NFC North: Shaun McDonald
Let's take a look at what tickled your fancy this week. Remember, you can contact me in so many ways it's silly.
First off, there's the mailbag.
Then you've got our ceiling-breaking Facebook page.
We have Twitter for those who tweet.
You can even call me. My direct line is 555-0004.
Now, on with it:
On the aforementioned Facebook page, Zack asks about AccuScore's simulation of 10,000 NFC North seasons with and without Brett Favre. I provided the projected records for each team in both cases, but Zack wanted to know how many division titles each of the four teams won over those 10,000 seasons.
Kevin Seifert: I answered on Facebook but I should probably share the results on the blog itself. Remember, AccuScore created digital profiles of every player and coach in the NFC North and then ran 10,000 "seasons" through is computer based on the actual schedule of each team.
According to AccuScore, here were the results when Favre was the Vikings' quarterback:
- Minnesota won 42 percent of the seasons
- Green Bay won 30 percent
- Chicago won 28 percent
- Detroit won 0 percent.
- Green Bay won 34 percent of the seasons
- Minnesota won 34 percent
- Chicago won 32 percent
- Detroit won 0 percent
That's right. The fellas at AccuScore didn't have the Lions winning the NFC North title in any of the 20,000 total simulations run. I guess there's always next year.
Justin of Los Angeles writes: Kevin, in all the Chicago wide receiver talk, one name I haven't heard is Brandon Rideau. He was great last preseason and probably should've made the roster. He's now in his second year. He knows the system as well as Earl Bennett and is more talented than Rashied Davis. Yet he is getting NO publicity. Are the Bears even considering this guy? I think he is a major sleeper.
Kevin Seifert: Rideau has certainly been a fan favorite since the preseason last summer, but you're right, there hasn't been much buzz about him this spring. If anything, he's been overshadowed by the sheer number of young receivers the Bears are trying to get a look at.
If anyone created a spring buzz, it was rookie Johnny Knox. I didn't witness any of the Bears' organized team activities. But those who did, including Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, report that Knox caught some eyes with his blazing 4.3 speed. Things could change once the pads come on, but it seems Knox got a lot of the same kind of attention Rideau did last year.
Zack of Kansas City writes: Your post about choosing the top ten building blocks from the division got me thinking: What about the coaches? So, what's your NFC North dream team of coaches look like? For me, I start by putting Lovie Smith at D-coordinator. Offensive coordinator: Joe Philbin. D-line: Rod Marinelli. O-line: Pat Morris. Special Teams: Dave Toub. I'm not partial to any of the head coaches, but if I have to chose, it's Mike McCarthy.
Kevin Seifert: Wow, interesting question. Maybe it's something I should consider for a future post. Nah, let's do it here. One rule I'll establish: A coach's current job description can't change. So, no picking Lovie Smith for defensive coordinator. OK, here's my first-blush list, subject to change. I'm leaving a few blank pending further thought and your feedback. I'll expand and explain during a post next week.
Head coach: Lovie Smith (CHI)
Offensive coordinator: Scott Linehan (DET)
Quarterbacks: Tom Clements (GB)
Running backs: Eric Bieniemy (MIN)
Wide receivers: Jimmy Robinson (GB)
Offensive line: TBD
Defensive coordinator: Leslie Frazier (MIN)
Defensive line: Rod Marinelli (CHI)
Linebackers: Fred Pagac (MIN)
Special teams: Dave Toub (CHI)
Joseph of High Point, N.C. writes: How do the Packers look at the Favre situation with Minnesota in regards to the charges of tampering last year? It seems very apparent (last year as well) that by the rules of the NFL, Minnesota should be guilty of tampering.
Kevin Seifert: I think the Packers want that whole episode behind them, so I'm not sure they would pursue tampering charges. But your question brings up an interesting conspiracy theory that we might never get resolved. (It's the only one of our five questions that Joe Buck didn't ask Brett Favre last Monday night.) Namely: Did Favre follow an elaborate pre-meditated scheme to get to the Vikings against the Packers' wishes?
As you might recall, over the winter we discussed the seemingly preposterous path Favre would need to follow to make himself eligible to sign with the Vikings. As the 2008 season ended, he was still under contract with the New York Jets, and the Jets remained under the terms of "poison pill" trade language that would have required them to send multiple first-round picks to the Packers if they ever traded Favre to an NFC North team.
