NFC North: Walter Payton

MINNEAPOLIS -- Adrian Peterson had just gotten done with his second consecutive game of more than 30 carries, lugging the ball a career-high 35 times in the Vikings' overtime win over the Chicago Bears. He had run for 211 yards -- the fourth-most of his career -- despite playing another game with a strained groin that again appeared to keep Peterson from breaking away when he had the chance. And as usual, Peterson wanted more.

"I condition real hard, and actually, I get stronger as I go," Peterson said. "I could have went for 50, maybe 55 carries."

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsDespite battling a groin injury, Adrian Peterson had his best rushing day of the season, racking up 211 yards.
Peterson's belief in himself is almost purely based in can-do optimism, but it only crosses over into defiance when it's suggested to him that something might have been difficult. It's what made him the third-fastest running back in NFL history to rack up 10,000 yards on Sunday, in just his 101st career game. Only Jim Brown and Eric Dickerson reached the plateau sooner. And when Peterson was asked what he would have said if someone had told him at age 16 what he'd do, he said his reply would have been, "You're right.

"I would have believed it," he said. "This has been my mindset since I was young, to be the best to ever play. You have got to believe it in order to accomplish it. So if you had told me that, I would have been like, 'Hmm, he is thinking what I'm thinking."

Peterson has a long ways to go to reach the lofty records he wants to hit, but in a season where he's been hampered by leg injuries, he's got 1,208 yards through 12 games. That might register as a disappointment after Peterson talked of following up a 2,097-yard season with 2,500, but he's still on pace for more than 1,600 yards this year, and could win another NFL rushing title.

It also helps that the Vikings seem to have no plans to marginalize Peterson. They are now 5-0-1 in games where he's carried at least 30 times, and coach Leslie Frazier said, "I can't imagine ever getting away from Adrian being the featured guy in the offense, so long as we can put some more pieces around him."

Frazier played with Walter Payton, and hesitated when asked if he thought Peterson could be the greatest of all time.

"In raw numbers, sure," Frazier said, before adding, "We watched Mr. Payton play, and I've talked to Adrian about that a few times. Adrian is, in today's football, the best running back in pro football. Walter, he's pretty special. That would be a good argument to have."

Peterson seems intent on forcing his way into that argument. Has for a long time, actually.

"Jim Brown [and] Eric Dickerson are the guys that I looked up to, the guys that motivated me to be better than them," he said. "I still have a long ways to go. I've reached this mark and it's great, but I still have a long ways to go to surpass those guys, and that is what I look to do."

As Adrian Peterson's MVP candidacy grew more realistic this season, we debated what the award means here on the NFC North blog. Should it go to the player who provides the most value to his team -- i.e., does the most to help the team win -- as the "Most Valuable Player" descriptor suggests? Or should it go to the player who simply had the best season?

As it turns out, Peterson's season was so overwhelming in every facet that the Associated Press' 50-person electorate declined to split the hairs. Saturday night, Peterson was announced as both the league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. It was a fitting conclusion for the second-best season by a running back in league history, a catalyst for a team that flipped its 3-13 record last season to 10-6 and a playoff berth in 2012.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Jim MoneAdrian Peterson's dominating comeback lifted Minnesota to a huge turnaround and a playoff berth.
It was such a dominating performance that voters seemingly forgot -- or considered it moot -- that it all came within a 53-week period of Peterson tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. As such, the AP named Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and not Peterson, its Comeback Player of the Year.

I probably overthought a set of statistics that connected the Vikings' record more closely with the performance of quarterback Christian Ponder than Peterson, whose production didn't waver much between their wins and losses. I still believe that Ponder's improved play over the final four games were a big reason the Vikings made the playoffs, but I agree with many of you that his earlier struggles would have buried this team were it not for Peterson's increasingly dominant play.

We could spend all night hashing through Peterson statistics, but there are two that I think best illustrate his season. He led the NFL with 27 runs of at least 20 yards, more than twice that of the next-highest player. At the same time, he led the league with 1,019 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Among other things, that means Peterson was by far the most explosive and the most powerful running back in the league this season. Those attributes are often mutually exclusive, but Peterson combined them both in a season that will go down in the ages.

