NFC North: Johan Asiata

While the pretty boys are getting all of the attention in the Chicago Bears' offensive makeover, line coach Mike Tice is working quietly to improve a group that was at the crux of last season's problems. Tice has been asked to accomplish that goal with existing personnel, and on Sunday, he offered a status report on most of the individuals involved.

Here are some excerpts of his comments:

On right tackle Frank Omiyale, whom Tice has yanked from two drills for jumping offsides

Tice
Tice
Tice: "He's got a great quickness and long reach. He's got the ability to change direction and close inside moves if he's out there on an island -- which he might be in the offense we're putting in. He could be out there on an island some for a right tackle. So that's what he's got."

On left tackle Chris Williams

Tice: "I thought [Saturday] night he was one of the guys that was very solid. He had good sets for the most part. He is working hard to keep his left hand up. ... I think he has the ability to be whatever he wants to be. Would like to see a little more tenacity there, but we can't change people's makeups. But I liked his start. He was one of the guys that I singled out in the [offensive line meeting] room as starting out pretty good."

On guard/center Josh Beekman

Tice: "Another guy that I singled out that I thought ... had a solid night. He did a lot of good things, not only at guard but at center, too. Josh, I did single him out for having good pad level, but then again he's only 4-11." [Laughs.]

On left guard Johan Asiata, whom Tice said reminds him of another New Zealand native - former Vikings guard David Dixon.

Tice: "He smiles all the time. Doesn't say much. And he's funny. Johan goes like this all the time: 'Yes, coach.' Every time he does that, I picture Dave saying [in a deep voice], 'Ok Mike.' Johan had a little rough start [Saturday] night, but he'll be OK."

On guard Lance Louis, who has worked mostly at right guard in competition with Roberto Garza

Tice: "In my opinion he is battling with the right guard for the right spot. We keep talking about the left guard spot, I think we have other areas where we're having competition at. Lance was another guy whose start I liked. He's very aggressive. He's big. He's smart. He knocked people around [Saturday] night. He made some mistakes. ... I thought for a guy that hasn't really played a lot of football, he went out there and didn't show nay fear and competed."

On center Olin Kreutz

Tice: "I just think there are some things that he's let lapse, technique-wise. I've pointed that out and he's going to work on that. If he does that and he holds up, and I'm smart with him and don't overwork him, then I think he can [return to Pro Bowl status]. I think he has some juice left."
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The first practice of the Chicago Bears' training camp was about a new offense and a revamped defense. It was about new beginnings and last chances. Most of all, however, it was about Desmond Clark.

That's right. The veteran tight end was the standout player of the two-hour affair, beginning with a spectacular one-handed catch during individual drills and extending into 11-on-11 drills in which he caught everything thrown his way. I was busy tracking another portion of practice -- more on that in a bit -- but conservatively speaking, I would say Clark caught at least eight downfield passes from quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie.

Clark said afterwards that he couldn't remember a practice in his 12-year-career that included so many downfield receptions. Not only did it come in an offense that has historically ignored tight ends, but it came for a player whose position on the team appears far from secure.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would wonder if new coordinator Mike Martz intentionally orchestrated the practice to send a public message after months of discussion of tight end's role in his offense -- past, present and future. But I'm not. So I won't. I'm sure he didn't. No way.

"Hopefully we just keep it going," Clark said. "Not only me, but hopefully all the tight ends can make plays down the field. Hopefully it can build the confidence of our offense that we can make those plays down the field all season."

During most of practice, the Bears used two tight ends with their first-team group: Greg Olsen and newcomer Brandon Manumaleuna. Clark remains a strong locker room presence, however, and after Friday's showing, I think it's pretty clear he can still get it done on the field as well.

