NFC North offseason update

All of the news out of Detroit, Minnesota and Green Bay as we approach the 2012 NFL Draft.

Detroit Lions

Lions still hopeful of getting Avril signed

Lions president Tom Lewand said in a local radio interview this week that defensive end Cliff Avril could participate in the team's offseason workout program without signing his franchise tag tender.

"Anybody who is under a tender of any type, whether it's a restricted free agent or franchise tag, can participate," Lewand said on WJR Monday night. "There's a waiver they can sign that we have that protects both the club and the player so they can participate fully in the offseason program while they continue to pursue any rights under the system they have as a tendered player."

The Lions' offseason program will begin Monday with a week of conditioning. Avril has said he will be in Detroit, but may chose not to participate until he and the team agree on a long-term deal.

"I think we're going to continue to try and get something done hopefully and we'll see how it goes," Avril told the Detroit Free Press. "We'll see. This whole thing, I just know I want to be out there, I want to play ball and we'll see how it goes."

Talks on a long-term deal for Avril have been put on hold while general manager Martin Mayhew concentrates on the draft. Under the terms of the franchise tag, which would pay Avril $10.605 million for this season, he has until July 15 to work out a long-term deal or sign the tender.

Avril has been training steadily for the past two months.

In the same interview, Lewand said the organization would give its three troubled second-year players a second chance and expected them all to participate next week.

Johnny Culbreath, Mikel Leshoure and Nick Fairley were all arrested for marijuana-related charges this offseason. Leshoure was popped twice in less than a month.

"We expressed disappointment last week and I continue to express disappointment that guys put themselves in the position where they have to have an unpleasant interaction with law enforcement," Lewand said. "That is something that should be avoided. But as we all know from life's experiences, it happens, people make mistakes, and you want to give guys opportunities to correct those mistakes, learn from them and move forward."

Lewand, who was given a second chance himself after his arrest for DUI in 2010, said the burden was on the players to win back the trust of the staff and teammates.

"In the case of all of our guys, they are good guys, and we still have to remember at times --and this is not to excuse anyone's behavior -- but guys are young," Lewand said. "I think when all of us were in our early 20's the feeling of invincibility was a lot higher than maybe it is today.

"You are held to a high standard. I know that firsthand and I've learned that lesson myself. That's a lesson we all have to learn. We have to take it to heart when that adversity is there and when we make mistakes we've got to learn from them and grow as human beings."


--Defensive end Cliff Avril has been busy finishing his degree in business marketing at Purdue. He told the Free Press he plans to attend graduation ceremonies next month.

"That's going to be pretty cool," he said. "I've been putting it off for the last couple years and my biggest motivation honestly was (the birth of my son, Xavier, last summer). I can't tell him you got to get your degree, get your education when I went to school for free and didn't get it. So I looked at it like that. He motivated me to get it so I can encourage him to get it when his time comes around."

--Outside linebacker DeAndre Levy said he will sign his restricted free-agent tender this weekend and report for workouts on Monday. Levy, who has started 37 of 43 games and recorded 109 tackles last season, was given a second-round tender worth $1.927 million.

--Tackle Corey Hilliard and defensive tackle Sammie Hill, the team's other tendered restricted free agents, are expected to also sign. Both were given original round tenders - fourth round for Hill and sixth for Hilliard.

--ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the Lions taking Alabama defensive end Courtney Upshaw with the 23rd pick in the draft. Upshaw and Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus are among the defensive ends the Lions have hosted thus far.

Why would the Lions take a defensive lineman in the first round for the third straight year? Starting defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch will be 34 in November. The other starter, Avril, is balking at signing a $10.605 million franchise tag and the sides are reportedly not close to a long-term agreement. Backups Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are playing on the final year of their contracts.

And, most significantly, general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have made it abundantly clear that the defense is built around a relentless pass rush and that a powerful and deep defensive line can cover up a lot of holes in the secondary. So if it came down to a choice between the third or fourth cornerback on their board vs. the top pass rusher, expect Mayhew to take the pass rusher.

