NFC North: Terrell Owens

The likelihood of Brandon Marshall eclipsing Hall of Famer Cris Carter’s receiving milestones boils down to one simple question: Can Marshall maintain his current level of production over the next four to five years?

Over eight seasons with Chicago, Miami and Denver, Marshall has averaged 89 catches for 1,131 yards and seven touchdowns per year, for a career total of 712 receptions for 9,050 yards and 57 touchdowns.

Marshall
Carter
Carter
Carter finished his 16-year NFL career with 1,101 receptions for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns.

There is little chance Marshall will break Carter’s touchdown mark, but the Bears wideout only needs 389 catches and 4,849 receiving yards to pass Carter on the list of the all-time NFL receivers.

That is doable. In fact, Marshall actually has more receptions, yards and touchdowns than Carter did in his first eight years, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but Carter managed to last an impressive 16 seasons in the league.

Marshall, 30, stated on ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko Show” on Tuesday that he’s focused on playing 14 seasons until he reaches the age of 36. But even if Marshall ends his career two years before Carter ended his, the evidence suggests Marshall can finish with more receptions and receiving yards.

First of all, Marshall has been extremely durable, missing just six regular season games over eight years, despite undergoing three hip surgeries.

Secondly, he’s been reunited with his old Denver quarterback, Jay Cutler, in Chicago, and the results speak for themselves. In only two seasons with the Bears, Marshall has caught 218 passes for 2,803 yards and 23 touchdowns.

An argument can be made that Marshall was the Bears' only target on offense in 2012 and therefore put up some of those numbers by default, but the Bears were flush at talent at the skill positions last year (Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett) and Marshall still managed to have another Pro Bowl year and record his fifth 100-plus catch season -- Marshall is the only player in NFL history to catch 100 balls for two different teams (Bears and Broncos).

With Marshall (four years, $40 million) and Cutler (seven years, $126.7 million) both under contract for the foreseeable future, Marshall can theoretically expect to play with his favorite quarterback for possibly the rest of his career, a luxury few wide receivers are afforded.

Thirdly, while statistical evidence suggests running backs fall off a cliff in terms of production when they hit a certain age, wide receivers have been known to flourish deep into their 30s.

One of the best recent examples of this phenomenon is Terrell Owens, who topped the 1,000-receiving yard mark five times after turning 30 and continued to be a productive player up until he left the league at age 37.

Quick Take: Packers at 49ers

January, 6, 2013
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Five things to know about Saturday's Green Bay Packers-San Francisco 49ers divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park:

1. Eventful history: San Francisco was the site of some epic Packers-49ers playoff games in recent history. The Packers won a 1995 divisional matchup 27-17, becoming the only road victory by an NFC team in the divisional playoffs during the 1990s. In 1997, the Packers defeated the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game 23-10 to advance to the Super Bowl. And you'll probably see the end of the 1998 wild-card game about 467 times this week: highlighted by Terrell Owens' 25-yard touchdown reception with three seconds remaining that gave the 49ers a 30-27 victory. (Yes, I know Jerry Rice fumbled earlier in the drive.)

2. The rematch: Here's an excerpt from my column after the 49ers' thorough 30-22 defeat of the Packers in Week 1 this season: "There was little question Sunday that the 49ers were the sharper, smarter and more physical team." Among other developments, tailback Frank Gore rushed for 112 yards on 16 carries. Here's what Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said Saturday night: "They're physical, but I think that plays to our advantage up front." Indeed, among the transformations this Packers team has made is improving its run defense and overall aggressiveness. (At least when they're not playing Adrian Peterson in the regular season.)

3. Rebalanced offense: The Packers' biggest change since Week 1 is the fact that their offense is much more balanced. In the first game, they abandoned the run almost entirely. Coach Mike McCarthy called more than half of his plays (31 of 61) without a running back even on the field. Contrast that to Saturday night's victory over the Minnesota Vikings, when running backs DuJuan Harris, Ryan Grant and John Kuhn combined for 27 carries. That puts the Packers in better position to compensate if the 49ers' zone coverage limits their passing game. Remember, Harris and Grant weren't even on the Packers' roster at the time.

