NFC North: Landon Cohen

 Julius PeppersAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJulius Peppers had his best game of the season with 11 tackles, 2.0 sacks and four tackles-for-loss.

RISING

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David Bass
1. David Bass, DE: A seventh-round pick of the Raiders in 2013 out of Missouri Western State who was claimed by the Bears off waivers, Bass made the biggest play of his young professional career on Sunday, intercepting a Joe Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage and returning it 14 yards for a touchdown. Bass' pick-six changed the momentum of the game, and without it, the Bears likely don't crawl out of the 10-0 hole they dug for themselves before Sunday's lengthy weather delay. At 6-foot-4, 256 pounds, Bass isn't built like a prototypical 4-3 defensive end, but he's shown promise this season in six appearances. In addition to the interception, Bass finished the Baltimore game with four tackles and one tackle-for-loss. Expect Bass to keep himself in the mix at defensive end, especially with Shea McClellin dealing with a hamstring injury.

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Julius Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, DE: Peppers easily had his most productive game of the year with a season-high 11 tackles, 2.0 sacks and four tackles-for-loss in the 23-20 victory against Ravens. This proves that Peppers, 33, can still be a difference-maker. But these kinds of efforts from Peppers have been few and far between in 2013. Can the veteran defensive end string a bunch of these games together down the stretch as the Bears push for a postseason berth? The answer to that question is unknown. But with three sacks over the past three games, Peppers seems to be heating up at the right time for a Bears' defense ravaged by injuries.

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Gould
3. Robbie Gould, K: Gould's candid and confident demeanor can rub certain people in Chicago the wrong way, but his on-field results are indisputable. Gould was 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts on Sunday, this despite horrendous weather conditions at Soldier Field. But Gould has made a living navigating the treacherous winds of Chicago, and is 19-of-20 for the season. The most accurate kicker in franchise history and one of the most accurate in league history, Gould has now kicked 11 game-winning field goals with six of those in overtime.

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Josh McCown
4. Josh McCown, QB: All McCown does is win games and run the offense. Whenever a quarterback protects the ball and doesn't turn it over, his team has a shot to win every week. McCown's 2013 numbers are remarkable: 61-of-101 passes completed for 754 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. That's a 100.0 quarterback rating. Even if the good times don't last much longer for McCown, this has been one of the most unexpected and enjoyable stories that I've covered in quite some time. McCown always wins the news conference with his genuine, kind, intelligent and humble personality, but now he's winning important games for the Bears. McCown is 2-0. He runs the offense the correct way. There is no need for Jay Cutler to rush back from his high-ankle sprain. None.

FALLING

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Landon Cohen
1. Landon Cohen, DT: The Ravens were averaging 73 rushing yards per game entering Week 10, but Baltimore had plenty of success on the ground against the Bears. Ray Rice ran for 131 yards and one touchdown, and Baltimore finished the game with 174 rushing yards on 41 attempts. Baltimore found much of the running room up the gut of the Bears' defense, where Cohen played 59 snaps because nose tackle Stephen Paea (19 snaps) left the game early with a toe injury. Cohen hasn't been a bad addition, but Sunday wasn't his finest moment.

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Brandon Marshall
2. Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall has been great for the Bears with a team-high 64 receptions for 828 yards and eight touchdowns, but he caught just four passes for 42 yards on 10 targets against the Ravens. Marshall more than carries his weight on offense, but he will occasionally drop catchable balls, as he did on Sunday when the wideout let a perfectly thrown pass from McCown slip through his fingers. In the rare instances when Marshall has been a non-factor for the Bears, he usually responds the following week by putting up big numbers. The smart money says Marshall finds the end zone multiple times in Week 12 when the Bears travel to St. Louis, and finishes the game as the club's leading receiver. History has shown us that Marshall generally finds a way to bounce back, regardless of the quarterback.
Tim JenningsAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTim Jennings' first interception he returned for a TD. His second one preserved the Bears' win.
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CHICAGO -- In the past, clinging to a six-point lead with 5:21 left and the opposing team taking possession at its own 11-yard line, it would have seemed almost certain the Chicago Bears would hold on to win.

