NFC North News

One of the few bright spots in the Detroit Lions 1-4 start has been rookie wide out Charles Rogers, but that story took a turn for the worse when the team's leading receiver broke his collarbone in a bye week practice.

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DETROIT LIONS
The injury to rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers, the Lions leading receiver after the first five games of the season, could be a crusher.

Rogers suffered a broken collarbone in a bye week practice session Tuesday when cornerback Dre' Bly fell on him in coverage in a one-on-one drill.

"It's one of those things that happens in practice on occasion," coach Steve Mariucci said. "Very unfortunate for him. It looks like it's going to be a matter of weeks before he's going to be able to return.

The Lions already are running the football by committee -- primarily Shawn Bryson and Olandis Gary -- and now they might have to use a little of the same system to pick up the slack for Rogers in the receiving corps.

"We're counting on the other guys obviously to become healthy and productive, and make up the slack -- Az Hakim, Scotty Anderson, Shawn Jefferson and Billy Schroeder," Mariucci said. "They've got to get it done."

Rogers, the No. 2 pick in the draft last April, has caught 22 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in his first five NFL games. His reception total is only three fewer than the other receivers -- Schroeder, Hakim, Jefferson and Anderson -- have among them.

The Lions won't know for sure how long it will be before Rogers is ready to play again.

The conventional thinking is that he will probably be gone 4-6 weeks but Lions president Matt Millen isn't taking any chances on being disappointed.

"I'll look at it as worst-case," Millen said. "I'll put a long time-frame on it and hope they give me a better time-frame. I'll look at it in my own mind as eight weeks or so."

GREEN BAY PACKERS
Undersized defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has played 82.1% of the defensive snaps in the Packers' first five games but if he is being overworked the coaching staff hasn't detected it.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell maintains that the 26-year-old Gbaja-Biamila should be able to keep up about the same pace.

"I believe so," Donatell said. "He's a well-conditioned athlete and he's playing on the edge a lot. That's the key. But we're always monitoring it to see how he's rushing at the end of games."

"KGB" has averaged 57.6 snaps per game. That's 5.6 more than he averaged in the final 12 games last season after taking over as a starter for injured Joe Johnson. Cletidus Hunt leads the defensive line in average playing time at 82.3%.

Gbaja-Biamila has two sacks, which is tied for the team lead with Nick Barnett and Darren Sharper. He also has 16 tackles, first among defensive linemen. Hunt is next with 15.

Recently, a defensive coach for another team said he was shocked at how skinny Gbaja-Biamila looked on film. He guessed that "KGB" weighed under 240 pounds.

Donatell, however, insisted that the narrow-waisted Gbaja-Biamila has weighed a pound or two on either side of 250 all season.

The Packers are able to get away with using "KGB" as a full-time player because as their "elephant" end he is lined up wide of the tackle in all but a handful of situations.

"The whole history of that position is to line up a guy with an angle where he could rush but also play the run," Donatell said. "If I took a 250-pound guy and put him on a 350-pound guy, that doesn't work. But he's not getting hit with a bunch of big bodies. A lesser athlete has to deal with him."

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Maybe the Vikings' season truly is blessed. First, there's the 5-0 record entering the bye week. Then there's three consecutive home games. Then a trip to San Diego, which is 0-5 and counting.

And then there's the real oddity: No hint of a quarterback controversy, despite the fact Gus Frerotte has been nearly flawless in 2 1/2 games of relieving starter Daunte Culpepper.

Even Frerotte, who aspires to becoming a starter again in the NFL somewhere, sounds like he means it when he says, "This is Daunte's team."

"I took over for him a little bit, and he's been able to get healthy, and we got two wins out of it," said Frerotte, who joined the Vikings this past offseason. "The great thing about it is, the guys have confidence. They know no matter what happens now, down the road, that either one of us can go in and run the offense."

Culpepper had a quarterback rating of 108.0, a completion percentage of 60.9, five touchdown passes, no interceptions and two rushing touchdowns before he fractured transverse process bones in his lower back late in the second quarter at Detroit.

Frerotte preserved that victory, joining Fran Tarkenton as the only Vikings to complete two 70-yard passes in the same game.

In his first start, Frerotte had only five incompletions, four touchdown passes and a 157.2 passer rating that was 1.1 points short of perfection.

With playing time virtually equal to Culpepper's, Frerotte has a 119.9 quarterback rating, a 59.4 completion percentage, seven touchdown passes and two interceptions.

With three consecutive games with a completion of at least 50 yards, Frerotte moved into a tie with Todd Bouman and Tommy Kramer for second place in team history. Warren Moon set the record of seven games in 1995.

Frerotte might not play another four games this season. Indications are Culpepper will be healthy enough to play against Denver on Oct. 19. No one on the team is even hinting that Frerotte will keep the starting job until he falters.

Unlike Drew Bledsoe when he lost his job with the Patriots to Tom Brady in 2001, Culpepper was playing well before his injury. Culpepper also gives the Vikings a run-pass option Frerotte doesn't.

Culpepper also hasn't thrown an interception in 69 pass attempts. But he has lost three fumbles in 2 1/2 games after losing nine fumbles in 2002.

One would think there would be at least a whiff of controversy brewing. But there's nothing so far.


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