NFC North: Plaxico Burress

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You could see it in Al Harris' eyes that day back in January 2008. It was the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants, and the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl cornerback was amped up for the challenge of covering receiver Plaxico Burress.

Too amped up, as it turned out.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioCalvin Johnson has put up his best numbers against Green Bay, but the Packers' Sam Shields is up to the challenge.
Burress used Harris' overly aggressive, physical style against him and burned the Packers for 11 catches, 151 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' upset win at Lambeau Field.

That was a full year before defensive coordinator Dom Capers and most of his current staff came to Green Bay, but it's a lesson that might be worth reminding their cornerbacks this week when they prepare for a megasized challenge in the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson.

"It's important for our guys, particularly our corners, to play with their technique and play with their leverage and just play football," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "Anytime you go up against a top-notch player like Calvin, you can't let players like that take you out of your technique."

Surely, that message has been conveyed to Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and the rest of the Packers' secondary this week. Shields is most likely to draw Johnson the most, although Capers has said repeatedly that you can't cover him with the same defensive back all the time. The Packers say they aren't worried about a guy like Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract this offseason, trying to go out and justify his contract by trying to shut down Johnson.

If anything, Shields should be confident in knowing that he has done it in the recent past. Shields covered Johnson for most of last year's Thanksgiving game at Ford Field. Although the Lions won in a 40-10 blowout, Shields held Megatron to just three catches for 46 yards in seven targets when he was in coverage, although Johnson still managed six catches for 101 yards overall for the day.

"At the end of the day, it's all competition, and he's a big challenge," Shields said. "You know a guy like that, you want that. In the NFL, all eyes on you, everybody wants to see what you're going to do against Calvin Johnson. So you know, like I said, do the right things, do my keys, my techniques right, everything will be good."

The same goes for Williams, who has had success -- and seen others have success -- against Johnson. In 2012, Williams' primary job was to cover Johnson, and he held him to four catches for 54 yards without a touchdown in a game at Lambeau Field. However, Williams did not have him the entire time, and Johnson still managed a 100-yard game. And he saw Charles Woodson hold Johnson, in his worst game against the Packers, to two catches for 10 yards for an entire game in 2009.

However, those were not the norms for Johnson, who in 12 career games against the Packers has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns -- the most catches, yards and touchdowns he has against any one opponent.

Williams remembers the Harris-Burress situation and, for one, doesn't think Harris played as poorly as most thought.

"I went back and looked at that game, he was in some good positions, and at the end of the day, you battle a guy like that, and he's just making plays for his team, you can live with that," Williams said.

But he and others also do not think the same circumstances apply to a player they know as well as Johnson, their divisional foe.

"We play him twice a year, so it's not anything new," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "It's not like we’re on a team that might see him once every two or three years, we see him so much that we understand the challenge, and the challenge is huge."
SuhAP Photo/Jim PrischingWhile his sack total was down last season, Ndamukong Suh still made an impact for the Detroit Lions.
We reached the height of Suh-mania in early February, when a Forbes magazine poll revealed Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was one of America's most disliked athletes. Two of the three men ranked ahead of him -- Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress -- are felons. The third, well, was Tiger Woods.

During a quiet moment at the NFL scouting combine, a few reporters were speaking with Lions coach Jim Schwartz. How did it come to this? Schwartz laughed, shook his head and suggested that Suh had spawned the "first armchair defensive linemen" in the history of NFL observation.

"We've all heard of armchair quarterbacks," Schwartz said, "and everybody has a thought on game strategy and what a coach should do. Everyone sees if a quarterback is having success or not. But Ndamukong is probably the first [lineman] that has that kind of scrutiny, that has Forbes magazine looking at him. … The fact that they're talking about a guy like Ndamukong Suh shows you how different he is and the scrutiny that he does get."

Three months later, an amazing thing has happened. The Suh-as-a-monster theme has been eclipsed by the New Orleans Saints' bounty story, among other offseason discussions about the NFL's violent nature. Ndamukong Suh stomped a player? Well, Gregg Williams ordered his players to take aim at opponents' heads and knees. Checkmate!

Even in a team context, Suh suddenly seems the least of the Lions' problems after an offseason in which three members of their 2011 draft class have been cited for marijuana incidents and a fourth -- receiver Titus Young -- sucker punched teammate Louis Delmas during a confrontation last week.

