NFC North: John Tait
A look at the key loss and his replacement for each team in the division:
Who's out: John Tait, right tackle (Retired unexpectedly)
Who's in: Chris Williams (2008 first-round draft pick)
Outlook: The Bears originally expected Williams to start at left tackle, and he still projects there in the long-term. But the fallout from Tait's unexpected retirement, as well as the free agent departure of John St. Clair, left Chicago scrambling.
As it turned out, veteran free agent Orlando Pace was the best option. Rather than shifting Pace out of his longtime spot on the left side, the Bears decided to let Williams break into the NFL at what is generally considered a less challenging position.
This seems to be a reasonable arrangement and a good response to Tait's decision. All things equal, new quarterback Jay Cutler would surely prefer backside protection from Pace rather than an untested player. Williams will get a chance to learn the NFL game without that pressure.
Outlook: The Lions didn't lose anyone they had hoped to retain, but the quarterback transition is the biggest item on their agenda this summer.
his career. The pieces are in place for him to have at least short-term success, most notably offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and receiver Calvin Johnson.
Unless Stafford proves to be the rarest of talents, it's likely Culpepper will open the season as the Lions' starter. If he can achieve modest success, he will give Stafford the long-term gift of a full season of development on the bench.
Who's out: Mark Tauscher, right tackle (Currently a free agent as he rehabilitates a torn anterior cruciate ligament)
Outlook: The Packers almost certainly would have brought back Tauscher were it not for the injury, and it's always possible he could return at midseason if and when he fully recovers. Until then, however, the Packers will have to determine if anyone on their current depth chart can handle the job.
Barbre will get the first chance. He's seen reserve action in 15 games over the past two seasons, mostly at guard, but has a mean streak that could serve him well in a primary run-blocking position of the offensive line. Some consider Lang, a fourth-round pick in 2009, a potential long-term answer.
Who's out: Matt Birk, center (Signed with Baltimore as free agent)
Who's in: John Sullivan (Sixth-round pick, 2008)
Outlook: The Vikings made a late run at trying to sign Birk but all along seemed prepared to pass the torch to Sullivan, a Notre Dame project who was one of the first players to report for offseason training this winter.
Sullivan doesn't have Birk's size, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep some of the game's top defensive tackles out of the Vikings' backfield. But from a mental standpoint, no one expects any difficulty with Sullivan's line calls or his capacity to otherwise handle the position.
Free-agent offensive lineman Orlando Pace was scheduled to visit Chicago on Monday, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
Pace, a seven-time Pro Bowler, was released by St. Louis earlier this month. He primarily played left tackle during his career with the Rams but most NFL teams are projecting him as a right tackle for 2009.
Pace, 33, missed 25 games over the past three seasons because of various injuries. The Bears could simply be checking up on his health, or they could have genuine interest.
The timing of Pace's visit is interesting, considering the Bears signed free agent Kevin Shaffer last week ostensibly to serve as their right tackle. If Pace were to sign, Shaffer could provide some high-priced insurance at both tackle positions. The Bears are planning to start second-year player Chris Williams at left tackle.
Including Williams, the Bears seem likely to three new starters along the offensive line in 2009. Frank Omiyale could start at left guard, and there will be a new right tackle in some fashion to replace the retired John Tait.
Pace has also visited the Baltimore Ravens. He is by far the highest-profile free agent known to have visited Chicago's Halas Hall this offseason. Here is what Scouts Inc.'s Jeremy Green said recently about Pace's prospects for moving to right tackle at this point in his career.
"I think he could play right tackle and it might almost be better for him to play right tackle. He's not going to be as physical in the running game as you might like, but he's also not going to be facing the opponents' best speed rusher like he was on the left side. He has really struggled with some guys that can really rush the passer. It was getting to the point where guys were running around him. But even if he's at 80 percent, I think he can handle the guys on the other side. You could do a lot worse than having a player who is 80 percent of what Orlando Pace once was, especially on the right side."One update: Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out that Bears coach Lovie Smith was the Rams' defensive coordinator for three of Pace's seasons in St. Louis.
