NFC North: Josh Beekman

Catching up on some reported moves

September, 4, 2010
We're planning posts on each NFC North team's cuts once they are official. Announcements could come at any point Saturday afternoon or evening, but for now let's round up some of the bigger names who are already reported to be on the way off their respective rosters.
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: "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.

Chicago Bears' weakness: Offensive line

July, 6, 2010
NFC North Weaknesses: Bears (7/6) | Lions (7/7) | Packers (7/8) | Vikings (7/9)

The Bears’ O-line was a nightmare last season, but it did get better late in the year and there is reason for hope for an improved unit overall in 2010. But new offensive coordinator Mike Martz is known for putting a lot of stress on his big men.

[+] EnlargeMike Tice
Jerry Lai/US PresswireNew Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice should improve last year's weak unit.
Two moves that didn’t get enough publicity were the hiring of Mike Tice as the Bears’ offensive line coach and the signing of tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who is as much offensive tackle as he is pass-catcher. Both of these acquisitions should help this weakness quite a bit.

The Bears found out at the end of last season that Chris Williams is better suited at left tackle rather than on the right side and that he was far better than Orlando Pace, who began the season protecting Jay Cutler's blind side. Williams could stand to get stronger and enhance his technique, but the latter will come with more playing time. Chicago has a lot riding on this former first-round selection, but he appears capable of holding down the left tackle spot for the foreseeable future. It also should be noted that Williams’ rookie season was of little value because of his back injury. So that has stunted his progress as well.

At center and right guard, Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza have done exactly what Chicago hopes to get from Williams at left tackle. They have been fixtures year after year. Both might be declining, but they are gritty and tough. For yet another season, the Bears should be fine at center and right guard, but these are not young players and Kreutz is recovering from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs.

The other two spots make me worry. Josh Beekman is the early favorite for the left guard spot and he should be adequate, while Frank Omiyale should start at right tackle. Omiyale should be OK. But with the stress that Martz’s play calling puts on his offensive line and pass protection as a whole, having two potential weak spots out of five could result in a lot of quarterback hits and pressures.

If this starting five holds up, Kevin Shaffer would be the first lineman off the bench, but he has been a liability. In the end, right tackle is probably the only spot that he can hold his own at, but even there, he isn’t what you want from the position. Ideally, the sixth lineman would be more versatile and overall, the depth up front isn’t very strong at all.

In the end, I see Chicago as a dark horse contender this season. The offensive line could be a liability -- as it was in 2009 -- but there is also promise here for improvement. Keep an eye on the Bears this year.

NFC North weekend mailbag

June, 19, 2010
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.


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'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.

Tons-of-fun OTA roundup

June, 2, 2010
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, 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."
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What NFC North assistant coach will make the biggest impact in 2010?

[+] EnlargeMike Tice
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMike Tice's ability to coach up the offensive line could be key to the Bears' success on offense.
I started wondering about that question while reading about the career and death of longtime NFL assistant Bob Karmelowicz, who coached Detroit's defensive line last season and carried a well-deserved reputation for improving established players. A number of candidates come to mind, but I can't think of any who sits in the position of Chicago offensive line coach Mike Tice.

Tice has assumed responsibility for a group that admittedly underperformed in 2009 but will still return four of its starters. Center Olin Kreutz hopes that offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle will help him return to form. But for the most part, the Bears are counting on Tice to elevate this group based on technical adjustments and a new brand of motivation.

The arrival of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz has been heavily discussed. But for the Bears' offense to improve in 2010, Tice will have to find a way to make Frank Omiyale a productive player at right tackle. He'll have to develop a left guard, be it Josh Beekman or Lance Louis or even journeyman tackle Kevin Shaffer. And he'll have to do it in an offense that typically favors the passing game.

Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen remembered Karmelowicz as a coach who taught him how to use his natural abilities to play at an elite level. The Bears are hoping for a similar impact from Tice.
Wright/Suh/CookIcon SMIMajor Wright (Chicago), Ndamukong Suh (Detroit) and Chris Cook (Minnesota) all help fill voids for their new teams.
No point in the NFL year is filled with more optimism than the week after the draft, when every team is basking in what it considers undeniable across-the-board improvements. But unless the 2010 season is characterized by a rash of ties, we’re going to have the same number of losses as we did last year -- some by chance, a few by strategy and many as a result of flawed team building.

So this is my opportunity to play Scrooge. (I believe I was born for the role, but that’s another story.) We spent the past four days hyping the additions in Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota. Now, with the draft concluded and the top half of the free-agent market accounted for, we must acquiesce to reality and note where each team still falls short.

(A Scroogism: How shall I ever understand this world? There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty, and yet, there is nothing it condemns with such severity as the pursuit of wealth.)

[+] EnlargeMorgan Burnett
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIGeorgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett will have a chance to help improve Green Bay's pass defense.
We took an in-depth look last month at Green Bay’s plans to improve its pass defense. That plan, I think we can safely say, does not include significant personnel changes. In fact, the Packers have added only one player who could impact this segment of their team: Third-round safety Morgan Burnett, and that’s if he beats out Atari Bigby for a starting job.

Many of us thought the Packers would target an outside linebacker at No. 23. I can’t blame them for passing up Sergio Kindle or Jerry Hughes in favor of left tackle Bryan Bulaga, who filled what might have been the franchise’s biggest single need. But wrapping up the draft without a single player at the position means that, for now, the Packers will look to Brady Poppinga and Brad Jones at the position manned for much of last year by Aaron Kampman.

The Packers also haven’t addressed the cornerback position, putting a premium on their belief that veterans Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Pat Lee will all return healthy from major injuries this summer.

“I think we got guys that can come in and make an impact,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “I've said all along I think we have a good team. I think we have a team that's going to be competitive week in and week out. And at those positions, we have some guys that are dinged up, but we don't necessarily think that's going to be an ongoing problem.”

Thompson added that the Packers are “still doing some work at the outside linebacker spot,” but it’s uncertain if he meant adding rookie free agents or if he would target a veteran. Often a second wave of free agency occurs after the draft, and New England kicked it off Monday morning by releasing veteran Adalius Thomas.

Improving a segment of your team doesn’t necessarily mean swapping out players. Last month, coach Mike McCarthy detailed some practice changes and new priorities for his pass defense. For the most part, the Packers will do it with the same players they had last year. Take that for what it’s worth.

(Read full post)

Is Faneca a match for the Bears?

April, 24, 2010
The New York Jets just released Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca. Chicago recently moved left guard Frank Omiyale to right tackle. The Bears have no obvious replacement. Could Faneca come into play?

That’s the question the Bears are no doubt considering as the draft winds down Saturday. Faneca, 33, might not be at the height of his career but is clearly an upgrade over the Bears’ current personnel. Still, I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk the Bears will pursue him.

First, the Bears took a similar approach last season by signing veteran left tackle Orlando Pace, whose skill slippage was clear from the start of last season. It took the Bears a while to get him out of the lineup, however, and they will have to make sure Faneca wouldn’t put them in the same position.

Second, the Bears have hired an offensive line coach in Mike Tice who excels at developing young players. It’s possible they will want to give Tice a chance to work with Josh Beekman and Lance Louis, among others, before deciding to plug in a veteran. Stay tuned.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 21, 2010
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Chicago Bears

Dream scenario: Without a first- or second-round pick, Chicago's dreams are pretty muted this week. They have significant needs at guard and cornerback, but nothing would make them happier than having a starting-caliber safety fall to them at No. 75 overall. The nature of the position, and the depth of this draft, makes it possible. They might not get South Florida's Nate Allen, who is a likely second-round pick, but there should be other options. Finding a starter without having to sacrifice additional picks in a trade-up would be ideal.