From this vantage point, it appears Suh has been handed an extraordinary opportunity if he cares about it. (And based on his carefully orchestrated offseason, which included an in-depth personality profile with ESPN's Hannah Storm and an upcoming appearance on a reality dating show, I'm guessing he does.) Public crusaders have abandoned their camp outside Suh's locker to chase new offenders, leaving Suh to redirect discussion back to where he and the Lions want it: to his on-field performance.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Suh said 2012 is "a very important year" in terms of restoring and/or enhancing his reputation as one of the NFL's most formidable defensive tackles.

"Every year I want to outdo the previous year," he said. "My rookie year was good. Last year was indifferent. This year we have an opportunity to have an outstanding year."

By "indifferent," I assume Suh meant he doesn't have a strong opinion about a 2011 season that saw his sacks drop from 10 to four and his tackles from 66 to 36. He was a Pro Bowl alternate after being voted a starter, as well as a first-team All-Pro, as a rookie in 2010.

To me, the question is if Suh's performance really dropped by the same percentage as his tackles and sacks. Was he half the player in 2011 he was in 2010? And will he need to be twice the player in 2012 to match his original promise?

The answer, based both on the Lions' assessment and that of independent observers, is no. Suh did not make the same kind of statistical impact and didn't have an elite season in 2011. But it's only fair to point out the flaws in relying purely on sacks and tackles to evaluate a defensive lineman.

Earlier this winter, Schwartz went back and watched every play of Suh's season. Afterward, he said, "I had more appreciation for what he did."

Schwartz added: "There are a lot of guys that are judged on a lot of different things. Defensive players, the only thing you get judged on are tackles, sacks and interceptions. There's not a whole lot that goes into it. Offensive linemen, it's tough to quantify those positions. …

"There's a couple plays in there, had a great pass rush, quarterback threw the ball before he wanted to. He's free to the quarterback, the quarterback gets rid of the ball, throws an interception. No stat at all for a defensive lineman. No sack, anything that people in the media or fans can look at, but obviously that’s an impact play."

Indeed, Pro Football Focus credited Suh with more quarterback pressures -- 27 -- than any NFL defensive tackle last season.

To be clear, I'm not rationalizing what was a less impactful second season for Suh. I just think it's fair to note he wasn't rendered completely ineffective and point out he doesn't have to make a huge jump to return to elite status. It might be difficult to judge him based purely on sack totals, as the charts suggest, but mostly I think we should all take advantage of a moment in time when Suh's football exploits are the only points of relevance in our discussions about him. Armchair away!

NFC North weekend mailbag

May, 5, 2012
5/05/12
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There's always something these days. The week after the draft is typically deep-breath time for the NFL, but the events of this week had us running hither and thither on the NFC North blog. Through it all, I saw everything you've submitted via the mailbag, Twitter and Facebook and tried to respond when possible. Another attempt forthcoming:

Brian of Minneapolis has watched the NFL issue severe punishments following its investigation into the New Orleans Saints' bounty program and can't reconcile them with relatively light in-game punishment in issues of player safety: My frustration as a fan is seeing the referees on game day powerless to enforce penalties beyond the standard 15-yard penalty for repeat offenders. Fines may come later, but I don't see the behavior deterred on game day. What if the NFL adopted a rule mandating an ejection for two unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game?

Kevin Seifert: As Brian pointed out later in his note, there is sports precedent for progressive in-game penalties, including the "persistent infringement" aspect of soccer. (Yes, I'm sure there are many of you who would protest using "football" and "soccer" in the same sentence, but that's for another day.)

Normally I would say there would be little chance for such a dramatic change to the NFL's in-game rules. Referees have the authority to eject a player on a first offense if it is egregious enough, but what Brian is referring to is deterring standard roughness or unsportsmanlike infractions by elevating the punishments within a game.

Given how focused NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appears to be on the player-safety issue, however, I couldn't rule out this type of change in coming years. In essence, if this kind of rule were enacted, a player could be ejected after hitting a player out of bounds and then roughing the punter.

Many of us would cry foul at another attempt to reduce the violence of an inherently violent game, but we've already seen Goodell act repeatedly with no concern for that argument. Who knows what's next?


Serge of Windsor saw our post on the Detroit Lions' offense and writes: I think [rookie receiver] Ryan Broyles will have a significant impact on the Lions' offensive explosive capability. The Lions already have a couple deep threats in Calvin Johnson and Titus Young … however, their impact was negated through double teams in deep cover 2 schemes. What has been missing -- sorry, while Nate Burleson is a class act and a great influence in the locker room, he has been very average on the field -- and what the Lions see in Broyles, is a receiver that is able to punish a defense for playing such schemes by finding windows underneath and gaining yards after the catch. In theory, this will eventually force defenses out of such schemes and open up deep opportunities for Calvin Johnson and Titus Young to make explosive plays downfield.

