NFL Nation: Hunter Hillenmeyer

Now more than ever, it makes sense to identify the NFC North players who will be most involved in resolving the NFL's looming labor dispute. Below you'll see each team's union representatives, based on the most recent list published by the NFL Players Association.

Chicago Bears
Rep:
Place-kicker Robbie Gould
Co-alternates: Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and receiver Rashied Davis
Comment: Hillenmeyer was released earlier this week and might retire, but he is expected to remain active in union activities regardless.

Detroit Lions
Rep:
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch
Co-alternates: Place-kicker Jason Hanson and linebacker Julian Peterson
Comment: Vanden Bosch took over this year for offensive lineman Jon Jansen, who was released. Peterson is expected to be released this spring.

Green Bay Packers
Rep:
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Co-alternates: Cornerback Charles Woodson and receiver Donald Driver
Comment: Rodgers took over the lead role during the 2010 season. Woodson recently released a statement supporting Wisconsin public workers in their ongoing dispute with the state.

Minnesota Vikings
Rep:
Left guard Steve Hutchinson
Co-alternates: Defensive end Jared Allen and linebacker Ben Leber
Comment: Hutchinson predicted last summer the NFL would lock out its players. Leber is unsigned for 2011.

Bears' patience with Harris runs out

February, 28, 2011
2/28/11
2:13
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Labor uncertainty or not, it hasn't taken long for NFC North teams to begin the post-combine business of roster cleanup. The Chicago Bears started it off Monday afternoon, terminating the contracts of three veterans: Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, and offensive lineman Kevin Shaffer.

Harris was by far the most newsworthy name, but his inclusion was not unexpected. As we discussed last week, Harris was due a $2.5 million roster bonus before training camp and a $2.312 million base salary in 2011. Because of several accounting moves, his salary-cap number would have been $11.115 million, an unmanageable figure assuming the NFL reverts to a cap system under its new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The cap issue suggests there is a chance Harris could re-sign with the Bears at some point. But it should be pretty clear to everyone that Harris, even at age 27, is a shell of the player that earned three consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 2005-07. If anything, the Bears were too patient in waiting for him to regain his form from a series of mid-decade injuries.

After recording a career-high eight sacks in 2007, Harris managed nine over the next three years combined. He lost his starting job early last season to Matt Toeaina, whose contract extension in December was among many clues that Harris' time in Chicago was nearing an end.

The No. 14 overall pick of the 2004 draft, Harris ultimately will be remembered as a dominant force during a four-year stretch and an enigma for the three years that followed. Although Toeaina is signed for 2011, it's safe to say that a playmaking defensive tackle should be high among the Bears' offseason priorities.

As for Hillenmeyer, it's unclear if he will continue playing. The Bears placed him on injured reserve last year because of concussion issues. He turns 31 in October.

Concussion ended Hillenmeyer's year

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
7:17
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Hillenmeyer
Hillenmeyer
I applaud the Chicago Bears for being as open as they were on how, when and why a concussion has ended linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer's season. But I imagine that concussion-awareness advocates will still cringe when they read the time line. Here's how the Bears put it in a news release:
Hillenmeyer suffered the injury during the third preseason game versus the Arizona Cardinals and missed the preseason finale as a result. After passing all medical tests following the conclusion of the preseason schedule, he returned to practice prior to the season opener versus Detroit. Hillenmeyer was removed from last weekend's game at halftime after becoming ill during the contest.

In hindsight, of course, you wonder if playing last weekend was the right move for Hillenmeyer and the Bears. There is no mention of a second incident resulting in his illness Sunday, so we're left to presume it was related to the preseason concussion. In a statement released by the team, Hillenmeyer said he is "happy to see my team err on the side of caution." Presumably, he was referring to the decision to shut him down for the season.

