NFC North: Zackary Bowman

CampTour'12: Vikings Day 2

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
7:45
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A few thoughts and observations from our second day with the Minnesota Vikings:

  • The team held its fifth consecutive afternoon practice in full pads, and on Friday the temperature had reached 90 degrees by late afternoon. After about an hour of practice, offensive lineman Kevin Murphy left the field with a cold blue towel draped over his head. He left an adjacent area in an ambulance, but coach Leslie Frazier said after practice that Murphy was fine.
  • The Vikings worked on their two-minute drill during 11-on-11. The first-team defense got the better of the offense, allowing seven short completions to quarterback Christian Ponder but not allowing the offense past the 30-yard line before time ran out.
  • Cornerback Antoine Winfield got a veteran's day off Friday, so the nickel defense included Chris Cook, Chris Carr and Zackary Bowman. The Vikings also used a three-man line at times with Everson Griffen as a stand-up pass-rusher. That seems like an appropriate way to use a defensive end who is an experiment at linebacker.
  • Rookie place-kicker Blair Walsh drilled a 55-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights to end practice. The kick had at least another eight yards on it.
  • The Vikings ostensibly had a competition set at the right guard position, but for now second-year player Brandon Fusco is holding onto the job. Friday, veteran Geoff Schwartz returned to the Twin Cities to have an abdominal strain examined.
  • The team will hold its first night practice Saturday at 7 p.m. local time (CT). Frazier made clear it will not include any live tackling drills.
Let's round up some newsbits on the open organized team activities (OTAs) hosted Wednesday by the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings:
  • Bears offensive lineman Gabe Carimi confirmed that he practiced Tuesday but said the decision to sit out Wednesday is part of a larger recovery plan for his right knee. Carimi, via ESPNChicago.com: "We're taking it slow right now. I feel like I'm explosive off it right now, and hopefully we'll keep on progressing."
  • Receiver Devin Hester suggested he can do a lot of damage with just a little more attention in the Bears offense. The team's plan for a "Hester Package," he told reporters, is "Just getting the athlete the ball. Getting the guy who you know can do a lot of damage with the ball in his hands ... getting him the ball regularly. I can go a season with 40 catches ... the way the offense is designed I only need about 40 to 50 catches and I can get close to 800 or 900 yards receiving. With this offense you might not have a lot of balls but you're going to have a lot of big plays."
  • Packers receiver Donald Driver was in uniform for Wednesday's practice and defiantly rebuffed suggestions that he might not make the 2012 roster, despite a newly renegotiated contract. Driver, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "People talk about how this is a young man's game. But I have proven that age is just a number. And I haven't declined. People talk about, well, I didn’t have 1,000 yards. I didn’t have 80 catches. I don't control who throws the ball. Every ball I caught, it was amazing. I made amazing catches, amazing runs. Hopefully when it is all said and done, people will look at that as the game plays, not the age."
  • Coach Mike McCarthy didn't discount the possibility that the Packers could keep six receivers in 2012, according to the team website.
  • New Packers defensive lineman Phillip Merling did not participate in practice but will on Thursday. McCarthy said: "We'll have him involved in everything tomorrow and see where he is. He's added competition at the defensive line group. We feel he's a good fit for a 3-4 and the sub groups. You can't have enough big guys on your football team and we have excellent competition on the defensive line."
  • High upon a hill overlooking the Vikings' practice field, there was some serious talent. Tailback Adrian Peterson (knee) and receiver Percy Harvin (shoulder) got a little competitive during a conditioning drill that goes with their injury participation. The players would jog to the base of the hill and then sprint up it. Harvin admitted that Peterson, who is just about five months removed from surgery, beat him twice. "He's amazing," Harvin said. "I told him the other day that I don't think he's human."
  • The only veterans missing from Vikings OTAs this week are linebacker Chad Greenway, who is dealing with a family issue, and defensive end Jared Allen. Typically, Allen does not attend voluntary sessions, but coach Leslie Frazier said he hoped to see him in Minnesota next week. Harvin has been an inconsistent attendee in the past but said he made a point to be in town this year.
  • It's rare to see a healthy player walk away from the game, but that's what it appears Vikings cornerback Asher Allen did last week. Allen was a third-round draft choice in 2009 and started 21 games over the past three years before walking into Frazier's office and announcing his decision. Allen, 24, suffered a concussion last season but didn't mention health as a reason for retiring, according to Frazier. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall after the Vikings signed veterans Zackary Bowman and Chris Carr this offseason while also drafting cornerback Josh Robinson in the third round. In three years, Allen earned about $1.95 million, including a $725,500 signing bonus.
Let’s take a closer look at Chicago’s 10-6 loss at San Francisco, beginning with a glance at how our pregame keys played out:

  • As it turned out, the 49ers were an eminently beatable team Thursday night. Their defense put good pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, especially in the second half, but their offense hardly capitalized on five turnovers. And punter Andy Lee’s touchback on a punt from the 36-yard line gave the Bears better field position than they should have had to start their final drive.
  • The Bears defense played with an intensity and aggressiveness that we haven’t seen in a while. But in the end, 49ers tailback Frank Gore piled up more yardage than I thought he would, finishing with 104 yards on 25 carries. He was especially effective in helping the 49ers run off more than six minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter.
  • San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith didn’t do much to help the 49ers’ cause, and the Bears limited him to 118 yards on 16-of-23 passing. But Chicago only pressured him into one mistake, a poor deep pass that cornerback Zackary Bowman intercepted.
  • I urged the Bears to put the game on Cutler’s shoulders on the premise that tailback Matt Forte wouldn’t get enough running room to give them a balanced attack. If the Bears were going to go down, I reasoned, it should be while riding the player they mortgaged their short-term future on. On cue, Forte managed 41 yards on 20 carries. And the Bears went down with Cutler, who threw two interceptions in the end zone and five overall.
  • I understand what the NFL Network’s Matt Millen was saying about some of Cutler’s interceptions. All five weren’t solely his fault. But I thought Cutler played with a jacked-up, frenetic pace that led him to overanticipate some passes and force some others. Devin Hester might have bumped into the umpire on one of the interceptions, but Cutler still pushed the ball his way in an undisciplined fashion. In the red zone, Cutler seems so locked in on tight ends -- especially Greg Olsen -- that he doesn’t seem to be seeing the entire field. It sure looked like receiver Earl Bennett was open on the final play.
  • I’m sure the Bears defense wishes it had gotten the ball back for its offense sooner in the fourth quarter. But it produced a pretty impressive effort, holding the admittedly lackluster 49ers to 12 first downs and 216 offensive yards. That included several “hello” moments from defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who notched a sack and also had a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. The overall performance came despite the absence of safeties Kevin Payne (back) and Al Afalava (shoulder). Veteran Josh Bullocks was forced into the starting lineup as a result.
  • As Pirates4Vikings noted on the previous post, this loss leaves the Bears needing help if they want to win the NFC North. Minnesota can now win the division with three consecutive victories, all at the Metrodome, and two losses by Green Bay over the same stretch.

That’s it for now. For regular readers, please note that this post will count as our Week 10 “Third and one” for the Bears.video

Tracing the Bears' defensive decline

November, 10, 2009
11/10/09
2:30
PM ET
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
The Chicago defense has been exploited in recent losses to Cincinnati and Arizona.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Walking into Chicago’s locker room Sunday, I was tempted to ask a few players for fingerprint identification. They had to be imposters, right? There seemed to be no way a Bears defense could allow an opponent to score on its first six possessions, as Arizona did Sunday in a 41-21 victory.

Nor is it believable that two weeks ago Cincinnati scored on its first seven drives. Both the Bengals and Cardinals pulled back in the second half, the kind of pity move a college coach makes against an overmatched homecoming opponent. Or, as FOX analyst Troy Aikman said during Sunday’s broadcast: "I thought high school football was played on Friday.''

Indeed, no NFL defense should ever be trampled to this degree, no matter how explosive the opponent. That it’s happening to the Bears, a team built on the concept of a swarming and dominating defense, is particularly jarring. What has happened since the Bears' defense carried the team to the Super Bowl three years ago? Let’s examine a few key developments, using the chart at the bottom of this post to trace its statistical decline.

Uncoordinated

We could spend all day debating coach Lovie Smith’s decision to fire defensive coordinator Ron Rivera after the 2006 season. Let’s put that argument aside for a moment and agree on this: Three years later, Smith still hasn’t found an adequate replacement.

Smith acknowledged the failure of Bob Babich’s tenure last winter, gently demoting him to linebackers coach while allowing him to keep the coordinator title. Smith has taken over as the primary playcaller and de facto coordinator, but if anything, the Bears' defense has performed worse under that arrangement.

Take a look at the chart. You’ll notice that most statistical measurements began a decline after the 2006 season except for one: Third-down conversions.

The Bears ranked second among NFL teams in stopping opponents on third down in 2007 and fifth in 2008. Third-down defense is a great equalizer, and on more than two-thirds of those occasions the Bears were holding the line and getting the ball back for their offense.

Third downs are also a strong measure of scheme and play calling. Much like a two-strike count in baseball, third down is football’s greatest battle of wits. You use tendencies, history and instinct to guess what the offense will fall back on to maintain possession.

On that count, Smith has failed as a playcaller. Opponents are converting 42 percent of third downs this season, plummeting the Bears to No. 25 in the NFL.

Consider the Cardinals’ first third-down conversion last Sunday. The Bears showed blitz by running linebackers Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer to the line, but ultimately rushed only four players on third-and-10. They defended with their traditional Tampa 2 scheme, but cornerback Zack Bowman played far off of receiver Steve Breaston, who ran a simple square-in for a 23-yard reception. If you don’t challenge the quarterback, you have to challenge the receiver. Smith’s call did neither, and the play looked like a half-speed practice rehearsal.

"[We’re] not making plays on third down," Smith said. "I know that’s a pretty simple answer to your question. But we have to get off [the field] on third down."

