NFC North notes

With the draft approaching, NFC North teams are narrowing their needs and priorities. Here is what each team in the division might be looking for on April 26 and 27, plus other notes compiled from,, and<p>


Center of attention

Cory Withrow -- who was one of only two Vikings restricted free agents to receive a tender from the Vikings -- signed his one-year tender, but is hoping for a trade.

That is something coach Mike Tice said he would work for. "I have a list that I'm taking home of teams' centers," Tice said. "I've put together a tape of him playing the past two years. I'll try to do what's right, to give him a chance before he gets too old."

Tice, who developed Withrow when he was offensive line coach for the Vikings, believes Withrow, right now, is better than at least three or four starting centers in the NFC alone. And he feels compelled to try to get Withrow a chance to start before he gets too old. So he intends to call some coaches around the league from those teams he feels Withrow would be an upgrade for and offer Withrow in a trade.

Keeping Culpepper

Owner Red McCombs said the team is ready to enter the season with quarterback Daunte Culpepper whether or not a contract extension is completed.

"We've never given any thought to trading him,'' McCombs said, "and we're not dancing on hot coals as to whether we get him signed, either. He's under contract and is our quarterback for (2003). If we get him signed, fine. If we don't, that's fine also. But we've never given any thought to trading him.''

Culpepper is entering the final season of a five-year contract he signed in 1999.

Culpepper is believed to be seeking an extension that would place him among the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks. The Vikings, however, have offered him substantially less.

QB joins the crowd

The Vikings have 40 players – a team record – taking part in their offseason workout program and another handful of players are expected to arrive this week. Among them is Daunte Culpepper, who has been working out in Florida and will be arriving at Winter Park this week to begin his offseason program with the team. In past years, many Vikings players stayed in Florida to work out at Cris Carter's compound, but that has changed since C.C. left the Vikings.

Ornamental promotion

Give the St. Paul Saints credit for having a sense of humor.

The Saints are an independent minor-league baseball team based in St. Paul who play in the Northern League. Through the years they have trotted out a pig they call "Kevin Bacon," and had it deliver baseballs to the umpire. They have held a Conehead night, given seat cushions depicting MLB commissioner Bud Selig on one side and union head Donald Fehr on the other.

And now this: Sometime this season 2,500 fans will receive a complimentary Randy Moss hood ornament. It hasn't been designed yet, but it is a clear reference to Moss' incident Sept. 24, when he tried to turn right illegally at a downtown Minneapolis intersection. A traffic control agent fell to the street after Moss' 2002 Lexus bumped her.

"This is done tongue-in-cheek," Saints media relations director Dave Wright said. "All our promotions are intended to make you chuckle."

Draft needs/priorities

The main reason the Vikings are concentrating on cornerback and offensive line in free agency? There appears to be enough depth at defensive line in the draft for the Vikings to address those needs there.

The Vikings will address cornerback, OL and punter in free agency. They hope to find an impact defensive lineman in the draft. Then they will attack the secondary free-agent market for a safety, a backup middle linebacker to learn behind veteran Greg Biekert and a wide receiver.


Robinson released

The Bears released wide receiver Marcus Robinson on April 16. He played in 52 games over his five-year career in Chicago with 28 starts.

Robinson owns the Bears record for receiving yards in a season with the 1,400 compiled on a career-high 84 catches in his breakout season of 1999. The South Carolina product ranks 16th in team history with 187 receptions and 19th with 2,695 receiving yards. Robinson recorded seven career 100-yard receiving games in his five seasons in Chicago.

Option at KR

Travis Coleman is helping his cause to make the Bears 53-man roster by returning kicks in Europe. The defensive back returned kicks and punts in college, but was not given the opportunity as a rookie with the Bears.

Coleman had a 58-yard kick return for Berlin in Week 2 of NFL Europe. The Bears may address the return position in the draft, but if they do not, Coleman could be an option.

A Dent in the line

Mike Singletary is coaching the Baltimore Ravens' linebackers, Leslie Frazier is coordinating the Cincinnati Bengals' defense, and Ron Rivera is coaching the Philadelphia Eagles' linebackers. But the Bears managed to hold on to one of their ex-players from the 1985 championship season, when they signed Super Bowl XX MVP Richard Dent as an assistant defensive line coach on Tuesday. Dent's primary job will be to upgrade the pass rush from a defensive line that has been missing an impact sack man since his last double-digit sack season in 1993. Dent is the Bears' all-time leading sacker with 124 1/2, and his NFL total of 137 1/2 is fifth best in league history.

"I understand what it takes and hopefully I can pass that over to some of the players," Dent said. "There's nothing like doing some things that you love to do. I love football, and I love teaching pass rush."

Dent isn't looking to completely overhaul anyone's game. He believes that everyone at this level has the talent to play in the league. But he will look for subtle adjustments or techniques that he can impart to younger players to lift the level of their game and increase their effectiveness. He'll start with each player's stance and ability to get a quick start when the ball is snapped and proceed from there.