For the second part of our weekend mailbag, I thought I'd try focusing one question that popped up often last week. Duncan inspired the exercise by noting that 75 percent of the NFC North has significant questions at right tackle:
- Chicago's John Tait has retired and swing tackle John St. Clair signed with Cleveland. For now, Frank Omiyale is holding down the position.
- Green Bay starter Mark Tauscher is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is also a free agent.
- Minnesota has made clear it expects starter Ryan Cook to make significant improvement.
Only Detroit appears confident in its starter, in part because Gosder Cherilus was a first-round draft pick last season. (It's not out of the question the Lions will draft a left tackle, but that possibility is irrelevant in this issue.)
I got maybe a dozen mailbag notes who offered the same solution: Free agent Orlando Pace, whom St. Louis released earlier this month.
My first inclination was to dismiss Pace for that possibility entirely. He's had some health concerns and at 33, he's on the far downside of his career. And then there is the issue of moving from left tackle to right tackle. Anecdotally, Pace is the classic tall and long-armed left tackle who is difficult to run around in the pass rush but not exactly a mauler in the running game.
Traditionally, teams are right-handed and therefore like to have the right tackle be a strong run-blocker. But as I've mentioned before, I also have no illusions about my amateur football intelligence. The Baltimore Ravens, after all, are investigating the possibility of Pace playing right tackle for them. So I asked Jeremy Green, the director of pro scouting for Scouts Inc., if he thought Pace could -- or should -- play right tackle for the final few years of his career.
Jeremy's answer surprised me a bit, but it also made sense:
I think he could play right tackle and it might almost be better for him to play right tackle. He's not going to be as physical in the running game as you might like, but he's also not going to be facing the opponents' best speed rusher like he was on the left side. He has really struggled with some guys that can really rush the passer. It was getting to the point where guys were running around him. But even if he's at 80 percent, I think he can handle the guys on the other side. You could do a lot worse than having a player who is 80 percent of what Orlando Pace once was, especially on the right side.
There are still some other issues to resolve, including whether a Black and Blue team would want to take on a short-term addition at a time when it clearly needs a long-term solution. Nothing about the approach of any NFC North team suggests it will pursue Orlando Pace to play right tackle. But based on Jeremy's analysis, it could work on a football level.
Let's catch up on Thursday's Black and Blue news items...
- Chicago formally acknowledged the retirement of right tackle John Tait by moving him to the reserve/retired list. This means the Bears will retain Tait's rights should he decide to play again. Think that nuance is irrelevant? See Favre, Brett. Because he is on the retired list, Tait's contract won't count against the Bears' salary cap.
- The Bears also announced that cornerback Marcus Hamilton signed his exclusive rights tender, making him eligible to participate in next week's mandatory mini-camp.
- Minnesota left tackle Bryant McKinnie was accepted into a pretrial diversion program in Miami-Dade (Fla.) County, avoiding a trial stemming from a February 2008 brawl outside a Miami nightclub. McKinnie must serve community service, receive anger-management counseling and avoid arrest during the program. He has already served a four-game NFL suspension for the incident.
- The Vikings announced three changes to their coaching staff, including one of the sons of Indianapolis president Bill Polian. Dennis Polian will serve as assistant to the head coach, replacing Kevin Stefanski, who was promoted to offensive quality control coach and will work primarily with quarterbacks. Chris White, who spent the past nine years on the Syracuse staff, will serve as assistant special teams coach.
- Detroit will host Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry on a visit Sunday, according to David Birkett of the Oakland Press. Curry will be the third draft-eligible prospect to meet with team officials at the Lions' practice facility, following Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith and Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford.
As we look ahead following a wild opening weekend of the NFL's free agent market, the ESPN blog network will take a look at what's next. Let's have some fun and try matching a remaining player with an NFC North team:
It won't sound exciting to many Bears fans, but offensive lineman John St. Clair looks like a pretty important figure right now. The signing of free agent tackle/guard Frank Omiyale gives the Bears some flexibility, but there is still no obvious successor to retiring right tackle John Tait.