4. Read-option factor: The 49ers are a different team as well, especially at quarterback with Colin Kaepernick. The Packers looked vulnerable Saturday night to the kind of read-option plays Kaepernick excels at. Behind quarterback Joe Webb, the Vikings gained 65 yards on six read-option plays, and they were fortunate the Vikings didn't use the approach more often. There is plenty of film now on Kaepernick -- he has started seven games -- and the Packers will have a full week to prepare.

5. Ready to rumble: The Packers are eager for this rematch. Saturday night, defensive back Charles Woodson flatly said, "we're a better team now" than in Week 1. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji added: "We didn't really have the identity of our team set at that point. Most coaches say it takes four weeks to find the identity of a team. It was a good game and they beat us, but we're different now."

NFC North weekend mailbag

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Kevin Seifert: While I agree the Vikings have some question marks at the receiver position, it should be pointed out that they've already taken a dip into the veteran free-agent market and come up with Jerome Simpson. I'm not sure they have any plans beyond that. For now, they'll go with Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Simpson, their pair of pass-catching tight ends, and hope that perhaps Greg Childs or Jarius Wright develop into a contributor.
Have you caught your breath yet from that wild early game Saturday? Me neither.

Books will be written about the San Francisco 49ers' epic 36-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints. But here's what applies to the NFC North: The Green Bay Packers now know they would host the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game if they defeat the New York Giants on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

That would be a blast from the (recent) past, wouldn't it? The Packers and 49ers matched up four times in the postseason between the 1995-98 seasons. The Packers won three of them. But the one that everyone is referencing Saturday, of course, is the 49ers' 30-27 victory in the 1998 wild-card round. (Steve Young to Terrell Owens. Tears. You remember. Yes, I know. Jerry Rice fumbled.)

The 49ers haven't won a game against the Packers since then, going 0-8 over that span. Let's not get carried away, though. The Packers have some work ahead of them first.

Calvin Johnson's season in context

December, 23, 2011
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MegatronWatch was fun while it lasted. For most of the first half of this season, Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson was catching touchdown passes at a historic pace. Alas, Johnson won't break the record of 23 touchdown receptions set by Randy Moss in 2007, but Johnson has still put himself in elite company with two games remaining in the regular season.

Johnson
Johnson
The chart shows the seven other players in NFL history who have matched or exceeded Johnson's across-the-board production this season; it currently stands at 81 catches, 1,335 yards and 14 touchdowns. Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice did it four times, while Moss, Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens each did it twice.

NFL passing games have grown more prolific over the past two decades, making it difficult to compare gross numbers over various time periods. But that's not Johnson's fault. Even if he doesn't catch a pass for the rest of the season, I think we can say that Johnson has had one of the most productive seasons by a wide receiver in NFL history.

We're expecting a pretty fluid weekend here in the NFC North, so let's dispense with a soon-to-be-irrelevant BBAO post and move straight to the news. First up: Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs' formal request to be traded, as first reported by Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesChicago's Lance Briggs has three years left on his deal and is due to make $3.65 million this season.
As you know, Briggs approached the Bears this summer about renegotiating his contract, which has three years remaining on it. The Bears apparently (and unsurprisingly) have rejected his request, prompting Briggs to escalate the situation. According to NFL rules, players can be traded at any point between now and Week 6 of the regular season, but it's hard to imagine the Bears complying, given their lack of depth at his position.

To put it bluntly, Briggs has no leverage other than the absence of an in-house replacement. Based on typical NFL protocol, the Bears are justified in asking Briggs to honor the fourth year of a six-year deal. Let's be clear. Briggs is halfway through the contract but has already earned about two-thirds of its total value. All along, Briggs knew that the tradeoff for a $23 million payday in the first three years would be stepping back to $13 million over the final three years.

ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt put Briggs' strategy in plain language Friday morning via Twitter:
Lance Briggs/Drew Rosenhaus gameplan: Ask for new contract; when denied ask for trade; when denied cause distraction. Rinse and repeat.