To me, there was never a question about whether Peterson or Manning had the better individual season. Manning was the NFL's top quarterback, ranking No. 1 in Total QBR (84.1) and second in passer rating (105.8). Peterson's season qualified as one of the best of all time, and it shouldn't be diminished by comparing it only to his 2012 contemporaries.

You have to go back to a different era of football to find production that stacks up to Peterson's. For the most part, gone are the days when the running back is a playoff team's first option. But Peterson's total of 2,097 yards was the most in the NFL in 28 years, bested only by Eric Dickerson's 2,105 yards in 1984. Peterson had at least 150 yards in a game seven times, tying Earl Campbell's 32-year-old NFL record for 150-plus yard games in a season. And his average of 131.1 yards per game over a season puts him in some pretty heady company.

All four players who have had better per-game averages in a qualifying season are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Dickerson, O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Walter Payton.

Peterson provided us all with a season we won't soon forget. Sometimes, the obvious answer is the right one. I'll remember that next time.

PetersonWatch: Eric Dickerson in view

December, 17, 2012
We'll debut the PetersonWatch at the end of Week 15, mostly because this is the first time when Adrian Peterson's pursuit of Eric Dickerson's NFL record for rushing yards in a season seemed a realistic possibility.

Peterson's 212-yard performance Sunday against the St. Louis Rams actually put him ahead of the 14-game pace Dickerson set in 1984, as the chart shows. Dickerson, of course, finished with 313 yards over his last two games to push his season total to 2,105.

Peterson needs 294 yards over the Vikings' final two games -- against the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers -- to break the record.

It's fair to note that there have been four instances in NFL history when running backs had more yards through 14 games than Peterson currently has. O.J. Simpson did it twice, while Jim Brown and Walter Payton also had more than Peterson's current total of 1,812 yards.

But the most recent occasion was Payton in 1977, meaning Peterson has the highest 14-game total in 35 years. That is significant when you realize how the NFL has transitioned to a passing league over that time.

Here, though, is the most incredible statistic unearthed this weekend: Peterson has 1,313 yards in his past eight games, the most of any NFL running back over such a short span. In other words, Peterson has produced a season's worth of rushing yards in half of one. (Hat tip to Randall Liu of the league office for that one.)
Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall is averaging 7.6 receptions per game this season. So with a slightly better-than-average performance Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Marshall could achieve some hefty milestones with plenty of room to spare.

Marshall is nine catches away from hitting 100 for the season, an accomplishment that would place him among the most productive receivers in NFL history. As the chart shows, he would become the fourth player in NFL history to compile four 100-catch seasons in their careers. No one has done it five times, although the New England Patriots' Wes Welker is eight receptions away from doing so this season.

Whenever Marshall gets to 100 catches, he will tie Marty Booker's franchise record for receptions in a season.

We'll figure it all out when the final numbers come in, but I think we can safely project that Marshall is going to finish with the best season for a receiver in Bears history. As we noted Friday, Marshall leads the NFL in parentage of his team's targets (39.2 percent of all throws) as well as the percentage of his team's receptions (41.9) and passing first downs (44.9).

The real question is whether we can quantify it as the most productive year for a Bears player at any position. That will take some apples-to-oranges analysis to compare him to the likes of Sid Luckman, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton.

CampTour'12: Bears Day 3

July, 29, 2012
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Some thoughts and observations on the Chicago Bears' practice Saturday night:

  • More than 12,000 fans showed up to watch the Bears' full-pads practice, surrounding a field outfitted with portable lights. I classified that attendance as yet another example of the buzz surrounding this team. It was a perfect night from a weather perspective, but keep in mind this practice was not even held in a stadium setting. As the team jogged onto the field, some fans were chanting, "Super Bowl! Super Bowl!"
  • [+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
    AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears receiver Brandon Marshall wowed observers in training camp on Saturday night.

