NFC North: Rich Gannon

Welcome to the 30s, Aaron Rodgers

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brett Favre won all three of his NFL Most Valuable Player awards before the age of 30.

The former Green Bay Packers quarterback was 26 when he won the first one in January of 1996. He won his three MVPs in consecutive years, meaning his last one came at the age of 28.

Aaron Rodgers was 28 he was named the NFL’s MVP on Feb. 4, 2012.

The Packers' current quarterback turned 30 today. So does that mean his best years are behind him?

Probably not.

That Favre’s MVP seasons all came in his 20s has not been the norm for award-winning quarterbacks in recent years.

Dating to the 2001 season, for which St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was the MVP, 10 quarterbacks have won the award. Seven of them, including Warner, were in their 30s.

Rodgers is under contract through the 2019 season thanks to the extension he signed in April. He will be 36 years old when that deal expires.

How many more MVP-type seasons would be it reasonable to expect? This season, even if Rodgers returns this week from his broken collarbone -- which is still a big if -- is lost in terms of his MVP candidacy. However, based on the past winners, the answer to that question would seem to be several.

An NFL scout told me last week he thought Rodgers had four more “great seasons” in him.

Three non-quarterbacks have won the MVP since 2001. All were running backs, and all were in their 20s -- Shaun Alexander (28), LaDainian Tomlinson (27) and Adrian Peterson (27). That’s not surprising considering the shelf life for running backs is much shorter than for quarterbacks.

BBAO: No chat after all

June, 6, 2013
6/06/13
8:55
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Good morning from back at NFC North blog headquarters, where I arrived safely Wednesday night after two days at Green Bay Packers minicamp.

I'm planning to empty my notebook of a round of tidbits picked up over the two practices and access periods, saving a few topics for analysis later this summer. And I'm sorry to report that we in fact will not have a SportsNation chat today as originally indicated.

I wasn't available at the time they wanted me and they didn't have a slot for the time I needed to chat. Sometimes, everyone needs to go back to their corner to regroup. We'll do just that.

For now, our morning tour around the division:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Thursday, we broached the topic of whether the Chicago Bears would retire the number of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. As it turns out, the team is dealing with a backlog on that issue.

Almost a half-century after playing his final game with the team, Mike Ditka will have his No. 89 retired this season, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. (The Bears have since confirmed the report.) As Biggs explains, Ditka has had his ups and downs with the franchise after both his playing career and coaching tenure the latter of which brought the Bears a Super Bowl championship in 1985.

It's the first such gesture by the Bears since 1994.

Modern-day fans might remember Ditka as a coach, but I wonder how many know that he was the No. 5 overall pick of the 1961 draft and went to five Pro Bowls in his first six seasons. He was a two-time All-Pro, still ranks first on the Bears' all-time receiving list for tight ends and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.

Congratulations to Da Coach, who is now an ESPN analyst.

Let's continue our morning tour around the NFC North:
  • Former Bears coach Lovie Smith on Urlacher, via ESPNChicago.com: "[H]is physical play is just a small part of what made Brian great. People knew he called our defense, but his intelligence was never given its just due. His understanding of the game is among the best who has ever played it."
  • Former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon on playing for Bears coach Marc Trestman, via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The big thing for Jay Cutler is just realizing that you have an unbelievable opportunity here to work with a guy who has really had success with quarterbacks. You have to ask yourself, 'Why has he had this success?'"
  • Detroit Lions cornerback Chris Greenwood, who missed his rookie year because of an injury, is ready for his second chance. More from Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • Lions special-teams ace Ashlee Palmer is hoping for an expanded role on defense this season, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Technique development is the first step for Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, according to Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Former Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan has plenty to keep him busy in retirement, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Nick Perry’s rookie season wasn’t a total injury washout, but the Green Bay Packers still can’t say he’s successfully made the transition from a college defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL."
  • Vikings defensive end Jared Allen knows that 2013 could be his final year with the team. Allen, via Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune: "I pray about it. I talk to my wife. And we'll end up going where the good Lord takes us. But I don’t know where that path is headed."
  • Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has an interesting profile of new Vikings punter Jeff Locke, who is an intellect in his own right.

