NFC North: Jordan Todman

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was at the ESPY Awards in June when he bumped into St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher for the first time. Shortly after meeting the coach whose team he would face in Week 1 of the 2014 season, Patterson presented a request to Fisher.

"I told him, 'Just make sure you kick me the ball,'" Patterson said on Thursday. "He told me, 'Just be ready.' The kicker (Greg Zuerlein), he's got a big leg, so I feel like he's going to try to kick it out of the end zone. If he doesn't, I'm going to bring it out."

Few return men in the league were more aggressive about bringing kicks out of the end zone than Patterson last season. Among the 23 returners who brought back at least 20 kicks last season, only five had a higher average distance from the goal line than Patterson, who started an average of 102.2 yards from the end zone, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

The Vikings have given Patterson a green light to return kicks deep in the end zone, believing he will reward them more often than not, and that gamble paid off last season; Patterson brought 79.1 percent of his returns past the 20-yard line, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Only the Ravens' Jacoby Jones and the Jaguars' Jordan Todman were better at delivering a better starting field position than a touchback would provide, and Patterson's big returns provided extra value, too. On average, the Vikings started 69.8 yards from the goal line after a Patterson return, which was the best mark in the NFL.

Patterson will take on a bigger role in the Vikings' offense this season, and the Vikings have tried out a number of different return men in the event they need to reduce the second-year receiver's workload on kickoffs. But after making the Pro Bowl as a kick returner last season, Patterson sounded as eager as ever to keep his special teams role.

"That's my job, man," Patterson said. "I don't feel like I need to get off (kick returns) unless Coach tells me to."
We're Black and Blue All Over:

It appears that injuries and performance issues will leave the Chicago Bears with alternate starters at three of their five offensive line positions Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Michael C. Wright of has the full story.

Right guard Lance Louis will miss the rest of the season because of a knee injury, and the Bears will continue to use former right tackle Gabe Carimi in his spot, according to Wright. That means Jonathan Scott will continue to start at right tackle. Meanwhile, left guard Chris Spencer will need a week or two to recover from a knee injury, leaving backup Edwin Williams to start in his place.

Backups will be undrafted rookie James Brown, who has not played in an NFL game, and veteran guard/center Andre Gurode, who was signed Tuesday. Gurode, 33, last played for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011.

The Seahawks are tied for ninth in the NFL with 29 sacks this season.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Solutions to the Bears' offensive line issues are now clear, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Quarterback Jay Cutler is the Bears' most valuable player, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Detroit Lions receiver Titus Young hasn't yet re-joined the team and might not return this season, according to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. Lions coach Jim Schwartz: "The team and he both needed a little time away. But, again, it's not going to be based on what he does away from here. It's what he does when he's here with the team."
  • Schwartz on the Lions taking after him from an emotional standpoint, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "I'm very proud of our team and I would be proud if they took some of their personality from me."
  • Justin Rogers of thinks that former Philadelphia Eagles pass-rusher Jason Babin could be a good fit for the Lions.
  • Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings' return could be a boost for the team's offense, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • The Packers won't activate offensive lineman Derek Sherrod from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and might not get running back Cedric Benson back either, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Sherrod hasn't recovered fully from a broken leg he suffered last season.
  • Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on time he has spent recently with tight end Jermichael Finley, via Jason Wilde of "With Jermichael, I think it's been about getting on the same page and spending some time together. And I think the thing I appreciate about him over the last three or four weeks is just how he really has been a good teammate. I think he really has. He cares about his guys; he's been intentional about spending time with me and wanting to make sure we're on the same page. And I think it's helped. I really do think it's helped."
  • Cab drivers in Chicago often have an interesting perspective on football, writes Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
  • The Vikings lost running back Jordan Todman off their practice squad to the Jacksonville Jaguars, notes Tom Pelissero of They signed rookie Jon Banyard to replace him.

Say farewell to the 2012 preseason

August, 30, 2012
I didn't have all four NFC North preseason games playing simultaneously in front of me Thursday night. But I'll be darned if the very first thing that happened Thursday night wasn't Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji's ankle injury on the first play from scrimmage at Lambeau Field.

