NFC North: Washington Redskins

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall responded to Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather referencing Marshall’s past allegations of domestic abuse on Monday, telling ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” that he is praying for Meriweather and that the two are simply on “different pages” when it comes to player safety.

“I’m praying for that guy," Marshall said. "He actually reached out to me last week and I told him that I was more concerned about him and his health, because I think a few weeks before our game I saw him lying on the field just out cold. It was a scary situation. I never want to see him or any player lay out like that. As far as what he said today; you can only pray for someone with those feelings. So that’s all I have to say about that.”

[+] EnlargeChicago's Brandon Marshall
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh"As far as what he said today; you can only pray for someone with those feelings," Brandon Marshall said. "So that's all I have to say about that."
Marshall publicly criticized Meriweather when the Bears played the Redskins on October 20 after the safety delivered a pair of illegal hits that eventually earned him a one-game suspension, going as far as to say the Washington defender, who has a history of being fined by the NFL for illegal contact, should be removed from the game entirely.

In response, Meriweather told reporters: "He feels like I need to be kicked out of the league, I feel like people who beat their girlfriends should be kicked out of the league, too.”

Marshall revealed that he had a phone conversation with Meriweather just last week, but the two players failed to connect, even though they both played high school football in the Orlando, Fla., area around the same time.

“From my end, I think it was more about, 'Hey man ... life after football ... your safety ... other guy’s safety ... that was kind of scary seeing you laid out against Green Bay ... I played in the same area you played in during high school in Orlando ... we always knew of each other,” Marshall said. For him, it was more about the money, being suspended and missing a game. We were on two different pages.

“I’m just praying for that guy. I just want to see the health of the league get better and for guys to stay healthy. For guys like that, I’m just going to pray for them.”

The Bears Pro Bowl wideout also reacted to Meriweather’s declaration that he will begin to aim low when making a tackle which will likely result in the safety causing an opponent to tear an ACL or suffer another serious knee injury.

“I just feel bad for the guys remaining on their schedule,” Marshall said. “It is tough (the rules) on defensive backs, especially, there are even some things that I don’t understand. When it’s a moving target it’s tough to aim for the shoulder or the body, so it is tough, but you don’t want to start seeing guys get hit in the knees. I don’t know what to say about it. It’s a tough situation. I don’t want to go any further.”

Double Coverage: Redskins at Packers

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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Eddie Lacy and Robert Griffin IIIAP Photo, Getty ImagesEddie Lacy, left, and Robert Griffin III are among the keys to Sunday's Packers-Redskins matchup.
The Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins, NFC division winners last season and playoff hopefuls this season, both lost in Week 1.

That means, barring a tie, when they meet Sunday at Lambeau Field, one of these teams will be in an 0-2 hole to start this season.

“It’s not about, does it make or break your season,” Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said this week.

ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim break down the key elements to this matchup.

Demovsky: John, let’s get right to perhaps the most closely watched knee rehabilitation in recent NFL history. You’ve watched Griffin’s every move in his comeback from the knee injury. You have chronicled practically every step he has made since, and by now, you’ve dissected the film of Monday night’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. What limitations, if any, did he play with?

Keim: Griffin did not look the same and showed the effects of not playing in a game in the preseason -- and of recovering from major knee surgery in January. Was his knee 100 percent? Everyone says it is, including the doctors. But his game was not 100 percent, as should be expected. Jon Gruden pointed it out a few times on Monday night, showing how Griffin wasn’t always transferring his weight onto his front leg when he threw. In some cases, the line was getting shoved back and provided him no chance to step into a throw. But it was evident early, even when he had that room. It seemed like his reactions in the pocket, especially early, were not where he would want them to be. He also made the worst passing decision of his career, throwing an interception into triple coverage to a receiver who never even appeared open. He finished strong, though most of the passes he completed during this stretch were short throws. Still, he showed a better rhythm. It’s going to take him a few games.

The Packers just played a mobile quarterback; how did they take away Colin Kaepernick's legs -- and how did it leave them vulnerable to the pass?

Demovsky: The Packers did a good job limiting Kaepernick’s running opportunities by playing a lot of zone coverage. That kept the defenders’ eyes on the quarterback, and they rarely had their backs turned to him. However, that meant they couldn’t play as much press coverage as they normally would, and the result was that they gave up massive amounts of yardage to receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught 13 passes for 208 yards, and allowed Kaepernick to throw for 412 yards. Now, it should be noted that the Packers were missing two key players in the secondary, safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Casey Hayward, who both missed the game because of hamstring injuries.

