NFL Nation: Anthony Henry
UFAs as of March 5: Linebacker Darrell McClover, defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, running back Adrian Peterson, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Comment: None have re-signed. The Bears are trying to bring back Tinoisamoa.
UFAs as of March 5: Linebacker Vinny Ciurciu, offensive lineman Damion Cook, quarterback Daunte Culpepper, tight end Casey Fitzsimmons, linebacker Larry Foote, tight end Will Heller, cornerback Anthony Henry, cornerback Will James, offensive lineman Jon Jansen, safety Marquand Manuel, quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
Comment: Ciurciu, Heller and Jansen have re-signed. Foote seems likely to return to Pittsburgh.
Green Bay Packers
UFAs as of March 5: Offensive lineman Chad Clifton, running back Ahman Green, linebacker Aaron Kampman, offensive lineman Mark Tauscher.
Comment: Clifton and Tauscher have re-signed. Kampman signed with Jacksonville.
UFAs as of March 5: Offensive lineman Artis Hicks, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, cornerback Benny Sapp, running back Chester Taylor.
Comment: Kennedy and Sapp re-signed. Taylor signed with Chicago. Hicks signed with Washington.
Those plans began to take shape Sunday night. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Lions are on the verge of acquiring cornerback Chris Houston from Atlanta, while multiple reports indicate free agent Jonathan Wade will visit the Lions on Monday. Wade played three seasons in St. Louis but was not tendered a contract.
We know the Lions had discussions about acquiring Antonio Cromartie from San Diego, and Schefter reports they also expressed interest in free agent Dunta Robinson, who eventually signed in Atlanta. I would expect the position to be a continuous focal point throughout the season.
Potential unrestricted free agents: Linebacker Darrell McClover, defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, running back Adrian Peterson, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Potential restricted free agents: Defensive end Mark Anderson, safety Josh Bullocks, safety Danieal Manning, linebacker Nick Roach, linebacker Jamar Williams.
Franchise player: None
What to expect: With no picks in the first or second round of next month's draft, the Bears are gearing up for a relatively major jump into free agency. They're expected to bid for defensive end Julius Peppers and possible safety Antrel Rolle and would also like to re-sign linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna could also be a target. Manumaleuna played for new offensive coordinator Mike Martz in St. Louis.
Potential unrestricted free agents: Linebacker Vinny Ciurciu, offensive lineman Damion Cook, quarterback Daunte Culpepper, tight end Casey Fitzsimmons, linebacker Larry Foote, tight end Will Heller, cornerback Anthony Henry, cornerback Will James, offensive lineman Jon Jansen, safety Marquand Manuel, quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
Potential restricted free agents: Defensive end Copeland Bryan, offensive lineman Dylan Gandy, defensive lineman Jason Hunter, offensive lineman Daniel Loper, offensive lineman Manny Ramirez, safety Ko Simpson, linebacker Cody Spencer.
Franchise player: None
What to expect: The Lions aren't likely to be as active as they were last year, but general manager Martin Mayhew said over the winter that he could envision a five- or six-man free agent class. Running back, defensive end and defensive back are all positions they will investigate. They'll also need to find a backup quarterback, assuming Daunte Culpepper moves on.
Green Bay Packers
Potential unrestricted free agents: Offensive lineman Chad Clifton, running back Ahman Green, linebacker Aaron Kampman, offensive lineman Mark Tauscher.
Potential restricted free agents: Safety Atari Bigby, defensive back Will Blackmon, offensive lineman Daryn Colledge, safety Nick Collins, defensive end Johnny Jolly, running back John Kuhn, offensive lineman Jason Spitz, cornerback Tramon Williams.
Franchise player: Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett
What to expect: The Packers will have a demanding offseason filled with difficult decisions. To this point, they haven't re-signed either of their starting offensive tackles. They are clearly approaching injured linebacker Aaron Kampman with caution. And they have a long line of restricted free agents who would like long-term contracts, starting with Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins. The Packers have more than enough to keep them busy, but they haven't dabbled much in free agency in recent years, anyway.
Potential unrestricted free agents: Offensive lineman Artis Hicks, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, cornerback Benny Sapp, running back Chester Taylor.