--Among the draft prospects visiting the Lions this week was Arizona receiver David Douglas, who has long wanted to be on the receiving end of some of Matthew Stafford's passes. Douglas was a sophomore at McKinney North High School in Dallas in 2005 when Stafford's Highland Park team routed his team in the playoffs. The memory left a mark.

"I remember him scrambling out to the right and he avoided a sack and pretty much threw it off his back foot to the left corner of the end zone about 55 or 60 yards," Douglas told the Lions' website. "It was the most ridiculous play I've ever seen. He's a stud."

--Stanford left tackle Jonathan Martin is a popular choice for the Lions among many mock drafters. Pro Football Weekly senior editor Nolan Nawrocki, however, thinks the pick would be a mistake.

"I don't think he has left tackle feet or right tackle power," he said. "I look at him as a fourth-round type project, but he's getting looks in the second round and possibly late in the first. He will be considerably over-drafted."

Nawrocki believes Martin would need at least one "redshirt" year in the NFL and would have to commit to a strength program.

"There is a chance if he was forced into action too soon, a player like Matt Stafford could end up on IR again," he said. "He'd be a risky pick that early."

While Martin may not be the right guy, Nawrocki thinks the Lions do need to draft a left tackle in the upper rounds.

"Jeff Backus has the shortest arms in the NFL and he's starting to show his age," Nawrocki said. "They need to start looking for an improvement (at left tackle) and maybe move Backus inside."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last year is last year and this year is this year. Look around the league and a lot of teams went out and improved themselves. We're trying to improve ourselves and the landscape changes every season. Every year there are teams that make the playoffs and there is a big turnover the following year. We want to be one of those teams that are in the playoffs every year. But we have a lot of work to do." - General manager Martin Mayhew.



1. Cornerback: There is no cornerback on the roster signed beyond next season and the lack of depth was exposed late last season after starter Chris Houston, nickel back Aaron Berry and free safety Louis Delmas were injured late in the season. Compound the problem with the loss of Eric Wright and the Lions need to restock the shelves here. The only corners on the roster right now are Houston, Berry, Alphonso Smith and Don Carey.

2. Offensive line: It is interesting that the Lions reached out to free-agent linemen Eric Winston (signed with Kansas City) and Marcus McNeill. Still, Mayhew has admitted that with left tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola (34) and right guard Stephen Peterman (30) are getting older, and he needs to start developing some younger talent. Presently, the two developmental linemen are tackle Jason Fox, who's been injured the last two years, and guard-tackle Johnny Culbreath who was injured all of last season.

3. Linebackers: The ranks are extremely thin here, too, even after re-signing Stephen Tulloch. Starters DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant will be back. One primary backup last year, Bobby Carpenter, isn't expected to be re-signed. That leaves developmental linebacker Doug Hogue as the only other true linebacker on the roster.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: DE Cliff Avril (tendered at $10.605 million).


--OG Leonard Davis won't be back. The Lions brought the veteran former Pro Bowler in last season for three reasons - as insurance against injury, to push starter Stephen Peterman and to take an extended look at him to determine if he'd fit in the plans for 2012. It appears the answer to No. 3 is no, he does not fit.
--WR Rashied Davis was a stabilizing force on the special teams once he got healthy. He was also a stabilizing and at times hilarious presence in the locker room. But, he will be 33 and that will give the Lions some pause. Still, it is a good bet they bring him back.
--LB Isaiah Ekejiuba was another vital special teams player who was lost early; in Week 3. He will be 31 in October and it seems like there's still a lot of good football left in him, but the Lions are expected to revamp their linebacker core again and will be looking for younger special teams aces.
--S Chris Harris won't be back. If the Lions needed a run-stopping specialist, they would probably re-sign Harris without hesitation. But they aren't looking for one-dimensional defensive backs. Harris' inability to protect the back end against deep throws was exposed over and over last season - in Chicago and in Detroit.
--RB Jerome Harrison's football career is on hold after he had surgery last October to remove a tumor from his brain. Asked about Harrison's condition during the Combine, both coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew declined to comment.
--CB Brandon McDonald went from the starting nickel back in training camp to being released in Week 14 to being brought back for the final two regular-season games and actually played the entire second half against Green Bay. But the Lions are looking to upgrade the entire secondary so it's doubtful McDonald is in the plans.
--RB Maurice Morris' time in Detroit is probably over. After productive years in 2009 and 2010, Morris seemed to lose a step last year. His numbers were similar (4.0 yards per carry) but he was unable to take charge of the position after Best, Jerome Harrison, and then Smith were injured. He will be 33 in December and it seems likely the Lions will not re-sign him.
--WR Maurice Stovall won't be back. The Lions didn't get what they were expecting in Stovall. He didn't tackle consistently enough to be a force on special teams and by the end of the season was used on offense in run plays only. He caught just one pass all season.


