NFL Nation: D.J. Moore

Who will be Bucs' nickelback?

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run onto the field next season, they’re going to introduce 12 players instead of the standard 11.

Coach Lovie Smith made that statement Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. He supported it by saying he views the nickel cornerback as a 12th starter on defense. He also views the third receiver as a 12th starter on offense. But this post is about defense, so let’s stick with talking about nickelback.

The Bucs don’t know who their nickelback will be yet, but Smith shed some light on how he’ll make that determination. On paper, Tampa Bay’s top three cornerbacks are Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins. D.J. Moore and Leonard Johnson also could be in line for some playing time.

Although the Bucs of old used to start Ronde Barber on the outside and move him inside for nickel situations, Smith sounded like it’s unlikely the Bucs will follow that route.

“Just think about having to become an expert at two positions,’’ Smith said. “As a general rule, we don’t do that an awful lot. Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside. Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only it and every second he has will have guys in the nickel room being coached at that position.’’

Observation deck: Panthers-Ravens

August, 22, 2013

During the pregame show before Thursday night’s game, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said he wouldn’t be surprised if Luke Kuechly wins the Defensive Player of the Year award at some point.

That point might be coming a lot sooner than even Gruden expects. If Kuechly plays all season the way he played in the Carolina Panthers' 34-27 preseason victory against the host Baltimore Ravens, he could be a shoo-in for the award.

Preseason or not, Kuechly turned in one of the most dominating defensive performances I’ve ever seen. He was all over the field from the start, which isn’t unexpected for a guy who was Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. But Kuechly turned in a second quarter that was beyond spectacular.

Kuechly forced a fumble by running back Bernard Pierce. Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis jumped on the loose ball and slid into the end zone to give the Panthers a 21-7 lead with 10:22 left in the first half.

A few minutes later, Kuechly popped the ball loose from Ravens receiver Aaron Mellette and safety Charles Godfrey seemed to intercept the pass. But Kuechly was called for a penalty and the interception was nullified.

It didn’t matter. Two plays later, Kuechly came up with an interception of his own to set up a field goal that gave the Panthers a 24-7 halftime lead.

Some other observations on the Panthers:
  • Kuechly wasn’t the only defensive star for the Panthers. Cornerback Drayton Florence returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
  • Defensive back D.J. Moore also had an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
  • Rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who were quiet in the first two preseason games, had a big impact. Short produced a sack and Lotulelei, who also recorded one, looked good as a run-stuffer.
  • The defense wasn’t the only unit that was explosive. The special teams also came through. Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
  • It’s a good thing the defense and special teams were so productive because the first-team offense didn’t look very good. The Panthers had to punt the first three times they touched the ball and the first offense never got into much of a rhythm. But I don’t think fans should panic about the offense. I think the Panthers are keeping things very basic in the preseason.
  • Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn suffered an apparent hand injury in the third quarter and did not return.
  • Running back Armond Smith was ejected in the fourth quarter for kicking a Baltimore player. That's not going to help Smith's chances of making the roster.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC North team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Chicago Bears: No team in this division is set up quite as well as the Bears, who have a pair of returning Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings along with two safeties in Major Wright and Chris Conte who started all but one game together last season. Veteran Kelvin Hayden won the nickelback job last season from the since-departed D.J. Moore, and the Bears also have a number of credible backups at safety, Craig Steltz among them. The Bears also want to find out about 2012 third-round draft pick Brandon Hardin, who missed last season because of a neck injury.

Detroit Lions: General manager Martin Mayhew worked harder than he ever has to address this annual problem spot. He committed $25 million over five years to re-sign his best cornerback, Chris Houston. He targeted and signed free-agent safety Glover Quin, used the No. 36 overall pick to draft cornerback Darius Slay and gave safety Louis Delmas an incentive-laden contract that will pay out based on availability. If 2012 third-round pick Bill Bentley can make it back from a shoulder injury, the Lions will have good depth at cornerback. Regardless, on paper their secondary is as well situated as it has been at any point in Mayhew's tenure.

Green Bay Packers: For the first time since 2005, the Packers will open a season without Charles Woodson manning a starting position. As usual, general manager Ted Thompson has a pile of young players competing to fill in the gaps. Tramon Williams is certain to start at one cornerback spot, while Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House fight to start on the other side and to form a depth chart for nickel and dime defenses. Morgan Burnett will be one of the Packers' starting safeties, but the other could be M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian or even Sean Richardson if he recovers from a neck injury. The Packers are, by definition, in transition, but there are plenty of options for life after Woodson.