Potential restricted free agents: Offensive lineman Ryan Cook, defensive end Ray Edwards, defensive tackle Fred Evans, safety Eric Frampton, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, fullback Naufahu Tahi.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Vikings are awaiting word from quarterback Brett Favre on the 2010 season, a decision that could impact their offseason plans. They would like tailback Chester Taylor back, but it's possible Taylor will at least test his value on the open market. As a Final Four team, the Vikings will be limited to signing players that have been released by other teams unless they lose one of their own unrestricted free agents first.
An early look at the free agency situation in the NFC North.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Unrestricted free agents: Linebacker Darrell McClover, defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, running back Adrian Peterson, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Key figures: Defensive end Mark Anderson and safety Danieal Manning are two key players who would have joined the list of unrestricted free agents if the NFL weren't on track for an uncapped offseason. The Bears can block both from moving now. Ogunleye is unlikely to return if he's seeking significant money. The Bears want to re-sign Tinoisamoa, even after his injury-shortened 2009 debut. Peterson's eight-year run with the team might be coming to a close.
Unrestricted free agents: Linebacker Vinny Ciurciu, offensive lineman Damion Cook, quarterback Daunte Culpepper, tight end Casey Fitzsimmons, linebacker Larry Foote, tight end Will Heller, cornerback Anthony Henry, cornerback Will James, offensive lineman Jon Jansen, safety Marquand Manuel, quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
Key figures: The Lions have a total of 20 unrestricted and restricted free agents, a product of the extended roster tryouts they held throughout the 2009 season. The biggest name among their UFAs is Foote, who seems unlikely to return and should be replaced by DeAndre Levy. Culpepper will seek offers on the open market, but it's not out of the question he could return as Matthew Stafford's backup. James had some moments in 2009 and might be worth a return engagement.
Green Bay Packers
Unrestricted free agents: Offensive tackle Chad Clifton, running back Ahman Green, linebacker Aaron Kampman, nose tackle Ryan Pickett, offensive tackle Mark Tauscher.
Key figures: The Packers have a notable list that includes four starters and would have included six more if not for the uncapped year. Clifton will be 34 this summer and Tauscher will turn 33, and it's time for the Packers to begin a succession plan at both positions. T.J. Lang figures as Tauscher's replacement, but Tauscher was actually playing better than Clifton at the end of 2009. Kampman seems unlikely to return as a linebacker in the 3-4, especially while he rehabilitates a knee injury. Pickett could be phased out by B.J. Raji.
Unrestricted free agents: Offensive lineman Artis Hicks, defensive lineman Jimmy Kennedy, receiver Greg Lewis, cornerback Benny Sapp, running back Chester Taylor.
Key figures: Taylor is perhaps the most valuable backup tailback in the league, considering his abilities as a receiver and third-down converter. He will be 31 when the 2010 season begins, but figures to get some attention if he enters the free-agent market. The Vikings want him back, but probably won't devote a huge salary to him with starter Adrian Peterson approaching the expiration of his contract. Sapp probably made himself some money with a credible replacement of injured starter Antoine Winfield.
Here is our AFC North all-decade team.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Analysis: You can really start and stop this argument with Roethlisberger's two Super Bowls wins in the decade. In terms of starting quarterbacks, Roethlisberger trails only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who won three titles in the decade. Outside of Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, no one was even remotely close for consideration, unless you wanted to reach for quarterbacks who had one or two good seasons in the decade, such as Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco or Derek Anderson.
Other considerations: Palmer (Bengals)
Running backs: Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)
Analysis: Typical of the AFC North, our all-decade backfield is as physical and heavy duty as it gets. Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season, registered 10,607 total rushing yards as a member of the Browns and Ravens. He had a 2,000-yard season with Baltimore in 2003. Bettis played six seasons (2000-05) in the decade with the Steelers and rushed for 5,199 yards in that span. Both players won Super Bowls and will be considered for the Hall of Fame. Although we don't have a traditional fullback, Bettis is versatile and big enough for the position.
Other considerations: Willie Parker (Steelers), Rudi Johnson (Bengals)
Analysis: We have a good mix at receiver. Ochocinco came to Cincinnati as a raw second-round pick who worked his way to become a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the biggest personalities in the NFL. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler in the decade, was a former college quarterback who now is one of the toughest and smartest players in the league.
Other considerations: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals), Derrick Mason (Ravens)
Tight End: Todd Heap (Ravens)
Analysis: When you look at the total numbers over the past decade, Heap was the clear choice as the top tight end in the division. Heap caught 427 passes over that span and made two Pro Bowls. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, who has 244 receptions, is two years younger and may eventually match Heap's production. But Heap has the better numbers to date. Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. also put up impressive numbers in just three full seasons with Cleveland.
