NFC North: Tatum Bell
At least the Detroit Lions are having a little fun. (Or at least, an ex-Lion. We understand that's a big distinction).
Former Lions receiver Roy Williams, traded earlier this month to Dallas, returned to Detroit on Monday to attend the team's annual Halloween party/charity fundraiser. How was he dressed? As former Lions running back Tatum Bell, who was involved in the well-documented disappearance of tailback Rudi Johnson's bags during the preseason.
If you recall, Bell said he grabbed the bags after mistaking them for those of another former teammate -- whom Bell had agreed to deliver to a local friend's house. Playing off that story, Williams wore a bellhop uniform to the event (with a "T. Bell" nametag in case someone missed the joke), and a pair of boxer shorts with "Rudi" on the front and "Johnson 32" on the back, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
UPDATE: Thanks to reader Taha for forwarding us the link to some video of the party.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Chicago linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer had surgery last week on his thumb, reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Hillenmeyer didn't practice Monday and his status for Sunday's game is uncertain. Nick Roach would replace him in the starting lineup if necessary.
- Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Bears legend William "The Refrigerator" Perry, who is in a wheelchair while he rehabilitates from a bout with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Perry was hospitalized for five months with the illness, which causes extreme weakness and numbness in the extremities.
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune writes that Brad Childress is "in the biggest week of his three-season tenure as Vikings coach." A home loss to Houston would drop the Minnesota to 3-5. That record, combined with the prospect of losing defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams thereafter, could scuttle Childress' tenure, according to Reusse.
- Ah, here's the reason: Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said he hasn't dropped a pass since changing the style of gloves he wears during games. Shiancoe's new gloves have no webbing between the fingers, according to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Newsflash: For the first time this season, Green Bay could have all five of its receivers healthy for a game. That's assuming James Jones (knee) is ready to play Sunday at Tennessee. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette assesses the situation. "It's a great package," receiver Donald Driver said. "If we ran it, there's no five [defensive backs] in the National Football League that can stop us."
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he "definitely" feels better after resting his sore throwing shoulder during the bye week, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
We can't claim to have noticed in the postgame madness Monday night at Lambeau Field, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviewed video and reported Tuesday that the head coaches never shook hands.
According to the report, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy made it to midfield but couldn't find Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress. McCarthy eventually shook the hand of a Vikings assistant coach and headed to the locker room.
According to the Journal Sentinel, Childress was speaking with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson at the time. McCarthy told the paper he and Childress exchanged phone calls Tuesday and there were no hard feelings.
Conspiracy theorists might connect the oversight with the emotions developed over a summer of Brett Favre-related acrimony. Childress' meeting with reporters Monday came before the Journal Sentinel published its report.
The rematch is Nov. 9 at the Metrodome.
Continuing a Wednesday stroll through the NFC North:
- Packers running back Ryan Grant played with a "very sore" hamstring Monday night. The game represented Grant's first extended playing time since the NFC Championship Game in January. He didn't play after a 57-yard run in the fourth quarter, but McCarthy said the team was just being cautious.
- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen gave Packers left tackle Chad Clifton plenty of credit for his quiet performance Monday night. "He does a great job of getting you to rush down the middle on him," Allen said.
- As of Tuesday, the Detroit Lions had 4,500 tickets remaining for their home opener Sunday against the Packers. The deadline for avoiding a blackout is Thursday at 1 p.m. ET. An extension is always possible.
- The Detroit Free Press spoke with the woman involved in the Tatum Bell bag caper. She provided a third and somewhat contradictory account of the incident. The beat goes on.
- The Lions should consider firing coach Rod Marinelli if he loses Sunday to the Packers, writes Drew Sharp of the Free Press. Talk about hitting the panic button.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune combed through Bears history to find examples of an unexpected result in Week 1. On the three occasions that the Bears won in an upset, they finished the season with a losing record each time.
The Tatum Bell story has snaked into its second week of drama.