Yes, this is not the first mid-deal distraction Rosenhaus has presided over. (The guy literally wrote a book called "Next Question" after his infamous Terrell Owens news conference.) The truth is Briggs and Rosenhaus made a calculated and risky decision when they agreed to their original deal in 2008. They were betting Briggs' play would justify a new deal at this juncture. Otherwise, why would they agree to relatively modest salaries of $3.65 million this season and $3.75 million in 2012?

That expectation, however, was almost impossible to achieve. Briggs was already an All-Pro linebacker in 2008. He signed the deal at the height of his market value. Was it realistic for him to be a better player in 2011 than he was in 2008? The only way to justify a new contract is to argue you have outperformed your current one.

It's not the same thing to say Briggs is undervalued with a $3.65 million salary, because that figure was part of the total package he originally agreed to. Say you let your kids watch five hours of television a week. By Tuesday, they've used up four of the five-hour allowance. Do you add more to that total to stop the inevitable whining about one more hour over the next five days?

I think that's a fair analogy, and it's clear the Bears plan to hold their parenting ground. Briggs' market value was $6 million per year in 2008. He wants $6 million this season, according to McClure, but has conveniently forgotten he earned about $7.5 million per year in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The question now is how difficult Briggs wants to make it on the Bears. He told McClure the situation is "not going to take away from what I do on the field," and normally I would say that a contract dispute wouldn't distract a veteran team such as the Bears. But Briggs isn't just a player. He is one of their captains and a foundation of their veteran structure. The Bears will have to gauge if they can squeeze a productive year out of him before taking a harder look at this in the offseason. I'm sure that's their preference.
Tuesday's SportsNation chat was admittedly a little thin on Chicago Bears content, so I wanted to make sure to address a question that a number of you have sent to the mailbag. Here's a version from Chris of Baltimore:
I know that one of our many pressing needs this offseason is at wide receiver; to get a true No. 1. I think it is fair to say that the early rounds in the draft should definitely be directed to the O-Line and maybe a DB. Since getting a stud receiver in the draft is a crap shoot, do you think that the Bears may make a move in free agency (assuming the CBA works itself out)?

It's interesting that we're back to a topic we spent much of last offseason on. Do the Bears truly need to add a No. 1 receiver? Or is the sum of their parts adequate, especially when you add tailback Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen to the mix?

[+] EnlargeJohnny Knox
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJohnny Knox tied for the team lead in catches last season with 51 and averaged 18.8 yards per catch.
I would peg the Bears' offensive line as their top offseason need, by far. That's where their draft focus should lie. But as my AFC West colleague Bill Williamson recently pointed out, there will be a glut of receivers available on the free-agent market whenever the league and its players agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

That list includes Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards, Malcom Floyd, Santonio Holmes, Steve Breaston, Randy Moss, Santana Moss, Steve Smith (of the New York Giants), Terrell Owens and Mike Sims-Walker.

So if you are the Bears this offseason, are you:

  1. Satisfied with the status quo?
  2. Interested only in an ideal addition?
  3. Determined to add more depth?

If I had to make an educated guess, I would say the Bears will land in category No. 2. I'm guessing they believe that Johnny Knox's 951-yard season was a sign that, with another year in Mike Martz's offense, he will be as close to a No. 1 receiver as they need. I would think they're satisfied with Earl Bennett as a tough possession receiver and know they have Devin Hester as a big-play slot man.

General manager Jerry Angelo has been reluctant in recent years to invest in receivers, and I'm not sure he'll feel compelled to change that tack in 2011.

With that said, I think the Bears should be disappointed if their top four wide receivers combine for 147 receptions next season, as they did in 2010. For comparison, consider that the Green Bay Packers' top four wide receivers combined for 222 receptions in 2010.

The Bears are hoping for internal improvement, first and foremost. If they can target a mid-level receiver that fits Martz's offense, the Bears might consider it. But if you're hoping they break the bank to acquire someone like Edwards or Holmes, you might be disappointed.

Bears coach Lovie Smith will be among those who speak to reporters at this week's scouting combine. We'll of course pass along any updates on the receiver situation as warranted.

