After three preseason games, the Bears don't know yet if the quarterback position will be as troublesome as it was last season, but they've already seen indications that their defense might be talented enough to pick up some of the offense's slack.
The first-team defense permitted its first touchdown of the preseason Saturday night at Indianapolis, but not until the Colts' sixth possession, by which time the Bears had already forced 2 turnovers against the NFL's highest-scoring offense last season.
TEAM INJURY REPORT
|WR Eddie Berlin is expected out 6 more weeks with a
partially torn groin muscle.
FB Bryan Johnson (off-season foot surgery) could be back in a week.
FB Jason McKie (torn pectoral) is progressing faster than expected and could be back in late August.
LB Marcus Reese returned Saturday night after suffering a mild shoulder separation the first week in camp, but he reinjured the same shoulder.
"I talk about our defense being pretty good," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "To see how good, you have to play against the best. Anytime you can hold Peyton (Manning) down a little bit, that's good. But that's what we expect from our crew. We're a good defensive team, and that's how we're going to play."
That's probably how well the defense will have to play until Chad Hutchinson - or rookie Kyle Orton, or veteran Jeff Blake - proves he can run the offense more efficiently than it was run against the Colts. But that's how well the defense has played in each game so far. It allowed 3 points in five possessions against the Dolphins, no points in four possessions against the Rams and 7 points in six possessions vs. Indy.
The Colts managed just 202 total yards Saturday night, exactly half of what they averaged last season. The Rams totaled just 274 total yards a week earlier, 93 fewer than they averaged in '04.
Sure it's the preseason, but the Bears' No. 1 defense has handled two of the top offenses in the NFL in back-to-back weeks.
"You can't get too excited about the preseason, but you have to call a spade a spade," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "We played well, and hats off to everybody on the defensive line. We were able to get after Peyton real good."
The Bears never sacked Manning, but they hurried him into throwing sooner than he wanted to, and defensive backups dropped Manning's backups four times for 34 yards in losses.
--Sunday marked the 28th day of first-round running back Cedric Benson's holdout, exceeding by one day the tardiness of first-round running back Curtis Enis in 1998.
Enis reported 20 days before the season opener. Benson would have had to be signed and at Halas Hall Monday to be in uniform 20 days before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the Redskins.
Because the Bears fear the fourth overall selection won't be ready to play by then, incumbent starter Thomas Jones was rested Saturday night and replaced by Adrian Peterson, who rushed for a game-best 60 yards on 14 carries. An injury to Jones would leave Peterson as the only tailback on the roster who has carried the ball in the NFL, and the fourth-year player from Georgia Southern has only 47 carries for 190 yards.
"Every day that Cedric is away it's harder to get him ready to play for the opener," said coach Lovie Smith, who plans a heavy workload for Jones Friday in the fourth preseason game.
Jeff Blake is back where he says he belongs.
Two days after starting quarterback Rex Grossman suffered a fractured ankle that will keep him sidelined at least until mid-November, the 34-year-old free agent was signed to back up inexperienced Chad Hutchinson and rookie Kyle Orton.
"I love to play the game," Blake said. "I've been doing it since I've been 8 years old. My oldest son is 14, and he starts freshman football this year, which I'm apparently going to miss some of it. All my other kids have been seeing me play football all my life, so for me to be home this time of year, it was strange for them."
Blake has more NFL experience than the other five quarterbacks on the roster combined, yet he starts out at No. 3 with no guarantees.
"Whatever they would need for me to do, that's what I'm going to do," Blake said. "I have a lot of knowledge of the game, and I can't take it with me; I have to pass it on. So I'm here to help out and do as much as I can in that aspect and also be ready to play if my time comes."
Linebacker Levar Woods played with Blake in Arizona, when the quarterback spent the 2003 season with the Cardinals.
"He threw well for us when he got his chance, and I'm looking forward to him coming in here," Woods said Monday morning, shortly before Blake arrived. "Jeff's a pro's pro. He's a proven veteran, been to the Pro Bowl (in 1995), played in big games, played a lot of games. "He definitely knows what he's doing."
