NFC North Report

The Packers had a problem with a contract holdout a year ago and it looks like history is repeating itself in Green Bay.

The holdout of Packers wide receiver Javon Walker has caused considerable stir in Green Bay, the NFL's smallest city and a place where contract squabbles bring on intense scrutiny.

Walker, a Pro Bowl player in 2004 after a breakout season, changed agents from David Ware to Drew Rosenhaus this winter and then stayed away from last week's mini-camp. He is trying to pressure the team into reworking the final two years of his contract, which calls for base salaries of $515,000 this year and $650,000 next year.

"Obviously, right now it's a slow process," Walker said. "The team's probably going to see how far I'm going to go and I'm going to see how far they're going to go.

"But I'm a strong person. I don't need the money for them to force me back in. I'm going to stick with what I believe in. Ain't nobody going to look after me but me.

"I hope something does come around. I do love the Packers. I would love to be there for the rest of my career, with Brett (Favre) for this year and if he decides to come back for more years, and with the young quarterback that they just drafted. I've never played for a team that has like Green Bay fans. I just hope they can respect the decision that I'm making."

Walker then intimated that the way the club has treated tight end Bubba Franks played a role in his decision to boycott mini-camp in pursuit of a new deal.

The Packers designated Franks as a transition player at $2.095 million. The team has not met Franks' asking price for a long-term deal.

Walker said the time was right for him to get a new multi-year contract so he doesn't end up like Franks in two years.

"If the record would show that teams and everybody were loyal to that, then I could follow that same movement," Walker said of waiting at least another year to renegotiate. "And the person who I'm working out with every day that I see not getting a fair deal is Bubba Franks. Bubba's having a hard time getting a deal.

"And I'm not putting myself in his category. Here's a man: three-time Pro Bowler, great pass receiver in the red zone, great blocker. If I see them doing this to Bubba, will I fall into that same category?"

GM Ted Thompson said he didn't intend to get worked up about Walker. Coach Mike Sherman said he was disappointing and let it go at that.

The Packers faced a similar situation last season when cornerback Mike McKenzie held out with two years left on his deal. The Packers refused to tear up that contract and aren't expected to change their policy when it comes to Walker.

Favre was excused from mini-camp by Sherman. However, a few days later, Favre severely criticized Walker just as he ripped McKenzie last year.

"I sure hope the Packers don't give in to him," Favre said. "My job is to throw passes and be a leader. That's why I decided to speak up. I need to be a leader, and even though I may not like having to do it, I think some things needed to be said.

"Whatever happened to buying into the team concept? If Javon does what he's supposed to do, and what he is paid a lot of money to do, he's paid to go to the Pro Bowl. He wasn't complaining two years ago."

If Walker's holdout drags on, Favre said "I'd just as soon go without him. He's a great player. I think he can help us. He's likeable and easy to get along with, but I'm guessing he's getting the wrong advice, and he's buying into that.

"I just don't see much good that can come from it. If it gets time for the start of training camp and he's not in, I think it'll start bothering him, and he'll be here.

"We've got guys who'll give great effort. Stars are made that way. Look what happened when Sterling (Sharpe) left. Robert Brooks stepped up. We can win without him."

It also should be pointed out that the Packers tried to replace McKenzie after his trade to New Orleans with Michael Hawthorne and Ahmad Carroll. Their performances were abominable.

Rushing to Walker's defense was Darren Sharper, the former Packers safety who was released in March and then signed with Minnesota.

"What's going on with the mini-camps and whether or not Javon's there -- Brett wasn't at mini-camp so it really doesn't make a difference who is there," Sharper said. "He wasn't there so he shouldn't have anything to say about Javon not being there.

"Brett shouldn't have anything to say about that. I have the utmost respect for Brett and what he feels as far as guys on his team. But when it comes to contact situations, those are personal matters. Brett should not have anything to say about that. It has nothing to do with him."

Tackle Kevin Barry has impressed the coaches both with his conditioning and performance in minicamp.

At this point, Barry is backing up Mark Tauscher at right tackle. But if Barry proves that he's the team's fifth best offensive lineman, which of the two players would move to right guard?

"We would probably move 'Tausch' because 'Tausch' has more experience in there," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "Something about 'Tausch.' It doesn't matter where we put him. He's a player.

"He could certainly do that. He can probably do anything. We've played Kevin Barry in there some in the past and he's done OK. But we'd like to see those two guys we got step up, and I think that they will."

Veterans Grey Ruegamer and Matt O'Dwyer are running 1-2 at right guard.

It didn't take long to get the Lions' anticipated quarterback controversy up and running.

The post-draft mini-camp was more than enough to get the speculation started on whether the team had a better chance to compete with three-year starter Joey Harrington on the job or six-year veteran Jeff Garcia, a former Pro Bowl quarterback at San Francisco.

Comments by Garcia contributed to both sides of the argument.

Harrington critics took heart from one particular comment by Garcia on the opening day of the mini-camp: "My attitude is to not come in here and be a No. 2."