The injury is not believed to be serious, but it underscored the worst fears of the most meaningless night of live-action games on the NFL calendar. A review of the highs and lows from Thursday night is below. And good riddance to you, Mr. Preseason you. ...

Chicago Bears 28, Cleveland Browns 20

Final preseason record: 3-1
Of interest: The Raji injury made the Bears look awfully smart for sitting all 22 starters for this game. And in some cases, second-team players rested as well. … Third-string quarterback Josh McCown started and looked sharp enough to quell any questions about whether the Bears should hold a roster spot for him, at least in my opinion. He played the entire game, completing 20 of 29 passes. ... In a Super Bowl-or-bust year, why take a roster risk at quarterback? … Tailback Lorenzo Booker (81 yards on 15 carries) was having a more productive night than the player he's competing with for the No. 3 running back job, Armando Allen, before he departed because of a head injury and Allen ripped off a 49-yard run. … Receiver Dane Sanzenbacher put a nice exclamation point on his bid for a roster spot with a 30-yard touchdown reception.

Detroit Lions 38, Buffalo Bills 32
Final preseason record: 2-2
Of interest: The Lions played many of their starters for the first series and were up 28-10 at halftime of this affair. That included a crisp seven-play drive by the first-team offense, ending in Matthew Stafford's 24-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson. Stafford finished the preseason with 26 completions in 37 attempts for 360 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 116.9 passer rating. … Johnson had nine receptions for 178 yards and two scores in the preseason. … Tailback Mikel Leshoure gave the Lions something to look forward to when his two-game suspension ends, rushing for 43 yards, catching a 33-yard pass and scoring on a 2-yard run. … Quarterback Kellen Moore, fighting for a roster spot, rebounded from a number of early drops to complete 17 of 30 passes and also score the game-winner on a 1-yard run.

Green Bay Packers 24, Kansas City Chiefs 3
Final preseason record: 2-2
Of interest: Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that he did not have "a high level of concern" for Raji's ankle injury. … Thank you, Graham Harrell, for ending the drama -- real or imagined -- around the Packers' decision to name you their No. 2 quarterback. In about two full quarters of play, Harrell compiled a perfect 158.3 passer rating: 13 completions in 15 attempts for 223 yards and two touchdowns. His 27-yard pass to tight end Jermichael Finley was crisp, his 54-yard completion to Tori Gurley had plenty of arm and overall everyone should feel much better about the Packers' depth behind starter Aaron Rodgers. … Running back Alex Green displayed his open-field running skills by turning a short pass into a 17-yard scoring play. … Cedric Benson's first-play fumble, recovered by the Packers, will make a few people nervous.

Houston Texans 28, Minnesota Vikings 23
Final preseason record: 1-3
Of interest: The Vikings sat almost all of their starters, and the biggest point to take from this game is the continued inconsistency of backup quarterback Joe Webb. The Vikings managed only three points with him on the field. Third-stringer Sage Rosenfels missed receiver Devin Aromashodu on one deep pass but hit him on another for a 59-yard touchdown. … Rookie receiver Jarius Wright was having a huge night (six receptions for 122 yards) before departing with a foot injury. Among his catches was a 59-yard touchdown from McLeod Bethel-Thompson. … Running backs Matt Asiata (43 yards on seven carries) and Jordan Todman (76-yard touchdown run) competed hard for the No. 3 running back job.
In which we look ahead to Thursday's much-anticipated four-fecta of Week 4 games to end the NFC North's preseason schedule:

Detroit Lions
Opponent: Buffalo Bills
Location: Ford Field
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Lions coach Jim Schwartz hasn't ruled out the possibility of using healthy starters, but whether quarterback Matthew Stafford will be a part of that group is unknown. Stafford practiced this week after injuring his left hand in Saturday's preseason game at the Oakland Raiders. … Regardless, running back Mikel Leshoure figures to get substantial work in his second NFL game. He's set to serve a two-game suspension to start the regular season, so he'll have plenty of time to rest up. … For better or worse, this game will provide an ample look at the Lions' secondary depth given injuries to Chris Houston (ankle) and Bill Bentley (shoulder).
Focal point: It's not yet clear whether the Lions will use a roster spot on rookie quarterback Kellen Moore or try to get him through waivers and onto their practice squad. Moore was always going to be a developmental player, and the Lions have typically had a No. 3 quarterback under Schwartz. But this could be an opportunity to add depth at another position. Moore could help himself with a strong showing Thursday.