Tuesday, DeGrate himself told the Detroit Free Press: "I had nothing to do with it."
Bell has admitted to taking the bags from the Lions locker room last week after he was released, but he has told numerous media outlets that he believed the bags were DeGrate's. According to Bell's account, DeGrate had asked him to pick up his bags and drop them off with a female acquaintance.
Johnson has said he doesn't believe the story, and DeGrate refuted the account as well.
"The way I just figure, he got caught up in a jam and that was the best thing going at the time, was to say what he said," DeGrate told the Free Press.
We're not really sure where this story can go from here. Bell has made his case aggressively, but so far no one has stepped forward to corroborate. No one is pressing charges, so there isn't likely to be any legal ramifications. Ultimately, Bell will have to convince another NFL team that he is innocent, or is he going to have a hard time extending his career.
APPLETON, Wis. -- We're packing up here in Wisconsin while also working on an extended post set to publish later in the day. In the meantime, let's take a quick spin around the NFC North now that Green Bay's 24-19 victory over Minnesota has established a hierarchy in the division:
- After watching Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers lead Green Bay to victory, Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal wrote: "Rodgers showed that the Packers still have the best quarterback in the NFC North." Faint praise, but it's accurate -- after Week 1, at least.
- Rodgers resisted baiting techniques from the Vikings' secondary, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen called his performance "one of the least productive games I've had in my life," according to the Star Tribune.
- Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press appreciated Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's honesty in explaining his mistakes Monday night. "Accountability is good," Powers wrote. "Not screwing up in the first place is better."
- Chicago running back Matt Forte said Monday he "pretty much" met his goals by rushing for 123 yards in his debut Sunday night at Indianapolis, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Chicago players were entitled to crow about their victory, according to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
- Lions center Dominic Raiola to Detroit reporters Monday: "I hope this loss humbled the locker room." Raiola believes the Lions might have gotten ahead of their hype.
- The mother of former Lions defensive end Victor DeGrate told the Detroit News her son had nothing to do with the disappearance of running back Rudi Johnson's bags. Former Lions running back Tatum Bell has said he took the bags because he thought they were DeGrate's.
Tatum Bell found himself talking in circles as he spoke via telephone Thursday morning.
He knows the contents of the bags -- $200, credit cards and clothes -- are missing.
He knows Johnson, a prominent and respected veteran player, has publicly accused him of stealing the contents and that the Lions have done nothing to counter Johnson's claims.
And Bell knows that no NFL team is interested in signing an accused thief. But every time he tells his version of the story -- which, he says, neither Johnson nor the Lions have been willing to hear -- he casts doubt on a friend and former teammate. (Bell believed the bags belonged to former Lions defensive end Victor DeGrate, who had asked Bell to pick them up and bring them to a female acquaintance. He said he was not aware they were Johnson's bags until the Lions called him Tuesday night.)
"I want to defend myself," Bell said, "but every time I do, it's like I'm throwing Victor under the bus and I don't want to do that. So I'm almost like, 'I've got to stop bringing his name into it.' But that's what happened. I'm not lying. And right now, everyone's putting it out there that I'm a thief. They're acting like I got released, and I was mad, so I took the bags of the guy they brought in behind me.
"But it's not true, and that's what's hurting me so much right now. I woke up this morning and I pretty much don't know what to do about it anymore. It's frustrating."
For Bell, the worst consequence of his predicament is that the phone is silent. Several teams expressed preliminary interest in him earlier this week. (According to Bell, the Houston Texans were one of them.) But since the story broke, his agent hasn't heard from anyone.
"I'm very, very concerned that this is my career here," Bell said. "The teams that were interested before, they've already got players for that role now. And as long as it's out there that I'm a thief, it's going to be hard. I guess I need to go to Plan B, which is just to find a way to take care of my family."
As we posted Wednesday, it's not our place to take sides in this story. But we did ask Bell to flesh out his account, especially why he assumed the bags were DeGrate's.