Some other observations from Day 1 at Olivet Nazarene University:

  • I tracked the first 29 plays that featured Cutler during team drills, be it 7-on-7 or 11-on-11. I wanted to see who Cutler might be favoring, if anyone, at the start of camp. By my count, Cutler threw more passes to receiver Johnny Knox (nine) than anyone else. I saw one interception, by cornerback Zack Bowman on a lazy pass down the right sideline for receiver Earl Bennett. I don't think we should draw any conclusions yet, other than the fact that coaches entered training camp hoping Knox would grow into a featured role. No surprise there.
  • I almost didn't recognize defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who has lost 20-plus pounds in order to focus his energies at defensive end. Idonije is about 265 pounds, which when spread over his 6-foot-6 frame, actually makes him look thin. He worked with the second team behind starting defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mark Anderson.
  • Johan Asiata got the first repetitions at left guard, but the Bears rolled in Josh Beekman with the first team as well. I'm betting the Bears give Asiata every chance to win the job.
  • In other position news, Nick Roach was working with the first team at strong-side linebacker. Pisa Tinoisamoa was with the second team.
  • For what it's worth, reserve quarterback Mike Teel has a nice arm -- one that appeared stronger than rookie Dan LeFevour's on Friday. Don't tell that to any of the legions of LeFevour fans in Illinois, however.
  • Players were in shorts and shells Friday, but they will be in full pads for Saturday night's practice, coach Lovie Smith said.
  • The weather couldn't have been more perfect for a training camp practice. Temperatures were in the low 70's, clouds kept the sun away and we had only the briefest of rain showers.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

We've discussed the impending return of Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who missed most of last season because of a fractured wrist. This week, however, Urlacher discussed the hoped-for return of the Bears' Cover 2 defensive scheme.

Speaking to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune, Urlacher said the addition of defensive end Julius Peppers should elevate the defensive line's pass rush, reduce the frequency of blitz calls and allow the Bears to play the scheme they employed with great success in the middle of the decade.
Urlacher: "I mean the year before the Super Bowl and the year of the Super Bowl, we were good. We ran so much Cover 2, and it worked, man. We had pressure on the quarterback. We had a lot of picks. Yes, we have the talent and the ability to play more man coverage. But here's the thing: Cover 2 works. When we do it right and when we have pressure with our front four and we're breaking on the ball like we've been doing all this spring, it works. There is no doubt in my mind that we will have pressure on the quarterback this season. ... I would hope we blitz less. Hopefully we won't need to. Pressure on the quarterback from the front is huge. You're dropping seven and that's more eyes on the quarterback, more people breaking on the football. It's just better for everyone.''

Pressure from the front four is a goal of every defense, but over the past three seasons, we've seen what happens when the Bears don't get it. Can Peppers alone reverse that trend? Urlacher believes he will.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com isn't sure why the Bears have placed so much trust in defensive end Mark Anderson, who will start opposite Peppers: "What has Anderson done to restore the Bears' faith in him? Why was [Alex] Brown deemed expendable? These are questions only Anderson can answer by his performance on the field."
  • Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times traces the journey of Bears guard Johan Asiata.
  • The Minnesota Vikings have expressed interest in free-agent receiver Kelley Washington, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
  • The father of Vikings center John Sullivan died suddenly of a heart attack last month, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com takes a look at the Vikings' quarterback depth.
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers this doomsday scenario for the Green Bay Packers' offensive line: "[Chad] Clifton and [Mark] Tauscher get old in a hurry, and when they are able to line up their level of play dips dramatically. [Bryan] Bulaga struggles at left tackle. T.J. Lang's post-surgical wrist takes a long, long time to heal. Breno Giacomini isn't the answer. No one emerges at left guard. Daryn Colledge proves that he shouldn't even have been brought back. Jason Spitz really is a center. Allen Barbre fails again. Marshall Newhouse can't anchor inside. Lang isn't able to punch and grab. Bulaga finally is moved inside in October, but by then it's too late."
  • Defensive lineman Justin Harrell's career is on the brink, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The Detroit Lions would be better off having running back Jahvid Best hold out than defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.