Lions claim CB Brandon McDonald

October, 27, 2010
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We have a few items to touch on as the Detroit Lions began preparations for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins.
  • The Lions claimed cornerback Brandon McDonald off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. It wasn't immediately clear whose roster spot McDonald will take. If you're wondering, yes, it is the same Brandon McDonald who got into a bit of a Twitter kerfuffle this summer with Cincinnati Bengals receiver Terrell Owens. That makes two defensive veterans the Lions have picked up since they last played: McDonald and linebacker Bobby Carpenter.
  • Quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder) resumed his role as the No. 1 quarterback in practice. He told reporters that injuries are a part of the game but one that he hopes is behind him. Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "Hopefully it's a part that will let me alone for a while and let me get out there and play."
  • The team said it has 10,000 tickets remaining for Sunday's game. That figure suggests the Lions could be in for their first local television blackout of the season.

Brad Childress' latest challenge

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There is little doubt the Minnesota Vikings got better Wednesday when they acquired receiver Randy Moss from the New England Patriots. At the same time, coach Brad Childress' job got more difficult.

Every offensive-minded coach covets game-breaking players of Moss' quality. In this case, however, the cost was adding a player who has gotten himself fired three times in the past six years for reasons unrelated to his performance on the field.

I've long referred to Moss as a pathological contrarian, someone who seemingly forms his opinions largely in opposition of those around him. Childress famously feuded with longtime troublemaker Terrell Owens when both were with the Philadelphia Eagles, and so Wednesday, I asked him to outline his plan for managing a player who hasn't always been manageable over the years.

As recently as Monday, in fact, Moss exchanged heated words with Patriots quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien. Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com had that story.

"I think he's an emotional guy," Childress said. "It's part of what makes him a good football player. Obviously, do people always agree when you have 53 players and 20 coaches? Not always. I think it was a lesson for me at a point in my life to appropriately question authority, which I didn't always do.

"Temperatures can rise from time to time when you're playing an emotional game, whether it be on the sideline, whether it be in the locker room. It still comes down to communicating. Different people communicate in different ways."

Childress said he did his "due diligence" in evaluating Moss' history but admitted he spoke to neither Moss nor Patriots coach Bill Belichick during the process. He typically offers rigid defenses of his version of the West Coast offense, but Wednesday seemed resigned to his authority being appropriately questioned. Most notably, Childress said he has no illusions about the possibility of Moss and quarterback Brett Favre veering from the offensive script during the course of the game.

Asked about that issue, Childress joked: "We're already talking about a mutiny?" He added: "Am I crazy enough to think that doesn't happen? I think it probably happened with Tom [Brady] and him, too, when you see the hand go up and you see him go. That happens. It's about trying to get behind somebody, and if he can, more power to him."

Does Childress know what he's gotten into here? We'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Because soon enough, we'll know for sure.

Camp Confidential: Detroit Lions

August, 7, 2010
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 29

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- If the measure of a good team is roster stability, then, well, we know where the Detroit Lions stand. General manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz spent most of their first year together operating like an expansion franchise, using their roster to sift through dozens of nomadic no-names and aging veterans while effecting a near-weekly rotation at a half-dozen positions -- left guard, defensive end, cornerback and safety chief among them.

So as they reported to training camp this summer, the Lions were hoping to slow that train and accelerate the installation of permanent building blocks in their lineup. Schwartz remains realistic about the job ahead of him but is certain the Lions are pointing in the right direction.

"Hope isn't a strategy," Schwartz said. "You need good players. I think what we proved last year is that we weren't ready to accept sub-par performance. We were willing to make changes and things like that. I think that was an important statement to make. In a perfect world, all of our positions would be solidified and you would feel good about it every week. Probably 32 NFL teams are going to be dissatisfied with a couple positions ... but I think the sign of a good team is having less spots that you look at and say, wow, what are they going to do there?"

After a few days at Lions training camp, it was evident the Lions are not there yet. But they're closer than they were last year, having upgraded at receiver, running back, tight end, left guard and along the entire defensive line. Questions remain at linebacker and in the secondary, but the Lions are working methodically to narrow that gap.