Yet that wasn’t the feeling Thursday night at a tense Soldier Field, and likely won’t ever be this season with the way Chicago’s defense continues to struggle.

During that frantic sequence, New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs broke loose for 14 yards on first down. Three plays later, Eli Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for an 11-yard gain. Two more running plays picked up 25 yards, and by the 2:02 mark, the Giants had advanced all the way to the Chicago 35.

“It wasn’t pretty out there,” said cornerback Tim Jennings, arguably the game’s most valuable player. He preserved Chicago’s 27-21 victory with an interception at the Bears' 10-yard line with 1:54 remaining, and he had put a touchdown on the board in the first quarter with a 48-yard interception return.

“We got off to a fast start. We didn’t finish strong, though. We’ve got to go back and figure it out. We didn’t play well. Of course we’re happy with the win. But just going back and watching, it’s not going to be a pretty thing to watch. It’s a learning tool. We’ll get something out of it.”

The Bears certainly need to.

Chicago captured its 10th consecutive victory in a game in which it scored a defensive touchdown. Since 2005, the Bears are 24-2 when they score on defense. It's an impressive statistic. But the primary objective on defense is to stop the opponent from scoring -- something Chicago hasn’t done all season.

The Bears are allowing 26.8 points per game, and haven’t yet limited an opponent to fewer than 21 points. Since 2010, the Bears are 15-6 when they hold teams to 17 points or fewer. During that span, when they allow 18 points or more the Bears are 18-15.

“Our guys, we missed some tackles,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We didn’t make some plays, certainly, we need to make down the road here.”

Jacobs finished the game with 106 yards and two touchdowns, marking the third time an opponent rushed for 100 yards or more against the Bears.

The Giants came into the game with the NFL’s lowest conversion percentage (26.2) on third down, yet skyrocketed that number up to 64 percent against the Bears. Manning completed four passes for gains of 20 yards or more, including two connections for 30-plus yards.

“We’ve got to work on third downs,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Third downs have been the bane of our defense this year.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Bears struggled to bring down Giants running back Brandon Jacobs all evening long.
Injuries, too. Already hurting up front due to season-ending injuries to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton and Nate Collins, the Bears also played Thursday night without starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who missed his second consecutive game, and Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman.

Chicago’s starting front four featured defensive end Corey Wootton inside at tackle alongside Landon Cohen, who joined the team on Sept. 29, as well as defensive ends Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin.

By the time the Giants attempted to mount their late rally, the Bears had already lost two more starters: linebackers in D.J. Williams (chest) and James Anderson (back)

“You’re right about these injuries,” safety Major Wright said. “But it’s the NFL? What do you expect?”

Obviously not what observers in the past had become accustomed to from a Bears defense in a crucial situation with advantageous field position. But in the end, Chicago’s defense found a way to seal the victory thanks to two interceptions from Jennings and another from Zack Bowman, who filled in for Tillman.

“We want to be out there on that field around that time,” Wright said. “We’ve got some special players, and any time during a game, we can get a turnover -- by anybody. We knew something was gonna happen, and it was Tim.”

But the truth is, the Bears can’t always rely on that.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins sustained a left knee injury in the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints and has been ruled out for the remainder of the game.

Collins hurt the knee while attempting to pressure Saints quarterback Drew Brees on a pass attempt. Collins' knee appeared to buckle as he was tied up with a New Orleans offensive lineman. The four-year veteran defensive lineman grabbed his knee after falling to the ground and remained on the turf for a short period of time before eventually walking back to the locker room under his own power.

Collins moved into the Bears’ starting lineup after Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Entering Sunday’s game versus the Saints, Collins led all Bears defensive linemen with 10 tackles through the first four games. Collins also recorded two quarterback pressures and forced one fumble.

The Bears are perilously thin on their defensive line. Not only are Turk McBride and Melton already on injured reserve, but starting nose tackle Stephen Paea was inactive on Sunday because of toe injury. The Bears also lost another prospective body on the defensive line when veteran tackle Sedrick Ellis announced his retirement on the eve of training camp.