Bell said that DeGrate told him he left his bags in the players lounge of the Lions' locker room. When Bell went to look for them Monday, he saw two bags sitting by a set of computers -- "three or four steps away" from the lounge, Bell said. There were no other bags in the area. He picked them up, left the facility and dropped them off with the woman.
"They weren't in anybody's locker or anything," Bell said. "I saw two bags on the ground and I never thought twice about it. Now, I just hate that I even did it. Victor is a friend of mine and I was doing what he asked me to do. I should never have even picked them up. But it's too late for that. I've tried to reach out to Rudi to tell him that, but I guess he's not interested."
Will this incident leave Bell effectively blackballed from the NFL? His best hope is for the contents of Johnson's bag to turn up with someone else -- and for Johnson to exonerate him publicly.
"If I was in his shoes, I'd be upset, too," Bell said of Johnson. "But that's why I'm trying to explain to him what happened. He doesn't want to hear it, and so I don't know where to go from here."
It's a good thing we're a little slow on the uptake today. (Long story.)
We were halfway through a post suggesting that former Detroit running back Tatum Bell was either the most naïve or the most brazen NFL player we had ever heard of. How else could you have explained his broad-daylight swipe of Rudi Johnson's bags Tuesday from the Lions' locker room, an incident the Lions' security staff captured on video?
NFL practice facilities are more secure than your local bank. Surveillance cameras, locked doors and 10-foot-high fences are standard. Teams usually provide an escort to all visitors. Player entrances are as obscure as a presidential hideout, and even the FedEx guy is viewed with suspicion.
A five-year veteran, Bell would have to know that someone is always watching when you're in an NFL locker room. We couldn't understand how a rational person could be so brazen. But thanks to the Detroit Free Press, we now have what is at least a reasonable explanation, one with enough details that it could be checked out pretty easily.
According to the Free Press, Bell said he had agreed to pick up two bags for ex-Lions defensive end Victor DeGrate, who was released Saturday. Bell said he saw two bags sitting on the floor, assumed they were DeGrate's and grabbed them. He denied opening the bags, let alone taking anything from them.
Bell dropped the bags off with a female friend of DeGrate's. The woman returned the bags to the Lions on Wednesday morning, but they were empty. Johnson is still missing $200, his identification, credit cards and clothes.
Plenty of questions remain. What made Bell think the bags were DeGrate's? Where are Johnson's belongings? And what kind of an omen is it for Johnson that he was cleaned out on his first official day with the Lions?
Johnson has made clear he isn't buying Bell's story. It's not up to us to take a side one way or the other, and in fact the Lions might be the biggest loser in the deal. This incident is the kind of flashy, transcendent story that figures to dominate public attention for at least a couple of news cycles.
Instead of talking about a 4-0 preseason, their explosive pair of wide receivers and a very winnable game Sunday at Atlanta, the Lions are addressing a possible player-on-player crime. I think we have an early nomination for next season's "Hard Knocks" series. You can't find better reality TV than this.
Even if running back Rudi Johnson is 80 percent of his former self, the Detroit Lions improved themselves Monday by adding him to their backfield. (Presumably, he will replace Tatum Bell as the No. 2 back behind starter Kevin Smith, but the Lions don't have to make a corresponding roster move until Tuesday.)
Johnson hasn't played all preseason, so we're not completely sure how encumbered he is by a hamstring injury. But we do know his style is a good fit for a head coach who wants to shove it down opponents' throats this season. Coach Rod Marinelli has two of the best receivers in the game in Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson, but he believes it's critical to elevate his team's toughness through the running game.
Johnson is listed at 225 pounds but is probably closer to 235 or 240 these days. He will give the Lions a punishing style that, frankly, Bell lacked. He'll also serve as a strong role model for Smith, an impressionable rookie.
Players acquired on Labor Day always come with pros and cons, but in this case, Johnson's pros have made the Lions a better team.
