NFC North Report

While the Bears open their first full mini-camp on Friday, the rest of the division has already held practices with their new rosters.

The Lions already are assured of having a new look in their defensive secondary next season and team president Matt Millen might have additional changes in mind.

Millen's first move was to sign strong safety Kenoy Kennedy from Denver in the early days of free agency, giving the Lions a physical presence they have been lacking in the defensive backfield.

But he met last week with cornerback Ty Law, released by New England for cap reasons in late February, giving indications he is serious about making another acquisition for the Lions secondary.

With Law and Kennedy in the same backfield, the Lions would have one of the NFL's most physical combinations involved in pass coverages, but it would raise questions regarding exactly how the Lions would use what seems to be an abundance of defensive back talent.

Kennedy already has taken over the strong safety position and cornerback Dre' Bly, a Pro Bowl selection in each of the past two seasons, is ticketed for the right corner.

It has been assumed that Fernando Bryant, who missed six games last season with an ankle injury after being signed as an unrestricted free agent, would line up at the left corner and two-year veteran Terrence Holt would replace Brock Marion at free safety.

If the Lions are able to sign Law, however, that could change. Law undoubtedly would be a starter and that might shake loose one of the other cornerbacks to compete with Holt for the free safety job.

In addition, the Lions have more depth than they've had in several years with veterans Chris Cash and Andre Goodman, second-year cornerback Keith Smith and rookie Stanley Wilson all competing for playing time.

"You know the rule I always go back to -- you can never have enough corners," Millen said. "And it's so true. Every time you turn around somebody gets hurt."

-- In three seasons with the Lions, Eddie Drummond has established himself as one of the NFL's most dangerous kickoff and punt returners, a fact that was validated by his selection to the NFC Pro Bowl team last season.

Unfortunately for Drummond and the Lions, however, it has been equally established that he cannot seem to make it through the season healthy.

In three seasons, Drummond has missed a total of 20 games because of injuries -- five as a rookie in 2002, 10 in 2003 and five more last year after suffering a broken shoulder blade in the Thanksgiving Day game against Indianapolis.

Although x-rays have shown the injury to be completely healed, Drummond is once again stuck in a red jersey, meaning defensive players can't have any contact with him during the off-season mini-camps.

"It kind of sucks," Drummond said, laughing. "It's me and Charles Rogers over there together, watching the rest of the guys.

"It's just the first mini-camp and they're just trying to see the rookies but -- at the same time -- we've got teammates over there we want to compete against and get after a little bit. It kind of gets to us."

The Lions expect Drummond to be ready to work in training camp in late July and they're hoping he'll pick up where he left off a year ago. In the 11 games he played, Drummond scored two touchdowns on punt returns and two on kickoff returns. He averaged 13.2 yards returning punts and 26.6 yards returning kickoffs.

-- Jason Randall didn't have a spectacular career as a tight end at Michigan State with 52 receptions for 594 yards and five touchdowns, but he caught coach Steve Mariucci's eye in the Lions' mini-camp.

"He's the biggest tight end we've had in a while but for his size he runs well and I've been really impressed with him," Mariucci said. "Good guy, studious. For a guy his size, you might think this is a blocking tight end (but) he seemed to move around and run some routes pretty darned well."

Randall is listed as 6-feet-9 and 265 pounds. He was not drafted, but the Lions signed him as a free agent in the days after the draft and he had an impressive mini-camp with the team.

At Michigan State, Randall had his most productive season in his sophomore year when he caught 20 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns. The following year he caught 21 balls but his production dropped to 218 yards and two touchdowns, and as a senior he caught 11 passes for 121 yards and had no touchdowns.

The Lions feel he has the athletic ability to compete with Leonard Stephens for the No. 3 tight end job behind Marcus Pollard and Casey FitzSimmons.

"He's just starting to run now. He's got some work ahead of him. We'll have to monitor it but I'd be very interested in him." - Lions president Matt Millen on the team's interest in signing free agent cornerback Ty Law.

Grey Ruegamer effectively has fought through two pay cuts in the last eight months and a 15-day stint on the unemployment list in March.

Today, he's fighting to become the starting right guard for the Packers.

"There's something about this guy that's special," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "What makes him special? He is a competing (expletive). He will do whatever it takes to win. That to me is special because that's what this game is all about."

Ruegamer, 29, worked throughout the first mini-camp with the No. 1 offense at the right guard position that Marco Rivera occupied with distinction for the past six years. After releasing Ruegamer March 1 from his $1.2 million contract for 2005, the Packers re-signed him March 15 for the $540,000 minimum plus a $30,000 signing bonus. The deal also includes $160,000 in playing time incentives.

Six days later, they signed veteran right guard Matt O'Dwyer.

It was assumed that O'Dwyer, with 105 starts, would be the starter, especially considering that the Packers regarded Ruegamer as a better center than guard. But O'Dwyer is new to the system and had to sit out the last three practices of mini-camp with blisters on his feet and Ruegamer surprised Beightol with his performance at guard.

"It's between Ruegamer and O'Dwyer," Beightol said. "O'Dwyer is extremely strong and physical. He brings what Marco brought? Will he be as good as Marco? The jury's out."