Because of the rash of injuries on the defensive line, relative newcomer Landon Cohen and undrafted rookie Zach Minter are both in the defensive tackle rotation on Sunday, along with Corey Wootton, who the club bumped inside from his customary defensive end spot. David Bass is seeing significant playing time outside at end.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears signed defensive tackle Landon Cohen on Friday, and officially placed franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton on injured reserve.

Melton tore the ACL in his left knee with 12:58 left to play in Chicago’s 40-23 victory Sunday over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Looking to add depth, the Bears brought in Cohen and Daniel Muir for tryouts, before opting Friday to sign the former.

“I just talked to [general manager] Phil [Emery] about him,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I don’t know much, but he’s with us. We’ll find out a little bit more. Phil’s been out of town, so I’ll have a chance to chat with him. I did by phone, but [I’ll] have a chance to talk with him a little bit more.”

Cohen has played in 27 career NFL games (with five starts) for Detroit (2008-09), Jacksonville (2010), New England (2010-11) and Dallas (2013). He has posted 32 tackles.

Fourth-year veteran Nate Collins will start Sunday opposite Stephen Paea, who is expected to move into Melton’s customary spot as the three-technique while Collins plays nose tackle. It’s likely that defensive end Corey Wootton will also kick inside to defensive tackle to enter the rotation, which will also include undrafted free-agent Zach Minter.

Minter had been among the team’s inactives over the first three games.

“[Melton] is definitely a great player. No one is going to do what he does out there,” Minter said. “But when the opportunity presents itself, it’s our job to take advantage, but also step up and play like he’s not missing. So it’s up to us to keep the momentum going, keep the pass rush up and get after the football.”

Melton has 13 sacks since 2011, which ranks second among defensive tackles during that span. So replacing him will be a difficult proposition for Chicago’s already struggling pass rush. Through the first three games, Collins has contributed seven tackles in limited action.

Filling in for an injured Melton at Pittsburgh, Collins posted two tackles.

“I feel like I’m aggressive, like I might be a little undersized,” Collins said. “But in some situations, playing in that phone booth at nose tackle, it’s an advantage as long as I keep my pads down and use my leverage to my advantage.”

Detroit Lions cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a full list of Detroit's's roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Veteran cornerbacks Dre Bly and Eric King were among six cornerbacks released. The Lions' secondary was hardly exemplary during the preseason, but you figured Bly or King would make the team to provide some level of veteran presence. As it stands now, the Lions' cornerbacks include starters Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade, rookie Aaron Berry and newcomer Alphonso Smith. I'm not saying it was a mistake to cut Bly and King. Just a bit surprising. Defensive tackle Landon Cohen, meanwhile, saw the Lions overhaul his position in the offseason, but seemed to make enough plays in training camp and during the preseason to earn a roster spot. Instead, his spot went to Andre Fluellen. Finally, the Lions chose Aaron Brown over DeDe Dorsey for the final running back spot. Dorsey made two big plays in the preseason finale, but coaches chose Brown's speed and potential special teams contribution.

No-brainers: I give the Lions credit for releasing linebacker Vinny Ciurciu. He entered training camp as a player focused on special teams, but spent most of it filling in for injured middle linebacker DeAndre Levy. Ciurciu hasn't played much linebacker in his career, and unfortunately for him, the extended time revealed that he wouldn't be able to hold down the position should he be called on in a relief role during the season.

What's next: The Lions need to settle their secondary following this weekend of flux. Who is their nickel back? What about the dime? Will rookie Amari Spievey remain at safety or move back to cornerback to provide more depth? The team is also going to need to spend some more time looking for depth at linebacker. It wouldn't be a surprise to see them focus at that position over the next few days.

BBAO: Kevin Smith's job in jeopardy?

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

It's already clear that rookie Jahvid Best has taken over the Detroit Lions' starting tailback job. We've assumed that his predecessor, Kevin Smith, would become his backup. But Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press indicates Smith is no lock to make the Lions' 53-man roster.

Smith has returned from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but his preseason performance has been weak (2.4 yards per carry) and he isn't much of a special-teams factor. The Lions have a relatively deep backfield that also includes Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, DeDe Dorsey and Jerome Felton. Tellingly, coach Jim Schwartz provided a neutral answer when asked if Smith had earned a spot on the roster: "I don't know. I'll cross that bridge when we get there. I don't know that there's very many people that have 100 percent earned a spot."