  • By far, the star of the evening was receiver Brandon Marshall, who rebounded from an injury scare early in practice to educate the Bears and their fans on what it's like to have a true No. 1 receiver. He made spectacular catches all over the field in 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. The one that caught my eye was what appeared to be an ad-lib play between him and quarterback Jay Cutler, who moved in the pocket toward the right sideline before firing about across the field toward Marshall, who was running toward the left sideline about 40 yards away. Marshall leaped and caught the ball over close coverage from cornerback Charles Tillman and appeared to keep both feet in bounds on the far sideline. "He's a scholarship player," coach Lovie Smith said. "I think we can all agree on that."
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune was among those impressed. Pompei: "Marshall easily is the most talented offensive skill position player I've seen on Bears since No. 34," referring to Walter Payton.
  • Marshall's injury scare came early in the practice when he fell in a non-contact drill and flexed his legs for several minutes. Fans were hushed for a moment before Marshall finally got up and walked to the sideline. He re-entered drills about five minutes later after the initial fall. Cutler was among those who came to check on him during those tense moments.
  • I spent a good portion of my time watching the offensive and defensive lines, particularly to see what first-round draft pick Shea McClellin looked like in pads. McClellin definitely displayed a good first step and agility, but in 1-on-1 drills he was frequently run around the quarterback by his opponent. I wouldn't read too much into that, however. His best play of the night came when he knocked down a pass by Jason Campbell after penetrating the pocket in 11-on-11 drills.
  • If anyone unexpected stood out in pass-rush drills, it was defensive end Corey Wootton, whose standing on the team is jeopardized by McClellin's arrival and two previous years of minimal production. Wootton looked quick and confident on the edge.
  • I counted two fumbles by tailback Michael Bush, one in 9-on-7 drills and one in 11-on-11.
  • Receiver Alshon Jeffery made a nice adjustment on a ball thrown short in 1-on-1 drills, stopping his go route and waiting for the ball while safety Major Wright struggled to do the same.
Could the "Discount Double Check" lead to national television stardom for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers? I guess it depends on what you consider "national television stardom," but Rodgers took last weekend's television opportunity at Super Bowl XLVI to network for an appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

Rodgers has mentioned that possibility several times on his ESPN 540 radio show in Milwaukee, and Tuesday he said he met a couple cast members last weekend in Indianapolis, where he worked as part of NBC's pregame show. "I'm hopeful that we can figure something out there," Rodgers said.

I'm trying to make an "SNL"-related joke, but I'm a little dated in my reference points. Hasn't been the same since Matt Foley left permanently for his van down by the river. (#ChrisFarleyRIP.)

In all seriousness, hosting "SNL" is an elite stepping stone for athletes who have crossed into celebrity status. The success of Rodgers' State Farm television commercials, as well as his MVP and his well-received work for NBC on Sunday, might have vaulted him into relatively rare advertising and publicity air. Athletes who have hosted "SNL" include Fran Tarkenton, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Nancy Kerrigan and Walter Payton.

NFC North Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Bernard Berrian, Minnesota Vikings receiver: Berrian took to Twitter on Sunday to note that he has been "open" for the past four years. I don't really care that one of his antagonists was a Minnesota state representative, one who happens to be a co-author of owner Zygi Wilf's stadium financing bill. No matter who he was speaking to, Berrian was wrong to imply that getting open means he has been doing his job. There are multiple reasons why he has been so unproductive in recent years, and they include some factors (such as quarterback accuracy) that are beyond Berrian's control. I'll have more on this topic later in the week, but for now understand that Vikings quarterbacks have targeted him on 67 passes over the past 20 games. Berrian has caught 30 of them. Berrian would be well-advised to evaluate what he does, or doesn't do, to fight for the ball before drawing attention to his production.

2. Insanity in Chicago: We've hammered Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz pretty well in recent weeks for his play calling. So we should note that the Bears came to their senses in several ways Sunday. First, they swapped receivers Roy Williams and Johnny Knox, returning Knox to his starting role. While Knox has own issues to work through, Williams needed to be held accountable for his lack of productivity. Martz called only 19 passes compared to 30 running plays. The reality is the Bears aren't in position to generate a ton of scoring on their own. Martz smartly and safely capitalized on the boost he got from the Bears' defense (one touchdown) and special teams (one touchdown, another set up and a blocked field goal).

