NFC NORTH REPORT - JULY 1
Starting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson (broken femur) might not get the green light to play until September. Jasper Brinkley, a fifth-round pick in 2009, started Minnesota's final six games (including two post-season contests) for Henderson. The big hitter showed he was effective against the run, but the team is concerned about his pass defense, where he hasn't been exposed to the requirements of a Tampa-2 middle linebacker.
- Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams likely will be able to play most if not all of the 2010 season after a ruling from the Minnesota state Court of Appeals in the lawsuit over the players' four-game suspensions for taking a banned diuretic. In the most recent ruling, the court denied a request from the NFL for an expedited hearing of their appeals in the case, meaning it could be months before oral arguments are heard in the case and up to three months after that before a ruling is issued.
- The Vikings are having extensive work done on their practice fields at Winter Park. New sod is being put down on both fields and new Turfguard sensors will be installed in the fields.
- Vikings wide receiver Bernard Berrian will be part of a VH1 show that will debut on July 11 and star Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Berrian will attempt to help Ochocinco choose from a field of 85 women who will be "vying for his heart at a 'dating camp.'"
- Although the NFL has announced that commissioner Roger Goodell will visit various training camps this summer with John Madden on the "Madden Cruiser," a league spokesman said exact details have not been completed and it's too early to say if Goodell will visit the Vikings in Mankato, Minn.
- More than a week after Sage Rosenfels received very limited reps in the Vikings minicamp practice on Saturday and then no reps on Sunday, there is still no word on if the team is shopping the veteran quarterback or what they plan to do. It's possible the Vikings are waiting for Brett Favre to officially announce his return before they decided to jettison Rosenfels but nonetheless this has the potential to become a very uncomfortable situation. Right now, it would not be surprising if the Vikings entered the regular season with Favre as the starter, Tarvaris Jackson behind him and rookie Joe Webb as their third quarterback.
- QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's nothing (contract) related at all. Coach (Brad) Childress gave me some time off for the minicamp, and that's really all that matters." -- Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway explaining to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that his failure to take part in the Vikings minicamp had nothing to do with his contract situation. Greenway is due to make just more than $3 million this season in the last year of his rookie deal.
Jay Cutler believes Chicago's new offense, under Mike Martz, will be successful. Cutler's receivers are swift and talented, though inexperienced, and six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz was back on the practice field this week for the first time since offseason Achilles tendon surgery.
"We've got a lot of plays in, guys have responded really well to Mike and the offense and to the new situation that we're in," Cutler said. "You have to be happy where we're at. It's something to build on." Much of Martz's offense has been installed, but Cutler and Co. are a long way from mastering the subtleties and intricacies of a voluminous playbook with hundreds of plays that can be run from several formations. Cutler says the initial signs are encouraging, and he's anxious to take the next step. It's an offense that just about any quarterback would embrace.
"I love it," Cutler said. "There's a lot to like about it. The ball's in the air, we're doing some great stuff in the run game, we're trying to get guys open, and we're trying to find spaces for them we're trying to create matchups. Mike does a great job of that."
While Cutler and everyone else on the offense will admit that learning the Martz playbook is a chore, they'll also say that the additional homework is well worth the effort.
"It makes you want to come to work every day," Cutler said. "(Martz) is so creative. He's doing fun stuff, he's finding ways to win and that's all you can ask for as a player is to have a coach that loves football and is going to do everything possible to put you in position to be successful. I think that's what the great coaches are able to do. That's what Mike's done in the past, and I don't see him changing his ways at all."
- Olin Kreutz has been the Bears starting center since 1999, his second NFL season since being drafted in the third round out of Washington. But only recently did he return to the practice field after missing most of the offseason practices as he recovers from Achilles tendon surgery. New offensive line coach Mike Tice was glad to see him on the field with the first team in Wednesday's final OTA.
- Lovie Smith practically bristled when he was asked, at the end of OTAs, if he had a team that could compete for the playoffs.
"As far as 'compete,' that's not our goal, to (just) compete," Smith said. "We have the same goal we have every year, and that's win the Super Bowl, win the world championship. It's early on, and you need to get in pads, but I just like the look of this team. I think you'll get that from most of our veterans. We know what a good football team looks like, and this is a good football team."
The Bears are 23-25 over the past three seasons, missing the playoffs each year.
- QB Jay Cutler is learning a new offense this off-season, just as he did last year, his first with the Bears.
A year ago, Cutler picked up Ron Turner's offense pretty easily, but he's had to work a little harder to get a handle on Mike Martz's scheme.
"Last year's system I was familiar with that because some of the stuff I had done in the past," he said. "This year is completely new to myself as well as a lot of guys on the team, so it took a little bit more studying, a little bit more hard work mentally for us to come out here and be prepared. I think Mike did a great job of getting everyone ready in meetings of doing enough walkthroughs out here so that everyone feels comfortable."