How much, if anything, do you think Redskins can learn from watching the way Kaepernick and the 49ers attacked the Packers?

Keim: I’m sure there is a lot to learn, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they anticipate different looks in the secondary because of who might be back for Green Bay and because Griffin needs to prove himself as a dynamic threat again. Until he does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see teams play him more aggressively, or at least without as much fear. I’m not sure how long that will last; until he makes them pay, I suppose. But I also think what Washington needs to do more than learning from Green Bay's game is learn from its own. The Redskins killed themselves with penalties and poor decision-making. That meant their bread-and-butter run game could never get going, and their offense sputtered until it was 33-7.

Are Burnett and Hayward expected to play Sunday? If so, how big a difference will that make for the Packers?

Demovsky: Hayward won’t play. He already has been ruled out and is likely to miss at least another game or two. This is the second time he pulled the same hamstring. The first time, he missed a month. He reinjured it Aug. 23, and if it’s as severe, he could be out for a while. Last season, his six interceptions were huge for the defense. Burnett’s injury didn’t seem as bad, and it was somewhat surprising that he missed the 49ers’ game. The Packers hope he can play, because their safety play with M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian was subpar at San Francisco.

Speaking of the secondary, the Redskins were 30th in the NFL last season in passing yards allowed. Are there any signs that will improve this season? I would think Aaron Rodgers would be licking his chops to play against this defense.

Keim: It’s debatable how much they’ve improved. Long term? I think they’ll be helped because two rookies -- starting free safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerback David Amerson -- are playing key roles. Rambo’s big issue is tackling, mostly in the open field. His coverage has mostly been fine, but I don’t think he’s been challenged in a way that Rodgers could on Sunday. I like Amerson’s future, if he remains disciplined with his technique. He’s a better tackler than anticipated. But Washington has issues at strong safety because of Brandon Meriweather's constant injury issues (missed Monday with a groin injury). The Redskins used a cornerback who had never played safety before in his place (E.J. Biggers), and he struggled. Their corners, DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, do some good things but are not top-line starters. What this group needs more than anything is a better pass rush.

Speaking of the rush, how is the Green Bay offensive line holding up without Bryan Bulaga, and where is it susceptible?

Demovsky: Perhaps surprisingly, Green Bay's young tackles, rookie David Bakhtiari on the left side and second-year man Don Barclay on the right, held up well against the 49ers. Aldon Smith beat Bakhtiari a couple of times for sacks, but Smith does that to a lot of tackles. It’s why he had 19.5 sacks last season. But other than those two plays, Bakhtiari’s first start went fine. Barclay is much improved over last season, when he filled in for Bulaga the final six games. As a unit, the run blocking needs to get much better. Eddie Lacy didn’t have much running room, and when he did, there were penalties -- three of them on left guard Josh Sitton, who is normally pretty clean -- that wiped away the Packers' longest rushes of the game.

Looking at the big picture, one of these teams is going to be 0-2 after this game (barring a tie). If that’s the Redskins, how devastating would that be for them? I know they finished strong last season, but I’m sure they don’t want to put themselves in a hole again.

Keim: It’s a hole they could dig out of with games against the Detroit Lions at home and on the road against the Oakland Raiders in the following two weeks before their bye. But I don’t think any team wants to start off 0-2, especially one that has designs on accomplishing grand things in the postseason, which, if healthy, the Redskins should have. I also think it would depend on how they look against Green Bay. If they play well and lose a close game, it still suggests they’re on a certain path (no moral victories, but more about being headed in the right direction). If it’s an ugly game like it was for nearly three quarters Monday? Then it suggests other issues. That would be difficult for them to swallow. But the one thing I’ve seen with this group, last season and in the previous few, is that they are resilient. Their mindset is a good one for a 16-game season.

I would think if there’s any formula for stopping the Green Bay offense, everyone would use it. But is there a theme to when teams are able to slow this attack?

Demovsky: For about the past year and a half, teams have played the Packers predominantly one way -- keep both safeties back and dare them to run the ball. That’s why they drafted Lacy in the second round. The hope is that teams will start respecting the Packers’ running game and bring a safety in the box to stop it. That would give Rodgers more open space to throw in the secondary. Lacy did not get off to a strong start against the 49ers, but he did have one impressive series late in the game in which he gained 26 yards on five carries. Problem was, he couldn’t get much else done the rest of the game.

RG III has no issues with Matthews

September, 11, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Robert Griffin III apparently doesn’t plan on getting Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews riled up.

