NFL Nation: Glenn Pakulak

Jason Hanson returns to Lions practice

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
3:00
PM ET
Let's update the still-unsettled state of the Detroit Lions' kicking game.

Place-kicker Jason Hanson tested out his injured left knee during practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's workout. Hanson returned from the bye week with stitches in his left knee and still isn't certain whether he'll be able to kick Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Hanson wouldn't reveal how he suffered the injury but it appears to have resulted from an accident during the Lions' bye. Asked about a report that it involved an ATV, Hanson told Detroit-area reporters: "I'm not even sure what classifies as an all-terrain vehicle, but I was not out riding a four-wheeler and goofing around when this happened. But I was with my kids, and all the other details of what happened, I don't feel like sharing."

The Lions worked out free agent place-kickers Shayne Graham and Rhys Lloyd, but as of Thursday afternoon hadn't signed either. Presumably, they'll test Hanson out Friday before and possibly wait until Saturday to decide whether he'll be available for Sunday's game.

Meanwhile, three punters -- Matt Dodge, Robert Malone and Glenn Pakulak -- worked out Thursday, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Current punter Ryan Donahue strained the quadriceps muscle in his kicking leg Wednesday while practicing as an emergency place-kicker. His status remains uncertain as well.
 
  AP Photo/Bill Haber
  Jonathan Vilma is excited about playing for new coordinator Gregg Williams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

METAIRIE, La. -- By all accounts, Jonathan Vilma resurrected his career with the New Orleans Saints last season. After clashing with coach Eric Mangini with the Jets and enduring an injury, Vilma found a home in the middle of New Orleans' 4-3 defense.

He got back to playing middle linebacker the way he was used to playing it and instantly became the leader of the defense. By Vilma's account, that wasn't nearly good enough.

Personal satisfaction has a way of getting watered down when you're playing on a defense that's not very good. Vilma might have been a bright spot, but the rest of the defense was a dark hole. Nine different times the Saints allowed opponents to score at least 27 points and they lost seven of those games.

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Panthers: Thurs., Aug. 6
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In the process, the defense helped squander a brilliant season by quarterback Drew Brees and the offense. Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards, but it didn't mean much because the defense didn't stop anyone and the Saints finished out of the playoffs for the second straight year.

It's critical the streak doesn't reach three seasons because that would put coach Sean Payton very much on the hot seat. That's why Payton brought in coordinator Gregg Williams to run the defense and encouraged general manager Mickey Loomis to reshuffle the defensive personnel.

Williams' impact has been felt from the first moment he entered the building and it's been obvious out on the practice field.

"The X's and O's are pretty much the same," Vilma said. "But it's a different mindset. It's about letting us play. Coach Williams lets us know it's all right to go out there and make mistakes. It's all right to go out there and be wrong. As long as you're doing it 100 miles per hour, as long as you're hitting somebody, it's all right. We'll go into the meetings and make our corrections there."

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Basically, what the Saints are doing is trading a cautious defensive approach for an aggressive one.

"Everybody's playing with swagger," defensive end Bobby McCray said. "We've got 160-pound cornerbacks looking to knock your head off."

That should be a welcome sight in New Orleans, where there wasn't a lot of hitting last season, and cornerbacks (and safeties) spent most of their time chasing receivers who already had caught the ball. The roles will be different this season.

"It's a lot more man-on-man," said veteran safety Darren Sharper, who was brought in as a free agent to help stabilize the secondary. "You're doing some zone. You're blitzing guys from different directions. That shouldn't be a problem for us. We have no excuses as far as getting to the quarterback. It's a state of mind. You attack the ball. You have 11 guys being aggressive and you make aggressive calls. We're going to be an aggressive, attacking defense."

It's been said that even an average defense might be good enough to get the Saints to the playoffs. But the Saints aren't looking for an average defense. They want more.

"We can be as good as we want to be," Vilma said. "We have the talent. We had the talent last year, but we just didn't make plays. This year, we're focusing on making those plays. The talent is there. It's just a matter of going out and doing it."

Key Questions

Even with all of the defensive changes, isn't the expected loss of starting defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith to suspensions for the first four games going to be very difficult to overcome?

 Grant
 Smith

It's never good to be without your starting defensive ends. But the Saints have had the entire offseason to prepare for this situation.