"We have a big sense of urgency," Schwartz said. "I don't want to say we've been patient. We just haven't deviated from our plan and we haven't gone too much for immediate gratification."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Lions are counting on Matthew Stafford to make progress from his rookie season.
1. Can Matthew Stafford make the jump the Lions need? Stafford's rookie season wasn't unusual for a highly drafted quarterback. Playing on a bad team, he threw 20 interceptions in 10 games. Injuries cost him six starts. But after surrounding him with receiver Nate Burleson, tight end Tony Scheffler and running back Jahvid Best, the Lions are expecting a much more positive second-year experience.

Stafford spent the early part of the offseason studying the causes of each interception, concluding that the majority of them were "trying to make a play when it wasn't there," he said. He added: "A lot of them were on third-and-long. I've got to be better on third-and-long to trust our backs, to throw a checkdown and let him run and go get it. I have to know that the best teams in this league are 35 percent [conversion rate] on third-and-long. Not everybody's making it every time. The goal this year is to stay out of those as much as possible."

The potential is there. Stafford has spent the entire offseason working with receivers, putting a special emphasis on developing chemistry with Calvin Johnson. He has taken every first-team snap in practice and has a set of skill players that can rival other NFC North offenses.

"We have a lot of weapons this year," he said. "It's up to us to get some rhythm and get it going."

2. Can an overhauled defensive line compensate for uncertainty at linebacker and safety? I like to compare the Lions' defense to an episode of "Hoarders." When Mayhew and Schwartz opened the front door, they found a mass of junk. So they picked one corner, the defensive line, and starting digging their way out.

As training camp opened, the Lions had NFL-caliber starters at right end (Kyle Vanden Bosch) and nose tackle (Corey Williams), along with a potential superstar in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. But remember, the Lions are the only team since the 1970 merger to finish with the NFL's worst defense in three consecutive years. In order to move up significantly in those standings, they'll need their line to be so good that it overshadows inexperience at linebacker and another year of patchwork in the secondary.

"If this defense is going to be good, it's going to be on us up front, and we're just going to have to wreak havoc," Vanden Bosch said. "We're going to have to bring energy to every practice and we're just going to have to keep on pushing each other and make improvements."

As we discussed earlier this week, it's schematically possible for an elite pass rush and strong run-stoppers to reduce the strain placed on other positions. Based on how the rest of the Lions' defense is shaping up, they'll need nothing less.

[+] EnlargeLouis Delmas
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesLouis Delmas has noticed a change in attitude with this year's team.
3. Can the Lions expunge what safety Louis Delmas referred to as a "ho-hum attitude?" If you're keeping track, the Lions have lost 31 of their past 33 games and 37 of their past 40. You often hear about new attitudes in training camp, so take this for what it's worth. After jettisoning a number of veteran players this offseason, Delmas said that now "everyone wants to be here and they want to learn." He added: "That's something I don't think we had last year. Guys were just here. The coaches are motivating us to go out there and get better. We've got a great attitude."

As for low expectations among national observers, Stafford said: "I don't think anyone here believes that. They play the games for a reason. The season hasn't started yet. Everybody is 0-0. Come the first Sunday, it's go out there and prove it and see what we can do."

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Tight end Brandon Pettigrew tore an anterior cruciate ligament on Thanksgiving Day 2009. A little more than eight months later, Pettigrew was back on the field doing much more than at least I would have expected. He's practicing at least once per day and participating in some contact drills, even while wearing a brace on his knee.