Other considerations: Miller (Steelers), Winslow Jr. (Browns)
Offensive line: OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), OT Willie Anderson (Bengals/Ravens), G Eric Steinbach (Browns/Bengals), G Alan Faneca (Steelers), C Jeff Hartings (Steelers)
Analysis: Besides leaving off three-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, putting the offensive line together was easier than I thought. Anderson of the Bengals got the edge over Thomas for two reasons: He's a natural right tackle and played nine years last decade at a high level. Thomas, with just three years, doesn't have the same longevity.
Other considerations: OT Thomas (Browns), OT Levi Jones (Bengals), C Rich Braham (Bengals)
Specialists: K Matt Stover (Ravens), P Chris Gardocki (Steelers/Browns), KR Josh Cribbs (Browns), LS Ryan Pontbriand (Browns)
Analysis: Stover made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and his 93.3 field goal percentage in 2006 led the NFL. He's been consistent for a very long time, which is all you ask from kickers. Gardocki and Dave Zastudil is a toss up. But Gardocki led the NFL in punts two years in a row (2000 and 2001) as well as punting yards in 2000. Zastudil cannot boast those claims. Cribbs was a no-brainer, and teammate Pontbriand made two Pro Bowls as Cleveland's long-snapper.
Other considerations: K Phil Dawson (Browns), K Jeff Reed (Steelers), P Zastudil (Ravens/Browns), B.J. Sams (Ravens)
Defense line: Casey Hampton (Steelers), Aaron Smith (Steelers), Justin Smith (Bengals)
Analysis: It's only fair that the AFC North all-decade defense runs a 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, Hampton has embodied what a 3-4 nose tackle looks like and plays like. He has five Pro Bowls in the decade, including this past season. Aaron Smith also is a prototype for 3-4 defensive ends. He's always put personal numbers aside so other defenders in Pittsburgh could flourish. Justin Smith of Cincinnati never quite lived up to his lofty draft status. But he was a consistent player for the Bengals.
Other considerations: DT Kelly Gregg (Ravens), DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (Steelers), DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)
Analysis: You can win a lot of games with this group. You have intelligence and physicality in the middle, and plenty of pass-rush ability on the outside. Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, is the captain and emotional leader of the all-decade defense. Farrior also has the smarts to keep everyone in line, while Suggs and Porter can fly around and wreak havoc on the quarterback. There were several very good candidates at outside linebacker. But Porter and Suggs were dominant forces in the AFC North for a longer period.
Other considerations: OLB James Harrison (Steelers), OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens)
Defensive backs: CB Chris McAlister (Ravens), CB Ike Taylor (Steelers), S Troy Polamalu (Steelers), S Ed Reed (Ravens)
Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are two of the all-time great safeties, so there is no debate there. Also, fans may recently remember the aging and injured McAlister who was cut by the Ravens last year. But at one point "C-Mac" was the most physically dominant cornerback in the division. Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and is the best of what's left at cornerback. I also considered Anthony Henry, who played in Cleveland for four years during the decade and had one stellar season when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001.
Other considerations: CB Henry (Browns), S Rod Woodson (Ravens)
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
As part of an ongoing NFL preview airing on ESPNEWS, we offer three quick hits on the Detroit Lions:
1. You can never have enough quarterbacks. As of Tuesday morning, the Lions have five on their roster: Matthew Stafford, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton, Brooks Bollinger and Kevin O’Connell. Culpepper (toe) and Stanton (knee) are injured, and the turn of events has left Stafford in the driver’s seat to win the starting job. The glut of bodies is symbolic of a roster that will be in flux throughout the season. Stafford is without question the team’s future, and likely the present. But nothing about the positions behind him are permanent.
2. The Lions weren’t 0-16 last season by accident. Years of poor drafting left them with the thinnest personnel situation in the NFL. There is no easy cleanup to this mess, and new general manager Martin Mayhew seems to have taken a two-pronged approach. He’s filled the gaps with more than a dozen veterans acquired via free agency or trades, hoping they can provide credible performances while he builds young depth behind them. Players such as linebackers Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, cornerbacks Philip Buchanon and Anthony Henry, and defensive tackle Grady Jackson are all short-term gap-fillers for what the Lions hope is a wave of young players who will develop over the next few years.