Minnesota Vikings: It will be a while before we know if the team can successfully navigate the departure of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield. Although Winfield is nearing the end of his career, he had a great season in 2012 and played a key role when he handled slot receivers inside. The Vikings have some highly drafted young players at cornerback, most notably 2013 first-rounder Xavier Rhodes, but it's not yet clear how it will all shake out. Former second-round pick Chris Cook (2010) is a starter if he stays healthy, and 2012 third-round pick Josh Robinson is the leading candidate to take over Winfield's nickel spot. Safety Harrison Smith will be a leader, but are the Vikings really going to go through another year with Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford rotating at the other safety position?
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC South team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Atlanta Falcons: Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson left via free agency, but the Falcons made up for it in the draft, using their first-round pick on Desmond Trufant and their second-rounder on Robert Alford. Trufant and Alford are fine prospects, but rookie cornerbacks often struggle initially. Atlanta’s pass rush should be just average at best. Trufant is the likely starter opposite Asante Samuel. Samuel offers little against the run, but is still a very good cover man and a true ball hawk at the corner position. Another cornerback here of note is Robert McClain, who got little fanfare for his work last season but performed admirably for the Falcons. Atlanta might now have four quality options at this position. At safety, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore return as the starters. There is little behind these two, but DeCoud and Moore are a fine pairing. Moore in particular stepped up his all-around game last season and is quickly becoming a do-it-all player and a key member of this defense.

Carolina Panthers: By drafting two defensive tackles with their first two picks, the Panthers look as though they have a fantastic front seven. But their secondary still really worries me. Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore were added at cornerback, but that simply isn’t enough to elevate concerns about the back end of Carolina’s defense. Chris Gamble is out of the picture, leaving Josh Norman and Captain Munnerlyn as the Panthers’ starting corners, although Florence could factor into that equation. Norman had a very up-and-down -- mostly down -- 2012 season, but he does have ability and could be primed to take a step forward in 2013. Munnerlyn, who is best equipped to be a slot cornerback, is probably the Panthers’ best defensive back. Josh Thomas has been underwhelming throughout his career and will provide cornerback depth. Carolina is one of the weakest teams in the league at the safety position. Charles Godfrey will start for sure, and Haruki Nakamura is likely to be the other stating safety. Godfrey is average in coverage and isn’t much of a force in the run game, but he is the best the Panthers have right now. Nakamura should be a backup, but he will most likely be forced to log a lot of snaps. Carolina should be scouring the waiver wire for secondary help, especially at safety.

New Orleans Saints: The Saints made two prominent additions to a secondary that struggled mightily in 2012 by signing cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafting safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round. Lewis and Jabari Greer will be the Saints’ starters, with Patrick Robinson as the nickel corner, which is what suits him best. But overall, this looks like a solid trio of cornerbacks for New Orleans’ new 3-4 defense, which should stress more press man coverage, although Lewis is probably better suited to zone or off coverage. Roman Harper remains on the team right now, but his type of in-the-box safety who is a liability in coverage is starting to become a dinosaur in this league. Replacing him with Vaccaro gives the Saints much more flexibility from the position. Vaccaro is a great-looking prospect with size, range and physicality. Malcolm Jenkins also has some versatility to his game in that he can patrol the deep middle or walk up and play man coverage against a slot receiver or tight end. However, Jenkins has never quite lived up to his first-round status. Jim Leonhard also is on the roster and could provide stability in a part-time role or as a replacement if Vaccaro or Jenkins were to fall to injury. This secondary looks to be much improved from a year ago.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs made one of the biggest moves around the league this offseason by trading for Darrelle Revis. Tampa Bay featured some of the worst starting corners in the league last season. With Revis on board, that certainly will not be the case again -- even if Revis is not quite himself initially after his knee injury. Having Revis allows the Bucs to match up an elite cover man on the opposing No. 1 wide receiver and more or less leave Revis alone against the likes of Marques Colston, Steve Smith and Julio Jones or Roddy White. By doing so, the rest of the secondary obviously can manipulate coverage to better deal with other threatening weapons. That means Revis’ counterpart, most likely the disappointing Eric Wright or second-round pick Johnthan Banks, will often have safety help over the top. I would imagine Tampa Bay is hoping Banks grabs hold of that starting spot and doesn’t let go. Wright has been a liability since signing a big contract with the Buccaneers. Leonard Johnson also should factor in as a physical quality fourth corner, but he is speed-deficient. Tampa Bay also signed Dashon Goldson, giving them an excellent pairing of safeties along with last year’s first-round selection, Mark Barron. Barron is more of the strong safety type -- and Goldson more of a free safety -- but both can operate near the line of scrimmage or deep in coverage. Expect Barron to take a big step forward in his second season, especially in coverage. Barron could develop into the type of modern defender that matches up well against the new breed of athletic NFL tight ends.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC South team has been a winner or a loser in free agency:

Atlanta Falcons: The process is far from over, but the Falcons are winners so far. They made a significant upgrade to their running game by signing Steven Jackson to replace Michael Turner. That alone made the offense instantly better than it was last season. I also like the way the Falcons have kept their own, re-signing potential free agents Sam Baker and William Moore, and coaxing tight end Tony Gonzalez back for another season. If the Falcons can re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes at a reasonable price and add a pass-rusher, this would look like a team without any holes.

Carolina Panthers: You have to call the Panthers losers in free agency so far, unless you want to give them credit for leading the league in signing mediocre defensive backs (Mike Mitchell, Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore and re-signing Captain Munnerlyn). I didn’t expect the Panthers to be big players in free agency, because their salary-cap situation prohibits that. The Panthers had to let go of No. 1 cornerback Chris Gamble because of the salary cap. That was inevitable, but replacing him with a slew of No. 3 cornerbacks doesn’t generate much hope or excitement.

New Orleans Saints: Despite a tight salary-cap situation, the Saints have been winners so far. Yes, they have a major hole to fill after losing left tackle Jermon Bushrod via free agency. But the Saints have pulled rabbits out of hats on their offensive line in the past, and they can do it again. The upside is that the Saints made themselves a lot better at cornerback by adding Keenan Lewis, and at tight end with the addition of Benjamin Watson. Lewis is a player with lots of upside, who should provide much-needed help for the secondary. The Watson signing probably hasn’t received as much praise as it deserves because people assume he’ll be nothing more than a backup to Jimmy Graham. But coach Sean Payton is crafty, and I expect Watson to play an important role in the passing game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: You have to call the Bucs winners because they got Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson right out of the gate. That was a great start, but the Bucs have been quiet since then. Can they afford to let every quality free-agent cornerback go elsewhere as they wait to see if the New York Jets blink in their talks about a trade for Darrelle Revis? It’s also somewhat bizarre that the Bucs were so willing to let defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Roy Miller leave as free agents even though they didn’t get big money. The Bucs will tell you that Bennett and Miller were “just guys" and they might have a point. But Bennett and Miller must have been doing something right, because the Bucs ranked first in the league in run defense last season.

Panthers getting deeper at CB

March, 19, 2013
D.J. Moore wasn’t quite the magnitude of player I had in mind when I wrote earlier Tuesday that a run on big-name cornerbacks is coming in the NFC South.

But Moore, who played nickel back for Chicago last season, has been signed by the Carolina Panthers.

Along with Josh Thomas and Josh Norman, the Panthers should have some good young talent at cornerback. Moore can be the nickel back or maybe even contend for a starting job. He also should be a fan favorite because he went to high school in Spartanburg, S.C., where the Panthers hold training camp.

Moore’s signing may be an indication the Panthers aren’t expecting to re-sign Captain Munnerlyn, who has similar size and skills.

The Panthers now have some depth at cornerback and the competition among Moore, Thomas and Norman could prompt one or more of them to step up. But the Panthers, who previously released veteran Chris Gamble, don’t have a true No. 1 cornerback.

More and more, I’m thinking Carolina will use its first-round draft pick on a cornerback.
Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman re-entered the MVP race this week, based on Mike Sando's MVP Watch. Now he's preparing to reprise his role as an MVP dad.

During a radio interview, Tillman revealed his wife, Jackie, is due to give birth "any day" to their fourth child, a girl. If Jackie goes into labor on Sunday, when the Bears are set to host the Houston Texans, Tillman said: "I think I’m going to have to be at the hospital Sunday."

"I hope she stays in until after Sunday," Tillman added.