--DT Sammie Hill (tendered at $1.26M with fourth-round pick as compensation) posted 80 tackles and four sacks playing part time the last three seasons. The only way he wouldn't be a Lion in 2012 is if he was used as trade bait. He has a lot of value and, because the Lions won't be able to do much in free agency, they are expected to be wheeling and dealing before training camp starts.
--OT Corey Hilliard (tendered at $1.26M with sixth-round pick as compensation) as of right now, he's the only backup tackle on the roster that has started games in the NFL. Though he has mostly filled in for Gosder Cherilus at right tackle, the Lions are confident he could handle the left tackle spot, too, if needed.
--LB DeAndre Levy (tendered at $1.927M with second-round pick as compensation). If the Lions don't re-sign Stephen Tulloch, there is a good chance Levy would move back to middle linebacker. General manager Martin Mayhew, though, said he liked what he saw of Levy on the outside last season. Either way, his versatility is hugely important to the Lions right now.



--LT Jeff Backus: UFA; $5.85M/2 yrs, $1.5M SB.
--S Erik Coleman: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Andre Fluellen: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--P Ben Graham: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Will Heller: FA; 1 yr, had been released
by Lions; terms unknown. --QB Shaun Hill: UFA; $5.5M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
--LS Don Muhlbach: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Ashlee Palmer: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--RB Kevin Smith: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--MLB Stephen Tulloch: UFA; $25M/5 yrs, $$6.5M SB/11M guaranteed.


--DE Everette Brown: FA Chargers; terms unknown.
--CB Jacob Lacey: Not tendered as RFA by Colts; 1 yr, terms unknown.


--LB Bobby Carpenter: UFA Patriots; $775,000/1 yr, $50,000 SB.
--QB Drew Stanton: UFA Jets; $1.25M/1 yr, $500,000 SB.
--CB Eric Wright: UFA Buccaneers; $37.5M/5 yrs, $15.5M guaranteed.

Green Bay Packers

Packers ready to get back to work

Break time is over for the Packers.

An offseason of inactivity that started earlier than many anticipated in mid-January will give way to a flurry of activities the next 21/2 months.

Players and coaches reconvene April 16 for the start of the spring conditioning and on-field workout program. Getting back together couldn't come soon enough for the Packers, who have been smarting from an abrupt exit in the second round of the playoffs after having the league's best regular-season record (15-1).

Head coach Mike McCarthy is eager to get a jump on next season. Teams have the coveted time in the spring to prepare again after last year's offseason was wiped out by the NFL lockout, though a concession by clubs in the new labor agreement is the Packers are starting things this year a month later than what was customary under McCarthy.

"We need to make big jumps in April, May and June because we haven't had that (offseason since 2010), just like everybody else," McCarthy said at the league meetings in late March. "But, we really rely on it just because of the way we operate in player acquisitions."

Per general manager Ted Thompson's style, the bulk of the new additions to the Green Bay roster will come in the April 26-28 draft. Thompson, however, has been more active than usual in free agency this year in an attempt to plug some of the few holes the Packers had coming off last season.

He responded to the loss of Pro Bowl center Scott Wells, who bolted to the St. Louis Rams as an unrestricted free agent, by signing former Indianapolis Colts All-Pro center Jeff Saturday. It's perhaps the only position on the team's explosive offense that will have turnover in the starting lineup.

The defensive side, conversely, is in need of repair after the unit ranked as the league's worst last season. The priority is overhauling the pass rush, which can't flourish with All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews alone. Thompson signed veteran defensive end Anthony Hargrove, a free agent who was with the Seattle Seahawks and before that excelled with the New Orleans Saints.

