NFC North: Keith Bulluck

We're Black and Blue All Over:

As training camps around the NFL inevitably approach, I wonder if we're going to see more reports of players who suffered injuries while working out on their own during the offseason.

Here's one that applies to the NFC North: Detroit Lions left tackle Jeff Backus suffered a left pectoral muscle injury, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. The injury is believed to be a partially torn muscle, and his status for the start of training camp is in question.

Specifics are crucial in this case because a completely torn pectoral muscle is usually a season-ending injury. A partial tear can cause a month's absence.

Like most teams, the Lions don't have an heir apparent in-house to replace Backus if he has to miss some time. Left tackle is a difficult-enough position to fill anyway. And the Lions already are monitoring the health of right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who had microfracture surgery on his knee. Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox are the top two backup tackles.

You can say and think what you want about Backus, but losing a starting left tackle for a significant period of time is devastating for any team. A Lions source told Birkett the injury is not serious, but the team hasn't been allowed to examine him per the terms of the lockout. Stay tuned.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

I was half-kidding when I suggested last weekend would be the NFL's final dark weekend of the offseason. But maybe it's true.

Multiple reports have suggested the Green Bay Packers are planning a meeting Saturday for at least some players, assuming NFL owners ratify a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on Thursday as hoped. Teams would technically be able to open their doors starting Friday, and they would no doubt aggressively begin preparations for training camp at that point.

NFL teams are prohibited from contacting players during the lockout, so it's not clear how the Packers are communicating their plans to players, if they are. It would make more sense to "invite" younger players who need playbook updates than veterans. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said via Twitter: "I definitely haven't been contacted about anything in gb this weekend, for the record."

No matter how it plays out, it's clear that NFL teams are motivated by end-of-July urgency and are taking news of CBA progress the same way we are -- it's a matter of what day, not if, an agreement occurs in the coming week.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Packers receiver Donald Driver to Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The lockout gave me the opportunity to heal and not try to rush back to prove to people or prove to the media I'm not done yet. If I didn't show up for OTAs, and I'm hurt and everything, people would say I may be winding down. It always seems like every year I've got to go in and I've got to prove myself. At this point, I am the starter and no one can take that from me."
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune believes the NFL should cancel the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game.
  • Former NFL quarterback Jim McMahon is in pain but doesn't have life-threatening injuries following a limo accident in Nevada, according to the Associated Press.
  • The Chicago Bears might have trouble re-signing cornerback Corey Graham, writes Brad Biggs of the Tribune.
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "The Lions likely will be moderate in free agency this year, passing on the most-talked-about talents (Nnamdi Asomugha and Stephen Tulloch) at their most-needed positions (cornerback and linebacker). But they should be able to re-sign most of their priority free agents (Bobby Carpenter, Drew Stanton, John Wendling, etc., with Chris Houston being the wild card) and add a starter or two in free agency. And if that happens to be Drayton Florence and Keith Bulluck instead of Asomugha and Tulloch, know those players fit the Lions' dual desire to be competitive this year and build for next year and beyond."
  • Long-injured Lions cornerback Jack Williams will get a chance to prove himself, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder displayed a strong arm during workouts Monday, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
  • Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said he was told by team executives that his playing time will increase dramatically in 2011, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

For the second year in a row, the name of veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck is emerging in connection with the Detroit Lions.

Bulluck played for Lions coach Jim Schwartz in Tennessee, and the Lions still have a need at the linebacker position. Last year, he signed with the New York Giants because he wanted to play for a team that he thought was ready to win, but this year he is including the Lions among his candidates.
Bulluck on Sirius NFL Radio, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "First and foremost, New York because they gave me an opportunity to come and continue my career, really get healthy, where I needed to be. Detroit. I like what Schwartz is doing up there. Last year, I wasn't prepared physically to play and do the things that they would need me to do, but now I feel I am. New England is always veteran-friendly, and I know, every year, they're in contention of winning.

"Like I say, I want to win, really. At this point in my career, financially, me and my family are fine. But I definitely would like to be in a position to play myself into maybe possibly being one of the top-paid linebackers in the league again. Definitely one of the top players in the league."

Bulluck, however, is 34 and might need a reality check about his career arc. As thin as the Lions are at the position, would they consider him a full-time option? It's more likely he could be paired with another part-time player, but we won't know the answer until the free-agent market opens.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson cleared up a number of question marks about his status in an interview Sunday night, leaving him to report to training camp on time and in the right frame of mind.

Speaking with Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, Peterson said that contract unhappiness "was not the reason at all" that he skipped last month's mandatory minicamp. He said he will report to training camp Friday on time and that "I'm letting my agents take care of their job" in regards to future discussions.