St. Clair is an ideal short-term fit for that role, much as he was in 2008 at left tackle. He hasn't attracted a ton of interest from other teams, and it is in both sides' interest to find a common ground.
It's been a long time since the Lions have had a consistent returner, and they could use more depth in their defensive backfield even after acquiring Anthony Henry and Eric King over the weekend. This makes Carr a real value.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported the Packers might target San Diego's Igor Olshansky, who would give them another option at defensive end as they convert to a 3-4 defense.
Olshansky isn't exactly a household name, but the Packers don't have a proven pass rusher at this point to play either end position.
Ok, let's have some real fun.
We here in the Black and Blue didn't have the kind of blockbuster free agent weekend that a few other divisions enjoyed. That could change a bit if receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh agrees to terms with Minnesota, possibly as early as Monday, but otherwise the NFC North took a secondary position in the initial stages of the NFL's offseason player scramble.
But with a nod toward AFC North colleague James Walker's 7-step drop, and in recognition of my own absence over the weekend, let's touch on a few pertinent points before moving forward this week:
- Chicago's acquisition of offensive lineman Frank Omiyale gives the Bears extra flexibility but doesn't necessarily answer the question of who will replace retired right tackle John Tait. Omiyale's $5 million in guarantees suggests he will start somewhere, but he has experience across the line and likely will focus on guard, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. This means the Bears likely will have three new starters on their line in 2009: Chris Williams at left tackle, Omiyale -- possibly at left guard -- and whoever replaces Tait. You would have to assume that current free agent John St. Clair remains the favorite for that job.
- I can only hope Green Bay wasn't too serious about signing free agent defensive end Chris Canty, who agreed to terms with the New York Giants on Sunday evening. This quote from Canty's agent, Brad Blank, spoke volumes: "They acted like the Packers always do. They said, 'Good luck with [the Giants], and if it doesn't work out, we're interested.'" (Check out Pete Dougherty's full story in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.) Assuming Blank provided an accurate portrayal of the Packers' message, then it's the stance of a team that considered Canty a secondary target at best. If the Packers had serious designs on signing Canty -- and it's not as if they are overloaded with 3-4 defensive ends -- then they needed a much more aggressive approach.
- This is just me talking, but what I liked the best about Detroit's weekend is that the Lions got something in return for quarterback Jon Kitna, who under no circumstances was going to be back with the team in 2009. I don't know whether cornerback Anthony Henry, whom the Lions acquired from Dallas in return for Kitna, is going to have a huge impact this season. But most teams simply would have released Kitna and went about their business. The trade sends the appropriate message that new general manager Martin Mayhew is going to leave no stone unturned and will try to capitalize on every asset possible to improve the roster. It's also a sign of Mayhew's negotiating skill that he was able to get a return on a player near the end of his career who had no future with the team.
- I continue to be amazed at the way Minnesota is willing to throw money around at darn near every position except quarterback. The Vikings' latest target, Houshmandzadeh, figures to get a deal from someone worth around $6 million per season. Over the weekend, backup tight end Jim Kleinsasser signed a new three-year, $9 million deal. That's only slightly more than the Vikings will pay quarterback Sage Rosenfels, whom they acquired Friday to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for their starting job. (Rosenfels signed a two-year, $9 million contract.)
We offered a thorough breakdown of Detroit's situation heading into this week's scouting combine, but we've recently learned there are three other teams in the NFC North. So let's play a little catch-up and check in with Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota on the eve of the year's greatest draft-related event held during the third week of February:
Three points of interest:
- The Bears must prepare for right tackle John Tait to retire, even though general manager Jerry Angelo has said he hopes Tait plays at least one more season. As we noted, the free-agent market at right tackle is pretty thin. But 2009 might prove to be a strong year for tackles in the draft. It's not out of the question, according to ESPN.com's Todd McShay, that four tackles could be off the board by the time Chicago picks at No. 18. In either event, McShay has five offensive linemen with first-round grades.