Any more upgrades in the front seven of the 3-4 scheme likely will have to come through the draft, but matters would be compounded if Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins can't resume his career.

Collins is expected to meet with team officials by the end of the month, presumably before the draft, and mutually decide his playing future. He is hoping to make a comeback from a severe neck injury he sustained just two games into last season.

Collins' representatives have been mum in recent weeks about what will transpire after the seven-year veteran was re-examined by his doctors in late March.

In the meantime, McCarthy is ready to get going with the players he has available for the start of the offseason program. Attendance has been annually high for the voluntary workouts since McCarthy's tenure started in 2006 until last year's disruption.

"We'll make up for what we need to do," McCarthy said. "We're playing with the same rules as everybody else. So, it's not like we're at a disadvantage. It's the philosophy that we've chosen. We haven't chosen to be a veteran-driven team and bring in experienced players. We develop our players. So, the more time that we can have with them, the better off we'll be."


--The Packers' latest attempt to bolster their ineffective pass rush from last season didn't pan out.

Defensive end Dave Tollefson, an unrestricted free agent previously with the New York Giants, jumped at the opportunity to return to his Northern California roots, rather than play for Green Bay again. Tollefson signed a two-year contract worth $2.5 million with the Oakland Raiders during Easter weekend.

"There's something special about playing for the team that you grew up watching and (the place) where you grew up," Tollefson said. "It means a lot to me. They (the Raiders) believe in me. Guys are excited to play football, talk football and get ready."

Tollefson chose the Raiders over the Tennessee Titans and the Packers. Tollefson visited Green Bay on March 29-30 before he made recruiting stops with the Raiders and Titans - he also drew interest from the Seattle Seahawks.

The Packers took Tollefson in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. He spent the entire season on the practice squad and remained with the team through the 2007 preseason. The Raiders then signed Tollefson off Green Bay's practice squad before the 2007 season.

Thus far, general manager Ted Thompson in the last month has added veteran defensive end Anthony Hargrove, formerly with the Seahawks, and defensive tackle Daniel Muir, a one-time Packer who was a street free agent.

--With the draft on the horizon, slated for April 26-28, popular opinion from outside the organization is Thompson will look to add a ready-made pass rusher in the early rounds, either an outside linebacker or an end to plug into the 3-4 scheme.

The name of Boise State linebacker Shea McClellin has been linked to the Packers, who have the No. 28 pick in the first round.

The 6-3, 260-pound McClellin, who has versatility to play on the line or at any of the linebacker spots, produced 16 1/2 sacks his last two seasons in college.

He comes from a small town in Idaho (Marsing), grew up working on his family's farm and already has a Packers fan with his grandmother, Terry McClellin.

Shea McClellin's grandparents raised him on the farm.

"If (the Packers) get him, I'll be running up and down Chicken Dinner Road just screaming," Terry McClellin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, referring to where the farm is in Marsing. "I could see him there with (All-Pro outside linebacker) Clay Matthews - my clean-cut kid with his really, really short hair and Clay with his really, really long hair."

--The Packers received a lofty honor this offseason when their team of trainers was named the 2011 NFL Athletic Training Staff of the Year by the Ed Block Courage Awards Foundation.

Head trainer Pepper Burruss and assistants Bryan Engel, Kurt Fielding and Nate Weir accepted the award at the foundation's awards ceremony in Baltimore on March 13.

Left guard T.J. Lang was the Packers' recipient for the Ed Block Courage Award. A player from all 32 teams in the NFL is selected for the award, which exemplifies a commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.

Lang had a full-time starting role for the first time in his three-year career and persevered with a heavy heart the second half of last season. His father, Tom, was afflicted with lung cancer before he died Jan. 5, shortly after the regular season ended, at age 55.

Lang buried his father Jan. 9, the same day then-offensive coordinator Joe Philbin learned his 21-year-old son, Michael, drowned in an icy river in Oshkosh, Wis. The Packers were getting ready to play the Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs Jan. 15, a game top-seeded Green Bay lost 37-20.