There is no sense speculating on what happened here. We don't have enough details and may never. But we can say this: Hillenmeyer was one of three players removed from NFC North games last weekend because of concussions. The other two were Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb and linebacker Stewart Bradley. Given the direction concussion research is going in, I think you're going to hear a lot more about this issue in the near future.
MIAMI -- Chicago linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer is among another group of active NFL players who have agreed to donate their brains to concussion research upon their deaths.

Here’s the full report from the Associated Press. Hillenmeyer has had a vested interested in concussions since suffering one in the season opener against Green Bay in 2006. At the time, he said: “I’ve got my mom and girlfriend sending me 50 articles off the Internet about all the long-term effects of concussions. But that’s not something that I’m thinking about. I know the doctors wouldn’t let me play if they thought there was any greater risk of me getting another one than with anybody else out there.”

Other players who recently joined Hillenmeyer include Zach Thomas and Kyle Turley.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

CHICAGO -- Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui decked Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris twice before Harris threw the punch resulting in his ejection Sunday.

Lutui's actions were within the rules. Harris' were not.
 Harris
 Lutui


Harris' ejection following only the fourth play from scrimmage followed this play-by-play sequence:
  1. The Cardinals threw the ball on first down. Nothing of note happened.
  2. Lutui shoved Bears defensive lineman Marcus Harrison after the play. Harris and Lutui made no contact. Harris hit Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner legally after Warner threw the ball.
  3. The Cardinals threw again, this time completing a 23-yard pass to Steve Breaston. Lutui decked Harris during the play, then hit Harris again as the defensive tackle tried to get up. The second hit might have been unnecessary. Any defensive lineman would have been ticked off even though Lutui did not appear to violate rules.
  4. Lutui quickly pushed Harris at the start of the Cardinals' fourth play, a run. Harris was engaged with center Lyle Sendlein and could not see Lutui. Lutui blocked linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer on the play. Replays did not show what happened immediately next, only Harris' fateful punch to Lutui's facemask while Lutui was down on the ground.
The punch appeared more dramatic from the press box than on replays. Lutui had no noticeable marks on his face after the game. He did not miss any plays.

Final Word: NFC North

October, 9, 2009
10/09/09
4:07
PM ET


» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend’s games:

Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Detroit has indicated that DeAndre Levy could get more playing time, but at whose expense?
St. Louis tailback Steven Jackson has written one of the few success stories against Minnesota’s run defense. Jackson ran for 142 yards in the regular-season finale of the 2006 season, one of only two 100-yard days the Vikings have allowed over their past 52 games. (Green Bay’s Ryan Grant has the other, in 2007.) Jackson’s performance that day ended the Vikings’ bid to set an NFL record for fewest rushing yards in a season, and he remains the type of power back who could do some damage against them. “…[H]e came and ran up and down the field on us,” coach Brad Childress said. “There are guys here that can vividly remember that.”

Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre was sacked nine times in his first three games, but here’s a possible tonic: Extra use of the shotgun. Childress’ version of this offense hasn’t always made extensive use of that formation -- among other reasons, it tips defenses heavily toward a pass read -- but Favre has excelled when throwing from it this season. ESPN Stats & Information reports that through four games, Favre has the NFL’s second-best passer rating (117.2) out of the shotgun. Overall, he’s completed 46 of 61 shotgun passes (75.4 percent) for 545 yards and four touchdowns. He’s completed 39 of 64 passes (61 percent) when originally lined up under center. The shotgun could be especially effective against Rams pass-rusher Leonard Little.