3. Remi Ayodele, Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle: The Vikings’ new nose tackle has started four games and doesn’t have a single tackle. Nose tackles don’t typically pile up tackles, and Ayodele’s top job is to occupy multiple blockers. But you would think a nose tackle would fall on a running back at some point during a four-game stretch. Ayodele doesn’t play in the nickel, and according to Pro Football Focus, he has been on the field for only 76 of the Vikings' 259 defensive snaps. That in itself is an indictment of his contribution so far. But still ….


[+] EnlargeGunther Cunningham
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioGunther Cunningham has adapted his defensive game plan, blitzing less and allowing his back seven to drop back and make plays.
1. Gunther Cunningham, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator: I have no idea how long Cunningham is planning to coach. He's 65 and has been coaching for 42 years. But it's nice to see him having success as his career inevitably moves into its twilight. Lost in the publicity of the Lions' offensive explosion has been a defense that Cunningham has smartly tweaked to fit his personnel. When he arrived in 2009, Cunningham estimated he would blitz on 40 percent of his defensive snaps. Now armed with one of the NFL's best defensive lines, Cunningham almost never blitzes and instead allows his back seven to drop into coverage and make plays. All three of the Lions' interceptions Sunday of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo came against a standard four-man rush. Overall, Cunningham blitzed on 10.9 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps. Good coaches never get old. They adapt.

2. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers receiver: In his past 10 games, dating back to last season and including playoffs, Nelson has caught 42 passes for 741 yards and six touchdowns. He has effectively emerged as the Packers' No. 2 receiver, regardless of who starts, and absolutely earned the three-year contract extension he signed over the weekend. The Packers' top draft pick in 2008, Nelson is yet another example of a homegrown talent who worked his way through the Packers' in-house minor leagues to become a top contributor.

3. Matt Forte, Bears tailback: There are three players in Bears history to surpass 200 rushing yards in a game. One is Gale Sayers. One is Walter Payton. The other is Forte, who finished with 205 yards Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Through four games, Forte has been the Bears' best player. He is obviously their rushing leader, but he also has more than twice as many receptions as his next-closest teammate. Overall, Forte has touched the ball on 37.7 percent of the Bears’ snaps and has accounted for more than half of their total yards. Rarely do you see a player in a contract year make a better case for himself.
From the sound of it, not all of you are thrilled with a new book that delves into some dark issues in the life of Hall of Fame tailback Walter Payton. Among other things, Jeff Pearlman's "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," describes drug use, suicidal thoughts and an uncomfortable marriage.

In the comments section of the news story, MoInChgo1985 wrote: "Walter Payton was my hero on the field. Nothing will ever change that or tarnish his memory. Whatever he did when he took off his cleats is none of my business or yours."

I get it. I can understand why you might not want to hear about the personal struggles of a hero who died nearly 12 years ago. You certainly have the option of not reading and/or ignoring whatever publicity the book generates.

Generally speaking, however, I appreciate legitimate attempts to develop fuller portraits of historical figures. To me, limiting legacies for the sake of preserving incomplete memories and/or protecting innocence doesn't strike me as a productive position.

As Pearlman wrote Thursday on his blog: "What's the point of history, if history can only be approved talking points?"

Based on the excerpt in this week's Sports Illustrated, Pearlman's information came from on-the-record interviews with people who were close to Payton. Obviously, the book will be publicly vetted and everyone will draw their conclusions. Payton's' family has released a statement on "recent disclosures" saying, in part, that "some [are] true, some untrue."

I'm planning to read the book when it's released next month. At the same time, I get where many of you are coming from. Payton retired when I was 14 years old. My only memory of him is gliding on a football field. But when given the choice between hoarding a potentially incomplete portrait or taking the opportunity to deepen it, I'll choose the latter every time. If you're going to dismiss the topic, I suggest you do it from a position of knowledge.

BBAO: Remembering Super Bowl XX

January, 27, 2011
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the Chicago Bears' triumph in Super Bowl XX. To commemorate the event, produced a really cool "Moment in Time" feature that broke down one that game's most famous plays -- William "The Refrigerator" Perry's 1-yard touchdown run -- with video insight from many of the participants.