"I think whenever you have tragedies like this, we've always been a very close group of guys," Lang said after he rejoined the team Jan. 11. "You count on these guys to be there for you when you're going through a tough time. I think it only strengthens us as a team."

--Packers receiver Donald Driver is taking the reality TV show "Dancing with the Stars" by storm.

Driver and his professional dance partner, Peta Murgatroyd, received the highest score in the most recent competition April 9 with 27 out of a possible 30 points from the three judges. They performed a paso doble to Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze."

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted the next day, "Unreal dance last night buddy. Keep it rollin. #DWTSchamp".

The charismatic Driver also has struck up a good-natured rivalry with fellow celebrity dancer Maria Menounos. The actress/journalist/professional wrestler, a self-professed New England Patriots fan, "punked" Driver by filling his TV studio trailer in Southern California with Patriots paraphernalia.

"@mariamenounos has started a war on #DWTS," Driver tweeted. "Packer Nation what should we do to her."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is a big year for us. For the way we're designed - we're a draft-and-develop program - this is a big offseason for us." - Head coach Mike McCarthy, on the team's offseason workout program that begins April 16.


After missing on trying to bring free-agent defensive end Dave Tollefson back to Green Bay following a five-year separation, general manager Ted Thompson figures to wait until the April 26-28 draft to augment the roster.

The Packers have been inactive in free agency since Thompson made a rare splash in late March by signing former Indianapolis Colts All-Pro center Jeff Saturday and defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir.

Tollefson, who contributed to two Super Bowl winners with the New York Giants, spurned a chance to return to the Packers by signing a two-year deal with the Oakland Raiders during Easter weekend. Tollefson, a seventh-round draft pick by Green Bay in 2006, had visited the Packers.


1. Safety: Green Bay may have to move forward for good without Nick Collins. The three-time Pro Bowl free safety underwent more tests the last week of March before doctors were expected to give a final verdict on whether Collins could try to play again after suffering a severe neck injury last September.

2. Defensive end/outside linebacker: In the wake of having the league's worst-ranked defense last season, it was going to be imperative the Packers upgraded their paltry pass rush and give left-side linebacker Clay Matthews some help. With Mike Neal suspended the first four games of next season for a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, the team gained some security at defensive end by signing Anthony Hargrove as a free agent.

3. Running back: The Packers haven't ruled out bringing back veteran Ryan Grant, an unrestricted free agent. What they have for now at the halfback position is uncertainty with injury-prone James Starks and fellow young prospects Alex Green (returning from ACL injury) and Brandon Saine.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


--RB Ryan Grant has rushed for a meager total of 604 yards the last two injury-marred seasons and is 29. Yet, Packers haven't ruled out bringing him back to remain the veteran presence in a stable of young backs.
--DL Howard Green takes up a lot of space with his roughly 350-pound frame but wasn't much of a factor as a role player in his first full season with Green Bay. The well-traveled 33-year-old could be moving on again.
--LB Erik Walden wasn't the playmaker the Packers need to complement left-side standout Clay Matthews and lost his starting job on the right side late in the season. The team still may re-sign him.




--CB Jarrett Bush: UFA; $5.25M/3 yrs, $1M SB.
--TE Jermichael Finley: UFA; $14M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$7M RB.


--DE Anthony Hargrove: UFA Seahawks; terms unknown.
--DT Daniel Muir: FA; terms unknown.
--C Jeff Saturday: UFA Colts; $7.75M/2 yrs.


--QB Matt Flynn: UFA Seahawks; $19.5M/3 yrs, $6M SB/$10M guaranteed.
--CB Pat Lee: UFA Raiders; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--C Scott Wells: UFA Rams; $24M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$13M guaranteed.

Minnesota Vikings

Sorry story ends with departure of Johnson

The book on one of Rick Spielman's worst draft picks in Minnesota closed quietly recently when safety Tyrell Johnson signed with Miami as an unrestricted free agent.

The Vikings made no effort to re-sign Johnson, who was a major disappointment considering how highly he was touted by the Vikings coming out of college in 2008.

Spielman, who was director of player personnel at the time, was overseeing his second draft in Minnesota. He thought highly enough of Johnson that he traded a fourth-round pick to move up four spots in the second round just to grab what he thought was a gem from little Arkansas State.