--RB Adrian Peterson picked up 60 yards on 14 carries playing with the first team and against the Colts' No. 1 defense.
--RB Thomas Jones was rested Saturday in anticipation of getting a full load this Friday, according to coaches. Speculation was that Jones was held out as a precautionary measure with first-round pick Cedric Benson still unsigned.
--C Olin Kreutz missed Saturday's game because he was ill but should be back at practice on Monday.
--WR Justin Gage, currently a starter, caught his first pass of the season -- a 4-yarder -- on Saturday night, the Bears' third preseason game.
--QB Kurt Kittner, facing an uphill battle against veteran Jeff Blake for the No. 3 job, completed 3 of 3 passes Saturday night for 22 yards.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
At the urging of general manager Ted Thompson, his onetime mentor and retired Packers GM Ron Wolf paid an extended visit to training camp for three days last week.
Coincidence or not, Wolf had ample time standing on the practice field to look over a team with two rookies running with the starting units - Nick Collins at safety and Will Whitticker at right guard. The last time the Packers opened the season with two rookie starters was 1992, Wolf's first full year overseeing the team.
TEAM INJURY REPORT
|TE Ben Steele, who started the game
Saturday in place of holdout Bubba Franks and injured David Martin,
suffered neck and back injuries in the first half and didn't return.
DE Kenny Peterson suffered a neck injury in the second half of the game Saturday and didn't return.
S Todd Franz suffered a shoulder injury in the second half of the game Saturday and didn't return.
CB Al Harris aggravated a thigh bruise in practice Aug. 16, missed the rest of the week of practice and was held out of the game Saturday.
CB Joey Thomas, out the previous two weeks with a strained left calf, returned to practice Aug. 14, only to promptly suffer an injury to his hip flexor as he tried to compensate for the sore calf. Thomas was shut down the rest of the week and held out of the game Saturday.
S Mark Roman, who had been in line to retain starting job at free safety, suffered a pulled hamstring in practice Aug. 15, missed the rest of the week of practice and was held out of the game Saturday.
LB Na'il Diggs, who sustained a partially torn MCL in his left knee in practice Aug. 8, is a possibility to return for the last preseason game at Tennessee on Sept. 1, though getting back for the regular-season opener 10 days later at Detroit is more realistic.
DT Corey Williams suffered injuries to his ribs, hip and back in practice Aug. 16, missed the rest of the week of practice and was held out of the game Saturday.
DT Grady Jackson remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he recovers from off-season knee surgery. He's targeting to be ready for the preseason finale.
DT Cletidus Hunt has been sidelined since Aug. 5 with an inflamed knee and a sore shoulder. There's no timetable on his return.
TE David Martin aggravated a groin injury in practice Aug. 17 and was held out of the game Saturday.
OT Brad Bedell returned to practice early last week to participate in individual drills after being out since Aug. 3 with a strained hamstring. Bedell is expected to practice in a full-time capacity this week.
WR Terrence Murphy sprained MCL in his right knee in practice Aug. 17. He could be sidelined as much as four weeks, which would keep the rookie out of the season opener.
FB Vonta Leach suffered a sprained MCL in a knee in the preseason opener against San Diego on Aug. 11 and is out indefinitely.
LB Kurt Campbell had surgery Aug. 15 to repair a torn ACL in his right knee and is likely out for the season, though the team has yet to put him on injured reserve.
Head coach Mike Sherman had yet to declare Collins and Whitticker as starters for the regular-season opener at Detroit on Sept. 11. The young, dynamic duo, though, appears to be a good bet to inherit the rare distinction last held by receiver Robert Brooks and linebacker Mark D'Onofrio.
"Yeah, there will be some new faces in the lineup this year for the Green Bay Packers," said Thompson, their first-year GM. "Sometimes, that's a good thing. Sometimes, it's a bit unnerving. But, I think in the long run, it's a good thing -- to get a little fresh blood in there."
