quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is recovering from right shoulder surgery, Schwartz did say: "In a nutshell, Matt is doing fine," according to Eric Lacy of the Detroit News. He added that it would be difficult to find an NFL quarterback who didn't recover from the kind of AC joint separation that Stafford suffered last November.

It's going to be tough to measure Stafford's progress this offseason regardless. With a lockout looming early next month, the Lions' early offseason strength and conditioning program will be canceled. It's not clear when or if NFL teams will get on the practice field before the start of the 2011 season.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Schwartz and the Lions are convinced their plan is working, writes Hugh Bernreuter of The Saginaw News.
  • The final cost of replacing the Metrodome roof is expected to be $19 million, according to Kevin Duchshere of the Star Tribune. All but $25,000 will be covered by insurance, however.
  • The Twin Cities suburb of Arden Hills is expected to vote next week to begin formally pursuing the Minnesota Vikings to build a new stadium at the site of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant near Interstate 35W and U.S. 10. Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has more.
  • In a letter to fans, the Vikings wrote: "[T]he MSFC also set a timeline that allows the stadium to be ready for use by August 1, 2011."
  • Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews' promotional tour this week will also include being a presenter at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night.
  • From an editorial in the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "The main celebrations may be complete, but the spirit of victory will be long-lasting for the residents of Titletown. This week's parties served as a joyful reminder that the world champion Packers have some world-class fans."
  • ESPN.com has video of Matthews participating in a WWE "Friday Night SmackDown" event.
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "The Bears continue to value their receivers more than others do."
  • Former Bears fullback Jason McKie re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
Continuing our Tuesday flurry: Chicago parted ways with one of its most professional and respected veterans while also signing a free agent cornerback.

I suppose it shouldn't be a shock considering the Bears' new offensive scheme, but it was still a bit jarring to hear that fullback Jason McKie was released. McKie played seven years for the Bears; center Olin Kreutz was the only offensive player who has been with the organization longer.

New coordinator Mike Martz prefers H-backs and blocking tight ends over fullbacks. Speaking to ESPNChicago.com, McKie said in part: "I pretty much knew when Mike Martz was named offensive coordinator that there wasn't going to be a high priority placed on the fullback position."

Via his Twitter page, McKie said: "I want to thank the Chicago bears for the opportunity of playing for one of the best organizations in the NFL...and I also want to thank all ... of the bears fans for their support it's truly been a blessing...Bear Down and God Bless!!"

Now, on to a more pleasant topic: The Bears reached a two-year agreement with free agent cornerback Tim Jennings, who spent the past four years with Indianapolis. He was a 12-game starter for the Colts as recently as 2008, but was moved to a reserve role last season and the Colts didn't offer him a restricted free agent tender.

In Chicago, it's safe to consider him a candidate for the nickel job.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

If you're looking for funny stories of bizarre hair cuts or rookies getting taped to goalposts, you're not going to get them out of Detroit's camp. As the Detroit Free Press reports, new Lions coach Jim Schwartz has banned hazing at his first training camp.

Here's Schwartz's explanation:

"This is professional football. They're here to do their job, and if they're distracted from doing their job by being made to sing or getting their hair cut or something like that, then they're not going to be able to give their best performance on the field."

Those sentiments are not unlike many new NFL coaches, who typically run relatively draconian training camps in their first season. It's not out of the question that Schwartz will let up later in his career, but for now he's trying to establish boundaries and a rhythm for his program. It's always a lot easier to let out the string later than it would be to tighten things down later.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago cornerback Nate Vasher is out for the season and fullback Jason McKie is out for Sunday night's game against Minnesota. The Bears confirmed the former and all but cemented the latter with a pair of moves Saturday.

Vasher was placed on injured reserve after fracturing his right hand last week at St. Louis. The Bears had already ruled him out for Sunday's game and there has been every indication he would miss extended time. Corey Graham is expected to start opposite Charles Tillman the rest of the way, with Danieal Manning serving as the nickel back.

