NFC North: Nick Hill

The Green Bay Packers are serious about elevating the competition on their defensive line. Tuesday, they signed the third veteran free agent for that position group alone.

Former Miami Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling will join Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir in the race for roster spots this spring and summer. In addition to that trio, the Packers also used second- and fourth-round draft choices on defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, respectively.

Four years ago, Merling was one of the draft's top pass-rushing prospects. But after a disappointing stint with the Dolphins, he is more likely a hedge against Hargrove's eight-game NFL suspension, which is currently being appealed.

Merling was the No. 32 overall pick of the 2008 draft but managed just 3.5 sacks with the Dolphins, and none in the past two seasons. He was waived last month. Here's what Miami Herald beat writer Armando Salguero wrote upon Merling's departure: "He missed most of 2010 after tearing his Achilles' while jogging on his own. He was always in the cross-hairs of coaches who complained he did not practice hard enough often enough. He has been missing the current offseason workout. And he didn't exactly produce on game days, either. Fact is Merling's rookie year was probably his most promising. collecting 26 tackles, an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery."

Sounds like a player who could use a fresh start.

The Packers now have 12 defensive linemen on their roster. Like Hargrove, veteran Mike Neal also has a pending NFL suspension -- the first four games of the season. Still, that's a lot of bodies for a team that uses three defensive linemen in its base defense and two when it's in nickel. May the best men win.

Note: The Packers also waived quarterback Nick Hill and tight Cameron Ford.
On Friday, we posted some basic but important questions about the trio of NFC North rookie minicamps held over the weekend. I thought they would help us keep focused amid discussion about dozens of players who probably won't make an NFL team, let alone make an impact on the 2012 season.

Below, I've addressed the questions with updated information culled from a variety of sources. Links are provided when appropriate. In one case, I offered a rarely-seen "bonus" section. Don't say I never do anything for you.

Chicago Bears: What is the conditioning level of receiver Alshon Jeffery?

By all accounts, Jeffery was having a nice opening practice Friday -- "picking peanuts off some guys' heads," according to offensive coordinator Mike Tice -- before leaving with leg cramps.

Cramps are not unusual at rookie camps, where nerves and a lack of familiarity often lead to inadequate hydration and/or eating. Jeffery's pre-draft questions about work ethic and conditioning add a level to this particular departure, but he returned for the weekend practices without incident.

"Most of the guys are a little sore right now, but we see a guy with great hands, a big target that will only get better," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He should be in the mix to help us win games this year."

Bonus: Here's what Tice had to say about criticism of the Bears' depth at tackle, a position they did not draft to: "If we felt that tackle was a dire need for us, I'm sure they would have answered the bell on draft day. With the change in scheme, the change in personality and an offseason and getting some guys healthy, I think we'll make a big jump in the offensive line. It takes time for young guys to play good in all areas. And we have a couple young guys who have played good football in half the scheme, and they need to step it up in the other half. Plus, we have some guys who got hurt, and we need to get those guys back."

Detroit Lions: How many positions is offensive lineman Riley Reiff playing? Also, how much work, if any, is receiver Ryan Broyles doing?

The Lions rotated Reiff between left tackle and right tackle on a per-practice basis, but there were no reports of him seeing time at guard. That doesn't mean he won't eventually get some work there as a possible competitor for right guard Stephen Peterman, but on his first weekend the Lions limited him to the two positions he figured to be most familiar with.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz clearly subscribes to the "less is more" philosophy on drawing conclusions in rookie camp. But here were his early impressions of the Lions' first-round draft choice: "You can tell as much of what we did here today about him as we could outside [of practice.] I mean walkthroughs, meetings and things like that. You can tell that he's an experienced, smart, confident player and he’s going to do well for us."

Broyles, on the other hand, observed but did not participate in any of the practices as he continues to recover from a November knee injury. The question now becomes whether he will be cleared in time for training camp or whether he will open camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Schwartz wouldn't commit to a timetable on when Broyles will be able to practice or play a game but said: "[H]e's on a good path. He's had a good rehab so far. He showed it in his pro day and he's shown it here. It depends on what happens between now and then."

Green Bay Packers: How rough does Nick Perry look at outside linebacker? Also, are there any clues that B.J. Coleman will be able to challenge Graham Harrell for the No. 2 quarterback job?

The biggest news on Perry is that the Packers started him off as the left outside linebacker, which is where Clay Matthews played the past two seasons. Coach Mike McCarthy wouldn't say whether that meant Matthews will move to the rights side or if Perry will initially be slotted as a backup. But as Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette pointed out, most 3-4 teams prefer their biggest outside linebacker to work on the left side to stand up against opponents who are generally right-handed running teams.

Meanwhile, Coleman demonstrated notable arm strength in comparison to fellow quarterback Nick Hill, according to Rob Demovsky of the Press-Gazette. That's a good start. Whether he can challenge Harrell depends on how quickly he can learn the Packers' offense, and according to McCarthy, how long it takes him to adapt to an entirely new set of footwork techniques required at the professional level.
Cleaning out my notebook after the 2012 NFL draft:

It can be difficult to gauge the value of coaching the annual Senior Bowl, but it's worth noting that two of the Minnesota Vikings' draft choices played under their coaching staff for the North team at this year's affair. That included Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, whom the Vikings traded up to draft at No. 29 overall, and NC Sate linebacker Audie Cole, a seventh-round pick.