Kevin Seifert: Interesting theory, Serge, especially if Broyles turns out to be the kind of open-field runner that draft evaluators believe he is. He does appear to have all the skills necessary to be a front-line slot receiver.

But I'm not convinced defenses will deprioritize deep coverage, especially against Johnson, if the Lions have stronger weapons underneath. Johnson is going to draw maximum attention as often as defenses can arrange for it. I don't think a slot receiver, no matter how talented he is, can draw coverage away from Johnson.

What Broyles will do is make more explosive plays when he gets his hands on the ball in the open field than, say, tight ends Brandon Pettigrew or Tony Scheffler. The Lions would be a more explosive offense with Broyles, but that doesn't necessarily mean defenses will make it any easier for Johnson, and to a lesser extent Young, make deep downfield plays against them. I'm pretty sure I would take my chances against anyone other than Calvin Johnson.


Ben of Denver thought that Mike Daniels, the Green Bay Packers' fourth-round draft choice, deserved to be in this week's discussion about the team's desire to get more "juice" in its defensive front: I think he at least deserved to be mentioned in the article, as he was brought in to do and has just as much of an opportunity to bring exactly the same thing that [Anthony] Hargrove was signed for, inside pass rush. I am very excited about the injection of explosiveness, talent, and depth to our front seven.

Kevin Seifert: Fair point. Daniels had seven sacks as an inside pass-rusher at Iowa and has a naturally athletic frame. According to Scouts Inc., Daniels put on 50 pounds in college to play defensive tackle at 291 pounds. In its pre-draft report, Scouts Inc. gave Daniels its highest grade for quickness (hands/feet) and toughness/motor. Here is an excerpt:
"Step late getting to the quarterback at times but disruptive nonetheless and excels at moving quarterback off the spot. Quickly reacts to snap and flashes the ability to shoot gaps. Above-average hand fighter that flashes effective swim, rip and push-pull moves. Can shake offensive linemen with spin move. Gets hands up when sees quarterback start throwing motion. Flashes the ability to get under centers and drive them back but average overall power as a bull rusher. … Active hands make it difficult for blockers to lock onto frame. Flashes the ability to counter when offensive linemen get their hands inside his initially. First-step quickness is a notch below elite. Rarely gets beat to the point of attack and ability to explode upfield in addition to leverage helps mask lack of ideal size. Shows good foot speed working down the line and fighting off cut blocks."

The point of the post was that the Packers have taken a very focused approach to their offseason, seeking out players with the skills to be disruptive on the line of scrimmage. Daniels certainly fits that description and should have received a mention in the post.


Chuck of Guilin, China, writes: I have seen videos and read numerous slams on the Chicago Bears' OL. I thought they had two starters coming off 2011 injured reserve, no more Mike Martz and, most important, Mike Tice likes his group of young linemen. If Tice is what everyone says he is, why all the media flack?

Kevin Seifert: That's definitely the counter-argument to the media criticism the Bears have received. From the big picture, I see where the criticism has come from. The Bears have had to patch together their line in each of the past two seasons, rolling through various combinations and schemes until they found something that worked. In the process, some of their linemen -- like left tackle J'Marcus Webb -- looked pretty bad.

The Bears' decision not to add personnel means they have placed a lot of faith in Tice. In addition to his role as offensive coordinator, they want him to mold a functioning line group out of players who haven't always gotten the job done in the past two years. Success is usually a combination of player skill, good coaching and luck. The Bears have faith in some players whose skills have not always been obvious from the outside.


Facebook friend Jerry asks: Since the free agent and draftees by the Vikings all seem to be second-tier WR's, is there any chance the Vikings will add an impact player from free agency still? Say a Braylon Edwards, Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress?

Kevin Seifert: While I agree the Vikings have some question marks at the receiver position, it should be pointed out that they've already taken a dip into the veteran free-agent market and come up with Jerome Simpson. I'm not sure they have any plans beyond that. For now, they'll go with Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Simpson, their pair of pass-catching tight ends, and hope that perhaps Greg Childs or Jarius Wright develop into a contributor.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- All available evidence suggested that the Green Bay Packers and receiver James Jones would amicably separate this summer. Jones was no doubt seeking a market-level second contract, and the Packers already have a full house of established pass-catchers and added a high draft choice to the mix this spring.

It made sense that Jones would sign elsewhere and the Packers would roll with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and rookie Randall Cobb at receiver, with a fully healed Jermichael Finley at tight end. But two things happened on the way to what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Silverstein first reported was a three-year contract agreement between the Packers and Jones. (ESPN's John Clayton has confirmed the deal.)