If he has a hitch in his gait, it's barely noticeable. And on at least one play this week, Pettigrew displayed enough speed to get past linebacker Julian Peterson and catch a nice seam pass from Stafford. "He's had a really good rehab and we don't want to set him back by trying to do too much too soon," Schwartz said. At this rate, it seems quite reasonable to expect Pettigrew to be ready for a significant role in the season-opening game at Soldier Field. That has to be the best-case scenario the Lions could have imagined when the injury first occurred.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Two key parts of any defensive improvement the Lions will have this season weren't on the field for any part of the five practices I watched. Delmas hasn't practiced since the spring because of a groin injury that Schwartz said has healed but impacted his conditioning. But Delmas is an "established" player who probably could get away with missing a portion of training camp after starting 15 games last season. Linebacker DeAndre Levy, however, needs every practice rep he can get while making the permanent transition from the outside to the middle. Levy reported to training camp with tightness in his back, and he was pulled from practice this week. There is no long-term concern at this point, and the Lions must hope nothing develops. At this point, there are no viable internal options to turn to. Levy's backup is veteran Vinny Ciurciu, an undersized career special-teams player.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAdditional weapons on offense should open things up for Calvin Johnson.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Burleson signed a five-year, $25 million contract in the offseason that included $11 million in guaranteed money. Then, in one of the first meetings of the Lions' reconfigured receiver position, Burleson stood up to speak. "There's a lot of things that can get between players when new guys come along, especially when money's involved," he said. "So I made an announcement that I've been in the league long enough to know, as a guy who just got paid, I'm going to play a lot. So my goal is to prove I'm worth more than what they paid me. I'm here for the team, not to pat myself on the back." In part because No. 1 receiver Calvin Johnson is so quiet, Burleson has taken on the leadership role of this group.
  • Johnson is hopeful that coverages will loosen on him this season, but it will require players like Burleson making big plays to do it. Burleson doesn't think it will be a problem. "My goal is to come in and make enough plays to where Calvin will get more single coverage and Bryant [Johnson] will make plays," he said. "You hear about [Terrell Owens] and Chad [Ochocinco] in Cincinnati. I'm going to say firsthand that we will be the most-respected receiving corps after it's all said and done." Wow.
  • Suh is one serious man. During a news conference to announce his arrival to camp, a reporter asked a pretty standard first-day question for a top draft pick: "What are you going to treat yourself to after becoming a millionaire?" Most players bite and say they bought a new car, or a house for their mother or some such splurge. Suh? Here's what he said: "I'm treating myself to getting on this field and getting ready." OK then.
  • Vanden Bosch makes it a point to touch the ball on every practice play from scrimmage. Sometimes that happens at the line of scrimmage. But whether the play comes directly toward him or goes 30 yards downfield, he chases without fail. If that means sprinting 40 yards, so be it. Although the Lions didn't necessarily sign Vanden Bosch for that reason, he sets an excellent example for a historically moribund defense. "You don't get any points for that," Schwartz said. "But if I was a professional football player, I would hope that I would practice and I would play the way Kyle Vanden Bosch does. I think it is contagious for sure and I think that it's tremendous leadership. I think it makes the running backs better. The running backs are now finishing their runs deeper down the field because they don't want him catching them."
  • Right tackle Gosder Cherilus, the Lions' No. 1 draft pick in 2008, might be down to his final chance to lock down a permanent starting job. He's sharing repetitions with veteran Jon Jansen, and a decision might not come until the end of the preseason.
  • Linebacker Zack Follett is on his way to locking down the weakside linebacker job a year after he nearly cost himself his career with a poor showing in training camp. "I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off," Follett said. "This year, it's 100 percent different."
  • Poor Chris Houston. As the Lions' erstwhile No. 1 cornerback, Houston finds himself lined up against Johnson in 1-on-1 drills more often than not. That's not even fair. I saw Houston make some decent plays against other receivers, suggesting he deserves to be on the field as a starter. But few teams have a true No. 1 cornerback, and the Lions aren't one of them.
  • With Delmas injured, the same four players made up the first-team secondary during my visit: Houston and Jonathan Wade at cornerback, with C.C. Brown and Marvin White at safety. One thing I'll say is that Wade is feisty, even if he is a bit undersized. Delmas noticed the same thing. "He gave up a big play on Calvin," Delmas said. "And then he came back to us as a group and said, 'We can't do that! I can't do that!' Then he went out and didn't give up another big play. In order to be one of the best secondaries in the NFL, we have to start with that."
  • In an earlier post, I suggested that rookie receiver Tim Toone had looked sharp and ranked him no worse than No. 4 among the Lions' receivers. In the comments section, some of you suggested that second-year receiver Derrick Williams was having a better camp than I gave him credit for. All I can say is that every time I looked, Williams was dropping a pass while Toone was catching one. Regardless, there is a long way to go for both players.
  • One beneficiary of Suh's holdout was second-year defensive tackle Sammie Hill. Schwartz said Hill "has taken the biggest step that I've seen him take." Assuming those weren't just kind words for a player destined to cede his first-team status to Suh, this development offers the Lions a level of depth they didn't have last season.