Smith was drafted by the Lions' previous front office/coaching regime and targeted specifically for a zone-running scheme the team no longer uses. Is it possible that Smith could make the team? Sure. But there are certainly a number of factors working against him.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Chris McCosky of the Detroit News considers defensive tackles Andre Fluellen and Landon Cohen, safety Ko Simpson and cornerback Aaron Berry to be among the Lions' bubble players.
  • Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has been linked to D-list celebrity Kristin Cavallari. Cutler on the repercussions of such rumors, according to the Chicago Tribune: "It'll be interesting."
  • Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Dark forces seem to be gathering against the Bears these days. There's a devastating combination of deflating preseason losses featuring alternating areas of concern on the field, curious trade rumors off it and even the bottom-line folks at Forbes magazine labeling the franchise 'financial flatliners.'"
  • Bears backup quarterback Todd Collins should get extended playing time in Thursday night's preseason finale, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
  • Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is surprised by the number of mistakes players have made in preseason, according to Michael C. Wright of the Chicago Tribune.
  • In the big picture, the Green Bay Packers made it through training camp healthy, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett on moving from nose tackle to end: "It took me awhile to accept it. I was disappointed for a little while. But after that, I started playing it and started liking it." Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has more.
  • Oft-injured defensive lineman Justin Harrell could be down to his final days with the Packers, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Veteran Lito Sheppard is the likely Week 1 starter at right cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings, according to the Star Tribune.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com on the Vikings' recent injury woes: "This team has a swarm of locusts in the locker room."
  • Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian on the red zone bobble that led to an interception in Saturday's preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks: "It was one of those things that just happened." Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has more.
One word describes my general impression of organized team activities in the NFL: dull. But that clearly wasn't the case Thursday in Detroit, where players brawled near the end of a two-minute drill on an 85-degree day.

Right guard Stephen Peterman and defensive tackle Landon Cohen were the two main combatants, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News. But as the scrum widened, coach Jim Schwartz found himself in the middle breaking it up.

Said Schwartz: "No, that was Greco-Roman wrestling -- that wasn't boxing. Guys were hot, guys were competitive and guys crossed the line a little bit too much. And I think they all know in OTAs that I can't fine anybody. So they didn't miss their opportunity to get a free one in."

Continuing around the NFC North as we head into the holiday weekend:

Before I hop over to the ESPN mother ship, let's take a quick spin around the NFC North:
Monday's trade of linebacker Ernie Sims prompts us to update our, uh, visual depiction of Detroit's decade-long draft woes. Sims was the last remaining player from the 2006 class, meaning the Lions have only two players on their roster from the seven drafts from 2000-06.

If you want to know how you become a team whose top need is talent, take a look. Enough said.

2000: 0
2001: 2 (Left tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola)
2002: Nada
2003: Zip
2004: Nothing
2005: Nil
2006: Zilch*
2007: 3 (Receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Drew Stanton, guard Manny Ramirez)
2008: 7 (Right tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Jordon Dizon, tailback Kevin Smith, defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, defensive end Cliff Avril, fullback Jerome Felton, defensive tackle Landon Cohen)
2009: 9 (Quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas, linebacker DeAndre Levy, receiver Derrick Williams, defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, running back Aaron Brown, linebacker Zack Follett, tight end Dan Gronkowski)

*Update: Safety Daniel Bullocks signed his tender Monday, officially returning him to the Lions' roster. So technically, one player remains from the 2006 draft even though Bullocks is battling a serious knee injury.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Detroit fans received a rude education Sunday on the NFL’s heightened interest in quarterback safety. Edward of Detroit led off our SportsNation chat with a question about the second-quarter roughing call that reversed a Lions interception and ultimately led to Pittsburgh taking a 14-6 lead at Ford Field.