Among those interviewed are Perry, who is recovering from an extended bout with Guillain-Barre syndrome, and Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. In retrospect, Perry says he would have preferred the carry go to Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton. As Melissa Isaacson of writes, Payton was not happy with the play call.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times on Bears general manager Jerry Angelo: "The general managers who do the best job preparing for the unknown will have a distinct advantage when the expected lockout ends and teams are allowed to replenish their rosters."
  • Former Bears safety Gary Fencik told ESPN 1000 that the Bears were too slow to release information on quarterback Jay Cutler's knee injury.
  • The Bears hired Kevin O'Dea as their assistant special teams coach, replacing Chris Tabor, who left to join the Cleveland Browns as special teams coordinator.
  • Do the Bears need to give running back Matt Forte a contract extension? Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune looks at that question.
  • Green Bay Packers special teams stalwart Jarrett Bush is aware of his perception among fans before this season. Bush, via Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "It was unfortunate what they thought of me, but what I thought of them didn't change. I thought they were still the greatest fans in the world. But it was up to me to change their perception of me and the way I played the game, the way I played football."
  • Packers cornerback Charles Woodson sent an autographed jersey to President Barack Obama, a noted Bears fan, according to Jason Wilde of The autograph read: "To President Obama. See you at the White House. Go Packers. Charles Woodson."
  • A Super Bowl repeat of the Packers' wild 2009 shootout with the Pittsburgh Steelers is unlikely, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has sought guidance from other players who have appeared in Super Bowls, including quarterback Kurt Warner. Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal has more.
  • Have the Pittsburgh Steelers already ruled out center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) from the Super Bowl? Teammates are indicating yes, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
  • Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News: "If you consider that Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew was less than a year removed from a major knee injury (ACL), it's pretty amazing what the second-year player accomplished this season."
  • The Minnesota Vikings are having discussions about a stadium site in suburban Arden Hills, according to Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The stadium would be located at the intersection of Intestate 35W and Highway 10, according to the Star Tribune.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Green Bay Packers are dealing with a new injury to a key player as they prepare for Sunday's critical showdown with the Chicago Bears.

Nickelback Sam Shields couldn't practice Wednesday because of a knee injury that flared up during conditioning earlier this week. Shields told Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he still plans to play against the Bears. Ultimately, of course, that won't be his decision. As we've noted before, the Packers' depth behind Shields is a question mark, and it's an area the team probably doesn't want to test in a game that could determine whether it receives a playoff berth.

At the very least, Shields is likely to cede his kickoff return duties. Shields suggested that Pat Lee could handle that role Sunday.

Continuing around the NFC North:

BBAO: Cliff Avril ready for new role

July, 20, 2010
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Tribune takes a look at the Bears' offensive line.

NFL Films president Steve Sabol picked Dick Butkus as the game's greatest defensive player and Walter Payton as the game's greatest running back.

Former Bear Steve McMichael talks about his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Detroit Lions

The Lions will open 20 training camp sessions to fans.

Cliff Avril is battling for the Lions' left defensive end position after Kyle Vanden Bosch claimed his right defensive end spot.

Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Press-Gazette has a profile on Marv Fleming, who was recently inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

Minnesota Vikings

Offensive lineman Chester Pitts, who is recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee, will work out for teams in Arizona. The Vikings are one of several teams that have shown interest.

An unsettled labor situation leaves the Vikings -- and other NFL teams -- treading unchartered waters.

Best Bears Team Ever: 1985

July, 1, 2010
Notable players: Tailback Walter Payton; quarterback Jim McMahon; defensive linemen Richard Dent, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Steve McMichael and Dan Hampton; linebacker Mike Singletary; safety Dave Duerson.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Perry
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesRefrigerator Perry celebrates during Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots.
The 1985 Chicago Bears were known, in equal parts, for their dominant defense and outsized personalities. The Bears' blitz-happy "46" defense spurred them to a 12-0 start, a 15-1 regular season record and the largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl at the time. And a roster that included three Hall of Fame players, five All-Pros and nine Pro Bowlers gave us some lasting and unique images.