[+] EnlargeJames Jones
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesThe Packers and receiver James Jones have agreed to terms on a three-year deal.
First, quarterback Aaron Rodgers began publicly lobbying for Jones' return, saying Jones should be the Packers' No. 1 offseason priority. (Clearly he was not, because their first move was to re-sign place-kicker Mason Crosby.) Jones confirmed to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com that Rodgers, as well as Driver and Jennings, went to bat for him.

"Having your teammates push for you and want you back, not a lot of guys would do that, two high-profile guys like them, two dudes," Jones said. "And for Greg and Donald [to] want me back on that team, that shows how unselfish we are."

Speaking in the Packers' locker room shortly before Sunday's agreement, Rodgers said the Packers "need" to re-sign both Jones and running back John Kuhn, another unrestricted free agent. (The countdown for Kuhn's new deal begins in 3, 2, 1 ...)

"Those are two guys out there that are important to us," Rodgers said. "It's not my decision, but I'm definitely pulling for those guys to come back."

Why was Rodgers so adamant about Jones, whose otherwise productive seasons with the Packers have been marred by some high-profile drops? Ultimately, I think it comes down to human nature. People like what they know and they worry about what's next. Rodgers has devoted four years to developing a level of chemistry with Jones. Why not continue capitalizing on that experience for as long as possible?

Second, a number of teams that originally expressed interest in Jones went in different directions. As we discussed Saturday, the Minnesota Vikings agreed to terms with receiver Michael Jenkins. On Sunday morning, coach Leslie Frazier said he had the group "we're going to roll with," indicating Jones was no longer a possibility.

An hour or so later, the New York Jets -- another team linked to Jones -- agreed to terms with free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress.

Ultimately, I think the Packers were by far the best situation for Jones. We've all cringed at free-agent moves that seem destined to fail from the start. Is James Jones ready to be another team's No. 2 receiver? The fresh start of free agency sometimes jump-starts a career, but my guess is that Jones didn't need that. What he needs is to continue growing in an established system with one of the NFL's top quarterbacks while in the relative comfort zone of one of the league's deepest receiving corps.

If he one day succeeds Driver as the Packers' No. 2 receiver alongside Jennings, then so be it. He'll be better suited than he would have been with another team right now.
Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher had what I thought was an insightful in-studio appearance Thursday morning with ESPN 1000 -- including a response to the silly criticism of journeyman NFL linebacker Dhani Jones, his thoughts on adding receiver Plaxico Burress and some strong statements about the Bears' decision to maintain their shoddy grass at Soldier Field.

Urlacher
The highlights:
  • As you might remember, Jones did not include Urlacher among his ranking of the NFL's top 10 linebackers and questioned when Urlacher last "got off a block." Urlacher's response: "I think we were drafted in the same class, right? Is he a 2000 guy? I haven't heard anything about him since then. I saw him on a TV show with a bow-tie on though. So I know him better for how the way he dresses than what he does on a football field. Guys are going to talk. I've definitely had a lot worse things said publicly from guys, so I can live with it."
  • Bears president Ted Phillips said this spring that the he considers the grass at Soldier Field a home-field advantage. Urlacher said the Bears would be better off playing on an in-fill surface such as FieldTurf if the only other option is worn-out sod. He called the current surface "a disaster," and when asked it gives the Bears an advantage, he said: "No. You're both playing on it. The weather I think is the biggest advantage we have against teams that don't play in our weather. But we're a fast defense. You put us on that FieldTurf eight home games a year? We're going to be really fast. You put [Julius] Peppers on that turf? [Devin] Hester, with all those cuts on turf? [Johnny] Knox? All those guys. We're going to be a little better, I think. Faster."
  • Urlacher made clear he isn't happy about the Bears' Oct. 23 trip to London to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game could still be moved to Tampa if the NFL doesn't reach a collective bargaining agreement with its players by Aug. 1. Urlacher: "No, I'm not excited to go to London. ... I don't understand why they do that. ... I am not excited to go to London, I will say that." I can't imagine many players would be, considering the travel involved and disruption to their weekly schedule.
  • We've discussed Burress as an example of the kind of big receiver Bears coach Lovie Smith has said he wouldn't mind adding. Asked if Bears players would welcome Burress, Urlacher said: "Heck yeah." He added: "I'm a big fan of his and always have been a big fan of his football-wise. ... He's a tough matchup for any corner. He's a good guy, a good red zone guy."

I'll post an audio link when it becomes available. *Update: Here it is.