Thompson, for one, has no qualms putting rookies out on the field, in a prominent position no less, if they've proved in a short time to be NFL ready.
Prior to returning to Green Bay, where he worked under Wolf from 1992 to '99, Thompson rebuilt Seattle through his shrewd draft work for five years as vice president of football operations.
"We played rookies in Seattle, and we played rookies here under Ron's tutelage," Thompson said. "It's just the way it works out. In a perfect world, would everybody be able to sit through like a little redshirt year? But, that's not the way (it works) in this day and age of the NFL because (with) these (young) guys, sometimes you might have them only four or five years and then they go somewhere else in free agency.
"It's sort of like college football now today. They play those freshmen right away."
While first-round draft pick Aaron Rodgers likely will sit and learn for at least a season behind quarterback Brett Favre, Collins and Whitticker were put on the accelerated track with the learning curve.
Once thought of as developmental candidates for starting spots down the road, each player has defiantly exceeded those modest expectations and filled a position of need.
Collins could be the first Packers rookie to start at safety in a season opener since Chuck Cecil in 1988.
"We really feel that he's on the right track," defensive coordinator Jim Bates said. "It's been daily progress for him. He's on target."
Collins has started the first two preseason games at free safety, where a big void was left to be filled when All-Pro Darren Sharper was cut in March for financial reasons and subsequently signed with NFC North rival Minnesota.
Similarities abound between Sharper and Collins, not the least of which is the Packers drafted them in the second round out of Division I-AA schools from the East Coast. Eyebrows were raised when Green Bay tabbed Collins out of Bethune-Cookman with the first of their two second-round picks, 51st overall, in April.
Like Sharper in his prime, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Collins is blessed with cornerback-type speed, has good range, is assignment-sure, has a nose for the football and isn't shy about delivering a big hit in coverage.
Moreover, not unlike Sharper or even retired Packers safety LeRoy Butler, whose number 36 Collins wears on his uniform, the rookie carries himself with an unmistakable swagger.
"My talent shows on the field. I don't have to prove anything," said Collins, thinking nothing of his emergence from a small-college program.
Whitticker, in sharp contrast, belies his 6-5, 334-pound frame with a quiet and unassuming personality. He readily admits his meteoric rise from a prospect nearly not drafted to entering the preseason third on the depth chart at right guard to presumptive opening-day starter is beyond belief.
"I never would have thought of this," Whitticker said. "You have to realize that being a seventh-round draft pick and even being close to being (an un-drafted) free agent, I'm just fortunate what I've been doing so far. Now, I just have to continue and just rise up to everybody's playing level now.
"This is a good group of offensive linemen. They're looking for somebody to come in and step in and help this team out."
Whitticker's exceptional showing in camp thus far has tempered concerns about how the team would replace three-time Pro Bowler Marco Rivera, who bolted for Dallas as a free agent. The team also lost standout Mike Wahle at left guard to Carolina in free agency.
The imposing Whitticker, a backup center to NBA standout Zach Randolph in high school in Marion, Ind., has wowed observers by utilizing strong hands and quick feet to properly position himself to engulf defenders. He held his ground against mammoth tackle Sam Adams in the Packers' 27-7 loss to Buffalo on Saturday.
"Nothing fazes him," said offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. "He doesn't get nervous. He doesn't panic. He's strong, athletic. He works well with (right tackle Mark) Tauscher; he works well with 'Flanny' (Pro Bowl center Mike Flanagan) and all the linemen in there."
Whitticker, who has outperformed veteran free-agent signee Matt O'Dwyer, could be first Packers rookie guard to start a season opener since Bill Bain in 1975.
--The Packers had six possible starters on defense out of action in a 27-7 loss at Buffalo on Saturday.