Sometimes a player's best attribute is his name. If you're a Detroit Lions fan, and you hear that your team is working out running back Rudi Johnson -- one of the AFC's top running backs in recent years -- you naturally are going to get excited. It makes you feel like your team is serious about winning and that it won't sit pat if it believes there is a way to improve.
As recently as 2006, Rudi Johnson was a 1,300-yard runner. And even though injuries dropped his production considerably last season, he still sounds like an improvement over Tatum Bell as the primary backup to rookie Kevin Smith.
In reality, Johnson is an almost completely unknown quantity. A hamstring injury sidelined him for much of this summer, and he reportedly entered training camp at least 10 pounds heavier than the Cincinnati Bengals wanted him. He did not play in the preseason and, let's face it, at 28 -- and with 1,441 career carries -- Johnson is statistically past his prime in running back terms.
The good thing is Johnson would not be asked to carry the full load for the Lions. Smith is expected to start, and whether Bell remains with the team, the Lions also claimed a promising rookie in Marcus Thomas over the weekend.
From this vantage point, signing Johnson seems to be a low-risk, potentially high-reward move for the Lions. They are serious about running the ball this season, and if he is healthy enough to play -- something the Lions will find out Monday during a workout and physical -- Johnson could contribute to their success while mentoring Smith. Lions fans could probably live with that.
Elsewhere around the NFC North on this last day of summer (in our book):
- Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Scott Hunter, who replaced Hall of Famer Bart Starr in 1972, empathizes with current Packer starter Aaron Rodgers, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has some advice for Brett Favre: Let it go. Favre, traded to the New York Jets last month, continued his criticism of general manager Ted Thompson last week.
- The Chicago Bears are still trying to sign free agent offensive lineman Fred Miller, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison will back up Pro Bowler Jared Allen this season, but he still thinks he will play enough to get 10 sacks this season, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
How serious are the Detroit Lions about improving their running game?
According to multiple reports in Detroit, the Lions are hosting former Cincinnati running back Rudi Johnson on a visit. Johnson arrived Sunday night in Detroit and is scheduled to take a physical and work out with the Lions on Monday.
It's not clear if Johnson has other options he intends to pursue as well. But as with free agency in the offseason, a player's first visit usually is pretty important. The Lions' original 53-man roster included only two tailbacks - Kevin Smith and Tatum Bell - but they were awarded rookie Marcus Thomas on waivers Sunday.
Johnson, who is entering his eighth season, was a 1,000-yard rusher as recently as 2006 but has since struggled with injury problems. A hamstring injury slowed him during training camp with the Bengals, and he was released Saturday.
He probably is past his prime as an everydown runner, but Johnson would represent an improvement over Bell as a backup to Smith. The Lions plan to run with frequency this season, and they'll need as many pairs of fresh -- and competent legs -- they can get.
We'll use the blog today as a clearinghouse for all NFC North practice squad news. (Wow. There's a sentence you might not have read before.)
We expect teams to announce their lists throughout the day Sunday, so check back this afternoon and evening.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
- WR Jake Allen
- C Brennen Carvalho
- TE Joey Haynos
- LB Danny Lansanah
- DT Alfred Malone
- CB Joe Porter
- WR Brett Swain
- RB DeShawn Wynn
Of note: The Packers released Wynn during the first round of roster cuts, but he did start four games last season and gives them an excellent internal insurance policy should an injury occur elsewhere. Haynos is an interesting physical prospect at 6-foot-8 and should at least give the Packers' defense a good look on the scout team.
- LB Darnell Bing
- OL Matt Butler
- RB Allen Ervin
- WR Eric Fowler
- QB Drew Henson
- S LaMarcus Hicks
- WR Kenneth Moore
Of note: The Lions made two other roster moves, signing linebacker Ryan Nece and claiming runing back Marcus Thomas off waivers. Thomas, a fifth-round pick of San Diego this year, gives the Lions a third tailback behind Kevin Smith and Tatum Bell. To make room for Nece and Thomas, the Lions released linebacker Anthony Cannon and fullback/tight end Sean McHugh.
