NFC North News

The Packers honor one of their own, while the Detroit Lions believe they have a running back that could emerge as the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Detroit Lions
All Kevin Jones has to do is live up to expectations and the Lions will be happy.

Although Jones wasn't the first running back taken in the draft last April -- Steven Jackson of Oregon State and Chris Perry of Michigan both went ahead of him -- he already has surfaced as a top candidate for offensive rookie of the year.

That might be because it is obvious the Lions (32nd in the NFL in rushing last year) are in dire need of a running game, and he will get every opportunity to carry the football.

It might be because of the impressive numbers Jones posted at Virginia Tech -- 1,647 yards and 21 touchdowns in his final season as well as a career average of 5.6 yards per carry.

Or it might be because Jones isn't afraid of hard work, as Lions president Matt Millen and coach Steve Mariucci discovered soon after Jones began offseason workouts at the team's training facility in Allen Park, Mich.

"Our program is different than the one he's been on, so our weight program is going to take some getting used to," Mariucci said. "But he does have that work ethic, that drive. He knows how to work until he's exhausted."

With the departure of James Stewart, the Lions have no veteran incumbent at the running back position. Jones is the favorite to win the starting job against second-year back Artose Pinner although Mariucci has indicated he might use both backs in a rotating system that worked for him at San Francisco.

News & Notes
--The average age of the Lions offensive line will drop significantly with the retirement of guard Ray Brown. Brown, who became one of the team's most popular players and strongest leaders in the two years he played in Detroit, played 18 NFL seasons and celebrated his 41st birthday late in the 2003 season.

Damien Woody, signed as an unrestricted free agent, is expected to replace Brown at right guard. Woody, a six-year veteran, is 26.

--The Lions' 10-victory total over the last three years (2-14 in 2001, 3-13 in 2002 and 5-11 last year) is the team's worst since the 1947-48-49 teams won only nine games. The Lions were 3-9, 2-10 and 4-8 in those three seasons.

--Dre' Bly is the Lions' first Pro Bowl cornerback since 1977. Lem Barney, an eventual Hall of Famer, played in seven Pro Bowls in the early and mid-1970s.

Barney's final Pro Bowl was in 1977, and the Lions didn't have another Pro Bowler at that position until Bly made it after the 2003 season, in which he had six interceptions.

"I remember when I was younger, I was in the living room and I would make cuts between the couches." -- Rookie running back Kevin Jones on the training regime established for him as a youngster by his father, Thomas Jones.

Green Bay Packers
Bob Harlan, perhaps the most revered man in Packerland, was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame.

Harlan, 67, was the lone enshrinee this year and the 131st since the hall was created in 1970. For the first time, a sitting NFL commissioner will be at the induction dinner, in the person of Paul Tagliabue.

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Harlan joined the Packers as a contract negotiator under Dan Devine in 1971. He replaced Robert Parins as president in 1989 at a point when the franchise was at low ebb.

Within two years, Harlan fired personnel director Tom Braatz, hired GM Ron Wolf and then stood back and encouraged Wolf when he came to him with the ideas of hiring Mike Holmgren as coach and trading for Brett Favre.

Harlan remains down to earth and prefers remaining out of the limelight. He continues to answer his own telephone and likes to surprise groups touring renovated Lambeau Field by making himself available to them.

It was Harlan who went door-to-door for votes in 2000 when a referendum asking Brown County voters to support a sales-tax referendum to fund the $295 million renovation passed by a mere 52-48 margin.

The Packers have posted a record of 126-66 in the last 12 regular seasons, best in the NFL during that span. That success flew in the face of the conventional wisdom that a small-market franchise such as Green Bay would flounder with the advent of unfettered free agency in 1993.

"The last time the Packers had a streak like this was 1934 to 1947," Harlan said. "That's remarkable. In an era when we were supposed to fall, we stayed strong."

The renovation of Lambeau has drawn raves from club officials around the league. The Chiefs are using Lambeau as a model for their proposed renovation of Arrowhead Stadium. Representatives of the New York Giants visited Green Bay recently. Officials from the Rose Bowl were in town in early July.

"He's done it with great ability, great dignity and classiness," Chiefs president Carl Peterson said.

