NFC North: Marvin Mitchell

 
MINNEAPOLIS -- Of the many young players on the Minnesota Vikings' roster who earned playing time and performance bonuses from the NFL for their work last season, right guard Brandon Fusco topped the list.

Fusco earned an extra $237,060.74 for his work last season, giving him the biggest share of the Vikings' $3.46 million total distribution, according to figures released by the NFL management council. The total amount is negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, and while every player gets at least a small bonus, the system is designed to reward low-salaried players who see the most playing time.

For a team like the Vikings, that meant a number of players saw big boosts to their paycheck; Fusco made just $594,167 last season, and he started 15 games.

See the NFL's full list of performance-based pay distributions here.
Every day we'll take a look at one of the Minnesota Vikings heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he'll be back with the club in 2014.

Free agent to be: Marvin Mitchell

Position: Linebacker

Age: 29

Years in the league: 7

What he made last season: $605,000 (cap number); $765,000 (cash value)

What he did last season: Mitchell started the season as the Vikings' weak-side linebacker, holding the spot until Desmond Bishop got comfortable enough with the Vikings' defense to overtake him in Week 5. When Bishop tore his ACL, Mitchell resumed his role as the starting linebacker, but with the Vikings playing so much nickel defense, Mitchell was rarely on the field enough to make a major impact. He never played more than 42 snaps in a game, and was never on the field for more than 13 pass plays in a game, according to Pro Football Focus. He had solid games against Washington and Cincinnati, but played sparingly most of the season.

His potential market value: He has been useful on special teams in recent years, and played a bit of middle linebacker in 2012, in addition to his work on the outside this year. Mitchell could have value to a team as a reserve, but considering he'll be 30 in October, he probably isn't going to find work as much more than a backup.

Will he still fit the Vikings? It probably doesn't hurt that Mitchell had one his better games against the Bengals last season (though new coach Mike Zimmer would have spent more time paying attention to the Vikings' offense than their defense while he was the Bengals' defensive coordinator). But the Vikings have enough young linebackers that it seems likely they'd look in another direction for one of their reserve spots, unless they decided they needed to bring Mitchell back for his special teams play.

What happens: Mitchell finds a reserve job with another team as the Vikings look to replace him with Gerald Hodges or a possible draft pick.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing on with our position-by-position outlook of the Minnesota Vikings' roster. Today: the linebackers.

LINEBACKERS

2014 free agents: Desmond Bishop, Marvin Mitchell, Larry Dean (restricted).

The good: The Vikings might have found something at the end of the year at middle linebacker. Second-year man Audie Cole stepped in for Erin Henderson in late November and played well at the position until a high ankle sprain kept him out of the last game of the season. The Vikings hadn't planned to build around Henderson at middle linebacker, as former coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged during the season, and Cole mostly held up well as a blitzer and in pass coverage.

The bad: There wasn't much else to like at the position in 2013. Henderson had his moments, particularly when he was used to blitz, but often looked like he was guessing in pass coverage. He was also arrested on his second DWI charge in as many months in early January. His future with the team would appear to be tenuous at best. Chad Greenway played with a broken wrist for much of the season that impaired his ability to tackle and also seemed a step late in pass coverage too often. He might have been caught trying to compensate for the instability at the linebacker positions around him. Desmond Bishop had taken the weak-side linebacker position from Marvin Mitchell when he sustained his second season-ending injury in as many years, Mitchell made few impact plays, rookie Michael Mauti excelled mostly on special teams and fellow rookie Gerald Hodges struggled to gain the favor of the coaching staff.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Greenway ($8.2 million), Henderson ($2.25 million), Hodges ($600,027), Cole ($570,000), Mauti ($480,000). Given the fact he turned 31 earlier this month and he is coming off a subpar season, Greenway could be a candidate to restructure his deal if the Vikings wind up in a cap crunch, though there's a good chance they'll have enough flexibility to avoid that. Cutting Henderson would only cost the Vikings $500,000, and in light of the fact he might have an NFL suspension coming, it seems possible the Vikings would part ways with him. The rest of the group is on rookie deals, and the Vikings can decide whether to let go of Mitchell and Dean.