3. New coach Jim Schwartz hired experienced coordinators on both sides of the ball to help with the development process. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan not only works well with young quarterbacks, but he also knows how to mix a power running game with downfield passing. Linehan will adapt his scheme to the strength of his personnel, once he determines what it is. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, meanwhile, is known for his blitz-oriented schemes and has predicted he will send an extra pass rusher 40 percent of the time this season. That approach will generate excitement and could help cover for personnel weaknesses at certain positions.
Thanks to the magic of digital cable and the NFL Network, I was able to catch a good bit of Detroit's matinee matchup with Indianapolis. The Lions made off with an 18-17 victory, and here are a few thoughts:
- Both Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford played well, if differently, and neither pulled away from the other in my book. Culpepper's passing totals (67 yards on seven completions) were limited by what seemed to be a pretty conservative approach in the early going. Whether by design or coincidence, Culpepper continued to play it safe and didn't make any mistakes. He didn't connect on any of his three downfield passes -- one to receiver Calvin Johnson, one to tight end Brandon Pettigrew and one to tight end Casey Fitzsimmons -- but did make a nice improvisation pass to receiver Bryant Johnson for a touchdown. Stafford, on the other hand, was more aggressive but made more mistakes. He threw a bad interception on a deep pass for Bryant Johnson and nearly threw another when pressured near the end zone. Overall, Culpepper and Stafford seem pretty close in their competition. Some people believe that favors Stafford, but I don't know.
- This would have been an appropriate game plan for a regular-season game. The Lions' starting offense played ball-control in the first half, keeping the Colts' explosive offense on the sideline. Overall, the Lions used 22 running plays in the first half and held the ball for more than 21 of a possible 30 minutes. That helped a depleted Lions defense that was playing without linebacker Ernie Sims and starting cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry. The Colts' offense went 80 yards in less than three minutes for its first score, but a Lions blitz ended the Colts' second possession with a punt. I don't know if I trust the Lions' defense over the long haul, but on Saturday this combination seemed to work.
- There has been some discussion about whether tailback Kevin Smith can adjust to a traditional man-blocking scheme after playing in a zone scheme for most of his career. Saturday, he looked pretty good, finishing with 83 all-purpose yards. In fact, I like the backfield the Lions have put together with Smith, Maurice Morris and rookie Aaron Brown. As always with the Lions, the question will be whether the offensive line can open enough holes. It did Saturday, with help from rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
Detroit has an early Saturday kickoff against Indianapolis -- 1 p.m. ET -- so I've already got three things on my mind:
- Assuming this is a fair fight, Daunte Culpepper has a chance to put some distance between himself and Matthew Stafford in the Lions' quarterback competition. Culpepper has hardly been flashy this preseason, but he's been steadier than Stafford. It's possible the Lions will extend the battle into the final week of the preseason. But you would think Culpepper can take the lead if he puts on a strong performance against the Colts.
- The Lions are expected to get some offensive weapons back on the field. Most notably, receiver Calvin Johnson and rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew will make their preseason debuts. Johnson will help give us a more realistic sense of the quarterback competition, in addition to giving the running game some breathing room. The big thing for Pettigrew is getting through this game healthy.
- Assuming Colts quarterback Peyton Manning gets extended playing time, you might want to look away when the Lions are on defense. They had trouble keeping up with and tackling Cleveland last week, and against the Colts they'll be without starting cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry. That's not a good combination.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|New Lions coach Jim Schwartz is attempting to change the atmosphere in Detroit.|
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Upon arriving in Detroit to begin offseason workouts, Lions players found their locker room had been painted. Their lockers had been moved around. They had been assigned new parking spaces. Their lifting regimen had been changed. Their uniforms looked different.
Most symbolic, a number of motivational signs were replaced by one that simply read: "National Football League" -- a reminder of the high standards set for everyone who walks into the building.
That approach has extended into training camp, where more than half of the players on Detroit's 80-man roster are newcomers. Schwartz has tweaked his practice plan for every day of camp, both to reinforce the message and provide variety. After taking over the first 0-16 team in NFL history, he really had no other choice.
"You can't stand pat," Schwartz said. "That's something that gives the players a little bit of comfort, that we're not standing pat. ... Every time they come to practice, they're working on a different situation, a little bit different drill, different emphasis of periods and things like that. There's drudgery in walking out of the hotel every morning and going to bed and walking to the next meeting. But when they walk onto the practice field, it's a fresh plan that day. It's not the same old thing."