Plan B: Guards are not highly coveted from a draft perspective, and if the Bears don't like any of the safeties available to them at No. 75, they should be able to find someone to compete for their wide-open spot at left guard. As of now, the only veteran in the mix for that role is Josh Beekman.

Detroit Lions

Dream scenario: This might be too dreamy to actually happen, but here goes: The Lions acquire Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth for a third-round pick. They draft Oklahoma State's Russell Okung at No. 2 overall and grab Cal running back Jahvid Best at No. 34. Although they pass over arguably the two best prospects of the draft -- defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy -- the Lions still get an elite defensive tackle, a fixture at left tackle and a playmaker in the backfield who would be ready to contribute immediately while starter Kevin Smith continues his knee rehabilitation. I've shied away from this scenario, believing the cost for Haynesworth would be too high, but a third-round pick is pretty reasonable here.

Plan B: Frankly, getting a dynamic defensive playmaker at No. 2 -- Suh or McCoy -- is an awfully nice fallback position.

Green Bay Packers

Dream scenario: The Packers need a left tackle of the future. As this year's draft class stacks up, there is a significant dropoff between the top four left tackles and whoever you consider to be No. 5. Currently situated at No. 23, the Packers probably aren't going to get a chance at Okung, Oklahoma's Trent Williams, Rutgers' Anthony Davis or Iowa's Bryan Bulaga. But as long as we're in a dream-like state, we can hope that one of those four -- Davis? -- somehow slips to No. 23 or close enough that the Packers can make a reasonable trade up to get him.

Plan B: In our blog network mock draft, I proposed taking a chance on USC left tackle Charles Brown. He would probably get at least a year to develop, based on current starter Chad Clifton's contract, and would benefit from being in a stable offensive environment.

Minnesota Vikings

Dream scenario: Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said this week that he is confident at least one of his four targeted players will be available with the No. 30 overall pick. I won't hazard a guess at their identities, but ideally one of them would be a quarterback and fall to their spot. More than anything, this franchise needs a young quarterback to build around. More often than not, those quarterbacks are found at the top of the draft and at least in the first round. There are no assurances about waiting for next year. Getting their quarterback of the future is the Vikings' dream scenario.

Plan B: The Vikings have a relatively strong roster otherwise, and therefore can afford to draft for value at every spot if they choose. If their quarterback of the future isn't available at No. 30, or he can be selected lower in the draft, then they'll benefit from additional depth that the best available player will bring.
Chicago center Olin Kreutz will have surgery on an ailing Achilles tendon but is expected to be ready to play once training camp begins in July, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

Kreutz has been dealing with the injury for two years and sought the opinions of at least two specialists. The procedure is expected to require four to six months of rehabilitation. At this point, there’s no reason to believe the Bears plan anything other than to bring the veteran back for the 2010 season.

In the meantime, it’s possible the Bears will use Josh Beekman at center during spring drills.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • The Bears plan to re-sign linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa for 2010, according to Biggs.
  • Chicago coach Lovie Smith is feeling some urgency to wrap up his search for an offensive coordinator, writes Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times. Next up is Minnesota quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, who will interview Thursday.
  • Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield will see a foot specialist in the next two weeks to check on the progress of his recovery, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. Winfield fractured his foot Oct. 18.
  • Detroit assistant defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, who could soon be promoted to defensive line coach, is known for his intensity. Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press watched Kocurek during Senior Bowl drills.
  • Kocurek is only 31, notes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • Green Bay president/CEO Mark Murphy won’t give a news conference at the Super Bowl after all, writes Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • New Cleveland president Mike Holmgren hired Green Bay executive Mark Schiefelbein to be his vice president of football operations. Here’s some background from the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

A complete embarrassment for the Bears

November, 29, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS -- I spent a good portion of my upcoming game column examining how and why Brett Favre picked apart Chicago’s defense. But we shouldn’t allow the Bears off the hook for an atrocious offensive performance as well.

