NFC North Update

With the draft approaching, NFC North teams are narrowing their needs and priorities. Here is what each team in the division might be looking for on April 26 and 27, plus other notes compiled from PackerReport.com, BearReport.com, VikingUpdate.com.

MINNESOTA

Center of attention
Cory Withrow -- who was one of only two Vikings restricted free agents to receive a tender from the Vikings -- signed his one-year tender, but is hoping for a trade.

That is something coach Mike Tice said he would work for. "I have a list that I'm taking home of teams' centers," Tice said. "I've put together a tape of him playing the past two years. I'll try to do what's right, to give him a chance before he gets too old."

Tice, who developed Withrow when he was offensive line coach for the Vikings, believes Withrow, right now, is better than at least three or four starting centers in the NFC alone. And he feels compelled to try to get Withrow a chance to start before he gets too old. So he intends to call some coaches around the league from those teams he feels Withrow would be an upgrade for and offer Withrow in a trade.

Keeping Culpepper
Owner Red McCombs said the team is ready to enter the season with quarterback Daunte Culpepper whether or not a contract extension is completed.

"We've never given any thought to trading him,'' McCombs said, "and we're not dancing on hot coals as to whether we get him signed, either. He's under contract and is our quarterback for (2003). If we get him signed, fine. If we don't, that's fine also. But we've never given any thought to trading him.''

Culpepper is entering the final season of a five-year contract he signed in 1999.

Culpepper is believed to be seeking an extension that would place him among the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks. The Vikings, however, have offered him substantially less.

QB joins the crowd
The Vikings have 40 players – a team record – taking part in their offseason workout program and another handful of players are expected to arrive this week. Among them is Daunte Culpepper, who has been working out in Florida and will be arriving at Winter Park this week to begin his offseason program with the team. In past years, many Vikings players stayed in Florida to work out at Cris Carter's compound, but that has changed since C.C. left the Vikings.

Ornamental promotion
Give the St. Paul Saints credit for having a sense of humor.

The Saints are an independent minor-league baseball team based in St. Paul who play in the Northern League. Through the years they have trotted out a pig they call "Kevin Bacon," and had it deliver baseballs to the umpire. They have held a Conehead night, given seat cushions depicting MLB commissioner Bud Selig on one side and union head Donald Fehr on the other.

And now this: Sometime this season 2,500 fans will receive a complimentary Randy Moss hood ornament. It hasn't been designed yet, but it is a clear reference to Moss' incident Sept. 24, when he tried to turn right illegally at a downtown Minneapolis intersection. A traffic control agent fell to the street after Moss' 2002 Lexus bumped her.

"This is done tongue-in-cheek," Saints media relations director Dave Wright said. "All our promotions are intended to make you chuckle."

Draft needs/priorities
The main reason the Vikings are concentrating on cornerback and offensive line in free agency? There appears to be enough depth at defensive line in the draft for the Vikings to address those needs there.

The Vikings will address cornerback, OL and punter in free agency. They hope to find an impact defensive lineman in the draft. Then they will attack the secondary free-agent market for a safety, a backup middle linebacker to learn behind veteran Greg Biekert and a wide receiver.

CHICAGO

Robinson released

The Bears released wide receiver Marcus Robinson on April 16. He played in 52 games over his five-year career in Chicago with 28 starts.

Robinson owns the Bears record for receiving yards in a season with the 1,400 compiled on a career-high 84 catches in his breakout season of 1999. The South Carolina product ranks 16th in team history with 187 receptions and 19th with 2,695 receiving yards. Robinson recorded seven career 100-yard receiving games in his five seasons in Chicago.

Option at KR

Travis Coleman is helping his cause to make the Bears 53-man roster by returning kicks in Europe. The defensive back returned kicks and punts in college, but was not given the opportunity as a rookie with the Bears.

Coleman had a 58-yard kick return for Berlin in Week 2 of NFL Europe. The Bears may address the return position in the draft, but if they do not, Coleman could be an option.

A Dent in the line

Mike Singletary is coaching the Baltimore Ravens' linebackers, Leslie Frazier is coordinating the Cincinnati Bengals' defense, and Ron Rivera is coaching the Philadelphia Eagles' linebackers. But the Bears managed to hold on to one of their ex-players from the 1985 championship season, when they signed Super Bowl XX MVP Richard Dent as an assistant defensive line coach on Tuesday. Dent's primary job will be to upgrade the pass rush from a defensive line that has been missing an impact sack man since his last double-digit sack season in 1993. Dent is the Bears' all-time leading sacker with 124 1/2, and his NFL total of 137 1/2 is fifth best in league history.

"I understand what it takes and hopefully I can pass that over to some of the players," Dent said. "There's nothing like doing some things that you love to do. I love football, and I love teaching pass rush."

Dent isn't looking to completely overhaul anyone's game. He believes that everyone at this level has the talent to play in the league. But he will look for subtle adjustments or techniques that he can impart to younger players to lift the level of their game and increase their effectiveness. He'll start with each player's stance and ability to get a quick start when the ball is snapped and proceed from there.

"You try to find some small thing that's going to enhance them," Dent said. "I think every guy is going to compete, but if I can get him in a po sition to feel comfortable with his start, I think he's going to finish it off pretty well.

"Everything starts with the stance. If you can't come out of your stance, then you can't strip the ball, you can't get up the field. Every guy is going to do his best once he gets going, but the biggest problem people have is getting moving forward. My first step is just working on the stance."

Future looks to be somewhere else

David Terrell’s health is the only reason the Bears haven’t released Marcus Robinson already. However, with the recent news that Terrell is coming along as the team had expected Robinson could be shown the door in the coming weeks.

