NFC North News

While Mike McKenzie is unhappy in Green Bay, it appears the Packers are planning to cut a different high price veteran defender.

Detroit Lions
Inside slant

--Joe Gibbs came back to coaching this spring. Bill Parcells has come out of retirement - not once, but twice - to coach in the NFL.

Even Bobby Ross, who was so burned out he left the Lions with seven games remaining in the 2000 season, got the itch and - three years later - accepted the head coaching job at Army.

But Wayne Fontes, one of the most colorful and successful coaches in Detroit Lions history, says he isn't even tempted.

"I'll never come back," Fontes said, during an appearance at the Lions' annual golf outing in suburban Detroit. "The day I left here, I think I told you guys I'm done. I'd never go back. It was hard. It was hard work."

Fontes and his wife, Evelyn, built a home near Tampa, Fla., overlooking the Gulf of Mexico shortly after Fontes was fired at the end of the 1996 season. When he's not at home, Fontes says he now spends most of his time on his 26-foot cruising boat or the golf course.

"Plus, I found out I have a family," he said. "Great kids, great grandkids. I enjoy them more now than I ever have. It amazes me that guys go back (to coaching). Don't they have a life, a life at home?

"I spend more time with my grandkids than I did with my own children growing up. That was tough. Three kids - Mike, Scott and Kim - and five grandkids. I play with my grandkids like they're my own kids. I missed that."

Although Fontes was a lightning rod for criticism because of his flamboyant style, he has the most career wins for a Lions coach. He had 67 wins (and 71 losses) in eight-plus seasons on the sidelines and has the team's all-time single-season best record.

Fontes' 1991 team finished with a 12-4 record but lost the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins.

Notes, quotes, anecdotes
-- With his Hall of Fame induction ceremonies barely two months away, former Lions running back Barry Sanders is starting to give some thought to the upcoming ceremonies in Canton.

"It's fun but at the same time it is sort of daunting when you look at the guys that are in the Hall of Fame, and even some of the guys I'm going in with," Sanders said.

"Being a fan of John Elway and I'm familiar with Carl Eller, that's really when I started watching football. The first game I remember seeing was the Vikings' Super Bowl against the Raiders, so to be going into the Hall of Fame with guys like that just doesn't seem real."

Sanders, Elway, Eller and Bob Brown are scheduled to be inducted on August 8. Sanders and Elway were elected on their first year of eligibility; Eller and Brown made it after years of waiting.

Sanders, who makes few public appearances, played in the Lions annual golf outing, where he was reunited briefly with former coach Wayne Fontes.

Fontes slipped up behind Sanders and caught him in a bear hug while Sanders was talking to media members before the golfing began. Lions vice president Bill Keenist got them to pose for a photo.

"You're lookin' good," said Fontes, who drafted Sanders in 1989.

"You were always the best-lookin' guy around," Sanders replied, laughing.

"I know that I'll have to come up with something and, fortunately, my dad will set the stage for me. I know I have a lot of thank-you's and things like that." - -Barry Sanders on the speech he will make at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, following the presentation remarks by his father, William Sanders.

Strategy and personnel
The Lions are not one of the teams expecting to make June cuts to comply with salary cap limitations.

Executive vice president and chief operating officer Tom Lewand said the team has made all of the necessary moves and is well-situated with the cap as he and senior vice president Martin Mayhew begin contract talks later in June.

The Lions' only irons in the fire currently involve free agent defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield and tight end Stephen Alexander. They are talking with both players in hopes of signing them for improved depth at those positions.

Green Bay Packers
Inside slant

--Wide receiver Javon Walker finished fast last season and now has an eye on a larger goal.

"A lot of people make it to the league and they're content with that," Walker said. "I looked at it like, 'OK, I'm in the league now, now what do I want to do with it.' And that's why I went to Phoenix.

"I want to be a great player. I want to be a Pro Bowler. And that means working as hard as I can all year long."

Walker, a first-round pick in 2002, has spent almost the entire offseason working out in Phoenix under the direction of noted trainer Brett Fischer. He had minor operations on an ankle and shoulder after the season and has been working with Fischer since February.

Last year, Walker was having another ho-hum season until November. That's when he blossomed into Brett Favre's favorite deep threat.

Walker finished with an average per catch of 17.46 yards, second in the NFC behind Dallas' Joey Galloway (19.76). It was the best average by a wide receiver in Green Bay since Don Beebe (17.92) in 1996.

"The more we can make big plays, the better we can be as an offense," Walker said. "Everybody knows we have the run game, and if we have that part of it too, we're going to be real tough to stop."

Walker, Robert Ferguson and Donald Driver got most of the snaps last year and that figures to be the case again in 2004.

