Behind Enemy Lines: NFC North Update

Several notes and player updates on each NFC North rival.

CHICAGO BEARS

HOT TOPIC
    Although rookie quarterback Kyle Orton got mostly positive reviews of his opening-day performance, more is expected from him this week.
    "We liked some things but didn't like the end result," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "I'm talking about that last drive. That kind of sticks with you the most. We lost the football game. So you can't like anything a whole lot. He was encouraging. That drive started on the 25, in a tough place to play. He kept his composure, he showed a little moxie. I liked those things about him. But he's got to finish drives. That's the name of the game. We just didn't get that done."
    Orton received high marks for seeing the whole field and knowing where to go with the ball, even if his execution wasn't exceptional.
But he fumbled twice, losing the ball once, and was also intercepted. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said he's looking for improvement in avoiding turnovers Sunday.
    "Take care of the football, (that's) No. 1," Turner said. "He put it on the ground a couple times; he was kind of sloppy with it in the pocket. So he's just got to take care of it."
    Turner is already convinced that he can expand Orton's role in the offense, but he wants to be careful not to overload the rookie early in the season. The Redskins defense may have already provided Orton with one of the toughest tests he'll take all season, and the experience is invaluable.
    "He can do more, no question, but we have to be careful how quickly we bring him along," Turner said. "He's played one game. There's no doubt he's going to be a very good player. He's poised. Even though he didn't always execute and do things exactly like we want, he showed confidence.
    "They came with everything they've got. Every blitz that you'll probably see the rest of the year, he saw on Sunday, and he saw them all. He handled it, he saw the field very well, so he'll be able to do more as the season progresses."

PLAYER NOTES

  • WR Muhsin Muhammad (side) practiced on Thursday and was removed from the injury report.
  • CB Jerry Azumah (hip) practiced Thursday and was removed from the injury report. It remains to be determined if he will increase his workload after playing only in nickel situations last week.
  • FS Chris Harris, a sixth-round pick from Louisiana-Monroe, will start in place of Mike Green. The Bears believe Harris gives them more of as true centerfield-type player with better ball skills than Green.
  • FS Mike Green, a starter for most of the past three seasons, has been replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Chris Harris, a sixth-round pick from Louisiana-Monroe. Green was switched in the off-season from strong safety to free and didn't do a very good job of playing the ball in the season opener.
  • CB Rashied Davis could replace WR Bernard Berrian as the punt returner. Davis is the better player once the ball is in his hands, but he isn't as consistent catching it as Berrian.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

HOT TOPIC
    Coach Mike Sherman has gone old-school during practice this week in his latest attempt to crack down on his team's troublesome propensity for getting into trouble on the field.
    Players who are penalized by a local crew of three officials or commit a turnover are promptly subjected to running a good distance. Generally, from one end of the expansive outdoor field to the fence on the other end.
    "That's a long field - that's a 200-yard field. Nobody wants to be running that," running back Tony Fisher asserted Thursday following a practice that he said included quite a number of winded participants.
    "We had a few too many penalties today, so there was a lot of running. We have a couple of more days to get it out of our system."
    On the heels of committing 36 penalties totaling 274 yards in four preseason games, the transgressions were alarmingly unprecedented in a season-opening loss at Detroit on Sunday.
    The mischievous Packers were cited 18 times for breaking the rules, of which 14 were enforced for 100 yards. It's the greatest number of penalties for one game with Sherman as coach since 2000 and the team's highest in nearly 18 years.
    "What we did last week was unacceptable, and we know that," right tackle Mark Tauscher said.
Sherman has prided himself on coaching teams that have been highly disciplined. In his first five years, the Packers averaged only six penalties for 49 yards per game.
    One game into this season, they rank second in the league behind the notorious lawbreakers from Oakland, who were penalized 16 times for 149 yards.
    Eight of the Packers' penalties were charged to the offense, with four negating gains of 75 yards. Cornerback Ahmad Carroll, a chief offender as a rookie last season, committed four infractions on defense and lost his starting job this week to Joey Thomas.
    Since his constant directives in meetings have seemingly fallen on deaf ears, Sherman resorted to the high school-like punitive measure of having players run in practice to pay for their inexcusable mistakes.
    "There's only so much a coaching staff can do," Tauscher said. "It's up to the players to start executing better and more crisply. We have to start taking some ownership. The coaches coach, and we play. The coaches aren't the ones out there getting penalties. They're putting us in the best position to make plays, and if we don't start doing it, we're going to continue to struggle."