BBAO: Mikel Leshoure turning heads

June, 8, 2011
6/08/11
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears

Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune targets Henry Melton, Zack Bowman and Nick Roach as players with the potential to have a breakout season in 2011.

Neil Hayes says Plaxico Burress is just the type of receiver the Bears need.

Detroit Lions

It's early, but Mikel Leshoure has already caught the eye of some of his new teammates in Detroit.

Nick Fairley says he doesn't feel like he's falling behind despite missing all of the player-organized workouts this spring.

Green Bay Packers

ESPN's Tedy Bruschi says it's time for the Packers to start looking ahead to next season and stop celebrating the Super Bowl win. "Being the Super Bowl champions, you'd think they'd want to repeat," Bruschi said. "We're into June. It's June now. You've had your little celebration the week after the Super Bowl. It's time to move on. I think that they're still worried about celebrating and basking in the glory of being a Super Bowl champion is a little bit worrisome if I were a Green Bay Packers fan."

Rob Demovsky sees the competition between Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett as one of the more interesting training-camp battles.

Minnesota Vikings

Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder has his sights set on working out with the Vikings' offensive linemen soon.

NFL Network has former Vikings defensive lineman John Randle No. 3 on its list of the top undrafted players.

BBAO: Plaxico Burress off Bears' radar?

June, 7, 2011
6/07/11
8:57
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears

Brad Biggs doesn't expect the Bears to pursue free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress once the lockout comes to a conclusion.

The Bears and their summer home, Olivet Nazarene University, remain flexible in their planning as training camp draws closer.

Detroit Lions

Rookie running back Mikel Leshoure has taken a unique approach in showing his pride in being a member of the Detroit Lions.

The newly minted "Silver Crush" defensive line would rather earn the moniker.

Green Bay Packers

Coach Mike McCarthy says the team has a plan ready to implement whenever the lockout ends. “We try to go through every possible scenario so that we have a plan in place because that’s what our players are accustomed to. They’re accustomed to having a detailed plan laid in front of them so that when they do come back to work we pick up right where we left off.”

Watching the Packers win the Super Bowl was bittersweet for former Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman.

Minnesota Vikings

Jason La Canfora says that just because the Vikings spent a high draft pick on quarterback Christian Ponder doesn't mean they shouldn't make a play for Donovan McNabb.

The Ramsey County Charter Commission has called a special meeting to vote on a proposed half-cent countywide sales tax increase to help support a new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills.
Last weekend, I suggested locking up leaders from the NFL and NFL Players Association in the Phantom Zone until they reached a new collective bargaining agreement. C.J. of Milwaukee took me up on a request for better ideas. Check it out, and then follow me to Google to find out what "Room 101" is.
How about putting them both in Room 101 (the torture room) from George Orwell's 1984? If you recall, in that room everyone is forced to face their worst fear -- for Winston Smith in the novel, it was having a cage affixed to his face with hungry rats who'd eat his face if he didn't confess.

"For [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell, it would be having a judge rule the NFL has lost its anti-trust exemption, the players being given unlimited free agency, TV contract money being split 80/20, with the 80 going to the players, and owners being forced to pay back their communities for the stadiums bought and built for them.

"For [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice Smith, it would be a judge ruling that the players are indentured servants, with no free agency until 8 years have passed, the TV money going 80/20 to the owners, an end to signing bonuses, and players have to clean up the stadiums after games.

"These tortures would go on simultaneously, with the judge sitting in a cage affixed to Goodell's and Smith's face. The judges would be Gilbert Gotfried (for Smith) and Larry the Cable Guy (for Goodell)."

Sounds good to me.

What would your Room 101 be?

And don't say you know mine.

It is NOT an NFL season without Brett Favre.

Really, it's not.

No chance.

I'm always lurking in the mailbag, on Twitter and Facebook.

Onward...

Jordan of Madison noted ESPN.com's ranking of the NFL's top 10 defensive players and writes: I think the people who didn't rank Ndamukong Suh from the Detroit Lions in the top ten defenders couldn't have seen him play. When the season's over, where do you think he'll end up ranked? I'm a hardcore Packers fan and even I think he'll be in contention for DPOY.

Kevin Seifert: Thanks for the question, Jordan. It was my turn this week to write the global Power Rankings post, so I didn't get a chance to address the NFC North angle as much as I would have liked.

Suh appeared on five of the eight ballots, including mine, and finished No. 11 overall and only two points out of the top 10. I thought Suh deserved to be on the list after seeing him play this season. But even if you didn't see him play, you should remember he was one of two first-team All-Pros at his position in the entire league.

