NFC North: Lloyd Lee
Let's continue our early look at the NFC North offseason with this season's second-place team.
Chicago Bears offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 9-7
- Coaching changes: Hired Rod Marinelli to replace defensive line coach Brick Haley. Put defensive coordinator Bob Babich in charge of linebackers, replacing Lloyd Lee. (Babich won't call defensive signals.) Replaced defensive backs coach Steve Wilks with Jon Hoke.
- Salary-cap space: $17.4 million before end-of-year credits and adjustments.
- Restricted free agents: None of note.
- Unrestricted free agents: Safety Mike Brown, quarterback Rex Grossman, running back Kevin Jones, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, safety Brandon McGowan, offensive lineman Fred Miller, offensive lineman John St. Clair.
- Draft highlight: The Bears have the No. 18 overall selection.
- Free-agency comment: It seems unlikely the Bears will bring back Brown or Grossman. Jones was nearly a nonfactor and reduced to special-teams work. Lloyd's fade in the second half of the season suggests the Bears won't be eager to bring him back.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Playmaking receiver to draw coverage away from Devin Hester. (2) A coverage-oriented safety to replace Brown and protect Kevin Payne. (3) A trusted running back to take some burden off starter Matt Forte. (Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders if holdover Garrett Wolfe might get that chance.)
Here's a somewhat ominous sign if you're following the Minnesota Vikings' drive for a new stadium. Voters in the tiny town of Industry, Calif., approved $150 million in infrastructure improvements Tuesday to the site where a billionaire developer wants to build an $800 million privately-financed stadium.
The next step is for city officials to certify the plan. If they do, developer Ed Roski will have what he needs to begin building if and when a team agrees to move to the Los Angeles area. (The NFL is aware of the plan but has yet to endorse it.)
The Vikings are unlikely to get approval for a new stadium in Minnesota this year, leaving them with two years remaining on their lease at the Metrodome. Owner Zygi Wilf has pledged not to move, but his stadium point man suggested last month Wilf could "throw in the towel" and sell to someone who might move if a Minnesota stadium is not approved.
The big issue has always been whether the team will have legitimate leverage if it does eventually threaten to move. Tuesday's developments put them one step closer.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Green Bay cornerback Al Harris was named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday as an injury replacement for Philadelphia's Asante Samuel, notes the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It will be Harris' second consecutive Pro Bowl and means that three members of the Packers' starting secondary -- Harris, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins -- were all named to the team. Woodson pulled out earlier this month because of an injury.
- Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Gregg Williams and Jim Haslett were both offered the Packers' defensive coordinator job before Dom Capers, who eventually took the job. It is not clear if Mike Nolan, the first man interviewed, was ever made an offer.
- Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said he has "coordinators in mind, but not in place" as he conducts interviews at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. John Niyo of the Detroit News caught up with Schwartz during a whirlwind week. Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Brian Schottenheimer (offense) are possibilities.
- One coach the Lions have interviewed, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times: Former Bears linebackers coach Lloyd Lee.
- Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn't believe the economic recession will strap the team's efforts to add players in free agency, according to Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times.
- Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner wants to add a playmaker in the offseason, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. (Good idea!)
Chicago coach Lovie Smith is continuing to replenish his defensive coaching staff and now has only one more significant hire to make.
Jon Hoke is the Bears' new defensive backs coach, replacing the fired Steven Wilks. Saturday, Smith hired former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli to replace defensive line coach Brick Haley. (Marinelli also received the title of assistant head coach.) The Bears' final opening is at linebackers coach, a job Smith vacated by firing Lloyd Lee last week.
Hoke played in 11 games a cornerback for the Bears in 1980. Much more recently, he served as Houston's defensive backs coach from 2002-08. His career path has not crossed with Smith or Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich, as far as I can tell. (If anyone is aware of a connection, send it my way.)
UPDATE (2:25 p.m.): Smith told members of the Chicago media that Babich will coach the linebackers -- meaning the staff is now complete, according to Brad Biggs' account on his Inside the Bears blog. Because of Babich's increased role, Smith will take on more daily responsibilities with the defense. We'll add a new post later Tuesday on these developments.