To this point, Smith isn’t giving the Bears a fair chance.

Talent drain

The Bears built a strong nucleus of players earlier in this decade, but over the past five years they’ve failed to infuse any notable talent to maintain their skill level. The last impact player the Bears drafted was defensive tackle Tommie Harris, their first-round pick in 2004 whose production has fallen off considerably over the past two years.

In Week 9, the Bears started six players who arrived after 2004. Only defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, acquired in a 2005 trade with Miami, has been a difference-maker -- and even Ogunleye has dropped off since notching 10 sacks in his first season with the Bears.

There has been some hope for Bowman, who seems to have some ball skills. But to this point, his performance has been no different than any of the legions of middling draft picks the Bears have trotted out at defensive back.

Defensive players drafted in past five years
Year Player Comment
2005 S Chris Harris Traded to Carolina
2006 S Danieal Manning Has struggled as a starter
2006 DT Dusty Dvoracek Injuires ended his Bears career
2006 LB Jamar Williams Has been a backup
2006 DE Mark Anderson Invsible after 12-sack rookie season
2007 DE Dan Bazuin Knee injury ended his career
2007 DE Michael Okwo Waived after injuries
2007 S Kevin Payne Lost starting job this summer
2007 DB Corey Graham Plummeted to bottom of depth chart
2007 CB Trumaine McBride Waived this summer
2008 DT Marcus Harrison Starting at nose tackle
2008 S Craig Steltz Reserve
2008 CB Zack Bowman Starting
2008 DE Ervin Baldwin Waived
2008 LB Joey LaRocque Waived
2009 DL Jarron Gilbert Inactive most of this season
2009 DE Henry Melton Injured reserve
2009 CB D.J. Moore Inactive for most of this season
2009 LB Marcus Freeman Waived
2009 S Al Afalava Starting

Quite simply, you can’t have a dominating defense without at least a few dominating players. At this point, the Bears have two semi-elite players in Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman.

No interior disruption

Last week, NFL Network offered a replay of the Bears’ legendary 2006 victory at Arizona. Among many other twists and turns, the game was notable for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher’s 25-tackle performance.

We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of Urlacher’s season-ending wrist injury this year. More than anything, however, I’m reminded of Urlacher’s postgame interview that evening. Urlacher essentially acknowledged he went unblocked most of the night. The interior duo of Harris and Tank Johnson kept Urlacher clean throughout.

You see none of that while watching the Bears’ defense these days. All three linebackers are regularly fighting off blocks. Neither Harrison nor Anthony Adams approaches Johnson’s ability to absorb blockers. And Harris rarely makes a play in the backfield, let alone affects the outcome of the game.

To realize how a defensive tackle can change a game, you only have to think back to the Bears’ 2006 victory at Minnesota. Harris sliced through the Vikings’ offensive line to force a fourth-quarter fumbled exchange between quarterback Brad Johnson and tailback Chester Taylor. The Bears recovered, and Rex Grossman soon hit Rashied Davis for a go-ahead and, ultimately, winning touchdown pass.

Interior disruption is a hallmark of dominating defenses. The Bears haven’t had that in awhile. According to their official statistics, their defensive tackles have combined for seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage. That’s less than one per game.

I’m sure we could come up with other factors, causes and effects of the Bears’ defensive decline. The trio above are what came to my mind. Feel free to add your ideas to the comments section below.

Bears defense: 2006-09
  2006 2007 2008 2009
  No. Rank No. Rank No. Rank No. Rank
Yards per game 289.1 5 354.7 28 334.7 21 326.0 15
Points per game 15.9 3 21.8 17 21.9 T-16 23.9 22
Rushing yards per game 99.4 6 122.9 24 93.5 5 119.5 21
Passing yards per game 194.8 11 231.8 27 241.2 30 206.5 12
Third-down pct. 31 2 33 2 35 5 42.0 25
Sacks 40 T-8 41 6 28 22 16 23
Ints. 24 2 16 17 22 T-3 8 T-10
Forced fumbles 20 1 17 4 10 16 6 10
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We've spent so much time discussing quarterback Jay Cutler, defensive tackle Tommie Harris and the state of Chicago's secondary that we've hardly mentioned the summer of Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher -- a key to any successful season the Bears might have.

Urlacher seemed a lot less surly during the days I spent in Bourbonnais, Ill., last week. And reports from those who watched every practice of training camp suggest Urlacher, at the very least, seems unencumbered by the physical ailments that have limited him in recent years.

In his camp wrap-up piece, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that Urlacher is "moving like he did a couple of years ago." A healthy offseason allowed Urlacher to train vigorously rather than focus on rehabilitation.

If he remains healthy and happy, Urlacher could be on his way to a revitalized season.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Got in a bit later than planned Monday night, and so I'm just getting around to updating you on the happenings around the NFC North. We start with a newsy day in Green Bay, where linebacker Nick Barnett practiced in full pads for the first time, defensive lineman Justin Harrell admitted he is worried his career is over and the coaching staff began splitting repetitions at right tackle.

