NFC North News and Notes: June 25

Why did the NFL take two OTA workouts away from the Lions? Are the Packers on the prowl for another outside linebacker? Can E.J. Henderson be healthy enough by training camp for the Vikings?

Detroit Lions

After losing 37 out of their last 40 games, the Lions need all the practice they can get. So coach Jim Schwartz was unhappy they lost two organized team activities because they violated offseason workout rules.

DT Ndamukong Suh
AP Images: Paul Sancya

But he wasn't exactly unhappy about what led to the sanctions. The positive spin is that it is a good sign the Lions are working hard to turn themselves around.

"I'll tell you what, I'm extremely proud of our offseason program," Schwartz said. "I think that if I was a player, I'd want to be in this offseason program.

"I'm just most disappointed for some of our players. Not our established players, but our young guys that are trying to make the team and trying to improve as football players. They were denied the opportunity to be able to go out and improve as a football player."

Schwartz had planned to end the offseason with a five-day primer for training camp: two days of organized team activities leading into a three-day mandatory minicamp. With 80 percent of the playbook installed, he wanted to have 95 percent installed by the end of the minicamp so he would be mostly reviewing come training camp.

But then the NFL and players' union took away those last two OTA days for violating rules "pertaining to the intensity and tempo of drills," forcing Schwartz to compress his installation and taking away reps some players badly needed.

What happened? Schwartz said it went back to the rookies' first practice with the veterans, when defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the second-overall pick in the draft, had his every move chronicled by the media. Suh went against veteran guard Stephen Peterman that day.

"The league called and asked for film," Schwartz said. "They actually saw a headline in one of our newspapers that said 'Suh and Peterman battle it out in OTAs,' and they flagged.

"I assume that when they said, 'Hey, we want to see the practice film,' they were looking for one-on-ones and things like that, which you're not allowed to do with the offense and defensive linemen, which we weren't doing. It took them a long time, almost a month, because it was the first practice with rookies.

"Generally, that's going to happen. The first practice with rookies is going to be more guys on the ground, and it's going to be a little bit looser because you have rookies that are trying to make a good first impression and you have veterans that don't want to be beaten by a rookie. They looked at that practice and didn't like the looks of it."

Schwartz has liked the looks of his OTAs, however, and made a point.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have gone down this road before, and the results from that first try left a lot to be desired.

DE Cullen Jenkins
AP Images: Morry Gash

Unbowed by the shortcomings that reared their ugly head when end Aaron Kampman was moved to outside linebacker last season, Green Bay's brain trust on the defensive side of the football is toying with the idea of a similar position switch this season.

The difference would be that Cullen Jenkins' primary position still will be as a down lineman at right end, yet his pass-rushing versatility lends itself to standing up as a situational outside linebacker.

"It's just a matter of what they ask me to do on particular plays," Jenkins said.

Unlike Kampman, who quietly took offense to the full-time change in role and subsequently bolted the Packers as a free agent to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, changing places if on a part-time basis has appeal to Jenkins.

"To be able to get up, move around, drop back in coverage sometimes and do things like that kind of makes you feel pretty good," Jenkins said.

The seventh-year veteran is playing lighter at about 300 pounds and moving better this year, so defensive coordinator Dom Capers isn't averse to getting Jenkins out in space more as a linebacker.

His relentless ability to get after the quarterback would be paramount as the Packers try to bolster their pass rush. The only sure thing from that standpoint is Clay Matthews at right outside linebacker.

Brad Jones, who was an adequate replacement as a rookie for an injured Kampman late in the season, and Brady Poppinga are competing for the starting job at left outside linebacker in the base defense.

That the Packers are considering bumping Jenkins to that spot in their sub packages isn't a ringing endorsement for what Jones or Poppinga can contribute on a full-time basis. Even Brandon Chillar, strictly an inside linebacker last season when Green Bay implemented its 3-4 scheme, was getting some situational looks on the left side during the June 21-22 minicamp.

What's more, coach Mike McCarthy left open the possibility of the Packers' signing a veteran outside linebacker before the July 31 start of training camp.

"We'll look at some individuals over the summer," McCarthy said. "We'll continue to evaluate that and watch what goes on around the league."

Minnesota Vikings

E.J. Henderson has expressed optimism that he will be back on the field when the Vikings open training camp late next month in Mankato.

LB Jasper Brinkley
AP Images: Jim Mone

The reality, however, is that Henderson will have to be cleared by the Vikings' medical staff before he is allowed to return after suffering a broken femur in his left leg last December.

That means that Jasper Brinkley will be Minnesota's starting middle linebacker until Henderson is given the green light, and there is a chance Brinkley could be the starter on Sept. 9 when the Vikings open the regular season at New Orleans.

Following the Vikings' minicamp this month, Brinkley said he is "definitely" preparing as if he will be the starter because "you never know what is going to happen."

A fifth-round pick out of South Carolina in 2009, Brinkley started the final four regular-season games of his rookie season and then played in both postseason contests after Henderson was injured in a game at Arizona.

That provided Brinkley with invaluable on-the-job training and plenty of opportunities to learn from what he did right and wrong.

"I definitely feel like I came a long way," he said. "Last year was a whole lot of learning for me. I call it teach tape. So definitely got in here this offseason and critiqued myself really hard because you're your worst critic. So a lot of things I wanted to work on, and I came out here and got better."

Brinkley, who is 6-1 and around 255 pounds, is effective against the run because he is such a big hitter. The issue in his game is going against the pass.

Brinkley did not play in nickel situations last year so he was not consistently exposed to the pass, but when he was on the field in those types of situations, there were some issues with his ability to drop back into coverage, as the middle linebacker in the Tampa 2 is required to do.

Brinkley said he has looked to improve in that area by working on his hip movements and also credited Henderson with helping him.

"It's all about shifting your hips off the quarterback's eyes and being able to break down on the checkdowns sometimes," he said. "Just being able to read the route combination and knowing what route is coming by different splits."

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