NFC North Update

Aaron Gibson still looking big (in Chicago this time), Eric Crouch demonstrating strong arm under Favre (We're serious), while Minnesota defensive lineman attempts comeback. Many more insider notes and mini-camp notes regarding our division rivals.

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Chicago Bears
Adds new dimension to offense

The Bears have one of the best receivers in the game in Marty Booker, but the signing of Desmond Clark should only improve his numbers. The team has been lacking a pass catching tight end since the days of Mike Ditka.

Although, Clark will not be confused for "Iron Mike" he has a 50 plus reception campaign on his resume. Injuries slowed Clark’s progress last year, but he’s healthy and ready to be a starter for the first time.

"I feel that I have the skills to be a starter and to make a difference in a game," Clark said.

Not worried about slow start to practices
His first practices as the Bears new quarterback have been a little shaky for Kordell Stewart, but it's nothing to be concerned about, according to the nine-year veteran. "It went pretty good," Stewart said, with some qualifications after the first minicamp practice. "A few jitterbugs here and there, a little excitement, a little gibberish in the mouth trying to get the plays out every once in a while. So, it was what you expected on the first day for the most part. But overall, I thought it was fun." Having spent the past few seasons under a microscope in Pittsburgh, Stewart knows what pressure is, and he isn't feeling any just yet, not even from first-round draft pick Rex Grossman. "I'm beyond the pressure side of it all," Stewart said. "This is a business. You have to be able to come out and produce. As the years go on, and guys get older, and as time progresses, they have to bring somebody else in to help them prepare for the future. That's understood, and that's just the way it goes. The thing I have to do is focus on my job and go out and do the best I can and let nature take its course."

Training paying off
Bryan Robinson had a poor 2002 season for various reasons, but none more than his lack of training. Due to a freak injury, two broken wrists kept him from his normal training regiment last offseason.

However, Robinson is now healthy and able to train.

"I would say that B-Rob looked stronger and maybe bigger than he was a year ago," said Dick Jauron.

Robinson trained with Phillip Daniels down in Atlanta before coming back to Chicago to participate in the team’s offseason program that started March 24.

Sees time at right tackle
At nearly 400 pounds it’s hard for Aaron Gibson to blend in, so he was easy to spot playing right tackle for the Bears during the team’s mini-camp. Gibson has been at right guard since coming into the league, but the injury to Marc Colombo gave him the opportunity to slide over to tackle.

"Really like what Aaron's done for us since he got here in terms of our offseason program, what we've asked him to do weight-wise," said Dick Jauron. "He's obviously a massive man, very strong, naturally strong. I think Aaron's going to make a run at it, I really do, and we're really glad to have him and glad to witness firsthand his attitude. He's been tremendous with us."

Could make biggest impact of rookies
The Bears selected 12 players in last month’s NFL draft and had three of the first 35 picks. However, of all the players taken by Chicago there is some debate of which will have the biggest impact as a rookie.

Bobby Wade hopes to be that player as a dual threat for the Bears as a receiver and special teams contributor. Although, at this point the team would settle for Wade being their return man and anything he adds as a receiver would be a bonus.

The Bears drafted him specifically to return kicks and punts, which will give him an advantage when roster cuts come.

"That will be my niche, definitely," Wade said of his return ability. "Returning punts, having that ability to be a threat back there is huge, especially when you’re trying to decide who’s traveling and who’s not, who makes the team and who doesn’t. The guys who can provide more in different areas will definitely have that edge."

Wade is no slouch as a receiver, he caught 93 balls in his senior season at Arizona and at some point thinks he can be more than a return specialist.

"I think I can definitely be an impact on the offensive side of the ball as well."