Matthews
Griffin
In advance of Sunday’s game against the Packers at Lambeau Field, the Washington Redskins quarterback had nothing but good things to say about Matthews, who might be public enemy No. 1 in San Francisco after his late hit on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Sunday.

On a conference call with reporters at Packers headquarters on Wednesday, Griffin called Matthews “a great player.”

“Clay, he’s got a motor and he’s a talented guy that has a motor,” Griffin said. “Anybody with that immense amount of ability that plays every snap like it’s his last is a dangerous guy. We’ll be aware of him. You’ve always got to respect your opponent, and I respect Clay Matthews as a player, and that’s all you can say. My team respects him as a player, and that’s the way we have to go about it. You’ve got to prepare. There’s going to be great players in this league that you have to play against, and he’s one of them.”

Also on the conference call, Griffin said he will not be any more hesitant to run the ball despite coming off reconstructive knee surgery.

“I feel good,” he said. “You have to trust your preparation. You trust your foundation. I put the work into the offseason to make sure that I was OK coming into the season, and that’s what you trust. You trust God that he’ll protect you, and you go out and you play fearless.”
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears entered Sunday’s game tied for third in the NFL with 14 takeaways.

Yet the tables seemed to turn on the turnover-happy Bears, who suffered through six second-half giveaways -- including four Jay Cutler interceptions to DeAngelo Hall -- on the way to their second consecutive loss, a bumbling 17-14 effort against the Washington Redskins.

The defense did its part in forcing three Redskins turnovers, but the offense -- plagued by protection issues, a lack of production on the goal line and problems converting third downs -- proved too generous in giving away three interceptions and two fumbles.

Luckily for Chicago, it enters its bye before meeting Buffalo on Nov. 7 in Toronto. The club will need some time to bounce back from this one.

There’s quite a bit to get to from this game. So let’s not waste time.

What it means: It’s no secret the Bears’ schedule significantly stiffens after the bye week with matchups against Miami, Philadelphia, New England and the Jets over four of the next eight weeks. So after dropping back-to-back games against the Seahawks and Redskins, it’s safe to say the Bears squandered a golden opportunity to maintain their lead over the Packers in the NFC North, and made their potential road to the playoffs much more difficult.

Third-down disaster: Heading into the contest, Cutler had led the Bears to 0-for-22 on third-down conversions over his last eight quarters, and the struggles only continued against the Redskins.

The Bears went 0-for-6 on third-down conversions in the first half Sunday, before finally converting their first one with 4:32 left in the third quarter.

OL settles after rough start: Playing for the second consecutive week with a starting line comprised of Olin Kreutz, Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale, Edwin Williams and J’Marcus Webb, the Bears gave up three sacks in the first half -- two to Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo -- before finally settling down in the second half to give Cutler solid protection.

The Bears allowed only one more sack after the three-sack onslaught in the first half. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz played a role in club reducing sack numbers by shortening Cutler’s drops.

Briggs leaves: Linebacker Lance Briggs left the Sunday’s contest on Chicago’s third series, and the club announced he was questionable to return. At halftime, however, the team declared Briggs out for the game.

Still hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered Oct. 10 against the Panthers, Briggs missed last week’s loss to Seattle and alternated with backup Brian Iwuh early in Sunday’s game. The decision to pull Briggs in the first quarter may have been the smart move for the Bears, who enter their bye before meeting Buffalo in Toronto on Nov. 7. The week off should do some good for Briggs, who is considered one of the leaders on defense.

Moore robbed by delay of game: Bears nickel corner D.J. Moore watched a Redskins’ delay-of-game penalty wipe out what would have been his second touchdown of the day.

Having already returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown off Israel Idonije’s tipped pass in the first half, Moore picked off Donovan McNabb in the third quarter and skipped into the end zone for an 8-yard return. Prior to the snap on that play, however, officials flagged the Redskins for delay of game. The call wiped out what would have been Moore’s second career TD.

Goal-line struggles continue: The Bears entered the game 0-for-9 from an opponent’s 1-yard line. Make that 0-for-10, thanks to a Cutler fumble.

Trying to leap over the top on a sneak, Cutler jumped into the arms of Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, who halted the quarterback’s progress. As Cutler reached to put the ball across the plane, a Redskins defender knocked it out and London Fletcher recovered for the Redskins.

Turf a problem: Judging from some of the conversations in the team’s locker room Friday, the Bears anticipated problems with the turf at Soldier Field. In fact, several players made it a point to tell equipment managers to make sure they packed plenty of pairs of seven-stud cleats for the matchup with the Washington Redskins.