There were indications that Detroit will shuffle its linebacker corps Sunday against Pittsburgh, hoping to strengthen a defense giving up an NFL-high 33.5 points per game. It’s assumed that rookie DeAndre Levy will displace either Julian Peterson or Ernie Sims in the starting lineup. But the Lions should be careful if they think they can overwhelm Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with pressure. Yes, Roethlisberger has been sacked 10 times, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. Otherwise, however, he is excelling against added pressure. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he’s completing 69 percent of his passes when defenses bring additional pass-rushers. Roethlisberger’s full numbers in those situations: 35 completions in 51 attempts for 333 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Here’s a suggestion for the Lions, who want to do a better job establishing the run: Don’t bother testing the middle of Pittsburgh’s defensive front. So far this season, the Steelers have allowed an NFL-best average of 1.08 yards on runs up the middle. Opponents are averaging 2.0 yards per carry over left guard and 3.38 yards per carry over right guard, according to league statistics. The Lions, if you’re curious, have been most successful this season running around left end. They’re averaging 6.62 yards per carry on 21 rushes in that direction. (The Steelers have only had six plays run around left end against them. They’ve given up an average of 0.83 yards on those runs.)

Chicago and Green Bay will take their bye under significantly different circumstances. The Bears have won three consecutive games after losing their opener at Lambeau Field, and as of now their most pressing issue is nursing injured players back to health. When they resume practice next week, the Bears are hoping to get back receiver Devin Hester (strained neck muscle), linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs). Defensive lineman Israel Idonije (knee) had minor knee surgery but won’t miss much, if any, time. The Packers, meanwhile, have been left to ponder their pass protection problems as well as a defense that hasn’t brought as much pressure (five sacks) as initially advertised.

A swagger builds in Chicago

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
7:40
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Jerry Lai/US Presswire
The Bears are going into their bye week at 3-1 and with a growing confidence.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- You had to be on your toes Sunday in Chicago's postgame locker room. In one corner, Charles Tillman was freaking people out with red-tinted contacts that lent a certain devilish appearance. Asked how the Bears turned around a close game at halftime, Tillman bugged his eyes out and said:

“We all came in and drank Red Bull and were jumping off the walls like crazy people. So next time we play, I'm going to buy a bunch of Red Bull and give it to everyone to start off the game.”

Week 4 Coverage
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Seifert: Bears build swagger
Sando: Rams looking for answers
Wojciechowski: Bears give Chicago a break
Reiss: Patriots-Ravens game a classic
Watkins: Cowboys offense sputters
Clayton: Colts running away with division
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• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live

• MNF: Packers, Favre can bury the hatchet
A few reporters chuckled. Tillman was joking, I assume.

Down the line a bit, Tommie Harris was explaining the meaning behind a new Bears sack dance. “We call it ‘Shooting Kreutz,'” Harris said, swiveling his arms and imitating the strut of center Olin Kreutz.

Next door, Alex Brown acted miffed that teammate Adewale Ogunleye had a larger gathering of reporters around him.

Turning serious for a moment, Brown said: “At the end of the day, it's about winning. That's what we did today.”

Indeed, the Bears won Sunday for the third consecutive week, blowing open a close game in the second half to defeat Detroit 48-24. The Bears haven't played a good first half this season, but they enter their bye week with a 3-1 record and a growing swagger that suggests they are the type of team that can figure a way to make things happen.

“As a team, we scored 48 points today and I think we can be a lot better,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “If we score 48 points and say we can be a lot better, that's a good thing to me.”

There are some teams with strong building blocks that somehow have a knack for making a mistake or missing an assignment at a crucial time. I put the Lions in that category, especially after quarterback Matthew Stafford committed two turnovers inside his own 20-yard line Sunday.
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
Adewale Ogunleye notched 2.5 of the Bears' 5 sacks.

(Don't take it from me. Lions coach Jim Schwartz called Sunday's second half “one of the worst halves of football I've ever been associated with.”)

Other teams compensate for a deficiency, temporary or permanent, by calling on other quadrants of the team for help. That's what the Bears did Sunday during the first stop of our Week 4 FourFecta.

The Lions came out throwing and amassed 273 offensive yards in the first half. Stafford found receiver Calvin Johnson five times for 119 yards, and the Bears' offense was struggling to keep up.