NFC North weekend mailbag

June, 19, 2010
6/19/10
12:00
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I once listened to "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" for almost 24 consecutive hours. Long story. Not that interesting. But I think it pretty much describes what any football fan feels in the middle of June.

When I'm drivin' in my car

and a man comes on the radio

he's tellin' me more and more

about some useless information

supposed to fire my imagination.

I can't get no, oh no no no.

Hey hey hey, that's what I say.


I can't get no satisfaction,

I can't get no satisfaction.

'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.

I can't get no, I can't get no.


Express your own dissatisfaction through the mailbag portal, Facebook or Twitter.

Onward...

Via Facebook, Donald writes: I am curious about Albert Haynesworth. Do you think Jim Schwartz or Lions brass would have interest in either trading for him (at a reduced rate) or claiming/signing him after he is released? I think he and Ndamukong Suh would be two unstoppable forces upfront for the Lions.

Kevin Seifert: Like many teams, I'm sure the Lions are conflicted about Haynesworth. When his head is right, Haynesworth can be a rare player. Schwartz built his scheme with Haynesworth playing defensive tackle at Tennessee, and I'm sure he could figure out a way for Haynesworth and Suh to play next to each other.

From a financial standpoint, many teams would jump at committing a relatively small total of $9 million guaranteed over the next two seasons. That bargain would come courtesy of the Redskins, who have already paid him $32 million.

Schwartz and the Lions would have to consider Haynesworth's well-deserved history of troublemaking and decide if he's worthy of insertion into their rebuilding process. After all of that, the hardest part of this decision is finding out how to pry Haynesworth away from the Redskins.

There is some thought that interested teams should wait for Haynesworth's eventual release, especially if the Redskins are successful in their efforts to capture part of his signing bonus. But if the Lions wanted to trade for him, and the Redskins just want to be done with this situation, it's worth revisiting a possibility we first broached in April.

Former Green Bay contract negotiator and current National Football Post columnist Andrew Brandt hatched a trade idea that would give the Redskins financial relief in another way. It calls for Haynesworth to keep all of the Redskins' money while the acquiring team takes on the expensive contract of another Redskins veteran -- namely, running back Clinton Portis.

Portis is due to make $7.2 million in 2010, of which $6.43 million is guaranteed. The Redskins would get some financial relief, and the new team would have to guarantee a total of $15.43 million for Haynesworth and Portis combined. The Redskins already have veteran running backs Willie Parker and Larry Johnson on their roster, while the Lions could surely use some backfield depth while Kevin Smith rehabilitates his knee injury.

You don't often see moves like this in the NFL. But you don't often see players demanding a trade from a team that has paid them $32 million over the past 15 months, either.


Neal of Eau Claire, Wis., writes: Who do you think has the best 5-year plan in the NFCN? As a Packers fan, I constantly hear Ted Thompson discuss "building for the future," which is how I came to think about this topic. Having Aaron Rodgers alone I think (in my very biased opinion) puts the Pack at or near the top, but being one of the youngest teams in the NFL helps also (Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Greg Jennings, etc.).

I have to say that having Matthew Stafford on offense (who I believe showed great leadership and character in the win last year in which he dislocated his shoulder) and Suh (also seems to have great character) on defense bodes well for the Lions. I think even the Bears are in a better position than the Vikings given that the Vikings have no plan at QB and Adrian Peterson will be out of his prime in a couple years.

What do you think?? Obviously hard to say and maybe impossible to predict, but gives us something to talk about in the month of June.

Kevin Seifert: I like your thinking, Neal. If the most important long-term position is quarterback, then the Packers are ahead of, well, the NFC North pack. The Bears could soon be in a comparable position with Jay Cutler if he settles down this season, and with Stafford, the Lions have their most important building block in place as well.

Aside from quarterback, I think the Vikings have done a solid job in flushing young talent into their offense. Receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are 23 and 22, respectively. Rookie tailback Toby Gerhart is 23. Two younger players, center John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt, assumed starting jobs on the offensive line last season.