Green Bay Packers
Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs
Location: Lambeau Field
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Starters might play a series before giving way to reserves and players in competition for spots. … The Packers would like to settle soon, if not Thursday night, a number of positions on their defense. Will Jerel Worthy or Mike Daniels be the nickel defensive tackle next to B.J. Raji? Who will start at cornerback in the base? Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields or Casey Hayward? What about at the second safety position in the nickel? Jerron McMillian, M.D. Jennings or Anthony Levine?
Focal point: It would be late at this point to turn back now, but backup quarterback Graham Harrell could give everyone a better feeling about his competency with an even performance Thursday night.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: Houston Texans
Location: Reliant Stadium
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Coach Leslie Frazier has ruled out most starters, including quarterback Christian Ponder. … It's expected that strong-armed McLeod Bethel-Thompson will get the majority of playing time at quarterback. … Someone can still win the punt return job with a strong showing Thursday night, be it Marcus Sherels or rookie Jarius Wright.
Focal point: The third running back on most teams don't get much action, but the Vikings' competition for that job has taken on significant meaning as Adrian Peterson continues his recovery from major knee surgery. It's not yet clear who will open the season behind Peterson and Toby Gerhart. Matt Asiata, Jordan Todman and Lex Hilliard are all in the mix and should get plenty of work Thursday night.

Chicago Bears
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Location: Cleveland Browns Stadium
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Personnel notes:
Most starters are expected to either sit or get minimal playing time. … The Bears will find out how much depth they have, or don't have, at safety as Chris Conte continues to be sidelined by a shoulder injury and backup Brandon Hardin now sits on injured reserve. … There is also a competition going on for the No. 3 running back between Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker.
Focal point: The Bears failed in an attempt to claim punter Spencer Lanning as insurance against Adam Podlesh's hip flexor. That puts rookie Ryan Quigley in the spotlight Thursday. Can he do enough to replace Podlesh in Week 1 if needed?

Previewing preseason Week 1

August, 9, 2012
In which we look ahead to NFC North preseason football over the next two days. (A separate post on the Green Bay Packers' Thursday night turn on ESPN is right here.)

Chicago Bears
Opponent: Denver Broncos
Soldier Field
Thursday/8:30 p.m. ET
Personnel notes:
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (knee) is among those who won't play in a game most of the NFL will watch to see the return of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Urlacher has missed a week of practice because of soreness in his knee and then personal reasons, and it's possible the mystery surrounding his absence could be cleared up if he is in attendance at Soldier Field. Nick Roach will start in his place. … Defensive end Alex Brown signed a 1-year contract and will retire in an on-field ceremony before the game. … It's also worth noting that quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates will be facing the team that began breaking up their nucleus in 2009.
Focal point: All eyes will be on left tackle J'Marcus Webb, who has a big lead in the competition for the starting job but still hasn't earned the full trust of offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Webb can either settle concerns with a solid performance or send the Bears back to the drawing board when camp resumes next week.