The preseason injury bug has stung the unit across the board but no position more than cornerback. Al Harris, the veteran leader of an inexperienced group, has been nagged by a bruised thigh. Joey Thomas, who entered training camp as the starter opposite Harris, has been a frequent sideline observer the first three weeks with calf and hip problems.
So, the Packers were compelled to start Ahmad Carroll, last year's starter at left cornerback, and rookie Mike Hawkins against the Bills.
Though Harris and Thomas are expected to get back on the field at some point this week, head coach Mike Sherman acknowledged that any further setbacks could be detrimental for the start of the regular season.
"Certainly, if we did lose a guy like Al Harris -- he's a veteran player; he's our shutdown corner; he's a premier guy over there -- you have concern," Sherman said. "But, we have depth at cornerback, I feel. We have some young players who obviously are going to have to grow up on the run, but we have some young players who can play. How soon they're going to be at the level we want them to be remains to be seen."
The status of Thomas is a confounding mystery. A strained calf sidelined him for most of the first two weeks of camp. He returned but for a day early last week, injuring his hip flexor as he tried to compensate for the calf injury.
A solid off-season moved Thomas ahead of fellow second-year player Carroll on the depth chart.
"We need to get him on the field, and we haven't been able to do that," Sherman said. "When he's been out here, he's done a very good job. But, staying on the field is part of being able to play this game. So, we have to keep him on the field."
Carroll nearly joined Thomas on the injured list. He had a foot stepped on while covering a punt return in practice Aug. 18 and had to be taken off the field on a cart. However, initial fears that he may have torn his Achilles' tendon dissipated when Carroll returned to the field a few minutes later.
-- Retired general manager Ron Wolf, who hired Thompson as a scout with the Packers in the early 1990s, said his former protege didn't ask for input during Wolf's visit to training camp last week on what to do with Sherman's future with the team.
Sherman is in the final year of his contract. Thompson, hired in January to replace Sherman as GM, has put off making a decision on whether or not to extend Sherman's contract.
If Thompson had sought advice, Wolf would have told him: "To me, the key is how well those guys get along with each other. And, they have to do that. That's the whole key. If they can do that ... each person has to be comfortable with the other one. If he asked me about Mike Sherman, I would tell him what I think of Mike Sherman."
And, that opinion would be?
"Very positive. Very, very positive," Wolf said.
--OT Brennan Curtin was waived Aug. 17. The third-year veteran entered training camp as a long shot to survive the final roster cut, sitting third on the depth chart at right tackle behind Mark Tauscher and Kevin Barry. The former sixth-round draft pick never appeared in a regular-season game his first two seasons. The 6-foot-9 Curtin spent all of last season on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL in a preseason game.
--LB Jeremiah Garrison was signed Aug. 16. The 6-foot, 234-pound Garrison spent the last two weeks of the 2004 season on New Orleans' practice squad, after he originally signed as an un-drafted free agent with San Diego out of South Carolina.
--Underachieving defensive tackles James Lee and Donnell Washington started Saturday's 27-7 loss at Buffalo, with the top interior trio of Grady Jackson, Cletidus Hunt and Corey Williams all sidelined with injuries.
Lee and Washington worked in a rotation that included Colin Cole and Cullen Jenkins in the first half. The results out of the foursome were next to nothing - a scant four tackles combined. Jenkins, whose versatility of also playing end is indispensable, had three of the tackles, with Lee recording the other.
--Un-drafted rookie LB Roy Manning moved from middle linebacker to weak-side linebacker in practice last week and worked there in the game Saturday.
It's not out of the question he could push veteran Ray Thompson, signed as a free agent from Arizona, for the starting spot on the weak side before the end of the preseason. Manning had a sack as part of three tackles against Buffalo.
"Manning is making a move. He's making progress," said defensive coordinator Jim Bates, noting the quickness and change-of-direction ability possessed by the Michigan product.
--Pro Bowl TE Bubba Franks remains unsigned, though signs suggest he will report before the preseason slate ends next week.