They brought in veterans Paul Spicer and Anthony Hargrove, and they still have McCray, who might have outplayed the underachieving Grant and Smith last season. The Saints would like to use McCray as a pass-rush specialist once Grant and Smith return, but they believe he can fill a starting role in the short term. They're also very fired up about Hargrove, who appears very focused after having some problems that interrupted his career.

There's even hope that Grant and Smith might be better off in the long run because of the suspensions. Both are very talented, but haven't played up to their ability the past couple of years. The Saints are hoping they'll come back from the suspensions with more motivation than ever.

Can the No. 1 offense be as good as last year?

 
  Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
  Quarterback Drew Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards for the Saints last season.

Heck, it could be even better. Brees' season was remarkable under any circumstances. But a lot of people tend to forget he did all of that with the top three offensive weapons banged up for most of the year. Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards, but didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver or any consistency in the running game.

The 1,000-yard receiver shouldn't be an issue this year. Marques Colston is back at full health and looking absolutely spectacular in training camp. He's the kind of big receiver who should be good for somewhere around 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Throw in tight end Jeremy Shockey, who never was at full strength last year, but is healthy now.

Shockey and Brees look to be developing a strong chemistry in camp. When healthy, Shockey can be one of the league's best tight ends. He didn't catch a touchdown pass last year. He's painfully aware of that and wants to prove he still can find the end zone.

Then there's Reggie Bush. He was off to a very good start as a multi-purpose running back last year, but he got sidetracked by injuries and missed six games.

Can Bush ever live up to the hype he carried coming out of college?

If he stays healthy, yes. Bush will never be the kind of back who runs between the tackles 25 times a game. But that's not what the Saints are looking for. They'll let Pierre Thomas handle most of the carries between the tackles. Bush is a threat to score any time he touches the ball and the Saints will look to get him the ball in space as a runner, receiver and a return man.

Market watch

The Saints really were hoping that Dan Morgan or Stanley Arnoux could take over as the starter at weakside linebacker. But Morgan retired in June and Arnoux tore his Achilles tendon in offseason workouts and will miss the season. That means the Saints appear destined to stick with veteran Scott Shanle in a linebacking corps with Vilma and Scott Fujita. Shanle's experienced, but he doesn't make any big plays and lacks great speed. The Saints have been very impressed with young linebackers Anthony Waters and Jonathan Casillas so far in camp. They're raw, but Williams wants aggressiveness and he may take a chance on one of these guys.

 Henderson
 Meachem

Receiver Devery Henderson, who struggled with drops through much of his career, suddenly started catching the ball last season. But the drops have resurfaced during camp and that's not a good sign. With Colston healthy and third-year pro Robert Meachem showing some signs he might live up to his status as a first-round pick in 2007, Henderson could end up as the fourth receiver.

Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Rod Coleman ended a one-year retirement to make a comeback with the Saints. Coleman hasn't stood out in camp so far, but the Saints will use the preseason games to determine if Coleman has anything left. They'd like to use him as a part-time player on passing downs because he used to be one of the league's top interior rushers.

Newcomer to watch

 
  Crystal LoGiudice/US Presswire
  Rookie Malcolm Jenkins has to make up for lost time now that he has agreed to terms on a contract.

Top draft pick Malcolm Jenkins ended his holdout late Sunday night. Jenkins is a unique talent, but the holdout could have cost him a shot at a starting cornerback spot. The Saints paid big money to Jabari Greer in free agency and he's set at one starting spot. Tracy Porter has picked up where he left off when an injury ended a promising rookie season and has the edge for the other starting role. Jenkins isn't even guaranteed to land as the nickelback because veterans Randall Gay and Jason David have been playing well in camp.

Observation deck

There still are a lot of fans calling for the Saints to bring in veteran Edgerrin James to be the short-yardage running back, but that doesn't appear likely. First off, James isn't the prototypical short-yardage runner. Second, the Saints might already have their answer. They've been letting undrafted free agents P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson compete with Mike Bell for this role. All three are true power backs and all three have looked good at times. ... Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis showed some promise as a rookie, but injuries kept him from being on the field all the time. Ellis is quietly having a very nice camp and the Saints believe he's ready to really become a force in the middle. ... The Saints used a fifth-round draft pick on punter Thomas Morstead, but there's no guarantee he'll win the job. He's in a battle with Glenn Pakulak and, so far, it's a dead heat. ... Williams' base defense is the 4-3, but he started installing a 3-4 package last week. Don't look for the Saints to use the 3-4 a lot. But you could see a fair amount of it early in the season when Smith and Grant are out and the Saints will deal with a shortage of quality defensive linemen.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

We're down to the punters in our series of NFC South position rankings. The return men will come Wednesday before we move on to coaches and the front office.