- The Bears signed free-agent quarterback Brett Basanez earlier this month, but at this point you have to assume they will further stockpile their depth. The free-agent market should continue to clarify as the weekend approaches, giving us a better idea if players like Chris Simms plan to re-sign with their current teams or test the market.
- The draft rarely offers immediate impact at the receiver position, so the Bears almost certainly will have to scour the free-agent market if they want to upgrade their corps. We've suggested Pittsburgh's Nate Washington as a potential fit, but there are plenty of other possibilities. Here are the receiver rankings from Scouts Inc.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Three points of interest:
- We should get a better sense of how much, or little, personnel turnover the Packers are planning as part of their shift to the 3-4 defense. General manager Ted Thompson isn't a big fan of free agency, and he offered a bit of a winding answer when Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal asked about the Packers' personnel plans.
- Many mock drafts are suggesting the Packers will draft Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins with the No. 9 overall pick. Some analysts have suggested Jenkins might project better as an NFL safety. This topic should be well-discussed at the combine.
- The Packers used tailback Ryan Grant an awful lot in 2008, giving him 312 carries. You would think they'll look to spread the ball out a bit more in 2009. Will Grant's partner be backup Brandon Jackson? Or will the Packers seek help from elsewhere? Here's a link to Scouts Inc.'s ranking of running backs.
Three points of interest:
- The big question is whether the Vikings will pursue a starting-caliber quarterback or merely look to add depth behind starter Tarvaris Jackson. At least two veteran starters are available. Will we get any hint that the Vikings are going to pursue Matt Cassel, New England's franchise player? Or will they attempt to sign Jeff Garcia?
- The Vikings will join the Bears in the hunt for a right tackle. Starter Ryan Cook is under contract for 2009, but it's possible he'll be moved to center to replace veteran free agent Matt Birk. If not, Cook is one of the few personnel weak links on the Vikings' otherwise talented roster.
- It'll be interesting to see how the Vikings will approach their defensive tackle position with the suspension of Pat Williams and/or Kevin Williams still a possibility. (Their legal cases remain under consideration.) Both of their 2008 backups, Fred Evans and Ellis Wyms, are pending free agents. Evans is restricted, so the Vikings could match any offer he receives. The Vikings might need to amplify their depth when it's available so they aren't caught surprised later if either Williams loses his legal case.
The Chicago Bears are hoping right tackle John Tait will reconsider his plans to retire and went to the length Tuesday of posting a story about his situation on the team's Web site. Here's the statement that Bears general manager Jerry Angelo provided:
"John informed us a few weeks ago that he was considering retirement. He has been a great player and representative of our team since joining us in 2004. We would like to have him back for another season, but certainly respect his decision if he chooses to retire."
This marks the team's first public statement on the issue since reports emerged last weekend. The Bears aren't exactly deep at the position; presumptive left tackle Chris Williams will be their only tackle on the roster when free agency begins. Tait's skills are declining, but he might provide a better option in 2009 than anyone the team could scrounge up on the free-agent market.
Expect the Bears to scout the right tackle position heavily when the annual scouting combine begins this week. Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times takes a look at the looming process.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Pending free agent quarterback Chris Simms didn't downplay the possibility of signing with the Bears in an interview with Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. Said Simms: "Who wouldn't be interested or thinking about the Chicago Bears?"
- Get this: Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford went to the same high school as former Detroit quarterback Bobby Layne. Here's a feature on Stafford from Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
- Minnesota special teams captain Heath Farwell, who missed the 2008 season because of a knee injury, plans to test the free-agent market, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Vikings have attempted to re-sign him, but Farwell would like an opportunity to play linebacker as well as special teams.
- Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sets up the combine with facts and figures.
To the extent there have been rumors about a possible position change for Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports it won't happen.
There have been suggestions that Tillman could move to safety and replace veteran Mike Brown, who was told last week he won't be offered a new contract. But Tillman, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to remain at cornerback, according to the report.