The Bears used Vasher's roster spot to promote fullback Jason Davis from the practice squad. At the very least, Davis will give the Bears a fallback if McKie's quadriceps injury -- suffered during practice last week -- prevents him from playing against the Vikings.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago receiver Brandon Lloyd returned to the practice field Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, but it's not yet clear whether he'll be ready to play Sunday against Detroit.

Lloyd was the Bears' leading receiver when he sprained his knee Sept. 21 against Philadelphia. He has since missed three games.

Despite Lloyd's injury, the Bears have emerged as one of the NFL's better passing teams. The trio of Marty Booker, Rashied Davis and Devin Hester have filled in well behind him. Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton also is making liberal use of tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen.

Because we care, here are the Bears' receiving breakdown in the three games since Lloyd was injured:

Chicago pass distribution in the past three games
PlayerReceptionsYardsTDs
Devin Hester131751
Rashied Davis
131621
Greg Olson12 202 1
Matt Forte11761
Desmond Clark101260
Marty Booker81491
Jason McKie280
Kevin Jones250

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

ATLANTA -- It's easy to second-guess Chicago coach Lovie Smith's decision to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal here with 7:59 remaining.

The Bears are down, 19-10, meaning a field goal and a touchdown could win the game for them. Doesn't matter what order the scores come in. But if I had to second-guess anything, the first thing would be giving the ball to anyone other than tailback Matt Forte on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

Instead, the Bears handed it to fullback Jason McKie. (It looked like Kevin Jones, but the official play-by-play credits the carry to McKie.)

Forte had been rolling on the drive and you would have thought he would be the hot hand. We'll see if the Bears can regain possession quickly. I'll be back with you at the final gun and then again a few hours later.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

After Carolina's 20-17 victory over the Bears, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:

1. The Bears won't lose faith in tight end Greg Olsen after he fumbled following both receptions Sunday. The way their offense is shaping up around tailback Matt Forte, Olsen will be in position for so many play-action passes -- as long as offensive coordinator Ron Turner and quarterback Kyle Orton continue feeding him the ball. Olsen ultimately will be the best pass-catcher on this team, especially if Devin Hester is sidelined because of a rib injury.

An aside: Watching Olsen's struggles Sunday reminded me of an October day in 1999, when Minnesota tight end Jim Kleinsasser fumbled twice -- against the Bears, ironically -- in a 24-22 Vikings loss. Then-coach Dennis Green moved him to fullback the following week, and the Vikings have never considered Kleinsasser much of a receiving threat since. There's no chance the Bears will go to those lengths with Olsen, but for some reason it jogged my memory. Anyway ...

2. Yes, Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart gobbled up 76 rushing yards in the second half. But I choose to attribute that performance to heat and conditioning rather than a leaky run defense. This was textbook maneuvering by the Panthers: Bring in young, fresh legs against a veteran group that has been baking in dark jerseys all afternoon. Stewart sliced through the Bears on a number of occasions, but before the heat got to them, Chicago held starter DeAngelo Williams to 31 yards on 11 carries. That's more reminiscent of the quality of the Bears' run defense.

3. It's interesting how quickly it became public knowledge that Orton was responsible for changing the call on a key third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. Orton switched from a run to a pass that fell incomplete and was nearly intercepted. On fourth down, the Panthers stopped fullback Jason McKie for no gain. The Bears want Orton to be more than a "game manager," but it's clear they also have some unwritten limits for him. Afterwards, Turner second-guessed himself for giving Orton an option.

And here is one question I'm still asking:

How badly is Hester injured? He did not return Sunday after bruising his ribs, and the Bears aren't the same team without him. The mere threat of him as a returner changes the way teams play, and the Bears are far from knowing how good he can be as a receiver. The team should be holding its collective breath while awaiting Hester's prognosis.

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