Three Bears-forced events turned the game in the second half:
  1. Coach Lovie Smith assigned Tillman to cover Johnson, swapping out fellow cornerback Zack Bowman. With some safety help, Tillman limited Johnson to three catches for 14 yards in the second half.
  2. The Bears' defensive line stepped up in a way that I haven't seen since the Super Bowl season in 2006. Ogunleye exploded for two sacks. Israel Idonije also had a sack, and overall Stafford had little time to find Johnson or anyone else before leaving with a right knee injury.
  3. The Bears' special teams produced their best showing of the year. Rookie Johnny Knox's 102-yard kickoff return immediately changed the momentum in the third quarter, and Robbie Gould's career-long 52-yard field goal gave the Bears a 10-point lead. Both plays came in the first five minutes of the second half.

“We started making plays,” Brown said. “I don't know what the heck is wrong with us. Every game, we've started out like this. Pretty slow. We understand how to finish. We just have to figure out how to start.”

(Red Bull, anyone?)

As they head toward their bye, I view the Bears as a flawed team with enough tools to compensate for imperfection. Most teams perform a self-study at the bye and create a “to-do” list for in-season improvement. So let's give them a head start based on what we saw Sunday:

Middle linebacker Nick Roach, filling in for the injured Hunter Hillenmeyer and Brian Urlacher, might be a good run-stuffer and a nifty blitzer. But it was obvious -- and I mean OBVIOUS -- that the Lions planned to target him in the first half. For the most part, tight ends and receivers were running wild down the deep middle of the field, which is the middle linebacker's territory in the Cover 2 defense.

When a blocking tight end like Will Heller is breaking free for receptions of 14 and 23 yards, I think you get the message. Unofficially, I had the Lions with five big pass plays over the deep middle in the first half, and Stafford misfired when he had open receivers on three other occasions.

Roach was either in shock or denial when I asked him about it afterward.

“I don't really recall them going down the middle too much in the first half,” Roach said. “I don't know.”

The bye week should allow Hillenmeyer sufficient time to recover, giving Smith an interesting lineup decision to make.

Injuries to receivers Devin Hester (shoulder) and Knox (shin) are a reminder of how thin the Bears' receiving corps is. Knox's injury is not considered serious, but the Bears were quiet on Hester's status. I know the receiver issue has been discussed extensively in Chicago, but do you like the prospects of Knox, Bennett and Rashied Davis as your top receivers should Hester miss some time?

You can't take away Matt Forte's 121-yard game, even if 98 of those yards came on two plays. After all, one 61-yard run is just as good as six 10-yard runs. But I still think it will be worth the Bears' time to figure out why they haven't gotten more consistency from their running game in the first part of the season. In the 15 other carries by running backs Sunday, they managed 45 yards.

After watching Sunday's game, I think it's fair to direct some scrutiny toward the left side of the offensive line. Tackle Orlando Pace and guard Frank Omiyale both appear to be a work in progress.

I don't consider any of those issues potentially fatal flaws, however. Nothing a little Red Bull couldn't cure.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- Detroit had Chicago on the ropes for a full half here at Soldier Field before defense and special teams carried the Bears to a 48-24 victory. But the game exposed a few holes the Bears will need to address during their upcoming bye week.

I’ll go into more detail after the game, but chief among the issues was the Bears’ inability to cover the deep middle of the field. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had receivers open downfield all afternoon, and he capitalized on enough of the opportunities to throw for 296 yards before a knee injury ended his afternoon.

It’s easy to point the finger at Nick Roach, who was making his first start at middle linebacker in place of the injured Hunter Hillenmeyer. Roach was definitely chasing receivers on a number of those completions, but I’m sure the breakdown was more thorough than with just one player.

I don’t want to suggest gloom and doom for the Bears, who raised their record to 3-1. I just think it’s worth raising an eyebrow when an opponent gashes you (to the tune of 273 offensive yards) with the same basic play for an entire half.

The Lions faced a steep hurdle in trying to replicate last week’s victory over Washington. Their only chance to win Sunday was to keep up in a shootout, and ultimately the Bears’ pass rush caught up to them. Stafford was sacked four times in the second half.