From the look of things, the Bears needed them. Several offensive and defensive players slipped on the turf that had been pelted by rain earlier in the day. As the game wore on, the turf dried up somewhat and footing improved. The Bears should expect more footing issues as the weather worsens over the next several weeks.

Shorter drops pay off: Martz called for a seven-step drop on a third-and-3 with 5:23 left in the first half. After Cutler threw incomplete to Greg Olsen on the play, Martz shortened up the quarterback’s drops, which helped tremendously.

After the failed conversion attempt, Martz called several three- and five-step drops on the club’s next series, which contributed to Cutler finishing the quarter 7-for-7, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Knox with 31 seconds left that gave the Bears a 14-10 halftime lead.

Manning answers challenge: Bears coach Lovie Smith praised the play of Danieal Manning earlier in the week, but said he wanted the safety to make more plays in the passing game. Manning delivered in the third quarter on arguably the club’s most athletic interception of the season.

What’s next: Thankfully for the Bears, nothing. The club enters its bye week, which serves as a good opportunity for players such as offensive lineman Roberto Garza (knee), safety Major Wright (hamstring), and linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle) to regain their health prior to the team’s matchup with Buffalo on Nov. 7. The bye also comes at a good time for all the players dealing with nagging injuries.

Wrap-up: Lions 19, Redskins 14

September, 27, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


I don’t know about you, but I was ready to pull a Van Gogh and cut off my ear the next time I heard Detroit coach Jim Schwartz talk about “carrying the burden” of the Lions’ two-year losing streak. After an offseason roster overhaul, Schwartz didn’t think it was fair for the Lions’ current players to be looped in with what had become a 19-game drought.

Sunday’s 19-14 victory over Washington ended any such connection, fair or otherwise, and saved my ear in the process. My instinct is to point out that this is only one game, and to recall that NFL history suggests everyone wins sometime. The Streak was going to end. It was only a matter of when.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Louis Delmas was one of the Lions players who celebrated Sunday's win with the fans.

But in my mind, the significance of The Streak is that it reminded us never to take any victory for granted. This league is based on parity, and still the Lions went almost 21 months without a win. So we should all enjoy every victory, never letting them get old, seem mundane or anything short of special.

Maybe that’s why Schwartz sent his players out of the postgame locker room and back onto the field to celebrate in front of their fans at Ford Field. (Update: Those who attended the game deserved the gesture. According to the Lions, the turnstile count was only 40,896.)

“This celebration shouldn’t have been confined to the locker room,” Schwartz said. “This celebration should have been shared and that’s the only point I wanted to make with that. We don’t need any praise or anything like that. But I thought that the fans that have stuck with us, and I mean they’ve had a hard time and everything else, but I think they deserve to celebrate with the team after this win.”

Fans and media alike wondered if the Redskins offered the perfect opposition for a streak-ending afternoon. The Redskins’ scoring offense is anemic and their defense has been vulnerable this season. But another effect of the streak is the “Something is Bound to Go Wrong” theory. Predicting victory Sunday almost made too much sense. There’s no way the Lions would capitalize on such a made-to-order proposition, right?

So if the Lions derive anything lasting out of Sunday, let it be that they flushed the viral losing mentality from their system. Step one in building a winning mindset: Win when you’re supposed to.

“We’d like to get to a point where a regular-season win isn’t celebrated that much,” Schwartz said.

But, hey, first things first. The Streak is over.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

If I had to guess, I'd say Jon Jansen will serve as a well-heeled insurance policy for Detroit this season.

Jansen has missed 34 games over the past five years because of injuries, and Washington owner Daniel Snyder reportedly tried to talk him into retiring during a meeting Friday. Instead, Jansen accepted the Lions' one-year contract offer, according to multiple news outlets. (Here is a report from Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.)

Jansen has had a good career, but at 33 and with his injury history, I don't think the Lions will pencil him in as a starter. I would imagine Gosder Cherilus, last year's No. 1 draft choice, will still get the first crack at the right tackle with Jeff Backus at left tackle.

Aaron asked over on Facebook if the Lions would consider using Jansen on the left side to facilitate their long-rumored move of Backus to left guard. I'd have to say that is an unlikely scenario. No one is sure how much Jansen has left in him. The Redskins thought he should retire. Stranger things have happened, but I don't think that's an ideal scenario for a starting left tackle.