Here was the situation: The Steelers faced a third-and-4 at the Lions’ 45-yard line. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's pass to receiver Hines Ward was intercepted by Eric King at the 41-yard line. But referee Ed Hochuli whistled Lions defensive tackle Landon Cohen for a roughing penalty, returning the ball to the Steelers 15 yards downfield. Five plays later, Pittsburgh extended its lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to tight end Heath Miller.

When you watch the replay, you see Cohen take an inside spin move and get past Steelers right guard Trai Essex. Just after the ball is released, Cohen swipes his right arm on Roethlisberger’s left knee as he dives to the ground. Roethlisberger falls awkwardly, in part because of the traffic around him.

A year ago, Cohen almost certainly wouldn’t have been penalized. But as you probably know, the NFL strengthened its roughing-the-passer rules this offseason in response to New England quarterback Tom Brady's season-ending knee injury in 2008. Here is the relevant addition to the rules:
A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if he is being contacted by another player.
Essex gives Cohen a light shove just before contact with Roethlisberger, which some fans might consider a mitigating circumstance. But as you can see from the wording above, it’s now almost irrelevant if you’re blocked into the quarterback. It might not look like roughing or seem particularly egregious in the course of an NFL game. But the way I read it, Cohen absolutely was in violation of the rule as now constituted.

You can criticize the league for putting defensive players in a near-impossible situation. But unfortunately for the Lions, Hochuli made the right call based on the new rule.

Now, for our Challenge Tracker, which went unchanged this week:
NFC North Challenge Tracker
Team Coach Challenge Overturned Success rate
Chicago Lovie Smith 4 1 25.0
Detroit Jim Schwartz 2 0 --
Green Bay Mike McCarthy 3 1 33.3
Minnesota Brad Childress 2 1 50.0
Source: NFL

Lions: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Check here for a full list of Detroit’s roster moves.

Biggest surprise: The word around the NFL was that Shaun Smith was going to open the season as a starter at defensive tackle. Instead, he was released Saturday. Smith is a big-bodied space-filler who figured to help solidify the Lions pass rush, and now they seem pretty thin once again in the interior of their defensive line. Defensive tackle Chuck Darby was also released, so you wonder who will start opposite Grady Jackson. Rookie Sammie Hill? Ikaika Alama-Francis? Landon Cohen? That’s all the Lions have left, at least for now.

No-brainers: The release of placekicker Billy Cundiff means the Lions feel reasonably comfortable that Jason Hanson is ready to kick after undergoing knee surgery last month. The Lions could always re-sign Cundiff later this week if Hanson proves otherwise. Meanwhile, it was time to bid farewell to longtime Lions running back Aveion Cason. Rookie Aaron Brown showed enough speed and playmaking ability in the preseason to let Cason move on. Finally, the Lions had no choice but to keep Kevin O’Connell as the No. 4 quarterback while Drew Stanton recovers from knee surgery.

What’s next: You can expect the Lions to be active on the waiver wire as long as they sit atop the NFL’s claim priority list. The Lions could continue claiming players for several days until they get their 53-man roster settled for Week 1. The next step for the team will be naming a starting quarterback. Neither Daunte Culpepper nor Matthew Stafford outperformed each other during the preseason, but Culpepper was sidelined by a toe injury that required eight stitches. Coach Jim Schwartz hasn’t tipped his hand and has suggested he might not make an announcement until shortly before the Sept. 13 season opener at New Orleans.

Weekend mailbag

July, 11, 2009
7/11/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We had a little action last week in the NFC North, but as expected, the news certainly slowed as all four teams enjoyed some time away from their practice facilities. We got an update on the Williams Wall story, debated the pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and argued over the identity of the NFC North's breakout player in 2009. (I say Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin, you say Chicago tight end Greg Olsen.)

But there's always material for the mailbag, thanks to your intrepid participation. Remember, you can contact me through said mailbag, our lightning-fast Facebook page or Twitter. Phones? They're, like, sooooo 2008. I don't even know why I have one.

OK, let's get on with it:

Brad of Chicago notes our breakdown of Detroit's drafts this decade, hooked to the release of linebacker Alex Lewis, and asks for a comparison with the rest of the division.