Johnson, however, never fit with the Vikings' defense or their coaches. The 43rd overall pick played in 49 games with 27 starts and recorded 136 tackles, two interceptions and 11 passes defensed in four seasons.

Not only was he unproductive, he also never stepped up to repeated attempts by the team to give him a starting job on a long-term basis. After starting 15 games for the 2009 Vikings team that reached the NFC title game, Johnson lost his job to Husain Abdullah, an undrafted player.

Last year, the team practically begged him to win a training camp competition with Jamarca Sanford, an unspectacular seventh-round draft pick in 2009. Neither player stood out, so the competition limped into the regular season.

Even though the coaching staff said the competition was ongoing, Sanford started games and Johnson was brought in for stretches during games. Johnson never responded and eventually the team gave up on prodding him to beat out Sanford.

And it wasn't like Sanford excelled and did something special to win or keep the job. Sanford isn't a playmaker, doesn't tackle very well and doesn't possess particularly good instincts.

When Abdullah went on injured reserve with his fourth concussion in two years, Johnson was forced into the starting lineup. And that's when his future with the team was sealed.

After consecutive starts, Johnson tore his hamstring off the bone and was placed on injured reserve. He's expected to be healthy in time for training camp. But the Vikings didn't care. They didn't offer him a contract, and Johnson wouldn't have signed it if they had.

Johnson is a prime example of how a blown draft pick can hurt a team for years.

In 2008, the Vikings gave up their first-round pick and two third-round picks for Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen. It was a great trade.

However, they still needed help on the back end of the defense. With the 47th pick as their first choice in the draft, they figured Johnson would be there. Then they reacted to rumors that they couldn't wait past the 43rd pick. So they packaged their fourth-rounder to move up and take Philadelphia's second-round pick. On a positive note, the Vikings also got Philly's fifth-round pick, which they used to select Letroy Guion. Guion has been a promising backup and is the front-runner to win the starting nose tackle job this year.

Johnson is 26 and heading into his fifth season. He should be a core player in the prime of his Vikings' career. Instead, he's on his way to Miami, and the Vikings are desperate for safeties. Only three are currently under contract, and one of them (Eric Frampton) is a special teamer.

The loss of the fourth-round pick in the Johnson trade also can't be downplayed.

The Vikings have notched some impressive hits in the fourth round since 2007. They selected Brian Robison, their starting left defensive end, in 2007. They got two more impressive young defensive linemen in that round in 2010 (Everson Griffen) and 2011 (Christian Ballard).

Griffen is one of the team's more exciting young players. A 6-3, 273-pounder with 4.6 speed, he's an outstanding special teamer and the team's most versatile defender. He can rush from either end position, can play inside on passing downs and is often used as a linebacker when the team goes to its 3-4 nickel package.

Add it all up and it's easy to understand why Spielman, now the team's general manager, has spent a lot of time trying to learn what exactly went wrong with the Johnson pick in 2008.


--Adrian Peterson is getting good at giving away money. The Vikings' All-Pro running back has his own "All Day Foundation" for the benefit of at-risk youth. He's also lent a hand to actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore in their fight to end human trafficking of children. And now Peterson has just given $1 million to his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma.

Peterson's donation will support the construction of Headington Hall, which is a new student housing facility, and the creation of the "Adrian Peterson Football Scholarship Endowment." In recognition of the donation, OU will change the name of the football team meeting room from "The Red Room" to "The Adrian Peterson Team Meeting Room."

"This was something that I had been thinking about doing for a long time," said Peterson, who played at OU from 2004 through 2006 and is OU's third-all-time-leading rusher. "I always hoped to be in a position to be able to donate back to the University of Oklahoma and make it an even better place; do whatever I could to help the university that did so much for me.

"It was something that I always wanted to do and there just came a time when I got established and comfortable enough to make it happen. It was a no-brainer to do it and I am thankful that I'm in a position to give back to OU and to show my appreciation."

--If nothing else, the Vikings seem to intent on building a pretty good ... basketball team?