So the only way for Favre to get to Minnesota was to somehow get out of his contract. Given the Jets' investment in him, it was unlikely they would simply release him with no return. I thought he might have to force the Jets' hand by threatening to file for reinstatement, backed by a salary cap figure that was too large for the Jets to handle.
Instead, the Jets drafted his replacement in April and then granted Favre's request to be released from his contract. That move made Favre a free agent.
As for tampering, the question would be whether Favre had contact with the Vikings before he was released. Did he seek that release because he knew the Vikings wanted to sign him? For me, however, the juicier question is whether Favre retired in February not because he thought he was finished playing, but because he hoped the Jets would move on wi
thout him and eventually consent to an enabling release.
Short of mind-reading, I don't know if we'll ever know the full answer. But it's the kind of thing that keeps we conspiracy theorists in business.
Rob of Winnipeg writes: Can you tell me why the Lions felt they needed to get rid of Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey? I know their numbers were way down, but other than Calvin Johnson, everybody's numbers were way down. Was it a locker room thing or was this just a move to make this Calvin Johnson's team?
Kevin Seifert: Both players had ties to former offensive coordinator Mike Martz and were probably best suited for his kind of passing offense, which the Lions dumped two years ago. Furrey spent a good part of last year at odds with the team over his health, and his fate seemed sealed when the Lions placed him on injured reserve.
McDonald has signed with Pittsburgh and could still be a productive player. But I think he got caught up in the team's desire to move on from its past. The Lions also seem interested in adding size at receiver. McDonald, at 5-10 is significantly smaller than newcomers Bryant Johnson (6-3) and Ronald Curry (6-2).
Wrapping up our early offseason analysis of the NFC North:
Detroit Lions offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 0-16
- Coaching changes: Rod Marinelli fired and replaced by Jim Schwartz. Gunther Cunningham is the new defensive coordinator. Scott Linehan will be the new offensive coordinator. The team has announced no other additions, and the fate of much of Marinelli's former staff has yet to be decided.
- Salary cap status: $26.8 million before end-of-year adjustments and credits.
- Exclusive rights free agent: Defensive back Ramzee Robinson
- Key unrestricted free agents: Running back Aveion Cason, defensive lineman Shaun Cody, receiver Keary Colbert, offensive lineman George Foster, placekicker Jason Hanson, running back Rudi Johnson, linebacker Paris Lenon, receiver Shaun McDonald, linebacker Ryan Nece, fullback Moran Norris, quarterback Dan Orlovsky, guard Stephen Peterman.
- Free agent comment: Hanson is the Lions' biggest decision among the free agent group. There have been reports that he is bound by a grandfathered franchise tag. The Lions have not confirmed that. But in either event, they will have to decide whether to pay him a premium salary after a lights-out 2008 season. The sheer number of free agents the Lions have speaks to the roster overhaul they could effect if desired.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Size in the interior defensive line; (2) A playmaking linebacker; (3) Upgrade at both guard positions.
Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the delicate topic brought forth by Tuesday's Pro Bowl selection announcement: Despite strong popularity with fans, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher is no longer regarded as a top middle linebacker by his peers in the league.
Urlacher finished second in fan voting among NFC middle linebackers, which counts one-third of a player's total vote. The other two-thirds comes from other players and coaches. While we don't know where Urlacher ranked in those votes, it was low enough to finish the overall voting as the NFC's third alternate.
But it is also possible, likely even, that Urlacher is simply reaping the reasoned deflationary status he deserves -- and maybe has deserved -- as a highly hyped and highly paid poster boy in the historic City of Middle Linebackers. Though he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 after being snatched out of New Mexico by the Bears in the first round of the draft, Urlacher almost immediately made some folks feel he was being overly promoted because he held down the sacred spot once worked by legendary Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary.
Urlacher has had a solid season in 2008, but you need more than solid from a middle linebacker in a Tampa-2 system -- especially when your contract was upgraded by $18 million this summer. Urlacher has always been about making big plays, but this season he has two interceptions, no forced fumbles and no sacks. Outside linebacker Lance Briggs, the Bears' lone Pro Bowl selection, has nearly 40 more tackles than him.