More to come in a few hours.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Falling

  Clifton
Green Bay offensive line: Ugh and double ugh. A week after Chicago tossed around right tackle Allen Barbre, Cincinnati lit up left tackles Chad Clifton and Daryn Colledge. I still haven’t accepted that some guy named Antwan Odom -- who entered Sunday’s game with 17.5 career sacks -- beat Clifton and Colledge for FIVE. The Packers started the season with three new starters along the offensive line, and so far the results have been hugely disappointing. Trouble is, there aren’t any quick fixes on the roster. Neither of their top two reserves who can play tackle -- Breno Giacomini and rookie T.J. Lang -- have any NFL experience to speak of.

  Stafford
Matthew Stafford, Detroit quarterback: He’s thrown five interceptions in his first 67 regular season attempts. For some perspective, that’s a pace of 39 interceptions over a 16-game season. There’s nothing surprising about a rookie throwing interceptions, especially when his team is behind and he’s pushing to make plays. We like aggressive quarterbacks, and sometimes aggressiveness and interceptions go hand-in-hand. But the Lions aren’t going to win many games with a quarterback who turns the ball over at that rate. Either he’ll need to refine his decision-making in a hurry, or the Lions will have to accept these lumps as they come.

Minnesota pass protection: We’ve made a big deal about the lack of downfield passing thus far in the Vikings’ offense. But we probably haven’t emphasized enough that quarterback Brett Favre hasn’t always had the time to let those plays develop. Favre, noted throughout his career for a quick release and nimble feet, has been sacked seven times in two games. Rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt, who has been strong in run blocking, has appeared especially vulnerable to speed rushes. Blitz pickup has also been a concern. I’m sure future opponents have already taken note.

Rising

  Knox
Johnny Knox, Chicago receiver: Everyone knew Knox had elite speed. But I don’t know if there were many people who thought a fifth-round draft pick from Abilene Christian would possess enough sophistication in the passing game to contribute eight catches and 152 yards in the first two games of his career. It helps to have a fearless quarterback like Jay Cutler, who has never been afraid to throw to young receivers. But for two weeks, at least, Knox is getting open and making tough catches like a veteran. He’s given the Bears’ anonymous receiving corps a much-needed lift.

  Harvin
Percy Harvin, Minnesota receiver: It’s pretty clear that Harvin is an early favorite of Favre. They have connected eight times for 77 yards and two touchdowns, all team highs, and Favre clearly trusts Harvin’s ability to break tackles and run after the catch. The fact that Favre is looking to him in the red zone is particularly notable. Harvin has also come close to breaking two kickoff returns and is averaging 29.7 yards on six returns this season. If you had any doubts, it’s now obvious that Harvin is one of the few rookie receivers who -- like Knox -- is ready to play at a high level from Day 1 of his career.

  Hillenmeyer
Hunter Hillenmeyer, Chicago linebacker: Hillenmeyer held his own in the Bears’ first game without Brian Urlacher since 2004, a feat in itself. Bears coach Lovie Smith was happy with the way Hillenmeyer called the defense and got the front seven aligned in a 17-14 victory over Pittsburgh. For now, it looks like Hillenmeyer has staved off any chance that Chicago would seek out Derrick Brooks or another veteran to replace him for the rest of the season. Hillenmeyer will retain his job as long as he can keep the Bears’ defense organized on the field.

Replacing Urlacher

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
11:53
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Let’s keep the Bears train rolling here Monday morning. Updating previous reports, linebacker Brian Urlacher has told the Chicago Tribune he will miss the rest of the season after dislocating his right wrist in Sunday night’s 21-15 loss to Green Bay.
AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps
After dislocating his right wrist, Brian Urlacher is expected to miss the rest of the season.

It’s an unprecedented turn of events for Urlacher, who had started 49 consecutive games and has missed a total of only seven games (all in the 2004 season) in his 10-year career. For the first time this decade, the Bears are going to have to play the majority of a season without one of the players their defense is built around.