PLAYER NOTES

  • OLB Na'il Diggs practiced for the second straight day after being out since Aug. 8 with a torn MCL in his left knee.
    Diggs is questionable for Sunday's home opener against Cleveland. With Paris Lenon getting most of the reps with the No. 1 defense at the strongside spot, it's possible Diggs will be held out until the Sept. 25 game against Tampa Bay.
    "I really don't want to rush it," Diggs said Thursday. "I don't want to put any pressure on (the knee). When everyone feels confident that Na'il Diggs is ready to play, Na'il Diggs will play."
  • WR Javon Walker remains on the 53-man roster, though he's headed to injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee during the season-opening loss at Detroit.
    Surgery has yet to be scheduled for Walker, the only player who hasn't practiced this week.
  • WR Robert Ferguson, who will move into the starting lineup alongside Donald Driver with Walker out, will have his sizable role on special teams reduced. Ferguson has been an invaluable coverage man on punts and kickoffs and also has returned kickoffs.
    A final decision on whether Ferguson will continue to return kickoffs or be used solely on the coverage units hasn't been announced.
    Fellow receivers Antonio Chatman and Terrence Murphy are candidates to replace Ferguson on kickoff returns, working in tandem with RB Najeh Davenport.
  • DT Cullen Jenkins is entrenched as the starter on the interior of the defensive line beside NT Grady Jackson.
    Jenkins, younger brother of Carolina All-Pro tackle Kris Jenkins, will work in a rotation with Corey Williams and Colin Cole at the three-technique position.
  • QB Aaron Rodgers has resumed working on holds for field goals and extra points now that he's been thrust into the No. 2 role behind Brett Favre.
    The team backed off having Rodgers, its top draft pick this year, audition for the vacant holding job early in the preseason when it appeared fourth-year veteran Craig Nall would emerge as Favre's top backup.
  • P B.J. Sander is K Ryan Longwell's holder. Despite Sander's bungling a snap that foiled what would have been a 22-yard field goal in the opener, Longwell said he prefers having the second-year punter as his holder.
    Rodgers is merely being groomed for "a worst-case scenario," according to Longwell.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

HOT TOPIC
    While left tackle Bryant McKinnie appears to be making progress in his recovery from a sprained left foot, it appears veteran middle linebacker Sam Cowart might not be ready for Sunday's game at Cincinnati.
    Cowart suffered a strained left calf in the opener against Tampa Bay and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. He remains listed as questionable on the injury report, while McKinnie has been upgraded to probable.
    Second-year player Rod Davis replaced Cowart in the middle during both practices and appears in line to get the start.
    The Vikings' other option would be to shift E.J. Henderson from the weak side back to the middle and have Dontarrious Thomas start on the outside. Henderson was the Vikings' starting middle linebacker most of last season but the coaching staff would prefer to leave him at his new position.
    Coach Mike Tice is comfortable with the prospect of starting Davis against Cincinnati because of the linebacker's ability as a run stopper. "Playing against a run team, Rod is going to be in his element," Tice said. "If Rod has to start this is the perfect type of team for Rod to start against."
    Davis' responsibilities would go beyond stopping the run. As the middle linebacker, he also would be responsible for calling defensive signals.     Henderson struggled with some of his additional assignments last season and that's a big reason the Vikings acquired Cowart from the New York Jets in an off-season trade.
    "(Without Cowart) we lose a lot of leadership and a lot of awareness," Tice said. "Hopefully we have enough guys in there in Napoleon (Harris) and E.J., who has really come into his own this year. Hopefully we have some other guys in there that can help settle Rod down. Sam helped to settle E.J. down, now it might be E.J.'s turn to help settle Rod down."
    Davis, a fifth-round selection by the Vikings in 2004 out of Southern Mississippi, made the roster largely because of his abilities on special teams. He saw limited action in last Sunday's 24-13 loss to the Buccaneers and was beaten by tight end Alex Smith on a 23-yard touchdown reception.
    But Davis is confident and credits Cowart with assisting him.
    "Sam has been helping me since I got here," Davis said. "(The veterans) help me and E.J. out for little things as far as what you can see during film and what guys like to do. You play in this league (long enough) and everybody has tendencies. Sam just helps me out with the little things, the smaller things. As far as just knowing the calls, I've got to know that myself because that's my job."

PLAYER NOTES

  • LT Bryant McKinnie returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday because of a sprained left foot. He has been upgraded to probable.
  • MLB Sam Cowart did not practice Thursday because of a strained left calf and is questionable for Sunday. Rod Davis is the likely starter if Cowart can't go.
  • WR Koren Robinson was back at practice Thursday after missing Wednesday so he could attend a court hearing in Kirkland (Wash.) Municipal Court. Robinson was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service because of two probation violations, but the service time can be performed anywhere in the United States. His appearance stemmed from a drunken driving charge on May 6, while he was still a member of the Seattle Seahawks. Robinson is unsure whether he will play Sunday at Cincinnati.
  • P Chris Kluwe not only impressed the coaching staff with his 42.5 net average in the opener but also with his get-off time of 1.87 seconds. "You could have a guy run free and they can't block the kick," coach Mike Tice said. "So that's the great thing."
  • OL Anthony Herrera, who took part in his first full practice in more than a month Wednesday, is very close to returning, according to Tice. Herrera spent a week in the hospital last month after developing an infection in his leg.

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