Further, Peterson said there was no intended message in his decision to skip minicamp, saying the date for the fourth annual Adrian Peterson day in Palestine, Texas, was set before he knew when minicamp would occur. We discussed the logistical semantics of that issue last month, but there's no sense in debating when the Vikings' offseason schedule arrived in Peterson's mailbox. It appears everyone has moved on from that issue.

In the big picture, the Vikings can rejoice in the fact that Peterson plans no major contract protest this summer.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Peterson's position coach, Eric Bieniemy, turned down the offensive coordinator job at Southern California last week. The Vikings promoted him to assistant head coach -- offense. Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will continue to call plays, reports Zulgad.
  • There is no evidence that the Detroit Lions seriously considered signing free-agent linebacker Keith Bulluck, who agreed to terms with the New York Giants over the weekend. Based on our previous discussions, Lions fans should be neither surprised nor disappointed.
  • Cornerback Dre Bly will help the Lions "reduce the mismatch" they will face against multiple-receiver sets, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press suggests 11 things for the Lions to work on in training camp.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News predicts a 5-11 record for the Lions this season.
  • Tim Twentyman of the News: "If everyone stays healthy and [Ndamukong] Suh is a good as advertised, the Lions could make a huge leap into the top 15 in the NFL against the run and producing sacks."
  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times has a two-part analysis of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Part I and Part II.
  • Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald: "When the Bears take the field Friday afternoon at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais for their first of 23 training camp practices, they will begin to address issues that will ultimately determine whether head coach Lovie Smith, his staff and maybe even general manager Jerry Angelo and others in the front office will be back next year."
  • The Bears are working to revive their secondary, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "The Green Bay Packers appear to have succeeded where almost all NFL franchises fail: They've immediately replaced a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback with another winning player."
  • Receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones both had strong offseasons, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The Detroit Lions will be the final NFC North team on the practice field this offseason, assuming their minicamp continues through Friday as scheduled.*

As you know by now, I'm always hesitant to draw many conclusions based on what we see or hear from non-contact offseason practices. But in this case, we should get some clues about the Lions' personnel direction at a number of positions with open competition. Among them:


Stay tuned for updates as I receive them.

(*The Chicago Bears have an organized team activity scheduled for Wednesday and will wrap up their offseason work Thursday.)
We're Black and Blue All Over:

It doesn't sound like the Detroit Lions would be the first choice of free-agent linebacker Keith Bulluck, whom we have discussed as a possibility to fill the weakside position vacated by the trade of Ernie Sims.

As John Niyo of the Detroit News points out, Bulluck indicated strongly in a national radio interview Thursday that he's hoping to sign with the New York Giants when he completes recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Bulluck: "But honestly, to be 100 percent honest, I want to play for a championship, you know what I'm saying? If it comes down to it, if my option is to go to Detroit, yeah, all right, that's what we gotta do. Because I'm gonna play football, regardless. But the New York Giants is what's up."

The Lions have been using second-year player Zack Follett at the position during spring practices, and to be fair, they've never indicated anything more than casual interest in Bulluck. But suffice it to say, more than a few dominoes would have to fall in order for Bulluck to end up in Detroit.

Continuing around the NFC North on this wonderful Friday morning:

  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com wonders why the production of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson hasn't been more pronounced over his first three seasons.
  • Defensive backs Al Harris, Derrick Martin and Will Blackmon aren't expected to participate fully in the Green Bay Packers' minicamp next week, according to Mike Spofford of Packers.com.
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette believes cornerback Tramon Williams should model his contract dispute after that of Packers safety Nick Collins: "Williams should take a long, hard look at how ... Collins conducted himself a year ago. Collins made it known he wanted a new contract, and coming off a Pro Bowl season, he rightly deserved one. But the Packers held their ground and made Collins play out the final year of his five-year contract. Instead of pouting or holding out, Collins took the high road. He lived up to his contract and produced a second consecutive Pro Bowl season. In response, the Packers rewarded him with a four-year, $26.7 million deal in March."
  • Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs is in favor of an 18-game season, according to Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen told ESPN 1000 in Chicago that he's assuming quarterback Brett Favre will play in 2010. Allen: "If I was a betting man, and I had to put money on it today, absolutely. I hope if the answer was no, he would have already had the wherewithal to tell us that he's not coming back so we could have done something in free agency."
Many of you have been asking if the Detroit Lions will pursue free-agent linebacker Keith Bulluck, who played for Lions coach Jim Schwartz in Tennessee but is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Reporters asked Schwartz about it Thursday, and here's what Schwartz said (via Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press):
"I think that he's a guy, among others, that we've had our eye on. It just throws a little bit of a monkey wrench into it for him because he's coming off an ACL. But he's a quality player that's played for a long time in the NFL, and when he's available, I'm sure there will be a lot of teams that will be interested in him."

