NFC North News

The Packers are still looking to find Brett Favre's heir apparent, while the Lions are also considering quarterback options in the free agent market.

Information compiled from Packerreport.com, lionsfans.com and Vikingupdate.com

Green Bay Packers
The allegedly planned rendezvous between the Packers and the recently-cut Giant QB has pushed Green Bay's window shopping into the realm of the ridiculous.

An injury-prone QB with a troubled past who is just three years younger than Brett Favre – what's not to like? The visit was cancelled, reportedly by Collins. The 31-year-old QB has been looking for a home ever since he was cut by the Giants who didn't want to pay him $7 million now that they've got draft darling Eli Manning.

The Collins rumor is the latest, and most curious, foray into the quarterback market for the Packers.

Doug Pederson has already had his shot as a starter and frankly is a better backup. Third stringer Craig Nall is an unknown commodity and a long-shot to be more than a backup but the Packers still have time before they have to a decision.

Another QB linked with the Packers is free agent Damon Huard, a perennial backup to Tom Brady with the two-time champion New England Patriots. With only six NFL starts, Huard lacks experience but at 31 doesn't have youth as an excuse. The advantage Huard would offer the Packers is as much as mystery as his potential as a starting QB.

On the flip side of the age and experience coin is Tim Couch, the subject of much speculation and negotiation with the team this off-season. Couch, 26, is a mere youngster, yet probably has a few gray hairs already after shouldering the leadership burden before he or his often floundering Cleveland Browns were ready.

A lot of talk has accomplished little between Green Bay and Couch, who is still under contract with the Browns to the tune of two years and $15.6 million. Cleveland wants more in a trade than Green Bay is willing to give. Even if the Browns release Couch outright after the June 1 deadline, Couch's asking price will be high.

Strategy and Personnel
With Mike McKenzie's return to the Packers uncertain, the door of opportunity is wide open for second-year pro Chris Johnson. But whether Johnson can get back up to his blazing speed after suffering a season-ending injury last season in training camp is one of the big questions the Packers face as the team prepares for its 2004 training camp.

Johnson showed off his speed during camp last season and quickly became a legitimate backup. But he collided with wide receiver Donald Driver during a practice last August and missed the team's final two preseason games.

At the time, team doctors felt Johnson suffered a badly bruised right knee, but it turned out to be a torn patella tendon and he was placed on injured reserve.

Johnson underwent surgery on his knee last fall. He began running on it in mid-March and feels that it is about 95 percent recovered. He did not participate in Green Bay's post-draft mini-camp and probably will sit out of the upcoming June mini-camp.

Johnson says that he should be 100 percent when training camp opens.

"I have a little pain left, but I haven't run on my knee since August," Johnson said. "When you put something in the closet for a long time, and when you pull it out in the first couple of weeks, it's not going to work the same way it worked before. That's why I'm doing all the rehab and lifting and everything. Probably in about two more weeks, I'll be back to 100 percent."

Johnson has remained in Green Bay this off-season to participate in the team's 14-week workout program.

Johnson ran a 40-yard dash of 4.18 seconds during an individual workout last spring at the University of Louisville. It was uncertain at the time of his injury on if Johnson would be able to make a complete recovery, but the second-year pro will quickly tell you that's not the case.

"I have no doubt that I won't get back because I know I will," Johnson said.

Johnson's main competition for the top nickel and dime positionwill be top draft picks Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas, and Bhawoh Jue.

Michael Hawthorne started in McKenzie's spot during the team's post-draft mini-camp. Johnson climbed to second on the depth chart behind McKenzie last year during training camp, then was injured.

Minnesota Vikings
In Mike Tice's first year at the helm of the Vikings ship, the offensive line he built and tutored for years led the offense to the No. 1 rushing attack in the league. In Tice's second full season as head coach, the Vikings had the No. 1 offense overall in the NFL.

But what about the defensive line? It may have taken awhile, but the Vikings are hopeful they finally have the pieces in place to boast about strong lines on both sides of the ball.

"You win more games on the road if you've got a good defensive front and a good offensive line," Tice said last month. "You can run the ball on the road, and if you can get to the passer on the road and stop the run, you'll be better off on the road.

"We're going to win more games on the road with a better defensive front and better linebacker corps. Those guys will make our corners and safeties better too."

The process on the offensive front was pretty well completed with the drafting of Bryant McKinnie in 2002 and the free-agent acquisition of Mike Rosenthal in 2003. McKinnie has proved to be worthy of his first-round selection, and Rosenthal was serviceable last year and looking for bigger — literally, after his offseason workouts — things in 2004.

On the defensive side, the Vikings have tried to get better mainly through the draft for years. From reaches like Derrick Alexander over Warren Sapp (1995) to all-out busts like Dimitrius Underwood (1999), the track record wasn't good in the middle and late 1990s. However, after selecting Chris Hovan in 2000, Kevin Williams in 2003 and Kenechi Udeze in 2004, the Vikings hope to have three emerging first-round stars come forward all at once this fall.

The team's attempts to rebuild the defensive front this spring didn't end with the first round. Third-round pick Darrion Scott is a player the Vikings hope — and think — will make an immediate impact as well.

"Darrion Scott is a base end and he can play inside. … I think Darrion Scott is a starting-quality player," Tice said. "He's a big sucker too, and he's mean."

Said pro personnel director Paul Wiggin about Scott: "He's not a jerk, he's just all business once he gets on the field."

The Vikings were able to move down six spots in the third round and still get Scott, even though indications are that they had him rated as the third-best defensive end in the draft — maybe ranked as high as the 33rd player overall.

