NFC North Division issues

The Green Bay Packers opened training camp over the weekend while the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings get set to follow this week. Here's the latest news and notes from the NFC North Division.

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Detroit Lions

Elliss injury hurts

This is a problem the Detroit Lions didn't need.

The injury to defensive tackle Luther Elliss is worse than originally feared. Elliss tore a pectoral muscle during off-season workouts in late June. The Lions are taking a cautious approach and hope that the muscle will heal with rest, but with Elliss' dicey health history, who's going to bet on that?

Add to the equation the fact that Detroit didn't address the position in the NFL draft. Now, what was once considered a strength is fast becoming one of the weakest positions on the team.

In order to address the matter, veteran Robert Porcher may be moved inside to the tackle position he played in college at South Carolina State. Porcher played briefly at the tackle before making his mark as a pass-rushing end under coach Wayne Fontes.

If Detroit does this, it would pave the way for Kalimba Edwards , a rising star, to take over the end position next to Porcher. Edwards has a knack for getting to the passer and appears ready to take the next step to the reach the double-digit sack total of premier sack men.

The Lions are counting on third-year man Shaun Rogers. Rogers had a strong rookie season, dominating opposing offensive lines. But last year he slumped badly while gaining excess weight that slowed his productivity.

Kelvin Pritchett is a good situational player, but entering his 11th year in the league, he isn't an every down player adding to Detroit's need for depth.

Rookie Corey Redding of Texas could help solve the puzzle by turning in a great preseason and making himself the starter at the right end making a move of Porcher to the inside more plausible. Detroit would then have Redding, Edwards and holdover James Hall at the ends providing rush with Porcher working in tandem with Rogers.

Two more picks sign

The Lions announced Monday that they have signed two more of their 2003 NFL Draft picks, RB Artose Pinner and T Ben Johnson, each to three-year deals. Additional terms of their contracts were not disclosed. The team also released undrafted rookie free agent DB Chris Kern.

Large donation

Quarterback Joey Harrington's first major venture into fundraising for The Harrington Family Foundation was worth $30,375 to the Shriners Hospital of Portland, Ore.

Harrington announced he would present the check to the Shriners Hospital after a sold-out concert featuring members of Blues Traveler at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. A crowd of more than 1,500 attended.

The Harrington Family Foundation was launched by Harrington shortly after his rookie season. It's goal is to provide quality education and proper health care in a safe nurturing environment for the children of needy families in the Portland area.

Minnesota Vikings

Bennett has surgery

The Vikings are left in a month-long holding pattern to learn if Michael Bennett's foot procedure will keep him out half or all of 2003.

Viking Update was told by a source close to the Bennett situation that his recent surgery in Charlotte, N.C., was "a success." Doctors took bone marrow from Bennett's hip and inserted it into his ailing foot.

Bennett's procedure is viewed as an option only because the other option was another surgery and a guaranteed loss of all of '03. If the procedure works, Bennett may be back by mid- to late-October at the earliest.

The Vikes are prepared to move on as if Bennett will be lost for the year.

Bennett's foot will be immobilized in a cast for a month. When the cast comes off, rehab will begin. If no significant improvement is seen, he will have a second surgery ASAP to start the final healing process and have him ready for minicamp 2004.

Receiver signs

The Vikings have agreed to terms with wide receiver Keenan Howry, their seventh-round draft pick.

At Oregon he was a four-year starter, a two-time Biletnikoff Award nominee and a two-time All-Pac-10 first-team selection for the Ducks. He finished his career with 173 receptions for 2,698 yards (15.6 avg.) and 24 TDs and also returned 104 punts for 1,221 yards (11.7 avg.) and 4 TDs.

Stadium issue resurfaces

While many in the media have laughed off an attempt by Anoka County -- located well north of downtown Minneapolis -- in its attempt to be the site for a new football stadium, they are taking it serious. Very serious. Anoka County wants to build the Vikings a new stadium out of the Twin Cities metro area.

While not dismissed as an option, the site for the new stadium would be 20 miles north of the current Metrodome location on sprawling land with one major traffic outlet -- Hwy. 35.

Anoka County officials are serious enough that they have sent representatives to Arizona to see the process of building a stadium and the effect on the local infrastructure.

While many still see Anoka County as a pipe dream for a stadium, at least someone is showing the Vikings some love. It's about time.

Green Bay Packers

Top pick makes camp debut

What a difference a day makes. Packers first-round draft pick Nick Barnett sat in his vehicle Saturday, watching his team practice from across the street. Sunday, Barnett was finally on the other side of the fence as the recently-signed linebacker took the training camp field for the first time.

After inking a seven-year deal Saturday night, Barnett practiced with the rookies and other first year players Sunday as they wrapped their weekend debut. Barnett has been in town for more than a week and missed only the rookie reporting day and Saturday's session.

"Football is my love," Barnett said. "She left me for a day, so I had to stalk her a little."

Once on the field, Barnett made an impact in two 75-minute sessions. He drew cheers from the crowd of about 350 by batting down a Craig Nall pass intended for tight end Joey Knapp in 7-on-7 drills.

"Being on the field, it's sort of natural as a football player," Barnett said. "It's just getting the scheme down and playing. I was just happy to be out here."

If he's rusty, it didn't show. Barnett has been diligently doing his homework, studying a computerized playbook and watching film of practices he missed. Barnett was unable to participate in the second mini-camp due to NFL rules prohibiting rookies from practicing when their colleges are still in session.

"I'm excited to see what he can do," head coach Sherman said after the morning practice Sunday. "I think I know what he can do, that's why he's here, but I don't think the fact that he missed the last mini-camp will have any factor on him. He's studying and he'll get caught up fairly quickly."

Backup QB battle begins

Craig Nall, back from his NFL Europe stint, made his 2003 Packer practice debut. A hopeful Akili Smith acknowledged the GB playbook is still a mystery. Eric Crouch worked to erase his "long shot" status. So begins the battle to back up Brett at training camp in Green Bay Saturday.

Smith, 27, is looking for a fresh start after a disappointing four-year stint in Cincinnati. The Bengals cut their former first-round draft pick last month. "To be quite honest, I'm here fighting for my life," Smith said. "I still have to make the team. Me and my family and my agent understand that. I have to get ready to play football."

Smith told reporters that he has been studying the Packers playbook for a month and feels like he still a lot to learn.

Packer coach Mike Sherman is willing to give Smith a shot.

"We're going to see if we can do something with his career that hasn't been done at this level and take our shot," Sherman said.

Craig Nall walked onto the field feeling like a rising star. The 2002 fifth-round draft pick coming off an NFLEL season where he emerged as the league's top quarterback.

"A roster spot is not guaranteed," Nall said. " I could come out and just play the worst ball I've ever played during camp and really lose confidence pretty quick. But I don't see that happening."

Nall stressed that he has to improve on the preseason performance he turned in as a rookie last year.

"I have to be better than that this year," Nall said.

Smith, Nall and Crouch all participated in drills Saturday. Favre and top backup Doug Pederson will join the QB hopefuls at practice Tuesday, when full-squad workouts begin.

"We're going to have to make a decision in camp between Akili and Nall at some point and also Doug," Sherman said.

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