(Note: Due to circumstances, my stay in Detroit was cut short. But for additional information, make sure you've checked out this practice report posted earlier this week.)
|Mark Cunningham/Getty Images|
|Detroit rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has played well enough to be the starter.|
I hope it doesn't sound patronizing to praise Daunte Culpepper for losing 30 pounds during the offseason. Culpepper reported to camp at 260 pounds and has never looked lighter in his NFL career. During the practice I attended this week, he was decisive and his passes were sharp.
To be honest, Culpepper probably couldn't have done more thus far to win the Lions' starting job. And he still might not see the field this season.
Rookie Matthew Stafford, whose pre-draft contract agreement ensured he would not miss a day of training camp, has practiced his way into a legitimate opportunity to start the Sept. 13 opener at New Orleans. (Let that be a lesson to all future No. 1 draft picks.) In practice, at least, it's difficult to see much difference between him and Culpepper. If that remains the case, it's hard to imagine Stafford opening the year on the bench.
Stafford still has plenty of work to do, beginning with his anticipated start Saturday night against at Cleveland. But at the very least, it looks like Stafford is going to give Schwartz a very difficult decision.
2. Can the Lions retrofit their defensive line?
You won't find two more dissimilar defensive schemes than when you compare the Lions' 2008 approach with the one Schwartz is implementing now.
"The philosophy here in the past had been small and quick," he said. "The philosophy here now is big and powerful."
That put the Lions' personnel department on a search for larger defensive linemen, while incumbents were required to gain weight in the offseason. Such changes don't occur overnight, and it appears the Lions are about halfway there.
They've added some interior bulk in Grady Jackson (340ish pounds), Shaun Smith (325 pounds) and rookie Sammie Lee Hill (329 pounds). Based on pure size, that trio should be more difficult to drive off the ball than the players Detroit used last year.
On the outside, however, the Lions will miss veteran Jared DeVries, who ruptured his Achilles tendon early in camp and is lost for the season. Their current depth at end -- led by Cliff Avril, Jason Hunter and Dewayne White -- is thin.
3. What impact will the free agent/trade crop have?
The Lions' revolving personnel door has continued into training camp, most recently with Shaun Smith. New veterans are sprinkled all over the field, from Smith and Jac
kson to cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry, from linebackers Larry Foote and Julian Peterson to receivers Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt.
Considering the personnel deficit that contributed to last season's record, an influx seemed unavoidable. The Lions decided to pursue the veteran route in hopes of establishing some short-term credibility while building for the long term behind the scenes. In all, it looks like the Lions will have at least 11 new starters when the season opens.
You wonder whether that will last all season or if Henry will eventually make his way to safety. From the outside, he doesn't appear to be a good matchup for the speedy receivers in this division, be it Green Bay's Greg Jennings, Minnesota's Bernard Berrian or Chicago's Devin Hester.
A previous surplus of safeties has been whittled down to the point where this move might make sense, if the Lions can find another cornerback they feel comfortable inserting into the lineup.
During the best portion of his career, Peterson was a pass-rushing, play-making force to be reckoned with. Offenses had to account for him on every play.
At 32, Peterson might be past that prime. But the Lions believe he can still be a disruptive player who will help cover for some pass-rushing deficiency in other areas. His success or failure will play a big role in whether the Lions can improve their takeaway totals from last season.
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has said he could blitz as often as 40 percent of the time this season. Expect him to lean heavily on Peterson in those situations.
The Lions signed veteran Maurice Morris to back up starting running back Kevin Smith, but you wonder what Morris' role will be if rookie Aaron Brown continues to display big-play capabilities. Brown's speed might make it difficult to keep him off the field. ... When the summer began, the Lions had too many safeties. But their surplus has thinned out considerably after the trade of Gerald Alexander and a season-ending knee injury to Daniel Bullocks. Rookie Louis Delmas and veteran Marquand Manuel have been limited by injuries. When it's all said and done, expect Delmas and Kalvin Pearson to hold starting jobs. ... Receiver Demir Boldin, the brother of Arizona's Anquan Boldin, is a long shot to make the roster but made a number of professional-level catches during the practice I watched. ... Receiver Calvin Johnson has been limited by a thumb injury during much of camp and will miss his second consecutive preseason game Saturday at Cleveland. But Johnson is expected to be healed in time for the regular season. ... Quarterback Drew Stanton appears close to locking down a roster spot after seeming to be on the brink of release during the offseason.
|AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh|
|Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears will need a young receiver to step up in camp.|
Training camp site: Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, Ill.)
