Black & Blue Review

A holdout ends for the Lions, the Packers are being patient with their No. 1 pick, while the Vikings are fighting a secondary hit by the injury bug.

DETROIT LIONS
Conventional wisdom says the Lions -- in spite of their heightened expectations for 2005 -- will need time.

Will two weeks of training camp and four preseason games be enough to get the offense clicking? Or will the Lions need a couple of regular season games to get in sync? Could it take until mid-season?

Conventional wisdom aside, time might not be a luxury the Lions can afford if they're going to make good on their announced intention of making a run at the NFC title and the NFL playoffs after a five-year absence.

A number of fresh faces will be playing key roles in the offense when the Lions meet Green Bay in the season opener Sept. 11 at Ford Field -- Rick DeMulling at left guard, Kelly Butler at right tackle, Marcus Pollard at tight end.

But not everyone believes the Lions can afford to ease their way into full production.

"We want to get going," said coach Steve Mariucci. "Some of the guys you were mentioning are newcomers, but I think we have enough guys that have been around and have experience in this offense that we're not completely new at it.

"We do have quite a few guys that have been around it and we need to make it better by practicing and training and testing and that sort of thing."

Although Mariucci expects three new offensive starters -- DeMulling, Butler and Pollard -- the nucleus of the team has been together for at least one full season with the same coach and the same system.

That includes the three best offensive linemen -- right guard Damien Woody, left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola, all of whom have at least four years NFL experience.

Quarterback Joey Harrington is beginning his fourth NFL season, with 44 starts in his first three years.

And, although the receivers are young, they have been around the block a couple of times as well. Charles Rogers has played only five full games because of two broken collarbones but is going through his third training camp; Roy Williams had an outstanding rookie season in 2004 with 54 receptions for 817 yards and eight touchdowns, despite playing with a badly sprained ankle; and Kevin Johnson, the No. 3 wide receiver, is a six-year veteran possession receiver.

Perhaps the Lions' biggest weapon is running back Kevin Jones. Although he has only one season of NFL experience, he demonstrated in the second half of his rookie season last year that he can make things happen as he piled up 1,133 yards, including 906 and four 100-yard games in the final eight games.

Jones says he expects the Lions to hit the ground running, even in the preseason and he has ambitious plans for the 16 that count in the standings.

"I've got a year under my belt and I'm more comfortable with everything, including the guys up front," he said. "So, it's really no problem. I'm ready to go out and have a big year."

Rogers, who has worked hard to put on several pounds of muscle, says he believes the high expectations for the Lions' young offense are about to be fulfilled.

"We can be right up there, right up there with the Indy's, with the St. Louis Rams in 2000," Rogers said. "It's how bad we want it. It's how (much) everybody's willing to sacrifice. It's who's going to be the decoy to get the other person open.

"It's how bad everybody wants it. If everybody plays their role and throws the egos out the window ... we'll be great."

Can they be ready by Sept. 11? There are no guarantees, but that's the goal.

NOTES
-- Kick returner Eddie Drummond didn't get the long-term contract he wanted, but he hasn't given up on getting it eventually.

Drummond, who earned his first Pro Bowl selection last season when he scored four touchdowns -- two on punt returns and two on kickoff returns -- before suffering a season-ending injury on Thanksgiving Day, ended his holdout without the three- or four-year deal he and agent Drew Rosenhaus had sought.

Although Drummond said he has no animosity toward the Lions for standing fast on their demand that he sign their one-year tender offer for $1.43 million, he admitted he felt some disappointment in ending his holdout last week.

"To an extent I was (disappointed)," Drummond said, "but I know the Lions are good people and as soon as I get off to a good start this year we're going to work something out early.

"I'm just ready to be with the team right now, work with them and get better so we can go to the Super Bowl."

In three NFL seasons, Drummond has six touchdowns on returns, but he has missed extended periods of playing time because of injuries, including a broken shoulder blade suffered against Indianapolis last year.

It is believed the Lions want to see if he can stay healthy for a full season, but executive vice president Tom Lewand said the team eventually will discuss a long-term deal with Drummond.

If they do not reach an agreement, Drummond will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2005 season.

GREEN BAY PACKERS
With Brett Favre recharged and in his best physical shape in several years, the Packers hope they don't need Aaron Rodgers to produce for at least another year.

A record 62,492 fans got their first look at the first-round pick during the Packers' "Family Night" scrimmage against Buffalo at Lambeau Field on Friday. Rodgers completed just one of seven passes for eight yards during the scrimmage, but did look good in joint practices between the teams.

Many of the fans lined the streets around the stadium hours before the game, and Rodgers admitted "the juices were going," when he got on the field.

"This is what I was missing in college," Rodgers said. "This atmosphere and the love that people have for football around here is unbelievable."

Rodgers was sacked three times during the scrimmage, during which he received valuable playing time against the Bills' first-string defense.

"It was a very good learning experience for me," he said. "You can learn from your mistakes and improve."

