NFC North News and Notes: June 11

How does Tony Scheffler like returning to the Detroit area? Will another off-the-field incident in Green Bay be a distraction? Can E.J. Henderson make it back in Minnesota after a gruesome leg injury?

Detroit Lions

The boot is off, and so tight end Tony Scheffler is finally off and running with the Lions. After a minor foot injury kept him out of organized team activities, Scheffler returned for two OTAs recently and made what coach Jim Schwartz called big-time catches.


TE Tony Scheffler
Getty Images: Steve Dykes

"He's a big target," Schwartz said. "He's got great natural hands. He's got good speed. Just real savvy in the pass game. He was a little bit behind because he spent some time in the boot. But he's back now, and it's not even a concern right now. We're starting to get him with the quarterback more and more, and we're starting to see the role that he's going to take in the offense."

With last year's first-round draft pick, Brandon Pettigrew, recovering from a torn knee ligament, the Lions wanted some insurance. They also wanted another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

So they acquired Scheffler and a seventh rounder from the Broncos in April, while sending linebacker Ernie Sims to the Eagles in a three-team trade. Philadelphia sent a fifth-round pick to Denver.

Scheffler wasn't happy with the way things went last season after new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels came in and traded quarterback Jay Cutler. His numbers dipped. He was benched for the season finale.

So he was happy to hear from Schwartz about the trade.

"One of the questions was if I wanted to be a part of what was going on," Scheffler said. "I was thrilled. I couldn't be any more happier, not only for myself but for my family. It's just a lot of dreams come true kind of getting back here and playing for the Lions."

Scheffler is from the Detroit area. He said ticket requests have been "just a little overwhelming," so he has delegated that duty to some of his supporters. He also played at Western Michigan, spending a season with the Lions' up-and-coming safety, Louis Delmas.

"He still talks as much as he did when he was a freshman in college," Scheffler said with a smile. "I was a fifth-year senior at Western, and he came in as a true freshman, green as they come. And boy, he was chirping, though, like a little bird. That was the one of the things that was 'welcome back,' was to hear his voice chirping over there in the locker room."

Scheffler sees similarities to 2007 and '08, when he put up big numbers for the Broncos. Calvin Johnson is the dominant wide receiver, like Brandon Marshall. Matthew Stafford is the strong-armed quarterback, like Cutler. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is the chess master, like Mike Shanahan, moving pieces around to create mismatches.

"It's something that we kind of got away from last year in Denver," Scheffler said. "Coach Linehan is going to find the guys that can win in situations, and he's going to get them in those situations. It's been fun. It's been fun being here so far."

Green Bay Packers

The big "G" on the Packers helmets might as well stand for "Grounded."


CB Brandon Underwood
Getty Images: Christian Petersen

That's how Packers head coach Mike McCarthy needs his players to comport themselves in the wake of an offseason uncharacteristically rife with off-the-field issues.

"We're in the paper way too much with things other than football," a chagrined McCarthy said.

Young cornerback Brandon Underwood was the latest to be singled out in unwanted headlines.

Allegations of sexual assault were brought against him by two women who were at a rented condo where Underwood and several teammates were staying after playing in a charity golf event. The alleged incident occurred in the early morning June 5 at the property in the Wisconsin Dells area, a popular location for vacationers.

Although Underwood hadn't been charged of any crime as of June 10, he could be disciplined by the NFL for a violation of its personal-conduct policy.

"You've just got to be aware of your surroundings, who you're with and what you're doing," said linebacker Clay Matthews, one of six Packers players who were cleared of any wrongdoing in the alleged incident after being questioned by police.

"We're an ambassador to the community... people look up to us," Matthews said. "So, you have to kind of represent a model America. I think, for the most part, that's what 99 percent of this league does. Unfortunately, there's a few situations where someone might have a lapse in judgment and it kind of puts a black eye on everybody."

Underwood stood in front of his teammates and apologized June 9.

"It's a closed chapter. It's unfortunate. It is what it is," said linebacker Brad Jones, who also was staying at the condo that night.

Missteps – alleged and otherwise – by Packers have taken away some of the offseason luster for a team that is on the upswing toward contending for the Super Bowl title next season.

In March, tight end Spencer Havner was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after crashing his motorcycle near his California home.

Defensive end Johnny Jolly faces a felony drug possession charge, stemming from his arrest in his native Houston two years ago. The veteran starter is an unsigned restricted free agent, and the delayed start of his trial (July 30) falls on the same day Green Bay's players are to report for training camp.

"It's unfortunate, but we're going to move forward as a group," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, alluding to the latest disturbance. "This is not going to create a schism in the locker room. We're going to deal with this behind closed doors, like we always do and move forward together."

Minnesota Vikings

After suffering a gruesome leg injury last December at Arizona, E.J. Henderson recently said his goal is to be ready to take part in training camp and be on the field for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 in New Orleans.


LB E.J. Henderson
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

You have to admire the Vikings' middle linebacker for having such a lofty goal coming off a terrible injury. But the reality is that Henderson will have to show patience as he tries to come back from a broken femur in his left leg.

That means there is a good possibility that second-year linebacker Jasper Brinkley will start the season in the middle.

Brinkley, a fifth-round pick by the Vikings in 2009, stepped in as a rookie after Henderson was injured. It was clear the hard-hitting Brinkley was comfortable against the run but had plenty to learn about playing against the pass.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier seems pleased with Brinkley's progress this offseason.

"Jasper has really improved," Frazier said. "We have no qualms with Jasper being our starting linebacker if that's the case. He's really improved, and the more snaps he gets the better he's going to get. He's been everything we've hoped for knowing the possibility that E.J. could be injured. That's why [Brinkley] was drafted, and he's been great."

Henderson also has been impressed by Brinkley and has tried to tutor the young linebacker during meetings that have been part of organized team activities this offseason.

"When I see some of his tape from last year, I always give him my thoughts," Henderson said. "Jasper is a second-year player now but his mindset is way older than that, so I don't think we have to worry too much about him being prepared or him ready to play if, knock on wood, something happens where I can't play. I don't think we have to worry about him."


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