Who can forget Perry diving into the end zone on Monday Night Football or catching a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field? Many of us can still feel the tension between coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, a dynamic that ultimately resulted in both men carried off the field after the Super Bowl. McMahon's message-laden headbands. And is there anything else to say beyond "Super Bowl Shuffle?"

Those sideshows were the grizzle on the meat of a team that was as talented, at least defensively, as any modern-day championship group. That collection of players gave the Bears the only championship they have known in the past 47 years.

Nearly half of the defensive starters made the Pro Bowl. Singletary and Hampton are in the Hall of Fame. One day, Dent will join them. Two players finished with double-digit sacks: Dent (17) and linebacker Otis Wilson (11). As a team, the Bears forced 54 turnovers. During one particularly dominant stretch, the Bears went two months without giving up more than 10 points in a game.

Their only loss came in Week 13 at Miami, which finished 12-4 that season. But the Bears rebounded from that loss, winning their final three games by an average margin of two touchdowns, and then elevated themselves to historic status in the playoffs.

On the way to Super Bowl XX, the Bears shut out the New York Giants (21-0) and Los Angeles Rams (24-0). The culmination of their season was a dominating 46-10 victory over New England in which the Bears set seven Super Bowl records.

Most impressive win: It's hard to look past a 36-point victory in a title game of any kind. At the time, it was the largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl.

Quotable: "In life, there are teams called Smith, and teams called 'Grabowski'....We're Grabowskis!" -- Ditka, painting his team as a blue-collar group that evoked Chicago's heritage. The nickname caught on.

Honorable mention:

1941: Six future Hall of Fame players contributed to a 10-1 record and an NFL Championship. All of its victories were by more than a touchdown, and its only loss was by two points to Green Bay.

1940: The same core of Hall of Fame players finished 8-3 and also won the NFL Championship. The title game was a legendary 73-0 defeat of Washington.

1942: An undefeated regular season (11-0) featured four shutouts over its final six games. But this team lost 14-6 to Washington in the NFL Championship Game.
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Larry French/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson knows he must do a better job securing the ball.
We're now four months removed from the NFC Championship Game, an event that announced to the world that Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson has a fumbling problem. Organized team activities have begun, training camp is two months away and no one can say what -- if anything -- Peterson has done to address the issue.

Coach Brad Childress long ago dismissed the possibility of a fundamental intervention, saying in February that "I'm not going to discourage that guy from running the ball with the style that he runs the football with." He expressed confidence that Peterson could resolve the issue mostly on his own and noted that Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton fumbled at a higher rate than Peterson during the first three years of his career. (Peterson has 20 fumbles in 915 carries, while Payton fumbled 30 times in 846 carries.)

I'm all for using statistics to provide context and explanation. In this case, Payton's fumble totals dropped dramatically after his third season. He cut his season total in half for Year 4 and needed more than five full seasons before he fumbled another 30 times. Clearly, something happened between Year 3 and Year 4.

Will something click for Peterson this offseason? During an interview at the Pro Bowl, Peterson vowed to do "a better job" protecting the ball, but to this point specifics have been scarce. That's nothing to be alarmed about or even question at this point. But if Peterson is planning anything significant -- carrying the ball a different way, for example -- now would be the time to work on it.

Putting a bow on NFC North's draft

April, 25, 2010
Let's clean out our notebook with the 2010 NFL draft in the books:

Many of us considered offensive tackle and outside linebacker as Green Bay's top two needs in this draft. The Packers drafted Iowa's Bryan Bulaga to address the former, but they came up empty on the latter and don't have an obvious answer at the position shared last year by Aaron Kampman and Brad Jones.

That's a particular blow for a team that generally sits out veteran free agency. But general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy both hinted a linebacker move of some kind could be on the horizon.

"We didn't draft any linebackers this year," Thompson said, "but still we're going to be trying to add some stuff to that position, sure."

According to ESPN's Stats & Information, NFL teams drafted 36 linebackers over the past three days, more than any other position.

The Packers drafted a running back in the sixth round who missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. McCarthy wouldn't commit to whether Buffalo's James Starks will be cleared for all of spring drills.