Draft priority: High. The Vikings need an impact player at the position, no matter whether they think they have a solution at middle linebacker in Cole. Buffalo's Khalil Mack has been linked to the Vikings in a handful of early mock drafts, and he could make sense at No. 8. But with Greenway possibly entering the twilight of his Pro Bowl career, and new coach Mike Zimmer instilling a new defensive scheme, it's important for the Vikings to get some things settled at linebacker.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 14

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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BALTIMORE -- A review of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 29-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

Peterson's health: For the Vikings, this is probably the issue: Running back Adrian Peterson will have a MRI on his sprained foot on Monday, and while he was optimistic about his prognosis on Sunday -- he said X-rays were negative, and added he would push to play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles -- Monday's tests might have the final say about whether Peterson plays again this season. He said the pain was in the middle of his foot, which would be in the region of the dreaded Lisfranc injury, and turf toe could also still be in play. We'll find out more after his exam on Monday.

Peterson
Peterson
Henderson
Toby time? In Peterson's absence, running back Toby Gerhart continued to show what a capable replacement he can be, romping 41 yards for one of the Vikings' would-be game-winning touchdowns in the fourth quarter and posting 89 yards on 15 carries. It is the third time in four weeks that Gerhart has posted at least 60 yards, and it was the first time this season he has carried the ball more than 10 times in a game. He is averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season, and could be making a case for more of a shared workload in the final games of the season (though it will be hard to convince Peterson to carry the ball less, if he's healthy). Gerhart will be a free agent after the season, and it's looking increasingly likely that he's going to make himself some money.

Henderson marginalized: The Vikings moved Erin Henderson to outside linebacker this week, putting him back on the field after he'd missed the last two games in the wake of his Nov. 19 drunken-driving arrest and a subsequent personal issue that kept him away from the team for several days. But with Audie Cole starting at middle linebacker, and once again playing every snap, Henderson saw how little the Vikings use their third linebacker in their current defense. He played just six snaps in the loss, one more than Marvin Mitchell saw on defense. When Henderson was the Vikings' weakside linebacker last year, he still played in the middle in the nickel package, keeping his snap counts high. But without the nickel snaps, Henderson didn't get a chance to do much. Cole was in coverage on Marlon Brown's two big catches on the Ravens' last drive -- including his game-winning touchdown -- but the linebacker nearly tipped Joe Flacco's pass away before Brown could catch it in the back of the end zone, and coach Leslie Frazier credited Flacco for a good throw more than he pointed to a coverage breakdown.

Fines coming? Peterson was critical of both referees and Ravens fans after the game, pointing out a number of calls he disagreed with and calling the Ravens' fans the "worst in the NFL" after they were throwing snowballs on the field in the fourth quarter, and it stands to reason he might hear from the league this week. Fullback Jerome Felton was also critical of the referees, saying there were four questionable calls that all went against the Vikings, but other players were more diplomatic, particularly when discussing two dubious pass interference calls in the fourth quarter. "I'm not going to say anything to get on Roger Goodell's list," defensive end Brian Robison deadpanned.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The most interesting thing Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday afternoon, when talking about his coaching staff's decision to move Erin Henderson back to outside linebacker and keep Audie Cole in the middle for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, I thought, was this:

"He was moved to the 'Mike' linebacker position not necessarily because that's what we wanted to do, but that was the plight that we were in," Frazier said. "He didn't come in a year ago as our middle linebacker. There were some things that happened over the offseason that resulted in him being our middle linebacker. He's a very good outside backer and expect him to play well on Sunday."

[+] EnlargeErin Henderson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsErin Henderson will try to give the Vikings a reason to cheer from his new outside linebacker position.
You'll recall the Vikings had big plans in the offseason to solve their future at the position; Frazier talked at the draft about how they wanted "to potentially draft someone" to handle the spot, and though he left the door open for Henderson to play there. Both Frazier and linebackers coach Mike Singletary indicated in April the Vikings planned to find a young middle linebacker.