The only Bears receiver with a guaranteed job is Devin Hester. Otherwise, the position is wide open. Veterans Earl Bennett and Rashied Davis will compete with rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox for the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 receiver positions. If general manager Jerry Angelo doesn't like what he sees, the Bears could pursue a proven veteran later this summer.
The free safety position is also wide open as the Bears replace the departed Mike Brown. Craig Steltz ended spring practice atop the depth chart, but he'll have to battle converted cornerback Corey Graham. Former New Orleans starter Josh Bullocks is also on the roster as a third, if distant, option.
Although the Bears hope it never matters, they'll have to sort out their depth behind new quarterback Jay Cutler. Unproven Caleb Hanie is set to battle free agent Brett Basanez in a competition that, like receiver, could ultimately give way to a veteran from outside the organization. Hanie, however, is a favorite of coach Lovie Smith and will get every opportunity to win the job.
Camp will be a downer if ...
... the Bears realize this summer that they haven't given Cutler enough weapons. While young players don't always develop on a convenient timetable, it should be pretty clear by mid-August if the Bears have enough mature depth at the receiver position. Adding a veteran at the end of the summer is an imperfect solution and would limit his chances to develop a rapport with the new quarterback.
The best-case scenario is if Bennett can parlay his familiarity with Cutler -- they were college teammates at Vanderbilt -- into a quick claim on the No. 2 job. That would lessen the pressure on the rookies and relieve the need to rely on Davis, who isn't a starting-caliber receiver. But if Bennett stumbles, the domino effect could significantly diminish the Bears' passing attack early in the season.
Camp will be a success if ...
... Smith can lay the groundwork for a revived defense. Smith has taken over as the de facto defensive coordinator and will call most defensive signals during games. He'll need to restore the Bears' core values -- producing a pass rush with the front four and making big plays in the secondary -- in order to meet the standard his defenses set earlier this decade.
It might be difficult to judge the success of this venture during camp and even in the preseason; Smith isn't likely to give away too much from a schematic standpoint before the regular season begins. But make no mistake: The origin of any improvement must come during technique and drill work in training camp.
Quietly, the Bears shook up 60 percent of their offensive line this offseason. Center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza are the only returning starters. Chicago is hoping that left tackle Orlando Pace, left guard Frank Omiyale and right tackle Chris Williams can breathe some life into a group that grew stale last season.
Pace is the short-term key. Injuries have caused him to miss 25 games over the past three seasons. His health and conditioning will be monitored carefully in training camp. It will be interesting to see if the Bears also work Williams at left tackle -- his natural position -- as a contingency should Pace suffer another injury.
Training camp site: Team facility in Allen Park, Mich.
|Rashaun Rucker/zuma/Icon SMI|
|The Lions would like Daunte Culpepper to earn the starting quarterback job ahead of Matthew Stafford to start the season.|
No Black and Blue battle will be more scrutinized than the competition between Lions quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford. Conventional wisdom suggests Culpepper will win the job as long as he maintains his offseason conditioning level. But coach Jim Schwartz has said Stafford will start as soon as he meets two criteria: when he is ready and when he surpasses Culpepper as the team's best option.
Stafford's status as an underclassman suggests he faces a steep learning curve this season. That, along with Culpepper's familiarity with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's scheme, imposes a two-pronged challenge for Stafford to win the job in training camp.
Another rookie, safety Louis Delmas, appears to be one of the few locks to start in the secondary. You would assume Phillip Buchanon will win one cornerback spot, but the other two starting roles seem wide open.
Anthony Henry could start at cornerback, or he could move to safety. Other safety candidates include Daniel Bullocks, Marquand Manuel, Kalvin Pearson and Stuart Schweigert. The competition will be wide open as the Lions look for defensive backs who are aggressive and eager for contact.
Camp will be a downer if ...
... every player on the roster suffers a season-ending injury on the first day of camp. Otherwise, there is nowhere to go but up for a team that went 0-16 last season.
Seriously, there is one position where Detroit is keeping its fingers crossed. The Lions signed 36-year-old nose tackle Grady Jackson to help tighten their run defense and also keep offensive linemen off their talented trio of linebackers. But Jackson missed all of spring practice after undergoing knee surgery in February. Jackson is as important as any player the Lions acquired this winter and he needs to get at least some practice time in training camp to ensure he will be ready for the season.