News & Notes
--Kenny Peterson, a third-round pick in 2003, didn't do much as a rookie and now must play to expectations.

Peterson might be strictly a three-technique tackle and an undersized one at that (6-3, 295).

"He's the smallest of the group, so his game is probably more finesse," director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie said. "But this year he has a better understanding. He's trying to use his hands and plays smarter, not just letting guys get into his body."

--The Packers' trade of defensive end Jamal Reynolds to Indianapolis for a late-round draft choice was voided when the Colts didn't like the looks of his back or left knee and failed him on their physical.

Green Bay then promptly cut him.

Reynolds, the 10th player picked in the 2001 draft, had three sacks in three seasons. He played 147 snaps in eight games as a rookie, 132 in eight games in 2002 and 111 in six games in '03.

He wasn't an instinctive player and sometimes didn't know how to play the defense. He couldn't win with speed, power or persistence and wasn't strong enough to play the run.

"He has hand quickness. I think he's an athlete. He has power. I think he can play three positions." -- Director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie on rookie DL Corey Williams.

Minnesota Vikings
For a team that is counting heavily on this year's rookie class, the Vikings are amazingly calm considering only one of their rookies is signed and the other seven aren't expected to sign until right before training camp starts July 30.

Rob Brzezinski, the team's vice president of football operations, said he doesn't expect any holdouts. He said negotiations so far have gone according to the usual schedule.

Two years ago, the Vikings' first-round draft pick, Bryant McKinnie, missed eight games because of a holdout. Last year, the only holdout was fourth-round pick Onterrio Smith, and he missed only a few practices.

Kevin Williams, last year's No. 1 pick, signed early and was in camp on time. He went on to have an excellent season with 10.5 sacks, including three in the season finale at Arizona.

This year, the Vikings are counting on 20th-overall pick Kenechi Udeze to start at right end and cure their weak outside pass rush. They also foresee second-round pick Dontarrious Thomas seriously competing with smallish second-year pro Mike Nattiel for the starting weak-side linebacker job.

Third-round pick Darrion Scott is expected to provide key depth at left end and tackle.

Nat Dorsey, the first of two fourth-round picks, is a huge left tackle from Georgia Tech. He will back up McKinnie.

Mewelde Moore, the second fourth-round pick, is the only rookie to sign so far. The running back from Tulane will return kicks and work as the heir apparent to Moe Williams as a third-down back.

Fifth-round pick Rod Davis and sixth-round pick Deandre' Eiland are needed for depth. Davis, a linebacker from Southern Mississippi, can play in the middle or the strong side. Eiland, a cornerback from South Carolina, is important because the cornerback position was weakened when Denard Walker and Eric Kelly forced the Vikings to release them.

Even seventh-round pick Jeff Dugan, a blocking tight end from Maryland, might make the team. There is no experienced depth behind the Vikings' top two tight ends, Jim Kleinsasser and Jermaine Wiggins.

News & Notes
--TE Jim Kleinsasser already has the fourth-highest total of catches by a tight end (123) in team history. He needs 43 to move past Joe Senser (165). The top two are Steve Jordan (498) and Stu Voigt (177).

--On paper, the Vikings look thin on the offensive line behind the five starters and versatile backup Lewis Kelly. Coach Mike Tice, a former offensive line coach, begs to differ. He loves practice squad players Adam Haayer and Adam Goldberg and said rookie Nat Dorsey has a lot of promise. "I love our offensive line," Tice said. "Everyone is saying we don't have any depth. I don't know that anyone that's writing that has ever coached the line before."

--The Vikings haven't participated in a playoff game since the 2000 NFC Championship game. But that didn't stop CB Antoine Winfield from believing his best chance to reach the playoffs was leaving Buffalo for Minneapolis this offseason. "The Vikings were one play from the playoffs last year," said Winfield, referring to the last-second loss in the season finale at Arizona. "I haven't been to the playoffs since my rookie season. I want to get back to that and hopefully get to the Super Bowl."

"Even if you're fast, you can't play fast unless you know what the hell you're doing." -- Head coach Mike Tice, talking about the importance of his young linebackers learning the defense.

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