NFC North: Jon Hoke
With all but four NFL teams done for the 2011 season, we have a pretty good idea of what the 2012 draft order will look like. Something tells me you would be interested in where NFC North teams will be choosing in the first round, and so I refer you to ESPN.com's full draft order on our NFL Nation blog.
A few slots have yet to be decided by a coin flip, but the four NFC North teams are locked into their positions. The particulars:
3. Minnesota Vikings
19. Chicago Bears
23. Detroit Lions
28. Green Bay Packers
Let the mock drafts begin.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Please keep two of our blog regulars in your thoughts as they battle serious illness. Best wishes to VWCAU and icLambeau.
- Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com summarizes the interest in Packers assistant coaches throughout the NFL. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is a candidate for the head-coaching jobs with the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements will interview for the Bucs job as well. Assistant head coach/inside linebackers Winston Moss and safeties coach Darren Perry could both be candidates for the Raiders job as well.
- A lack of pass rush hurt the Packers all season, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette explains what went wrong on a Hail Mary pass that led to a New York Giants touchdown Sunday.
- The Minnesota Vikings are planning to interview Indianapolis Colts defensive backs coach Alan Williams, a former colleague of Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, for their defensive coordinator job, according to the NFL Network via Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
- The Vikings' defense remains in flux, writes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
- The Chicago Bears denied the Vikings permission to interview defensive backs coach Jon Hoke for their defensive coordinator job, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
- The Bears have completed their first interview for their general manager job, having spoken to New England Patriots executive Jason Licht, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub, a candidate for the Dolphins' head-coaching job, is now available on the open market as a special teams coach as well. Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com explains.
- Chris McCosky of the Detroit News reviews the Detroit Lions player by player.
- Detroit native Eminem gushed about the Lions in a recent GQ article, according to the Detroit Free Press. Among his observations: safety Louis Delmas is "ill."
The Chicago Bears love their safeties. Cal's Chris Conte is the ninth they've drafted since general manager Jerry Angelo took over in 2002.
(Extra credit if you can name all nine. They're at the bottom of this post.)
The Bears have given most of the players on that list a chance to start, and there's no reason to think they have a different plan for Conte. The Bears are targeting 2010 third-rounder Major Wright as a starting safety, and it's only fair to note that his presumed 2011 partner -- veteran Chris Harris -- is entering the final year of his contract. Is Conte the long-term replacement for Harris?
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said the Bears "spent a lot of time" scouting Conte and noted that his conversion from cornerback means he has some cover skills. Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke received a strong recommendation from Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, and Angelo said it's "very, very hard to find free safeties." Call me crazy, but I'm thinking we'll see Conte on the field sooner rather than later.
"Very impressed with what the team has done over the past few drafts.... I might even stop by training camp to see the guys this year..."
The Lions have a distinguished history that predates that disastrous Matt Millen era that many modern-day fans associate them with. The endorsement of one of their best-ever players shouldn't be taken lightly.
Only a few minutes after drafting Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure, Lions coach Jim Schwartz was already facing the question: How will he dole out playing time between Leshoure and incumbent Jahvid Best?
Schwartz said he won't use a "Randy Ratio," the Minnesota Vikings' ill-fated attempt to ration throws to receiver Randy Moss in 2002. (Current Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was in the same position with the Vikings at the time.) Schwartz said there was "definitely a possibility" of using both in the same backfield, but made clear that the approach could "change from week to week."
Schwartz: "It might change due to injuries and player availability. It might change based on opponent. I think there's a lot of different things that happen in our division. We see a 4-3 team like the Chicago Bears. We see a 3-4 team like the Green Bay Packers. That's a different style of running back. [You] play 3-4 teams that are two-gapping, that are holding on -- you need a big back who can run through some arm tackles. You want to get guys matched up on different teams, you need guys who can match up and beat linebackers and people that want to play man and trick coverage up for a certain player."
A few years ago, we celebrated when the Bears drafted the "pool guy." Defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert had made waves during the pre-draft process by jumping out of a pool and posting the video on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gilbert couldn't play and was waived last summer.
The Green Bay Packers drafted their own pool guy, Arizona defensive end/linebacker Ricky Elmore, but there is reason to believe he has a better future than Gilbert.