The Harrington backers took heart from another Garcia comment in the same interview: "Joey is the starter and he's been the starter the last three years. It's his job. I'm going to do everything that I can do to push him to better himself."

And so it went. Those who wanted to see a controversy felt Garcia had thrown a challenge to Harrington; those who believe Garcia's role is as a backup felt he came in to help Harrington become a better quarterback.

The issue is likely to simmer all summer and possibly into the fall. Coach Steve Mariucci, the driving force behind the Lions' decision to sign Garcia after he was released by the Cleveland Browns, has said Harrington is the Lions' No. 1 quarterback going into training camp.

The skeptics, however, speculate that Harrington will be on an extremely short leash when the season gets underway Sept. 11.

The speculation is that if Harrington doesn't get off to a good start and the Lions aren't winning early in the season, Mariucci will be ready, willing and eager to give the job to Garcia, who was his quarterback when he was coaching the 49ers.

Wide receiver Kevin Johnson was viewed as a No. 3 receiver when the Lions signed him off the free agent market before the draft, but he will probably be used more as a No. 4 receiver after the team drafted Mike Williams in the first round.

If Johnson has any regrets about his decision to sign with Detroit, however, he isn't letting them show. He says he believes there will be enough passes to go around.

"I just feel that this is a good opportunity," Johnson said. "I think they're going to throw the ball a lot. No matter what you say, you can have as many receivers as you want; there are enough balls to go around.

"One thing I like about these guys is that there's no selfishness from anyone. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. I think any time you have a group collectively supporting each other, that is when success is made."

Johnson reportedly had problems with coaches and quarterbacks during the four and one-half seasons he played with the Cleveland Browns. He was released during the 2003 season, finishing that year in Jacksonville, and played the 2004 season at Baltimore.

Even with three first-round picks -- Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams -- lining up ahead of him, Johnson says he believes the Lions represent a good opportunity for him.

"But I think the thing I like most about it is that it's a good group of guys," Johnson said. "They're young, no one is older than 23 years old -- and I think that is a pretty young group of guys. They're eager to learn and eager to get better."

Faced with the possibility of having no other choice but to give Aaron Elling a second chance as their place-kicker this fall, the Vikings are now expressing confidence in the young kicker they gave the boot to last summer.

"I don't foresee us bringing somebody in just to bring somebody in," coach Mike Tice said during the team's mini-camp last weekend. "If it isn't broke, don't fix it. That's the way I'm going to look at it. Right now, it isn't broke and (Elling) is hitting the ball real well. If it starts to look like it's getting broken, then we're going to have to fix it."

The Vikings didn't hide their interest in Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent heading into the draft. They were considering selecting him in the second round with the 49th overall selection, but the Jets took him with the 47th selection.

After the draft, Tice said the Vikings would keep a close eye on the waiver wire for a veteran kicker. He even mentioned Doug Brien, the Jets kicker at the time. Brien, who was the first in a long list of Tice's kicking missteps that began in 2002, was released by the Jets less than a week later.

The Vikings decided not to sign Brien. Elling is the frontrunner at the moment because his only competition on the roster is journeyman Jose Cortez and rookie free agent Jonathan Nichols of Mississippi.

Cortez is a kickoff specialist who was signed last November when Elling broke his ankle. Nichols doesn't yet have the leg strength to kick off in the NFL. Tice wants a place-kicker who can kick off.

Elling was the Vikings' kicker as a rookie in 2003. He was a respectable 18 of 25 on field goal attempts.

He began training camp last season as the unquestioned No. 1 kicker. But things started to unravel before the third preseason game. He started to shank the ball in practice.

The complete meltdown came in the third preseason game against San Francisco. Elling missed 2 of 3 field goal attempts and an extra point. After two more practices full of shanks, Elling was released.

Brett Conway was signed for the final preseason game. He was released when Morten Andersen became available before the start of the regular season. Andersen is a free agent, but he's 45 and can't kick off.

Elling was picked up by Tennessee for their season opener and regained some confidence in his week there. He made two field goals and averaged 45 yards on six punts to earn a game ball. The Vikings re-signed him as their kickoff specialist shortly thereafter.

"I look back on it and see that everything that could go wrong for me in training camp went wrong," Elling said. "It was a battle, and the battle kind of got me. But I learned from it."

The Vikings say Elling has more confidence this year, and his body language supports that claim.

"I really had just one bad game, and it was a preseason game, too," Elling said. "Even the All-Pro kickers in this league don't come out of the gate making 100 percent. I know I can kick in this league. I hope it's for the Vikings."

Keep an eye on Marcus Johnson, the Vikings' second round draft pick out of Mississippi. At a well-built 6-6, 321 pounds, Johnson looks like he's ready to start on the offensive line this season.

Johnson originally was scheduled to compete for only the starting left guard position with converted tackle Adam Goldberg and second-year pro Anthony Herrera. The Vikings, however, placed him with the first team at right tackle in last weekend's mini-camp.

Veteran Mike Rosenthal, who is coming back from a broken foot, didn't participate in team drills during the mini-camp. Rosenthal is still the favorite to start at right tackle, but Johnson will push him for playing time.

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