NFC North Hot News

The teams around the division are still looking to improve their rosters. We've got updates from around the NFC North.

Hot News updates from, and

Detroit Lions

Should get strong look
Luke Staley was a seventh-round draft pick in 2002 but missed his entire rookie season after undergoing yet another knee surgery. He spent the entire year rehabbing and looked good -- especially running routes and catching passes -- in minicamp. If he is healthy, he will compete strongly for a third-down job.

Streets re-signs with 49'ers
A likely target for the Lions is no longer on the market. Tai Streets, who was rumored to be a cap casuality on June 1, re-signed with the 49ers for one year at $1.318 million. The deal means that Streets will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2003 season.

Looks good for Lions
Avon Cobourne was extremely productive at West Virginia and looked good in the Lions' minicamp, although he does not have ideal speed. He was signed as an undrafted rookie.

Gets restructured deal, remains with team
Defensive tackle Luther Elliss agreed to a restructured contract that allows him to remain with the team, albeit at a steep price. Elliss agreed to a nearly $4 million pay cut for the 2003 season, the rest of his original contract extension remains in place as does the bonus structure. Elliss has been assured a roster spot.

Expected to compete
Artose Pinner was drafted in the fourth round after slipping because of a broken foot suffered in the Senior Bowl. Although not a speed merchant, the Lions liked his production at Kentucky. They will not rush his recovery but expect him to compete in training camp.

Looking good so far
Shawn Bryson, an unrestricted free agent from Buffalo, seems to be on his way to a complete recovery from the knee injury that cost him a chance to compete with Travis Henry with the Bills. He has speed to carry from scrimmage but also catches the ball relatively well.

Minnesota Vikings

On schedule
Running back Michael Bennett, recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, planned to begin running soon. "Everything is ahead of schedule," he said.

Impressing early
The early returns on rookie punter Eddie Johnson are very good. Johnson, drafted in the sixth round, was very impressive during minicamps. Johnson, who averaged 46 yards per punt in two seasons at Idaho, has assumed the lead position at his position. "He has just got exceptional leg strength," coach Mike Tice said. "You can hear the ball come off his foot. It sounds like a shotgun blast each time."

Why now?
The motives behind the move have been speculated on ever since Friday's news broke that Daunte Culpepper was going to become the highest-paid player in Vikings' history. Maybe owner Red McCombs was tired of being called a cheapskate, maybe a splash was needed to get the bad taste of that draft-day clock expiration blunder out of everybody's mouths. For whatever reason, McCombs was the driving force behind getting Culpepper locked up with a 10-year contract extension that will kick in following the 2002 season. The extension, if all incentives are reached, could eventually be worth $102 million. The contract -- which includes $16 million in guaranteed bonus money -- would be the third-biggest contract in terms of total worth, were he to reach his incentives. Only Donovan McNabb's $115 and Drew Bledsoe's $103 million top it in terms of total potential worth. But again, why did they do it now? Indeed, some sources say that many in the Vikings front office wanted to wait and see how Culpepper would react to going through a training camp and the early part of the season in what would essentially be a contract drive. And while just about everybody in the organization believes Culpepper has turned the corner and is on the way back to being the player he was in 2000, many felt now was not the time to reward him. Even Culpepper was ready to wait. "I was prepared to go into the season as it was," he said. "But now that it's done, I'm very happy and blessed to be able to be secure and take care of my family. Red and this organization have shown they're committed to me, and I'm very committed to this organization. I'm going to do everything in my power to win a Super Bowl. That's my main focus right now." Negotiations on a contract had stalled early in the winter, but McCombs recently authorized vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski to negotiate a market-value deal. Those talks got underway in earnest April 28 -- right after the draft ended -- and agreement was reached Thursday night. The move was surprise, especially considering the Vikings' self-stated financial condition. McCombs, unhappy over the lack of progress in getting a new stadium deal done in the state legislature, has said the Metrdome is unable to provide the revenue streams necessary for his team to turn a profit. What's more, McCombs has been public in his desire to sell the Vikings; few thought he'd be eager to dish out a signing bonus under those conditions. The Vikings last year ranked 31st in the league in both player payroll and front office expenses. The team was $15 million under the salary cap entering the weekend. All that said, Culpepper now has to make good on the money, and the Vikings have put in place a system they feel can do that. After Culpepper started slowly last year, the Vikings essentially made offensive coordinator Scott Linehan his position coach, brushing Alex Wood aside. This year Linehan officially holds both coordinator and QB coach titles. Culpepper improved under Linehan's intense tutoring, leading the Vikings to victories in their final three games.