We'll deal with that possibility if it comes to that Sunday. Tillman is playing as well as at any time in his career, but the Bears are also fortunate to have depth at his position. Teammate Tim Jennings is having an All-Pro year as well, and two relatively reliable veterans -- D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden -- would be candidates to jump into the starting lineup. Stay tuned.

CHICAGO -- Greetings from the general vicinity of Monday Night Football, where I feel fortunate to have arrived on schedule given the persistent rain the Chicagoland area has been receiving all morning. The current forecast calls for showers and thunderstorms throughout the afternoon and evening, so we might get the Blackest and Bluest game we've seen in a while at Soldier Field.

I'll head downtown soon in hopes of avoiding the worst of the traffic and rain, but I might be away from the blog for a bit. So let's use this post as a pregame gathering point and a dissemination of reading and viewing material to get you in the right frame of mind.
Marshall & Johnson & NelsonUS PresswireBigger receivers like Chicago's Brandon Marshall, Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Green Bay's Jordy Nelson present unique challenges for the division's defensive backs.
You've already read half of this story. Surely you're aware of the increasing size disparity between NFL pass-catchers and cornerbacks. That train has left the station, and there's no going back.

So here's what I'm interested in: Assuming they don't plan to forfeit the season, how will NFC North cornerbacks and coaches deal with what looks like an increasingly one-sided matchup?

I spent part of CampTour'12 asking cornerbacks, receivers and coaches a version of that question. After all, the Chicago Bears' acquisition of receiver Brandon Marshall means that each of our teams has at least one receiver taller than 6-foot-2 and one or more tight ends who stand at least 6-4. In total, the division boasts six "big" receivers and seven "big" tight ends based on those qualifications, as the first chart shows.

On the other hand, there are only three NFC North cornerbacks taller than 6-feet among the 12 expected to make up each team's primary rotation. (See second chart.) Cornerbacks don't always match up in single coverage against big receivers, and bigger safeties often take on tight ends. But at some point there is no choice. Eventually, NFC North teams will have a 5-foot-9 cornerback assigned to a 6-foot-4 receiver, a height differential of more than half a foot.

Most everyone engaged thoughtfully on the issue, and below I've categorized their thoughts in three ways. Let's take a closer look.

Muscle up or play off?

The game is football, of course, so the instinct of many cornerbacks is to get physical with big receivers -- especially at the line of scrimmage and even as the ball approaches. That approach is almost always a mistake, NFC North cornerbacks agreed.

"A guy that big, you don't want to be too aggressive with him," said Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams. "You want to feel him, but you don't want him to feel you. As a big receiver, he wants you to be aggressive. That's his thing. He can push you off and do things like that. He can get separation and get you off your stride. So you don't want to be too aggressive with guys like that."

Instead, cornerbacks often are best served to "stalk" bigger receivers as they run downfield.

"They love for a little guy to get physical so they can body you," said Detroit Lions cornerback Chris Houston, who spends most practices matched up on 6-foot-5 receiver Calvin Johnson. "You've got to be smart, use your technique throughout the game. You can body them sometimes, but the majority of the time, they like for you to try to get in there. Their arms are much longer, so they can get you before you get them. You've got to be smart on your technique and stay disciplined."

The NFC North's shortest cornerback is Antoine Winfield of the Minnesota Vikings, whose reputation as a physical tackler overshadows the fact that he rarely tussles with receivers until after the ball arrives.

"I like to play off," Winfield said. "It's hard for me to be fighting with a guy who is 6-4, 6-5 at the line. He has the advantage. The first thing he is probably going to do is run at me, grab me, throw me to the side and take off."

Thinking back over his career during training camp, Marshall said "every guy plays a little differently." But Marshall could identify only one cornerback who deliberately got physical with him at the line of scrimmage: the Denver Broncos' Champ Bailey, who is just under 6-feet.

"A guy like that, he loves to go against big guys," Marshall said. "He trusts himself."

Everybody jump, jump

What Bailey and many other cornerbacks lack in height, however, they try to make up with timing and leaping ability. Bears coach Lovie Smith, in fact, said that vertical jumps are one of the most important attributes he seeks in defensive backs.

"Once the receiver gets off the ball," Smith said, "and he gets in position and the ball is thrown up in the air, just throwing it up high and it's a jump situation, that height and that vertical is going to come into play. And for us,most of our DBs have good verticals. They're 36-[inches] plus, 37-plus for a reason.