True, Elmore has posted videos of him both jumping out of a pool and into a truck on YouTube. But it's also worth noting that Elmore actually had more production last season than his more-famous teammate, defensive end/linebacker Brooks Reed.
Elmore finished last season with 11 sacks and a total of 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Reed had six sacks and 10 tackles behind the line. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, I'm eager to see if Elmore's athleticism and college production can translate in the Packers' 3-4 scheme.
Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder is expected to be the starter sooner than later, if not immediately. Assuming that's the case, it's quite possible the Vikings will look for other ways to get Joe Webb onto the field -- possibly in a way that reflects the New York Jets' use of Brad Smith. In either event, it's likely the Vikings will need a veteran backup.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave endorsed that suggestion, saying over the weekend that it "balances out a position." There continue to be reports, most recently from NFL.com, that the Vikings' most likely target is Washington's Donovan McNabb. If Ponder is going to take over at some point in 2011, that wouldn't make much sense to me.
But what do I know?
The Vikings might be the only NFC North team looking to add to its quarterback depth chart. Angelo strongly indicated that rookie Nathan Enderle will be the Bears' No. 3 quarterback behind Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie. The Packers seem set with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell. And Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has said he plans no changes from the trio of Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton.
South Florida safety Mistral Raymond, drafted by the Vikings with the No. 170 overall pick, has endured an incredible three years. As Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune explains, a group vowing retaliation for a shooting mis-identified Raymond's childhood home in Florida and burned it down using Molotov cocktails. No family members were killed, but one of Raymond's sisters was shot four times and airlifted to a trauma center for emergency surgery.
Then, last month, another sister was murdered. Raymond said over the weekend that he hoped his selection in the draft provided a joyful outlet for his family.
"Just having my family here with me, having them see my name come across the screen and seeing the excitement that it brought them, I think it was a relief for all of us," he said. "It helped me realize what type of position that the Lord has put me in. He has blessed me to be an outlet for my family. For them to have excitement no matter what at any given time of the day. It's just a great feeling for me personally, and I'm very grateful to be in the position I'm in."
And finally, your trivia answer: Bobby Gray (2002), Todd Johnson (2003), Chris Harris (2005), Danieal Manning (2006), Kevin Payne (2007), Craig Steltz (2008), Al Afalava (2009), Major Wright (2010), Chris Conte (2011).
Contracts for NFL assistants are almost always guaranteed, although the Bears are among the teams who might reduce their pay in the event of a lockout. Regardless, Tice was quoted on the Bears' website as saying: "I look forward to continuing the progress we made on the offensive line in 2010. Our guys are motivated and I am excited to get back to work with them."
The Titans wanted to interview Tice for their open offensive coordinator job and were serious about moving quickly. Less than 24 hours after the Bears denied their request for an interview, the Titans hired Chris Palmer for the job.
The team also announced contract extensions for three other assistant coaches: running backs coach Tim Spencer, linebackers coach Bob Babich and secondary coach Jon Hoke. The only change for the 2011 staff is the hiring of Mike Phair as the defensive line coach, replacing Eric Washington.
The big question is when the Bears will complete negotiations with coach Lovie Smith, whose current deal is set to expire after the 2011 season.
It's been a few weeks since the Minnesota Vikings were in the headlines, and so defensive end Everson Griffen has provided the latest grist: In a story first reported by the Daily Trojan, Griffen was arrested Monday in Los Angeles and booked for investigation of felony battery.
According to the Los Angeles police department, Griffen allegedly assaulted a police officer during a traffic stop. Griffen had spent the earlier part of the day visiting former teammates and coaches at USC. He reportedly tried to run from the officer, who eventually used a Taser to subdue him.
Griffen, a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, had 11 tackles in 11 games for the Vikings this past season. His role could elevate in 2011 depending on what the Vikings do with potential free agents Ray Edwards and Brian Robison.
Continuing around the NFC North as we prepare for Super Bowl media day on a snowy and icy morning here in North Texas:
- Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is the latest of agent Bob LaMonte's success stories, writes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The Green Bay Packers are on a mission, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called winning the Super Bowl "the optimum measuring stick for a quarterback, be it fair or not," according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Rodgers added: "Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, did not win a Super Bowl. I think he's still in the discussion for the greatest quarterback of all time. But as far as playing in Green Bay, you have to win Super Bowls."