A month after they signed Florida International point guard Nick Taylor as a prospective defensive back and kick returner, the Vikings reportedly were among a handful of teams that watched former Cal State-Fullerton basketball player Andre Hardy's workout.

The 25-year-old Hardy averaged 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds as a bench player last season. He didn't play football in college, but he makes up for it by being 6-5, 244 pounds and fast enough to run a 4.7 40-yard dash. Hey, when you need receivers as bad as the Vikings do, you look for them anywhere you can.

--Hard to believe how time flies. With tight end Jim Kleinsasser now retired, defensive tackle Kevin Williams is now the longest-tenured player with the team. It seems like only yesterday that the Vikings were being booed out of the state for selecting Williams ninth overall in 2003.

First of all, fans wanted Jimmy Kennedy of Penn State. Secondly, the fans were enraged that the Vikings were so disorganized that they missed their turn in the first round not once, but twice. It's a gaffe that's replayed on television every year during the draft.

Ironically, Williams turned out to be one of the team's best first-round picks in team history. He's a multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowler. And his career has towered over Kennedy's career, which never lived up to the 12th overall pick that the Rams used on him. Kennedy eventually ended up in Minnesota as one of Williams' backups from 2008-10.

--Wide receiver Percy Harvin fell to the Vikings at the No. 22 overall pick in 2009 because of character concerns that included a failed marijuana test at the Scouting Combine. But since he's been at Minnesota, his reputation has been stellar.

He's one of the toughest players on the team, playing through a variety of injuries while controlling a nearly lifelong struggle with migraines. He's an electrifying playmaker and has become a leader in the locker room. And he also has improved significantly as a team spokesman, even winning the Korey Stringer Good Guy Award for his professionalism in dealing with the media.

That's now. As for what happened at Florida, Harvin's name took a mud bath this week in a story published in the Sporting News. The article, which delved into Urban Meyer's time as coach of the Gators, painted Harvin as a player who "epitomized the climate" of entitlement for star players.

According to the article, Harvin became harder to deal with after helping the Gators to the 2006 national title.

Here's an excerpt: "During offseason conditioning before the 2007 season, the team was running stadium steps and at one point, Harvin, according to sources, sat down and refused to run. When confronted by strength and conditioning coaches, Harvin (who failed to return calls and texts to his cell phone to comment on this story) said, "This (expletive) ends now."

"The next day," a former player said, "we were playing basketball as conditioning."

The article went on to say: "It only got worse as Harvin's career progressed. At one point during the 2008 season, multiple sources confirmed that Harvin, now a prominent member of the Minnesota Vikings, physically attacked wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, grabbing him by the neck and throwing him to the ground. Harvin had to be pulled off Gonzales by two assistant coaches; but was never disciplined. When asked about the Harvin incident, Gonzales -- now offensive coordinator at Illinois -- said, "I think it's a little overblown. I mean, every great player wants his voice to be heard." Harvin didn't respond to the magazine's requests for comment.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Are you (expletive) kidding me? What kind of (N)eanderthal message does that send. ... No wonder this world's so messed up if people think that's an appropriate way to act and are willing to defend that kind of behavior. Man, I know we've seen some crazy ass speeches, but that's just unbelievable. What a jerk." - Punter and chronic tweeter Chris Kluwe during a Twitter rant after the infamous pre-game audio tapes of Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams were released to the public.


The Vikings made another quiet move to bolster depth and special teams play when they signed former Dolphins and Saints linebacker Marvin Mitchell.

However, a closer look at the depth chart makes one wonder if Mitchell might have a chance to be more than an extra linebacker and special teamer.

The Vikings need a starting middle linebacker and probably won't find one in the draft that they can count on immediately. Long-time starter E.J. Henderson isn't expected to be re-signed, and even if he is, he turns 32 in August and his body is essentially shot. Henderson's backup, Jasper Brinkley, didn't play last season because of hip surgery, so it can't be assumed that he'll just step right in and start.

Erin Henderson is an option, but moving him into the middle would then create a hole at his weak-side position.

That's where Mitchell could possibly come in. Although he's considered, at this point, nothing more than a replacement for departed special teams leader Kenny Onatolu, Mitchell, 27, has good size (6-3, 250) and a nose for the middle linebacker position.