In the end, finding a replacement for Tillman at cornerback would have proved more difficult than replacing Brown.
Tillman won't be cleared in time to participate in the Bears' mandatory minicamp next month. He should be ready for training camp.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald believes Brown could have helped the Bears in some capacity in 2009.
- So does David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. But Haugh suggests that the Bears will miss retiring right tackle John Tait more than Brown in 2009. Haugh: "Nobody who made $11 million his first season on a new team, as Tait did in 2004, really can be described as taken for granted. But Tait was like a good paperboy in that you really didn't appreciate the job he did until somebody else tries to do it."
- Detroit guard Stephen Peterman on why he re-signed with the Lions before testing free agency: "Through all this, I'm glad to be back. I want to be a part of rebuilding this thing and win a Super Bowl." John Niyo of the Detroit News reports.
- Minnesota has hired a replacement for former defensive assistant Brendan Daly, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Diron Reynolds will work mostly with the defensive line.
- Speaking to a Rotary Club meeting Monday, Green Bay president/CEO Mark Murphy didn't get a huge crowd response when he noted the Packers set themselves up at quarterback in 2008. The Fond du Lac Reporter covered the event.
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.
John Tait's likely retirement puts Chicago in serious shopping mode for a right tackle over the next few months. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times suggests the Bears will need to make a strong push to re-sign veteran John St. Clair, an impending free agent whom they aren't believed to have shown much interest in at this point.
The top tackles of the draft are likely to be off the board when Chicago's No. 18 overall pick arrives in the April draft. That means the Bears probably can't count on a rookie stepping in as an immediate starter and therefore need to have a veteran contingency plan at the position.
Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald also supports the St. Clair re-signing.
If you're interested, we'll bring you a list of free agent right tackles a bit later Monday. For now, let's continue around the NFC North:
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune has a suggestion for bait to acquire Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin: Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Haugh: "Though Urlacher may have reached the point where his value to the Bears is higher than it would be in a trade, it can't hurt to ask whether Urlacher is still untouchable. My sense is that question would not inspire a unanimous answer at Halas Hall."
- Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte tells the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman that he wants a chance to win the Vikings' starting position if he returns. Frerotte: "A lot of people say, 'Why wouldn't you want to go back there and, if you're not starting, just stand there and watch?' But it's not about that for me. I played a lot with those guys, so I can still play."
- Minnesota team officials are asking the Minneapolis City Council to allow them to sell more billboards in and around the Metrodome, according to Michelle Bruch of the Downtown Journal.
- Former Detroit receiver Mike Furrey told a national radio audience that the Lions would anoint Daunte Culpepper their starter in 2009. Later, Furrey backed off the certainty of that comment in an interview with Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com also refutes Furrey's information.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks at the Packers' relatively light set of looming decisions on their pending free agents.
We interrupt your Valentine's Day to pass along some surprising news out of Chicago. Bears right tackle John Tait is giving strong consideration to retirement, creating a lurch the Bears didn't expect to be in this offseason.
Here's the Chicago Sun-Times story, which also notes the Bears officially informed pending free agent safety Mike Brown that he would not be offered a contract to return. The Chicago Tribune story is here.
Tait, 34, moved to right tackle in 2008 and had one more year on his contract, creating the assumption he would retire after the 2009 season. But if he follows through with his plans this month, the Bears will be left with only one tackle on their roster: 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams, who is expected to start at left tackle.
Suddenly, offensive tackle becomes one of the Bears' top offseason needs. To this point, they haven't had substantive discussions with 2008 left tackle John St. Clair, who is a pending free agent. St. Clair has been a utility backup for most of his career and could play right tackle if needed.
It's been rumored for much of the offseason, but this Q&A with Chicago offensive coordinator Ron Turner is the first place I've seen anyone from the Bears say they expect Chris Williams to be their starting left tackle in 2009.