More likely, it's an insurance arrangement. The Lions were willing to give Jansen an opportunity to prove he can still play. If he manages a career renaissance, then suddenly the Lions have an unexpected option for their offensive line. Otherwise, they'll have a prominent backup -- or, at the very least, the satisfaction of knowing they continued to turn over every leaf for personnel improvement this offseason.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

After reading the Black and Blue post below, make sure you check out the AFC West blog of our colleague Bill Williamson. (Thanks to Alex of Minneapolis for the suggestion for top-to-bottom readers.)

According to Williamson, the four most serious teams in the Jay Cutler sweepstakes are Washington, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and -- yes -- the Black and Blue's own Chicago Bears. The Redskins are getting most of the public attention right now because they could include quarterback Jason Campbell and possibly cornerback Carlos Rogers in the deal, but the Bears do have a better complement of draft picks to offer if it comes to that.

Also, as we discussed Wednesday, the Bears could send Kyle Orton to the Broncos as at least a short-term solution. Campbell has probably performed better than Orton during their short careers, but not by a dramatic margin. (Campbell's career passer rating is 80.1. Orton's is 71.1.)

So I think it's fair to say the Bears are seriously considering this opportunity. Will they ultimately pull off the deal? If they do, they'll have to overcome the most aggressive owner in the NFL. Washington's Dan Snyder doesn't usually get outbid when he wants to make a deal.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew has hardly burst onto the public scene after the Lions gave him a permanent promotion last month, preferring instead to work behind the scenes and keep his thoughts closely guarded.

This is nothing new for Mayhew, writes Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle. In a blog post, Justice recounts his time as a Washington Post beat writer covering Mayhew and the Washington Redskins during the 1990s. There are some nuggets in here that provide some insight into the man in charge of rebuilding the Lions.

I don't want to spoil everything, but here is one anecdote: Mayhew begged Justice not to publicize the fact that he was attending law school at night during the season. He didn't want the Redskins to think he wasn't committed to the team.

This is worth your time on a slow Monday afternoon.

Audibles: NFC North Week 8 preview

October, 24, 2008
10/24/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Detroit Lions (0-6) vs. Washington Redskins (5-2), 1 p.m. ET

During a news conference earlier this week, Detroit coach Rod Marinelli answered a question this way:

"We're looking. There's not a lot of options for us right now, OK? But that's something we're still looking at."

Marinelli was speaking about the possibility of swapping out his kick returners, but the answer spoke globally about the helpless position the Lions have put themselves in. They're winless, blacked out on local television and their limited roster leaves them nowhere to turn for in-season improvement.

At this point, the Lions seem a shocking upset away from 0-16. You have to imagine that someone will go belly-up against them this season, but it's not likely to be the Redskins.

All Washington coach Jim Zorn needs to do is hand it to tailback Clinton Portis a few dozen times. Portis leads the NFL with 818 yards. The Lions, among their many deficiencies, have the NFL's second-worst run defense. They are allowing 167.5 rushing yards per game and will have a hard time slowing down Portis.

A blackout in Detroit

October, 23, 2008
10/23/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We regret to report that Sunday's game between Detroit and Washington will, in fact, be blacked out locally.

Let's all have a moment of silence for the Lions' 51-game sellout streak. It was a nice run.

The team announced the blackout Thursday afternoon. With so many tickets remaining for the game -- 5,000 as of the announcement -- the Lions did not receive an extension from the NFL. As a result, the game won't be carried on local television in the Lions' viewership radius.

If you live within that radius -- roughly 75 miles from Detroit -- but have the NFL Sunday Ticket, my understanding is that you still won't be able to see the game. The blackout will be based on the zip code of your billing address.

This will be the first blackout in the seven-year history of Ford Field.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Those covering the Green Bay Packers practice Monday were surprised to see Derrick Frost handling the punting duties. Incumbent Jon Ryan, whose job was not believed to be in jeopardy, was not on the field.

Well, the Packers just confirmed the news: Ryan was released Monday to make room for Frost. Also, the Packers signed long snapper Brett Goode to replace the injured J.J. Jansen. Linebacker Abdul Hodge was released to make room for Goode.

The departure of Ryan was not expected. He ranked sixth in the NFC last season with a 37.6-yard net average and he had decent averages during the preseason (48.0 gross, 37.7 net.) Frost's preseason numbers this summer with the Washington Redskins (45.5 gross, 32.3 net) didn't compare, but I'm sure the Packers had other reasons.

General Manager Ted Thompson is expected to address reporters later Monday afternoon.