Kevin Seifert: Thanks for the assignment, Brad. Seriously, it's a good idea. As it turns out, the Lions rank last among the four NFC North teams in this category. The Packers lead with 33 players. Of course, these numbers can be skewed based on the total number of draft choices. But over time, it's at least a decent gauge of overall draft success.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown:

DETROIT LIONS
2000:
0
2001: 2 (Tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola)
2002: 0
2003: 0
2004: 1 (Smith)
2005: 0
2006: 2 (Linebacker Ernie Sims, safety Daniel Bullocks)
2007: 5 (Receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Drew Stanton, defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis, guard Manny Ramirez, cornerback Ramzee Robinson)
2008: 7 (Tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Jordon Dizon, tailback Kevin Smith, defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, defensive end Cliff Avril, fullback Jerome Felton, defensive tackle Landon Cohen)
TOTAL: 17

CHICAGO BEARS
2000: 1 (Linebacker Brian Urlacher)
2001: 0
2002: 2 (Defensive end Alex Brown, tailback Adrian Peterson)
2003: 2 (Cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs)
2004: 2 (Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, cornerback Nate Vasher)
2005: 0
2006: 5 (Safety Danieal Manning, receiver Devin Hester, defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, linebacker Jamar Williams, defensive end Mark Anderson)
2007: 6 (Tight end Greg Olsen, running back Garrett Wolfe, guard Josh Beekman, safety Kevin Payne, defensive back Corey Graham, cornerback Trumaine McBride)
2008: 9 (Tackle Chris Williams, tailback Matt Forte, receiver Earl Bennett, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Zackary Bowman, tight end Kellen Davis, defensive end Ervin Baldwin, linebacker Joey LaRocque)
TOTAL: 27

GREEN BAY PACKERS
2000: 1 (Offensive tackle Chad Clifton)
2001: 0
2002: 1 (Linebacker Aaron Kampman)
2003: 1 (Linebacker Nick Barnett)
2004: 1 (Center Scott Wells)
2005: 4 (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, safety Nick Collins, linebacker Brady Poppinga, defensive end Michael Montgomery)
2006: 7 (Linebacker A.J. Hawk, guard Daryn Colledge, receiver Greg Jennings, center Jason Spitz, cornerback Will Blackmon, offensive tackle Tony Moll, defensive tackle Johnny Jolly)
2007: 9 (Defensive end Justin Harrell, running back Brandon Jackson, receiver James Jones, safety Aaron Rouse, offensive tackle Allen Barbre, fullback Korey Hall, linebacker Desmond Bishop, placekicker Mason Crosby, running back DeShawn Wynn)
2008: 9 (Receiver Jordy Nelson, quarterback Brian Brohm, cornerback Pat Lee, tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker Jeremy Thompson, guard Josh Sitton, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, quarterback Matt Flynn, receiver Brett Swain)
TOTAL: 33

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
2000: 0
2001: 0
2002: 1 (Left tackle Bryant McKinnie)
2003: 2 (Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, linebacker E.J. Henderson)
2004: 2 (Defensive end Kenechi Udeze, tight end Jeff Dugan)
2005: 0
2006: 5 (Linebacker Chad Greenway, cornerback Cedric Griffin, offensive lineman Ryan Cook, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, defensive end Ray Edwards)
2007: 5 (Running back Adrian Peterson, receiver Sidney Rice, cornerback Marcus McCauley, defensive end Brian Robison, receiver Aundrae Allison)
2008: 5 (Safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback John David Booty, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, center John Sullivan, receiver Jaymar Johnson)
TOTAL: 20


Dictionary Guy objects to our use of "apocryphal" in a post about Brett Favre's appearance in the iconic "There's Something About Mary." Writes DG: Think about your demographic for about 5 seconds, then think about whether they know what apocryphal means. If you're not sure about the intelligence of your readers, try reading the comments sections. I have a college degree and I had to look it up. might want to dumb it down at least a LITTLE.

Kevin Seifert: What "college" did you go to, DG? Seriously, I get this type of note more often than you might care to believe -- and I hardly consider myself a wordsmith. My reading of the comments section reveals pretty much what we already know: The world is made up of geniuses, yokels and a lot of people in between. On this blog, we'll cater to everyone. And if you occasionally have to consult a dictionary, by gosh, consider making it a habit. It won't bite you.