He'll be hungry, too. A seventh-round pick of the Saints in 2007, he had only 19 tackles in limited play during his first two seasons.

In 2009, he played in 14 games with two starts as the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl. Last season, he moved on to Miami, where he had 30 tackles, a sack, an interception, two forced fumbles and a safety.


1. Wide receiver: The Vikings have Percy Harvin, an electrifying slot receiver, and virtually nothing else at receiver. Michael Jenkins, who played 11 games before a knee injury ended his 2011 season, is a potential No. 2 receiver, but the team has nothing close to a prototypical No. 1 receiver.

2. Cornerback: The team's best cornerback is Antoine Winfield, who missed 11 games in 2011 and turns 35 in June. That's alarming considering the Vikings play in the pass-happy NFC North. The other starter, Chris Cook, was found innocent of all domestic assault charges and doesn't appear to be facing a suspension. That's huge. The Vikings signed former Bear Zack Bowman, whose career has stalled since he had six interceptions in 2009. Another quality corner is still very much a priority.

3. Left tackle: Charlie Johnson was a stopgap left tackle, signed last summer when the Vikings decided they were going to release Bryant McKinnie. Johnson is better suited to play left guard, which he will do now that Steve Hutchinson was released. That clears the way for the Vikings to pick USC left tackle Matt Kalil.


--WR Percy Harvin announced on Tuesday (April 10) via Twitter that he had to postpone his shoulder surgery because of a family emergency. He didn't say when the surgery will be performed, but he's expected to be ready in time for OTAs at the end of May.



--FS Husain Abdullah could return because he's not expected to garner much interest on the open market after suffering four concussions over the past two seasons. The Vikings need to upgrade both safety positions, but have so many other needs to address. They would feel comfortable with Abdullah, who knows the defense and was making progress before ending up on injured reserve.
--LB Xavier Adibi played in just four games, mainly as a special teamer, last year. Despite holes to fill at linebacker, the team sees little to no priority in re-signing him.
--WR Greg Camarillo has already been told the team has no interest in re-signing him.
--LB E.J. Henderson is a long-time team leader that won't return. He turns 32 in August. Physically, he's beat up and does not fit the team's youth movement.
--LS Matt Katula won't be re-signed. He was brought in just to finish the season after regular long snapper Cullen Loeffler was injured.
--OL Scott Kooistra spent the season on injured reserve after fracturing a bone in his neck during the preseason.
--S Jarrad Page was a late-season stopgap signing because of injuries; he's unlikely to be brought back. Signed a minor-league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
--CB Benny Sapp at 31 he doesn't fit the team's youth movement and won't be brought back.
--TE Visanthe Shiancoe turns 32 in June and won't return.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--RB Lorenzo Booker (not tendered offer as RFA) is not a high priority as a little-used No. 3 running back and an average kickoff returner who takes some of that workload off Percy Harvin.




--WR Devin Aromashodu: UFA; $700,000/1 yr.
--OT Pat Brown: Potential ERFA; $540,000/1 yr.
--NT Fred Evans: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--DT Letroy Guion: UFA; $9M/3 yrs, $2.5M
guaranteed. --LB Erin Henderson: UFA; $2M/1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Sage Rosenfels: Potential UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.


--CB Zack Bowman: UFA Bears; $615,000/1 yr.
--TE John Carlson: UFA Seahawks; $25M/5 yrs, $11M guaranteed.
--CB Chris Carr: FA Ravens; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--FB Jerome Felton: UFA Colts; $700,000/1 yr.
--RB Lex Hilliard: Not tendered as RFA by Dolphins; $615,000/1 yr.
--LB Marvin Mitchell: UFA Dolphins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OG Geoff Schwartz: Not tendered as RFA by Panthers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Bryan Walters: FA Chargers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.


--NT Remi Ayodele (released).
--CB Cedric Griffin (released).
--OG Anthony Herrera (released).
--OG Steve Hutchinson (released).
--S Tyrell Johnson: UFA Dolphins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Jim Kleinsasser (UFA; retired).
--LB Kenny Onatolu: Not tendered offer as RFA/Panthers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

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