NFC North: Spencer Lanning

In which we look ahead to Thursday's much-anticipated four-fecta of Week 4 games to end the NFC North's preseason schedule:

Detroit Lions
Opponent: Buffalo Bills
Location: Ford Field
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Lions coach Jim Schwartz hasn't ruled out the possibility of using healthy starters, but whether quarterback Matthew Stafford will be a part of that group is unknown. Stafford practiced this week after injuring his left hand in Saturday's preseason game at the Oakland Raiders. … Regardless, running back Mikel Leshoure figures to get substantial work in his second NFL game. He's set to serve a two-game suspension to start the regular season, so he'll have plenty of time to rest up. … For better or worse, this game will provide an ample look at the Lions' secondary depth given injuries to Chris Houston (ankle) and Bill Bentley (shoulder).
Focal point: It's not yet clear whether the Lions will use a roster spot on rookie quarterback Kellen Moore or try to get him through waivers and onto their practice squad. Moore was always going to be a developmental player, and the Lions have typically had a No. 3 quarterback under Schwartz. But this could be an opportunity to add depth at another position. Moore could help himself with a strong showing Thursday.

Green Bay Packers
Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs
Location: Lambeau Field
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Starters might play a series before giving way to reserves and players in competition for spots. … The Packers would like to settle soon, if not Thursday night, a number of positions on their defense. Will Jerel Worthy or Mike Daniels be the nickel defensive tackle next to B.J. Raji? Who will start at cornerback in the base? Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields or Casey Hayward? What about at the second safety position in the nickel? Jerron McMillian, M.D. Jennings or Anthony Levine?
Focal point: It would be late at this point to turn back now, but backup quarterback Graham Harrell could give everyone a better feeling about his competency with an even performance Thursday night.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: Houston Texans
Location: Reliant Stadium
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Coach Leslie Frazier has ruled out most starters, including quarterback Christian Ponder. … It's expected that strong-armed McLeod Bethel-Thompson will get the majority of playing time at quarterback. … Someone can still win the punt return job with a strong showing Thursday night, be it Marcus Sherels or rookie Jarius Wright.
Focal point: The third running back on most teams don't get much action, but the Vikings' competition for that job has taken on significant meaning as Adrian Peterson continues his recovery from major knee surgery. It's not yet clear who will open the season behind Peterson and Toby Gerhart. Matt Asiata, Jordan Todman and Lex Hilliard are all in the mix and should get plenty of work Thursday night.

Chicago Bears
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Location: Cleveland Browns Stadium
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Personnel notes:
Most starters are expected to either sit or get minimal playing time. … The Bears will find out how much depth they have, or don't have, at safety as Chris Conte continues to be sidelined by a shoulder injury and backup Brandon Hardin now sits on injured reserve. … There is also a competition going on for the No. 3 running back between Armando Allen and Lorenzo Booker.
Focal point: The Bears failed in an attempt to claim punter Spencer Lanning as insurance against Adam Podlesh's hip flexor. That puts rookie Ryan Quigley in the spotlight Thursday. Can he do enough to replace Podlesh in Week 1 if needed?

BBAO: Ranking NFC North coaches

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
8:30
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

You might have noticed ESPN analyst Herm Edwards' ranking of all 32 NFL coaches Insider. It requires an Insider subscription to view fully, but I can tell you a couple of things about it.

First, Edwards placed coaches in five categories. Two of our coaches -- Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers -- ranked in the second tier, which Edwards called "Elite." Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz placed in the third tier, known as "Ascending," and the Minnesota Vikings' Leslie Frazier is in the fourth tier. The "jury is still out" on Frazier, according to Edwards.

I don't see anything glaringly inaccurate here. McCarthy has won a Super Bowl, but doesn't qualify for a first tier called "Hall of Fame-worthy." The same goes for Smith, who took his team to the Super Bowl in 2006. Schwartz has the Lions moving in the right direction, but his career record remains 18-31. And Frazier, as we've discussed, is entering a crucial year in his career.

Continuing around the NFC North
  • Packers receiver James Jones took a "rookie's mindset" to preparing for and participating in training camp this season, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Dunne: "His career has been a success to date. Jones averages about 600 yards per season, neatly fitting into Green Bay's arsenal. Yet he's also at a crossroads of sorts. Other young players on the offense -- such as [Randall] Cobb and tight end D.J. Williams -- are emerging. And Jones wants more. He told his trainer, Shaun Nunes, his goal is the Pro Bowl."
  • There remains a three-way race to start at cornerback for the Packers, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers seemed to be over getting a shaving-cream pie in the face on Monday. Tuesday, he told reporters that "I can appreciate a good practical joke" and added, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "They've got to understand when they do it to me, it's going to come back probably twice as hard. But good pranks are always appreciated."
  • The Vikings' refusal to seek veteran help at receiver speaks to the long-term plan general manager Rick Spielman is following. Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com explains.
  • The Vikings will be short at safety in their preseason finale, notes Mark Craig of the Star Tribune.
  • Vikings coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged that Brandon Fusco has won the right guard spot, according to Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in a radio interview, via Mlive.com: "We've been thin at running back before, so we kind of have a decent idea of what our game plan can be."
  • The Lions like that new cornerback Kevin Barnes, acquired from the Washington Redskins, can play multiple positions, notes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.
  • Lions left tackle Jeff Backus knows he is a part of the team's present, but not its future, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Bears must decide whether it's necessary to keep veteran Josh McCown as their No. 3 quarterback on their final roster, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Bears tried to claim punter Spencer Lanning on waivers, according to Biggs, but the New York Jets had higher priority and were awarded him. Lanning was with the Bears in training camp last summer and could provide insurance for starter Adam Podlesh, who is dealing with a hip flexor.