Camp will be a success if ...
... Culpepper can win the job outright, rather than become the starter simply because Stafford isn't ready. If Culpepper can recapture some of his previous magic with Linehan, the Lions will have a much better chance to be credible in Schwartz's first season.
And despite the protestations of modern-day thinkers, Stafford can only benefit from some time on the sidelines. That doesn't mean he should sit for three years. But rare is the quarterback who can start -- and succeed -- on day one. A rejuvenated Culpepper is the first step in the Lions' rebuilding project.
Through trade and free agency, the Lions have put together a competent group of linebackers in Julian Peterson, Larry Foote and Ernie Sims. It will be interesting to watch defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham experiment with ways to utilize their playmaking skills.
Cunningham has said he plans to blitz 40 percent of the time this season. Peterson could make some big plays if he has maintained the athletic skills of his prime. The same goes for Foote. We'll get a good idea of how much each player has left in the tank this summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he hadn't closed the door on Pacman Jones returning to the team. But in the light of day Monday, Jones was singing a different tune.
In between the reports, I reached out to Scouts Inc. stalwart Matt Williamson to see how well Jones actually played last season. In his original comments to the Star-Telegram, Jones told Clarence E. Hill that Pacman graded higher than any of the team's other cornerbacks in '08. That's why I turned to Williamson. And just because Jerry's now saying he's not interested in Pacman doesn't mean he won't change his mind.
Here's Williamson's take on Pacman's '08 season: "I really like the kid on the field," Williamson said. "I think he can be among the top 5-10 corners in the league when he's focused, fresh and motivated. He's extremely competitive. He'll mix it up. He hadn't played in a year so it's not reasonable to expect him to be the same guy he was in Tennessee immediately. He was a borderline elite cornerback in his last season with the Titans."
I also asked Williamson to name a place where he thinks Pacman would be successful.
"I think New England would be a good fit. They're so firm there, and people come there and rejuvenate their careers. Dallas doesn't have that core of players in place to be a good fit for him."
OK, that's enough Pacman Jones talk for one day. Williamson also thinks the Cowboys made a curious decision trading Anthony Henry. He thinks they'll miss him next season.
|Al Pereira/Getty Images|
|Bringing Brett Favre to Minnesota would be a short-term solution for the Vikings.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
OK, I promise to institute a statute of limitations on referencing my week off. Right after this one. While on vacation, I decided to jump on the Malcolm Gladwell bandwagon and start The Tipping Point. It was a productive read, if for no other reason than giving me a column idea.
Gladwell traces how broad success stories can start with "tightly focused, targeted interventions" rather than comprehensive grass-roots efforts. He referred to this concept as a "Band-Aid solution," which immediately reminded me of Matt Williamson's analysis of Minnesota and its pursuit of quarterback Brett Favre.
Maybe I have a one-track mind. (Based on your mailbag submissions, many you would agree.) But I thought Gladwell's defense of the Band-Aid solution offered relevance to the Favre situation as well as a number of other personnel matters in the NFC North.
I'm among those who blanch when teams makes changes for short-term gain when the long-term ramifications are less clear. Signing a 40-year-old quarterback. Trading high draft choices for veteran players. Hiring an internal coaching candidate for continuity rather than seeking new ideas. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, it seems, and in sports many of us prefer the building process over the quick fix.
That lofty approach, according to Gladwell, is impractical if not impossible. "[Band-Aids] should not be considered a term of disparagement," he writes. Here's the rest of his argument:
"The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking for walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.
"We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for this kind of solution because there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort, that slow and steady should win the race. The problem, of course, is that the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little...."
As we look ahead following a wild opening weekend of the NFL's free agent market, the ESPN blog network will take a look at what's next. Let's have some fun and try matching a remaining player with an NFC North team:
It won't sound exciting to many Bears fans, but offensive lineman John St. Clair looks like a pretty important figure right now. The signing of free agent tackle/guard Frank Omiyale gives the Bears some flexibility, but there is still no obvious successor to retiring right tackle John Tait.
St. Clair is an ideal short-term fit for that role, much as he was in 2008 at left tackle. He hasn't attracted a ton of interest from other teams, and it is in both sides' interest to find a common ground.