VikingJ of Wausau, Wis., writes: Saw an ESPN story yesterday about certain teams allowing seasoned vets to go home during camp and not force them to stay in a college dorm room. You then hear coaches say that training camp is a period to build team unity (whatever that means). What are your thoughts on this subject, and what direction are the NFC north teams taking?

Kevin Seifert: You probably were reading about Washington coach Jim Zorn following in the footsteps of what ex-Baltimore coach Brian Billick once did with the Ravens.

I have often heard veterans complaining about off-site training camps. Some players don't like being away from their families. Many are uncomfortable in tiny dorm rooms and old mattresses, a legitimate concern when you consider how much energy they must expend during practice. For those reasons, I can see how it might help to sleep in your own home and bed. And to me, relationships can be formed during training camp whether you're sleeping at home or in the dorms.

Because let's be clear: Regardless of where you sleep, camp is a daily 18-hour affair. Typically, players are scheduled from about 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. If you're not practicing, you're either eating or in meetings or napping. For that reason, some players would prefer staying and sleeping in dorms because they're the closest thing to them. The long hours wouldn't really give them much chance to see their families anyway.

I'm not aware of a sleep-on-your-own policy in the NFC North. Everyone sleeps in dorms (Chicago, Minnesota and Green Bay) or in a hotel (Detroit).


Jimbo of Chicago writes: Kevin, what's the inside scoop on the other Adrian Peterson? With Matt Forte and Kevin Jones getting the bulk of the carries, and the Bears talking about how they need to get Garrett Wolfe on the field more this year, where does that leave a veteran like AP? Does he even have a spot on this team? Do they really hold a spot for him just to play special teams?

Kevin Seifert writes: Jimbo, there are a couple of interesting factors in play here. First, you wonder if the Bears really would keep four tailbacks on the 53-man roster. If they only keep three, the competition conceivably would be down to Wolfe and Peterson. To me, we'll find out once and for all if the Bears are serious about using Wolfe on offense. That would be the primary reason to keep him over Peterson.

Second, Wolfe showed proficiency as a special teams player last season, leading the team with 21 tackles. The Bears put a strong emphasis on coverage and wouldn't part easily with Peterson. But at least they would know that Wolfe can handle coverage assignments.


Randall of Monoma, Wis., writes: If the Williams Wall wins, why couldn't the Wisconsin legislature pass legislation forbidding the calling of penalties against the Packers in home games at Lambeau Field, as a violation of their employee rights?

Kevin Seifert: Haha. (I think. I'm presuming you're joking.) Randall, of course, is referring to the lawsuit filed by Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Essentially, the players are arguing that the NFL's steroid testing policy violates Minnesota state law. (The NFL contends the policy, which is part of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, should be subject only to federal laws.)

But I cordially invite the Wisconsin legislature to take a break from its busy schedule to pursue such a law. Just to see what happens. And I'm guessing there would be more than a few legislators willing to take up the issue. Revolution!


Joseph of Fort Meade, Md., writes: As a Bears fan I'm glad to see the "Williams Wall" case delayed. At the end of the day, the NFL doesn't care about the state of Minnesota's stance on drug testing. The wall will lose. So hopefully they can be suspended at a more critical time in the season.

Kevin Seifert: Joseph, you actually bring up a good point. We have no way of predicting how long the legal process will take here. One month? Three months? Six months? Who knows with these things. But if you strictly go by the regular season schedule, the Vikings' first four games might represent the best stretch for them to miss if it comes to that.

None of their first four opponents -- Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco and Green Bay -- had winning records last season. And from a preseason perspective, at least, the only running game I would fear in that group is the Packers'. If the players' legal case ultimately results in them missing games later in the season, it could play a more important role in the Vikings' playoff aspirations. No doubt.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Hat tip to Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com for scouring Detroit's Web site for this bit of news: The Lions released linebacker Alex Lewis last Friday, according to this page of transactions.

Lewis was a part-time starter last season but wasn't going to be in the mix this year after the acquisition of veteran Julian Peterson from Seattle. Lewis, a fifth-round draft pick in 2004, spent five seasons in Detroit and totaled 176 tackles.