The former first-round draft pick underwent back surgery last August, scuttling his chances to start as a rookie. He returned in time to play in nine games as a reserve or on special teams. But in an interview with the Bears' Web site, Turner gave every indication that Williams will be working with the first team offense during offseason workouts. Here's the text of his full answer:
"Yes, I definitely see him starting at left tackle. He's shown what we thought we were going to see from a first-round pick. He's extremely athletic. He's very intelligent and has good instincts. He's a good football player. He had the back injury, and coming back from that halfway through the season and then trying to get into football shape, he made strides every week. But with an offseason, he's going to be a very good player."
The only surprise about this revelation is that Turner didn't use any of the coachspeak that typically arises in such situations. Young players aren't often handed starting positions, but in this case the Bears aren't playing any games.
It's not like they have a ton of choices. Last season's left tackle, John St. Clair, is a career journeyman and also a pending free agent. But as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times points out, tackle could still be a draft target for the Bears considering right tackle John Tait's advancing years.
After the Bears' 27-3 victory at St. Louis, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
1. Linebacker Lance Briggs apparently asked a group of reporters Sunday if it looked like the defense "wanted it" Sunday against the Rams. It was a reference to an interview from earlier in the week, when Briggs said the Bears' defense will improve when it wants it enough. This was a timely week for Briggs to bring that dynamic into play; the Rams' offensive line is injury-depleted and couldn't have handled much of anyone Sunday. But to their credit, the Bears didn't let up: Five sacks and four interceptions made for their best performance in a long time.
2. This is neither here nor there, but I've been impressed with how many times I've seen diminutive Garrett Wolfe show up on special teams. Wolfe is listed as 5-7 and 186 pounds, but he's managing to be on the active roster every week primarily because he is willing and able to participate on coverage teams. His latest example was chasing down St. Louis' Derek Stanley at the end of a 75-yard kickoff return. Wolfe prevented a touchdown, and ultimately the Rams came up empty-handed on the ensuing drive.
3. Both of tailback Matt Forte's touchdowns Sunday came on inside trap plays. Left guard Josh Beekman made an especially good block on the first. It's a perfect playcall for a north-south runner like Forte.
And here is one question I'm still asking:
Is anyone going to emerge from the Bears' receiving position, which has produced 16 catches in the past three games? Everyone assumed that tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark would be the team's primary receivers, but when things were going well earlier this season, the Bears were getting weekly contributions from Rashied Davis, Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker. Davis and Lloyd combined for two receptions Sunday, and Booker didn't play because of a knee injury.
NASHVILLE -- It's a beautifully sunny morning here. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s and it's hard to imagine weather playing a role in Sunday's matchup between Green Bay and unbeaten Tennessee.
We took a pretty clinical look Saturday at Green Bay's decision to release veteran defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, noting his lack of production over time. But it also represented the end of an era for one of the Packers' longest-tenured players.
I thought Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a nice job putting Gbaja-Biamila's career in perspective, noting how he made Green Bay his home and connected with fans through a number of charitable endeavors. Give it a read if you get a chance.
We'll check back upon arrival at LP Field. For now, let's take a jaunt around the division:
- Lori Nickel of the Journal Sentinel profiles cornerback Charles Woodson, who said long-standing rumors about his toughness and work ethic should never have surfaced. "If anybody ever watched me play football, there was never a question," Woodson said.
- Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette notes the Packers are running against the NFL tide by using Ryan Grant as their exclusive runner. They have given Grant the ball on 71 percent of their running plays; the Titans represent the opposite end of the spectrum with their split between LenDale White and Chris Johnson.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looks at five key decisions the Bears made that have helped them to a 4-3 record. Among them: Keeping John Tait at right tackle and resisting the urge to release receiver Marty Booker.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks tailback Kevin Jones could have a big day Sunday against his former team.
- Detroit Free Press writers consider whether the Lions could finish 0-16 this season. Michael Rosenberg: "The Lions do not do anything well."
- Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at how Minnesota dealt with its latest off-field distraction, the possible suspension of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.
- Vikings safety Madieu Williams, who will return Sunday from a neck injury that sidelined him for nearly three months, isn't worried about his first hit. Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune has the story.