Last season Wale Ogunleye became the first Bears defensive end to reach double digits in sacks since Richard Dent in 1993, and tackle Tommie Harris earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Defensive end Alex Brown received a vote for NFL defensive player of the year, and defensive tackle Ian Scott was a steady presence at the nose.
The Bears' defensive line didn't terrorize opposing quarterbacks, but it usually applied solid pressure and was stout against the run. By using a four-man rotation inside, including Tank Johnson and Alfonso Boone, and by utilizing athletic Israel Idonije at end, the Bears were able to have fresh troops on the field most of the time and maintain a high level of performance and intensity. Since Boone is the only defensive linemen on the roster older than 28, the group is expected to be even better this season.
"You can overcome adversity by playing hard," Bears defensive line coach Don Johnson said. "(But) we need to be more fundamentally technically sound with some of the things that we do in terms of the little details -- taking the proper step and using some of the different things that we do to take advantage of offensive linemen."
Harris made the Pro Bowl after registering just three sacks last season, as opponents saw more than pass-rush skills from the 23-year-old.
"He's a disruptive player," Johnson said. "Everybody measures sacks, but we had 24 interceptions, and some of that was due to pressure and some of that was due to coverage. We had a lot of hurries and drew a lot of holding penalties, and (Harris) contributes to that by getting up the field and disrupting the offense."
Ogunleye (10) and Brown (6) combined for 16 sacks last season, but both are also better than advertised as run defenders. Both were Pro Bowl alternates.
"Somebody recognized that they were doing something right," Johnson said. "Statistically, you always want to get the sack numbers up on your edge rushers. They also played run defense well."
Linebacker Lance Briggs and running back Thomas Jones missed most of the Bears' offseason work hoping to get new deals before their current pacts are fulfilled. So far it hasn't worked and isn't expected to do so.
Bears coach Lovie Smith expects all hands on deck -- and on time next Wednesday -- when his team is expected to report for the start of training camp.
"I would definitely be surprised if we had a holdout for training camp," Smith said. "I assume we'll have all of the players. I think the players know what's at stake. We need to be here. Training camp's important.
"You can look at what happened last year with a player like Cedric Benson that held out, missed most of training camp and never got back on the right footing."
But the Bears are deep inside, already sporting a four-man rotation of starters Tommie Harris and Ian Scott plus backups Tank Johnson and Alfonso Boone, so Haynes is fighting an uphill battle.
"Right now Michael has been plugged in as a three-technique (tackle), and based on his ability, athleticism and strength, that could be an excellent move for him," defensive line coach Don Johnson said. "We're going to have great competition. I don't know what our depth is going to look like in terms of the final numbers, but we've got a bunch of guys who are competing for jobs."
Quote to Note: "We're really excited about what he might be able to do for us this year." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith on second-year RB Cedric Benson
Mike Tice's instincts as a former offensive line coach told him that Marcus Johnson had big-time potential that was equaled by his big-time size (6-6, 321 pounds).
Tice, in fact, liked Johnson so much that he made him the starter for the first four games of his rookie season at right guard. When that didn't pan out, Johnson was moved to right tackle and started four games at that position before sitting out the final two games because of an ankle injury.
While Tice is no longer around as the Vikings coach, Johnson's potential hasn't been overlooked by new coach Brad Childress.
The Vikings' second-round pick in 2005 remains atop the depth chart at right tackle as the team prepares to open training camp. The feeling among all involved is Johnson is best suited to play tackle because of his long arms.
He did struggle at times with false-start penalties as a rookie, but the hope among the coaching staff is a more mature Johnson will be able to avoid such miscues.
A successful season from Johnson would be a big boost to a line that figures to be very strong on the left side with Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Johnson will lineup alongside right guard Artis Hicks, who was acquired in a draft-weekend trade with Philadelphia. Hicks is highly thought of by Childress, the Eagles' former offensive coordinator.
Agreeing to deals were offensive lineman Ryan Cook (second round); cornerback Cedric Griffin (second round); defensive end Ray Edwards (fourth round); and safety Greg Blue (fifth round).
Griffin received a four-year contract worth $3.23 million. Cook got a four-year, $3.12 million deal. Terms for Blue and Edwards' deals were not available.
