NFC North News

The rest of the division is considering potential roster moves as the June 1st cap casualties are around the corner.

DETROIT LIONS
The Lions have settled -- temporarily, at least -- the question of who's going to play left guard on the offensive line.

"Right now, it's Matt Joyce," coach Steve Mariucci said.

That might still change before the start of the NFL season Sept. 12 but it's the best solution the Lions could find after losing two starters from last year's team - Ray Brown to retirement and Eric Beverly to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency.

They filled one of the holes by signing Damien Woody, who earned a Pro Bowl start at the center position at New England but also has extensive experience playing guard.

It was assumed Woody to be slotted at left guard - between tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola - but Mariucci and offensive line coach Pat Morris had Woody playing at right guard in the Lions' recent training camp. And Joyce surfaced as the best bet on the left side.

"He started the last four games last year when Beverly got hurt," Mariucci said. "He'll be competing with David Loverne and whoever else."

Loverne, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent, started 11 games with Washington in 2002 but was no better than the fifth guard last season at St. Louis. He is viewed as a backup to both guard positions more than as a starter at either.

The Lions guard positions are an important part of Mariucci's plan to improve the running game in 2004. He flirted with the possibility of trading with the Dallas Cowboys for guard Larry Allen but came away with the feeling Allen will land in Oakland, if the Cowboys actually let him go.

The only other possibility of landing another experienced guard will be to wait for the June 1 cuts and see if another player surfaces.

"I sense that we'll be potentially adding to this team between now and training camp," Mariucci said.

Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes
--Whether he likes it or not -- and it's obvious he doesn't -- Mike McMahon's role as the Lions backup quarterback is not likely to change in the near future.

"I think when I first came in here, he wanted to compete for the job even-up," coach Steve Mariucci said. "That's what his hope was, that he'd have an equal chance to compete.

"But I think that has sort of sorted itself out. Joey (Harrington) is our starter and Mike's our backup, even though I think he feels he would like to start, wants to start and should start."

Mariucci said he expects to discuss the situation with McMahon but even with Harrington's limited success in his first two seasons, he appears to be in little danger of losing the starting job.

Although Lions coaches love McMahon's athletic ability and his attitude, he completed only 9 of 31 passes in two games last year and has completed only 42.3 percent of his passes in three seasons.

Despite his lack of accuracy throwing the football, both Mariucci and president Matt Millen wanted to keep McMahon for at least another season as a backup to let him develop his skills.

Although the Cleveland Browns reportedly made inquiries about acquiring him, nothing developed and McMahon had little choice, as a restricted free agent, but to re-sign with the Lions.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"I heard Roy telling somebody ... `I run, I come back and I run, I come back and I run; they give me a play off and then I come back and I run.'" -- Quarterback Joey Harrington on how the Lions' rookies, including wide receiver Roy Williams, got a taste of life in the NFL during the recent minicamp.

Stragety and Personnel
Lions president Matt Millen is keeping an eye on the free agent market but it appears the Lions have done most of their offseason shopping.

The one area that is still a concern is offensive guard where they lost two - Eric Beverly to the Atlanta Falcons and Ray Brown to retirement - but signed only one starter - Damien Woody.

It is likely the Lions will wait until the June 1 cuts to see if they can find a reasonably-priced guard; otherwise the left guard job probably will go to utilityman Matt Joyce, who filled the position in minicamp.

Although there have been suggestions the Lions consider going after a veteran quarterback as the backup to Joey Harrington, it is not likely they will. They believe Harrington - given the additional offensive weapons he'll have this year - is on course to become a solid NFL quarterback.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
Just when it seemed time to say good-bye to defensive end Jamal Reynolds, the Packers' colossal draft bust might be ready to take a stand.

The Packers didn't like the group of pass-rushing defensive ends in the draft and elected not to select one.

They would like to sign Jacksonville veteran Tony Brackens but only at their cut-rate price. The only way the one-time Pro Bowl player winds up in Green Bay would be if it's July or August and he's out of other options.

Who is going to play the end opposite Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on passing downs?

Don't look now but it still might be Reynolds.

"If it's best for him to go somewhere else we're going to consider that," director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie said. "But we're going to consider keeping him, too."

Since being drafted with the 10th pick in the 2001 draft Reynolds has been active for 22 of 53 games, or 42 percent. In 390 total snaps he has three sacks, six knockdowns, 6 1/2 hurries, 11 solo tackles and 1/2 tackle for loss.

Three months ago, there appeared to be no sensible reason to bring him back in 2004, the fourth year of his original five-year, $9 million contract.

Reynolds has a $217,250 roster bonus due before the start of training camp. If the Packers cut him before June 1 they would take a $633,750 cap hit this year. If they cut him after June 1 and no team claims his modest $455,000 base salary, they'd have to take a $1.3 million hit in 2005.

During a five-day post-draft minicamp, Reynolds did his best to impress people, if that's still possible. He weighed 259 pounds, five to 10 more than in recent seasons, and according to one veteran offensive linemen wasn't quite as quick to quit on plays as in the past.

"Talking about defensive linemen in minicamps is tough," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said. "But you'd still have to say he has looked as well as he has ever looked."

Former safety LeRoy Butler, who was in camp helping coach the secondary, said Reynolds looked better than any player on defense.

"Maybe it was the juice in his legs, or burst," McKenzie said. "Just the explosion that he showed coming out of college, he showed some of that. He looked pretty good."

McKenzie theorized that Reynolds, who underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in January 2002, might continue to move better the longer he is removed from the surgery.

In any event, Reynolds has forced the Packers to at least think twice if they have intended all along to say good-bye this summer.

Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes
--One, perhaps two center-guard jobs are available because Marcus Spriggs is gone and Grey Ruegamer stuck last year mainly by default.

In January, the Packers gave CFL refugee Steve Morley a $100,000 signing bonus in hopes he would be the top left-side backup at guard and tackle. Instead, the baby-faced Morley, 22, seemed in over his head.

"I want him to have some urgency and right now he doesn't have it," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "This (expletive) of totally missing a guy makes me nervous. He's got everything it takes but this isn't Sunday school class. I think when he calms down a little bit it will come for him."

Morley was outperformed by free-agent right tackle Jason Hilliard, an athletic 330-pounder who didn't even start as a senior at Louisville but blocked everything in sight over the weekend.

Beightol said Ruegamer showed more in this camp playing strictly as a center than he did playing both center and guard during his first season in Green Bay.

Scott Wells, the seventh-round pick who started four seasons at center for Tennessee, displayed balance, strength and pass-blocking fundamentals in excelling during the one-on-one pass-rush drill. In order to make the team the squatty Wells must prove he also can play guard with his short arms.

"Going to be a good player, I think," Beightol said. "He's short (6 feet 2 inches) but very athletic."

Steady progress made by second-year right tackle Brennan Curtin enabled the coaches to look at Kevin Barry at right guard for the entire camp. Barry, however, checked in at 353, down 12 from three weeks ago but up 23 from '03.

"He's a little chunky," Beightol said. "He's got to get it down."

Guard-center Mitch White isn't a bad free agent, either. This is his sixth team since entering the league as New Orleans' sixth-round pick in '01.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"There are days I dread coming to practice. After a rough game like the opening game against Minnesota last year, I was ready to pack my bags and go. Look how the season ended up. They were the ones packing. I'd love to win a Super Bowl, and I think we're capable of doing that. I'm still hanging on to see what happens." -- QB Brett Favre.

Strategy and Personnel
The Packers' plan is just to sit on cornerback Mike McKenzie. He has demanded to be traded but with three years on his contract the leverage arrow is pointing to the club.

Mike Sherman drafted cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas. He signed veteran Chris Watson. He re-signed Michael Hawthorne. Al Harris was impressive at minicamp. The medical reports on second-year man Chris Johnson are optimistic.

Recently, Brian Parker, McKenzie's Memphis-based agent, ended their relationship. McKenzie has had several agents since entering the league in 1999.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Granted, free safety Brian Russell isn't the second coming of Ronnie Lott. Or Robert Griffith in his prime.

But one has to wonder if the Vikings should have rewarded Russell a tad more handsomely for his efforts in 2003. Russell, who had no leverage whatsoever as a player with only two years of NFL experience, was given a one-year, $380,000 contract on the eve of this year's minicamp.

Russell made the minimum of $300,000 last season. He was so underpaid in relation to his productivity that the NFL's "Performance Based Pay" program supplemented his salary with a league-high $114,258.

The PBP program was added to the league's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association in 2002. It uses league revenues to supplement pay to players whose playing time and performance is disproportionate to their pay.

Russell, an undrafted college quarterback an former practice squad player who almost was cut a couple of years ago, came out of nowhere in 2003 to play in every defensive snap and tie for the NFL lead in interceptions with nine.

The Vikings wanted former third-round draft pick Willie Offord to win the free safety job. But Offord underachieved and couldn't beat out the scrappy Russell.

The Vikings seem to be leaning toward Offord again this year. They like that Offord is bigger, and they aren't happy with Russell's open-field tackling.

During an informal state-of-the-team chat after the draft, coach Mike Tice said he wasn't pleased that Russell was attending classes at San Diego State instead of participating in the team's offseason strength and conditioning program.

"We have to continue to get better at free safety," Tice said.

Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes
--WR Randy Moss will wear orthotic inserts in his shoes to ease the pain from plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

"The orthotics seem to be taking a lot of the edge off," coach Mike Tice said.

--Like a lot of teams, the Vikings have two lists of prospects when they dive into the rookie free-agent signing period immediately after the draft. There's a list of regular prospects and a list of premium prospects. West Virginia LB Grant Wiley was a definite premium prospect. A consensus All-American last season, Wiley wasn't drafted because of his lack of size and speed. But Wiley has a chance to make the team. The Vikings are thin at middle linebacker and Wiley is a polished tackler. The Vikings thought enough of him to give him a $15,000 signing bonus, high for a rookie free agent.

Strategy and Personnel
Middle linebacker Greg Biekert made his retirement official on the eve of the team's first minicamp this weekend. The 35-year-old, who played the past two seasons with the Vikings after his first nine with the Raiders, would have been a backup to second-year pro E.J. Henderson had he returned.

Biekert's effectiveness diminished last season. He was too slow to protect the short-middle part of the field in pass coverage or stop the run if the ball carrier went anywhere but right at him.

Biekert had another year left on his contract. When he hesitated initially about leaving his family behind in Oakland for yet another season, the Vikings made the decision easier by not encouraging his return and letting it be known publicly that Henderson would be the starter.

Henderson is faster, more athletic and, obviously, a lot younger. He became the team's nickel linebacker last season. But there will be some growing pains as he adjusts to becoming an every-down player.

The Vikings will have to live with those pains. Without Biekert, there are no experienced backups behind Henderson. Fifth-round draft pick Rod Davis and former practice squad player Max Yates are possibilities.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"He was one of the smartest and toughest players I have ever been associated with." -- Coach Mike Tice, who said goodbye to middle linebacker Greg Biekert, who retired after 11 seasons, the past two with the Vikings.


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