The option of taking one high in the draft more or less disappeared when the Vikings traded four picks to the New England Patriots to move back into the first round to take receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The week after the draft, Henderson said at an offseason workout that coaches had told him to prepare to play middle linebacker, and he essentially slid into the spot almost by default during the offseason, even though Frazier wouldn't commit to Henderson being there The closest he came was at mini-camp, when he indicated either Cole or Michael Mauti would have to do something to take the spot away from Henderson. But with the Vikings envisioning Desmond Bishop as an outside linebacker and concerns persisting about their two young options in the middle, Henderson got the job -- and the chance he coveted to follow in his brother E.J.'s footsteps.

Henderson had played respectably in the middle, but still seemed to struggle in pass coverage at times. Moreover, his departure from the weakside linebacker spot left a hole the Vikings had never really filled; Bishop tore his ACL in October, and Marvin Mitchell did little to distinguish himself after getting the starting spot back following Bishop's injury.

Now in Cole, they have a young player who intrigues them enough to put Henderson back outside. It will be interesting to see how the move plays out in the long run -- Henderson admitted he struggled last season when he would get too aggressive and abandon his gap responsibilities on the weak side, and while Cole has played well, he's also benefited from being a lightly-scouted player. Moreover, Henderson seemed to bristle at the idea of not playing middle linebacker in the offseason, enough that it beared asking Frazier how Henderson took the news on Wednesday.

"We talked about some things and explained to him why. And he accepted that. He's a pro," Frazier said. "He's going to be on the field. That gives him an opportunity to make some plays for us. He's played the position in the past. He handled it as well as can be expected."

Henderson ran the risk of this happening when he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving last month, and at least for now, Cole has seized the spot. Henderson talked on Wednesday about being in a better frame of mind after the arrest -- and a personal issue that kept him away from the team for three days after it -- and added he sent Cole a congratulatory text when coaches gave him the news. He seemed acutely aware of outside criticism, particularly with what came across his Twitter account, and he's tried to put himself in a better frame of mind to handle it.

"I have a lot of things to be happy about and thankful for, aside from all the naysayers and haters everybody else who's had different things to say about me throughout the year," he said. "Sometimes I let it get to me and get down too much. I've come to grips with it and come to terms with it and I'm able to look at myself and know the man that I am and accept it."

Whether that leads to him regaining the middle linebacker spot remains to be seen. But Wednesday was a reminder that Henderson's grip on the job was only going to be so firm when the Vikings began the year with other things in mind for him.

Desmond Bishop to start for Vikings

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Linebacker Desmond Bishop, who was inactive for the Minnesota Vikings' first game and played just two snaps in the team's second game of the year, will start on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. He replaces Marvin Mitchell, who had begun the year ahead of Bishop at weakside linebacker.

It seemed clear when the Vikings signed Bishop that he would eventually work his way into the starting lineup, though his presence might still not be terribly noticeable. The Vikings have spent the majority of their time in the nickel defense this year (as evidenced by the fact Xavier Rhodes has played at least 59 percent of the team's defensive snaps in every game). Still, Bishop might give the Vikings a more physical presence at linebacker against Cam Newton and the Panthers.

We'll see throughout the day how much he plays and what he can add to the defense.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We talked a bit on Tuesday about the Vikings' linebackers in the context of how little they've used rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the first two weeks of the season, and how surprising that was, considering they could have used a high pick in last April's draft on a middle linebacker.

On Wednesday, coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged some issues with how the Vikings' linebackers have played so far, but with new starters at two of the three positions, it seems like Frazier knows he's going to need some patience.

Greenway
Linebacker Chad Greenway said there were some communication issues on the Bears' final touchdown drive last Sunday, and in particular, it appeared middle linebacker Erin Henderson passed off Chicago tight end Martellus Bennett on the final drive, thinking Greenway was going to pick up the tight end, only to find him wide open in the flat for a 23-yard gain on first-and-20.