Barnett participated in a limited capacity but wore full pads as his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament draws to a close. Backups Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop have practiced well in his absence, but Barnett said he has no concerns about losing his starting job, according to Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Barnett: "I feel like I'm a leader of this defense, and for me to be sitting here and talking about, 'I feel pressure in my spot,' it's a little -- I don't know, just out of order to me."

Harrell, meanwhile, said he is "most definitely" concerned that back spasms will force him to retire because they signal a reoccurrence of a back injury he has already had two surgeries for. "It's probably the worst week of my life," Harrell said. No decision had been made as of Monday.

Finally, second-year offensive lineman Breno Giacomini started getting work with the first team at right tackle, where Allen Barbre has been practicing. Barbre also got some first-team reps, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Giacomini has fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery and is an imposing figure at 6-foot-7.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Chicago coach Lovie Smith hinted that Charles Tillman and Zackary Bowman will be his starting cornerbacks when they get healthy, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Neither Tillman (back) nor Bowman (hamstring) practiced Monday.
  • Bears receiver Devin Hester said he was initially offended by quarterback Jay Cutler's postgame comments about an interception Cutler threw Saturday in Buffalo. But the two were fine after discussing the issue, Biggs writes.
  • Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago writes that safety Danieal Manning (hamstring) might miss Saturday's preseason game against the New York Giants.
  • Detroit coach Jim Schwartz used the backflip of rookie Aaron Brown as a teaching point Monday, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press. Officials called a 15-yard penalty on the play.
  • Lions general manager Martin Mayhew is happy with the progress of his team's quarterbacks, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • Michael Rosenberg of the Free Press believes former Lions coach Rod Marinelli left behind a winning culture, if not a winning team.
  • The only person who matters in deciding whether Brett Favre returns to Minnesota is coach Brad Childress, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Weekend mailbag

August, 16, 2009
8/16/09
2:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The mailbag has been a bit hit-or-miss here during training camp, where every day feels like Monday. Or Tuesday. I can't remember which. They all seem the same. But I thought I'd catch up on a few questions and remind everyone that you can contact me through this link, or via Facebook and even Twitter.

BT of Ripon, Wis., notes the Packers have three first-round picks at linebacker and wonders if it's true that all three are being either outperformed or nudged aside by lesser-known backups.

Kevin Seifert: BT, you open up an interesting can of worms. Let's take the players one by one.

  1. Nick Barnett (No. 1 in 2003): Barnett remains on the physically unable to perform list while he rehabilitates after knee surgery. So it's not really his fault that Brandon Chillar has adapted nicely to the 3-4 defense and looks natural at one of the inside positions. Chillar is an excellent blitzer and defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to send the blitz. But Chillar is also versatile and can play on the outside as well, which is why I think he won't be the permanent starter unless Barnett has a setback in his recovery. The Packers want to use Chillar in other places than just inside linebacker. Barnett could return as early as this week, and I expect him to reclaim his starting job.
  2. A.J. Hawk (No. 1, 2006): Hawk has shuffled from outside to inside in his three seasons with the Packers, but I don't think he's in danger of losing his job to Desmond Bishop. While Bishop was aggressive early in camp, and had a strong game Saturday night in the Packers' preseason opener, Hawk appears to be very much in the Packers' plans this season.
  3. Clay Matthews (No. 1, 2009): A nagging hamstring injury has really limited Matthews this summer, but backup Jeremy Thompson has also had health issues. If anyone has benefited, it's veteran Brady Poppinga -- whose pass rushing skills would seem to mesh decently with the 3-4. But the Packers made a significant sacrifice to draft Matthews and he will eventually get his shot.

In talking to Packers coach Mike McCarthy last week, he was really excited about the possibilities presented by the multiple substitution packages in this scheme. That means it's likely the Packers will be utilizing Chillar, Bishop, Thompson and Poppinga in certain packages regardless of whether any of them are in the starting lineup.


Via Facebook, Brian asks: When do we find out if the Williams Wall is going to stay up or be out for 4 weeks? Or did I miss that?

Kevin Seifert: Nope, Brian, you didn't miss it. The next important date is Tuesday, when a federal appeals court will take its turn in the case. Boiled down, this hearing will eventually determine whether the case will proceed in state court or be thrown out.

If it proceeds, then both Kevin Williams and Pat Williams will be able to play the entire season and schedule a trial for the offseason. If it is thrown out, both players will be suspended for the first four games of the season. Their only recourse at that point would be to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Stay tuned.


Gale Shaffer of Warsaw, Ind., writes: Being a Bears fan, it appears the experts seem to believe the weak link is the receivers, which may or may not be true. It sure seems the offense has a lot of weapons in this area if you include the tight ends and Matt Forte. If this is proven to be wrong and a couple of these young receivers step up, what would be your take on Chicago's season considering the rest of the offense. As a fan I would maybe be more concerned with the defense and how they will perform than the offense. What's your take?

Kevin Seifert: After spending some time with the Bears last week, I'm in total agreement. If I had to pick one area of concern, I would choose the health and viability of their defensive personnel over the inexperience of their receivers.