In the middle of a cold January night, the Chicago Bears hit a brilliant home run. Either that, or they struck out wildly. I just don't see much gray area in their decision to hire Marc Trestman as their next head coach, a man who was once a hot coaching candidate but was so thoroughly rejected by NFL teams that he fled to the CFL five years ago.

The Bears were so excited about hiring Trestman as their next head coach that they announced it in a press release issued at 4:07 a.m. local time. His arrival is either a stroke of genius for general manager Phil Emery, who clearly sought an offensive guru for this role, or a classic case of overthinking a process in hopes of finding the perfect candidate in an imperfect world.

There was a time when Trestman was the Mike McCoy of the NFL -- the league's top young offensive assistant with an impressive résumé of success who seemed destined for a head coach's job. That time, quite frankly, was more than two decades ago and predates the teen years of most players on the Bears' roster.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul ChiassonMarc Trestman led the Montreal Alouettes to three appearances in the Grey Cup, including consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010.
Trestman's offenses were explosive and innovative and loved by the quarterbacks who ran them. In recent days, some of those quarterbacks have advanced the cause of a coach they feel was unfairly passed over. We've heard from Rich Gannon and Steve Young, among others. They've spoken of Trestman's work with them, along with his success in developing a long list of other quarterbacks that include Bernie Kosar, Jake Plummer and Scott Mitchell. And Trestman's biggest benefactor might be former Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant, who hired him with the Minnesota Vikings in the mid-1980s.

You would be excused for a double-take after reading those names. Grant retired for good in 1985. Kosar has been out of the NFL for 17 years. Young's last season with Trestman was 1996. Mitchell last played in 2001. Today's NFL players probably view Gannon, the league's MVP in 2002, as a television analyst more than a contemporary.

In an industry in which teams are always looking for the next great head coach, Trestman was passed over repeatedly and without fail. His NFL success dates back to a long-gone era in a fast-moving league.

So in my view, Emery has either plucked a savant with exceptional ability to adapt over time or he has hired a relic based on a profile -- smart, innovative with head-coaching success -- whose window closed a long time ago. As we noted earlier this week, men of Trestman's age (57) almost never get a chance to be a first-time NFL head coach. Fair or not, general managers and owners value recent success and surely connect it to understanding the latest trends in the league.

Trestman's run as an NFL assistant began in 1985 -- when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was 2 years old -- and ended around 2002. His last NFL job, before he returned to the college ranks and later moved to the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, was in 2004. Eight years is a long time to be away from the day-to-day workings of an industry.

To be clear, that alone doesn't make Trestman a bad hire or even over the hill. It means he is unique relative to the way NFL teams have typically done business in recent years, and it's why I think his chances to be a brutal strikeout are just as high as the possibility that he is a monster home run.

Living in Minnesota for the past 13 years, I can't tell you how many people I've heard speak reverentially about Trestman, a native of the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park who played at the University of Minnesota. Those people range from Grant to Gannon to people Trestman went to high school with. They all believe he is a brilliant offensive strategist and quarterback guru, one whose professorial and quiet demeanor perhaps clouded the view of NFL teams who questioned his ability to command a room and lead an entire team. His name has been championed for every head-coach opening the Vikings and the University of Minnesota have had since I've lived here, and yet he has never received serious interest.

In terms of profile, Trestman fits everything you would imagine a general manager such as Emery would want. He has previous success in developing quarterbacks and has the capacity to elevate Cutler's game if the quarterback buys in. His ego is small enough, by all accounts, to trust the front office with all personnel moves. He was humble enough to take a CFL job and good enough to win two Grey Cups in the process.

But any skepticism is completely understandable. That previous NFL success is in many cases decades old, with schemes whose popularity have waned and with quarterbacks who haven't played in a long time. His success in Canada is better than the alternative, but the CFL is undeniably a different game at a lower level of competition with players of dissimilar mindsets than those in the NFL.