Frazier said Greenway "shouldn't feel like he has to do any more than he has in the past," and acknowledged that the Pro Bowl linebacker might have gotten caught trying to cover for other people on a few occasions.

"There's potential for that to happen with a new guy across from you," Frazier said. "That's something we've got to guard against. You've got to trust that [Henderson] is going to do his job, you do your job and we'll be fine as a group."

The Vikings have had some issues at linebacker in their first two games, but it's also important to point out there hasn't been as much change as one would think, given how little time they've spent in their base defense. Marvin Mitchell played only 15 defensive snaps in the Vikings' first game and 25 in their second game, and Desmond Bishop got on the field for two snaps on a goal-line series on Sunday. Essentially, it's been Henderson and Greenway on the field most of the time, as it was in the Vikings' nickel defense last year. In reality, the bigger issue might be the absence of Antoine Winfield, whose help in slot coverage and run defense made a tremendous difference in the middle of the field last year -- particularly when the Vikings were in nickel.

Frazier said the Vikings might try to find a little more time for Bishop on Sunday, and the Browns won't present the same kind of threat in the passing game that the Vikings saw from the Lions and Bears. This weekend might give them a chance to get into their base defense, and see what they have when their linebackers aren't put into passing situations quite as much. But in general, the Vikings still have some things to smooth out with their linebacking group.

UPDATE: Greenway talked about some of the issues after practice, and while he said he missed three open-field tackles on Sunday -- "When they're in space and you're one-on-one with guys, it's a tackle you've got to make," he said -- he added the knee surgery he had in June isn't an issue, and said no one can make a definitive statement about how well the linebackers are playing if they're not privy to the Vikings' game plan.

"A lot of times, it's easy to pick apart what's out in the open or what everybody can see," Greenway said. "But it's the things that happen that people don't understand that can't be graded or can't be said, 'Hey, he's doing good or doing bad,' because the reality is, you guys don't have really any idea, what's being taught or what's being coached in that room. Without getting into the details of it, I'm just going to answer questions like this, and you guys are going to wonder what the real answer is. You're not going to get it."

Greenway wasn't interested in shedding much more light on what he did wrong on Sunday, though.

"I don't need to do that, because I'm not being asked those questions," he said.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The call for rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to become a bigger part of the Vikings' offense, it seems, is getting louder.

When he was asked why the first-round pick only got five snaps in the Vikings' first game against the Detroit Lions, coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said the team had more in its playbook for Patterson than it got to use on a day where the Vikings ran just 39 plays in the first 3 1/2 quarters. Then Patterson ran the game's opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown against the Bears on Sunday -- and got just six snaps.

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsVikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson has shown glimpses of his potential, including a kickoff return for a TD against the Bears.
Frazier didn't mince words when asked about it on Monday.

"We’re going to get that rectified," Frazier said. "He definitely deserves to be on the field more. He’s shown that in the few snaps he’s gotten in the first two ball games. Hopefully, everything being equal, that should not be a part of the conversation next week. We want to get him on the field. He’s one of our explosive players, for sure. We see what he does when he gets the ball in his hands so we have to get him on the field."

It's not often Frazier is that frank in his calls for a certain player to see a bigger role in the game plan, and given the fact Frazier said it after answering a series of questions about how often he's willing to interject with his coordinators, it stands to reason that Patterson won't be so hard to find on the field going forward. It is interesting, though, that the Vikings have been so slow to use Patterson, given what they gave up to get him.

On draft night in April, general manager Rick Spielman was talking to reporters about the Vikings' other two first-round picks -- defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- when he got word that the New England Patriots were open to dealing the 29th overall pick to the Vikings for a second- , third- , fourth- and seventh-round pick. Spielman sprinted back to the Vikings' draft room, completed the deal and minutes later, Patterson was headed to Minnesota.