Will he step up to challenge?
Most young players use the first practice on the first day of minicamp to make a good impression for the upcoming season. And then there's David Terrell. The third-year wide receiver, a career underachiever so far after being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2001 draft, did not reply very diplomatically to the draft day challenge from general manager Jerry Angelo. After selecting Missouri's Justin Gage in the fifth round last weekend, Angelo said he hoped the rookie's presence would push Terrell for playing time. "I ain't surprised, and personally I don't really care," Terrell said after Friday's morning practice. "What am I supposed to say to Jerry Angelo? Cuss the guy out? He's doing his job; if that's his job. If he's not happy with David Terrell and what I bring to this organization, he knows what to do. Jerry Angelo, he's just my GM. I'm not worried about Jerry. He's not even in the back of my mind." Angelo was hired to run the Bears' football operation several weeks after Mark Hatley made Terrell his last No. 1 pick as the Bears' vice president of player personnel. "Jerry Angelo didn't draft me," Terrell said. "I play for the Bears, but most of all I play for them other guys who are in that locker room." Terrell, 24, said he's determined to earn a more significant role this year. He caught just nine passes in five games last season before a fractured left foot ended his season. But four of his catches were for touchdowns, including what turned out to be the game-winning points in the first two games of the season. He caught 34 passes for 415 yards as a rookie, but, like last season, his mediocre practice production didn't earn him much playing time on Sundays. Still, he said he doesn't need to be motivated by the presence of anyone to achieve the level of production that was anticipated from him after a standout career at Michigan. "I don't need a challenge," Terrell said. "I don't need a challenge by a rookie. I don't need a challenge by nobody. My challenge is to go out there and get my job done for the other guys that I play for on offense and defense. "I take what happened to me last year as a challenge. I take me being the eighth pick and coming to the Bears and not being a starter as a challenge. I want to be the best myself and I push myself every day in the weight room and out here running." Early indications are that Terrell's practice habits haven't improved too much. He has chosen to spend some of his time recently in Florida and California instead of in the Bears' offseason workout program, which began March 24, and where he might have gotten a jump on developing a rapport with new quarterback Kordell Stewart. But coach Dick Jauron downplayed Terrell's absence from Halas Hall. "David's been working out in Florida, working awfully hard," Jauron said. We told him if that's what he needed to do, he could stay there and work. We can see that he's in shape and he has been working. After this point, though, we would like him here. He knows he should be here with the quarterbacks and the rest of the receivers." Terrell says he's 100 percent recovered from the foot injury, and he's ready to make a contribution more befitting his draft status. He's prepared to deal with competition from Gage. "I'm ready if he wants to challenge me," Terrell said. "I've been challenged my whole life and overcame it. Right now what I'm going to do is go out and get better, and I'm going to win that starting job. I ain't going to worry about a rookie coming behind me trying to push me or challenge me. I'm going to challenge myself. I'm going to win a starting job."

Misses final day of mini-camp
Mike Gandy has been suffering from tendinitis in his knee and had only been participating in morning practice. However, the Bears left tackle was held out of Sunday’s session for precautionary reasons.

Green Bay Packers
Set to receive college degree

Running back Ahman Green will receive his diploma from the University of Nebraska on Saturday. Green made a promise to his parents and himself to finish his undergraduate studies when he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 1998. At the time, he was 73 credits shy of his geography degree.

"This is something I can always use at any time, and I can use it as a tool to help shape my kids and my younger family members," Green told the Associated Press.

Still recovering
Coach Mike Sherman said DL Chuckie Nwokorie (knee contusion) might be ready to participate by the final minicamp June 2-11.

Likely to start at strongside linebacker
The Packers envisioned Hannibal Navies playing middle linebacker when they signed him as an unrestricted free agent in March. But with Na'il Diggs playing the weakside linebacker position in place of the departed Nate Wayne, Navies was moved to the "Buck" (strongside) position for the team's recent post-draft minicamp.

"That was Diggs' spot there before," defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. "With him moving to 'Will' (weak side), we put the next most experienced guy (Navies) in that spot. That's one he's more familiar with. We talked to him and he felt comfortable being put in that spot."

First-round draft pick Nick Barnett and third-year pro Torrance Marshall will compete to start at middle linebacker.

Set to visit Pack
Free agent safety Sammy Knight, who received a contract offer from Miami this week, is also expected to visit Green Bay in the coming days. The visit was delayed by the birth of his daughter, Samone, last week.

Shows that he has a 'live' arm
Eric Crouch showed last week that he might have a strong enough arm to play in the NFL. Crouch participated in Green Bay's recent post-draft minicamp as a quarterback and quieted the critics who feel his arm is not strong enough to compete at this level.

"He gets rid of the ball quickly, has a pretty live arm," said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "I was pleased with him and his knowledge of the offense."

Brett Favre agreed.

"The knock on him is he's short and wasn't in a passing offense in Nebraska, but I was very surprised how much heat he had on the ball and how well he threw it," Favre said.

Exhibits more confidence, speed
Wide receiver Robert Ferguson was impressive in Green Bay's recent post-draft minicamp, Packers coach and GM Mike Sherman says. Ferguson reported to camp at 212 pounds after weighing less than 200 at the end of last season. With the added muscle, Ferguson also is faster than he was last year and displayed much more confidence.

Ferguson will be battling Javon Walker for the right to start opposite Donald Driver for the Packers this season.

"I saw added quickness in speed from Robert Ferguson," Sherman said. "I thought that was very evident from the first time he took off at the line of scrimmage against pretty good corners. Al Harris is a heckuva cover corner. They went against each other all the time. I thought Robert got some good work with Al. That was a battle for both of them."