"If you have a good vertical, eventually if the ball is in the air, you can go out there and get it. I just don't think it's a gimmee just because you have a tall receiver and the cornerbacks are shorter. Most of the guys in the league are playing under six feet at the corner position and they're making a lot of big plays."

Indeed, the Bears employ two cornerbacks under 5-10 -- Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore -- among their top three. Jennings recorded a 37 1/2-inch vertical jump at his scouting combine, while Moore hit 39 1/2. Charles Tillman, who at 6-1 1/8 is the second-tallest cornerback in the division, had a 40-inch vertical leap.

"You never concede a jump ball," said the Packers' Williams, whose vertical has been recorded at 41 inches. "I've always been confident in my jumping ability. Me personally, I haven't had many jump balls caught on me."

Of course, big receivers watch film and usually know who the good jumpers are. Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said there are ways to maintain the height advantage against a cornerback who can jump.

"When we watch them, we see how they can play a deep ball," Nelson said. "If we know that so and so is out there, we know that you really have to attack the ball in the air. He is going to go up and get it. You've got to go compete for it. You can't let it come down and try to catch it over your shoulder. There's things like that that we watch."

In the absence of jumping ability, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, shorter cornerbacks must rely on extraordinary quickness and speed. The Vikings, for example, this year drafted the player who ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the 2012 scouting combine, Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson (4.33 seconds). Robinson is 5-foot-9 1/2.

"What we try to find is a guy who is extremely quick," Frazier said. "Sometimes you can out-quick guys who are long striders, and they're usually better a little bit down the field. If you can offset some of that with the quickness, and you are a gnat, just harassing them, that helps."


Coaches can play an important role in equalizing the physical mismatch as well. Although it is bound to happen at some point, the least appealing way of defending a big receiver is putting him in a pure man-to-man matchup with a cornerback.

"There are things you can do where you don't get isolated in coverage," said Lions coach Jim Schwartz, whose top four cornerbacks are all under 5-10. "You're playing man but you get a double team from somewhere, and so you're not playing the 'whole' man. You're not playing that whole 6-foot-3 receiver. You're only playing a portion of him. Those ways can be significant."

If you're not in position to double-team, the Bears' Smith said, zone concepts usually work better in physical mismatches. Players in man coverage usually turn their backs to chase the receiver they're assigned to, while players in zone are taught to keep receivers in front of them so they can watch the quarterback.

"It helps to play a little bit more zone," Smith said, "where you have your defensive backs with their eyes on the ball. When you're short and you're playing man-to-man and you have your back to the quarterback, there's a lot of things going against you in that situation."

So where does this leave us? When I spoke with Marshall about this topic, he smiled and said he didn't want to give up any secrets for exposing height mismatches. In truth, however, there aren't many.

Cornerbacks must play smart, both in technique and within the scheme. They need a physical attribute, especially jumping ability, that helps compensate for their height disadvantage. And they need to realize that, no matter what approach they take, NFC North teams are going to utilize their big receivers to complete plenty of passes. The defense that can best minimize the impact of those completions will put its team in position for the NFC North title.
Reviewing Thursday's action at Soldier Field:

Denver Broncos 31, Chicago Bears 3

Preseason record: 0-1

Of interest: Heavy storms probably contributed to the Bears' decision to hold out quarterback Jay Cutler, tailback Matt Forte and defensive end Julius Peppers. … Linebacker Brian Urlacher reportedly was not at Soldier Field, and overall the Bears had a forgettable night. … Left tackle J'Marcus Webb can't feel too comfortable after being left on the field into the fourth quarter, long after the rest of the starting line had completed its work. Webb is young and could use the work, but he was probably also on the receiving end of a message sent to reinforce that he has not yet officially won the starting spot. (There are just no other candidates at the moment.) … Rookie Shea McClellin showed up with a sack of former Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie, who is now the Broncos' backup. … Nickelback D.J. Moore was on point, tipping away a Peyton Manning pass near the goal line so that safety Major Wright could make a score-saving interception. Wright later left with a hamstring injury, an event concerning not for its severity but because he has a history of middling injuries that dig into his playing time and progress. … Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery led the team with four receptions. … As for Urlacher, Bears general manager Phil Emery told the team's flagship radio station that his knee needs rest and that he will rejoin the team soon. Emery offered no other details of Urlacher's condition, nor did he say if it is related to his recent leave from the team.