Matt Forte
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Vikings limited Matt Forte to just 27 yards on eight carries.
Chicago held the ball for only 19:05 of the game, managing eight first downs and 169 total yards. All were season lows. ESPN Stats & Information reports that nearly a third of the Bears’ total plays went for zero or negative yardage (12 of 38). That figure included seven of their 12 plays in the second half.

“You saw it,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Didn’t get a lot done.”

I walked away thinking that quarterback Jay Cutler was to blame for a minimum of the Bears’ offensive problems. There’s little doubt he underthrew receiver Johnny Knox in the end zone for his first interception, but that was the only glaring mistake I saw.

More problematic was the Bears’ decision to concede the running game before kickoff, naming Frank Omiyale their starting left guard over Josh Beekman. Omiyale is a marginally better pass- blocker but has struggled in run sets. Very predictably, the Bears called for a pass on 21 of their first 26 plays. For the game, tailback Matt Forte rushed for 27 yards on eight carries.

“It’s easy to look at the quarterback and blame the quarterback or whatever you want to blame,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner told reporters. “But everybody has to execute. If one guy doesn’t do it, it’s tough for any quarterback to execute and that’s kind of been the story of what we’ve had.”

No one knows what the Bears’ endgame will be, but I have a hard time believing Turner will be back as offensive coordinator. That seems a given. The bigger question now is what will happen to the bigger fish.

My feeling for most of the past month has been that Chicago wouldn’t pay Smith some $11 million to walk out the door. But Sunday marked another all-around embarrassment. It was the Bears’ third loss by 20 or more points in the past six weeks. A midseason slump has become a flat-out trend in Chicago. Will anyone -- besides Turner -- pay for it?

Winfield won't play

November, 29, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS -- In a bit of a surprise, Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield was deactivated Sunday afternoon and won’t play against Chicago.

Winfield practiced all week and was expected to return after missing four games with a foot sprain. But it will now be at least another week until he gets back on the field. Benny Sapp will start in his place. Meanwhile, the Vikings’ right guard will be Artis Hicks after starter Anthony Herrera (concussion) was deactivated.

For the Bears, the biggest pregame news is that Frank Omiyale has been re-inserted as the Bears’ starting left guard. He’ll replace Josh Beekman. Not sure what the Bears are trying to accomplish there. I think most of us can agree that Omiyale has been a bust as a guard. As expected, tight end Desmond Clark (neck) won’t play.

Black and Blue all over: HOW reminder

November, 17, 2009
Here’s your weekly reminder that I’m still seeking nominations for our Homer of the Week (HOW) award. For a description of criteria, look here. I’ll spend another day or so mulling over this very difficult and critical decision and then will post a video announcing the decision by the end of the week.

Here’s the tally so far:

Week 10: Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris
Week 11: ?????????

It’s a long and distinguished list, I know. Shoot me a mailbag note if you have suggestions.

On to our morning spin around the division.

NFC North at night

November, 16, 2009
Catching up on Monday’s news around the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: Safety Al Afalava (shoulder) was on the field for practice Monday, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago. Meanwhile, we’re back to guessing who will start at left guard Sunday night against Philadelphia. Frank Omiyale replaced starter Josh Beekman late in Thursday night’s loss at San Francisco.

Detroit Lions: Yet another defensive back will go on injured reserve. Jack Williams, claimed on waivers last week from Denver, suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday at Minnesota, according to coach Jim Schwartz.… Right guard Stephen Peterman suffered an ankle injury that could cost him some time.

Green Bay Packers: Tight end Jermichael Finley (knee) will return to practice Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in Green Bay. … Linebacker Aaron Kampman (concussion) should be ready to return to practice as well. McCarthy said he will remain the starter but indicated that rookie Brad Jones earned at least some playing time with his performance Sunday against Dallas. … McCarthy wouldn’t commit to a starting right tackle for this Sunday’s game against San Francisco. Candidates include T.J. Lang, Mark Tauscher and Allen Barbre -- probably in that order.

Minnesota Vikings: The team is hopeful that cornerback Antoine Winfield will be able to play Sunday against Seattle.