Defensively, however, the Vikings' best players are aging. Nose tackle Pat Williams is 37. Cornerback Antoine Winfield will turn 33 next week. Linebacker Ben Leber is 30. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams turns 30 in August. They'll need to accelerate their replenishing process on that side of the ball.

On a relative scale, the Packers might well have the best five-year outlook among NFC North teams. But let's not equate average age with the total youth of a roster. There are key players on both sides of the ball who will need replacements soon, from receiver Donald Driver (35) to tackles Chad Clifton (34 next week) and Mark Tauscher (33) to cornerback Al Harris (35). That list includes some of the Packers' most reliable players over the past decade.

But overall I would agree with you, Neal, and put the Packers at the top of this list.


Jay of the Bay Area writes: Is Brad Childress losing control of his team? Every week, there seems to be some story about a player doing something that Childress is either unhappy about or naive about or something. The issues with Adrian Peterson and Chad Greenway strike me as instances in which the players feel they're running the team ... and don't even get me started on the Favre situation and the precedent that set (and is setting).

Kevin Seifert: Jay, I actually don't think the situation is quite that dramatic. I think it's a bit worrisome that an All-Pro tailback has been disconnected for much of the offseason. And my conspiracy radar went up when Childress and Greenway provided conflicting explanations for why he didn't practice during minicamp.

But I really don't think that Favre's special circumstances have bled into the rest of the locker room. I've not sensed that anyone else believes they are entitled to Favre's offseason vacation, and I would be surprised if Peterson ever cites that as a reason for his absence.

Childress does have a veteran locker room, and he needs to give them a certain amount of leeway. That's a long way from losing control of a team, and I don't think I've implied that in anything I've written. Unless you've read the blog like our next reader:


John of St. Paul writes: You embody everything that is vile about the media. Stop being so doom and gloom over melodrama. It's freaking pathetic. Your hyperbolic description over the Vikings offseason is obviously an overcompensation to appear impartial. It comes off as forced. Just write, dude.

Kevin Seifert: Funny, I was voted "Most Vile" in high school? It all makes sense now. Semi-seriously, John, you've introduced a concept I haven't even considered: The Jedi mind-trick of criticizing the Vikings to fool readers into thinking I'm not secretly their biggest fan. Brilliant! But as we all know, there is no try. You either do or do not. And I do not.


Monsterdfence76 of Shamokin, Pa., writes: What is Chicago's offensive line looking like? Who is going where? I know it is early! But if you had to say, who's where?

Kevin Seifert: I think we can all agree that Chris Williams will be at left tackle, Frank Omiyale at right tackle, Olin Kreutz at center and Roberto Garza at right guard. Kreutz hasn't practiced this spring after having foot surgery, but every indication is that he will be ready for training camp.

That leaves left guard, the position the Bears hoped to fill with Omiyale last year. As ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson pointed out last week, first-year player Johan Asiata has caught the Bears' eye and was working exclusively with the first team during organized team activities. But the Bears have been known to reconfigure their personnel between OTAs and training camp, so let's not hand Asiata the job yet. He's a New Zealand native who didn't play football in high school and spent part of last season on the practice squad.

The unanswered question is what the Bears will do with Josh Beekman, who has started 20 games at left guard over the past two seasons but has been working exclusively at center in Kreutz's absence this spring. When Kreutz returns, will the Bears shift Beekman back to left guard? Or will they leave him at center as a long-term heir apparent?

We might not know the answer to those questions until training camp. But I can tell you that offensive line coach Mike Tice likes big guards. He had success with another big New Zealand native in Minnesota (David Dixon). The Asiata option appears to be legitimate.

BBAO: Ranking elite QBs

June, 17, 2010
6/17/10
7:55
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

John Clayton's list of elite NFC quarterbacks includes two from our Air and Space division. Here's the full list:

Drew Brees, New Orleans
Brett Favre, Minnesota
Donovan McNabb, Washington
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Tony Romo, Dallas
Matt Ryan, Atlanta

(Clayton noted he had eliminated Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler from the list. Thoughts?)