Local coverage (in lieu of BBAO): If Emery is telling the truth, writes Jeff Dickerson of, Urlacher should return to training camp sometime this weekend. … The people who paid $76 per ticket for Thursday's game have a right to feel taken advantage of, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune. … McClellin, via "I had fun. It's a start. You know I definitely have a lot of learning to do. Overall, it was good. It was a little bit faster than we've been practicing. When you get into the game, it's always faster than normal, but as it went along I kind of got into it and felt good. You know, like I said, there is a lot of stuff I can work on and get better at. But the sack felt good. It's always good to get a sack, no matter what kind it is, because it boosts your confidence a bit. After that you can kind of relax and just go out and play." … McClellin struggled versus the run, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. … The decision not to play Cutler reminded Melissa Isaacson of that the Bears have a legitimate backup in Jason Campbell. Isaacson: "So astounding is it that for the first time, well, ever, that the Bears have a solid backup quarterback behind a potentially exceptional starter, you're almost skeptical."

Up next: Saturday, Aug. 18 vs. Washington Redskins

Todd McShay mock 5.0: NFC North

April, 12, 2012
ESPN analyst Todd McShay's fifth mock draft Insider of the year contemplates multiple scenarios for each pick in the first round, and so it takes a little more time to digest than usual. Its Insider status prevents me from bringing you every scenario in the NFC North, but I can pass along what McShay considers ideal for each team.

3. Minnesota Vikings
A trade that nets an additional first-round pick but also keeps the Vikings in the top 10 of the 2012 first round.
Seifert comment: I think the Vikings would make a deal for something less than that bounty, perhaps an additional second- and third-round pick in addition to their partner's No. 1 pick. There is a cost to be considered for falling outside of the so-called blue-(chip) zone of the first round, but the Vikings' across-the-board needs might well make it worth their while.

19. Chicago Bears
South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore
Seifert comment: Gilmore wouldn't be in position to play right away on a team that has Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden under contract. But he would be a start in a necessary replenishment of depth behind the Bears' 30-something defensive stars.

23. Detroit Lions
Alabama defensive end/outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw
Seifert comment: In this mock, Gilmore and fellow cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama are both off the board. Pass-rushers are a premium asset, and we know that the Lions won't look elsewhere merely because their defensive line is already well-stocked.

28. Green Bay Packers
Clemson defensive end Andre Branch
Seifert comment: Branch could play outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. Most mockers seem to think the Packers will draft the best available defensive end/linebacker at this spot, and in this exercise USC defensive end Nick Perry is off the board. You also wonder if Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith is a possibility here.
It's been a long time coming for the Chicago Bears and Kelvin Hayden, a graduate of Chicago's Hubbard High School and a cornerback the Bears have pursued for more than a year. We thought he might join the team last summer, but the Bears passed because of concern about his surgically-repaired neck.

Those concerns apparently have abated, because Hayden signed a one-year contract Thursday with the Bears. The Bears' top three cornerbacks from last season -- Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore -- will all return in 2012, but if he's healthy, Hayden could compete for playing time at least in the nickel. He is well-versed in the Bears' style of defense after playing under coach Tony Dungy for the Indianapolis Colts for six seasons, and you might remember his 56-yard return of an interception for a touchdown in the Colts' 29-17 victory against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

If nothing else, Hayden will offer depth in the absence of Zack Bowman and Corey Graham, both of whom have signed elsewhere this offseason. Better late than never, right?
We noted last week the dearth of cornerback depth on the Chicago Bears roster as free agency approached. Starter Charles Tillman and nickel back D.J. Moore were the only players under contract at the position, and at that point there were no indications that two-year starter Tim Jennings would return.

As it often does, however, that story changed in a hurry Tuesday afternoon. Jennings signed a two-year contract about an hour before the free-agent market was set to open. He has been a reliable if unspectacular starter over the past two seasons, appearing in all 32 games and starting 28 of them, and I'm guessing the Bears figured they had more important priorities to address than spending their premium money on a starting-caliber cornerback.

Former starters Corey Graham and Zack Bowman appear set to hit the free-agent market, but for now the Bears have their top three cornerbacks from 2011 under contract.
The final tally for fines from last Sunday's game at Soldier Field is in: $62,500. Of that total, a relatively modest $30,000 resulted from the fourth-quarter fight instigated by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and elevated by Chicago Bears cornerback D.J. Moore.