"We're very comfortable with his particular medical situation," McCarthy said, "but until he gets here and gets to work, we'll have a complete idea of where he is."

Starks, 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, has the kind of size to make a difference

We discussed the inconsistency that dropped USC defensive end Everson Griffen from possible first-round status to Minnesota's fourth-round pick. Speaking to local reporters, Griffen said he is "not a big guy to make excuses" but revealed he played half of last season with a turf toe.

"It was a bad turf toe," he said. "Two months ago, it finally started feeling better. You just got to want to play at that level and that's what I want to do. ... Coming off this injury affected me for about half of the year, but I'm feeling 100 percent. I'm ready to go. No new injuries."

Vikings director of college scouting Scott Studwell referred to Griffen as "a college student that enjoyed the college life a little bit," a nice way of saying his game might have been affected by his social life. To his credit, Griffen didn't dispute that notion.

"What college kid doesn't enjoy college?" he said. "College only happens one time, and you learn from your mistakes. I wouldn't take anything back from my college experience. You learn from your mistakes, and that's how you become an adult. That's what I did. I learned from my mistakes."

Detroit plans to work fourth-round pick Jason Fox on both the left and right side, offensive line coach George Yarno told local reporters. Fox is still working his way back from a torn patella tendon.

"He'll rotate both tackles: Left and right and see where it goes from there," Yarno said. "I think with his injury and everything, it will take some time before he's ready to go. We're looking at him as kind of the third tackle right now [behind starters Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus] and see where the competition will go from there."

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew was at it again Saturday, upgrading the throw-in draft pick he got in the Tony Scheffler-Ernie Sims trade earlier this month.

To review: As part of a three-way deal, the Lions sent Sims to Philadelphia and got Scheffler from Denver. The Broncos also gave the Lions their seventh-round draft pick, No. 220 overall. Saturday, the Lions sent that pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the Eagles' sixth-round pick in 2010. At this rate, it will be a first-rounder by the time next April rolls around.

We briefly touched on the possibility of Chicago pursuing Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, who was released Saturday by the New York Jets. Asked about the possibility by Chicago reporters, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo wouldn't rule it out.

"I don't know who would not consider Alan Faneca, if you had a need at the offensive line," Angelo said. "Again, we'll look into some things, like we did before the draft."

Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

The Chicago scout that handled the report on Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour referenced New England quarterback Tom Brady during an interview with Chicago reporters. Scout Jeff Shiver said: "A long time ago, I missed a quarterback in the sixth round. I think he's still with the Patriots."

I think that was Shiver's way of suggesting the Bears did more than take a sixth-round flyer on a local kid who grew up with a Walter Payton jersey on his wall. They believe he can develop into a legitimate NFL quarterback.

Black and Blue all over: LT and Bears

February, 26, 2010
If sentimentality plays any role, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, LaDainian Tomlinson could be a good fit in Chicago.

Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton was one of Tomlinson's first football heroes. He named his dog "Sweetness," and his personal trainer calls him "Walter" during conditioning work for motivation.

As Haugh writes, the Bears should only pursue Tomlinson if it's on their terms. And that means Tomlinson recognizing he is no longer a feature back, and accepting a secondary role behind Matt Forte. That role could still have exceptional production, especially in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz's passing game, but would require a career realization that Tomlinson probably hasn't made yet.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • In a letter to Bears season ticket holders, team president Ted Phillips lauded the "renewed focus on winning" that Martz and new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will bring to the team. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has more.
  • Minnesota place-kicker Ryan Longwell is expected to receive a $500,000 roster bonus on March 7, notes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
  • New Buffalo coach Chan Gailey didn't provide a ringing endorsement of former Green Bay quarterback Brian Brohm, notes Jason Wilde of
  • The Packers' need for offensive linemen will coincide with one of the deepest line groups in recent memory, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As many as eight offensive linemen could be selected in the first round of the draft.
  • Detroit coach Jim Schwartz wants to find a permanent starter at left guard, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Schwartz did not endorse the premise that the Lions must take a defensive tackle with the No. 2 overall pick, notes Cotsonika.