Over four days, I saw defensive tackle Tommie Harris practice once. He is displaying all kinds of bad warning signs right now. The same goes for cornerback Nate Vasher. I wonder whether he will make the team this year. And given the injuries in their secondary -- Charles Tillman, Zackary Bowman, Danieal Manning -- it's hard to get a read on their pass defense.

Saturday night's preseason opener was not a good start. Buffalo's top two quarterbacks combined to complete 23 of 26 passes for 222 yards.


Kent of Cleveland writes: I always love line picks so I have no problem with the Packers taking BJ Raji. I keep seeing that he is slated to play at DE. I know 3-4 DE's need to be bigger, but isn't 6-2 337 a little big for a DE? Is he that much of a gifted athlete? Seems like a lot of weight for a relatively short frame. What are your thoughts on his ideal position?

Kevin Seifert: It's a fair question. Based on his college experience, Raji's ideal position is the "undertackle" in a 4-3 scheme. That's the position played by Minnesota's Kevin Williams and Chicago's Tommie Harris, among others.

The Packers, of course, play a 3-4. Some people thought Raji would be the Packers' nose tackle, but they have decided -- at least for the short-term -- to use him at end with Ryan Pickett at nose tackle. As we discussed in June, that's a case of getting your best players on the field first and then deciding where to play them.

Raji might not be the absolute prototypical size to play defensive end, but he is a superior athlete. I'm really interested to see how he fares on the edge.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago coach Lovie Smith revealed a pair of interesting and unexpected depth chart maneuvers Wednesday morning on the team's Web site.

  1. Danieal Manning, and not second-year player Craig Steltz, will open training camp with the first team at free safety. Steltz will compete with Kevin Payne for the strong safety job and replace Manning at free safety in the nickel package, Smith told ChicagoBears.com writer Larry Mayer.
  2. With Charles Tillman sidelined after back surgery, second-year cornerback Zackary Bowman will work with the first team. There had been some speculation that Corey Graham would move back to cornerback from safety, but Smith said that Bowman stood out during spring practices. Tillman is expected to return as the starter in time for the regular season, but Bowman's ascendance gives you a good idea of where the Bears' depth chart stands at this point.

Manning started 29 games during his first two seasons as the Bears dealt with injuries to veteran Mike Brown. Twenty-six of those starts came at free safety. But Manning wasn't considered a strong cover man during that period. Steltz finished offseason workouts as the No. 1 free safety after Brown's departure, and it was expected that he would compete with Graham for the starting job.

The Bears' plan to use Steltz in the nickel is unusual and reflects Manning's limited coverage ability. But Smith has personally coached the nickel group in the past and it's clear he is calling these shots.

In the big picture, these developments mean the Bears have plenty of evaluative work to do when training camp opens Friday. They're going to get a good idea of what they have in Bowman, and they should find out once and for all if Manning can be a starting-caliber safety or if he is destined to be a subordinate defensive player along with his role on kickoff returns.

Weekend mailbag

July, 11, 2009
7/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We had a little action last week in the NFC North, but as expected, the news certainly slowed as all four teams enjoyed some time away from their practice facilities. We got an update on the Williams Wall story, debated the pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and argued over the identity of the NFC North's breakout player in 2009. (I say Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin, you say Chicago tight end Greg Olsen.)

But there's always material for the mailbag, thanks to your intrepid participation. Remember, you can contact me through said mailbag, our lightning-fast Facebook page or Twitter. Phones? They're, like, sooooo 2008. I don't even know why I have one.

OK, let's get on with it:

Brad of Chicago notes our breakdown of Detroit's drafts this decade, hooked to the release of linebacker Alex Lewis, and asks for a comparison with the rest of the division.

Kevin Seifert: Thanks for the assignment, Brad. Seriously, it's a good idea. As it turns out, the Lions rank last among the four NFC North teams in this category. The Packers lead with 33 players. Of course, these numbers can be skewed based on the total number of draft choices. But over time, it's at least a decent gauge of overall draft success.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown:

DETROIT LIONS
2000:
0
2001: 2 (Tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola)
2002: 0
2003: 0
2004: 1 (Smith)
2005: 0
2006: 2 (Linebacker Ernie Sims, safety Daniel Bullocks)
2007: 5 (Receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Drew Stanton, defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis, guard Manny Ramirez, cornerback Ramzee Robinson)
2008: 7 (Tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Jordon Dizon, tailback Kevin Smith, defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, defensive end Cliff Avril, fullback Jerome Felton, defensive tackle Landon Cohen)
TOTAL: 17

CHICAGO BEARS
2000: 1 (Linebacker Brian Urlacher)
2001: 0
2002: 2 (Defensive end Alex Brown, tailback Adrian Peterson)
2003: 2 (Cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs)
2004: 2 (Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, cornerback Nate Vasher)
2005: 0
2006: 5 (Safety Danieal Manning, receiver Devin Hester, defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, linebacker Jamar Williams, defensive end Mark Anderson)
2007: 6 (Tight end Greg Olsen, running back Garrett Wolfe, guard Josh Beekman, safety Kevin Payne, defensive back Corey Graham, cornerback Trumaine McBride)
2008: 9 (Tackle Chris Williams, tailback Matt Forte, receiver Earl Bennett, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Zackary Bowman, tight end Kellen Davis, defensive end Ervin Baldwin, linebacker Joey LaRocque)
TOTAL: 27