Is it time for the Bears to start a search for a new middle linebacker? Telander:
Every year, a fresh crop of young savages comes out of our colleges, lurching toward the NFL like zombies smelling blood. One day soon, the Bears will be looking at an Urlacher replacement. It is time to see a re-emergence of this city icon, a final late surge, guided perhaps by offseason frenzy from the potential Hall of Fame man in the middle. Either Urlacher does that, or the Pro Bowl kid from the high desert drifts into the sunset.
Continuing around the NFC North on a Wednesday morning:
- Briggs on his status as the Bears' top defensive player: "I do feel like ... obviously after four Pro Bowls, I'm definitely a big piece of what we do. Whether it's my defense or whose defense it is, that's not necessarily for me to decide right now. I do think that my role, as far as what we do, is definitely bigger." Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has the story.
- Bears tailback Matt Forte isn't worried about his injured right big toe, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
- Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson said Tuesday it is "disappointing" that the Packers defense hasn't played better considering its talent level. Woodson and safety Nick Collins were named to the Pro Bowl. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has details.
- Collins was at an ultrasound appointment with his wife when he learned the news, writes Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Minnesota linebacker Ben Leber has stepped up in the absence of E.J. Henderson, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
- Receiver Bobby Wade has been the Vikings' leading receiver since joining the team in 2007, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Detroit placed three more players on injured reserve Tuesday: Receiver Shaun McDonald (ankle), safety Dwight Smith (ankle) and cornerback Keith Smith (groin). John Niyo of the Detroit News has details.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com to the Lions fans base: "I firmly believe that once you start rooting for your team to lose, you're no longer a fan."
A look at important injuries for the three NFC North teams with games this weekend:
The Lions placed defensive tackle Cory Redding on season-ending injured reserve. Langston Moore re-joined the team as his replacement. Receiver Shaun McDonald (ankle) also won't play Sunday at Indianapolis. Defensive end DeWayne White (calf) is expected to play, according to defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Cornerbacks Leigh Bodden (groin) and Keith Smith (groin) will have their status determined Sunday morning.
Safety Atari Bigby (ankle) is out, leaving Charles Woodson to start his third consecutive game at safety. Fullback Korey Hall (knee) is doubtful and not expected to play Sunday at Jacksonville. Defensive tackle Justin Harrell returned to practice Friday but is questionable because of a sore hip. His status might not be clear until Sunday morning. Linebacker Brandon Chillar (groin) is probable and expected to play.
Quarterback Gus Frerotte (back) and right tackle Artis Hicks (elbow) are doubtful and aren't expected to play Sunday at Arizona. Tarvaris Jackson and Ryan Cook, respectively, will replace them. Rookie kick returner Darius Reynaud (toe) has been ruled out as well. Defensive end Jared Allen (knee) returned to practice Friday and should start.
DETROIT -- Greetings from a hushed Ford Field. We have a few of lineup changes to bring you as players start warming up:
- Artis Hicks will return as Minnesota's right tackle this week. Backup Ryan Cook is active but won't start. Anthony Herrera, whose status was uncertain following the death of his brother, will start at right guard.
- Detroit receiver John Standeford will replace Shaun McDonald in the starting lineup. McDonald is inactive Sunday.
- Ikaika Alama-Francis will start in place of rookie Andre Fluellen at left end.
- Kalvin Pearson will start in place of Dwight Smith at free safety.
Catching up on some news around the NFC North on Thursday evening:
Chicago: Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye and defensive tackle Anthony Adams missed practice for the second consecutive day Thursday. As Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune points out, the Bears already are thin along the defensive line after a season-ending arm injury to nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek. You would expect to see Mark Anderson and rookie Marcus Harrison get any playing time vacated by Ogunleye and Adams, respectively.
Detroit: Sunday's game against Minnesota will be blacked out on local television, the Lions' fourth blackout of the season. ... The Lions are getting short on receivers. They placed Mike Furrey on injured reserve earlier this week, and Shaun McDonald suffered an ankle injury Wednesday in practice. It seems likely that Keary Colbert, who signed earlier this week, will be active and play a prominent role. ... The starting defensive ends Sunday will be rookies Cliff Avril and Andre Fluellen.
