NFC North News and Notes: Feb. 16

Will offseason coaching changes make a difference in Detroit? Is Aaron Kampman pretty much a goner from Green Bay after an awful 2009 campaign? Can Minnesota afford not to re-sign Chester Taylor?

Detroit Lions

The Lions have made some minor changes to their coaching staff.

Jim Schwartz
Getty Images: Gregory Shamus

They fired special teams coordinator Stan Kwan, replacing him with Danny Crossman. Defensive line coach Bob Karmelowicz is contemplating retirement, with assistant Kris Kocurek expected to take his place.

Crossman will bring a new system and new terminology to special teams.

"Sometimes some things new and fresh excite guys, so we're going to change things," Crossman said. "It'll look a lot different schematically. But then it all comes down to getting good players to play hard and to play tough and play fast."

When Jim Schwartz took over the Lions last January, his first choice for special teams coordinator might have been Scott O'Brien, with whom he had worked in Cleveland and Baltimore. O'Brien ended up in New England.

But Crossman worked under O'Brien in Carolina. When O'Brien went to Denver in 2005, Crossman became the Panthers' special teams coordinator.

Schwartz and Crossman share other connections, plus similar philosophies and styles.

"It's not just all scheme," Schwartz said. "There's some more to it, and I think Danny fits that really well."

Crossman is intense. Schwartz joked he wished he could have turned down the volume in a meeting Monday morning.

"I'm an exact, detailed guy," Crossman said. "I have high expectations of myself, and I'm going to be the first one to take blame for anything that goes wrong. It's my fault, first and foremost.

"We're not going to have repeat offenders. So the first time something happens, it's my fault. Blame me. If it continues to happen, then it goes from there. It starts with me, and I'm going to expect a lot of myself and expect a lot of the players."

Kocurek is intense, too. He drew attention for ranting and raving at his position group during practices at the Senior Bowl last month.

"Once you cross that white line, it's business," Kocurek said. "I just sometimes catch myself just being in a zone. I want them to feed off my energy, and I want them to play with that type of energy every snap. I feel like if I sit back and relax and let them go, then they feed off of that."

But there's more to Kocurek than that. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said Kocurek knows how to turn down the volume in a meeting room, and he said no one should be fooled by Kocurek's Texas drawl.

Kocurek also played at Tennessee in 2002, when Cunningham was the Titans' linebackers coach and Schwartz was their defensive coordinator. Kocurek learned from Tennessee defensive line coach Jim Washburn, one of Cunningham's closest friends in the business.

Cunningham called Kocurek "unbelievably smart" and said there is "no question" he would be comfortable with him coaching the defensive line if Karmelowicz retires and the Lions draft a defensive tackle at No. 2.

"I told him the other day, some day somebody's going to figure out who you are," Cunningham said. "He asked me what I meant. Well, he's a west Texas guy. I said, 'Well, you come across as this volatile country guy,' and I said nobody, nobody, except maybe me, knows how really smart he is."

Green Bay Packers

Green Bay's collection of five impending unrestricted free agents is an impressive who's-who list of instrumental players in team lore.

LB Aaron Kampman
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

Offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, running back Ahman Green, nose tackle Ryan Pickett and linebacker Aaron Kampman have combined for 40 seasons, 546 games and seven Pro Bowl selections playing for the Packers.

While Pickett is a good bet to be re-signed, Clifton and Tauscher probably will return and the 33-year-old Green likely won't be back, the jury is out on what Kampman's future holds in Green Bay.

"This is the only place I've been, and it'd be great to continue my career here," Kampman said. "But, we'll see what happens."

A radical change in position coupled with a late-season knee injury that will keep Kampman off the field for most of the offseason could spell the end of his eight-year stint with the Packers.

The two-time Pro Bowl player is recovering from Dec. 4 surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee. Kampman has been encouraged by the progress he's made in rehab with the knee and anticipates he will be ready for the start of training camp, but there's no telling what kind of player he will be when he is cleared for action again.

General manager Ted Thompson has said the team would offer Kampman a contract. Yet, trying to get Kampman to accept presumably a modest deal, since he's coming off the serious injury, is wishful thinking with a player who already had reservations about how he was being used in the defense last season.

Kampman was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker when Dom Capers was hired as defensive coordinator and junked the team's traditional 4-3 scheme in favor of a 3-4 system. The position switch compromised the pass-rushing skills of Kampman, who had only 3 1/2 sacks in nine games and took on the extra responsibility of periodically dropping into coverage.

"I didn't get a chance to get a full year to critique and say, 'Hey, this is great.' But, I was starting to get more comfortable with it," Kampman said of the 3-4. "Having said that, I've got a lot of experience in the 4-3. So, I can do both."

A team with a 4-3 scheme that is willing to spend money on a player over whom uncertainty hovers because of the knee injury could have little trouble luring Kampman out of Green Bay.

Thompson surely doesn't want to spend an arm and a leg when the team already has a lot invested in players at linebacker, including starters Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk and backup Brandon Chillar on the inside and Clay Matthews at the other outside spot. Matthews, a first-round draft pick last year, went to the Pro Bowl.

Hawk is due to make $4.6 million this year, and the Packers apparently won't be asking their underwhelming 2006 top draft pick to take a pay cut.

Green Bay managed the last part of the season without Kampman by plugging in rookie Brad Jones, who flashed at times. Free agency and/or the draft would allow the Packers to bolster the depth should they allow Kampman to walk.

"Whatever happens with him, whether he's with Green Bay or not, I know he's going to be successful," Matthews said. "I think whatever team that gets him will benefit, and I'm hoping that he comes back next year."

Minnesota Vikings

There has been plenty of speculation since the season ended about what type of effort the Vikings will make to keep running back Chester Taylor.

RB Chester Taylor
Getty Images: Nick Laham

The veteran will be an unrestricted free agent, and there are certainly some teams that would be interested in having him be their starters. Seattle has been one club mentioned more than once.

Taylor has proven to be extremely valuable to the Vikings since signing a four-year free-agent deal before the 2006 season.

He was the Vikings' leading rusher in his initial season with the team, gaining a career-high 1,216 yards on 303 carries, and since then has been an extremely valuable backup to Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson.

Taylor is a better receiver and blocker than Peterson, although Peterson has improved in those areas, and thus has been used extensively on third downs in the past three seasons.

This season he caught 44 passes for 389 yards and a touchdown to finish fifth on the Vikings. That came after he had 45 receptions for 399 yards and two touchdowns in 2008.

Backup running backs aren't considered all that difficult to come by, but Taylor has brought a level of professionalism to his job that would be hard to replace. This includes the fact he has never complained about his role being reduced after one season with the Vikings.

Taylor is going to be 31 in September but finds himself in a unique situation because his most career carries was 303 in 2006. He has never had more than 160 in any other regular season, and that came with Baltimore in 2004.

That means a team might be tempted to sign him based on the fact his legs are pretty fresh for a player his age.

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