The list is ordered alphabetically, so let's have some fun and rank it ourselves. Below is my take, sure to cause massive controversy. It's based on where I think we'll be AT THE END OF THE 2010 SEASON.

Drew Brees, New Orleans
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Brett Favre, Minnesota
Matt Ryan, Atlanta
Tony Romo, Dallas
Donovan McNabb, Washington
Eli Manning, New York Giants

Continuing around the NFC North:

We're Black and Blue All Over:

I hope everyone had an outstanding summer weekend. Although, I don't know if we can call this "summer" yet -- at least not in the Upper Midwest. As I type this sentence, it's an invigorating 53 degrees outside. That's the June payoff we get for dealing with sub-zero temperatures in the winter.

I thought Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune had one of more interesting stories of the weekend, taking a detailed look at how Mike Martz's traditionally high-turnover scheme will impact the Chicago Bears' Tampa 2 defense. (Martz's teams have averaged 38 giveaways per season.)

From a philosophical standpoint, Pompei suggests the two schemes are a good fit.
What the Bears have going for them is a defensive system that is compatible with Martz's offensive system. The Martz offense is built to strike quickly. The defense is built to play with a lead -- to rush the passer, make big plays and create opportunities for the team's offense. So in theory, at least, what we should see is an offense that builds early leads and then allows the defense to put away opponents.

Sounds about right to me -- in theory.

Continuing to catch up around the NFC North:

Tons-of-fun OTA roundup

June, 2, 2010
6/02/10
6:00
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Three of the four NFC North teams opened their organized team activities Wednesday. You've seen (and quite possibly skipped over) my reports from the Minnesota Vikings. Now let's catch up on the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers via media outlets that were in attendance.

Chicago Bears

Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, a possible starter opposite Tommie Harris, revealed he lost more than 20 pounds during a recent week-long battle with tonsillitis. According to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com, Harrison was limited in Wednesday's practice.

"Before I got sick, the offseason was going great," Harrison said. "I just got to get back used to it. I've been out for a long time, so man, my body just has to get used to it. I lost a lot of weight and stuff, so I just have to get it back.

"I know [defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli] is going to pick it up and make sure I get back to where I need to be. I'm not really concerned about that. I want to get in there and do it. I need to get in there and do it. But coach Marinelli is going to have me ready."

Meanwhile, if you're keeping track of the Bears' search for a left guard: Dickerson reports the Bears were using Josh Beekman strictly at center. That means Kevin Shaffer, Lance Louis and Johan Asiata rotated at left guard.

Green Bay Packers

For those wondering how the Packers plan to stack their cornerback depth, especially considering the shift of Will Blackmon to safety, coach Mike McCarthy heaped effusive praise on second-year player Brandon Underwood.

"I think Brandon Underwood would definitely be a candidate for most improved player from year one to year two so far from what I've seen," McCarthy said. "I think he's really matured in the weight room. He looks very good right now. I know we're only practicing in shorts and helmets, but I think Brandon Underwood is off to an outstanding spring so far. I've been very pleased with what he has shown on film."

Other candidates to back up the initial starting duo of Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams include Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush.

Veteran starter Al Harris, meanwhile, said he had shifted his knee rehabilitation from Florida to Green Bay. Harris wouldn't commit to a return date, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, but said his recovery is on schedule.

"I don't want to give any predictions or anything like that, but I'm going to do my part," Harris said. "So if it's up to me, and it's up to me working to get out there, then I'll be out there. But we've got to go with the protocol and do what's right for the team and what's right for me. I'm going to do my part as far as preparing and working to get better."

Practice squad extravaganza: Bears

September, 6, 2009
9/06/09
1:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Chicago kicked off Sunday’s roster moves by announcing seven members of their eight-man practice squad, including quarterback Brett Basanez.

In addition to Basanez, the list includes:

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