Green Bay: Center Scott Wells hasn't practiced this week because of a concussion he suffered last Sunday against Carolina. But coach Mike McCarthy told reporters he anticipated Wells being cleared on Friday. Barring a setback, that means Wells will play Sunday against Houston. ... The team promoted linebacker Spencer Havner from the practice squad after Chicago tried to sign him Thursday, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
|Kevin Terrell/Getty Images|
|Wide receivers Calvin Johnson (81) and Roy Williams (11) will be happier with a balanced offensive attack in Detroit.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Calvin Johnson nodded his head vigorously. Roy Williams brought up the subject before we could ask. Yes, in a twist of intuitive irony, the Detroit Lions' big-time receivers couldn't be happier about the team's decision to re-emphasize the running game this season.
More than anything, Lions coach Rod Marinelli envisions the shift as a vehicle for toughening his team. But a natural by-product, both receivers said, should be more opportunities for big plays in the passing game. If all goes well, Williams figures the change will help he and Johnson form one of the top-three receiving duos in the NFL.
"My thing this whole preseason is just for us to run the football," Williams said by phone this week. "I just want us to get that ground game established so we can finally pull the safeties down into the box and give us some chances. In recent years, nobody has ever done that because we couldn't run the ball. That wears on you."
Yes, Williams faced more than his share of double teams in two years under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Things fell far out of balance last season, when the Lions attempted the fewest number of running plays (324) in the NFL while throwing the fourth-most passes (587). That combination made them easy to defend despite the gaudy passing numbers Martz's offense produced.
Even with 4,216 passing yards last season, the Lions ranked 16th among NFL teams in points per game (21.6) and 19th in total yards per game (322.9) Neither Williams nor Johnson so much as led the team in receiving, as opponents paid them premium attention while taking their chances with Shaun McDonald (79 receptions) and Mike Furrey (61).
Had a nice chat Friday night with Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf before his team's preseason opener at the Metrodome. Wilf committed some $70 million in guaranteed money during the Vikings' preseason shopping spree, and he was eager to see the first game action of the summer.
Although some might view the Vikings' moves as a quick-fix approach to building a contender, Wilf's philosophy has been to focus on winning now and in the future. He has charged Rick Spielman, vice president of player personnel, with assembling personnel behind the current veteran base to provide seamless transition of talent.
I didn't bother asking Wilf about the elephant in his suite: The Vikings' long-running, and still-unsolved, quest for a new stadium. Wilf and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission are revising a proposal for downtown Minneapolis that was once priced at $954 million. They hope to bring it before the Minnesota state legislature in 2009 -- but the Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires in 2011 and they are on most observers' short list for relocation to Los Angeles.
Wilf de-leveraged himself soon after buying the team in 2005 by saying he would never move it. He continues to follow that rhetorical path, and is instead relying on Minnesota state leaders to salvage a community asset before the NFL steps in and forces his hand.
In an extended profile of Wilf in Sunday's Star Tribune, reporter Judd Zulgad broached the topic. Wilf repeated his mantra: "I'm not considering moving [the team.] I'm not considering selling it."
In other, somewhat lighter news around the NFC North:
- The Vikings are giving a long look to their last link of the 2005 trade that sent receiver Randy Moss to Oakland. Sixth round draft choice Jaymar Johnson is working as a punt returner and receiver. The Vikings received the pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for receiver Troy Williamson, whom the Vikings originally drafted in 2005 with one of the two draft picks they received from the Raiders for Moss. (English majors, go ahead and diagram that sentence.)
- In a Q&A with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said he didn't anticipate signing a veteran quarterback to back up starter Aaron Rodgers. Currently, Rodgers' backups are rookies Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn. "We feel pretty comfortable where we are," Thompson said. "And I understand the risk involved. But our coaches like our guys."
- The Chicago Bears hadn't changed the configuration of their offensive line in time for practice Saturday night. In the wake of presumptive left tackle Chris Williams' back surgery, the Bears kept John Tait at right tackle and John St. Clair on the left side. There has been some discussion of moving Tait back to left tackle.
- Tom Kowalski of MLive.com cleans up some pending roster moves for the Detroit Lions: Cornerback Stanley Wilson will miss the season because of a torn Achilles tendon. Placekicker Jason Hanson will rest his strained left leg for at least a week, leaving kicking duties to Dave Rayner. The Lions also plan to remove tight end Dan Campbell and receiver Shaun McDonald from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Monday.