Mike Nolan, the former San Francisco head coach who is also a four-time defensive coordinator, is the "clear front-runner" to be Green Bay's new defensive coordinator, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy served as Nolan's offensive coordinator with the 49ers in 2005 and the two have maintained a close relationship. Nolan would replace Bob Sanders, who was fired over the weekend.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Nolan's candidacy is that he has, at times, run a 3-4 defense. He began his tenure in San Francisco using a 4-3 but gradually made the transition to a 3-4. Although his personal relationship with McCarthy is important, you have to assume there would be some level of 3-4 discussion in Green Bay if Nolan is in fact the next coordinator.
Meanwhile, Tom Silverstein and Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that former defensive quality control coach Joe Whitt Jr. is likely to become the Packers' next secondary coach.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Packers president Mark Murphy speaks to the Journal Sentinel about the Packers' coaching overhaul: "The way I viewed it, it's a pretty strong message that we want to win here. That's the priority."
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Bears have not yet made a formal offer to former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli.
- Former Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry is actively campaigning to join the Bears' coaching staff, possibly as the replacement for fired linebackers coach Lloyd Lee. "If I had an opportunity to work for Lovie Smith, I would cherish it," Barry told Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Although it was originally reported that Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took his name out of the running for Detroit's head coaching job, the Lions have in fact interviewed him. Adam Schefter of NFL.com reports.
- Miami assistant head coach Todd Bowles is scheduled to interview Wednesday with Lions officials, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Minnesota backup quarterback Gus Frerotte wants some clarity before agreeing to return to the Vikings next season, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The unwillingness of Minnesota coach Brad Childress to admit mistakes is reminiscent of former coach Dennis Green, writes Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune.
What once appeared a tweak in the Chicago coaching staff has now turned into full-scale upheaval. The Bears fired linebackers coach Lloyd Lee on Tuesday, the third defensive assistant to leave the organization since the end of the season. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the story.
The Bears have now fired Lee and secondary coach Steve Wilks. Defensive line coach Brick Haley reportedly will join the staff at Louisiana State. As of Tuesday, the only defensive assistant remaining is the one many Chicago fans were hoping would depart: Defensive coordinator Bob Babich.
Former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli is a candidate for the defensive line job. The Bears have offered no comment on Babich's status, but from afar it appears that coach Lovie Smith has chosen Babich over the rest of the defensive staff. (Biggs reports that changing Babich's title could be a possibility.)
We've mostly left the Aaron Rodgers shoulder drama alone this week after the Green Bay quarterback made it through last Sunday's game against Atlanta -- and later said there was no doubt he would start Sunday at Seattle.
Still, it's worth noting that his condition is significant enough to prevent him from throwing during practice Wednesday or Thursday. According to Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Rodgers was sore enough after a rehabilitation session that the team's medical staff decided to delay a plan to have him throw Thursday.
It's possible Rodgers will throw Friday and/or Saturday during practice and his status is not in question for Sunday. But it's significant whenever a starting quarterback is too sore to throw during practice, and Rodgers is wrapping up his second week in that condition. The Packers' bye week is Oct. 26, and it probably couldn't come soon enough.
Continuing through the NFC North on this Friday morning:
- Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks down the slow start of Packers linebacker Nick Barnett. At this point last season, Barnett had nearly twice as many tackles (52) as he has now (27). "I would have liked to start the way I started last year," Barnett said. "But you can only do so much."
- The Chicago Bears' coaching staff is doing its best to talk up Atlanta running back Michael Turner, whom they will face Sunday. As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports, linebackers coach Lloyd Lee is referring to Turner as the next Jim Brown.
- An interesting battle is continuing between Bears cornerbacks Nate Vasher and Corey Graham, according to the Sun-Times. When Vasher returns from a hand injury, he'll be sharing time with Graham. At best, the two appear to be co-starters. Graham is said to be the superior run-stopper.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune suggests the Bears take a play out of the Miami Dolphins' playbook and use Devin Hester in the Wildcat formation. In that scenario, Hester would take a direct snap from center and have the option to run or pass.
- Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson isn't worried about three consecutive games with 80 or less yards, according to the Star Tribune.
- Vikings coach Brad Childress on his decision to work out four punters Wednesday: "I don't take it as high drama as you guys do."
- The Detroit Lions have scrapped plans to use more three- and four-receiver sets, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com
- Lions players are assuming quarterback Dan Orlovsky will start Sunday at Minnesota, writes Terry Foster of the Detroit News.