We discussed the issues involved in this week's Dirty Laundry post. Normally I don't get that excited about fines, but in this case it gives us a glimpse into how seriously (or not) the NFL viewed the physicality and chippiness of this game. In this case, the NFL didn't seem too concerned about the fight itself. According to its 2011 fine schedule, fighting is supposed to generate a minimum fine of $25,000 per player.

Stafford was fined $7,500 for throwing Moore to the ground by his helmet. Moore received a $15,000 fine for jumping up and tackling Stafford, and Lions guard Rob Sims was fined $7,500 for a late hit during the fight. Moore was the only player penalized during the game.

Meanwhile, the NFL fined Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley $15,000 for a roughing penalty on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. But the league did not discipline Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for contact that ultimately dislodged Cutler's helmet in the second quarter. As we discussed, it was up to the league to determine whether Suh "forcibly" removed Cutler's helmet or if it came off as part of incidental contact. The NFL chose the latter explanation, and it also didn't see fit to fine Bears defensive end Julius Peppers for a "clothes-line" hit on Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in the first quarter.

We already knew about two of the fines: $7,500 to Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch for a late hit on Bears tailback Matt Forte, and $10,000 for Bears receiver Earl Bennett for wearing orange cleats and thus violating the NFL's uniform code.

In the end, the fines tell us the NFL acknowledged Stafford's role in starting the "fight" but, like game officials, blamed Moore for escalating it into a multi-player confrontation that obviously fell short of the league's technical definition for a fight. That Sims was the only other player fined as a result is something of an upset, but as players like to say, this is football and not tiddlywinks.

As for Fairley, the NFL ruled he technically violated its policy on hitting quarterbacks. Even Lions coach Jim Schwartz admitted as much, saying earlier this week: "What he did is he tucked as he went, rather than just keep on pushing."

Upward and onward....

Final Word: NFC North

November, 18, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 11:

Pursuing perfection: Traditionally, talk of a 16-0 season ramps up once a team gets to 10 victories. The Green Bay Packers will reach that milestone Sunday if they defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, losers of three consecutive games. The Packers also started 10-0 in 1962, a year they finished 13-1 and won the NFL title. Since the 1970 merger, 13 teams have started 10-0. Nine advanced to the Super Bowl and six of those teams won the title. It's worth noting that a victory Sunday would mean the Packers are 16-0 in their past 16 games, dating back to Week 16 of 2010 and including the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIn two career starts against Tampa Bay, both losses, Aaron Rodgers has thrown six interceptions.
Rodgers revenge? Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has lost both career starts to the Bucs. He threw twice as many interceptions (six) in those two games as he has in all nine games of 2011 combined (three). Both games were played at Raymond James Stadium, but you would be fooling yourself if you didn't think Rodgers would use those performances as motivation this week. And I'm guessing Rodgers will find room for another chip on his shoulder after ESPN analyst Skip Bayless called him "thin-skinned" and questioned whether he will be a clutch player late this season. (Bayless was responding to Rodgers' criticism of him during this week's ESPN 540 radio show.)

Into the Bears' den: San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had committed an NFL-high 19 turnovers this season, including 15 interceptions and four lost fumbles. No other player has higher than 10 at this point. Suffice it to say, the Chicago Bears aren't a good matchup for a turnover machine. After forcing six turnovers last Sunday against the Detroit Lions, the Bears are tied for No. 2 in the NFL with 20 takeaways this season. They'll miss ball hawk nickel back D.J. Moore, but recent history suggests Rivers will give them multiple opportunities to make plays Sunday at Soldier Field.

The truth shall…: The Lions blamed wind gusts for quarterback Matthew Stafford's inaccuracy last week, downplaying the role of his fractured right index finger. We should get a better idea of the injury's impact when the Lions host the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field, an indoor stadium free of all weather concerns. Stafford, who completed 52.3 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions against the Bears, continued to wear gloves in practice this week to help grip the ball. That alone speaks to the severity of the injury. Rare is a quarterback who prefers to wear gloves if they aren't absolutely necessary.

Something must give: The Minnesota Vikings have been outscored in the second half more than every other NFL team this season (155-56). The Oakland Raiders aren't that far behind, ranking third after giving up 148 points in the second half so far this season and scoring 84 points. What does that tell us about Sunday's matchup between the teams at the Metrodome? The Raiders have done a better job surviving second-half comeback attempts. They're 5-4 and the Vikings are 2-7.



Thursday, 9/25
Sunday, 9/28
Monday, 9/29