- Before learning he would finish second in the NFL's defensive player of the year voting, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said: "Whichever way it goes, win or lose, I still get to play on Sunday." Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more.
- Ross Tucker of ESPN.com credits the Packers' two linebackers coaches, Winston Moss and Kevin Greene, for holding together the group during a spate of injuries this season.
- Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press spoke with the high school coach of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who played at nearby Highland Park High School. Coach Randy Allen: "He's a really tough kid. He was never hurt. I mean, he never missed a game for us, and he was very physical. Anytime we ran a reverse play he was a blocker, and he'd roll over people. He was just so physical. He was the one always delivering the blow and never even got up slow after a game. He never missed a practice that I know of."
- Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte on his contract situation, via Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com: "It would be nice [to get the contract done]. It's always nice to have something like that happen. It's really up to my agent [Adisa Bakari] and the Bears to negotiate it. I just want to stay informed with what they're talking about. Hopefully it's all good things. I love playing for the Bears, and I think it's a great organization and I just want to continue to succeed and play well for them."
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler: "Now, the best and only way Cutler really can repair his reputation will come on the field -- not into a microphone or on the Internet."
- The Philadelphia Eagles have interviewed Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke for their defensive coordinator job, notes Brad Biggs of the Tribune.
Let's continue our early look at the NFC North offseason with this season's second-place team.
Chicago Bears offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 9-7
- Coaching changes: Hired Rod Marinelli to replace defensive line coach Brick Haley. Put defensive coordinator Bob Babich in charge of linebackers, replacing Lloyd Lee. (Babich won't call defensive signals.) Replaced defensive backs coach Steve Wilks with Jon Hoke.
- Salary-cap space: $17.4 million before end-of-year credits and adjustments.
- Restricted free agents: None of note.
- Unrestricted free agents: Safety Mike Brown, quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Kevin Jones, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, safety Brandon McGowan, offensive lineman Fred Miller, offensive lineman John St. Clair.
- Draft highlight: The Bears have the No. 18 overall selection.
- Free-agency comment: It seems unlikely the Bears will bring back Brown or Grossman. Jones was nearly a nonfactor and reduced to special-teams work. Lloyd's fade in the second half of the season suggests the Bears won't be eager to bring him back.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Playmaking receiver to draw coverage away from Devin Hester. (2) A coverage-oriented safety to replace Brown and protect Kevin Payne. (3) A trusted running back to take some burden off starter Matt Forte. (Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders if holdover Garrett Wolfe might get that chance.)
Thanks to Don of Chicago, who pointed out the link between Chicago coach Lovie Smith and his new defensive backs coach, Jon Hoke. (Initially, it wasn't clear where Smith and Hoke might have crossed paths during their professional careers.)
From a story on ChicagoBears.com:
Hoke first met Bears coach Lovie Smith a decade ago when Hoke was a defensive assistant at Florida and Smith was linebackers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hoke and other college coaches were invited to Tampa Bay practices during the offseason.
"We would watch tape together and he was always very gracious with his time from a coaching standpoint," Hoke said. "He was always very accommodating."
Thanks again for the link, Don.
Chicago coach Lovie Smith is continuing to replenish his defensive coaching staff and now has only one more significant hire to make.
Jon Hoke is the Bears' new defensive backs coach, replacing the fired Steven Wilks. Saturday, Smith hired former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli to replace defensive line coach Brick Haley. (Marinelli also received the title of assistant head coach.) The Bears' final opening is at linebackers coach, a job Smith vacated by firing Lloyd Lee last week.
Hoke played in 11 games a cornerback for the Bears in 1980. Much more recently, he served as Houston's defensive backs coach from 2002-08. His career path has not crossed with Smith or Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich, as far as I can tell. (If anyone is aware of a connection, send it my way.)
UPDATE (2:25 p.m.): Smith told members of the Chicago media that Babich will coach the linebackers -- meaning the staff is now complete, according to Brad Biggs' account on his Inside the Bears blog. Because of Babich's increased role, Smith will take on more daily responsibilities with the defense. We'll add a new post later Tuesday on these developments.