Without question, hiring Marc Trestman was a courageous decision. There are plenty of people who consider it brilliant and decades in the making. The bottom line, however, is that most of the NFL rendered its judgment on him -- right or wrong, fair or otherwise -- a long time ago. Are the Bears smarter than everyone else? We'll soon find out.

BBAO: Marc Trestman and Bears?

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
8:40
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Longtime head coach and current Fox broadcaster Jimmy Johnson caused a stir early Friday morning with this tweet:

"Looks like 2 of my guys getting NFL jobs..Chud Cleveland and my QB coach at U Trestman to Chicago"

The Chicago Bears portion of that tweet refers to Marc Trestman, who was with Johnson at the University of Miami in the early 1980's and then spent nearly 20 years as an NFL assistant -- including two stints with the Minnesota Vikings and another with the Detroit Lions. He has spent the past the past five years as the head coach of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and is known as a creative offensive mind.

The Cleveland Browns hired the other coach in that tweet, Rob Chudzinski, late Thursday night. Does that mean the Bears are going to hire Trestman? He was scheduled to interview earlier this week, but I honestly have no confirmation that the Bears have developed a list of finalists, much less zeroed in on a likely hire. At last check, they still had multiple first interviews with other candidates scheduled through the weekend.

At the same time, Johnson remains plugged into the league rumor mill and his thoughts aren't to be dismissed. So we will have to stay tuned on that one.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon backs Trestman's candidacy, reports Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, via ESPN 1000: "The part that hurts the most is the change that happens ... we don't know what the future holds. We don't know what the new coach is going to come in here and how he is going to run things and how he is going to change things. We've known for the last nine seasons how our approach to football is going to be."
  • Green Bay Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby believes his late-season problems have been fixed, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the players in his team's locker room who were sick this week, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Packers got some help from rookie linebacker Terrell Manning last weekend, notes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The Detroit Lions could get some help from offensive lineman Bill Nagy next season after he spent the year on injured reserve. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press explains.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "This is it. This is the offseason we learn if Martin Mayhew is truly clever, or simply an Accidental GM. This is the most important juncture of Mayhew's career, which also makes it the most important of Jim Schwartz's career."
  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz plans to evaluate his own performance this offseason, writes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com projects the Minnesota Vikings' adjusted salary cap totals for 2013.
  • Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was vague about the team's offseason plans during a meeting with reporters Thursday. Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune has more.
  • Spielman on receiver Percy Harvin, via Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Percy was, as any player is, so competitive that they want to play. Mentally you may want to play, but physically you may not be able to play."

Final Word: NFC North

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
1:30
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 17:

Lambeau Field rematch: The season's first game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions was a tense, physical and emotionally-charged Thanksgiving Day affair that included two ejections and eventually ended in a 27-15 Packers victory. The rematch figures to be less intense. The Packers are hoping to become the sixth team in NFL history to win 15 games in the regular season, but they aren't likely to sacrifice their health to do it. It's likely that coach Mike McCarthy will empty his bench at some point, even if most of his regular players start the game. Historically, the Packers have been strong finishers regardless of the circumstances. They have won their final regular-season game for eight consecutive years, the best active streak in the NFL, and are 16-1 in regular-season finales since 1994.

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe Lions will also have to prepare for Matt Flynn for their Week 17 game against the Packers.
Lions positioning: The stakes are simple for the Lions. A victory would be their first in the state of Wisconsin in 20 years, ending the longest streak of consecutive road losses to one opponent in NFL history at 19. It would give them their first 11-victory season since 1991, and would also clinch them the NFC's fifth seed in the playoffs and a first-round matchup at the winner of Sunday night's game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Even if they lose, the Lions would still be the fifth seed if the Atlanta Falcons lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Otherwise, they will be the No. 6 seed and face a trip to play either the New Orleans Saints or the San Francisco 49ers.