Green Bay Packers

Bulked up
Javon Walker looked like a different player at 225 pounds, up about 20, but position coach Ray Sherman expects him to be about 217 for the season. "He didn't appear to be lethargic or slow," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "He attacked the ball."

Making an impression
Third-round pick Kenny Peterson of Ohio State played both defensive end and tackle and appeared capable of more pass rush than his career sack total of 10 might suggest. "He showed some pass-rush ability in one on one's and the ability to burst," coach Mike Sherman said. "He has a great chance to help us this year." Center Mike Flanagan was surprised by how fast Barnett was and how many moves Peterson displayed as a pass rusher. Peterson played both power end and tackle but Donatell refused to rule out the possibility that he could start inside alongside Cletidus Hunt. "He isn't (Gilbert Brown) but they don't have to be that big," he said. "He left a very favorable impression. The guy shows speed and quickness and already has some development as a pass rusher."

Claimed by Packers
OT Reggie Coleman has been claimed off waivers from Cincinnati by Green Bay.

Learning middle linebacker position
Rookie fifth-round draft pick Hunter Hillenmeyer played middle linebacker behind rookie first-round pick Nick Barnett in the Green Bay Packers' recent post-draft minicamp.

Packers coaches have indicated that Hillenmeyer eventually will work more at the 'Buck' (strongside) linebacker position.

Starting out at left cornerback
Rookie speedster Chris Johnson, taken in the seventh round by the Packers in the recent NFL draft, practiced at left cornerback during the team's recent minicamp.

Johnson was timed consistently around 4.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash in pre-draft workouts, making him the fastest player of those selected in the draft. He will have a chance to return punts and kickoffs during the preseason, as well as refine his skills at cornerback.

"Like I told coach (Mike) Sherman when I came up for a visit, 'If I get my hands on it and I see a hole, nobody's going to catch me,'" Johnson said.

Spurns Pack, signs with Dolphins
Former Saints safety Sammy Knight has signed a two-year deal with Miami reportedly worth $2.38 million with a $300,000 signing bonus. Knight had also been receiving interest from Green Bay.

Getting grasp of defense

Al Harris has been traveling to and from Green Bay from his home in Florida, participating in "opportunity sessions" with coaches and the recent post-draft minicamp this off-season in the Don Hutson Center and Clarke Hinkle Field. While playing cornerback is nothing new to Harris, a sixth-year pro who was acquired by the Packers in a February trade with Philadelphia, learning Green Bay's defense is.

With the June minicamp a few weeks away, Harris feels he will have a good grasp of the defense by the time training camp begins in mid-July.

"With any system it's different," Harris said. "I'm pretty sure by the time training camp comes around, I'll be ready full stride."

Passes first test with flying colors
Middle linebacker Nick Barnett, a first-round pick from Oregon State, was just about everything the Packers said he would be in the shorts and no pads environment of minicamp. "He showed the ability to make big plays time and time again," coach Mike Sherman said. "He's always around the ball." Barnett, who weighed 232 pounds, rotated with holdover Paris Lenon as the No. 1 middle linebacker and had a series of pass deflections, forced fumbles, recovered fumbles and sacks. "I've done this for 14 years and he's definitely in that B-plus category for a first camp," defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. "Mike wanted to add a fiery, competitive guy, and he is. This guy doesn't do a lot of talking but he's all over the field." Late in the weekend, Donatell moved to the sidelines and used hand signals to transmit his call to Barnett on the field. The rookie didn't make a mistake. The litmus test for Barnett, according to linebackers coach Mark Duffner, will come when the pads go on in late July and he has to cope with the inside running game.

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