But let's not sell the punters short. This spot might be one of the division's strongest areas. The first three guys in the rankings each drew serious consideration for the top spot. Here they are:

1. Michael Koenen, Atlanta. His coverage unit helped a lot, but opponents had only 49 return yards on Koenen last season. No wonder the Falcons used the franchise tag on their punter.

2. Josh Bidwell, Tampa Bay. Has the strongest leg in the division. Would be in the top spot if Koenen and the Falcons had given up more in returns.

3. Jason Baker, Carolina. The division's most consistent punter. Baker's averaged over 44 yards a punt each of the last three seasons and, mercifully, has helped the world forget Todd Sauerbrun ever was in Carolina.

4. Glenn Pakulak. The guy is only eight games into his NFL career, but he did average 47.7 yards a punt last year. The Saints like his leg strength, but used a fifth-round pick on Thomas Morestead because they aren't sure about Pakulak's consistency.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

It's become pretty obvious the Saints didn't have Liberty running back Rashad Jennings rated nearly as high as many of us did.

The same can be said for the rest of the league. As the sixth round nears its end, Jennings is still on the board. A lot of people, including myself, thought the Saints might take Jennings with one of their two fourth-round picks.

They didn't and it became totally clear there was no chance of the Saints drafting Jennings when they traded up into the fifth round ... to get a punter. The Saints traded their seventh-round pick and a fifth-round choice in 2010 to the Giants to take Southern Methodist punter Thomas Morstead, even though you could make a pretty good case that the Saints don't need a punter with Glenn Pakulak already on the roster.

Barring any unlikely trade, the Saints are done in this draft because they're out of picks.

The Saints still want to add a power runner, but they're going to have to find it another way. One option is Mike Bell, who already is on the roster, but they're going to be watching to see if a big back becomes available from another team between now and the start of the regular season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

NFL head coaches meet and speak frequently with their team owners, but the discussions take on more public meaning when the team is 0-4 -- and heading to 0-and-who-knows. So it was newsworthy this week to learn thatDetroit coach Rod Marinelli met Monday with Lions owner William Clay Ford, a day after the team's 34-7 home debacle against Chicago.

According to Marinelli, there was no discussion about his future with the team. He said earlier this week he would "never" resign.

"I always tell him the truth and what I feel, but I also put it on me," Marinelli told reporters in Detroit. "It's my job. That's what I'm supposed to do, win here."

Marinelli said there were no clues to be gained from Ford's demeanor.

"I never try to read nothing into anything," he said. "I just go in and explain where we're at and what we're trying to do."

The conventional wisdom is that Marinelli will have the rest of this season to prove he should get a fourth as Lions coach. Although Ford already has fired president/general manager Matt Millen, there isn't an obvious in-house replacement for Marinelli to coach out the rest of the season if he fired.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Former Lions receiver Charles Rogers must pay the team $8.5 million in bonus money, an arbitrator ruled. Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com has details. The team successfully argued Rogers defaulted on his contract when the NFL suspended him for a year after multiple violations of the substance abuse policy.
  • Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said there is "no doubt" he will start Sunday at Seattle, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
  • During a conference call with Wisconsin media, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren commented on the messy divorce between the Packers and quarterback Brett Favre. "It was too bad," Holmgren said, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers defensive tackle Justin Harrell told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he will be ready to practice when he's eligible to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list next Monday. Harrell had two offseason back surgeries.
  • The Star Tribune learned the identities of four punters brought in for workouts Wednesday. The list includes: Former Denver punter Sam Paulescu, former Seattle punter Ryan Plackemeier, Adam Crossett and Glenn Pakulak.
  • Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune writes that former Vikings coach Bud Grant never would have apologized for a strange victory like the one Minnesota had Monday night over New Orleans.
  • A fire in the hometown of Vikings quarterback Gus Frerotte left one building almost completely destroyed. The only thing remaining was a wall painted with a mural of Frerotte, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Frerotte is trying to help the displaced families in Ford City, Pa.
  • The Chicago Bears will force rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to beat them Sunday in Atlanta, according to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. The Bears won't let tailback Michael Turner do it and will use safety Kevin Payne near the line of scrimmage to reinforce their run defense.
  • Bears defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek said teammate Tommie Harris looked "great" in practice Wednesday, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Harris rejoined the team this week after a one-game suspension.

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