In making that trade, the Vikings effectively forfeited their chance to use one of their top picks on a middle linebacker after both Frazier and linebackers coach Mike Singletary said the team planned to go after one. Spielman said after the draft that Patterson was the only player the Vikings liked enough to move back into the first round and take, and in finalizing the Patterson pick, the Vikings assured themselves they wouldn't get Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree (who went 30th overall to the Rams), Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (38th overall to the Chargers), LSU's Kevin Minter (45th to the Cardinals), Florida's Jonathan Bostic (50th to the Bears) or Kansas State's Arthur Brown (56th to the Ravens). Only Brown would have been available with the Vikings' second-round pick, but with two fourth-rounders, the team would have had some collateral to move up if it wanted a linebacker.

As it is, the Vikings have looked like they might need a little help at the position. Erin Henderson moved from weakside linebacker to the middle and has struggled his first two weeks (Pro Football Focus currently ranks Henderson 47th among the 50 inside linebackers who have played 25 percent of their team's snaps). The two Penn State linebackers the Vikings did draft -- fourth-rounder Gerald Hodges and seventh-rounder Michael Mauti -- haven't seen the field yet. Desmond Bishop, whom the Vikings signed in the offseason, is sitting behind Marvin Mitchell at weakside linebacker and has played just two snaps. And the two dual-threat running backs the Vikings have faced -- Reggie Bush and Matt Forte -- posted 191 and 161 rushing and receiving yards against the Vikings, respectively.

None of this is to say the Vikings won't improve at linebacker or that Patterson won't become a bigger part of the game plan soon. But as much as the Vikings gave up to get him, and as highly as they valued his explosiveness both as a receiver and a kick returner, it's been interesting to watch how little they've used him in their first two losses, particularly when he's given them some glimpses of what he can do.

"We’re well aware of his talents -- even on the smoke screen when we threw it out and he got 14 yards [on Sunday]," Frazier said. "He doesn’t get lost. We’ll get it rectified."
Earlier this week, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Marvin Mitchell was the team's starting weak-side linebacker "as we sit here today." As tenuous as that plan sounded at the time, it's apparently the one the team is carrying into Sunday's season-opener against Detroit.

Linebacker Desmond Bishop said on Thursday that Vikings coaches told him he won't see much playing time on Sunday, with Mitchell set to start and Bishop not playing on special teams. The Vikings signed Bishop, who missed all of last year with a torn hamstring, to a one-year contract in June, and he looked stronger in the team's final two preseason games after missing the exhibition opener against the Houston Texans and turning in an uneven performance against the Buffalo Bills.

"(I'm) just waiting for my opportunity," Bishop said.

As much as the Lions throw the ball, Mitchell might not see a lot of playing time, either. Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway would be on the field in the team's nickel package, and if last year's two games against the Lions are any indication, the Vikings probably won't use more than two linebackers most of the time against Detroit.

In the first game last year, Greenway and Jasper Brinkley each logged more than 70 snaps, with Mitchell (the third linebacker that week while Henderson was hurt) only playing nine. Their linebackers got more playing time in the second game, with Greenway on the field for every snap, Henderson playing 73 percent of the team's defensive snaps and Brinkley seeing action on 52 percent of them. But defending the Lions starts with the pass, and that could mean more action for a third cornerback (like Xavier Rhodes) than a third linebacker, anyway.

What remains to be seen is how much Reggie Bush changes what defenses do against the Lions. Detroit threw the ball more than any team in the league last year, and Bush could see the ball almost as much in the air as he could on the ground. His presence might cause the Vikings to pay more attention to the run, but defensive coordinator Alan Williams said he doesn't see the Lions changing much.

"We can guess and try and predict what they’ll do with him," Williams said. "But we just make sure we have to go out and read our keys and focus on what we’re supposed to do, because if we hunt up too many snakes or too many ghosts, we won’t do anything. So we’ve got to look to see what they’ve done in the past with their backs and with their offense. I don’t think they’ll change a whole bunch from years past, last year or the year before that."
The Vikings took a hard look at Desmond Bishop through the final three preseason games. They gave him extra playing time with their starters to see if he was the best choice for their weak-side linebacker job. And at this point, coach Leslie Frazier says, they've decided, at least for now, Marvin Mitchell is the man for the job.