UPDATE (5:30 p.m. ET): Discussing the decision to release Ryan, Thompson said: "I think we were just looking for a little bit more consistency." He described Frost as a mechanically sound punter.

UPDATE II (6:10 p.m. ET): Here is a link to a canada.com story in which Ryan said the move "came out of nowhere."

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
James

He's not in the NFC North anymore, but some of you Minnesota Vikings fans might be interested in the progress of oft-injured defensive end Erasmus James -- a first-round draft pick in 2005 who was traded to the Washington Redskins this summer for a conditional draft pick.

James is working alone with the Redskins' athletic trainers and seems to be a couple weeks away from being cleared to practice. According to Jason La Canfora's Redskins Insider blog, the best-case scenario would have James playing in the final preseason game.

Based on the difficulties James had getting on the field in Minnesota, that timetable is about as optimistic as one could imagine. The Vikings thought James' career was pretty much over when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the second time last winter, and they were prepared to release him outright until the Redskins expressed interest in a trade.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
BookerDavis

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- You don't normally think speed when you see Marty Booker running down the right sideline. And truth be told, Booker wasn't exactly open Wednesday afternoon when Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman spotted him. But Booker was locked in single coverage, an alignment that dictates a throw in most offenses.

A veteran of 10 NFL seasons, Booker fought off a defender with his left hand while stretching out his right. Grossman's pass settled perfectly in Booker's right palm, and he held on for a highlight-reel 40-yard reception.

It was perfect execution: Grossman threw to the right receiver, while Booker used veteran wiles to keep the defender away and soft hands to make the catch.

As unrealistic as it might sound, the Bears will need similar execution this season if they want to energize an offense that looks pretty bland from the outside. Once you get past the quarterback derby between Grossman and Kyle Orton, you realize that an equally pressing issue is a decided lack of playmakers at the receiver position.

The unexpected holdout of Devin Hester only adds to the deficit. Aside from Booker, the Bears are hoping to scrounge at least some plays from a group that includes Mark Bradley (38 career catches), Rashied Davis (39), Brandon Lloyd (three teams in four years) and rookie Earl Bennett.

Most observers expect the Bears to rely heavily on their running game this season, but they won't get very far if their receivers can't occasionally stretch the defense.

"We've got to prove ourselves," Booker said. "Everybody can speculate what they want to speculate on. But we know how it is, and we know how it's going to be. It's just on us to go out there and play with a chip on our shoulders. As receivers we just need to be consistent so that our offense can be the offense we want it to be."

Through two days of practice at Olivet Nazarene University, the Bears have connected on enough downfield passes -- mostly off the arm of Grossman -- to believe they have a chance to move the ball through the air this season.

Thursday, Davis stepped up. He caught a pair of long touchdown passes, the first going 65 yards and the second coming when he out-jumped a defender near the goal line.

With Hester holding out, coach Lovie Smith has made a point to acknowledge that his receivers have been catching the ball well this week. But it's no secret that Smith's receiving group would look decidedly more threatening with Hester on the field.

Consider the case of Lloyd, who might be getting his last chance to play in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers gave up on him in 2005 and the Washington Redskins did the same thing last season. He has 25 receptions in the past two seasons and hasn't scored a touchdown since 2005, but the Bears are giving Lloyd as good of a chance as anyone to earn a prominent role.

Give Lloyd credit for being realistic about the situation. Asked if he was excited about the possibility of starting this season, he laughed and said: "I'm just excited to have a job."

Steve Mariucci
Mariucci
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Former Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci still talks with one of the team's owners, but he sounds an awful lot like a guy who is in no hurry to return to the coaching ranks.

Mariucci hasn't coached since the Lions fired him after the 2005 season. He has regular contact with Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., but don't read anything into that.; he has some pretty stiff conditions on future employment.

Namely: "For me to coach again, it either has to be on the West Coast or I would have to commute," Mariucci says in an interview with the Marquette (MI) Journal.

Mariucci and his wife have moved 18 times during his coaching career, and they have set up a permanent home in Northern California. He suspects this arrangement played a role in his failed candidacy for the Washington Redskins' head coaching job. According to Mariucci, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder wanted his coach to live year-round in the community.

Plus, as an NFL Network analyst, Marciucci can speak his opinions freely. For what it's worth, his assessment of the NFC North in the interview seems pretty spot-on. (Interesting that he doesn't mention his former team.)

"Brett Favre leaving the Packers, and Minnesota without a veteran quarterback, and the Bears - I think the Bears hit a high-water mark a few years ago and kind of leveled off a bit," Mariucci said. "I think the division is up for grabs."

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