The team will likely wait until after the post draft mini-camp scheduled for the first weekend in May. If Terrell looks healthy then Robinson could be cut shortly after.

Draft needs/priorities

Concerns about the hairline fracture in his lower left leg that hobbled him during the second half of the 2002 season have cast Byron Leftwich's draft status in question for the past several months.

But according to Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, Leftwich's recent personal workout in Florida was probably enough to make the Marshall quarterback a top-10 pick.

"Physically he's in good shape," Angelo said of Leftwich, whose 40-yard dash times were between 4.84 and 4.9 seconds, more than adequate for a 6-foot-5 1/2-inch, 242-pound quarterback. "He's not a mobile quarterback, but I didn't need to see his workout to tell me that. That's not his forte. His weight was good, and he broke 5 flat, (and) he's still rehabbing, so I don't know how much training he's been able to do."

Leftwich's 40 time isn't as impressive as Cal's Kyle Boller or Southern Cal's Carson Palmer, each of whom has been clocked around 4.6 recently, but it's comparable to the other top eight or nine quarterback prospects.

Anyway, it's Leftwich's arm that has him rated as one of the top three quarterbacks in a draft that could see six or seven throwers taken in the first two rounds.

"He threw good," Angelo said before boarding a plane back to Chicago. "He made all the throws. He threw about 70 balls. If you don't like the way he throws the ball, then you don't like him. He's got good accuracy. He's a downfield thrower."

The scores of NFL personnel evaluators at Leftwich's workout at Manatee High School in Sarasota just wanted to make sure he was recovered from his second left leg injury in the past two seasons, and he proved that he was. He also made all his throws after receiving the snap directly from under center, rather than in shotgun formation, where he did most of his throwing at Marshall. Leftwich, who threw for 89 touchdowns and almost 12,000 yards, did everything that he would have been asked to do at February's scouting combine, the short shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump.

"Did he do anything to keep him out of the top 10?" Angelo said. "No, he didn't. Is he going to be a top 10 pick? I can't answer that. Can he be? Yes. He was very cooperative and very excited about being able to work out. He's an average athlete in terms of all the measureables -- he's not a great athlete in those terms. He's a pocket passer."

GREEN BAY

Likely to re-sign with Packers

Nose tackle Gilbert Brown's future with the Green Bay Packers cleared up Thursday night when Miami's Jermaine Haley agreed to an offer sheet with the Washington Redskins. With Haley, whom the Packers were pursuing, playing either for the Redskins or Dolphins next year, the Packers are likely to re-sign Brown.

Brown, entering his 10th season with the Packers, has been bothered by as assortment of injuries over the past two seasons but is still effective against the run. He started 11 of 16 games at nose tackle last year. Files grievance against former team

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nate Wayne recently filed a grievance against the Green Bay Packers seeking a $750,000 bonus he feels he should receive, according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Packers will have to count $375,000 against their salary cap until the matter is resolved. If Wayne wins the claim, the Packers will have to count the entire amount against their salary cap for this season.

Wayne was due a roster bonus on March 1, but the team had a 10-day window to make a payment. The Packers released Wayne on March 10 for salary cap purposes but Wayne says that the team exceeded the 10-day limit before releasing him and is, thus, due the bonus.

Nwokorie fills several needs

The Packers have tried to replace Holliday in the defensive line rotation by signing unrestricted free agent Chukie Nwokorie from Indianapolis. Nwokorie, 6-3 and 284, accepted a two-year, $2 million deal that included a $500,000 signing bonus. He will back up at both ends and also could work inside on passing downs. The Packers have been interested in Nwokorie for several years. John Schneider, one of their scouts, pushed hard for Nwokorie. Signed by Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent in 1999, Nwokorie had his best season two years ago when he started five games at left end and totaled 71 tackles and 5 sacks. Last year, he suffered a neck injury before training camp that landed him on the physically unable to perform list. He wound up playing in just three games. "He was mainly looking for an opportunity to get playing time and make a contribution," agent Frank Murtha said. "They have a need at both the 'elephant' and 'power' end positions. "He doesn't fit the bill as an edge rusher because he's a bigger man. He's extremely strong." Murtha said Nwokorie had interest from the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints but chose the Packers because of the opportunity to play and the team's long-standing interest in him. Two years ago, the Packers considered signing him as a restricted free agent and last year they attempted to deal for him just before the trading deadline. Nwokorie joins Aaron Kampman and Jamal Reynolds as backup ends.

‘Nasty kid’ signs

The Packers added depth to their offensive line by signing center-guard Grey Ruegamer, an unrestricted free agent from New England.

Ruegamer, 6-4 and 310, could wind up being the swing man inside on the line.

A third-round pick by Miami in 1999, Ruegamer spent 15 of 16 games inactive his rookie season and was cut after training camp the next year. He eventually resurrected his career in New England, where he served as a backup the last two seasons.

"He's a tough, mean, nasty kid," said Rich Moran, a former Packers guard who served as Ruegamer's agent. "He's focused and he's getting better every year."

Said an NFC scout: "He's right on the bubble. If you need him to start you got a starter. If not, you've got a solid swing guy. He's a better athlete than (Bill) Ferrario. Smart. Versatile."

Draft needs/priorities

QB -- Brett Favre is getting up there and suggesting this might be his final season. Craig Nall, who is playing in NFL Europe, is all that's behind him.

LB -- Nate Wayne, the weak-side starter, is gone to Philadelphia. Hardy Nickerson, the starter in the middle, is finished. Hannibal Navies is on board but there is a great need for more bodies.

DL -- The Packers lost versatile backup Billy Lyon to Minnesota and DE Vonnie Holliday to Kansas City. They signed Colts DE Chukie Nwokorie to a two-year contract.


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