While other teams focused on positions of need and might have shied away from Scott because of concerns about his shoulder, the Vikings waited until the 25th pick in the third round to finally select him while filling a more immediate pass-rushing need with Udeze in the first round. It was a turn of events that had director of college scouting Scott Studwell pleasantly surprised.

"It was a receiver-rich draft that kind of set the tone for the whole first day. After the first five or six went, everybody was just grabbing for receivers, and it was a talented group of receivers," Studwell said. "Were we surprised? Yeah. Were we pleasantly surprised? Absolutely."

One Vikings source said the team is more concerned with Scott's history of shoulder problems than it is with Udeze's one-time injury, but either way the Vikings have assembled a cast of high-round talent on the defensive line.

Startegy and Personnel
RB Michael Bennett was looking a sleek 205 at mini-camp. He was showing absolutely no signs of the broken foot that cost him the first seven games last season, Bennett was making cuts and kicking into faster gears as well as he ever has.

"I haven't lost a step," Bennett said. "In fact, I think I've gained two or three steps since last year."

After rushing for 447 yards on only 90 carries last season, Bennett thinks he has returned to his 2002 Pro Bowl form when he ran for 1,296 yards and a 5.1-yard average.

"Bennett looks fantastic," coach Mike Tice said. "I almost caught myself just now saying he looks as good as Robert Smith in his prime. But I don't want to go there yet because Robert was a heck of a player. Michael is going to have a special year."

Detroit Lions
After a non-descript rookie season (10 carries for 27 yards), the Detroit Lions allocated undrafted free agent signee Avon Cobourne to the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe. Cobourne has responded to the challenge in an unexpectedly spectacular fashion - becoming the NFLE's leading rusher, collecting 401 yards on 88 carries while adding 19 catches for 188 receiving yards to date.

However, Europe has not been a proving ground for NFL backs. Last year's rushing champion, Ken Simonton of Oregon, property of the Buffalo Bills, could not crack the Buffalo lineup, getting just two carries for four yards in a Bills' uniform. Instead, the Bills drafted injured Miami running back Willis McGahee in the first round. McGahee, coming off torn ACL and PCL ligaments, sat out the season, but basically, so did Simonton.

The league's second leading rusher, Autry Denson was assigned to Europe by the Detroit. He was beat out by Cobourne in Detroit's 2003 training camp. Still, Cobourne's performance, combined with his making the Detroit roster a season ago, has to at least raise the question if he could possibily be in the mix for a roster spot and/or playing time when the Lions start training camp this summer.

The problem for Cobourne is his eyebrow-raising performance probably came a year too late. Detroit spent second, fourth and next year's fifth round pick to trade back into the first round to nab Virginia Tech standout Kevin Jones.

In Detroit's last mini camp, Jones showed speed to the corner, strength up the middle and a second gear to get into the secondary. Detroit also returns last year's fourth round pick Artose Pinner of Kentucky. Pinner missed most of 2003 as he struggled to recover from a broken foot and an torn ligament, but got into the last three contests and rushed for 99 yards on 39 carries.

That likely leaves Cobourne with one chance to make it as a part of the three back rotation. He must unseat last year's starter Shawn Bryson, a five-year veteran who rushed for 606 yards on 158 carries. Bryson looked strong and fast in last month's mini camp - like a starter intent on taking on all challenges, including Jones, Pinner and Cobourne.

The wild card in all of this of course is Cobourne's ability to return kicks and punts. Last year, Eddie Drummond who was the Lions main kick returner, missed a large part of the season due to injury. The second time in two years that Drummond missed part of the season due to injury.

If Cobourne can show the ability to return kicks and punts effectively, he has a shot to stick with Detroit on special teams. If not, Detroit may try to deal him for a future draft pick or watch a talented player slip away with nothing in return.

Strategy and Personnel
The latest rumors coming out of Detroit were given life by respected NFL columnists.

ESPN's Len Pasquarelli and Fox Sports columnist John Czarnecki added fuel to the fire for a couple of different scenarios coming to fruition in Motown. Pasquarelli had the Lions adding former Chargers tight end Stephen Alexander within a few days, while Czarnecki wondered if Warner would be better off in Detroit.

What is the truth? It doesn't appear that the Lions want or are going to get a visit from Warner, who is expected to be released sometime after June 1 from the St. Louis Roster.

The two time league MVP appears headed to New York where he will start initially, ahead of number one overall pick Eli Manning, who will eventually take over the reigns in Gotham City, maybe even this season.

Warner, who would be a better fit in Detroit than Kerry Collins would disrupt Detroit's harmonious locker room.

Also, if he doesn't sign with New York, which appears likely, Tennessee and Green Bay are also possibilities for the former Arena league star.

Any reserve quarterback coming to Detroit would likely be the last straw for Mike McMahon, who is already upset that he isn't going to get to go mano-a-mano with incumbent Joey Harrington who isn't setting the world on fire. Unless Detroit is convinced that McMahon is out of here at the end of the 2004 season, there's no way they'd consider bringing in Warner.

In fact, Detroit would have to figure that Harrington is also 'kaput' to bring in a player who doesn't have years to wait sitting on the bench behind a developing young QB.

On the other hand, Alexander's presence makes sense. Detroit needs an experienced productive tight end. They missed out on Ben Watson, grabbed by the Patriots at the end of round one of the last month's NFL draft.

With only undrafted free agent Casey FitzSimmons, who grabbed the starting position away from the returning, oft-injured Mikhael Ricks in their lineup, Detroit needs a beefy tight end who can run, block and catch the football.


Bear Report Top Stories