NFL Nation: Jeremy Kapinos
Most significant move: The Steelers are going with undrafted rookie Drew Butler (son of former NFL kicker Kevin Butler) as their punter. Injuries essentially forced this move. Pittsburgh parted ways with Daniel Sepulveda in the offseason because he couldn't stay healthy and waived Jeremy Kapinos on Friday after a back issue sidelined him this summer. Butler averaged 45.9 yards a punt this preseason and placed six of his 28 punts inside the 20-yard line. The other noteworthy move was keeping Charlie Batch, who was not expected to see his 11th season with Pittsburgh after Byron Leftwich won the backup job. The Steelers decided to keep three quarterbacks and just four wide receivers. Chris Rainey, who has lined up in the slot this preseason, is a hybrid running back-receiver.
Onward and upward: Pittsburgh should have no problem signing David Gilreath to the practice squad. If the Steelers went with a fifth receiver, it would have been Gilreath. He separated himself from an undistinguished group of reserve receivers with four catches for 78 yards in the second preseason game. The other benefit of keeping Gilreath is his ability as a returner. He led Wisconsin in punt and kickoff returns two years ago and could be promoted if Rainey got injured. Receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders can return kicks as well.
What's next: The Steelers may address depth at inside linebacker after placing rookie third-round pick Sean Spence on injured reserve Friday. With Stevenson Sylvester out for a couple of weeks with a torn MCL, Pittsburgh is down to former Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson as the top backup inside. The Steelers could bring back Trai Essex, after cutting the eight-year veteran Friday, when they place first-round pick David DeCastro on injured reserve Tuesday, allowing the team to activate DeCastro after eight weeks under the new IR rule. Pittsburgh is expected to waive rookie tight end David Paulson after Weslye Saunders serves his four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Offensive tackle Mike Adams, the second-round pick, is in the running for the starting left tackle job. But it wasn't an encouraging sign when the Steelers started Max Starks at left tackle Saturday night.
The player from this draft class who has the best chance of changing games is running back Chris Rainey, a fifth-round pick. He's displayed electric speed this preseason, scoring on a 41-yard run and a 57-yard catch.
Inside linebacker Sean Spence (third round) will be a key contributor on special teams and could see time on the starting defense if there is an injury to Lawrence Timmons or Larry Foote. Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu (fourth round) has struggled at times and likely will be among the team's inactives every week. Pittsburgh's four seventh-round picks (wide receiver Toney Clemons, tight end David Paulson, cornerback Terrence Frederick and guard Kelvin Beachum) are long shots to make the team.
This isn't to say there won't be a rookie starting for the Steelers this year. Will Johnson, who was out of football last year, is expected to be the Steelers' starting fullback, and Drew Butler, an undrafted rookie, has punted well enough to earn a spot. But the Steelers have to determine whether they'll go with Butler or Jeremy Kapinos, who still hasn't punted this preseason because of issues with his back.
The Steelers had only one rookie starter from the 2011 draft class (right tackle Marcus Gilbert) and one in 2010 (center Maurkice Pouncey).
This could factor into the field-position battle tonight. Supulveda, who beat out Kapinos in training camp, was netting 40.6 yards on punts this season. Kapinos had a 32.3-yard net average in four games for Pittsburgh last season.
In last season's playoff game against Baltimore, it was Kapinos who out-kicked his coverage and allowed Lardarius Webb to score on a 56-yard return. But that touchdown was negated by a holding penalty on the Ravens' Marcus Smith.
Webb ranks 24th in the league with an 8-yard punt return average this season.
"I think with the Packers, the past is obviously the past," Kapinos said Wednesday. "I'm just more excited to be with the Steelers now."
Kapinos was with Green Bay in 2008 and 2009 and punted a total of 20 games for the Packers. He subbed in during four games in 2008 and won the job full-time in 2009. Kapinos was then let go and served a one-week stint with the Indianapolis Colts this season.
But Kapinos says his heart is with the Steelers. He took advantage of an opportunity when Daniel Sepulveda suffered a season-ending knee injury and punted for Pittsburgh the past six games, including playoffs.
As luck would have it, Kapinos is now happy to punt in the Super Bowl for the Steelers, a team he's watched closely since college.
"I think the emotion falls more with the fact that this is the Steelers," Kapinos said. "I went to school at Penn State, and the proximity is what it is. A lot of my friends are Steelers fans so we always watched more Steelers games. That means more than anything."
What emerged is a matchup that looks nothing like a storied rivalry.
The New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers have met only once in the postseason. The Steelers beat them 20-17 in overtime six years ago.
That game also took place on Heinz Field's notoriously treacherous kicking surface, and two missed field goals in the final 120 seconds proved deadly. Jets kicker Doug Brien struck the crossbar on a 46-yard attempt at the two-minute warning and was wide left on a 43-yard attempt as the fourth quarter expired.
Heinz Field hasn't gotten any more luxurious since then.
Jets coach Rex Ryan said Thursday he expects Sunday's game to be decided by a late field goal.
"That's what's going to happen," Ryan said. "This is going to be one of those games. I don't see a team blowing the other team out. This is going to be hard-fought all the way to the end."
In Wednesday's edition of the "Big Question," we examined Nick Folk's inconsistencies this season. He has made all four of his career kicks at Heinz Field, including from 25 and 34 yards in a Week 15 victory over the Steelers.
Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, who was the Jets' kicker last year, recently handicapped the venues, kickers and punters in Sunday's conference championship games for ESPN.
"You have bad footing, cold weather, which you can't kick the ball as far, and you add the wind," Feely said of Pittsburgh and Chicago. "Heinz Field is historically the toughest place in the NFL footing-wise, kicking-wise. It'll impact the distance of your kicks and punts."
The Jets didn't re-sign the reliable Feely after last season because letting him go allowed them to sign outside linebacker Jason Taylor under weird free-agency rules for the uncapped season. The Jets signed Folk to replace Feely.
"There's a part of me that watches them and says 'Man, I wish I was still playing,' " Feely said. "I wish my team had been better and we had gotten into the playoffs because you want to be in those games. You want to play in those championship games. That's what players play for and live for.
"I'm OK as long as they don't win the Super Bowl because that'll crush me."
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:
Yes, they’re the Chargers: The Titans spent the week saying how this Chargers team is not the same one they have lost seven straight to, including a 42-17 pounding in a game the Titans needed to stay in playoff contention on Christmas last season. But they are enough of the same team, and San Diego absolutely has Tennessee’s number. The talented Chargers have lost three in a row, seem overdue and match up well.
Filling multiple roles: The absence of Pat McAfee, the punter who’s suspended for the game, goes beyond him being replaced for a game by Jeremy Kapinos. McAfee is also the kickoff man, and Adam Vinatieri won’t hit them as deep. McAfee is the holder too, so Kapinos or Jacob Tamme or Curtis Painter will replace him there. One bad play by a replacement can really shine the spotlight on his absence, and the alleged drunken canal swim that created the suspension scenario.
Talent gap: The Cowboys are largely regarded as a collection of talented players that has been unable to play well together as a team and thus find themselves at 1-5. They certainly view themselves as more talented than the rebuilding Jaguars, who are struggling but have a 3-4 record that the Cowboys would love to call their own. If Aaron Kampman and the young defensive linemen he’s working with can rattle Jon Kitna, Dallas could sink even further.
Concentrating on their jobs: When Arian Foster ran wild against the Colts on opening weekend, Indianapolis defenders got caught out of their lanes. There was a good deal of over-pursuit and a general lack of discipline. Both teams are coming off a bye. The Colts surely spent time discussing those problems and working on them. The Colts' defense has the people to play much better than it has so far. I suspect the Texans will have to balance things out offensively this time around, something Matt Schaub is fully capable of helping them do.
1. The Jaguars’ run defense: Jacksonville got gashed by the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium and in yielding 236 yards, a 5.6-yard average and three rushing touchdowns, the Jaguars dropped six spots in the league ratings to 25th. On a day when only 13 passes were completed against the Jaguars, 28 of their 65 tackles were credited by game-day statisticians to defensive backs.
2. Colts kickoff coverage: Pat McAfee has been good for nearly two kickoff touchbacks a game and consistently puts the ball deep. The team’s substitute punter, Jeremy Kapinos, punted in 20 games for Green Bay in 2008-09 and one for the Jets in 2007, but doesn’t look to be a kickoff guy. Odds are Adam Vinatieri kicks off to Steve Slaton or Jacoby Jones. Vinatieri’s short kickoffs were a reason McAfee was so attractive to the Colts in the 2009 draft. The Colts are currently 19th in the league defending kick returns.
3. Titans’ tight ends: Bo Scaife was played against Philadelphia with a groin injury. But in the team’s last seven-plus quarters, when Kerry Collins has been the quarterback, Tennessee has seen six connections on 13 passes aimed for the tight end for 32 yards, with a long of 12 and a 2-yard Collins-to-Scaife connection in Jacksonville. More balls to receivers is generally a good thing for the Titans, but Jared Cook still not earning chances isn't
2. Kevin Bentley, Texans linebacker: Bentley is coming off knee surgery while Xavier Adibi’s had a hamstring injury. Perhaps Bentley is just healed up better, but he’s gotten the nod over Adibi, at least initially, to take over Brian Cushing's strong side linebacker spot. Cushing is moving to middle linebacker for the remainder of the season to replace the injured DeMeco Ryans.
3. Jacob Tamme, Colts tight end: A big opportunity has arrived for Tamme, who’s been used infrequently on offense in his three seasons. He’s now listed as the starter for the Colts in the spot typically occupied by Dallas Clark, who’s finished for the season with a wrist injury. Tamme is fast and has good hands, but we don’t know how polished he is running routes or finding seams. Odds are we find out Monday night.
So should we expect anything better from a looming 2010 battle between Tim Masthay and Chris Bryan?
McCarthy spoke with both realism and confidence about the ongoing attempt to replace Jon Ryan, whom the Packers surprisingly released before the 2009 season.
"A young punter in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is a challenge," McCarthy said. "We'll get that on the record. I get that part. But we've been the youngest team in the league for four years. So I think we've accepted the challenge and I don't see this any differently.
"I like the two guys that we have in camp. ... I think these guys are as talented as Jon Ryan. I think they're definitely that caliber as far as pure ability to punt the football."
There are no guarantees that Masthay and Bryan will be the two punters the Packers bring to training camp. Masthay spent a brief time with Indianapolis last summer but was waived before the Colts' first preseason game. Bryan spent the past five years playing Australian rules football.
But the Packers' philosophical aversion to signing veteran free agents dictates they find a punter either through those means or via the draft. The situation remains fluid, but it appears the Packers will spend at least part of the spring evaluating their newest pair of young punters.
It was only two weeks ago that some numbskull suggested Green Bay might have a tough time getting in playoff position during the second half of the season. Geez. Some people just don’t think about what they say or write.
Because as we stand on the brink of Week 12, the Packers have given themselves an excellent chance to clinch a wild-card spot if they continue a winning pace. (I would define “winning pace” as winning more than you lose. For the Packers, that would mean a 4-2 finish and a 10-6 final record.)
It won’t be as easy as it sounds, not when you consider they have only two home games remaining. It’s possible that a 9-7 record could clinch a playoff spot, but let’s be safe for the purposes of this discussion. In recognition of that strong assumption, let’s consider four keys to the Packers’ postseason run. (Four! Get it?)
1. Schematically cover for personnel losses on defense
The loss of cornerback Al Harris pushes the rest of the Packers’ defensive backs up the depth chart. Tramon Williams is the likely starter, with some combination of Jarrett Bush, Brandon Underwood and newcomer Josh Bell all in the mix for the nickel. Navigating this issue will be the Packers’ biggest challenge in making the playoffs.
All three players are relative unknowns in terms of coverage ability. It’s great if one of them steps up. If not, however, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have to implement some lineup creativity to get his best 11 players on the field.
That could mean leaving an extra linebacker on the field in some nickel situations. It might require finding a bigger role for backup linebacker Desmond Bishop. It could mean flooding the line of scrimmage with blitzers, if that’s what Capers’ remaining players do best.
From the moment he arrived in Green Bay, Capers pledged to craft a scheme around the strengths of his players. It’s time for him once again to follow through.
2. Remaining disciplined with the “new” short-range offense
Over the past two weeks, the Packers have returned to the approach they used in 2007, emphasizing quicker passes, shorter routes and better balance with the run. In this case, the shift was a response to the limited pass protection they have offered quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The development has been obvious the casual observer, but Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette recently put a strong number behind it. In Sunday’s 30-24 victory over San Francisco, 20 of Rodgers’ 32 completions traveled within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. And their biggest offensive play came off a simple 10-yard slant pass to receiver Greg Jennings, who turned it into a 64-yard touchdown.
“We know our strengths,” Jennings said. “We know our weaknesses, and we have to play to our strengths. And our strength is getting the ball out of Aaron’s hands and letting us make plays. … I think [the short game] is the best way to get the ball in any one of our hands. The last couple of weeks, that’s been a huge emphasis -- the three-step game, the quick game, just trying to get the ball in each one of our hands and just get us out in space against the perimeter guys.”
3. Win the right games
This might sound counterintuitive, but some of Green Bay’s games will be more important than others. I’m not suggesting the Packers do anything other than try to win all of them. But we observers should keep priority and orderliness in mind when looking at their schedule.
In terms of tiebreakers and playoff seeding, division games are most important -- even if it has nothing to do with winning the title. Conference matchups rank next, followed by AFC games. So if I’m making a priority list of the teams I think the Packers need to beat to make the playoffs, it’s going to look like this:
I ranked Seattle and Baltimore ahead of Arizona and Pittsburgh because they’re home games. No tiebreaker applies to home victories, but any playoff plan should include winning your home games first.
4. Make a standard out of the special-teams performance we saw Sunday.
The Packers have had their share of coverage problems this season, and our friends over at Football Outsiders ranked their special teams last in the NFL through the first nine games of the season. But I thought the Packers put forth a mostly winning effort Sunday.
No one can be happy about Josh Morgan’s 76-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. Moving past that play, however, the 49ers managed 18.7 yards on their other three kickoff returns and 2.3 yards on three punt returns.
Meanwhile, Williams’ 27-yard punt return set up what turned out to be a key field goal at the end of the first half. And don’t forget that Derrick Martin downed a Jeremy Kapinos punt at the 49ers’ 2-yard line in the fourth quarter. On the next play, safety Nick Collins intercepted Alex Smith to set up the Packers’ final touchdown.
You can’t solve any problem overnight, special teams or otherwise. But if the Packers can minimize big returns and make some positive plays to balance them out, I think what they did Sunday would suffice in a playoff race.
|Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images|
|Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is experiencing the changes on the Packers' defense first hand.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Someone is bearing down every time Aaron Rodgers throws a training camp pass. One play it's cornerback Charles Woodson. Then it's safety Nick Collins. Sometimes outside linebackers Jeremy Thompson and Aaron Kampman crash the pocket together. Then it's Thompson and inside linebacker Brandon Chillar.
"It's tougher to go against," Rodgers said. "It really is tougher. Going against our old scheme, there was just a lot of man coverage. You kind of knew you were going to get 'one-high' man or 'two-high' man or a very rare Cover 2. But what you saw in practice, they were bringing guys off both edges. Corner blitz. Safety blitz. Then they play Cover 2, Cover 3 or Cover 0. They mix up the coverages and the blitzes so often... It makes it a lot more difficult to try to get a read on it. They force you to make a quick decision."
There is little doubt Green Bay's new defense will be different and take more chances in 2009. But no one believes the scheme alone will turn around a team that finished 6-10 last season. The Packers are still testing their players' aptitude for the 3-4 and adjusting it accordingly. They've also initiated a significant overhaul of their offensive line, are transitioning the tight end position with a greater emphasis on second-year player Jermichael Finley and are holding a wide-open competition for a new punter.
"Certainly the whole idea behind this defensive scheme is to be more unpredictable and to hand more question marks to the offense," general manager Ted Thompson said. "But like everything else, it still gets down to football players making plays and defeating the guy across the line of scrimmage."
1. Do the Packers have the right players for a traditional 3-4 defense?
Initially posed in January, that question remains relevant 10 days into camp. I saw Kampman and Jeremy Thompson, both defensive ends last season, valiantly chasing receivers downfield during team drills. No matter how quickly those players make the schematic adjustment, that seems to be a mismatch.
But defensive coordinator Dom Capers insisted he has no coverage that gives an outside linebacker sole coverage responsibility on a receiver. In those instances, Thompson and Kampman are responsible for underneath routes and have safety help downfield. That's an example of the short-term adjustments Capers will have to make for the scheme to work in 2009.
We're also still waiting to see how many of the Packers' 4-3 defensive tackles and ends can hold up as a 3-4 end in this scheme. Cullen Jenkins appears to be a natural, but Johnny Jolly has missed significant time with an ankle injury and former first-round pick Justin Harrell has been on a snap count. Which brings us to ...
|Mike Roemer/AP Photo|
|Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji's contract situation is costing him valuable conditioning time.|
2. How much immediate help will the Packers get from their pair of first-round draft choices?
Defensive lineman B.J. Raji remains unsigned as of Sunday morning, meaning he has missed nine practices and at least temporarily delayed the Packers' plans to transition him into the starting left end. Linebacker Clay Matthews, meanwhile, was beginning to challenge Thompson for a starting job on the outside when he tweaked a hamstring injury that slowed him for much of the spring.
Thompson has displayed superior athletic skills, but when healthy it appears Matthews is the more polished player. Matthews seems destined to start when the regular season opens -- if he can stay on the field.
You want to say the same about Raji, but he remains in a market logjam that is keeping five other players out of NFL camps. Raji was probably the best overall defensive lineman in the draft and he'll make quick progress once he
arrives. But his absence has been long enough to affect his conditioning. And no one should underestimate the challenge and significance of Raji's move to defensive end. Every snap he has missed is one less opportunity to grow comfortable before the season starts.
3. Can the Packers achieve stability on the offensive line?
One of coach Mike McCarthy's primary goals is to end the revolving door of line play caused by changing the positions of multiple players. Daryn Colledge is now locked down at left guard, and it appears the Packers are giving Jason Spitz (center) and Josh Sitton (right guard) every opportunity to be the long-term answers at their respective positions.
That still leaves both tackle positions as mild question marks. But left tackle Chad Clifton appears healthy enough after having four offseason surgeries: arthroscopic procedures on both shoulders and both knees. The Packers are still limiting his snaps in hopes of squeezing one more year out of his 33-year-old body. Nothing I saw suggested Clifton is done, but it's very early.
On the right side, Allen Barbre has worked exclusively with the first team while youngsters T.J. Lang and Breno Giacomini rotated behind him. I don't get the feeling the Packers consider Barbre a long-term solution but to this point, his hold on the starting job does not appear threatened.
Ted Thompson said that linebacker Nick Barnett is "on pace" to be activated soon from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. It could happen sometime this week, but Barnett will find several new challenges when he returns to the field for the first time since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last November.
The most obvious is pushing through the usual soreness and uncertainty that goes with ACL injuries. Players are rarely at full speed when they first return to the field. As well, Barnett will have to get an on-field crash course in the new scheme. No matter how many meetings he has attended or practices he has watched, there is no substitute for practice reps.
And finally, Barnett's replacement has actually proved adept in the new scheme. Linebacker Brandon Chillar played in a similar blitz scheme earlier in his career in St. Louis and will have a significant role this season no matter what happens with Barnett. "This really fits Brandon's talents as far as all the sub packages we have," McCarthy said. "And he's a good blitzer. He gets good pressure."
This is not to suggest the Packers will move on without Barnett. But his football world has changed significantly since we last saw him on the field.
|AP Photo/Morry Gash|
|Green Bay's Quinn Johnson is an intimidating presence at fullback.|
Newcomer to watch
We've already discussed the absence of Raji and Matthews. On the other hand, one rookie who has opened some eyes is fullback Quinn Johnson. The Packers list him at 250 pounds, but Johnson would pass for a defensive tackle if he didn't have a number on his jersey.
Needless to say, Johnson is a load as a lead blocker. He also displayed some intriguing quickness on the rare occasions I saw him carry the ball. The Packers don't give the ball to their fullbacks much -- they combined for eight rushes and 10 receptions in 2008 -- but I doubt too many defenders would be eager to tackle him.
At the urging of veterans Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, Rodgers is openly expanding his leadership role within the locker room. "I think it's the opportunity that presents itself," Rodgers said, "and the vibe that I'm getting from the guys [is that they] are looking to me for leadership. In certain situations, they are expecting me to speak up." Rodgers also said he is getting "more freedom" from McCarthy to influence scheme and game plans. ... During individual drills one night last week, Rodgers drilled three passes into a small square from more than 40 yards away. ... The intense vibe of this camp is like night and day from last year's distraction-filled affair. I have no idea why the Packers would consider risking that relative tranquility by signing Michael Vick. Multiple reports suggest they have been doing their due diligence on the former Atlanta quarterback. ... You wonder whether this is the end of the line for veteran center Scott Wells, who is battling Spitz for the starting job. If Spitz wins, as expected, it's not clear if the Packers would keep Wells as a backup. ... With Spitz and Sitton in the starting lineup, the Packers should have a bigger offensive line this season. "Were some teams stronger up front than us last year? Yeah, probably so," McCarthy said. "We'll see what happens this year." ... The Packers are pitting Jeremy Kapinos and Durant Brooks in a punting duel, but neither has been impressive and it's possible the Packers will have to look elsewhere once teams starting making roster cuts. ... Linebacker Brady Poppinga is behind Thompson, Matthews and Kampman on the depth chart but believes this scheme was made for his skills. "I feel like I'm in a defense that really fits who I am," Poppinga said. ... No idea where he fits in, but first-year receiver Jake Allen caught my eyes during the early portion of practice. Allen is 6-foot-4, has long arms and made a number of acrobatic catches during red zone work. Allen spent last season on the Packers' practice squad.
In late February, the Orlando Sentinel's Chris Harry pulled up a chair with retired quarterback Brett Favre and shot the breeze for 10 minutes. Inevitably, the subject of returning to the playing field came up. Here's what Favre said then, according to a story published Tuesday:
"I'm coming off a torn bicep tendon, but I still think I can throw. It hurt toward the end of the year, but I still think in my mind I can play. It's there. ... But soon to be 40? I just don't know if it's worth a try. But there will be a day, I'm sure, when I feel like I could play 291 more [games]."
Amazingly, those sentiments already represented a departure from what Favre said earlier in the month upon announcing his retirement -- that the tendon needed surgery in order to heal and that he wasn't interested in the procedure. If you're into reading between the lines, you can see that Favre was already moving away from his steadfast plan to retire just weeks after his decision.
Two months later, how much further has Favre traveled down that path? He texted ESPN's Trent Dilfer on Monday to respond to a question about whether he planned to play in 2009. The response: "NO." I suppose it would have been superfluous to add "FOR NOW."
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune tells the story of how Nick Urban, an offensive tackle from Division II Winona State, ended up signing with Minnesota.
- Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette breaks down the Packers' three-way punting battle between Adam Graessle, Jeremy Kapinos and Durant Brooks.
- Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provides some insight into why the Packers released defensive end/linebacker Jason Hunter. It appears Hunter was stuck in between the two positions in the Packers' new scheme.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times checks in with former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton in Denver. Orton: ''My entire goal, and the only way I went about it, was to win football games. For the most part, I did a pretty good job of that. I don't know [if he ever got credit for being 21-12 as a starter]. I'm proud of what I did back there. Right now, I'm just focused on the future. It's going to be the start to the second half of my career."
- Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago provides some insight into how new Bears defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is teaching his players.
- Former Bears linebacker Jim Schwantz was sworn in Monday as the mayor of the Chicago suburb of Palatine. Schwantz played for the Bears from 1992-98.
- Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and his family have gotten advice from Archie Manning, the father of current NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach put the two families in touch with one another, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- The Lions are the clear frontrunners for free-agent linebacker Larry Foote, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
CHICAGO -- It could be worse. That's the early report from people who have been on the field during pregame at Soldier Field. It's still officially 4 degrees, and the wind is mild for what this place is capable of offering this time of year.
The flags on the goalposts are fluttering but hardly being ripped from their seams. I just watched Green Bay's new punter, Jeremy Kapinos, drop a beautiful punt inside the 40-yard line.
I'm definitely happy to be sitting in the press box and I still think the field and weather conditions will impact this game. As we type, there are ground crew members replacing divots on the field. But I don't think this game will rival last season's conditions here during the Bears' 35-7 victory over the Packers.
Chicago nabbed a small victory of sorts Saturday night, as Baltimore pulled out a 33-24 victory over Dallas.
That result kept alive the Bears' long odds of clinching an NFC wild-card berth. But from what I can tell, the Bears will either be eliminated Sunday from the wild-card chase or the NFC North division race.
In order to remain in contention for the division title, the Bears need Atlanta to defeat Minnesota at the Metrodome. But a Falcons LOSS is one of several scenarios the Bears need to stay in the wild-card race. In wild-card terms, they also need:
- A Tampa Bay loss to San Diego at home.
- A Philadelphia loss at Washington.
To secure a wild-card berth, the Bears would also need to win their final two games and get losses from the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Falcons next week as well.
So, as everyone has pointed out all along, the Bears' best postseason chance remains overtaking the Vikings for the division title. If you're a Bears fan Sunday, you're saying, "GO FALCONS."
Continuing our morning dance around the division:
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times takes a broad look at how the Bears found themselves needing so much hope to get into the playoffs. One reason: Three come-from-ahead losses to NFC South powerhouses Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
- New Green Bay punter Jeremy Kapinos has been briefed on the troubles encountered by former Packers punter Jon Ryan last season at Soldier Field, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers offensive lineman Daryn Colledge on his feelings toward quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre: "We're all more emotionally involved with Aaron than we were with Brett. The fact is, Aaron's a friend. I think I'm more emotionally invested in our relationship than I ever was with Brett." Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal asked the question.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press picks the Lions to upset New Orleans at Ford Field.
- The Lions wanted to acquire free agent linebacker Jonathan Vilma during the offseason, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News. But the Saints beat them to it.
Many of you are probably suffering from Williams Wall fatigue. You can certainly put me in that category. And for what? By the end of Minnesota's practice week, nothing had changed from the beginning: Pat Williams and Kevin Williams were the Vikings' starting defensive tackles.
The only thing guaranteed by Friday's decision in U.S. District Court was that the Vikings face at least one more week of uncertainty and speculation about the status of the two players. That situation in itself becomes an obstacle for the team to overcome, and Vikings coach Brad Childress said he addressed the uncertainty with his coaching staff -- comparing it to a week-to-week injury for a significant player.
"[M]ost coaches are anal-retentive that way," Childress said. "Black and white, did good or did bad. But I think it is important [to be able to deal with uncertainty]. And we talk with our team about this, we talk about it as coaches. ... We talk about that. You would like to know. You would like to know. It's the same thing as 53 guys getting ready every week and 45 are up. Obviously if guys have the flu, have food poisoning, have to get an IV, can't go, the flu hits your team and three guys that maybe weren't planning on playing are now playing. ... Even though we would like it in a small little box, I have said it before: the National Football League in general, one thing you are certain about is uncertainty week-to-week."
We'll be shaking off StarCaps malaise later Saturday as we head off to Detroit. I'll check in from there if news warrants. Otherwise, we'll be with you Sunday morning from Ford Field.
But first, let's take our usual spin around the NFC North:
- Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press suggests that rookie center John Sullivan would start at right guard Sunday if Anthony Herrera does not. Herrera missed most of this week's practice because of the death of his brother.
- Does this qualify as piling on? Larry Lage of the Associated Press points out that the Lions' 31-93 record over the past eight years is the worst stretch in the NFL since 1950.
- The Lions couldn't even catch the break of missing the Williams Wall, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Chicago running back Adrian Peterson would love to run into his brother, Jacksonville linebacker Mike Peterson, at Soldier Field on Sunday. And we mean that literally. Nick Hut of the Northwest Herald has the story.
- Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune believes the Bears should target a run-stopping nose tackle in the 2009 draft.
- Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wonders how new Green Bay punter Jeremy Kapinos will fare in his Lambeau Field debut on Sunday, where it is currently frigid and snowing. Veteran Matt Turk provides some advice: "[Y]ou have to realize as a punter not to expect more than what the elements are going to give you."
- The Packers have scored 10 points on their 12 opening possessions this season, writes Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
Get this: Minnesota actually lost three defensive linemen on Tuesday. In addition to the suspensions of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, which might be subject to a legal injunction, the Vikings won't have reserve defensive end Brian Robison for at least one week.
According to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune, Robison had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to repair what was described as a minor injury suffered in Sunday night's 34-14 victory over Chicago. Regardless, Robison will at least miss Sunday's game at Detroit.
So unless the Williamses' suspensions are overturned, the Vikings will have five healthy defensive linemen available for practice: Ends Jared Allen, Ray Edwards and Otis Grigsby, along with tackles Fred Evans and Ellis Wyms. Rookie defensive tackle Letroy Guion has an ankle injury and missed practice time last week.
The Vikings did not work out any defensive linemen Tuesday, but it seems likely they will have to make a several roster moves soon.
I'll be at the Vikings' practice facility all day Wednesday and will keep you updated. Their media availability starts at about 12:45 p.m. ET and practice is set for about 2:30 p.m. ET. Again, there are indications that Kevin Williams and Pat Williams will file for a legal injunction as early as today.
For now, let's take our morning spin around the division:
- Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the suspension drama: "Your Minnesota Vikings have been fortunate. That's right. They were able to have Pat and Kevin Williams on the field against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. That was a game they absolutely had to win. There was no guarantee that they'd be available. But the appeal process dragged out just long enough. Now the Vikings are in good playoff shape."
- The suspensions certainly have piqued the interest of people in Chicago. Dan Pompeii of the Chicago Tribune on the impact: "Assuming the suspensions stand, they give the Bears hope because the Vikings' defense without their Pro Bowl tackles is like an e-mail address without a spam filter -- everything can get through."
- Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times has an interesting angle. He suggests NFL owners will not appreciate a lawsuit and will hold it against the Vikings' Zygi Wilf for allowing such a divisive event to occur.
- Green Bay worked out a pair of punters Tuesday but have two more workouts scheduled Wednesday, when they are expected to make a decision on a replacement for Derrick Frost. According to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the candidates include Durant Brooks, Danny Baugher, Paul Ernster and Jeremy Kapinos.
- The Packers seem likely to increase the playing time of No. 2 running back Brandon Jackson regardless of the condition of starter Ryan Grant's injured thumb, writes Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Interim general manager Martin Mayhew is extensively involved in Detroit's draft preparations, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. Mayhew has tweaked some of the team's procedures and is traveling often to scout players.
- Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press on Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper: "Culpepper has committed seven turnovers in four games, which puts him on pace for the Lions to retire his number."
1:00 PM ET New Orleans Atlanta 1:00 PM ET Minnesota St. Louis 1:00 PM ET Cleveland Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Jacksonville Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Oakland New York 1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Baltimore 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Chicago 1:00 PM ET Washington Houston 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Kansas City 1:00 PM ET New England Miami 4:25 PM ET Carolina Tampa Bay 4:25 PM ET San Francisco Dallas 8:30 PM ET Indianapolis Denver