Mitchell
Bishop
Bishop
“As we speak, Marvin is our starting outside linebacker," Frazier said on Monday, "Desmond did a good job, did enough to make our ball club. We’ll see how he progresses as we go forward.”

That doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement from Frazier, but then, there's no reason for him to paint himself into more of a corner than that. Bishop has been one of the better inside linebackers in the game when he's been healthy, and Mitchell has only played more than 60 snaps in a game once in his career. The Vikings can find time for Bishop without pushing Mitchell onto the fringes, and let things sort themselves out naturally.

Mitchell didn't play in the Vikings' final preseason game, and only saw 56 snaps in the first three preseason games, so the Vikings haven't put him through a strenuous test, though he did make seven tackles in the team's second preseason game against the Bills. If Bishop is healthy, he's a more dynamic player than Mitchell, though Mitchell might be able to hang onto the job if he holds up better against the pass than Bishop can.

It wouldn't be surprising to see this position take a few turns throughout the year -- and things could get even more interesting if the Vikings decide they want more of a look at one of their young linebackers (Gerald Hodges or Audie Cole). Cole had a nice pass breakup in the Vikings' final preseason game, and though he's mostly played middle linebacker, the Vikings think he could work on the outside. Hodges saw 44 snaps in the Vikings' final preseason game, and did his best work there, making six tackles.

In any case, it seems unlikely the Vikings have locked down their weak-side linebacker spot. It's Mitchell's to lose for now, but it seems far from the most settled position on the roster.

BBAO: Devin Hester will be 'fresh'

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

It has almost occurred on cue. Now that the Chicago Bears have made Devin Hester solely a returner, rather than try to double him up on offense, the truth comes out. Speaking with Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com this week, Hester said he expects to be "fresh" now for all of his returns.

Hester: "I'm not going to be tired when I'm out there. My legs are going to be fresh. That's the key thing, me being fresh. Returners have to be fresh. It's impossible to go 50-60 snaps on offense and try to return the whole game. I'm in the stage where I'm in a good mood to do what I love doing."

I can't tell you how many times we exchanged that sentiment on the blog over the past few years. Expecting Hester, or anyone else, to be an elite returner while also playing regularly on offense didn't seem realistic. In fact, Hester estimates he'll touch the ball more on a per-game basis now than he did in multiple roles before.

"I know during the season I'm going to touch the ball five or six times a game," Hester said. "I mean, when I was playing offense I was only touching the ball once or twice on offense. If you add it up, I'll probably be touching the ball a little more and be fresher to do what I love doing."

Makes sense to me.

Continuing around the NFC North on the final Friday of this blog as we know it:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

How concerned should the Chicago Bears be about their offense? ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright examined that question as part of this Four Downs post.

Dickerson wrote that despite the ample set of skill players on the offense, it hasn't looked sharp, and that quarterback Jay Cutler has been intercepted "far too often." Those interceptions might be cause for concern, but Wright countered: "It's important to remember that the Bears are executing a brand new offense, and the truth is the first-teamers executed fairly well" in the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.