 

Cuts are coming! Cuts are coming!

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
2:13
PM ET
NFC North teams will spend the next 30 hours or so paring their rosters from 80 to 53. The cuts could come in waves, so let's set out our plan here at the outset.

If there is a noteworthy or surprising roster move, I'll write about it as soon as possible. If the moves are routine and expected, initially I'll just reference them on the NFC North blog Twitter account.

When everything is official Saturday evening, I'll post a separate analysis on each team's moves. Hopefully all four will be posted by Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.

So far, only one of our teams have announced a move. The Chicago Bears have released 14 players, bringing their roster down to 66. The list included receiver Andy Fantuz, a former CFL player, and punter Spencer Lanning. ESPNChicago.com has the entire list of 14.

Observation deck: Bears-Giants

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
11:24
PM ET
Observations from the Bears 41-13 preseason loss to the New York Giants on "Monday Night Football":

Last October, the Giants slapped 10 sacks on the Chicago Bears.

Monday night, they didn't.

That's probably the most encouraging thing I can say about the Bears loss Monday night at New Meadowlands Stadium. This is not meant as (a total) back-handed compliment. In all sincerity, the Bears' first-team offensive line rebounded nicely from last week's four-sack outing and probably isn't in danger of the kind of shakeup a poor performance in this game could have generated.

[+] EnlargeBears offensive line
AP Photo/Julio CortezChicago's first-team offensive line played into the third quarter, but allowed only one sack.
Tackles J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi were each called for a false start, but I thought Carimi, especially, held his own against Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. The first-team offensive line played into the third quarter but allowed only one sack. Even that instance seemed more the fault of Cutler, who escaped the pocket but then slid to the ground rather than throw the ball away.

Stranger things have happened, but the Bears would be justified in keeping this offensive line together for at least another week. On a night when many people will overreact to a mostly meaningless preseason score, I also think:

1. Receiver Roy Williams needs to get his act together. His drop of Cutler's first third-down pass of the night, inexplicably undetected until Giants coach Tom Coughlin challenged it, was indicative of the performances he's put forth recently in practice. His second third-down opportunity was more difficult but still could have been caught.

Regardless, how much could Cutler possibly trust Williams at this point? And will the Bears keep him in the starting lineup or at least give Earl Bennett more repetitions? There is no doubt about Bennett's connection with Cutler. He targeted Bennett five times, connecting for three catches and 58 yards.

2. BREAKING: Tailback Matt Forte is fast. Forte put his speed on display during the first-quarter screen pass he took across the field and down the left sideline for 42 yards. That's the kind of (dare I say) Marshall Faulk-like open-field running he brings to the Mike Martz offense.

3. Goal-to-go woes. We've chronicled the Bears' ineffectiveness in goal-to-goal situations over the past few years, and it's worth noting two more failures Monday.

In the first quarter, Forte managed 2 yards on first-and-goal at the 7. The Bears wound up throwing on second and third downs before settling for a 23-yard Robbie Gould field goal.

The Bears signed free agent Marion Barber for these kinds of situations, but in the third quarter, Barber failed on three consecutive runs to push the ball into the end zone. The last attempt was on fourth down at the 1-yard line. Barber still runs hard, but nothing requires more power than a goal-line play.

4. A punting competition? The Bears signed free agent Adam Podlesh to a five-year contract worth $10 million, and almost half of that total is scheduled to be paid out in the next 12 months. You don't commit that kind of money to a punter who isn't a lock to make the team, so it was surprising to hear ESPN announcers describe Podlesh's punting battle with Spencer Lanning based on discussions with Bears coaches.

Lanning has had a nice summer, and I wouldn't blame a blocked second-quarter punt on him. But it would be a stunner if Podlesh weren't the Bears' punter to start the season.

5. Devin Hester's night. It was an interesting one, to say the least. He broke open down the right sideline in the first quarter for a 37-yard reception, but it could have gone for a touchdown if Cutler had got it out in front of him a little more. Later on the drive, however, Hester slipped near the goal line and couldn't reach a pass that otherwise would have gone for a score. He finished with three receptions for 46 yards.

6. Giving up 41 points: I know the final score was ugly, but the Bears defense that will spend regular-season games on the field didn't provide too many causes for alarm as far as I was concerned. The Giants offense went three-and-out on its first two possessions. Linebacker Lance Briggs didn't play and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher left after four series. Not much to see here.

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