By my count, that leaves the Lions with one member of the 2004 draft class on their roster: Cornerback Keith Smith. Earlier this offseason, we discussed the eradication of the 2005 class. All told, I count 17 players remaining from the Lions' first nine drafts of this decade. Here's the breakdown:

2000: 0
2001: 2 (Tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola)
2002: 0
2003: 0
2004: 1 (Smith)
2005: 0
2006: 2 (Linebacker Ernie Sims, safety Daniel Bullocks)
2007: 5 (Receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Drew Stanton, defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis, guard Manny Ramirez, cornerback Ramzee Robinson)
2008: 7 (Tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Jordon Dizon, tailback Kevin Smith, defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, defensive end Cliff Avril, fullback Jerome Felton, defensive tackle Landon Cohen)

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We noted Wednesday that Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher missed Wednesday's organized team activity for reasons that were initially unexplained. The Bears' Web site eventually reported that Urlacher missed the practice for a "minor ailment."

According to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune, Urlacher is expected to miss one more OTA session before returning. He also missed one last week because of a personal matter, McClure reported.

It's worth noting again that usually there is no reason to be concerned if a veteran misses an OTA. These practices are voluntary, and unless the absence is related to a contract dispute or a major injury, roll call is mildly newsworthy at best.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Bears are looking into alternative training camp sites that are closer to Chicago than Olivet Nazarene University. The team likely will remain at its current site through at least 2010, according to Mulligan.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune examines whether the Bears should pursue a veteran backup for quarterback Jay Cutler.
  • Minnesota coach Brad Childress is scheduled to speak to the media Thursday morning at the team's previously-scheduled OTA, notes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune. I'll be in attendance.
  • A troublesome hamstring injury forced Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews to drop out of the Packers' OTA practice Wednesday, notes Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Matthews' injury continues to give Jeremy Thompson a chance to practice with the Packers' first team at right outside linebacker, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Coach Mike McCarthy: "He's as natural of an athlete that you'll see out there at that position as far as dropping and doing all the different things."
  • Free-agent safety Anthony Smith has been working with the first team in place of the injured Atari Bigby, writes Chris Jenkins of the Associated Press.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com doesn't think that Detroit defensive lineman Landon Cohen fits into the Lions' new scheme.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We teased you Sunday night with some (bad) pop culture humor. Monday morning, we can tell you what's coming.

Actually, it's already here.

ESPN Chicago -- the Web site.

Yes, Monday is the debut for an ESPN-styled site devoted solely to Chicago sports. Some of the best writers in the ESPN stable -- Gene Wojciechowski, Wayne Drehs, Scoop Jackson and more -- will be contributing regular pieces on the Bears, Cubs, White Sox and Big 10 college sports as well. And Jeff Dickerson, who you might know from ESPN 1000 radio, is writing a Bears blog.

This won't change the frequency and tone of the Bears coverage here on the Black and Blue blog. Consider it another layer at our disposal. I'll do my best to link to the best of the Bears coverage on the site, and from time to time some of our Bears discussions will appear there as well. So check it out.

In the meantime, let's catch up on the weekend and start our sprint to the NFL draft.

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune considers the Bears "the most improved playoff-caliber team in the NFC heading into the NFL draft."
  • The Bears haven't yet launched an advertising campaign around the acquisition of Jay Cutler, writes Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Detroit cornerback Travis Fisher predicts the Lions' defense will be "vicious" under new coordinator Gunther Cunningham, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Free Press looks at four players the Lions have drafted in recent years who need to bulk up for the team's new defensive system: Linebacker Jordon Dizon, defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, defensive tackle Landon Cohen and defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis.
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has an interesting piece on how health insurance works for Packers players. When a player is injured, the resulting care falls under workman's compensation. Most teams budget $1 million or more for this insurance, Demovsky reports.
  • Minnesota has eliminated 78 players from its draft board for various red flags, including character and health, according to Chip Scoggins and Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
  • The Vikings have had 95 percent attendance in their offseason strength and conditioning program, writes Scoggins.

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