Pack hopes he's something special
The Packers haven't had a return game since the day in March 2002 that Allen Rossum signed with Atlanta as an unrestricted free agent. In the seventh round, they took a shot on wide receiver DeAndrew Rubin, who comes to the Packers much more highly regarded than Joey Jamison did in 2000 and at a much cheaper price. Rubin, a punt and kickoff returner from South Florida, was drafted with the first of three compensatory selections in the seventh round. Jamison, a fifth-round pick three years ago from Texas Southern, didn't make it past the second week of training camp before being released. Coach Mike Sherman indicated that the Packers had Rubin ranked with cornerback Terrence McGee of Northwestern (La.) State and wide receiver Keenan Howry of Oregon as the top combination return men in the draft. "The difference between Rubin and Jamison is a fifth-round choice compared to a compensatory seventh," Sherman said. "I wanted to take a shot at him. Whether he's someone I'll feel confident in, I can't say that." Rubin, who also started 18 games at wide receiver, is with the perfect team. Only Buffalo had a worse return game than Green Bay last year, and the best returner that the Packers' personnel department could turn up in the last four months had been wide receiver Gari Scott, who didn't even play in 2002. "Gari Scott is a great kid," Sherman said. "Good punt returner. Little loose with the ball." Scott returned punts and kickoffs at Michigan State from 1997-'99 and was Philadelphia's fourth-round pick in '00 before bombing out. Four of the top seven or eight return specialists in the draft went in the fourth round. The Packers traded their fourth-round pick in the move up for defensive tackle Kenny Peterson. The list included running back Domanick Davis of Louisiana State (Texans), cornerback DeJuan Groce of Nebraska (Rams), McGee (Bills) and cornerback Asante Samuel (Patriots). Howry went in the seventh to Minnesota.

Impresses coach in minicamp
Jamal Reynolds weighed in at around 258 pounds for the Packers' post-draft minicamp, up about 10 pounds from his weight last year. He also showed a quicker burst off the line of scrimmage, which provided hope for coach and GM Mike Sherman. Reynolds, selected by the Packers with the 10th overall pick of the 2001 draft, has, thus far, been a bust.

"He showed a good burst off the ball, had some pretty good pressures at times, and great effort at times," Sherman said. "I'm encouraged by that."

Packers keeping in touch
It appears that the Green Bay Packers will re-sign nose tackle Gilbert Brown. Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman said on Sunday that the team has been in touch with Brown's agent.

The Packers drafted James Lee to play nose tackle this season. Brown, entering his 10th season, is an unrestricted free agent but remains unsigned. "Gilbert brings an awful lot to our nose position and some experience that we don't have right now, that's for sure."

Minnesota Vikings
School before work

LB Raonall Smith has been excused from Friday's morning minicamp practice so he can take a final exam at Washington State University.

Holding out hope
DL Willie Howard continues his comeback attempt. He has not played in a game since injuring his right leg in a game Dec. 2001, but despite not being cleared to practice yet, he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "I have to feel good about it," he said, "or I'll never make it back on the field."

Shaping up for No. 9 money
A source with the Panthers said the team is expected to have to sign offensive tackle Jordan Gross as the No. 8 player in the draft -- with No. 8 signing bonus money. That could be a sign that the Vikings may be able to get away with paying defensive tackle Kevin Williams a signing bonus for the No. 9 pick.

Health problems cause release
The Vikings released offensive lineman Lorenzo White after he failed his physical. The Vikings claimed White as a free agent last year when their training camp depth on the line dwindled.

Coming on strong in NFL Europe
Vikings punter Nick Murphy was named the NFL Europe Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the F.C. Barcelona Dragons’ 17-10 win over the Scottish Claymores on Sunday.

Murphy averaged 45.5 yards on six punts in helping the Dragons improve to a league-leading 4-1 record. He had a long kick of 54 yards in a game where the field conditions were affected by rain. Murphy was originally signed by the Vikings as a rookie free agent last April out of Arizona State, was released prior to the 2002 season and will try to compete with 2003 draft choice Eddie Johnson for the punting duties this year. Murphy is tied for the NFL Europe lead with a 42.2 average this season. He has seven kicks inside the 20-yard line and a long of 62 yards.

Vikings QB Shaun Hill earned Offensive Player of the Week honors last week in Europe.

A new Coach Walsh?
It's looking more unlikely that wide receiver Chris Walsh will return in a playing capacity this season. If he doesn't receive a free-agent offer from another team, VU has been told he will be offered a coaching position with the Vikes.

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