Unleash Flynn: McCarthy hasn't said much about his personnel plans for Sunday's game, but he apparently told former NFL quarterback and current broadcaster Rich Gannon that backup Matt Flynn will get at least some action. Starter Aaron Rodgers has suggested that Flynn is ready to compete for another team's starting job, and Flynn could sign elsewhere this offseason as a free agent. But there is a limited amount of regular-season tape to evaluate Flynn on, and none of it is from this season. So that makes whatever time he gets in Sunday's game particularly valuable to his future.

Quarterback issues: The Chicago Bears will start 32-year-old journeyman quarterback Josh McCown at the Metrodome on Sunday, which I suppose is merited after his better-than-expected performance Sunday night against the Packers. But I strongly agree with Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, who wrote this week that the Bears would be ignoring the central flaw of their season by not giving rookie Nathan Enderle extensive playing time. Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie flopped after taking over for injured starter Jay Cutler, sparking what is now a five-game losing streak. Part of developing backup quarterbacks is getting them regular-season playing time. If you can't squeeze a rookie quarterback into a Week 17 game after you've been eliminated from the playoffs, when can you? If Enderle is so ill-prepared that the Bears deem him unfit for even that assignment, they might as well cut their losses with him now.

Vikings stakes: I wonder if Vikings fans are rooting for a victory or loss Sunday against the Bears. A win would allow them to avoid tying the franchise record for most losses in a season (13). They would also circumvent their first winless division record in team history. On the other hand, a loss would give the Vikings a top-three pick in the 2012 draft. A victory could drop them as far as No. 6. One thing is for sure: Everyone will be rooting for the Vikings to get into a goal-line situation. Coach Leslie Frazier has already said he'll give the ball to tight end/H-back Jim Kleinsasser, who will be playing in his final career game.

Packers could help Lions end streak

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
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It's been interesting listening and reading to the NFC playoff scenarios this week. It usually goes something like this: The Detroit Lions can clinch the No. 5 seed with a victory against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

I wonder if everyone realizes how monumental that would be. (And not because of Lions center Dominic Raiola's tongue-in-cheek assessment of Packers fans, either. More below.)

It's been more than 20 years since the Lions last won a game in Wisconsin: A 21-17 victory by a Lions team on its way to a 12-4 season against a Packers team that was nearing the end of a 4-12 campaign. Erik Kramer threw two touchdown passes for the Lions on a 10-degree day, and Mike Tomczak's late touchdown pass to Vince Workman left the Packers four points short.

The Lions' ensuing 19-game losing streak in Green Bay/Milwaukee is the longest against a single opponent in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I think it had a lot to do with the guys they had playing quarterback since 1991 more than anything," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.

Which brings us to Sunday. Packers coach Mike McCarthy hasn't announced his personnel plans, but with the Packers unable to improve their playoff standing, it's hard to imagine that he will play quarterback Aaron Rodgers the entire game. (Former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon tweeted Thursday that he spoke with McCarthy and that people "should expect to see some of" backup Matt Flynn.)

The Lions have a bit more incentive, given the consequences for a fifth seed over a sixth. It makes sense for the Packers to pull back and for the Lions to push full steam ahead. In all likelihood, the game will hang on a matchup between Flynn and Matthew Stafford. Will that be the combination that ends the streak? I doubt the Lions will care.

Related: I doubt it will faze the Packers, but their fans will probably be motivated to see the Lions lose again after reading Raiola's comments made Thursday in Detroit. According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Raiola was asked about the Green Bay "tradition" of mooning the visiting buses when they arrive at Lambeau Field. Raiola: "I get to the stadium too early. I don't see that. But that'd be pretty awesome to see. I don't know if I want to see any of those people naked. They're not in real good shape up there." Later, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, Raiola added: "It looks like they live a simple life. They love the Pack and that's pretty much it."

Judgment Day coming for the Vikings

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
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PonderBruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireChristian Ponder, the Vikings' 2011 first-round pick, made his first start this week.
Two ingredients are mandatory for the success of an NFL franchise.

You need a quarterback to win games and a modern stadium to make money.

And at this moment, it's uncertain whether the Minnesota Vikings have either.

So pardon the dramatics, if you will, but I truly believe the Vikings are entering the most critical time period in their 51-year existence.