GREEN BAY PACKERS
2000: 1 (Offensive tackle Chad Clifton)
2001: 0
2002: 1 (Linebacker Aaron Kampman)
2003: 1 (Linebacker Nick Barnett)
2004: 1 (Center Scott Wells)
2005: 4 (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, safety Nick Collins, linebacker Brady Poppinga, defensive end Michael Montgomery)
2006: 7 (Linebacker A.J. Hawk, guard Daryn Colledge, receiver Greg Jennings, center Jason Spitz, cornerback Will Blackmon, offensive tackle Tony Moll, defensive tackle Johnny Jolly)
2007: 9 (Defensive end Justin Harrell, running back Brandon Jackson, receiver James Jones, safety Aaron Rouse, offensive tackle Allen Barbre, fullback Korey Hall, linebacker Desmond Bishop, placekicker Mason Crosby, running back DeShawn Wynn)
2008: 9 (Receiver Jordy Nelson, quarterback Brian Brohm, cornerback Pat Lee, tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker Jeremy Thompson, guard Josh Sitton, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, quarterback Matt Flynn, receiver Brett Swain)
TOTAL: 33

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
2000: 0
2001: 0
2002: 1 (Left tackle Bryant McKinnie)
2003: 2 (Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, linebacker E.J. Henderson)
2004: 2 (Defensive end Kenechi Udeze, tight end Jeff Dugan)
2005: 0
2006: 5 (Linebacker Chad Greenway, cornerback Cedric Griffin, offensive lineman Ryan Cook, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, defensive end Ray Edwards)
2007: 5 (Running back Adrian Peterson, receiver Sidney Rice, cornerback Marcus McCauley, defensive end Brian Robison, receiver Aundrae Allison)
2008: 5 (Safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback John David Booty, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, center John Sullivan, receiver Jaymar Johnson)
TOTAL: 20


Dictionary Guy objects to our use of "apocryphal" in a post about Brett Favre's appearance in the iconic "There's Something About Mary." Writes DG: Think about your demographic for about 5 seconds, then think about whether they know what apocryphal means. If you're not sure about the intelligence of your readers, try reading the comments sections. I have a college degree and I had to look it up. might want to dumb it down at least a LITTLE.

Kevin Seifert: What "college" did you go to, DG? Seriously, I get this type of note more often than you might care to believe -- and I hardly consider myself a wordsmith. My reading of the comments section reveals pretty much what we already know: The world is made up of geniuses, yokels and a lot of people in between. On this blog, we'll cater to everyone. And if you occasionally have to consult a dictionary, by gosh, consider making it a habit. It won't bite you.


VikingJ of Wausau, Wis., writes: Saw an ESPN story yesterday about certain teams allowing seasoned vets to go home during camp and not force them to stay in a college dorm room. You then hear coaches say that training camp is a period to build team unity (whatever that means). What are your thoughts on this subject, and what direction are the NFC north teams taking?

Kevin Seifert: You probably were reading about Washington coach Jim Zorn following in the footsteps of what ex-Baltimore coach Brian Billick once did with the Ravens.

I have often heard veterans complaining about off-site training camps. Some players don't like being away from their families. Many are uncomfortable in tiny dorm rooms and old mattresses, a legitimate concern when you consider how much energy they must expend during practice. For those reasons, I can see how it might help to sleep in your own home and bed. And to me, relationships can be formed during training camp whether you're sleeping at home or in the dorms.

Because let's be clear: Regardless of where you sleep, camp is a daily 18-hour affair. Typically, players are scheduled from about 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. If you're not practicing, you're either eating or in meetings or napping. For that reason, some players would prefer staying and sleeping in dorms because they're the closest thing to them. The long hours wouldn't really give them much chance to see their families anyway.

I'm not aware of a sleep-on-your-own policy in the NFC North. Everyone sleeps in dorms (Chicago, Minnesota and Green Bay) or in a hotel (Detroit).


Jimbo of Chicago writes: Kevin, what's the inside scoop on the other Adrian Peterson? With Matt Forte and Kevin Jones getting the bulk of the carries, and the Bears talking about how they need to get Garrett Wolfe on the field more this year, where does that leave a veteran like AP? Does he even have a spot on this team? Do they really hold a spot for him just to play special teams?

Kevin Seifert writes: Jimbo, there are a couple of interesting factors in play here. First, you wonder if the Bears really would keep four tailbacks on the 53-man roster. If they only keep three, the competition conceivably would be down to Wolfe and Peterson. To me, we'll find out once and for all if the Bears are serious about using Wolfe on offense. That would be the primary reason to keep him over Peterson.

Second, Wolfe showed proficiency as a special teams player last season, leading the team with 21 tackles. The Bears put a strong emphasis on coverage and wouldn't part easily with Peterson. But at least they would know that Wolfe can handle coverage assignments.