"I'm confident that both parties are anxious to get something done," head coach Mike Sherman said. "When that's the case, usually something does happen. So, we don't have one party with their head in the sand. There's communication. When there's communication, usually results occur. Hopefully, that will happen. Soon."
The Vikings had hoped that center Matt Birk could make his preseason debut this Friday against San Diego. But now it appears as if there is a chance Birk won't be ready for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against Tampa Bay at the Metrodome.
"It's coming along slower than he and we had anticipated," coach Mike Tice said. "But by no means is it cause for concern of anything except that it's not a slam dunk now that he's going to play against Tampa. That would be the only thing I would say. Certainly he's going to play."
TEAM INJURY REPORT
|TE Richard Angulo (strained left shoulder) should return full-time to practice
RB Michael Bennett (neck) isn't expected to miss time. Coach Mike Tice described the injury thusly; "he dinged up his neck."
C Matt Birk (hip) has been doing limited work in practice and saw doctor in New York last week. It's uncertain when he will begin playing in games.
WR Kelly Campbell (strained right quadriceps) underwent MRI and will rest for at least another week.
DE Earl Cochran (calf strain) is day-to-day.
RB Ciatrick Fason (right ankle sprain) will miss two-to-three weeks because it's a high ankle sprain.
S Dustin Fox (fractured left arm) could be placed on injured reserve.
OL Anthony Herrera (infection) released from hospital Saturday after being there almost a week to receive treatment with antibiotics.
G Chris Liwienski (sprained left shoulder) expected to practice this week.
CB Fred Smoot (right knee) is expected to practice this week.
Birk, who had surgery last June to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, began training camp on the physically unable to perform list as the Vikings took a very cautious approach with the four-time Pro Bowl selection. He was activated Aug. 10, but only saw limited work in practice.
The Vikings were concerned enough about his progress that Birk recently was examined by a doctor in New York. The team played the Jets last Friday in a preseason game at Giants Stadium.
Tice said the New York-based doctor and the Vikings physicians would discuss the situation. "There are different ways we can go," Tice said.
It has been a difficult past year for Birk, who had surgery to repair sports hernias last August, November and March. He missed four games last season and was unable to take part in any of the Vikings' offseason workout program. Doctors thought the hip injury was a result of Birk trying to play through the second hernia for the majority of the 2004 season.
Tice remained hopeful Birk would be able to practice in pads this week, so the team can get an idea of where things stand.
If Birk remains out, his replacement will continue to be sixth-year player Cory Withrow. Tice wasn't pleased with Withrow's performance in the preseason opener against Kansas City, but felt the center made big strides in the 28-21 loss to the Jets.
"Cory played really well in the (Jets) game and he settled some things down for us," Tice said. "He really did a great job in protection. Did the things I want him to do. Being smaller (6-2, 287 pounds), there are certain techniques you've got to do differently than you do if you're bigger. He did them."
Tice also was happy with the play of guards Adam Goldberg and Marcus Johnson, who started in place of right guard Chris Liwienski (sprained left shoulder). Johnson, a rookie second-round pick from Mississippi, has impressed Tice with his athletic ability.
In fact, it was expected Johnson would remain at right guard and Liwienski would be shifted back to left guard. Liwienski was moved to the right side during the off-season after the Vikings severed ties with David Dixon. The versatile Goldberg likely will find himself as a backup at guard and center.
--Unhappy with how the offensive linemen were using their hands in blocking, coach Steve Loney had the guards and tackles practice with elastic bands holding their hands together during an afternoon session last week. "Basically, it makes them hold their hands tight," said Loney, the Vikings' offensive coordinator and line coach. "What you don't want them to do is get their hands out wide (which can result in holding penalties and a loss of balance)."