In the case of Smith, the Vikings were so convinced of his value after the Senior Bowl that they didn't speak again through the entire draft process. They didn't interview him at the annual scouting combine and didn't invite him to their facility for a pre-draft visit.

"When we got into our meetings and we put our board together and seeing how it was going to develop and knowing that we do need some help on the back end to improve our secondary," general manager Rick Spielman said, "that was the one huge advantage of being able to coach the Senior Bowl because we got to know those players inside and out and know what they are about. How they are in a meeting room. How they are out on the field. Our coaches know what it’s like to coach that player so that was a huge advantage for us and we know exactly what we are getting in Harrison Smith."

We've noted that the Green Bay Packers drafted six defensive players to open the draft. Another trend we noted: The Vikings drafted three pairs of players from the same school.

But we probably didn't spend enough time in the latter stages of the draft pointing out that the Detroit Lions finished the draft by selecting six consecutive defensive players -- including three cornerbacks -- while also drafting three players from Oklahoma.

We should probably chalk up the Sooner connection -- receiver Ryan Broyles, defensive end Ronnell Lewis and linebacker Travis Lewis -- as coincidence. But I wouldn't say the same thing about the defensive trend, considering how poorly the Lions' defense played over the second half of the 2011 season.

The impact of that decision is "yet to be seen," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. He added: "Drafting them doesn't do anything other than drafting them. They have to play well in preseason and training camp and they have to prove their draft status. So, yeah, it adds more guys to the roster and creates competition and things like that. ..."

With that said, I would think the Lions' cornerbacks should consider themselves on notice. Third-rounder Dwight Bentley is a smallish but feisty corner who had an excellent Senior Bowl against elevated competition. And fifth-rounder Chris Greenwood might have played at Division III Albion, but he is 6-foot-1 and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. Players with those kind of measurables eventually get their opportunity.

The Chicago Bears' decision not to draft a lineman would appear an endorsement of their returning starters. So it's worth noting that coach Lovie Smith refused to say where offensive lineman Chris Williams will play in 2012, calling into question the short- and long-term future of the Bears' No. 1 draft choice in 2008.

First, here's what Smith said when asked if Williams would resume his role as left guard when training camp begins: "I can't tell you that right now. We have options with him. We'll see how it all shakes out. Chris, of course, can do both [guard and tackle]. Right now, we're two weeks into our offseason program. Let us get into it a little more and we'll be able to define some roles a little better."

That's hardly an endorsement for a player who has started at right tackle, left tackle and left guard in his disappointing career. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune makes some excellent points in suggesting Williams' most likely 2012 destination is a swing backup.

Williams was drafted as a left tackle, but the Bears chose J'Marcus Webb to play there last season and don't appear interested in looking back. Gabe Carimi, the 2011 first-round pick, figures to return at right tackle, making it easy to move Lance Louis back to one of the other guard spots. Louis, Chris Spencer and newcomer Chilo Rachal would be top candidates to start at the other two guard spots.

Everything is subject to change. But clearly there remain some parts in motion along the Bears' offensive line.

I'm sure the Packers have kicked around the idea of signing a veteran backup quarterback, and it could still happen. But after drafting Tennessee-Chattanooga's B.J. Coleman in the seventh round Saturday, the Packers don't appear eager to add anyone else. In other words, former No. 3 Graham Harrell is going to get every opportunity to win that job.

"I don't think you just say, 'I need a veteran backup,'" Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We have the MVP in Aaron Rodgers as our No. 1, and now we feel that we have three really good candidates to compete for two spots. ... The roster will shake that out."

Those candidates are Harrell, Coleman and Nick Hill, a former Arena Football League player who signed in January.

Some people cringed when the Coleman spoke reverentially about his pre-draft work with and respect for Brett Favre. Coleman seemed oblivious to the hard feelings surrounding Favre's departure in 2008 and his return with the Vikings in 2009 and 2010.

Maybe Coleman was a bit na´ve, but I thought his giddiness was instructive as much as anything and perhaps illustrative of the big-picture way most of the football world view the relationship between the Packers and Favre.

In the big picture, the Packers-Favre separation was a small portion of a two-decade marriage that is destined to be reconciled. We are hypersensitive to that blip because we lived through it on this blog, but not everyone was as affected. If we aren't already, we'll all be closer to Coleman's perspective than we probably ever thought possible.

BBAO: Zygi Wilf's private plane

April, 20, 2012
4/20/12
7:55
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Long before he led a team of investors in purchasing the Minnesota Vikings in 2005, Zygi Wilf's family owned a real estate company that had significant investments in Southern California. His frequent visits have often provided convenient fodder for the rumor mill, mostly because his private plane has an unmistakable Vikings logo painted on its tail and the team has always been rumored to be a candidate to relocate there.

So when the Los Angeles Daily News reported Thursday that Wilf's plane was spotted at a Southern California airport, in the same week when his stadium bill in Minnesota was quashed, the news spread quickly.

As we've discussed, we are now in a phase of increased pressure and dramatic rhetoric as the franchise's future is sorted out. Whether the plane's arrival in Southern California was coincidental, an expensive message or an indication that Wilf is in negotiations to sell the team to a Los Angeles investor, the overlying point hasn't changed: The Vikings will eventually leave Minnesota if they don't secure a stadium deal.

Are they already angling to leave with 10 days remaining in the state's legislative session? I can't answer that. Just consider it another reminder of a potential future reality.

Continuing around the NFC North:

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