NFL Nation: Khaseem Greene

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Linebacker Khaseem Greene admittedly struggled to acclimate himself to the speed of the NFL game last season when a shoulder injury to Lance Briggs thrust the rookie into the starting lineup for four games.

Greene
But with a year of experience under his belt, Greene has quietly pieced together an impressive camp, and even spent Monday’s practice next to Jon Bostic on first-team nickel with Briggs taking a veteran’s day off.

“It’s slowed down a lot for me this year,” Greene said. “I’m seeing stuff quicker. I’m being able to just be a natural football player and just use my instincts to react. The game definitely has slowed down. It’s fun now. I’m not overthinking it.

“The older guys always say that it will slow down once you get a grasp of the playbook and learn how to start studying opponents. Guys say those skills come with age and from the experience of doing it. I feel like from last year to this year, I’ve made a big jump as far as the game slowing down. I’m now able to read and react.”

The jury is still out regarding the number of linebackers the Bears plan to keep on the 53-man roster. With Briggs and Bostic already locks to make the team, the remaining linebacker spots are between D.J. Williams, Shea McClellin, Jordan Senn, Christian Jones, Jerry Franklin and Greene.

It will be interesting to see which players are pushed out if the Bears decide to keep six at the position.

Williams and McClellin appear safe if they stay healthy, but the picture is cloudy after the top four.

Greene figures to be intriguing because he has value on special teams where he recorded two tackles last year, in addition to defense. Senn is a core special-teamer, but isn’t considered much of a contributor at linebacker. The 6-foot-3 Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Florida State, had a rough game versus the Eagles, but performed well the first couple weeks of camp. Perhaps the potential upside of Jones proves too irresistible to resist if the rookie can be trusted on special teams. And Franklin, who also received increased reps in Monday's practice, played in 13 games over two seasons with the Bears, recording eight tackles.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Unable to find a linebacker in the draft that suited their needs, the Bears hope to have found a steal in Florida State undrafted rookie free agent Christian Jones, who moved well when he lined up on special teams and at strongside linebacker over the first two days of the club’s annual rookie minicamp.

Many analysts pegged Jones, a three-year starter for the Seminoles, as a mid-to-late round pick until the outside linebacker reportedly submitted a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine in February.

“[I was] a little surprised [I didn’t get drafted], but sometimes that stuff happens,” Jones said. “Right now I’ve got a good opportunity. I still got on a team, so I’m just making the best out of it.

“You see guys getting drafted above you; everybody thinks they’re better than somebody. But that’s how it is. But it’s going to help fuel me and I believe that things happen for a reason. I really feel like I belong here and I’m just making the best out of this opportunity.”

Jones has a shot to earn a spot on the team depending on how many linebackers make the final 53-man roster. If the team again decides to break camp with six linebackers, Jones will be forced to beat an experienced player, such as 2013 fourth-round draft choice Khaseem Greene or special-teams standout Jordan Senn.

“I feel like I’ve got a lot of versatility and I feel like I can fit in a lot of different systems. I feel like I just need to focus on one spot," Jones said. "I’ve been moved around my whole career and I feel like people didn’t really see what all I could do. They just saw a little glimpse of it. I think it’s going to be a good opportunity to see me at one spot and see what I do.

“Right now I’m at the strongside linebacker spot, so we’re going to see how that works out.”

Bears head coach Marc Trestman added: “He’s [Jones] definitely a player we are keeping a close eye on. He has athleticism.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton's recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament has progressed to the point where Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday the club's preference is to re-sign Melton who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

"We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process," Emery said at the NFL combine. "He's made progress. He's made positive progress."

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012, but played in just three games last season.
Slapped with the franchise tag by the Bears last season ($8,454,725) after posting 33 tackles and six sacks in 2012, Melton started just three games before landing on injured reserve on Sept. 27 -- Melton has 15.5 sacks in 48 career games.

After undergoing surgery and sitting out the final three months of the regular season, Melton has apparently dedicated himself to strengthening his injured left knee over the past couple of months.

"He's in every day early," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "He's got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you'll see that he has been training and he has been working. He's very focused. You'll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously he's in there working the knee, but he's been on time, he's working hard with [Bears head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks].

"As I said, I spoke with him yesterday for 30-45 minutes and he's committed to getting himself back and he's got work to do to get there, but he's in a very good place right now and we all understand the situation and we'll see where it goes."

The Bears' ability to retain Melton is expected to boil down to money. Considered one of the top defensive tackles scheduled to reach free agency, there is no way of knowing how much other teams are prepared to offer Melton when the new league year begins on March 11.

The Bears find themselves in the same situation with the other unrestricted free agents the organization wants to return, namely quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.

While the Bears cannot officially re-sign McCown until the beginning of free agency, the team does hold exclusive negotiating rights with the veteran quarterback and can agree in principle to a new deal. McCown posted the third-highest quarterback rating (109.0) when he completed 149 of 224 passing attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances (five starts).

"I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or bi-weekly, I've talked to him two or three times anyways and I've texted with him. He's in the loop into what's going on. I've just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what's going on," Trestman said. "We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he's going to take his time, see where things are at, when he's ready to say ‘I want to come back,' I know Phil's going to do everything he can and we're going to do everything can to make sure he is."

Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has publicly stated on multiple occasions that his decision to return to Chicago for a 12th season will be determined by the kinds of contract offers he receives.

Meantime, Garza, a 13-year NFL veteran center/guard, will likely have to accept a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with a relatively low signing bonus to stay with the Bears. However, Garza is a respected team captain and the leader of the team's revamped offensive line that started all 16 games together.

"It's a tough business," Trestman said. "We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."

Emery also praised free-agent veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams who battled injuries for much of last season. Emery sounded as if the door is still open for Williams to return, and if he does, Williams is expected to compete with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for a starting spot.

"Saw a good football player [in Williams]," Emery said. "Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level."

Other notable unrestricted free agents for the Bears include: defensive lineman Corey Wootton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, return man Devin Hester, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.

The Philadelphia Eagles have found themselves in the middle of the NFC North race as much as the NFC East race over the past month. Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears is their third game in a row against an opponent from the North.

Two weeks ago, the Eagles and Bears helped each other out. Chicago defeated the Dallas Cowboys, pushing the Eagles into first place in the East. The Eagles beat the Detroit Lions, opening the door for the Bears in the North.

They won’t be helping each other this week. ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss some of the issues facing both teams.

Sheridan: Like the Eagles, the Bears survived this season when a backup quarterback took over and played unexpectedly well. Unlike the Eagles, who stayed with Nick Foles, Chicago went back to Jay Cutler and sent Josh McCown to the sideline. So, Michael, how is that scenario playing out in the locker room, on the field and among the fans?

Wright: The reaction is quite a bit different between the fans and the players, obviously. In the immediate aftermath of Cutler’s ankle injury on Nov. 10 against Detroit, Bears coach Marc Trestman told the team and the media that Cutler would be the starter again as soon as he was medically cleared to play. The coach never wavered on that declaration, and that was apparent even among the players during McCown’s incredible four-game run. In answering questions about McCown during that stretch, Trestman and the players seemed to temper the compliments regarding the backup, making it a point to state that Cutler was still the starter once he would be able to return to action. So within the locker room, the message was always that Cutler would return, but among the fan base, as McCown flourished, the call to make him the permanent starter grew louder regardless of what Trestman and the players said on the record. Cutler certainly helped himself by bouncing back from a bad start at Cleveland to throw for three touchdowns in a win, but there’s certainly a segment of the Chicago fan base still calling for McCown to be the man under center.

Phil, Chicago’s defense simply can’t stop the run, so LeSean McCoy is poised to have a pretty big game if the Eagles decide to feature him. What was the deal with McCoy running the ball just eight times against the Vikings?

Sheridan: That was one of the head-scratching strategies Chip Kelly deployed Sunday. It was like stepping into a time machine and watching an Andy Reid-coached game. Kelly’s explanation was simple enough: The Vikings were missing four cornerbacks and the Eagles thought they could exploit the inexperienced backups. Then, he said, the Eagles fell behind and had to throw, but McCoy had run for 217 yards the week before, mostly in the second half as the Eagles staged a comeback win. Ultimately, there is no explanation or excuse for eliminating a weapon as dangerous as McCoy from your offense. That’s supposed to be the defense’s job.

The Eagles did a better job against Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson in recent weeks than against the Vikings’ deeper, less star-studded receiving corps. How much more dangerous are the Bears now that Alshon Jeffery has emerged alongside Brandon Marshall? Is Jeffery even better at this point?

Wright: In the past, teams focused most of their game plan on shutting down Marshall. That involved double-teams and shading coverage over to his side. Teams are now finding they can’t do that anymore because if you double Marshall, you put Jeffery in one-on-one matchups that he’s going to win the majority of the time. The Bears say teams are now starting to mix it up against those receivers, which makes it important for Cutler to be able to quickly recognize the coverage and distribute the ball accordingly. I wouldn’t say Jeffery is the better receiver overall at this point, but I will say that he tracks the ball in the air better than anybody else on Chicago’s roster, which has allowed him to make some unbelievable grabs in contested situations. I’d say one player to watch is No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett. With all the focus on Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears have made it a point in recent weeks to involve Bennett more in the offense. Remember, Bennett played college football with Cutler at Vanderbilt, so there’s chemistry. Bennett has hauled in a touchdown in each of the past two games.

How will Philadelphia’s secondary look on Sunday? I know the Eagles are banged up, causing something of a musical-chairs effect in the secondary. At this point, do you know which guys the Eagles will have available to face Marshall, Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett?

Sheridan: We don’t know yet, Michael. The larger problem is that, even when everyone is healthy, the Eagles' secondary isn’t equipped to handle a receiving corps as deep and talented as the Bears’ is. The Eagles have the 31st-ranked pass defense for a reason. During their five-game winning streak, they were able to give yards but minimize points allowed by forcing turnovers and playing well in the red zone. That formula fell apart in Minnesota. As for the injuries, the biggest loss would be nickel corner Brandon Boykin, who leads the team in interceptions and is a very good cover guy. It looks like rookie safety Earl Wolff will be back after missing four games with a knee injury, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be after missing that much time. If the Bears go three or four wide, the Eagles will be hard-pressed to match up with all those weapons. Their best hope would be to pressure Cutler, but they have struggled against guys who get the ball out as quickly as he does.

There’s a chance linebacker Lance Briggs returns Sunday night. What impact would that have on Chicago’s defense? Can the Bears clamp down on the Eagles or is this thing destined to be a shootout like their win over Dallas two weeks back?

Wright: I see this one being a shootout. I think Briggs will have an impact on the defense in terms of making sure the calls get in quickly and the defense is lined up correctly. Briggs should also be an upgrade over rookie Khaseem Greene, who has filled in on the weak side over the past seven games. But Briggs has been on the shelf for a month and a half, and there’s no way he’s in football shape yet. So you have to wonder how much he will actually be able to contribute from a physical standpoint. If Briggs plays like the Briggs we all know, then Chicago will have a much better shot at controlling Philadelphia’s rushing attack, but I’m not sure he’ll return as that guy. So let’s count on a shootout. The team with the defense that gets that one or two key stops down the stretch will be the team that comes out on top.

Early in the season, Philadelphia’s frenetic pace seemed to be the next new thing, the revolution. Now that the Eagles have basically an entire season under their belts, how have teams adjusted to their pace on offense? Is it still as big an advantage as it seemed to be early in the season?

Sheridan: It has been an effective tactic at times. The up-tempo approach is one of the reasons Foles replaced Michael Vick as the No. 1 quarterback. Vick is obviously a bigger threat in the read-option, but Foles is more comfortable with the pace Kelly likes. Hard to blame Vick, who had a career’s worth of offensive football to unlearn. But the pace can hurt the Eagles, too. When they have a couple of three-and-outs in a row, as they did against the Vikings, their defense is back on the field way too quickly. And when a team moves the ball as well as the Vikings did, the defense wears down. It was useless by the fourth quarter. The Eagles defense has been on the field for more plays than any team in the NFL. That is partly a side effect of Kelly’s up-tempo offense.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman is “not optimistic” that seven-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs will return from a fractured shoulder to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

This would mark the seventh straight game Briggs has missed since he hurt the shoulder Oct. 20 in Washington.

Briggs
“Lance is still week-to-week,” Trestman said. “We’ll see where he is tomorrow with our trainers and see what they want to do with him.

"I’m not optimistic. We’ll know a little more today and tomorrow. He did some running last week. Will that be upgraded to limited work in practice? We won’t be in pads tomorrow. We’ll be in shells. He was not in shells last week. We’ll see what the trainers want to do and what he wants to do tomorrow.”

When asked what is preventing Briggs from returning to the field, Trestman responded, “the healing of the bone.”

Prior to 2013, Briggs had been a model of durability for the Bears, sitting out just four games due to injury in 10 NFL seasons. The defense has clearly suffered without Briggs, ranking No. 27 in total defense (381.5), No. 28 in points allowed (27.7) and No. 32 in run defense (157.0) going into Sunday’s road game in Cleveland.

“Where Lance is right now is kind of to be determined,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “I’m not quite certain at this point. But the focus is on the guys that are available. The guys that can help us right now.”

The Bears have started rookie fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene in place of Briggs the past six games, but while Tucker and the organization are high on the club’s younger linebackers, asking first-year players to fill the void left by Briggs is virtually impossible.

“Lance is a playmaker in the run game and the passing game,” Tucker said. “It’s not just the intangibles that he brings in terms of leadership and experience and things like that, in confidence. But he can actually make plays. He can win one-on-one. He can get off blocks. He can run sideline to sideline. He can win one-on-one on running backs on blitzes and things like that. He’s an excellent blitzer. In the pass game he’s quick, very instinctive. He’s quick to diagnose and because of ... his experience, there’s not a whole lot of plays he hasn’t seen at some point in time, so he’s quick to recognize those things.

Those are just some of the things he brings to the table.”

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 13

December, 2, 2013
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A review of four hot issues after the Minnesota Vikings' 23-20 win over the Chicago Bears:

Peterson wills his way past Bears: Adrian Peterson might not have all of his breakaway speed as he plays with a strained groin, but the performance he turned in on Sunday was the kind of tour de force he churned out so often in the second half of his MVP season a year ago. Peterson ran for 211 yards against a steady diet of eight- and nine-man fronts; he faced at least eight defenders in the box on 24 of his 35 carries, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and averaged more yards per carry with eight or more in the box (6.1) than he did against seven defenders or fewer (5.8).

[+] EnlargeRhett Ellison
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsRhett Ellison's tipped ball for an interception was one of his two crucial plays that could have cost Minnesota the game.
QB decision looming: The Vikings will wait to see how Christian Ponder recovers from a concussion as they try to make a decision on their quarterback for Sunday's game in Baltimore, but Matt Cassel once again had the Vikings' offense running smoother than Ponder has at many points this year. Cassel threw for 243 yards, and handled extra pressure better than either Ponder or Josh Freeman has this season. He hit 11 of his 17 throws for 148 yards and a touchdown against five or more pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His completion percentage against such fronts (65.9 percent this season) is better than Ponder's (61.9 percent) or Freeman's (33.3 percent). Cassel could be competing with either Ponder and Freeman, or just Freeman, to play next week against the Ravens, but he did enough to possibly get another start.

Special teams confusion: The end of Sunday's game brought a number of odd special teams situations that seemed to confuse the Vikings. First, after Blair Walsh tied the game in regulation, the Vikings kicked deep to Devin Hester, who returned the ball 57 yards and might have scored if Walsh hadn't angled him out of bounds. Coach Leslie Frazier admitted after the game the Vikings shouldn't have kicked to Hester, adding they expected him to down the ball in the end zone like he had with Walsh's other deep picks. When the Bears tried a 67-yard field goal on the final play of regulation, the Vikings hurried Cordarrelle Patterson out to return the kick, barely getting him on the field in time. And then, after Rhett Ellison's face mask penalty wiped out Walsh's would-be game-winning field goal in overtime, the Vikings' field goal unit stayed on the field before the offense came back out to try to get Walsh closer than 54 yards on third down. Frazier said the Vikings wanted to get 4 more yards for Walsh, but Peterson lost three and Walsh missed from 57.

Ellison gets "elephant off my back:" Had the Vikings lost, Ellison likely would have worn much of the blame; he couldn't control what might have been a touchdown pass from Cassel with less than five minutes to play. He wound up tipping the ball toward the Bears' defense, where Khaseem Greene wound up intercepting it and running it back to midfield. Then, Ellison's face mask penalty negated Walsh's field goal, setting off a bizarre scene in which referees sorted things out amid postgame fireworks. Wide receiver Greg Jennings had to be pulled back from the tunnel up to the Vikings' locker room. Asked what he was thinking after the mistakes, Ellison replied, "That I really screwed the team over and that I made a big mistake." And when Walsh hit the game-winning field goal, Ellison said it was "like an elephant off my back. I don't know. It was just a miracle, I guess."

5 things to watch: Lions at Bears

November, 10, 2013
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Here's a look at five things to watch for Sunday when the Bears host the Detroit Lions for first place in the NFC North:

Jay Cutler's mobility: When the Bears host the Detroit Lions, 21 days will have passed since Jay Cutler tore a groin muscle in the team's loss to the Washington Redskins. So Cutler's potential mobility against Detroit's formidable pass rush has to be a concern, even though the quarterback and the club say otherwise.

Cutler
"[The Lions] do a good job," Cutler said. "We've done enough to test where I'm at. I feel good, got a lot of trust in the offensive line and the way they're playing right now. Can't worry about that. Once you get in the game, it's just reactionary stuff. Your brain's not gonna be able to say, 'Hey, alright, I want you to step right.' It just happens. We tried to mimic that as much as possible [in practice]. I thought we did a good job of that. I feel ready."

Look for the Bears to try to help out Cutler by putting him in plenty of shotgun formations so he won't put strain on that groin muscle with constant dropbacks from under center.

Front seven's run fits: Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker attributed the team's inability to hold down Reggie Bush (139 yards and a touchdown) in the last meeting to poor tackling and improper run fits. So Tucker is stressing better tackling out in open space, which is where Bush thrives, not to mention a swarm-the-ball mentality.

"We didn't tackle him. No. 1, we didn't fit the run well, and No. 2, he played exceptionally well," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "He made people miss. We've got to do a better job this time of working this week to try to neutralize him."

The defensive line needs to stay in their gaps, and the linebackers need to make sure to fill accordingly. Rookies Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene have struggled recently with leveraging blocks, which won't help the Bears in their attempt to stop Bush. So they've spent time this week working to improve in that area. But it all starts with the club's injury-depleted front four.

"We have guys who are injured, just like everybody in the league has guys who are injured," Trestman said. "We have no excuses. We have to go out there and try to stop him. It's never easy when you're at full strength, so we have to make it a point of interest this week, and No. 1 is to neutralize Reggie and minimize his ability to get big plays in the run game."

Pass rush: Chicago's front four took a major step in the right direction with its five-sack outing Monday night at Green Bay, but there's a good chance the club's sack leader from that game won't play Sunday against the Lions. Coming off a three-sack game against the Packers, second-year defensive end Shea McClellin suffered a hamstring injury during Thursday's practice and is doubtful for the matchup with the Lions. That means the Bears need potential replacements such as David Bass and Cheta Ozougwu to step in and pick up the slack.

Julius Peppers needs to do the same.

"We have guys that have talent and [have] put a lot of hard work and effort with that, and eventually guys are going to break through. So I think that's what you saw [against the Packers]," Tucker said.

But can the Bears produce that type of performance again this week with sole possession of the division lead on the line?

Rushing attack: The last time these teams met, the Lions jumped out to a 30-10 second-quarter lead and immediately forced the Bears into passing mode, thus eliminating the prospects for Matt Forte getting into a flow. Forte rushed 14 times for 95 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter before the Lions erupted for three TDs in the final 3:26 of the first half. So the Bears could help themselves tremendously by using Forte to dictate the flow of the game early, which will also enable the passing attack to have success with play action.

Forte
Forte
Surely, the Bears learned the importance of ball security from their first matchup against the Lions, when Cutler contributed to the loss with four turnovers, including a fumble returned for a TD.

"Anytime you see a team for the second time, you have a better feel for how much strength you have against a guy, how much technique you're going to need against someone," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "Just as you go from the first drive of a game to the second; 'I can do this more than I thought on tape watching him against someone else.' But they're also familiar with us."

Special teams: Punter Adam Podlesh finished with a season-low 28.8-yard net average in the first matchup between these teams, and he hit a line-drive punt in that contest that Micheal Spurlock returned 57 yards to set up a Matthew Stafford touchdown run. The game nearly cost Podlesh his job.

"I think Adam's been consistent really since that time," special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "He's really picked his game up. He made some slight changes, and it's helped him. I'm glad he's going in the right direction."

That needs to continue against the Lions.

DeCamillis said the Bears played the kind of game Monday night where "we had 11 out there, but 10 guys played a lot of plays," which is unacceptable. The team's punt protection also allowed a blocked punt against the Packers.

"When you look back at the film, it wasn't just that punt," DeCamillis said. "There was kickoff return yardage that was left out there where there is one guy sitting in the hole because somebody gets beat. We've got to get all 11 going at the same time, and that was obviously critical during this past week."

It'll be the same Sunday unless the Bears resolve those issues.
On the day former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith got the job, he said that one of his priorities was to beat the Green Bay Packers.

First-year Bears coach Marc Trestman made no such promises about this rivalry, but it goes without saying that he's eager to end Chicago's six-game losing streak to the Packers.

The last time Chicago beat Green Bay was on Sept. 27, 2010, on "Monday Night Football." The teams meet again in prime time Monday night at Lambeau Field.

ESPN.com's Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright break down the matchup.

Rob Demovsky: We all know how much Smith wanted to beat the Packers. He stated as much the day he got the head coaching job. What has Trestman's approach to this rivalry been like?

Wright: Rob, my man, you know that rivalries have to cut both ways in terms of wins and losses for it to be truly considered a rivalry. Counting the postseason, the Bears have lost six in a row and nine of the last 11. So, if anything, this is more Green Bay dominance than a rivalry. But the interesting thing about Trestman is he's a guy who likes to compartmentalize everything. He looks at today rather than the past or the future. So while it sounds cliché, Trestman is looking at the Packers as just another opponent on the schedule. That's just the way Trestman likes to operate, and I think for him it sort of makes things easier.

I keep looking at Green Bay's sack numbers, and I'm a little surprised the club is still in the top 10 in sacks with Clay Matthews out the last three games and other key members of the defense missing time. What is Dom Capers doing over there schematically to keep up the production?

Demovsky: I figured when Matthews broke his thumb, Capers would have to blitz like crazy. Now, he's picked his spots, but he hasn't gone blitz-happy like I thought he might. However, he has been sending different pass-rushers to keep offenses off guard. One game, against the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker A.J. Hawk came a bunch and sacked Joe Flacco three times. Also, they've finally found a defensive lineman with some rush ability in second-year pro Mike Daniels. Three of his team-leading four sacks have come in the past two games.

As long as we're on the topic of quarterbacks, in 2011, backup Josh McCown played a halfway decent game against the Packers on Christmas at Lambeau Field, but he threw a couple of interceptions. What do you expect from him this time around as he starts in place of the injured Jay Cutler?

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers have limited Brandon Marshall to 8 catches for 80 yards in their past two meetings.
Wright: Believe it or not, I expect little to no drop-off from McCown in this game. The biggest difference between now and then is that in 2011, McCown joined the team in November, fresh from a stint as a high school football coach in North Carolina, and four weeks later became the starter. So he basically came in cold and still played relatively well. This time around, McCown has become immersed in the offense from the ground level, when Trestman first came on board, and even had some input as the team constructed the scheme. In fact, during the offseason, McCown was holding film sessions with all the club's new additions to teach everyone the new offense. So he's got complete mastery of the offense just like Cutler, which is why McCown came in against the Redskins and the offense didn't miss a beat. Obviously, McCown doesn't possess Cutler's arm strength. But he'll make up for that deficiency with anticipation. I'm quite sure the Bears won't scale down the offense to accommodate McCown at all, because they don't need to. So I expect McCown to play well. I'm just not sure Chicago's offense can keep up with Green Bay's in what I expect to be a high-scoring game.

Speaking of high scoring, the Packers put up 44 points on the Minnesota Vikings. How is Green Bay handling the preparation process for the Bears?

Demovsky: Well, they certainly don't have as much time as the Bears do, considering the Bears are coming off their bye week. But the Packers have gotten themselves into a rhythm. They've won four in a row after their 1-2 start and look like a different team than they did the first three weeks of the season. Mike McCarthy probably doesn't get enough credit nationally, but show me another coach who has stared injuries in the face and hasn't blinked. What other team could lose playmakers like Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Matthews and still keep winning? That's a testament to the program he has established here. You can argue with some of his in-game coaching decisions, but you can do that with every coach. What you can't question, though, is the team's preparation.

The Bears, obviously, have had their share of injuries, too, losing Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs. What's a bigger loss -- Cutler to the offense or Briggs to the defense?

Wright: Well, Cutler's replacement is a veteran in McCown who has plenty of experience and a ton of weapons surrounding him on offense, while rookie Khaseem Greene will likely fill in for Briggs on a bad defense that will also feature rookie Jon Bostic in the middle. From my vantage point, losing Briggs is much more significant. The Bears have already proved to be horrible against the run (ranked 25th), and that issue certainly won't improve with two rookies at linebacker and a defensive line decimated by injury. It's also worth noting that Briggs made all the defensive calls and served as somewhat of a coach on the field for Bostic. Given that Green Bay seems to be running the ball so well, the current situation with Chicago's front seven could be devastating.

Now that the Packers are running the ball so well, how has that changed the way the offense is called? It seems Green Bay runs well regardless of which running back they line up in the backfield.

Demovsky: It's remarkable -- and even a bit stunning -- to see Aaron Rodgers check out of a pass play and in to a run play at the line of scrimmage. That kind of thing hasn't happened around here in a long, long time -- probably not since Ahman Green was piling up 1,000-yard seasons nearly a decade ago. Teams no longer can sit back in a Cover-2 look and dare the Packers to run. Because guess what? The Packers can finally do it. It also has given the receivers more one-on-one opportunities, so it's helped the passing game, too. Right now, this offense almost looks unstoppable.

If the Packers keep playing like this, they might be tough to catch in the NFC North. What are the Bears' prospects for staying in the NFC North race until Cutler and Briggs return?

Wright: To me, this game is the measuring stick for making that determination. But I'm not really confident about Chicago's chances, and that has more to do with the team's struggling defense than Cutler's absence. There have been conflicting statements made about Cutler's recovery time frame. Some teammates think he'll be ready to return by the time the Bears face Detroit on Nov. 4, while Trestman said the plan is to stick to the minimum four-week time frame prescribed by the doctors. Either way, if the Bears lose to the Lions you can kiss their prospects for the playoffs goodbye. The Bears might be able to afford a loss to the Packers because they'll face them again on Dec. 29. But a sweep by the Lions kills Chicago's chances to me because just from what we've seen so far, it appears one of the wild cards will come out of the NFC North with the other coming from the NFC West. Obviously it's too early to predict that, but that's the way things seem to be shaking out.

Without two of his top receivers and tight end Finley, Rogers still hit 83 percent of his passes against the Vikings. Is that success a product of the system, a bad Minnesota defense, or is Rodgers just that good at this point?

Demovsky: The more I see other quarterbacks play, the more I'm convinced it's Rodgers. For example, seldom-used receiver Jarrett Boykin makes his first NFL start two weeks ago against the Cleveland Browns, and he ends up with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. How many catches do you think he would have had if he were playing for the Browns that day? Their quarterback, Brandon Weeden, completed only 17-of-42 passes. That's not to minimize what Boykin did or what players like Jordy Nelson do week in and week out, but Rodgers is special, and special players elevate the play of those around them. Look at what Greg Jennings has done since he left for the Vikings. Now tell me the quarterback doesn't make the receiver, not vice versa.

Speaking of receivers, other than Anquan Boldin, who lit up the Packers in the opener at San Francisco, they've done a solid job shutting down other team's No. 1 receivers -- most recently Jennings and Cincinnati's A.J. Green. How do you think the Bears will try to get Brandon Marshall involved against what has been a pretty good Packers secondary?

Wright: This question brings me back to the 2012 massacre at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13. The Packers bracketed Marshall with two-man coverage, and the Bears struggled tremendously. Shoot, cornerback Tramon Williams caught as many of Cutler's passes as Marshall, who finished the game with two grabs for 24 yards. Obviously, this offensive coaching staff is a lot different than last year's group. So the Bears will go into this game with a lot more answers for that coverage. I definitely see McCown leaning on Marshall and trying to get him involved as early as possible, but the only way he'll be able to do that is for the Bears to establish the rushing attack with Matt Forte so the quarterback can operate off play action. When the Bears go to Marshall early, expect to see a lot of short passes that will enable the receiver to gain some yardage after the catch.

Over the years, Green Bay has been pretty successful at limiting the impact of return man Devin Hester. So I was a little shocked to see the Packers give up a kickoff return for a touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson. As you probably know, Hester is coming off a pretty strong return game against the Redskins. Do you think the Packers fix the problems they encountered last week, and minimize Hester's impact?

Demovsky: Part of the Packers' problem on special teams has been that all the injuries have created a trickle-down effect. Here's what I mean: On the kickoff coverage until they gave up the 109-yard return to Patterson, they lined up six rookies, two of whom weren't even on the opening day roster. The Packers always have feared Hester, as they should, and in various games in recent years have shown they'd almost rather kick the ball out of bounds than give him any return opportunities. He's one of those special players who make rivalry games so entertaining.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman indicated on Monday the club plans to give rookie Khaseem Greene the first opportunity to replace starting weakside linebacker Lance Briggs.

Briggs is expected to be held out at least six weeks as he recovers from a fracture in his left shoulder, leaving the team to make a choice for the potential replacement between Green, veteran Blake Costanzo and new additions Jerry Franklin and Larry Grant, who signed on Monday with the Bears.

[+] EnlargeKhaseem Greene
Scott Boehm/AP PhotoLinebacker Khaseem Greene could see his first extensive playing time of the 2013 season on Monday, should he be tabbed the starter to replace injured Lance Briggs.
“We’re working at it,” Trestman said. “Khaseem wil certainly get a very good look here (as the) No. 1 and we’ve got Jerry, we’ve got Blake, and we just brought in Grant. But we’ll start with Khaseem and we’ll see how the week goes. We’ve got a long way to go before we get started.”

A fourth-round pick out of Rutgers, Greene played one snap at linebacker during the club’s Oct. 20 loss to the Washington Redskins. With extra days to prepare for what could be his debut as a starter at Green Bay next Monday night, Greene admitted he’s fired up about the chance to see extended playing time.

“I am. I’ve played one snap of defense this year, and just having an opportunity to maybe get out there and be a starter and play way more snaps is enough in itself to be fired up,” Greene said. “I’ve just got to stay calm, trust the defense, trust the scheme, and also build some confidence in my teammates so they know I can actually go out there and compete if I’m the guy. I feel good. This is one day we all look forward to doing is being starters in the NFL."

To prepare for the task, Greene said he’s been able to rely on Briggs, who has acted as somewhat of a coach “to help me as much as he can,” in addition to fellow rookie Jonathan Bostic, who made his debut as a starter against the Redskins as a replacement for injured starter D.J. Williams.

Bostic and Greene have been roommates since joining the club.

“Tell you the truth, we’re really similar players,” Bostic said of Greene. “We’re going to depend on each other, we’re going to have to help each other. We have to do a lot of talking out there, get our chemistry back, what we had throughout preseason. It’ll definitely be a fun process; (we’ve) just got to keep going out there and having fun.”

At Rutgers, Greene started in 39 of 51 games, including a 2012 season in which he started 12 games at free safety and earned Big East Defensive Player of the Years in back-to-back years. Greene forced an NCAA-record 15 fumbles in college, and hopes to use those takeaway skills into Chicago’s starting lineup if given the opportunity.

But Greene also mentioned the need to be resistant to pressing too hard when asked about what he’s learned throughout a brief NFL tenure.

“It’s hard to win games in the National Football League. That’s what I’ve observed,” Greene said, “and also that you can’t try to do too much. If I’m the starter, I can’t go out there and try to be Lance and try to do too much because I’m not him. I can learn from him, and I’ve learned a lot from him. But I can’t go out there and try to force myself to make plays and stuff like that, or I’ll end up hurting the defense and the team.”

Locker Room Buzz: Chicago Bears

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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PITTSBURGH -- Observed in the locker room after the Chicago Bears40-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Deference: Bears rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene clutched in both arms several sets of team travel sweatsuits and passed them out to all of the linebackers. Asked if the gesture had anything to do with him being a rookie, Greene said, "No, I was just going to get my suit and figured I’d grab all my boys', too." Green finished the day contributing mostly on special teams. The linebacking corps as a whole totaled 12 tackles, including four for lost yardage.

Wright
Game ball: Safety Major Wright ran back an interception for a touchdown and forced a fumble, in addition to contributing seven tackles, and received the game ball for his performance. Wright gripped the ball tightly as he fished a drink out of a refrigerated cooler in the middle of the locker room. “This is my first one ever,” Wright said.

Coach, QBs huddle: Quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Josh McCown huddled for several moments in front of Cutler’s locker after the game, holding what appeared to be a serious discussion. Cutler finished with a passer rating of 90.8 and threw for a touchdown. The trio seemed to be talking strategy after the game.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

What are the three key camp issues facing each NFC North team?

CHICAGO BEARS

Offense: Kyle Long's readiness
The Bears drafted Long in the first round to help an offensive line that has struggled for years to protect quarterback Jay Cutler. Long, however, had a short Division I career and missed almost all of the Bears' offseason work because of the timing of Oregon's final academic quarter. The Bears will find out in camp, and during the preseason, whether Long is ready to be an immediate starter as you would expect based on his draft position.

Defense: Configuring linebackers
After the retirement of Brian Urlacher and the departure of Nick Roach, the Bears gave themselves two tiers of options at linebacker to play alongside Lance Briggs. If all else fails, they can use veteran D.J. Williams in the middle and James Anderson on the strong side. But they also drafted two players who one day will get their chance: Jon Bostic in the second round and Khaseem Greene in the fourth. The process of determining the best combination will begin in training camp.

Wild card: Coaching transition
This will be the Bears' first training camp in 10 years without Lovie Smith as the coach. Marc Trestman began the transition process during offseason workouts, but training camp is the time for establishing the meat of his program. How does he expect players to practice? How quickly does he expect scheme assimilation? How do players know when he's happy? When he's angry? The first training camp will set the parameters.

DETROIT LIONS

Offense: Line changes
One way or the other, the Lions will enter the season with three new starters on the offensive line. Riley Reiff is at left tackle after the retirement of Jeff Backus, and there will be competition at right guard and right tackle. Pulling off an overhaul of the offensive line in a win-or-else season is an ambitious task. All discussion of improvement for quarterback Matthew Stafford, and the impact of newcomer Reggie Bush, is made on the presumption that the offensive line won't take a step back.

Defense: Ziggy Ansah's development
Usually, the No. 5 overall pick of a draft is ready to step in and play right away. But Ansah was a late arrival to football and was almost an unknown to NFL scouts a year ago at this time. There was a sense during pre-draft evaluations that Ansah would need more development time than the typical No. 5 pick, but the Lions have high hopes of putting him into the starting lineup right away. They gave themselves some flexibility by signing free agent Israel Idonije, but they'll find out in camp if Ansah is going to be ready to play a full-time role in Week 1.

Wild card: Ryan Broyles' status
Broyles was a value pick in the 2012 draft, but he is very much needed after the release of Titus Young. Nate Burleson has returned to play alongside All-Pro Calvin Johnson, but the Lions' depth would be thin if Broyles isn't ready to play soon after tearing his ACL in Week 13 last year. The Lions hope Broyles can be full-speed by the start of the season, a pace he must confirm with at least some significant work in training camp.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Offense: Running back rotation
The Packers added two rookies, Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, to a group that includes holdovers DuJuan Harris, James Starks, Alex Green and John Kuhn. Unless the Packers suddenly convert to a run-based offense, an impossibility as long as Aaron Rodgers is at quarterback, the Packers will have to thin this herd in training camp. Not everyone from that group will make the team, and a few who do aren't likely to get much action in games. Harris, Lacy and Franklin seem the likeliest candidates -- in that order -- to be feature backs.

Defense: Replacing Woodson
The Packers have openings at safety and cornerback following the release of Charles Woodson. Training camp should provide significant insight, if not an outright answer, into who will start at safety -- M.D. Jennings? Jerron McMillian? -- alongside Morgan Burnett. We'll also get a sense for who is ready to step into the cornerback and nickel job opposite veteran Tramon Williams. Top candidates for that job include Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House. The Packers' cornerback group is by far the deepest in the NFC North.

Wild card: Crosby's state of mind
No one expects Giorgio Tavecchio to beat out place-kicker Mason Crosby, who went through a well-publicized extended slump last season. But how will Crosby react to the first competition of any sort he has faced since taking over as the Packers' kicker in 2007? That's what the Packers want to find out, frankly. If he isn't sharp in camp, the Packers might need to consider their options elsewhere.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Offense: Cordarrelle Patterson's development
The Vikings know they want Patterson to be their kickoff returner, replacing Percy Harvin, but is Patterson ready to take over any part of Harvin's role as a primary offensive playmaker? Patterson's short stay at Tennessee once suggested he will need some development time before contributing regularly on offense. His performance in offseason practices, however, suggested he might be further along than once believed. Training camp will tell us for sure.

Defense: Linebacker alignment
Will newcomer Desmond Bishop play middle linebacker or on the outside? What would that mean for Erin Henderson, who spent the offseason transitioning to the middle position? It seems pretty clear that Bishop, Henderson and Chad Greenway will be the Vikings' three linebackers. Training camp should give us a better idea of where they will line up and, importantly, who will come off the field in nickel situations.

Wild card: Chemistry in passing game
The Vikings are expecting a jump in the efficiency, if not raw numbers, of their passing game this season. Quarterback Christian Ponder will have to accomplish that by developing quick chemistry with his new receivers, including Patterson and veteran Greg Jennings. That task appeared to be a work in progress during offseason practices.
Reading Mel Kiper Jr.'s grades Insider the morning after the draft is like a holiday tradition. No matter how much we all understand intuitively that it's impossible to project future success, we still want to know what the man who has spent three decades evaluating draft classes thinks of our favorite team's efforts.

You'll need an Insider subscription to read the entire evaluation, but below is what I can sneak to you if you don't tell anyone:

Green Bay Packers

Mel's grade: B+

Kiper Jr. snippet: " I love what Green Bay got out of this draft, particularly at two spots -- defensive end and running back."

Seifert comment: The Packers really went after the running back position, drafting two backs -- Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin -- that many teams pegged as feature backs on their own. Franklin also hedges concerns about Lacy's durability. The Packers can feel confident that at least one of them will make an impact on 2013. Defensive end Datone Jones is a different-looking player than what the Packers currently have at the position, and fits into the league's trend toward longer and leaner even for 3-4 ends.

Minnesota Vikings

Mel's grade: B

Kiper Jr. snippet: "Hey, they got starters, but they needed to add impact in this draft considering they dealt [Percy] Harvin and had a few pretty big needs."

Seifert comment: A good portion of evaluating this draft will come down to whether receiver Cordarrelle Patterson pans out. The Vikings gave up their chance to draft a starting-caliber middle linebacker, among other things, by trading back up into the first round to draft him. The Harvin trade was a big motivator. Kiper really thought the Vikings needed to get linebacker Manti Te'o; I just thought they needed someone at that position. Seventh-round draft pick Michael Mauti could be a factor if he can recover from a third torn ACL. Regardless, three first-round draft choices give the Vikings a good chance at a high-impact draft.

Detroit Lions

Mel's grade: B

Kiper Jr. snippet: "The pivot point for how we see this draft in three years will be [Ezekiel] Ansah. If he's great, then it looks good. If he's not, and Dee Milliner thrives with the Jets, fans will wonder."

Seifert comment: It would be disappointing if the Lions didn't get at least two functional starters out of their first three picks. It doesn't matter who is on the field for the first play of the game, but you would like to see Ansah get as many snaps as he can for development purposes. Cornerback Darius Slay should compete with Bill Bentley to start opposite Chris Houston and, at worst, play in nickel situations that comprise more than half of most team's defensive snaps. And third-round guard Larry Warford should push hard for the right guard spot.

Chicago Bears

Mel's grade: C+

Kiper Jr. snippet: "My issue with [Kyle] Long isn't that he's short on talent -- he's not. I just wasn't in love with the value."

Seifert comment: We'll never know if the Bears would have been better off trading down to grab Long later or waiting until the second round. Kiper Jr. didn't like the decision and thought tight end Tyler Eifert would have been a better choice. I'm stuck here, because we all know how much help the Bears' offensive line needs. Solidifying an interior spot, if that's what Long does, will help quarterback Jay Cutler in a measureable way. That's no different in the big picture than what Eifert could do. We all can agree, however, that the Bears upgraded their linebacker depth significantly with Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene.

Related: For fun, here are Kiper Jr.s NFC North grades for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts.

NFC North draft analysis

April, 27, 2013
4/27/13
6:58
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» NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

How top-heavy was the 2013 draft in the NFC North? We welcomed more players in the first round (six) than in the second and third rounds combined (four), the result of two big trades.

With the 2013 affair basically in the books, let's take a closer look at its highs and lows. So much happened that we might not get to the relatively rare occurrence of two punters being drafted.

Onward:

BEST MOVE

The Green Bay Packers have gone 43 games without a 100-yard rusher, the longest active streak in the NFL by more than twice. Their running backs have combined for 12 rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons, the fewest in the NFL, and their average of 3.8 yards per rush over that span is tied for last in the league.

After years of subordinating this segment of their roster, the Packers reacted aggressively in 2013. They drafted not one but two of the top running backs available. Alabama's Eddie Lacy came in the second round (No. 61 overall), and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin came in the fourth round (No. 125 overall).

The relative flurry came at a time when the rest of the league appeared to have devalued the position. It was the first time in the history of the modern draft that zero running backs were selected in the first round. Perhaps the timing was coincidence, but if general manager Ted Thompson intended to capitalize on depressed prices to load up, it was a brilliant thought.

Thompson and the Packers had been trying to patch together the position ever since Ryan Grant broke his ankle in Week 1 of the 2010 season. It was time to find a more permanent solution, and Lacy and Franklin give them the personnel infusion they needed.

Runner-up: Like the Packers, the Chicago Bears finally attacked an area of need. They used two of their first three selections in what was originally a five-pick draft on high-end linebackers who actually project as starters rather than special-teams contributors. Second-rounder Jonathan Bostic could be the Bears' middle linebacker as early as this season, and fourth-rounder Khaseem Greene was one of the best defensive playmakers in college football last season.

RISKIEST MOVE

The Minnesota Vikings used four draft picks to move back into the first round and select Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, taking on risk in two forms.

First, Patterson is a boom-or-bust prospect who spent only one year playing at the Division I level. He has the physical tools to be an exceptional player but has more development ahead of him than most first-round picks. Here's how ESPN analyst Todd McShay put it before the draft: "He scares me coming out of Tennessee, but I see the talent. … Patterson, with the ball in his hands, is just freakish, and even though he disappears for 30-40 plays [per game], he'll show up with one or two big plays a game that just kind of blow your mind and leave you wanting more."

At the very least, Patterson will need to be guided through the early part of his career. The Vikings hope to start him off as a kickoff returner and work him into their offense slowly. Expecting him to jump into the starting lineup alongside Greg Jennings for a full 70 plays per game is probably unrealistic.

Second, the trade left the Vikings unable to fill one of their most pressing needs: middle linebacker. Giving up picks in the second and third rounds left them watching as more than a half-dozen middle linebackers were drafted. The Vikings gave up the opportunity to fill that job on a long-term basis by jumping to draft a receiver who generated plenty of divergent viewpoints during the pre-draft evaluation process.

Runner-up: The Detroit Lions used the No. 5 overall pick on a pass-rusher who had 4.5 sacks in his college career. BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has all the physical tools to be a dominant pass-rusher, but his learning curve is steep and his potential for immediate impact is at least worth questioning.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

[+] EnlargeKyle Long
Reid Compton/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears were willing to overlook offensive lineman Kyle Long's inexperience because of his extraordinary athleticism for a man his size.
You would have been hard-pressed to find a mock draft that projected Oregon guard Kyle Long as a first-round pick. In a recent seven-round mock, Scouts Inc. suggested he would go No. 47 overall. And even that was based on Long's overwhelmingly positive athletic attributes rather than evaluation of his limited play at Oregon.

The Bears produced arguably the surprise of the draft by selecting Long at No. 20 overall, a time when even the most polished guards are rarely taken historically. But the Bears were blown away by Long's agility for his 6-foot-6 frame and were willing to overlook a one-season, four-start career at the Division I level.

There is no doubt the Bears needed help on their offensive line, but you could have a spirited philosophical argument over the draft value of a raw, inexperienced guard. Even if the Bears are right about Long -- that his athleticism will make him a long-term starter -- it's fair to question whether they needed to take him in the first round. Did another team covet the draft's third-best guard enough to take him between picks 21 and 50, where the Bears were situated in the second round? One explanation: The Bears, with only five total picks in the draft at that point, thought it would be too difficult to trade up in the second round assuming Long got out of the first. I'm not going to say it was the wrong choice, but it sure was surprising.

FILE IT AWAY

The Lions bolstered their pass defense at the expense of some other positions of need. You can't have it all, and the Lions made some clear decisions.

On the plus side, they used three of their first four choices on Ansah, cornerback Darius Slay and defensive end Devin Taylor. Ansah (6-foot-5 with 35 1/8-inch arms) and Taylor (6-7 with 36-inch arms) will provide incredible length and a new look to the Lions' outside pass rush. Slay, meanwhile, has elite speed (4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash).

That focus left the Lions less able to surround quarterback Matthew Stafford with additional weapons and protection. The Lions didn't draft an offensive tackle after the departure of both 2012 starters, and they didn't get around to selecting a receiver until grabbing Virginia Tech's Corey Fuller with the third pick of the sixth round (No. 171 overall).

(The Lions did draft guard Larry Warford in the third round.)

From a roster-balance perspective, it made sense for the Lions to focus on pass defense -- long a weakness -- rather than their passing offense. But the Lions still finished the draft with less depth at receiver and offensive tackle than they would have liked. Life is a trade-off, after all.
Khaseem Greene isn't that big at 6-foot and 241 pounds. He doesn't test particularly fast, having run his 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds. But Greene was an awfully successful and productive playmaking linebacker at Rutgers and appears to be a particularly inspired choice by the Chicago Bears with the No. 117 overall pick.

Greene set an NCAA record by forcing 15 fumbles in his career at Rutgers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he also led all defensive players from automatic-qualifying schools with 27 "impact tackles" last season. That statistic is defined as "a tackle made for gains of two yards or less that prevented a first down or touchdown."

Overall, Greene appears to be a good fit as a weakside linebacker in the 4-3 defense. That's the position currently manned by Lance Briggs, who will be 33 this fall. It's way too early to start talking about Greene as a possible replacement to one of the Bears' best players of a generation, but it's better to start accumulating options before you're forced into a more desperate situation.

The Bears entered the draft with five overall selections and they've used two of their first three on linebackers. Florida's Jon Bostic, taken in the second round, could end up as their middle linebacker. One day, Greene could start next to him. Regardless, it was past time for the Bears to start addressing the future of this position.

Related: Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. was among those lauding this selection: "Khaseem Greene going in the 4th is a steal in my opinion. Finds the ball and consistently manufactures big plays. Love the Rutgers program."
Eight days away from the NFL draft, and ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. has raised his game. In his latest mock draft, he's going three rounds. It's an Insider article, so you'll need a subscription to view the entire piece. But, as always, I can give you the lowdown on the AFC North teams ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Rd. 1 (32) LB Kevin Minter, LSU
Rd. 2 (62) OT Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Rd. 3 (94) S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State

Hensley's comment: All three picks address needs. Minter is a tackling machine who is more of a long-term solution than Rolando McClain. Armstead is a project who would be a reach in the second round. Thomas is a playmaker and fills a big need at strong safety, where James Ihedigbo is currently starting. My only problem is the lack of a wide receiver. The Ravens haven't replaced Anquan Boldin and need to find a pass-catcher in the first couple of rounds.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Rd. 1 (21) S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Rd. 2 (37) RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin (via Oakland)
Rd. 2 (53) LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
Rd. 3 (84) WR Denard Robinson, Michigan

Hensley's comment: The Bengals would be very happy if Vaccaro fell into their lap at No. 21. Strong safety is the biggest need on the team. While I agree the Bengals need to add youth to the backfield, Ball is more of an inside runner like BenJarvus Green-Ellis. North Carolina's Giovani Bernard represents a better change of pace. Greene, who led the Big East in tackles for the past two seasons, can step in at weakside linebacker. Robinson could become a Josh Cribbs-type return man for Cincinnati. All of these picks address the top needs for the Bengals.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Rd. 1 (11) G Chance Warmack Alabama (via San Diego)
Rd. 3 (68) QB EJ Manuel, Florida St.
Rd. 3 (76) CB Darius Slay, Mississippi St. (via San Diego)

Hensley's comment: Kiper and I are thinking alike when it comes to the Browns. I believe the Browns will trade out of the No. 6 overall pick (I see them getting a second-round pick from the Chargers and not a third-rounder), but I don't like the choice of Warmack. By all accounts, he's a great guard prospect. I just don't think teams should take a guard in the top half of the draft. Where I agree with Kiper is taking Manuel in the third round. He's drawn comparisons to Cam Newton, the quarterback who ran Rob Chudzinksi's offense in Carolina. This pick has a lot of potential. Slay would address the need for a cornerback, although he may not be ready to start right away. He started just one season at Mississippi State.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Rd. 1 (17) TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Rd. 2 (48) OLB Cornelius Washington, Georgia
Rd. 3 (79) WR Ryan Swope, Texas A&M

Hensley's comment: It's very reasonable that the Steelers take a tight end, outside linebacker and wide receiver in the first three rounds, although it may not be in the order that Kiper has it. Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who is a popular pick for the Steelers in many mock drafts, is going to the Jets at No. 9, according to Kiper. This is why Kiper is sticking with Eifert for Pittsburgh in the first round. The Steelers rarely make moves in the first round, but they could fall back and still get Eifert, who has drawn comparisons to Heath Miller (who was taken 30th overall eight years ago). It's a reach to take Washington in the second round. He's a rush linebacker who has only shown flashes in college. Swope is a fearless receiver who isn't afraid to go over the middle.

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