Bulluck is about a month away from being healthy enough to work out for teams. You would imagine the Titans will be in the mix, but the Lions could have a tailor-made starting job available for him after trading weakside linebacker Ernie Sims.

During organized team activities, second-year player Zack Follett has been working in that spot. But if that remains the case, the Lions will have untested starters at two of their three linebacker positions in 2010. (Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy started 10 games on the weak side last year.)

I'm not sure if this is a fair way to look at it, but here's my take: Bulluck is 33, has played 10 years as an NFL linebacker and is coming off a serious knee injury. I wouldn't consider him an ideal candidate for a team building from the bottom up, one that was among the league's most injured last year and is already nursing three players back from late-season ACL injuries.

Of course, that thought process might require adjustment if it becomes clear during OTAs that Follett can't handle the job. The Lions know all about the dangers of entering games short-handed from a personnel standpoint. But given Bulluck's situation, I'm not sure the Lions should be knocking his door down the moment he is ready to start working out.
Tuesday was busy enough in Chicago that we need a clean-up session to wrap up all the goings-on. We covered the acquisition of safety Chris Harris pretty thoroughly, but in addition:

The Bears restructured Harris' contract. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, it is now worth a maximum of $3.5 million and expires after the 2011 season. But if the Bears pay an option bonus due in March 2011, they'll be required to extend the contract further.

Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel was informed his contract will not be renewed. This continues an expected shakeup and clears the way for former Seattle general manager Tim Ruskell to join the team, as Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune writes.

Free-agent guard Alan Faneca signed with Arizona, eliminating the possibility he might go to the Bears. It's not clear if the Bears ever got involved, however.

Finally, the Tribune's Brad Biggs suggests that safety Kevin Payne is likely to seek his release following the Harris trade.

We shouldn't minimize the changes the Bears have made to their roster. As we noted earlier this month, only six starters remain from their 2006 Super Bowl team. But they've now overhauled their coaching staff and front office as well. More to come on these changes.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press questions whether Lions running back Kevin Smith realizes the impact of rookie Jahvid Best's arrival. Smith recently referred to Best as a "good complement." Monarrez: "Let's hope Smith is just being polite and that he truly understands that he's in a fight to keep his job and that coaches probably already have him penciled in as No. 2 on the depth chart."
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com hasn't ruled out the possibility of the Lions signing free-agent linebacker Keith Bulluck.
  • Rookie free agent Sam Shields, a cornerback from Miami, is the fastest player on the Packers' roster, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Mark Craig of the Star Tribune explores the issues in the Williams Wall trial.
  • Dennis Lien of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "A proposal to allow slot machines to help pay for a new Vikings football stadium fell flat Tuesday in the Minnesota House."
Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com believes there must be more to Detroit's trade of linebacker Ernie Sims: "It doesn't seem conceivable that the team would open yet another hole in the starting defensive lineup without a plan in place to fill it."

Sims
Sims
Bulluck
Bulluck
Twitter pal @Schottey has been floating free-agent linebacker Keith Bulluck's name all day as a potential replacement. Bulluck, after all, played under Lions coach Jim Schwartz when both were at Tennessee, and he's available as he recuperates from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

So what gives?

I think you can rest assured the Lions have a plan for the position, even if it means a competition between untested veterans and perhaps a draft choice or two. You can't have a proven veteran at every position. Fewer than five months have passed since Bulluck, 32, suffered the injury. Would he be an upgrade over Sims? It might be hard to know at this point. In general, I'm not in favor of signing 32-year-old linebackers coming off major knee surgery to replace 25-year-old former first-round picks.

Scouts Inc. Jeremy Green included Bulluck among the best five remaining defensive free agents. Here's how Green evaluated Bulluck's situation:
If he is healthy, Bulluck is definitely one of the top players still available in unrestricted free agency. He tore a knee ligament in late December and might not be ready to join a team. When healthy, he is an active linebacker with excellent instincts for the position. He is a sideline-to-sideline player who can make plays all over the field. Though not as active in coverage as he once was, Bulluck still can make plays on balls thrown in front of him. The main reason he is still available has to do with injury.

Bulluck might well be on the Lions' list of possibilities here. But did they trade Sims with the expectation that Bulluck would replace him? I'm thinking the two issues are mutually exclusive. Sims is in Philadelphia now because he didn't play well the past two seasons and he was entering the final year of his contract. This trade didn't open up a hole as much as it, for now, maintained one.

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