Detroit Lions
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Location: Ford Field
Day/Time: Friday/7:30 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: The Lions' defensive secondary will have three starters who emerged in the past few days. Rookie cornerback Dwight Bentley has done well during stints with the first team in recent days and is expected to start opposite Chris Houston. The Lions' safeties likely will be Erik Coleman and John Wendling. Louis Delmas had knee surgery this week and it appears Amari Spievey hasn't had a great camp. … Expect tailback Kevin Smith to start but there should be plenty of work for Joique Bell and Keiland Williams, among others.
Focal point: This will be the first time when we'll see a completely healthy Nick Fairley on an NFL field, and the Lions are eager to see what he can do. Fairley broke his foot during training camp last summer and was clearly limited in the 10 games he did play in. The preseason should give us a better idea if Fairley is destined to be a dominant difference-maker, as the Lions hoped when they drafted him, or if he will simply be a member of defensive rotation.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: San Francisco 49ers
Location: Candlestick Park
Day/Time: Friday/9 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Tight end John Carlson (knee), running back Jordan Todman (ankle) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) are among the players who won't participate. Starters should see a few series, although coach Leslie Frazier implied that an early scoring drive could make it a short night for the first-team offense. … The defense could see more action in its first game environment under new defensive coordinator Alan Williams. … Rookie Blair Walsh is the only place-kicker in camp, so he will get all of the kicks this preseason. We'll see if he gets the opportunity to demonstrate the strong leg he has displayed this summer.
Focal point: The Vikings have more than a half-dozen new starters, but from now through the foreseeable future, all eyes will be on quarterback Christian Ponder to gauge the level of his progress from a rocky rookie season. Preseason performance isn't always an indicator of true development, but we have found that to be the case with other young quarterbacks in this division.

CampTour'12: Vikings Day 1

August, 2, 2012
MANKATO, Minn. -- A few thoughts and observations after our first day of practice with the Minnesota Vikings:

  • Compared to my other stops in this tour, the Vikings spend a lot of on-field time installing plays and reviewing at slow speeds. Their hour-long morning walk-through is, by definition, a half-speed practice. And for the first hour or so of the full-pads afternoon practice, players moved quietly and deliberately through movements that were clearly focused toward mental execution.
  • The final 75 minutes of the afternoon practice were active. Off the top, the Everson Griffen Fan Club will be happy to note their hero crashed through the line in a goal-line team drill and crushed tailback Jordan Todman short of the end zone. Todman sprained his ankle on the play and did not return.
  • I'll have more on this later, but I spoke with coach Leslie Frazier about Griffen to understand how permanent or full-time his move to linebacker might be. Frazier absolutely left open the possibility of Griffen getting some time at defensive end but said this is the time to find out what he could give the team as a linebacker. The reality is Griffen is probably the Vikings' third-best defensive end behind Jared Allen and Brian Robison.
  • Rookie receiver Greg Childs made the catch of the day in the corner of the end zone, leaping over cornerback Brandon Burton and trapping a Joe Webb pass on Burton's back. He held on for the touchdown.
  • Quarterback Christian Ponder missed on a few throws you would like to see him make, but the difference between now and what we saw at training camp last summer and is night and day. Ponder stayed in the pocket and was decisive on most of the throws I saw, which is always an important point for a young quarterback. The best throw I saw him make was about a 35-yard floater down the right sideline, one that sailed over the shoulder of cornerback Chris Cook and into receiver Percy Harvin's hands.
  • Cook made two nice interceptions that I saw, including one of quarterback Sage Rosenfels about one second after he whipped his head around to look for the ball.
  • Speaking to reporters afterwards, Ponder said that tight end Rhett Ellison has "some crazy" in him and suggested that receiver Jerome Simpson is pushing Harvin to be better this summer. I'll be looking for evidence of both in the coming days.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

I've finally finished a roundabout return to NFC North headquarters and appreciate you sticking with us during a lighter-than-usual Tuesday. Although none were surprises, some pretty significant names in the division have been placed on injured reserve in the past few days.

The list begins with Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson (knee). He was replaced by practice squad running back Caleb King.

Tuesday, the Chicago Bears shelved quarterback Jay Cutler (thumb) and running back Matt Forte (knee). Cutler was scheduled to have the pins removed from his thumb this week but obviously wasn't going to be ready to play Sunday against the Vikings. He will end up missing the Bears' final six games, while Forte will have sat out their final four.

The Vikings, meanwhile, also placed guard Steve Hutchinson on injured reserve for the second consecutive season. He missed last week's game against Washington because of a concussion and was replaced on the roster by running back Jordan Todman, who was on the San Diego Chargers' practice squad and was signed with an eye toward training camp in 2012.

Continuing around the NFC North: