Detroit LionsImagine how spectacular his rookie season might have been had he played with two healthy shoulders.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who became just the sixth defensive tackle in NFL history to win the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award, revealed he played with a right shoulder injury all season.
He sustained the injury during his senior season at Nebraska. He had surgery on Jan. 10, causing him to miss a start in the Pro Bowl.
Still, bad shoulder and all, Suh posted 10 sacks and was a dominant presence for the Lions.
"He's never acted like a rookie, not from the day he came in here," said defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham during the season. "He never played like one and never acted like one. It's the combination of outstanding skills,: power, speed and balance. But mostly, it's the mental makeup and maturity. I'm telling you, when I first talked to him, I thought I was talking to a 10-year veteran."
Suh was the first rookie defensive tackle named to the All-Pro team since 1950. He was the seventh Lions rookie to win rookie of the year honors and the first defensive player since Al "Bubba" Baker in 1978.
"There are a lot of rookies who can handle the physical part of it, but it's the mental part that gets to them, especially at that position," Cunningham said. "He withstood the power of the double teams week after week after week. That's tough to do. That drains a player physically. But mostly, it drains them mentally."
Suh was omnipresent in Dallas during Super Bowl week. Not only was he doing public relations work for the league, he was busy talking up the Lions to potential free agents. One of those potential free agents was Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas.
"Oh, definitely," Nicholas told the Detroit Free Press. "Suh had an awesome year this year. Moved people around, threw a couple people around. A lot of good things out of that guy were happening. I think they're definitely starting to turn things around."
That's been Suh's message. He will tell anybody who'll listen that the expectation next season is for the Lions to make the playoffs.
"Without a doubt. I love expectations," Suh said. "I love having to work and have high standards. ... I have my own high standards. It's even better to have other people have those high standards for you."
Green Bay PackersNot even 48 hours had passed since their coronation as league champions before the Packers started to look ahead to and forecast their prospects for next season.
"I tell you what, Green Bay, we're going to be right back here next year doing the exact same thing," quarterback Aaron Rodgers shouted to the warm delight of more than 56,000 shivering fans who braved subzero wind chills last week at Lambeau Field for a celebration for the league champions.
The Packers came home from North Texas triumphant, having beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night.
By the end of the sold-out victory event late Tuesday afternoon, the offseason had started for Green Bay. Whether it will be a shorter hiatus than usual before the players reconvene for spring workouts remains to be seen since there's the all-important matter of a new collective bargaining agreement between the league owners and players to be resolved.
"The new season has begun for myself and [general manager] Ted Thompson," said coach Mike McCarthy, who guided the Packers to their first league title in 14 years in his fifth year on the job.
McCarthy gave his assistants an overdue break of about two weeks before the staff will be back to work Feb. 21 to turn their attention to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which starts a few days later.
The Packers will be in a cozy position of needing to just reload their roster at a few positions. If a CBA is in place in early March and the parameters for free-agent status fall in line with its predecessor, Green Bay has 11 players on its season-ending 53-man roster that would become unrestricted free agents.
Not only is it likely the team will have little turnover with personnel, but the roster will be bolstered by the return of the majority of the 15 players that finished the season on injured reserve. Among those casualties, halfback Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley, safety Morgan Burnett, defensive end Mike Neal and linebackers Nick Barnett, Brad Jones and Brandon Chillar are impact-type players that figure to be back in the fold next season.
Consequently, what the Packers pulled off this season by getting into the playoffs as the last seed in the NFC with a 10-6 record and then ripping off four straight wins away from home in the postseason to reclaim the Vince Lombardi Trophy is widely viewed as the start of a championship splurge.
McCarthy, however, tempered his expectations about how much more talented the 2011 team should be.
"Talent, that's such a dynamic word and component of your football team," McCarthy said. "I think it's a great lesson for everyone in our building to learn. The most important thing is we need to be the best football team again next year. We can be maybe the most talented and best football team, but sometimes the most talented team doesn't win. We were the best football team in the National Football League this year and lost a lot of talent due to injuries. It's a great experience for us to learn from. It will be a great experience for us to draw from. I felt that coming out of training camp that we were a very talented team on paper.
"Yes, we have an opportunity to start [next] season as a very talented football team," he added. "But, we have to make sure we're the best football team, that everybody's doing their role, doing what they're supposed to be doing at the level they're supposed to be doing it. Because that was a great experience to watch this group of men pull together and fight through the adversity that they needed to and play their best football when it counted."
Receiver Donald Driver, at 36 the elder statesman of the team, understands things will be different for the first time since breaking into the league in 1999. Yet amid the lofty expectations that already are on the team, he is eager for a repeat performance of how this season finished.
"Now, we've got the dart on our backs," Driver said. "Everybody's coming to get us now. We're the champs. The bull's eye is there. All we've got to do is go out there and take care of business, and I see it once again: Super Bowl champs, back to back."
Minnesota VikingsA year ago the Vikings were coming off an overtime loss in the NFC title game at New Orleans, confident that with much of their roster returning they would be able to make another run at the Super Bowl.
There were a few tweaks that needed to be made, but for the most part confidence was high quarterback Brett Favre would return (he did) and that the success of a 12-4 season could be repeated (it wasn't).
Things are very different this February around at Winter Park.
With Brad Childress having been fired as coach in November and Leslie Frazier being named to the job on a permanent basis after spending six games as interim coach, the Vikings are looking to rebound from a 6-10, last-place finish in the NFC North.
And getting back to the top certainly won't be easy considering arch-rival Green Bay won the Super Bowl and advanced to that game by beating NFC North rival Chicago in the conference title game.
There is plenty of work to be done by Frazier, vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and everyone else associated with the Vikings, but the most important item on the agenda is going to be finding a quarterback.
The Vikings desperately need to end their string of short-term fixes at the position and find someone that can take over that spot for the long term.
Among all the faults Childress might have had, his inability to identify a quarterback might be the biggest thing that will stick in the memory of many fans. Childress did draft Tarvaris Jackson in the second round in 2006, his first season as coach, but that never worked and it's expected Jackson will depart as a free agent.
Meanwhile, the list of veteran quarterbacks that started games during Childress' tenure in Minnesota included Favre, Brad Johnson, Brooks Bollinger, Kelly Holcomb and Gus Frerotte.
When he was named coach a day after the regular season ended, Frazier made it clear that even if Favre decided he really didn't want to retire again, the Vikings would be going in a different direction.
What nobody knows at this point, including the Vikings' brass, is which direction that will be. The Vikings hold the 12th-overall pick in the first round of the draft and could look to take a quarterback or move up in order to get one.
The Vikings also could again look to the free-agent market for a veteran to assist in the development of a rookie as he develops. The dilemma is that with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire in early March, the only sure thing at this point is that the draft will take place in April.
The Vikings ended the season with rookie Joe Webb as their starter. A sixth-round pick in 2010, the Vikings had initially planned to shift Webb to wide receiver.
Despite the fact Webb showed potential, it's likely the Vikings will go in a different direction when looking for their quarterback of the future.
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NFC North News and Notes: Feb. 16
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