- When the Bears re-acquired safety Chris Harris in a trade with the Panthers for LB Jamar Williams, it didn't create nearly as much press as their free-agent pickups of Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna in free agency. But the Bears hope Harris will upgrade a safety tandem that disappointed last season. Harris started for the Bears as a rookie, after they drafted him in the sixth round in 2005. But he was deemed expendable during training camp in 2007, mainly because of the addition of Adam Archuleta, who was a major bust.
"Chris Harris coming back, (he) was exactly what I remember," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's moved right into that role. Chris will have more of a leadership role, too. He's a vocal guy. You have another coach on the field."
- QUOTE TO NOTE: "You see a guy on video, but when you see him up close and personal, in person, he's a 300-pound man who moves like a defensive back. That's what you're dealing with." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith on DE Julius Peppers
- Defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins will be asked to play situational outside linebacker, and he's looking forward the challenge. "It's just a matter of what they ask me to do on particular plays," Jenkins said. The seventh-year veteran is playing lighter at about 300 pounds and moving better this year, so defensive coordinator Dom Capers isn't averse to getting Jenkins out in space more as a linebacker.
His relentless ability to get after the quarterback would be paramount as the Packers try to bolster their pass rush. The only sure thing from that standpoint is Clay Matthews at right outside linebacker. But that the Packers are considering bumping Jenkins to that spot in their sub packages isn't a ringing endorsement for what Brad Jones or Brady Poppinga can contribute on a full-time basis. Even Brandon Chillar, strictly an inside linebacker last season when Green Bay implemented its 3-4 scheme, was getting some situational looks on the left side during the June 21-22 minicamp. What's more, head coach Mike McCarthy left open the possibility of the Packers' signing a veteran outside linebacker before the July 31 start of training camp.
- Although the Packers had a full 11-man unit of players who were held out of all or most offseason work for injury rehab, the only one who isn't expected to be cleared for Day 1 of the preseason is cornerback Al Harris.
"I think Al is going to be definitely challenged to make it at the beginning of training camp," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm sure Al may tell you something differently, but that's kind of my assessment of the information I've been given (from the medical staff).
"It's a serious injury, and we're going to be smart with him and give him the time that he needs."
The 35-year-old Harris will be eight months removed from Nov. 30 surgery on his severely torn left knee when the players report for camp July 30. Tramon Williams will fill the starting void opposite Charles Woodson until Harris gets back on the field, which may not be the start of the season.
Other key players coming back from injuries and/or surgeries who should be ready for the first camp practice July 31 are receiver Donald Driver, linebacker Nick Barnett, defensive end Ryan Pickett, offensive lineman Jason Spitz and safety/returner Will Blackmon.
- Woodson spent the majority of the offseason working out on his own, and that included dabbling in boxing classes with Packers safety Nick Collins in Florida.
The strenuous upper-body movements greatly benefited Woodson, who will be 34 in October and is coming off his best season as a pro in which he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"I feel even better coming in this year than last year," Woodson said.
Boxing proved to be a tonic for an ailing right shoulder that affected Woodson late last season, and he's already at his preferred playing weight of 200 pounds.
- In other cornerback news, second-year Brandon Underwood remains under investigation by the Sauk County (Wis.) district attorney's office for allegations of sexual assault made against Underwood by two women in the early morning June 5 at a vacation resort in Wisconsin Dells.
- Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the heels of his first Pro Bowl appearance in just his second season as a starter, plans to stay sharp in the five weeks before the Packers reconvene for training camp by working out with a group of players from throughout the league in San Diego.
Getting away from Green Bay is a welcome respite for Rodgers, a California native.
"I need the beach," he said with a big smile. "I need a little break as far as that goes."
- As it looks, the Packers will carry just three quarterbacks into training camp: Rodgers, Matt Flynn and newcomer Graham Harrell.
The team released undrafted rookie Noah Shepard June 18, paving the way for Harrell to contend for a backup job if Green Bay decides to keep three QBs on the season roster after having only Rodgers and Flynn last season. McCarthy said the club considered Harrell, the former Texas Tech standout who went to the Canadian Football League for a season last year, to be "further ahead" than Shepard.
- Besides Shepard, the Packers cut cornerback Trevor Ford, safety Khalil Jones and undrafted rookie linebacker Tim Knicky.
Ford played in three games for Green Bay last season. Jones was on the Packers practice squad as a receiver late in the season, then moved to defense in the offseason.
- QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not interested in winning 11 games. We're here to win the next world championship, and that's our focus." -- Head coach Mike McCarthy, as the Packers, who finished 11-5 last season, ended their offseason work June 22.
- Cornerback-turned-safety Will Blackmon would be the front-runner heading into training camp as the team's return man, but the jury is out on whether Blackmon will return to his big-play form after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee early last season on a kick return. Blackmon didn't participate in the team's offseason workouts but is expected to be ready for the start of the preseason.