You can view the Lions' full list of roster moves here.
Biggest surprise: There were no stunners, although the list of departures did include veteran cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas and running back Artose Pinner. In fact, the Lions kept only two tailbacks -- Kevin Smith and Tatum Bell -- after cutting Pinner and placing Brian Calhoun and Aveion Cason on injured reserve. Rookie fullback Jerome Felton could work at tailback, if needed. How committed are the Lions to the run? For now, they are keeping only four receivers.
No-brainers: Linebacker Buster Davis might have tried a little too hard to make the team, hitting harder then necessary during practice and upsetting several teammates and coaches. Quarterback Drew Henson's stay was destined to be short-lived -- the Lions will keep a roster spot for injured quarterback Drew Stanton instead.
What's next: Henson could conceivably end up on the practice squad if the Lions want a scout team quarterback for practice in Stanton's absence. And you have to wonder whether coach Rod Marinelli really will feel comfortable with two true tailbacks and four receivers heading into the regular season. Is he simply waiting to see if anything better is out there?
We shut things down Thursday night at halftime of the Chicago Bears' third preseason game. But it appears their defense fared no better at the start of the third quarter in a 37-30 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
After a first half in which they allowed 248 yards, the Bears gave up a 62-yard drive to struggling 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Overall, Chicago surrendered 425 yards, including 160 on the ground during a wholly uninspiring night for its defense.
Here's what defensive coordinator Bob Babich said about the display, according to the Chicago Sun-Times:
"Yeah, I'm very disappointed. We're very disappointed in our play tonight. We are a very good defense. We are going to be a dominant defense. We just need to make sure when we go out and play that we play at that level. We need to make sure the guys are in the right spots, and that all starts with me."
The poor defensive showing, however, didn't totally overshadow a promising start from quarterback Kyle Orton three days after he was named the Bears' permanent starter. Orton completed 10 of 17 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, including a nicely-placed 21-yard strike to receiver Rashied Davis.
Here's how Chicago Tribune beat writer David Haugh put it: "As many questions as the defense raised, Orton answered a bigger one in a convincing manner."
Elsewhere around the NFC North:
- Green Bay Packers safety Aaron Rouse, whose 6-foot-4 frame makes him a pretty scary defensive back, will be relegated to special teams status again this season, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal offers a Packers roster analysis. Among those he considers on the bubble: Running backs Vernand Morency and Noah Herron, tight end Tory Humphrey, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, defensive tackle Justin Harrell and cornerback Jarrett Bush.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com provides a similar analysis on the Detroit Lions. His bubble players include running back Tatum Bell, right tackle George Foster and linebacker Buster Davis.
- Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress on how he is handling quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's knee injury: "I do not want to insinuate with him that he's not a tough guy or has to play injured. He has to be able to have some of his faculties. He's got to be able to protect himself."
- Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian is expected to play Saturday night against Pittsburgh after missing the team's last preseason game because of turf toe.
|Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images|
|Tatum Bell was unhappy with his role in the Lions' offense in 2007.|
In a story published Wednesday in the Detroit News, Bell reiterated his distaste for Martz and his offense. And although he appears to have fallen behind rookie Kevin Smith -- and possibly veteran Artose Pinner -- on the Lions' depth chart, Bell said his underwhelming preseason performance is not all his fault.
According to Bell, the Lions -- and Martz in particular -- never gave an explanation for why he received 15 carries in the season opener against Oakland (he rushed for 87 yards) and only 29 carries thereafter before he was essentially benched for the season.
Here's what Bell said in Wednesday's News:
"I am glad Martz is gone and you can tell him I said it, too. I think he played me. He was not honest with me as a man or as a coach and my position coach [Wilbert Montgomery] didn't have anything to say either. Nobody was telling me stuff."