NFC North weekend mailbag

July, 24, 2010
7/24/10
12:00
PM ET
Thanks to everyone who mobilized Friday afternoon for the return of the weekend mailbag.

You sent so many responses, in fact, that I'll dispatch with the usual filler. To squeeze in as many questions as possible, and have some fun at the same time, I'll respond with one sentence apiece.

As always, I can be reached through the mailbag portal, Facebook or Twitter.

Onward...

Justin of Rochester, Minn., writes: How comfortable is the Green Bay coaching staff with Matt Flynn's ability to take over if something happens to Aaron Rodgers? What are the odds that Graham Harrell makes the roster? With as many pieces in place as they have, wouldn't they have been smarter to grab an experienced veteran in the off season like Baltimore did? Would Sage Rosenfels be a good fit w/ GB if/when MN lets him go?

Kevin Seifert: Every team has a dropoff from its starter to backup, and the gap between Rodgers and Flynn is bigger than most, but the Packers' aversion to veteran free agents make Harrell a likelier option than Rosenfels.


Bryan of Madison, Wis., writes: How much of an impact do you think Johnny Jolly's suspension will have on the Packers' defense?

Kevin Seifert: Minimal, as long as B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett stay healthy.


Joe of Eden Prairie, Minn., writes: What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it is all about?

Kevin Seifert: Then we all better start turning ourselves around.


Maynard of Jamestown, North Dakota, writes: Reports from different media sources on the Bears' Mike Martz's system mostly agree that Jay Cutler will endure a high number of sacks as a result of seven-step drops, that Greg Olsen will see a reduced role, and that turnovers will remain similar to last season's totals if not increase due primarily to defensive pressure because of a potentially weak offensive line and Cutler's penchant for throwing picks compounded by the demands of Martz's system. Do you have any sense that Martz may tweak his system to meet the realities of this Bears offense?

Kevin Seifert: Only Cutler can lower his interception total by making better decisions, but I'll make this prediction: Olsen will set a record for most catches by a tight end in a Martz offense.


Mike of Chicago writes: I just read the other day that there is a realistic chance that Desmond Clark could beat out Olsen for the Bears starting TE spot. I think that Clark has been a great player for his entire career as a Bear. Do you think that the Bears coaching staff/front office would actually make this move with all of the effort they have put into publicly voicing their belief that Olsen is a star in the making?

Kevin Seifert: I just think Martz is too smart to do anything but maximize Olsen's receiving skills.


Brett of Toledo, Ohio, writes: I am greatly concerned about the state of the Lions backfield. Jahvid Best is clearly the "best" of a bad bunch of RB options with Kevin Smith's future uncertain. There is little value in regards to strong runners behind Best. Why do you think the Lions have chosen to take such a chance at such an important position in their play-action heavy offense?

Kevin Seifert: Don't fret -- the way I see it, the Lions have upgraded the position by going from no gamebreakers to one.


Zach of Kansas City writes: How do you think Zack Bowman will fare against Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson and Sidney Rice?

Kevin Seifert: Competently, as long as he can reverse his career trend and stay healthy for an entire summer and regular season.


Mike of Minnesota writes: What is your take on Jasper Brinkley? I am assuming that E.J. Henderson will not be ready in time to start the season. I thought Brinkley was developing really quickly as a replacement in the time he was allotted. Specifically, against the Saints and the Cowboys there was no apparent holes because of the absence of EJ. Is it too early to assume Jasper can be a good player in the league or did he show enough last season to have proved himself worthy of a starting role on some team?

Kevin Seifert: Brinkley has a long way to go to match Henderson in his prime, particularly as an enforcer on the line of scrimmage.


Via Facebook, Farley writes: Other than the quarterback situation, how long do you think the talent window will stay open for the Vikings? They've done an excellent job managing cap space and such, but I don't see how they can keep it going indefinitely.