Coach Mike Sherman said it was difficult to evaluate Rodgers or any of the quarterbacks because the offensive line did a very poor job in allowing eight total sacks.

Defenders weren't allowed to tackle the quarterbacks during the scrimmage, meaning Rodgers still hasn't endured a live NFL hit. That will likely come during the team's first preseason game Thursday against San Diego.

"I need to get that first hit under my belt," Rodgers said. "Thursday will be a good test."

While Rodgers was experiencing some growing pains, Favre continued what has been a strong training camp following an offseason in which he re-dedicated himself to getting in shape. Favre completed 7-of-13 passes for 39 yards against Buffalo and threw three touchdown passes.

NOTES
Linebacker Na'il Diggs suffered a sprained left knee during practice on Monday, and will miss at least two weeks.

Receiver Javon Walker put a scare into the Green Bay Packers late last week when he strained his left hamstring while going out for a pass in a team drill. Walker was taken out of the "no pads" practice and said afterward that he'll be OK.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
The Vikings practiced without three of their top four cornerbacks and lost one of their top four safeties to a broken arm during the first week of training camp.

The secondary depth became so thin during Week 1 that reserve receiver Ben Nelson was moved to safety and three rookies had to assume prominent roles in the nickel and dime defenses.

"I've never played safety," Nelson said. "But they told me they would give me a chance to make the team at safety. So I'm a safety."

Nelson, still wearing No. 17, began lining up at free safety. He took some of the reps that would have gone to third round draft pick Dustin Fox.

Fox, a promising young player with speed and athleticism, fractured his left arm in practice. It's the same arm that caused him to miss games at Ohio State last season. Fox had a metal plate inserted into his arm after breaking it last season. Ironically, the plate that was supposed to protect the arm helped fracture it this week. He's out three to five weeks.

Meanwhile, starting right cornerback Fred Smoot missed the entire first week of practice because of a strained neck that he suffered during an offseason workout. Smoot, the prized offseason pickup who received a $10.8 million bonus, was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He's expected to be taken off the list on Monday.

Nickel back Brian Williams, who missed all four of the team's voluntary developmental camps because he's upset about the Smoot signing, is out with a hamstring injury. Williams, a starter the past two seasons, also missed some practice time because of a death in the family.

Then there's Ken Irvin, the 32-year-old veteran who is trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon. Irvin took over Williams' nickel back job and was working some at backup safety until he injured his right shoulder. Team officials worry that Irvin's shoulder injury might be serious.

The steady Antoine Winfield is still at left corner. Ralph Brown, a decent player the Vikings picked up off the street in Week 1 last season, has been starting at the other cornerback position.

Darren Sharper is at free safety and Corey Chavous has looked good at strong safety.

Chavous missed all of the developmental camps as a protest against his contract, which has one year left at $1.9 million. He's pouting and refuses to talk to the media, but he's also clobbering running backs in what looks like an angry rage during practice.

Rookie cornerbacks Adrian Ward, Laroni Gallishaw and Devonte Edwards have been rotating in with the first nickel and dime defenses.

Ward was the seventh round draft pick that the Vikings acquired as part of the Randy Moss deal with Oakland. He's a smallish player from UTEP, but he's very fast.

Gallishaw has been impressive. The free agent from Murray State is a good cover guy. He picked off backup quarterback Brad Johnson in a practice and returned it for an interception.

Edwards also is a rookie free agent to watch. The 6-foot, 182-pounder from North Carolina State is a physical player.

The Vikings talked all offseason about their depth in the secondary. It certainly was tested in Week 1 of training camp.

NOTES
-- MLB Sam Cowart is showing what defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell calls a "football intelligence" that the Vikings didn't have at that position last season. During one drill last week, Cowart sniffed out the play before the snap, made the right call and the defense tackled RB Michael Bennett in the end zone for a safety.

-- RB Mewelde Moore runs hard, makes defenders miss and can catch the ball better than any running back on the team other than Moe Williams. But the Vikings are reluctant to turn over the backup running back duties to Moore until he learns how to pick up blitzes better.

-- Signing autographs after two hours of practice in 95-degree temps and humidity is about the last thing Vikings players want to do. Receivers Nate Burleson and Troy Williamson devised a plan to avoid the autograph seekers. Before entering the long stretch where the autograph seekers assemble, Burleson and Williamson stopped free agent rookies Siaha Burley and Chris Jones. Burleson switched jerseys with Jones while Williamson switched with Burley. Then, Burleson and Williamson pulled their helmets down over their eyes. It didn't work. Someone still recognized Burleson and screamed, "Nate, Nate, Nate!" Soon, both were signing autographs.

Michael Bennett also is popular among the autograph seekers. In an attempt to sneak by unnoticed one day last week, he took his jersey off, put his helmet on and then hung three gloves in front of his face. It didn't work. Fans screamed his name. Bennett kept walking, pretending to be someone else. Finally, he gave up when a little boy pleaded for his signature.


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