I was able to get Suh comfortably on my list because I made a point of valuing pass rushers over pass defenders. For that reason, cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson didn't make my cut, nor did safety Ed Reed. Based on this value system, at least, I can't think of a better alternative than an interior disruptor like Suh who has the skills to finish off plays and end a season with 10-plus sacks.

I imagine the only hesitation among my fellow voters was that Suh has only one year's experience. There is no reason to think his performance will fall off, but some people like to see elite-level production for more than one year. Regardless, I doubt we're having this conversation next year. Suh's skills, and the continuing growth of the Lions' defensive line, makes that a pretty safe bet.


Dave of Minneapolis writes: What is your take on Mayor Coleman's stadium plan? I understand it is not liked by anybody really except St. Paul, but I think it addresses the needs of all of the current stadium issues in the Twin Cities. It seems like the most sensible approach (he sure did put St. Paul in front of everybody else though). The St. Paul Saints need a new facility the most.

Kevin Seifert: It might make sense in theory, but the reality is it's merely political cover and not something that would ever be accepted in the territorial political system of Minnesota. That's why I didn't write much on it this week.

It's true. St. Paul residents would be on the hook for a disproportionate amount of the tax increase that would help pay for the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium. But they would get no direct benefit, considering the stadium would be located 10 miles away in suburban Arden Hills. Coleman figures to face some backlash on that issue, so he had to come up with some kind of response that would demonstrate he was looking out for his constituents.

And to me, that's the main thrust of Coleman's proposal. It shifts the tax burden off St. Paul for the Vikings stadium, instead calling for a state-wide two-cent booze tax. Connecting alcohol and football is funny and perhaps darkly appropriate, but it's totally random from a political sense. Why should someone having a glass of wine be singled out to pay for a football stadium?

More good news if you live in St. Paul: It would create an entertainment monopoly for St. Paul's Xcel Center by shuttering Minneapolis' Target Center. It would also squeeze $27 million money to build a new baseball stadium for the independent St. Paul Saints.

So yes, ending the competition between the Target Center and Xcel Center makes some sense. And there's nothing wrong with building a small baseball stadium for the Saints. But Coleman has to know there is no reality inherent in this proposal.

The biggest problem of the Minneapolis-St. Paul sports market is that it has been developed with total disregard for the big picture and global vision. Coleman's plan is no less territorial, even if it is disguised as a global vision. Similar proposals help explain why the Twin Cities market, which includes the University of Minnesota, has two football stadiums, five basketball/hockey arenas and two outdoor ballparks for baseball. Enough already.


Eric of Minneapolis writes: Has the NFLPA (or leaders of the former NFLPA) told the players to shut up yet? Between Adrian Peterson's "slavery" comments and Ray Lewis' crime spree suggestions, the players are looking like idiots. Granted, they do this a lot, but when they speak to the lockout like this, they rarely help their cause.

Kevin Seifert: I'm pretty sure owners weaved the anticipation of such statements into their lockout strategy. Whenever you have people speaking out of their expertise, which is what football players talking about social issues qualifies as, you're bound to see some outlandish rhetoric revealed.

But I will say I haven't noticed much lasting impact from these incidents. The public isn't turning on players because a few of them have spoken out. Players don't appear to be splintering because a few of them have said embarrassing things. The real focus is on whether the players can stay unified in the face of lost game checks. If players start speaking out on that issue, then they've got trouble.


Via Twitter, @tonymission notes our recent Have at It discussion and wonders why I didn't account for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a debate about which receiver, the Packers' Randall Cobb or the Detroit Lions' Titus Young, would have a more productive rookie season: The Lions aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut. playing W/#12 cant hurt

Kevin Seifert: Limited by 140 characters, my initial response was that there is still only one ball. Whether the Packers are quarterbacked by Rodgers or backup Matt Flynn, Cobb will still be competing with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and perhaps James Jones for opportunities.

And you might not realize it, but the Lions actually threw 92 more passes than the Packers last season. Typically you throw more when you're losing, but the Lions definitely have a pass-first offense.

There's no doubt the quality of a quarterback impacts the production of a receiver, but the Lions are more proficient and ambitious than you're suggesting.


Earlier this week, we discussed the Chicago Bears as a possible landing spot for soon-to-be-freed receiver Plaxico Burress. In a comment, stan994 wrote: "Though the Bears could use someone of such size to help out their receiving corps, it will never happen. The Bears ownership does not like off-field incidents and Burress has too much of that. They got rid of Tank Johnson due to off-field reasons. They got rid of Cedric Benson for off-field reasons. It is very clear that ownership will not tolerate certain behavior and Burress certainly has crossed those lines."