Kevin Seifert: Their defense is a long-term question mark with Pat Williams and Antoine Winfield well into their 30's and Henderson's future in doubt.


Wendall of Forest City writes: What are the chances that Terrell Owens is signed by Green Bay?

Kevin Seifert: About the same chance of Brett Favre being signed by Green Bay.


Dustin of Dell Rapids, South Dakota, writes: If there is a lockout, do you see the owners bringing in players to play? I saw a show on the NFL Network about a season a while ago where there was a lockout. What do you think the chances are that the owners take a similar approach, keeping the NFL alive if there was a lockout?

Kevin Seifert: You're making me feel really old, Dustin, by mentioning a "show" you saw about the 1987 season, when owners replaced striking players with non-union scabs -- of which there is absolutely no chance this time around.


Justin of Brookings, South Dakota, writes: I saw an ESPN headline that Bobby McCray is back on the Saints roster. Any thoughts on if this means anything for the Vikings-Saints opener? The point is moot if McCray doesn't start/see the field, or if Favre surprises the world and retires for good, but I figured you might have a little something to say about it.

Kevin Seifert: To be safe, Favre better double-tape his ankles for the game.


Clay A. of Orlando, Fla., writes: Is there any way that we can get you some classes in objective journalism? Then maybe you can see why you are the basis for so many jokes...Go Bears!!

Kevin Seifert: OMG -- Clay Aiken reads this blog???!!!!!


Tom of Janesville, Wis., writes: We know most of the starters for all four division teams, but besides the backup QB, who do you see as the most important backup for each team?

Kevin Seifert: Chester Taylor in Chicago, Tony Scheffler in Detroit, Brandon Chillar in Green Bay and Lito Sheppard in Minnesota.


LambeauOrWrigley writes: So Dez Bryant signed as the only first round pick so far [as of Friday]. He was picked #24, right after [Bryan] Bulaga at #23. So, does this somewhat set the price for the Bulaga deal? If so, can we expect a "quick" signing and arrival by opening weekend? Or could there be Bulaga's agent claiming his guy was a lock for a top 10 pick and should not be paced at the price for Bryant? Rodgers was a top 10 pick that dropped to #24. Bulaga was supposedly a top 10 pick that dropped to #23. I feel positive karma.

Kevin Seifert: It helps to have the beginnings of a slot framework, but no deal is believed to be imminent.

BBAO: No deadline for Favre

July, 21, 2010
7/21/10
10:57
AM ET
We’re Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears

The Bears are building their defense around Julius Peppers.

Former Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel has agreed to terms on a deal with the Bears.

Detroit Lions

The Lions are working on getting Ndamukong Suh into camp on time.

Gosder Cherilus' focus during games is something the Lions hope improves this season.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers announced they have signed safety Morgan Burnett, a third-round pick out of Georgia Tech.

Minnesota Vikings

Brett Favre says he hasn't been given a deadline by the Vikings regarding his decision to play in 2010.

The Vikings are the latest on a growing list of teams to publicly say they have no interest in signing Terrell Owens.

Podcast: Jay Cutler on Martz's system

July, 15, 2010
7/15/10
11:38
AM ET
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler says he's excited to get back to work. Cutler talks about learning offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system. He also weighs in on Terrell Owens, Brett Favre and the retirement of his former coach at Vanderbilt.

Podcast: Bears QB Jay Cutler

June, 16, 2010
6/16/10
1:32
PM ET
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler joined "The Waddle & Silvy Show" to discuss Terrell Owens, the Bears receivers and adjusting to Mike Martz's offense.
I haven't made much of the latest Chicago Bears-Terrell Owens rumors because they seem to have emanated from a player seeking some attention on the free-agent market rather than genuine interest from the team.

As you might recall, Owens ran into Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and tight end Greg Olsen over the weekend and tweeted about it. Owens is an unrestricted free agent who hasn't garnered much interest around the league.

But speaking Tuesday on ESPN 1000, Olsen said the evening was an innocent coincidence and added: "I know a lot of people read into things, but it really was just that we happened to bump into him earlier in the night and then met up again later on. That's the extent of it."

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