NFC North: Keary Colbert
Last season, we ran a weekly Monday feature that came to be known as "Three answers, one question" and purported to wrap up the game action for each NFC North team. While I look for a catchier name in Year 2 of the blog (send your suggestions here), I'd like to take a truncated glance at the first weekend of the preseason.
Here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about after preseason week No. 1:
- The Jay Cutler-Devin Hester dynamic is going to be interesting this season in Chicago. During my camp stop last week, it seemed pretty clear that the pair is still working to get on the same page. Specifically, Hester didn't always turn around quickly enough to catch Cutler's fastball. The same thing happened at least once Saturday night in Buffalo, where Cutler also seemed to implicate Hester in an interception he threw. We all know Cutler has a strong relationship with receiver Earl Bennett, his college teammate at Vanderbilt. Cutler is also on the same page with tight end Greg Olsen. But he's still working out the kinks with Hester.
- As Cutler experienced growing pains with his new team, you could see the advantage of familiarity in Green Bay. When he got some pressure in the first quarter, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers calmly stepped forward in the pocket and waited for Donald Driver to break free down the field. Rodgers then fired the ball for a 53-yard touchdown reception. Those are the kinds of plays you see between quarterbacks and receivers who have years of experience in their offense and with each other.
- We'll touch on it more this week from Detroit, but the Lions are more beat up than any team in the NFC North. I counted 17 players on the "Did Not Play" list for Saturday night's game against Atlanta. The group included at least five likely starters and another four who are expected to be significant contributors this season. The hardest-hit positions are receiver and tight end, adding another level of complexity to the Lions' quarterback derby. All you had to do is see Lions receiver Keary Colbert drop at least three passes to know you couldn't judge Matthew Stafford, especially, from his line in the box score.
And here is one question I'm still asking:
Will Tarvaris Jackson be playing for his Minnesota career Friday night against Kansas City? Let's look at the facts. Sage Rosenfels produced a strong performance Friday night in Indianapolis. Jackson was a mess, misfiring on six of his first eight passes and throwing for only 39 yards over five series. Jackson is scheduled to start against the Chiefs, but coach Brad Childress hasn't decided who will start the third preseason game at Houston. You would think Jackson will need a considerably sharper performance against the Chiefs to merit consideration to start against the Texans. If he plays poorly this week, he likely will be left to salvage his candidacy with the Vikings' second-team offense in Houston. That's not an ideal scenario.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
If you're hoping to leave Lambeau Field on Saturday night with a strong sense of Green Bay's new 3-4 defense, you might be disappointed. As Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal writes, the Packers might not use even 40 percent of their defensive playbook in the preseason opener against Cleveland.
Coach Mike McCarthy said the volume target is 33 percent to 40 percent. According to Wilde, the Packers have more than 100 plays in Dom Capers' new 3-4 scheme. Doing the math, you'll see about 35 of those looks Saturday night.
Capers: "I think there's a balance there. There's certain things you'd rather not play, rather not show, but you want to see your package and execute some of your package, too."
That balance will be noteworthy throughout the preseason as the Packers continue to unveil the new scheme.
Moving around the NFC North:
- Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looks at the strong summer performance of linebacker Brandon Chillar.
- Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette is eager to see how the Packers' offensive line performs against Cleveland.
- As Detroit rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford prepares for his preseason debut, Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press checks in with Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan about playing as a rookie.
- The Lions' third preseason game could decide their quarterback derby, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- The Lions likely will start Keary Colbert and Adam Jennings at receiver Saturday night against Atlanta, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Chicago could flip-flop at safety Saturday at Buffalo, with Kevin Payne moving to free safety and rookie Al Afalava working at strong safety, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Buffalo's second-round draft pick, Jairus Byrd, is the son of Chicago assistant coach Gil Byrd. But Jairus Byrd won't play Saturday because of a sports hernia, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago.
- Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf toured Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday to glean ideas for a stadium he hopes to build in downtown Minneapolis, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
Minnesota linebacker E.J. Henderson wouldn't mind at all if his team moves past its infatuation with retired quarterback Brett Favre. Resolution is good, Henderson told Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Henderson: "I think it's good to have that resolution so we can just move on and focus on us, and focus on getting ready for the season without all these outside distractions. I definitely think it's good to have a resolution, if there is one. But who knows what the personnel guys, and the guys we got upstairs, what they're going to end up doing."
Who knows, indeed. And while there isn't much to distract Vikings players from right now -- their offseason practices don't begin until May 19 -- there's definitely some value to getting their minds set on having either Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels as their starting quarterback.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Rosenfels' presence makes Favre an unnecessary target, writes Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune. OK then.
- Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is down to three percent body fat, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Sources told Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that it would be unwise to assume the dalliance between Favre and the Vikings is over.
- Free-agent tight end Michael Gaines, formerly of Detroit, will visit Chicago on Monday, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher got a surprise gift from Cleveland Cavaliers guard LeBron James the other night, notes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Detroit tailback Kevin Smith will need to adjust to the Lions' new power rushing game, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Lions rookie linebacker DeAndre Levy is hoping to be 240 pounds when training camp starts, writes Niyo. Levy weighed in at 238 this week
- The Lions re-signed receiver Keary Colbert on Thursday, writes David Birkett of the Oakland Press.
Wrapping up our early offseason analysis of the NFC North:
Detroit Lions offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 0-16
- Coaching changes: Rod Marinelli fired and replaced by Jim Schwartz. Gunther Cunningham is the new defensive coordinator. Scott Linehan will be the new offensive coordinator. The team has announced no other additions, and the fate of much of Marinelli's former staff has yet to be decided.
- Salary cap status: $26.8 million before end-of-year adjustments and credits.
- Exclusive rights free agent: Defensive back Ramzee Robinson
- Key unrestricted free agents: Running back Aveion Cason, defensive lineman Shaun Cody, receiver Keary Colbert, offensive lineman George Foster, placekicker Jason Hanson, running back Rudi Johnson, linebacker Paris Lenon, receiver Shaun McDonald, linebacker Ryan Nece, fullback Moran Norris, quarterback Dan Orlovsky, guard Stephen Peterman.
- Free agent comment: Hanson is the Lions' biggest decision among the free agent group. There have been reports that he is bound by a grandfathered franchise tag. The Lions have not confirmed that. But in either event, they will have to decide whether to pay him a premium salary after a lights-out 2008 season. The sheer number of free agents the Lions have speaks to the roster overhaul they could effect if desired.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Size in the interior defensive line; (2) A playmaking linebacker; (3) Upgrade at both guard positions.
Catching up on some news around the NFC North on Thursday evening:
Chicago: Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye and defensive tackle Anthony Adams missed practice for the second consecutive day Thursday. As Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune points out, the Bears already are thin along the defensive line after a season-ending arm injury to nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek. You would expect to see Mark Anderson and rookie Marcus Harrison get any playing time vacated by Ogunleye and Adams, respectively.
Detroit: Sunday's game against Minnesota will be blacked out on local television, the Lions' fourth blackout of the season. ... The Lions are getting short on receivers. They placed Mike Furrey on injured reserve earlier this week, and Shaun McDonald suffered an ankle injury Wednesday in practice. It seems likely that Keary Colbert, who signed earlier this week, will be active and play a prominent role. ... The starting defensive ends Sunday will be rookies Cliff Avril and Andre Fluellen.
Green Bay: Center Scott Wells hasn't practiced this week because of a concussion he suffered last Sunday against Carolina. But coach Mike McCarthy told reporters he anticipated Wells being cleared on Friday. Barring a setback, that means Wells will play Sunday against Houston. ... The team promoted linebacker Spencer Havner from the practice squad after Chicago tried to sign him Thursday, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Let's get caught up on a busy Monday of personnel moves in the NFC North:
Chicago: Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek will miss the rest of the season because of an arm injury, Bears coach Lovie Smith told reporters Monday afternoon. Dvoracek made it through 12 games this season after foot and knee injuries limited him to one game in his first two NFL seasons. It's likely the Bears will use veteran Anthony Adams and rookie Marcus Harrison to replace him.
Detroit: The Lions signed free agent receiver Keary Colbert and placed veteran Mike Furrey (concussion) on injured reserve. Furrey has tried several times to resume practicing since originally suffering the injury but has been experiencing dizziness. ... Coach Rod Marinelli said the status of backup quarterbacks Drew Stanton (concussion) and Dan Orlovsky (hand) is uncertain but that Daunte Culpepper will remain the starter.
Green Bay: The Packers announced the release of punter Derrick Frost, whose inconsistency had become a maddening topic for fans, but did not immediately indicate who will replace him. Coach Mike McCarthy did say that backup quarterback Matt Flynn will become the holder for placekicker Mason Crosby, suggesting the Packers aren't searching for a permanent replacement at punter. ... The Packers also lost special teams contributor Kenny Pettway (knee) for the season and promoted two members of their practice squad, defensive tackle Alfred Malone and cornerback Joe Porter.