Kevin Seifert: There are perhaps a half-dozen reasons why Burress to the Bears seems unlikely, and this is one of them. Another is the Bears' seemingly cemented philosophy of avoiding big-name receivers after the failure of free agent acquisition Muhsin Muhammad and the departure of Bernard Berrian.

I'm quite sure the Bears will be tossed into in the public discussion next week when Burress is released. But I agree with stan994. It's hard to envision a scenario where it happens.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The pending prison release of former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress will no doubt generate substantial speculation about where he might seek to play in 2011. Already, players on several teams have made public pitches. And I'm sure that in an NFC North context, we'll hear plenty of Chicago Bears speculation.

Will it be merited?

Here's all we know so far: Bears coach Lovie Smith has said he wouldn't mind acquiring a bigger receiver to join the trio of Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester. Burress is 6-foot-5.

But would the Bears want the baggage Burress brings, not to mention the rust from two years of inactivity? Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune doesn't think so.
Pompei: "Burress has three things working against him. The first is he will be 34 when the season starts. The second is he has not played football, or even trained with a football team, for two full years. The third is he has a history of getting in trouble. I don't think the Bears are that desperate."

I tend to agree. We've spent plenty of time discussing receivers and the Bears, but I'm not sure Burress and the Bears will be a fit.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Bears rookie Gabe Carimi is making an impact on Chicago's Jewish community, writes Donald Liebenson of the Tribune.
  • The Detroit Lions' unwillingness to participate in "Hard Knocks" indicates they aren't sure how good they will be in 2011, writes Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions receiver Calvin Johnson hopes he will have fresher legs during games after the team drafted rookie receiver Titus Young. Dave Birkett of the Free Press has more.
  • Check out this Twitpic of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in London's Trafalgar Square. Suh is participating in the Gumball 3000 road race.
  • The Green Bay Packers have scheduled their annual shareholders meeting for July 28, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Packers linebacker Clay Matthews charmed the crowd at the Rochester Press-Radio Club's Day of Champions banquet. Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has more. Among Matthews' lines: "For all you guys out there, I'll be in each and every one of your showers," referring to his upcoming line of Suave shampoo.
  • A group of Minnesota Vikings are working out in the Twin Cities at a local fitness club, writes Mark Craig of the Star Tribune. The group includes: linebacker Heath Farwell, offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson, linebackers Ben Leber and Chad Greenway, center John Sullivan and tight end Jim Kleinsasser.
  • Receiver Hank Baskett and several Vikings teammates from 2010 participated in a charity event last weekend to benefit victims of child abuse, according to Lynn Hoppes of ESPN.com.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

News and circumstances have delayed our attempts to close the book on spring practices in the NFC North. But I've had all I can stands and I can't stands it no more. So let's get to some observations and other important points while the Black and Blue teams continue their summer vacations.

 Cutler

Chicago's acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler removed the offseason glare from its defense. Remember, before the Cutler trade, the Bears' biggest issue was whether coach Lovie Smith could turn around a defense that seemed old and unorganized last season.

So let's catch up: The Bears opened competition at two positions -- outside linebacker and free safety -- after overhauling their defensive coaching staff. Pisa Tinoisamoa is expected to win the former spot, and either Craig Steltz or Corey Graham will take over at the latter.

But neither of those personnel moves addressed this group's primary issue: Can the Bears revive their pass rush on their defensive line? It's a fundamental requirement of the Tampa 2 defense, and the Bears can't improve much without it. It's difficult to draw many conclusions from non-contact spring drills, but the state of defensive tackle Tommie Harris' knee is hardly encouraging.

Harris, the team's best pass-rusher when healthy, sat out most drills this spring to limit wear and tear. Despite the team's protests to the contrary, it was an ominous sign.

 Hester

A quick glance at the Bears' top four receivers reveals that only one -- Devin Hester -- has caught a pass in an NFL game. Earl Bennett and rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox are as green as can be. Veteran Rashied Davis always could work his way back into the rotation, but at the end of the spring the Bears seemed all-in with youth.

General manager Jerry Angelo has noted the Bears' depth at tight end and expressed little concern about the receiver position, but it's a fact that he looked into acquiring Arizona's Anquan Boldin as well as free agent Plaxico Burress. The impact of this issue would be limited had Kyle Orton returned as the Bears' quarterback, but it's fair to wonder why Angelo would devote so many resources to acquiring Cutler and then leave him with such an inexperienced receiving corps.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com staff

Chicago Bears

  • Brian Urlacher would have liked to see Plaxico Burress in a Bears uniform, but a potential suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell was probably too much for the team to overlook.
  • In an NFL.com chat, Pat Kirwan believes Jay Cutler alone helps upgrade the Bears' receiving corps.