--Talk about your 15 minutes of fame. Fan Mike Hennager, wearing a No. 3 Vikings jersey, was standing about 10 feet from an offensive line drill last Tuesday in Mankato when Mike Tice motioned to him. At first, Hennager thought Tice was going to tell him to move back but instead the Vikings coach said," No. 3, get in here." Hennager, who was so close to the action because he was a guest of the team, suddenly became part of the action. He joined the non-contact drills at left guard and was then moved to right guard as Tice provided some tips. Hennager spent about 10 minutes on the field. "The last time I played offensive line was in junior high school," said Hennager, who is from Mankato. "It was great. I'm 5-10 and 220 pounds, and I felt very small out there." It wasn't clear if Tice was just having fun or was trying to make a point about the play of guards Adam Goldberg and rookie Marcus Johnson. Tice later called the episode a "gag."
--Cornerback Fred Smoot, who has missed both preseason games and had participated in only two days of practice through last week, is expected back on the field Monday.
Smoot, a free-agent signee from Washington, began camp on the physically unable to perform list because of a neck injury. Two days after returning from that injury, Smoot suffered what the Vikings termed, "a soft tissue contusion" to his right knee during an Aug. 9 intra-squad scrimmage.
The Vikings became concerned when Smoot's knee continued to bother him and sent him to the Twin Cities for a magnetic resonance imaging exam early last week. Much to Vikings' and Smoot's relief, the MRI confirmed what the training staff had diagnosed.
"I was worried because that's stuff you never know about until they actually look at it," he said. "I was scared. I didn't want any setbacks."
Smoot's return should mean that all five of the defensive starters the Vikings acquired during the off-season will be on the field for Friday night's preseason game against San Diego. Defensive tackle Pat Williams, linebackers Sam Cowart and Napoleon Harris and safety Darren Sharper all appeared in the first two exhibition games.
--Second-year offensive lineman Anthony Herrera spent several days in a Mankato hospital last week because of a cellulite infection in his right leg that was caused by a cut from a cleat. Herrera was taken to the hospital at 3 a.m. Aug. 14 after he awoke in severe pain and with his leg swollen.
He was finally discharged on Saturday; three days after the team broke camp in Mankato. The fact it took time for the antibiotics to begin taking effect wouldn't have been a huge surprise considering the 6-foot-2 Herrera is 315 pounds.
Before the injury, Herrera had impressed coach Mike Tice with his performance. Tice had planned to use Herrera some with the first team at center, splitting time with Cory Withrow as starter Matt Birk continues to rehab from hip surgery.
--Rookie running back Ciatrick Fason, a fourth-round selection, will miss two-to-three weeks after suffering a high right ankle sprain in the third quarter against the Jets last Friday.
--Troy Williamson made an impact in his first NFL game, catching a 54-yard pass from third-string quarterback Shaun Hill in the third quarter of last Friday's 28-21 loss to the New York Jets. Williamson then caught a 13-yard scoring pass from Hill to complete the drive. The seventh-overall pick in April's draft, Williamson had missed more than a week because of an impingement in his right foot. Coach Mike Tice said he wants to get the rookie work with the first team this week.
--The coaching staff was impressed enough with E.J. Henderson's two-game performance at weak side linebacker that he will remain the starter at that position. Henderson was moved from the middle early in camp after the coaches decided he was playing too well not to have him with the starters.
--Linebacker Napoleon Harris replaced Sam Cowart as one of the Vikings' two linebackers in the nickel package. Harris and Dontarrious Thomas are now being used in that role.
--A magnetic resonance imaging exam last week on receiver Kelly Campbell's strained right quadriceps showed enough damage that he will be shut down for at least another week. Campbell re-injured his quadriceps during pre-game warm-ups on Aug. 12 before the preseason opener against Kansas City.
--Former Washington Redskins linebacker Maurice Jones was signed to replace Stewart. Jones, who played college football at South Florida, was in training camp with the Green Bay Packers last season.
--Veteran cornerback Ken Irvin, who was used at safety during the Vikings' developmental camps this spring, has been moved to free safety. Irvin, 33, has never played safety in a game during his career. He isn't thrilled about the move but said he wants to help the team anyway he can. "It's something I can do, but I still know I have a lot left at corner," he said.