Quote To Note: "I think it's a key to any offense. I think it's going to be a key to being a better player." -- Tight end Jermaine Wiggins on the importance of him having added quickness in the Vikings' offense as a result of his noticeable weight loss this offseason.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers probably will feature Samkon Gado and Noah Herron as their top two running backs when training camp begins July 28.
General manager Ted Thompson indicated during the team's annual shareholders meeting July 19 that Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport won't be cleared to participate at the outset. Both players are recovering from leg injuries sustained last season and were held out of all off-season workouts.
"Ahman is a workaholic. He's feeling really, really good," Thompson said. "Some time during the preseason, maybe not the very start, we expect Najeh and Ahman to be back. We're going to try to be very cautious."
Davenport will be on the field before Green is. Davenport suffered a broken right ankle October 9 and declared himself fit to return for the organized team activities in June, but the medical staff thought differently. Green is expected to be held back from contact drills for at least the first couple weeks of camp. He sustained a torn right quadriceps tendon October 23.
Thompson isn't concerned that the offense could be set back some without its incumbent number 1 and 2 backs initially.
"We kind of know what we have. Ahman is a marvelous athlete and an excellent football player. So, I don't think there's any unknowns there," Thompson said. "But, I guess coming back from the injury, you're never really certain. I think it's just getting them back and being able to say, 'OK, they're all healthy now.'"
Green stands to reclaim the starting spot when he's given the green light to practice. First-year offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, though, isn't set on going into the season with the four-time Pro Bowler as his featured back.
"I'd like to see him run down the field without hurting first," Jagodzinski said. "How can I say, 'Yeah, it's his starting job'? He hasn't played in over a year."
"I've been calling (general manager) Ted Thompson, and I told him, 'Yo, man, I understand how the situation is, but I know you all have a dollar sitting on the shelf around there somewhere. Give me the dollar so you can look good on paper that you're paying me and let me come back and play. He said he had to think about it," Brown told WGBA-TV in Green Bay.
Brown, 35, hasn't played since he sustained a season-ending torn bicep in a preseason game in 2004. The famously heavy nose tackle said he works out four hours per day.
While he awaits a call from an NFL team, Brown keeps active in sports as a part owner of The Milwaukee Mile racetrack in West Allis, Wis.
Harris told both the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in the past week that he will be on hand for the first day of practice July 28.
"My thing man, honestly, is I don't want to be a distraction, and I refuse to be distracted myself," Harris said. "This will be a big year for me."
The ninth-year veteran participated in only a mandatory post-draft minicamp in early May. He purposely skipped a voluntary minicamp in late May and optional organized team activities in June because he's unsatisfied with the six-year, $18.6 million extension he received at the start of the 2004 season. Harris has four years left on the deal.
With the addition of Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson, Harris figures he'll have more balls thrown his way and will cash in with a bigger payday from the team by the end of the season. If the team doesn't restructure the contract in a timely manner, however, Harris suggested that he'll bolt after the season.
"I don't want to make threats, and I told my agent, 'Let's just chill out and see what's what,'" Harris said. "But, to me, if it's not done by a certain time, you have to look elsewhere.
"My whole thing is if you play to a certain level, you should be rewarded. I think it will get done. It's just right now, (the Packers) have a lot on their plate."
Indeed, the team is in the midst of locking up its big rookie class with contracts. General manager Ted Thompson said he's confident all 12 draftees will be signed by the first day of camp, including No. 5 overall pick A.J. Hawk.
Five lower-round rookies are under contract -- cornerback Will Blackmon (fourth), offensive tackle Tony Moll (fifth), defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (sixth), safety Tyrone Culver (sixth) and defensive end Dave Tollefson (seventh). All of them received four-year contracts with minimum base salaries.
Quote To Note: "Once we hit the period (in late April) where Brett (Favre) came back, Charles Woodson signed and we had what looked like a very promising draft, it was like the phone company and the postal service went out of business at the same time. The calls stopped, and the mail stopped." -- Team chairman/CEO Bob Harlan on how the fans' outlook for the 2006 season changed from pessimism to optimism.