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We've had multiple discussions about the possibility of Chicago signing free agent receiver Plaxico Burress. Bears receiver Devin Hester, for one, is all for the idea.

At this point, however, it appears the Bears are not a serious contender for Burress. In the video below, ESPN's John Clayton reports that Chicago has all but ruled out the possibility of singing him. Part of that stance could be based on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to review Burress for possible league discipline long before his legal troubles are scheduled to be addressed in court.

Player acquisitions are always subject to new twists. But for now, at least, it looks like Burress and the Bears are not a match.

Here's the video:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Good morning. Hope everyone had a great weekend. We're gearing up for another mid-summer week in the NFC North, where news will be light but the blogging will never stop. (OK, it will, but we'll get to that later.)

Any football fan of the 1980s, Chicago or otherwise, will be interested to read this feature from Bob Gillespie of the The State. It details the disease and episode that landed former Bears star William "The Refrigerator" Perry in the hospital earlier this year.

Perry, who has Guillain-Barre Syndrome, had little money and no insurance when he began feeling sick, One of his brothers found him in bed -- dehydrated and only semi-responsive -- in April. The story chronicles the work of former Bears coach Mike Ditka to upgrade Perry's medical care.

Perry was released from the hospital in May and is under the care of another brother, former NFL player Michael Dean Perry. He has three more weeks of rehabilitation to go.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

As luck would have it, Minnesota officials long ago scheduled a town-hall style meeting with season-ticket holders for Wednesday night in downtown Minneapolis. Owner Zygi Wilf, vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and coach Brad Childress are among those scheduled to answer questions at the invite-only event. I imagine the name of a certain quarterback will come up.

The Vikings will stream the event live on their Web site for those interested. Look for an update on the NFC North blog at some point Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. I don't expect the news to necessitate an immediate Twitter tweet, but just in case, make sure you're following us here. And don't forget about our full-force Facebook page, which uses our Tweets as status updates.

Until then, let's get updated on Wednesday's organized team activities in Green Bay and Chicago, both of which were open to the media.

In Chicago, general manager Jerry Angelo was asked to name some players who stood out during the OTA season. I don't think it's a surprise that the first three he named were all receivers: Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox and Juaquin Iglesias.

The Bears have consistently expressed confidence in entering training camp with a young and mostly unproven receiving corps. But if they ultimately decide to pursue free agent Plaxico Burress, as ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson believes they will, Angelo will want to have maximum contract leverage. That means boasting about his current depth. Classic stuff.

Here is ESPN reporter George Smith's take on the situation.

Dickerson also reports that linebacker Brian Urlacher (minor ailment) and running back Matt Forte (hamstring) were among those who did not participate in Wednesday's OTA. Here's the full list.

In Green Bay, safety Nick Collins has begun attending OTAs after sitting out most of the offseason program. (His father passed away last month and he is also hoping to jump-start negotiations on a new contract.) Based on these reports from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Green Bay Press-Gazette, Collins spent most of his time with the injury rehabilitation group. If we get any clarity on Collins' situation, we'll pass it along promptly.

Bears keeping WR options open

June, 17, 2009
6/17/09
3:21
PM ET

Posted by ESPN's George Smith

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Just how interested are the Chicago Bears in acquiring wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Brandon Marshall? After practice at Halas Hall Wednesday, Bears head coach Lovie Smith was playing it cool.

"We keep all of our option open," Smith said. "The door is never closed on any player available."

Smith said Burress, whose status is uncertain because of criminal charges stemming from his self-inflicted, accidental gun shot wound to his leg last year, is "a good football player" but added that off-field issues play a big role in the team's evaluation process. Smith said he had not personally talked to Burress.

Asked about the Bears possibly adding Burress, quarterback Jay Cutler said, "If it happens, it happens."

As for Denver's Marshall, Smith said the Bears have not reached out to him. Marshall has requested a trade from Denver.

Cutler, who played two seasons with Marshall in Denver when Marshall caught more than 200 passes, said he has not talked to his former teammate about coming to the Bears. Cutler said he'd "let the guys upstairs handle that."

Cutler disagreed with the notion that the Bears need a No. 1 receiver. "I think we got one in Devin Hester," said Cutler, who added that Hester made some steps as a receiver last year, but this year is making giant strides.

"We got everything we need out there," Cutler said. "I'm 100 percent comfortable with the guys we have."

George Smith is an ESPN bureau reporter based in Chicago.

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