Behind Enemy Lines: NFC North Camps

June mini-camps are a time for rookie draft choices to continue to absorb the playbook and for veterans to work out the kinks before training camp opens in July. We take a look at our NFC North division foes, and their current ongoings.

Green Bay -- Former tight end Mikhael Ricks may not have to travel far to find his new home. Ricks, who was released by the Lions following the signing of Stephen Alexander earlier this month, spent time at the Packers' practice facility last week. The Packers are looking to add a viable back-up and part-time tight end to starter Bubba Franks, apparently ending the tenure of veteran Wesley Walls, who likely will not be invited to training camp.

The Packers already shored up another position with the signing of former Browns' No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch. Couch will serve as the heir-apparent to starter Brett Favre, and has already shown his commitment to the organization by crashing the Packers' playbook in effort to get a head start prior to training camp.

Speaking of underachievers, the Packers' June activity also included the release of veteran defensive lineman Joe Johnson. In return for their six-year, $33 million dollar deal they handed Johnson two years ago, they were rewarded with two sacks and a marijuana possession in May of 2003. The release will save the Packers $4 million in cap room.

In other Packer-related material, it seems that the Green Bay media doesn't like publicizing even minor team disputes. Reading between the lines, the Packers were without running back Ahman Green for two consecutive days -- unexcused -- during an early June camp. Upon his return to the final day of camp, Green offered no reasoning and seemingly no remorse, only stating that he and head coach Mike Sherman had talked, and were "on the same page about stuff." 


Green's unexcused absence came on the heels of defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt's non-appearance a week prior, an act that Green voiced his displeasure over. Puzzling? Anyway, still missing from camp is Packers' cornerback Mike McKenzie, whose agent Drew Rosenhaus is still attempting to land a trade for the disgruntled, dreadlocked client.

The Packers, however, have suggested that McKenzie returning to the team is not out the of realm of possibility.

Minnesota -- When they weren't being arrested in bar room brawls, the Minnesota Vikings seemed to make good progress during the team's recent mini-camp.

The Vikings' depth at RB is impressive, and starter Michael Bennett has been a standout. Bennett and the Vikings have big goals set for the running game in 2004, and if he can maintain his health, they seem to be attainable.

Wide receiver Randy Moss is still suffering from plantar fasciitis, but is learning to deal with the pain. Moss struggled during the Vikings' May camp with the heal-related injury, but reportedly performed well enough in camp to silence most questions regarding his health. It can take up to six months for an athlete to completely recover from plantar fasciitis.

Moss will be assisted by newcomer Marcus Robinson, who claimed the No. 2 wide receiver position in June's camp, beating out reserve Nate Burleson, who was impressive nonetheless.

If there's a weakness to be found at this point with the Vikings, look no further than the Chris Claiborne-led linebacking corps. Claiborne still isn't 100 percent healthy from injuries suffered last year, fellow linebacker Mike Nattiel sprained his ankle last week, and E.J. Henderson sat out the first week in June with a torn meniscus.

Just last week, the team said goodbye to tight end Steve Farmer, who was a major part of the bar brawl last month that involved several Viking players. The Vikings said Farmer's release was tied directly to the incident.

Chicago -- After signing their second draft pick already, the Chicago Bears are ahead of the rest of the division in the irrelevant news category. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed more draft picks at this point (3).

The Bears came to terms with fourth-round pick Leon Joe, who agreed to a four-year deal worth $1.75 million. Joe, though, wasn't even the first fourth round draft choice signed by Chicago, who apparently decided to choose round 4 to begin their signing spree.

Nathan Vasher, a cornerback, agreed to a four-year, $1.77 million deal in May.

Despite the two early contract agreements, the Bears still have a reason to sweat in their race to catch up with Pittsburgh. First round draft choice Tommie Harris, an Oklahoma product, recently switched agents to the controversial Eugene Parker, who was responsible for previous Bear holdouts David Terrell and Rex Grossman.

Speaking of Terrell, the former Michigan standout has apparently calmed down after trade speculation pushed a few buttons. In late May, Terrell commented on 'rumors' regarding him coming to Detroit (Yes, you read that correctly).

"Hey, I don't know nothing about that," Terrell said. "I talked to my coaches and it's all good. I'm here doing my job. I can't focus on what Detroit is saying. I play for the Bears. The Detroit media, who are they? What do they know about me? If Chicago starts talking about it, then I'll pay attention. Until then, it's not my concern."

If it's of any consolation, David, we didn't hear anything about it. Quite frankly, though, you really aren't needed. And the Detroit media does likely know something about you, considering you were once a Wolverine.

Meanwhile, free-agent tackle acquisition John Tait suffered a strained groin muscle. Because the Bears will not have any team organized camps until their official training camp in July, the injury isn't expected to impact the team too strongly.

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