"You try to find some small thing that's going to enhance them," Dent said. "I think every guy is going to compete, but if I can get him in a position to feel comfortable with his start, I think he's going to finish it off pretty well.

"Everything starts with the stance. If you can't come out of your stance, then you can't strip the ball, you can't get up the field. Every guy is going to do his best once he gets going, but the biggest problem people have is getting moving forward. My first step is just working on the stance."

Future looks to be somewhere else

David Terrell's health is the only reason the Bears haven't released Marcus Robinson already. However, with the recent news that Terrell is coming along as the team had expected Robinson could be shown the door in the coming weeks.

The team will likely wait until after the post draft mini-camp scheduled for the first weekend in May. If Terrell looks healthy then Robinson could be cut shortly after.

Draft needs/priorities

Concerns about the hairline fracture in his lower left leg that hobbled him during the second half of the 2002 season have cast Byron Leftwich's draft status in question for the past several months.

But according to Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, Leftwich's recent personal workout in Florida was probably enough to make the Marshall quarterback a top-10 pick.

"Physically he's in good shape," Angelo said of Leftwich, whose 40-yard dash times were between 4.84 and 4.9 seconds, more than adequate for a 6-foot-5 1/2-inch, 242-pound quarterback. "He's not a mobile quarterback, but I didn't need to see his workout to tell me that. That's not his forte. His weight was good, and he broke 5 flat, (and) he's still rehabbing, so I don't know how much training he's been able to do."

Leftwich's 40 time isn't as impressive as Cal's Kyle Boller or Southern Cal's Carson Palmer, each of whom has been clocked around 4.6 recently, but it's comparable to the other top eight or nine quarterback prospects.

Anyway, it's Leftwich's arm that has him rated as one of the top three quarterbacks in a draft that could see six or seven throwers taken in the first two rounds.

"He threw good," Angelo said before boarding a plane back to Chicago. "He made all the throws. He threw about 70 balls. If you don't like the way he throws the ball, then you don't like him. He's got good accuracy. He's a downfield thrower."

The scores of NFL personnel evaluators at Leftwich's workout at Manatee High School in Sarasota just wanted to make sure he was recovered from his second left leg injury in the past two seasons, and he proved that he was. He also made all his throws after receiving the snap directly from under center, rather than in shotgun formation, where he did most of his throwing at Marshall. Leftwich, who threw for 89 touchdowns and almost 12,000 yards, did everything that he would have been asked to do at February's scouting combine, the short shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump.

"Did he do anything to keep him out of the top 10?" Angelo said. "No, he didn't. Is he going to be a top 10 pick? I can't answer that. Can he be? Yes. He was very cooperative and very excited about being able to work out. He's an average athlete in terms of all the measureables -- he's not a great athlete in those terms. He's a pocket passer."


Feels good with ‘Mooch'

Quarterback Joey Harrington feels good about his future -- and the Lions' future -- as he continues the grind of off-season workouts. And one of the big reasons he feels good is the level of comfort he has with new coach Steve Mariucci, who is using virtually the same offense, the same terminology and the same offensive staff Harrington learned last year as a rookie under former Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg. "There are definite carryovers," Harrington said. "I think it all comes from Bill Walsh, the godfather (of the West Coast offense) if you will. There are definite similarities. "The offense is exactly the same. The terminology, very little change. But everything else is pretty similar." Therein lies the comfort level. "Very nice," he said, "because I spent probably half the year last year trying to get comfortable with what was going on in the meeting rooms and on the practice field, let alone trying to figure out what was going on on the field. It's a definite plus for me."

Filling a need

In less than a week, the Lions went from abject poverty to an embarrassment of riches at the middle linebacker position.

Almost from the minute Chris Claiborne became an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 28, it was determined he would not be back with the Lions. When he signed with the Minnesota Vikings in late March, it became official -- the Lions had no middle linebacker.

Within a six-day span in early April, however, the Lions solved that problem by signing two experienced middle linebackers -- four-year veteran Wali Rainer from Jacksonville and seven-year veteran Earl Holmes from Cleveland.

And Lions president Matt Millen says he has no intention of moving either of them to one of the outside linebacker positions.

Millen says the addition of Rainer and Holmes simply gives the Lions some of the needed flexibility they were lacking last year.

"Both have been starters in the league, both have played in big games so they have experience," Millen said. "They give us flexibility.

"With the two of them we have a flexibility in scheme. We can cover them up, we can also uncover them and keep them in the bubble to thump if we have to. So that gives us some flexibility, as well."

Draft needs/priorities

The Lions need a big-play offensive player. With RB Willis McGahee recovering from knee surgery and WR Charles Rogers looking very inviting, it appears the WR is the weapon of choice to be delivered to second-year QB Joey Harrington.

DB -- Even with the signing of CB Dre' Bly, the Lions need help in their defensive secondary. They will look for either a safety or a cornerback in the draft.

LB -- They need to get a starter on the strong side, even after the addition of Wali Rainer, who will likely man the middle.

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