During the month, they will find out whether the state of Minnesota will finance a new stadium or risk losing them to another market. And by the end of 2011, the Vikings should have a decent idea whether rookie Christian Ponder is a true franchise quarterback or just the next in a long line of short-term starters.

Check out the chart to your right. Since their inception in 1961, the Vikings have had only three quarterbacks I would consider long-term starters. Fran Tarkenton (13 seasons), Tommy Kramer (seven) and Daunte Culpepper (five) are the only quarterbacks to have been the Vikings' primary starter for more than three seasons.

The Vikings have filled the other 26 years with a mishmash of journeymen (Gary Cuozzo, Wade Wilson and Rich Gannon) and big-time veterans at the end of their careers (Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Randall Cunningham and Jim McMahon). Their hope is that Ponder, 23, will put an end to their annual search for a Band-Aid solution.

If first impressions mean anything, Sunday's debut performance against the Green Bay Packers was encouraging. Ponder threw aggressively downfield; seven of his 13 completions went for at least 15 yards. He was mobile, routinely buying extra time outside the pocket and gaining 31 yards on four scrambles. And he without question brought an energy and confidence to an offense that seemed to be treading water for the season's first six games.

"He took charge with confidence," tailback Adrian Peterson said. "He never seemed rattled. Just very comfortable, which is something I am very excited about. He bounced back from two interceptions and continued to go strong, which says a lot about him as a leader."

Peterson said the difference was "definitely very noticeable" and, as someone who just signed a seven-year contract extension, seemed optimistic about the franchise's future.

Smart Vikings observers know not to overreact to the emotional debut of a quarterback candidate, and there are plenty of unanswered questions about Ponder's long-term viability. After watching him float a few passes to the Packers' secondary, I would rank arm strength atop that list. But the next nine games should give us a good sense of where his career is headed.

If all goes well, Ponder will be the Vikings' quarterback when they open their next stadium. Where that facility will be located, of course, remains a topic of fierce debate both in Minnesota and in the NFL offices.

[+] EnlargeMetrodome
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe Vikings' lease at the Metrodome, their home since 1982, expires in less than four months.
The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires in less than four months -- on Feb. 1, 2012. A top league official has already acknowledged the Vikings would be free to pursue relocation options at that point, and owner Zygi Wilf has said he won't sign a short-term lease extension at the Metrodome without financing approval for a new stadium.

Without a deal in place by Feb. 1, the Vikings could technically move to Los Angeles or another market in time for the 2012 season, provided NFL owners grant approval. That timetable has finally moved a decade-long conundrum to the front burner of Minnesota politics, putting enormous pressure on a resolution -- one way or the other -- before Thanksgiving.

Gov. Mark Dayton has set a Nov. 7 deadline for settling on a project site and plan. Wilf prefers a suburban site for a project that would cost $1.1 billion, but powerful members of the business community are pushing for a site in Minneapolis. After making his recommendation, Dayton will oversee two weeks of debate and public hearings prior to a proposed Nov. 21 special session of the state legislature to vote on the final package.

Anything short of approval at that point almost certainly would push the next round of debate past the expiration of the Vikings' lease.

Would Wilf commence relocation efforts in February? Last week, NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman told 1500ESPN.com: "[T]hey are free to explore their options and from all I know they already could be exploring their options. They do not need clearance from us."

It's more likely that Wilf would put the franchise up for sale under that scenario. Presumably, the new buyer would pursue relocation. In either event, we'll know in a matter of weeks whether that possibility will even exist. Barring an extension of Dayton's pre-holiday deadline, Judgment Day is coming for the Vikings -- both on and off the field.

BBAO: Lions energized after bye

October, 27, 2010
10/27/10
7:35
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Detroit Lions return to action this week to host the Washington Redskins. And make no mistake: The Lions are more optimistic following their bye week than at any point in recent years. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and middle linebacker DeAndre Levy are among those set to return from injuries, and even at 1-5 the Lions are only two games behind the NFC North leaders in the loss column.

Defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch noted the Lions need to play better but believes a week of practice during the bye has put them on the right track.
Vanden Bosch (via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News): "There seems to be more parity this year than I can remember. At 1-5, I don't think anybody around here feels like we've been eliminated. ... Now, we have to play a lot better. We have to play the way we are capable of and start cleaning up a lot of things. I think we've taken a big step [during the bye] in cleaning up some of our mistakes and hopefully we are going to stop beating ourselves."

Before the season is over, the Lions will host the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. As we've written before, the road to the NFC North title will go through Detroit, one way or the other.

Continuing around the NFC North:

BBAO: Getting right to it

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
7:20
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

We've got a big day coming here on the NFC North blog, so let's get straight to our morning roundup:
  • Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith didn't agree Monday when a reporter referred to his defense's coverage as "soft," writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald looks at the struggles of the Bears' defense on third down this preseason.
  • Former NFL quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Rich Gannon aren't ready to panic about Jay Cutler' preseason performance, writes Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune on the Bears: "Where the Bears likely will end up is where they have been in recent years -- somewhere in that no-man's land between 7-9 and 9-7. Their record will depend on injuries, breaks and whether they can clean up some of these issues and develop some of their potential in other areas."
  • The Detroit Lions' depth at middle linebacker remains shaky, write Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • We discussed the likely discipline headed the way of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Lions coach Jim Schwartz, however, wondered if Cleveland Browns linebacker David Veikun should be disciplined for a low hit on quarterback Shaun Hill.
  • Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Barnett has missed twice the number of training camp practices this year as he missed from 2003-08 combined, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • The Packers are going to have to trim their total of eight running backs and tight ends before final cuts, notes the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Rookie defensive end Mike Neal is making an impression on the Packers, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Mark Craig of the Star Tribune: "To the highly untrained eye, Sage Rosenfels looks more accurate, more comfortable and more qualified than Tarvaris Jackson to stand next in line behind a 40-year-old quarterback with leaky pass protection that threatens the greatest streak of longevity in sports history."
  • Vikings kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd doesn't have a touchback this preseason, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin expects to get his starting job back when his injured knee is healed, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Two former Purdue quarterbacks will meet Thursday night at Soldier Field, one at the top of his game and one striving to meet him there.

With 4,100 passing yards this season, New Orleans' Drew Brees has a chance to break Dan Marino's all-time NFL record of 5,084. yards. Chicago's Kyle Orton is enjoying the best season of his career in 2008, but Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times puts the pair in perspective: "Brees is the type of player Orton hopes to become."

The players are different in most every way, but Mulligan points out that they both learned the game in Purdue's wide-open passing offense, one that puts the quarterback's first read on the deep pass and then moves closer to the line of scrimmage. The father of that offense, Purdue coach Joe Tiller, is expected to attend Thursday's game.

Look for a couple of preview posts on this matchup over the next two days as well as an extended postgame analysis Thursday night.

Continuing our morning jaunt through the NFC North:

  • Bears punter Brad Maynard leads the NFL with 32 punts downed inside opponents' 20-yard line, according to Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
  • Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal examines the collateral effect of safety Atari Bigby's lost season on Green Bay's pass defense.
  • Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly faces a March 27 trial in Houston following his July arrest for felony drug possession, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Minnesota center Matt Birk will donate $50,000 as part of Gridiron Greats' annual effort to raise money for disadvantaged former players, writes Mark Craig of the Star Tribune. Birk is sending a letter to players around the league to join in the gesture.
  • Former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon on the Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson: "I think for him the big thing is winning back the trust of the coaching staff and the players." Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has the story.
  • Detroit center Dominic Raiola was still at it Tuesday afternoon, moments before Detroit announced it was fining him $7,500 for an obscene gesture he made to fans at Ford Field. According to John Niyo of the Detroit News, Raiola told Sporting News Radio: "If you're not happy, why are you coming to the game?"
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com is already looking ahead to the 2009 draft: "The Lions are so thin at so many spots that they have the luxury of drafting nearly any position and immediately upgrading the team."

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