Later, Bell added:
"I was so happy to get out of here after the last game. Playing for Martz last year, I hated it. You don't understand how hurt I was sitting on the sidelines and not getting that many carries. I mean, I started the season with like 15 carries and then I got like five carries [actually nine] against Minnesota. I know they are a good run-stop team, but that shows you we're scared of them. That ticked me off. How many starting running backs do you know get five carries in a game?"
Bell planned to leave the Lions during the offseason but returned only after Martz's departure. Coach Rod Marinelli promoted offensive line coach Jim Colletto to offensive coordinator and committed to a more balanced offense. But after opening training camp as the No. 1 running back, Bell hasn't impressed many observers; He has 17 yards on 12 carries in two preseason games.
Of his performance, he told the News:
"I had a bad game against the Giants but it just wasn't me. It was the line, too. The past game I ran a little better but there were no holes, so it looks like there's no running game. But if we keep pushing the issue as a group, we are going to get it going. I have had a solid camp and hopefully it translates into a good season."
That evaluation might well be accurate from a technical standpoint, but it probably won't win Bell many friends on the team. Even if it's true, no one appreciates a tailback speaking publicly about having no running room.
Bell's roster spot appears safe at this point, but there's reason to wonder if he -- and the Lions -- wouldn't be better off making a clean break at the end of the summer.
Yes, the Green Bay Packers have focused this summer on transitioning to a new starting quarterback. (We have mentioned that a time or two on this blog). But an important facet of that transition was supposed to be having tailback Ryan Grant established as their every down running back.
The idea was that having a starter with some pedigree -- Grant nearly cracked the 1,000-yard barrier last season even after sitting mostly idle for the first six games -- would take some pressure off quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It would also help align the Packers offense more closely with what coach Mike McCarthy says his core values are: Power running and aggressive defense.
That plan has yet to develop, however. Grant held out the first week of training camp and has sat out the preseason because of a nagging hamstring injury. He missed practice again Thursday and, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, appears unlikely to play Friday at Denver.
McCarthy said Grant is getting close to returning to practice, but his summer already is a bust. There are plenty of established running backs who get minimal work during the preseason, but Grant's situation is a little different. He has done minimal football activities since the end of last season, sitting out offseason practices because of the contract situation and participating in only a handful of training camp practices because of the hamstring.
For those reasons, it's reasonable to start wondering how prepared Grant will be for the grind of a 16-game season. The Packers have depth on their roster -- Brandon Jackson, Vernand Morency and Noah Herron to name a few -- but Grant proved last season he is a step above them. It's a situation definitely worth monitoring as the regular season approaches.
Continuing our morning jog around the NFC North:
- Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga apparently is fending off a challenge from free agent acquisition Brandon Chillar to remain the strong-side starter, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Chicago Bears defensive end Mark Anderson had minor surgery on his thumb but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.
- In part because of Anderson's injury, the Bears will continue using defensive tackle Israel Idonije at end.
- Tatum Bell is losing a competition with Kevin Smith for the Detroit Lions' starting tailback job, but Smith told the Detroit News: "I have had a solid camp and hopefully it translates into a good year." (Bell had a lot more to say about former Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz, which we'll get to in a separate post a bit later).
- Minnesota Vikings rookie linebacker Erin Henderson, the younger brother of Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, leads the team in preseason tackles (16) and has a good chance to make the 53-man roster, according to the Star Tribune.
Rookie tailback Kevin Smith started Sunday night in the Detroit Lions' preseason game against Cincinnati, another step in what is expected to be his coronation as the team's top runner.
Smith had been working with the first team during practice but coach Rod Marinelli said it was simply part of a personnel rotation with veteran Tatum Bell. Rotation or otherwise, most observers believe it's just a matter of time before Smith wins the top job.
Through three quarters, Smith has rushed for 19 yards on four carries, including a 16-yarder.