My sense is that it's unreasonable to expect the Bears to work out all of their kinks before the regular season starts. The development of the offense will continue into the regular season. The trick is finding enough things they can do well right away to give them a chance to win during the early part of their schedule.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Bears need defensive ends Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin to elevate their games regardless of who starts, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The Bears just can’t seem to get the offensive line right. As long as that’s an issue, we never really will get a definitive answer about whether Cutler is the franchise quarterback so many people desperately want him to be. It’s like trying to judge the talent of an artist who uses defective brushes."
  • Detroit Lions teammates think that tight end Brandon Pettigrew is poised for a career year. More from Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com.
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press checks in with Lions quarterback hopeful Thaddeus Lewis.
  • Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News profiles Lions undrafted rookie Darren Keyton, a local product trying to make the team as an offensive lineman.
  • Minnesota Vikings players failed in a (somewhat) light-hearted attempt to convince coach Leslie Frazier to not have a full-pads practice Monday. More from Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
  • Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "As the Vikings have waited to get a look at Desmond Bishop in a game at weak-side linebacker, they've been able to evaluate Marvin Mitchell, who has been practicing with the first team at the position and started there in the preseason opener last Friday. Mitchell, who played 11 games and started one at middle linebacker for the Vikings last year, re-signed with the team on a one-year deal last spring. He has put himself in the mix for a starting job, especially as Bishop misses time with a groin injury."
  • Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke needs to even out his performances, writes Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Green Bay Packers running back DuJuan Harris is hoping to back up coach Mike McCarthy's faith in him, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • There was a grain of truth to the "Applebees line" of former Packers place-kicker Ryan Longwell, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. Longwell is set to retire as a Packer on Tuesday.
  • The Packers' place-kicker competition has intensified, writes ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Lane Taylor might be this year's Don Barclay."
We're Black and Blue All Over:

FROM THE DETROIT SUBURBS -- I'm on the ground and ready to head over to the resumption of the Detroit Lions' training camp. But first, let's consider a role reversal that suggests the NFC North is a bit head over heels at the moment.

On the day the Green Bay Packers figure to announce their signing of veteran backup quarterback Vince Young, Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com has a piece explaining why the Chicago Bears have somewhat surprisingly stuck with Josh McCown as the backup to starter Jay Cutler.

McCown has been signed the past two seasons only as an emergency backup, but the Bears didn't seek out an alternative this spring when Jason Campbell departed via free agency. According to Wright, McCown got off to a good start with coach Marc Trestman during organized team activities (OTAs) when Trestman made an impromptu visit to the team hotel. In the lobby, he found McCown leading a scheme tutorial for young players.

The big question is whether McCown could hold down the fort on the field if he has to play. McCown said he can.

"I have to," he said. "The teammates, everybody expects you to get it done. You've got to get it done. I've played, man. I've played in this league. So it's not like I'm some inexperienced guy who has never done any of this. I feel like I can go in and do the things we need to do to win ballgames, to keep the ship moving."

Continuing around the NFC North:

So Desmond Bishop has joined a long line of former Green Bay Packers to cross state lines and sign with the Minnesota Vikings. But unlike Brett Favre, Greg Jennings, Ryan Longwell, Darren Sharper and others, it's not immediately clear what role Bishop will have.

Bishop was at his best with the Packers as a 3-4 inside linebacker. So it's reasonable to project his best position in the Vikings' 4-3 to be middle linebacker, especially if you factor in the impact last year's torn hamstring muscle could have on his speed. But the Vikings spent their entire offseason working to transition Erin Henderson into that role, and coach Leslie Frazier sure didn't sound ready to end that experiment last week at mandatory minicamp.

Bishop
Bishop
Frazier's non-committal answers sparked my speculation that the Vikings might eye Bishop for Henderson's former position on the outside. The Jacksonville Jaguars, for one, viewed Bishop as a 4-3 outside linebacker.

So one of two things happened Monday. Either the Vikings made a move that will return Henderson to the outside, or they started down the road of potentially using two players at their second-best positions -- if not out of position altogether.

There are, of course, plenty of schematic ways to minimize the differences in the two positions. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com reported that the Vikings will work Bishop at both positions in training camp. So I'll just say this: You will have to come up with a convincing argument to demonstrate the Vikings would be better off with Henderson inside and Bishop outside rather than vice versa.

Make no mistake here. Presuming Bishop is healthy and remains healthy, the Vikings are a better defense today. Before his arrival, the Vikings were looking at using either a journeyman (Marvin Mitchell) or a rookie (Gerald Hodges) in Henderson's former position. One way or the other, they'll have three proven veteran linebackers this season in Bishop, Henderson and Chad Greenway. Where they'll play, however, is another question entirely.

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