Randall of Monoma, Wis., writes: If the Williams Wall wins, why couldn't the Wisconsin legislature pass legislation forbidding the calling of penalties against the Packers in home games at Lambeau Field, as a violation of their employee rights?

Kevin Seifert: Haha. (I think. I'm presuming you're joking.) Randall, of course, is referring to the lawsuit filed by Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Essentially, the players are arguing that the NFL's steroid testing policy violates Minnesota state law. (The NFL contends the policy, which is part of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, should be subject only to federal laws.)

But I cordially invite the Wisconsin legislature to take a break from its busy schedule to pursue such a law. Just to see what happens. And I'm guessing there would be more than a few legislators willing to take up the issue. Revolution!


Joseph of Fort Meade, Md., writes: As a Bears fan I'm glad to see the "Williams Wall" case delayed. At the end of the day, the NFL doesn't care about the state of Minnesota's stance on drug testing. The wall will lose. So hopefully they can be suspended at a more critical time in the season.

Kevin Seifert: Joseph, you actually bring up a good point. We have no way of predicting how long the legal process will take here. One month? Three months? Six months? Who knows with these things. But if you strictly go by the regular season schedule, the Vikings' first four games might represent the best stretch for them to miss if it comes to that.

None of their first four opponents -- Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco and Green Bay -- had winning records last season. And from a preseason perspective, at least, the only running game I would fear in that group is the Packers'. If the players' legal case ultimately results in them missing games later in the season, it could play a more important role in the Vikings' playoff aspirations. No doubt.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

As they prepare for their mandatory mini-camp to open Tuesday, the Chicago Bears announced a series of inside-baseball news items on their Web site. Here's a run-down with a few comments from yours truly:

  • There is a long list of veterans who won't participate because they are still recovering from various surgeries: Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Trumaine McBride, safety Kevin Payne, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. Comment: That's one of the downsides of having mini-camp two months earlier than normal. Around the NFL, there are scores of players who wouldn't be ready to get on the field this early in the offseason.
  • Second-year defensive back Zackary Bowman will be moved from cornerback to free safety. Comment: Makes sense considering the relative lack of depth at that position, where the Bears last week signed former New Orleans safety Josh Bullocks.
  • New offensive lineman Frank Omiyale has played tackle and guard in his career, but he will work exclusively at left guard this week. Comment: It's been expected that Omiyale will replace Josh Beekman at that position. But that could change if the Bears don't re-sign free agent John St. Clair.
  • The Bears will give second-year receiver Earl Bennett a chance to win the starting job opposite Devin Hester. Comment: By process of elimination, Bennett is the only internal candidate for the job. That's a lot to ask from a player whose next NFL catch will be his first.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Lost in last Sunday's helter-skelter game at Soldier Field was an encouraging performance from Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who produced his best game of a disappointing season in the Bears' 48-41 victory over Minnesota.

In addition to registering his first sack of 2008, Harris finished with a season-high four tackles, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries. The sack came at a particularly important time for the Bears; the Vikings had just regained possession at their 25-yard line and had 1:06 left to try to tie the game. But Harris' sack of Gus Frerotte pushed the Vikings back another eight yards, and on the ensuing play rookie cornerback Zackary Bowman nabbed a game-clinching interception of quarterback Gus Frerotte.

"Tommie's a great player," Bears coach Lovie Smith told local reporters. "He makes our entire defensive line better. He did it the last time he played. The best game he's played this year was the last time we played. We saw signs of the old Tommie coming back. We expect to see that and more the next time we play."

Harris entered Sunday with three tackles and three quarterback hurries in four games. A knee injury has bothered him and caused him to miss one game, but personal problems -- namely, difficulty dealing with a child born out of wedlock -- led him to be suspended for another.

It seems clear the Bears need a much-improved performance from Harris if they intend to improve their defense in the second half of the season. Disrupting the middle of an opponent's offense is a necessity in the Tampa-2 scheme, and no one on Chicago's roster is better equipped to do it than Harris.

Bears add some secondary depth

October, 22, 2008
10/22/08
11:14
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Holt
Holt

The Chicago Bears will take some additional depth into their bye week after signing veteran safety Terrence Holt on Wednesday.

Holt will replace rookie Zackary Bowman, who suffered a season-ending biceps injury Sunday against Minnesota. He is quite familiar with the NFC North, having spent his first four seasons with Detroit before moving to Arizona last season. Holt went to training camp with Carolina this summer but was released after the preseason.

The signing indicates the Bears aren't totally sure of their health situation. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman (shoulder), Nate Vasher (wrist) and Danieal Manning (hamstring) all missed Sunday's game and probably won't practice during the bye week.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Add one more injured defensive back to the Chicago Bears' continually growing list.

Rookie cornerback Zackary Bowman, who scored a touchdown and had a game-clinching interception in his NFL debut last Sunday, will miss the rest of the season because of an injury to his right biceps. The Bears are hoping to get most of their other injured players back after this bye week, but they won't have the services of a rookie who made the leap from practice squad player to end-game hero Sunday.