At some point, we’ll have to discuss the impact of this news on Urlacher’s long-term future. He’ll turn 32 before he plays in another game and has the kind of beat-up body you would expect from a linebacker who has played as long as he has. But for now, we should take a look at the Bears’ limited options for replacing him this season. In order of likelihood:
  1. Hunter Hillenmeyer made the roster primarily as insurance against Urlacher’s health. He’s not quick enough to play on the strong side anymore, but Hillenmeyer knows the Bears' scheme and can provide some leadership at the position. (You might recall he started six games for Urlacher in 2004.) Hillenmeyer won’t embarrass the Bears in this role.
  2. Nick Roach would have been a possibility here. But it looks like he’s going to have to fill in for new strongside starter Pisa Tinoisamoa, who sprained his posterior cruciate ligament Sunday night and could miss several weeks.
  3. Jamar Williams has gotten some work at middle linebacker and could be an in-house option if Hillenmeyer doesn’t pan out. Williams is primarily a special-teams player.
  4. Derrick Brooks’ name has come up already Monday morning because he is available and once played for Bears coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. But you have to wonder how long it would take Brooks to get into football shape after going unsigned during training camp. There’s no doubt Brooks knows the Tampa 2 defense, but don’t forget he played the weakside position in the scheme for most of his time in Tampa Bay.
video
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Hi there. Hope everyone had a great weekend.

I'll have some more thoughts on Minnesota's minicamp during the week. For now, I'm intrigued by an item buried midway through the weekend column of David Haugh from the Chicago Tribune. Haugh noted the volume of e-mails he has received that document the failure of new quarterback Jay Cutler to sign autographs around town.

One fan predicted that Cutler's decision to wave off fans would be his undoing in Chicago. I think that's a little dramatic and places an unfair standard on a guy who already is dealing with skyrocketing expectations. So the only way some fans are going to root for him is if he stops and signs autographs whenever they want?

There is a balance to that sort of thing, and it's something Cutler will have to deal with for a while. (See this excellent piece by Wayne Drehs of ESPN Chicago for more.) I'm sure Cutler realizes that most fans will base their loyalty on his performance in games, not how many autographs he signs during the offseason.

Let me know if you think differently. Otherwise, let's take a weekend look around the division:

  • The arrival of new linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa clouds the picture for veteran Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • The three leading candidates to replace Green Bay right tackle Mark Tauscher are Breno Giacomini, Allen Barbre and rookie T.J. Lang. Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette breaks down the situation.
  • Packers safety Atari Bigby on his mindset: "Listen, I'm going to have fun. I'm going to have fun in this defense and I'm so excited. I'm just trying to be calm right now just because of this season I'm coming off. That was a humbling season." Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains.
  • Free-agent offensive lineman Jon Jansen agreed to a one-year contract worth the veteran's minimum of $845,000, according to Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press. The deal is contingent on a physical.
  • Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman catches up with Lions safety Gerald Alexander, a former Boise State star who has fully recovered from a fractured vertebra in his neck.
  • Vikings coach Brad Childress wore a wig of spiked brown hair during the final day of minicamp Sunday. Here is video from KMSP in the Twin Cities.
  • Vikings receiver Sidney Rice said his right knee gave him no trouble during minicamp, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Last month, Rice said he had not yet fully recovered from the sprained ligament he suffered early last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides excellent context for the Packers' switch to a 3-4 defense, noting that up to 12 teams are competing in this draft for players whose body types and skills fit the 3-4 scheme better than a 4-3.

Most notably, the trend puts a high demand on 250-pound college defensive ends that didn't necessarily have a place in the 4-3. Now, everyone is trying to figure out if they can play outside linebacker in the 3-4. McGinn reports there are at least 12 such players in this year's draft, a relatively high number.

But former Cleveland general manager Phil Savage said the competition for these players is going to push them much higher in the draft than they should be.

Savage: "You can always project these guys and all that, but the reality of it is there aren't enough of them to go around. When only four or five teams were running the 3-4, you could still get a guy in the third or fourth round. Now, everybody is trying to get them for that scheme, so ultimately they will go earlier than they probably should."

The Packers didn't sign a linebacker or defensive end in free agency, putting a premium on both their draft performance as well as their efforts to retrofit their own players for the scheme. Time will tell.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel examines the tendency of Packers general manager Ted Thompson to collect low-round draft picks. Thompson: "Your success ratio is lower, but if you have confidence in your scouting department, you like the challenge of trying to find a guy down there."
  • Anyone who believes Detroit won't draft quarterback Matthew Stafford is in "denial," writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • The News' Bob Wojnowski is hedging on Stafford: "Listen, I wouldn't shriek and declare the Lions forever doomed if they signed Stafford. He clearly has the arm and intelligence to at least be a decent NFL quarterback, in the right situation. I would just wonder if Mayhew and new coach Jim Schwartz want him for the right reasons."
  • Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press writes the Lions could take offensive players with both of their first-round picks. (Ha!)
  • Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune thinks Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf has sealed his wallet this offseason: "... [F]rom here, this looks like an offseason that has been all about business -- about a reaction to a nasty recession, a fall in season-ticket sales and another stadium shutout suffered at the Legislature."
  • Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune looks at the Vikings' completely failed 2005 draft class, one that included two of the first 18 picks of the draft.
  • Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes that the final verdict is still out on Minnesota's 2008 trade for defensive end Jared Allen.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune names five players whose jobs could be jeopardized based on how the Bears draft, including veteran linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer.
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times breaks down every draft choice in the Bears career of general manager Jerry Angelo. Four of them have become Pro Bowl players.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The Green Bay Packers have two young players whose contracts will expire at the end of the 2009 season. They have more than $20 million in salary cap space and less than a week before the NFL deadline for using 2008 cap money on future contracts.

But at least one of those players, receiver Greg Jennings, isn't interested in completing an in-season agreement. Jennings told Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he wants no distractions at such a critical point in the season.

"My thought process is that even if there is something out there, I don't want to do anything until after the season," Jennings said. "I don't want to mess with it. I'm going to wait. If it were to happen this season, it would happen at the end of the season. It definitely won't happen right now."

There is no evidence the Packers have initiated substantive discussions with either Jennings or quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose contract also expires after 2009. There is certainly no rush, and at this point it appears both players want to re-sign eventually. It just won't happen in the next week, in all likelihood.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • You figured this was coming. Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette looks at the benefits Tennessee has garnered from having a veteran backup quarterback behind opening day starter Vince Young. Kerry Collins has the Titans undefeated, while the Packers have to keep their fingers crossed that rookie backup Matt Flynn remains on the sidelines.
  • Chicago coach Lovie Smith has been open about his support for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, but Smith went out of his way to let reporters know he has already voted for him. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times explains.
  • Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald doesn't think Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (thumb) will play this week. Instead, Nick Roach is the likely starter.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune wonders if the Bears should move one of their three cornerbacks -- Charles Tillman, Nate Vasher and Corey Graham -- to safety in the long term.
  • Minnesota's special teams, which have allowed five touchdowns this season, will face a stiff test against Houston's Jacoby Jones on Sunday. Jones has two touchdowns on punt returns. Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune lay out the situation.
  • Vikings defensive end Jared Allen used the bye week to have his driver's license restored in Arizona, where it was revoked because of legal entanglements. Allen tells the story in his St. Paul Pioneer Press diary.
  • Detroit doesn't have a ton of talent on defense, but even their best tackler -- linebacker Ernie Sims -- is struggling. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press has the story.
  • John Niyo of the Detroit News pokes fun at the "Drew Stanton crowd," which learned Thursday that Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto won't play Stanton because he doesn't want to embarrass him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

At least the Detroit Lions are having a little fun. (Or at least, an ex-Lion. We understand that's a big distinction).