In any event, Beightol said the exceptional camp turned in by backup right tackle Kevin Barry gives the Packers a strong alternative if neither Ruegamer nor O'Dwyer pans out.

"We feel pretty good so far but, hey, you go into a game and somebody's getting their (expletive) kicked, we won't feel real good about that," Beightol said. "I refuse to do it. If something comes up short inside, don't be surprised if Barry's in there or 'Tausch' (Mark Tauscher). We're not going to fool around."

Most of the attention at the first mini-camp at wide receiver was on the two draft picks, Terrence Murphy (second round) and Craig Bragg (sixth round). But probably the most impressive first-year wideout was Vince Butler, an undrafted rookie free agent from Northwestern Oklahoma State.

"He's crisp, like a savvy veteran," safety Arturo Freeman said. "He's fast and runs good routes. He'll be a good player."

Butler (6-0, 195) put on a show on the final day, toasting rookie cornerback Mike Hawkins deep several times and finding the soft spots in zones.

"He's kind of flashed a little bit," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "Interesting guy. Got a good burst. But we're not jumping on anything because we're still in shorts."

Bragg played to how a personnel director for another team described him on Wednesday: "Kind of steady. Unspectacular. Not a lot of speed or strength. Decent hands. Decent enough athlete. Possession guy."

As for Murphy, wide receivers coach James Franklin said: "He's got very good soft hands. Big, strong kid. He was one of the better learners of all of them."

The fourth and fifth receivers late last season, Antonio Chatman and Andrae Thurman, both did well.

"He, like Chatman, has some little things to work on," Rossley said, referring to Thurman. "Splits, assignments, depth of routes. But Thurman is a playmaker. Just does things naturally. Quicker than fast. A very good route runner. 'Chat' did a good job, too."

The Packers are high on Jamal Jones, a "street" free agent from North Carolina A&T who is starting and playing well in NFL Europe League.

Winona State's Chris Samp, a rookie free agent from Green Bay Preble, needs substantial technique work.

--Ben Steele reported at 260, about 15 pounds more than he played most of last season.

"He looks more physical," tight ends coach Joe Philbin said. "Physically, I like the steps he's taken."

Another holdover, Sean McHugh, was 268. With David Martin back in the fold and Bubba Franks expected to re-sign, the battle for No. 3 is between the better receiver (Steele) and the better blocker (McHugh).

"McHugh's a great effort guy," Philbin said. "We've got to get him to catch the ball a little more naturally. He fights it on occasion."

"As a matter of fact, I didn't hear the comments. I heard them from friends. But I'll never hold a grudge, you know. He's a great quarterback and I don't see myself playing with any other quarterback." - WR Javon Walker, who was blasted 10 days ago by QB Brett Favre for holding out of mini-camp.

One of the worst kept secrets in the NFL is the news that New Jersey developer Zygmunt Wilf has supplanted Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler as the lead partner of the group attempting to buy the Vikings from Red McCombs for $625 million.

Fowler will remain part of the group, but will not become the first black majority owner in NFL history.

Fowler's attempt to lead the group struggled from the beginning. Discrepancies in his resume created credibility problems, but, ultimately, it was Fowler's financial wherewithal that prevented him from succeeding.

As general partner, Fowler needed to come up with 30 percent of the purchase price -- about $187 million -- in cash and have manageable debt. Fowler was trying to sell a percentage of his flight simulator company to come up with the money, but it either fell through, didn't raise the necessary amount or wouldn't have been completed by the NFL owners' meetings May 24-25 in Washington, D.C.

Wilf originally joined Fowler's group because the wide-open land just north of the Twin Cities in Blaine intrigued him as a stadium development site. Wilf recently visited the Twin Cities to view one site and propose another possible site for a new stadium.

Wilf also assumed control from Fowler to help salvage the group's $20 million deposit on the Vikings. The NFL prefers the group's current structure and is expected to vote on whether to accept it at this month's meetings.

Neither Wilf, nor the NFL has confirmed the group's shakeup. McCombs and several persons with knowledge of the situation have said the change at the top already has taken place. Wilf has refused to reveal his net worth, but indications are his financial wherewithal is much stronger than Fowler's. Wilf also seems energized heading into the owners' meetings.

"I love football," Wilf said.

-- RB Michael Bennett is ready to put the off-season trade rumors behind him and focus on winning the No. 1 running back spot. Bennett is the tentative No. 1 heading into training camp.

"There were a lot of rumors going around, and you never know," Bennett said. "My coaches told me everything is going to be all right. I'll be here competing."

--MLB E.J. Henderson has been praised by coaches for using his demotion to backup as a motivation to get better. Henderson led the Vikings in tackles in 2004, but his missteps and alignment problems, particularly in the passing game, were among the reasons for the defensive collapse last season. The Vikings traded a seventh round draft pick to the Jets for MLB Sam Cowart. Cowart, who has experience in Ted Cottrell's defense, is the starter. "My coaches told me they were going to do it," Henderson said. "I said, `Cool.' I don't blame them."

"It looks like Zyggi is going to be the biggie." Vikings owner Red McCombs, talking about New Jersey developer Zygmunt Wilf stepping forward to replace Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler as the general partner in the group that's trying to buy the Vikings.

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