According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, the injury occurred sometime between Bowman's second-quarter recovery of a muffed punt and his fourth-quarter interception of Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte. Coach Lovie Smith said Bowman was "definitely playing with pain" on that final play and added:

"But that said a lot for him in his first game. He'll never forget that."

With any luck, the Bears will have cornerbacks Charles Tillman (shoulder) and Nate Vasher (wrist) back after the bye. Nickel back Danieal Manning (hamstring) could also return. Vasher likely will split time with Corey Graham, who has been starting in his place.

Continuing our morning look around the NFC North as the divisional bye approaches:

  • Vasher spent Saturday night in a Chicago-area hospital when his wrist and hand swelled, according to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. Vasher was released Sunday when officials determined he was not at risk for a serious infection.
  • Given his own team's long medical list, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy cancelled a bye week practice and won't have his team back on the field until next Monday. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel lays out the schedule.
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette examines the fumbling habits of tailback Ryan Grant. McCarthy's assessment was blunt: "It needs to stop."
  • Minnesota safety Madieu Williams, who missed the first seven games of the season because of a neck injury, said he expects to resume playing after the bye. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press explains Williams' situation.
  • Some fans in Minnesota have blamed punter Chris Kluwe's fumbled snap Sunday on coach Brad Childress, who called Kluwe out publicly three weeks ago for his performance. Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune reacts thusly: "If you're embracing this theory -- that Childress should be held accountable for a fourth-year NFL punter dropping a snap -- then you have serious emotional issues and should avoid watching future sports events."
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com suggests that Detroit coaches stop looking for tweaks and changes that could make a difference in games. It's too hopeless now. "While everyone in the organization seems to be searching for the answer, the troubling trend that has developed makes it pretty clear what the problem is: The Lions can't compete."
  • Mike O'Hara of the Detroit News wonders if the Lions will be able to sell out Sunday's home game against Washington.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- It's always fun to read the cheap shots and one-liners from newspaper columnists the day after a game as wild as Chicago's 48-41 victory Sunday at Soldier Field. Before jumping on a plane, we wanted to bring you a few of the highlights.

Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune summed up the afternoon nicely:

What a silly, fun, exhausting game this was. If you blinked, you likely missed a blocked punt. If you turned away, you probably missed a muffed punt. If you blinked and turned away at the same time, well, you were better at multitasking than the Vikings, who couldn't seem to think and play special teams at the same time.

Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times had some trouble spitting out nice words on quarterback Kyle Orton:

Kyle Orton is for real. He is the leader of the Bears. I'll need a little more time before going further.

Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press heard Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen predict the team would be different when it returns from its bye and couldn't help but mock it:

Gosh, I hope it's the Giants or the Steelers. You know, somebody good. But after listening a bit more, it became clear that he meant the Vikings would look different when they come back from the bye week. That didn't excite me nearly as much. Something about putting lipstick on a pig.

Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune found humor in a throwaway line from coach Brad Childress:

The players acted oddly nonchalant about the loss, and Childress was loathe to criticize anyone, even the punter who dropped, then drop-kicked, the ball. "Accentuate the positive,'' Childress said. "Eliminate the negative." Those are lyrics from a hit song from the 1940s performed by such hip-hop stars as Bing Crosby, Perry Como and the Andrews Sisters. There is a chance that Childress, who coaches edgy young men, may not be reaching his targeted demographic.

We'll bring you more on this game and the rest of the NFC North later today. But first, let's continue our morning roundup:

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune tells the story of Bears defensive back Zackary Bowman, who had a touchdown and interception in his first NFL game. Bowman spent his formative years in Alaska.
  • Green Bay tailback Ryan Grant is slowly rounding into shape, writes Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "We're moving on the right track," Grant said. "I don't feel like I'm doing what I've been doing and what I need to be doing. So, I don't want to say it's back yet because I'm not performing at the level that I need to be. But we're getting better, and I'm going to get better."
  • All things considered, the Packers' 34-14 victory over Indianapolis was everything they could have hoped for, writes Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal. "That's what it looks like right there," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's the way you want to go into the bye."
  • Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson had the two longest catches of his career, a 96-yard touchdown and a 58-yard "Hail Mary" reception to end the first half of a 28-21 loss at Houston. But as Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com writes, the postgame question was why the Lions didn't throw his way more.
  • Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press has some fun with years of Lions incompetence.

A special teams debacle for Minnesota

October, 19, 2008
10/19/08
2:20
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Maybe Minnesota should ship out all of their special teams and not just punter Chris Kluwe.

The Vikings just handed Chicago its second special teams touchdown of the game. Punt returner Charles Gordon allowed a Brad Maynard punt to bounce off his arm for a muff. The ball rolled about five yards into the end zone, where the Bears' Zackary Bowman fell on it for a touchdown.

The Vikings are driving up and down the field on the Bears, and their offense rolled up 162 yards through the middle of the second quarter. But the special teams disasters have the Bears ahead 24-17.

See the preceding post for an account of Kluwe's earlier circus act.

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