"Physically, he's got everything," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said, referring to Walker. "I think he has the confidence to go get it now. He did it last year, and there's no reason he won't just keep getting better. He really could be on the verge of a great year."

Notes, quotes, anecdotes
The Packers thought about trading for Drew Henson.

They thought about drafting J.P. Losman.

They tried to bring in Kerry Collins for a visit before he signed with Oakland.

They had Damon Huard in for a visit.

And they'd like to acquire Tim Couch. If the Browns would take a fifth- or sixth-round pick for Couch, the Packers probably would do the deal tomorrow. If the Browns cut Couch for salary-cap reasons, the Packers would be first in line at his doorstep.

Behind Brett Favre, the Packers acknowledge that Doug Pederson is too old. But the main reason why the Packers have been so concerted in their attempts to land another quarterback is the fact that No. 3 Craig Nall is struggling.

Nall's inadequacies were evident at the post-draft minicamp.

Offensive coordinator Tom Rossley described Nall's performance as "up and down" this offseason. He said part of the reason why Nall might be struggling is that he is working with subpar wide receivers who aren't sure of their routes.

"There have been times he looked really good," Rossley said. "Other times not as good."

"I was sitting at home contemplating quitting, but I was like, 'That's not the type of guy I am.' I've never been a quitter. I know a limited number of guys have come back from one, but two? I'm a success story. I want the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. That's what I want. Two Achilles? Come on, man." -- S Bryant Westbrook, who last August underwent surgery to repair the second torn Achilles' tendon of his career. He made these remarks at the post-draft minicamp in late April. The Packers cut him May 6.

Strategy and personnel
The Packers are expected to cut defensive end Joe Johnson shortly after June 1.

Coach Mike Sherman signed Johnson March 2002 for $33 million over six years. By cutting Johnson now the Packers would be out from under the $22 million in base salaries that he had from 2004-'07.

Johnson still would count $1.083 million against the Packers' salary cap this year and then $3.249 million in 2005.

He underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn quad in October. The Packers say he has been diligent in his rehab and hopes to resume his career. It just won't be in Green Bay.

Minnesota Vikings
Inside slant

--Five months later, the Vikings are still angry about being knocked out of the playoffs on the final play of the final game of the 2003 season.

"Yeah, it motivates us," coach Mike Tice said. "Every day, it motivates us."

The Vikings led by 11 points late in the fourth quarter of their final game at Arizona. But the Cardinals rebounded for an 18-17 victory, allowing the Packers (10-6) to move ahead of the Vikings (9-7) in the NFC North Division for the first time that season.

Now the Vikings are talking about being strong finishers. They hired a new strength and conditioning coach, Kurtis Shultz, and changed their offseason approach entirely.

"It was definitely easy to get going again because we're motivated to go to the next level, which is being world champions," QB Daunte Culpepper said. "I'm very excited about this season."

The Vikings started the 2003 season with a victory at Green Bay in the Packers' rededication of Lambeau Field. They had a 2 1/2 game lead in the division and were 6-0 before losing their first game.

But then came a 3-7 finish lowlighted by losses to all four of the NFL's four-win teams (New York Giants, San Diego, Oakland and Arizona).

"You better believe it's motivating us," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said.

Notes, quotes, anecdotes
--A lot of players gush with cliches. QB Daunte Culpepper is definitely one of them. He's also nice enough to explain them. Asked about the upcoming season, Culpepper said, "If we win each battle, and what I mean by battle is each game ..."

--It's hard to picture rookie DE Kenechi Udeze grossly overweight. He's 280 pounds and chiseled. But there was a time in high school when he weighed about 375 pounds. "I lost the weight my redshirt freshman year at USC," he said. "Then I just became sort of a health nut."

"(Marcus) Robinson is definitely a guy who is going to make a lot of plays away from Randy (Moss). He's going to take some of the attention off of Randy, and that excites me because Robinson is fast, catches the deep ball well and is taller than other guys we've had over there." -- QB Daunte Culpepper, referring to new No. 2 WR Marcus Robinson, signed as a free agent from Baltimore.

Strategy and personnel
The Vikings are expected to use new TE Jermaine Wiggins in a pass-catching role similar to the one Byron Chamberlain played en route to the Pro Bowl in 2001. But don't be surprised if burly TE Jim Kleinsasser continues to grow as a receiver.

Despite battling plantar faciitis early last season, Kleinsasser still posted career highs in receptions (46), receiving yards (401) and touchdown receptions (four).

"I think we're going to see if Jimmy can go down the middle," coach Mike Tice said. "I think everybody assumes he can't. But we've never really tried it."

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