It's been a long time since the Lions have had a consistent returner, and they could use more depth in their defensive backfield even after acquiring Anthony Henry and Eric King over the weekend. This makes Carr a real value.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported the Packers might target San Diego's Igor Olshansky, who would give them another option at defensive end as they convert to a 3-4 defense.
Olshansky isn't exactly a household name, but the Packers don't have a proven pass rusher at this point to play either end position.
Ok, let's have some real fun.
We here in the Black and Blue didn't have the kind of blockbuster free agent weekend that a few other divisions enjoyed. That could change a bit if receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh agrees to terms with Minnesota, possibly as early as Monday, but otherwise the NFC North took a secondary position in the initial stages of the NFL's offseason player scramble.
But with a nod toward AFC North colleague James Walker's 7-step drop, and in recognition of my own absence over the weekend, let's touch on a few pertinent points before moving forward this week:
- Chicago's acquisition of offensive lineman Frank Omiyale gives the Bears extra flexibility but doesn't necessarily answer the question of who will replace retired right tackle John Tait. Omiyale's $5 million in guarantees suggests he will start somewhere, but he has experience across the line and likely will focus on guard, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. This means the Bears likely will have three new starters on their line in 2009: Chris Williams at left tackle, Omiyale -- possibly at left guard -- and whoever replaces Tait. You would have to assume that current free agent John St. Clair remains the favorite for that job.
- I can only hope Green Bay wasn't too serious about signing free agent defensive end Chris Canty, who agreed to terms with the New York Giants on Sunday evening. This quote from Canty's agent, Brad Blank, spoke volumes: "They acted like the Packers always do. They said, 'Good luck with [the Giants], and if it doesn't work out, we're interested.'" (Check out Pete Dougherty's full story in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.) Assuming Blank provided an accurate portrayal of the Packers' message, then it's the stance of a team that considered Canty a secondary target at best. If the Packers had serious designs on signing Canty -- and it's not as if they are overloaded with 3-4 defensive ends -- then they needed a much more aggressive approach.
- This is just me talking, but what I liked the best about Detroit's weekend is that the Lions got something in return for quarterback Jon Kitna, who under no circumstances was going to be back with the team in 2009. I don't know whether cornerback Anthony Henry, whom the Lions acquired from Dallas in return for Kitna, is going to have a huge impact this season. But most teams simply would have released Kitna and went about their business. The trade sends the appropriate message that new general managerMartin Mayhew is going to leave no stone unturned and will try to capitalize on every asset possible to improve the roster. It's also a sign of Mayhew's negotiating skill that he was able to get a return on a player near the end of his career who had no future with the team.
- I continue to be amazed at the way Minnesota is willing to throw money around at darn near every position except quarterback. The Vikings' latest target, Houshmandzadeh, figures to get a deal from someone worth around $6 million per season. Over the weekend, backup tight end Jim Kleinsasser signed a new three-year, $9 million deal. That's only slightly more than the Vikings will pay quarterback Sage Rosenfels, whom they acquired Friday to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for their starting job. (Rosenfels signed a two-year, $9 million contract.)
Cowboys Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman, who'd been questionable with an injured groin, will start against the 49ers. Newman came out early and didn't have any problems changing directions and making sharp cuts.
He'll start opposite of Anthony Henry and rookie Orlando Scandrick will play the nickel. The one change to keep your eye on for the 49ers is Chilo Rachal possibly starting for right guard Tony Wragge.
In addition to firing head coach Mike Nolan last month, the 49ers dismissed offensive line coach George Warhop. Mike Singletary quickly made the switch to Shaun Hill at quarterback. Hill does a much better job than J.T. O'Sullivan of getting the ball away. If the switch had happened earlier, Warhop would probably still have a job.
Final Carolina 7 New England 30 Final New York 35 New York 24 Final Jacksonville 12 Detroit 13 Final Oakland 21 Green Bay 31 Final Chicago 6 Seattle 34
4:30 PM ET Tampa Bay Buffalo 7:00 PM ET Dallas Miami 7:00 PM ET Tennessee Atlanta 7:30 PM ET Washington Baltimore 8:00 PM ET New Orleans Indianapolis 8:00 PM ET St. Louis Cleveland 8:00 PM ET Minnesota Kansas City 9:00 PM ET Houston Denver
4:00 PM ET San Diego San Francisco 8:00 PM ET Cincinnati Arizona