Former Lions receiver Roy Williams, traded earlier this month to Dallas, returned to Detroit on Monday to attend the team's annual Halloween party/charity fundraiser. How was he dressed? As former Lions running back Tatum Bell, who was involved in the well-documented disappearance of tailback Rudi Johnson's bags during the preseason.

If you recall, Bell said he grabbed the bags after mistaking them for those of another former teammate -- whom Bell had agreed to deliver to a local friend's house. Playing off that story, Williams wore a bellhop uniform to the event (with a "T. Bell" nametag in case someone missed the joke), and a pair of boxer shorts with "Rudi" on the front and "Johnson 32" on the back, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.

There apparently is video of an interview with Williams but I couldn't locate it Tuesday morning. If anyone sees it, hit the mailbag and I'll post a link for everyone.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Chicago linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer had surgery last week on his thumb, reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Hillenmeyer didn't practice Monday and his status for Sunday's game is uncertain. Nick Roach would replace him in the starting lineup if necessary.
  • Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune checks in with Bears legend William "The Refrigerator" Perry, who is in a wheelchair while he rehabilitates from a bout with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Perry was hospitalized for five months with the illness, which causes extreme weakness and numbness in the extremities.
  • Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune writes that Brad Childress is "in the biggest week of his three-season tenure as Vikings coach." A home loss to Houston would drop the Minnesota to 3-5. That record, combined with the prospect of losing defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams thereafter, could scuttle Childress' tenure, according to Reusse.
  • Ah, here's the reason: Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said he hasn't dropped a pass since changing the style of gloves he wears during games. Shiancoe's new gloves have no webbing between the fingers, according to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Newsflash: For the first time this season, Green Bay could have all five of its receivers healthy for a game. That's assuming James Jones (knee) is ready to play Sunday at Tennessee. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette assesses the situation. "It's a great package," receiver Donald Driver said. "If we ran it, there's no five [defensive backs] in the National Football League that can stop us."
  • Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he "definitely" feels better after resting his sore throwing shoulder during the bye week, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

ATLANTA -- Wish I could tell you how many times I heard someone mutter the word "unbelievable" Sunday afternoon in the Chicago Bears' locker room. I lost track at five.

 
 AP Photo/Dave Martin
 Jason Elam's 48-yard field goal as time expired gave the Falcons the victory.

People use "unbelievable" far too often in our language. As long as you trust your visual acuity, you should believe most everything you see. And everyone in the Bears' locker room saw how their 22-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons went down. I saw it, too. But in this case, it really is hard to believe how much happened in the game's final 11 seconds to make that defeat a reality.

"It's almost like we didn't lose this game," receiver/kick returner Devin Hester said. "I mean, how could we?"

Indeed, the Bears -- trailing for almost the entire afternoon -- scored 10 points in the final four minutes to take a 20-19 lead. Kyle Orton's 17-yard touchdown pass to Rashied Davis came with 11 seconds remaining.

Eleven seconds. How many times does a game's outcome change after a team takes such a late lead?

What came next will take a while for the Bears and many of their fans to believe. Coach Lovie Smith called for a squib kickoff, a standard move that generally prevents a big return. Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Falcons' Jerious Norwood had returned a kickoff 85 yards. Smith wasn't taking any chances.

"Guys were a little tired," Smith said. "So we thought a squib would be safe."

It was. After all, how often does a player try to return a squib kick after he knocks it down in that situation? Every second he uses is one less for the offense to move into scoring position.

Yet that's exactly what Atlanta's Harry Douglas did, fielding Robbie Gould's kick at the Falcons' 34-yard line and returning it 10 yards.

The return took five seconds. So six seconds remained. The Falcons had the ball at their 44-yard line.

"At that point we just want to finish the game," Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "We wanted the clock to run out. An incomplete pass. Whatever it would take for us to win."

(Read full post)

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