NFC North Issues

Now that the draft has passed, teams around the division have signed more rookie free agents and are beginning the first camps of the off-season. We've got updates from around the NFC North.<p>


Robinson a Raven

The Ravens hosted free agent wide receiver Marcus Robinson on April 30, and not only gave him a physical but had him work out as well. "I just ran pass routes, basically, and caught some balls," said the former Chicago Bear wideout, who tore a pair of knee ligaments during the 2001 season. "I had the knee surgery and they wanted to see if I could run, see if I was limping, see what kind of shape I'm in. I can1t say, right now, that I'm in shape to play, but definitely they can see that I'm coming along strong."

The Ravens had reserve quarterback Anthony Wright, a teammate of Robinson's at South Carolina, throw the ball to him during his workout. What they saw from the 6'3 215 pound Robinson impressed the Ravens. "He looked good. He1s strong, he1s physical," said Ravens receivers coach David Shaw. "He's got good hands. He's not in season shape, but he's getting back from that knee injury and he1s feeling pretty good."

Robinson has previously visited with the Cardinals, 49ers and Raiders and was scheduled to visit with Green Bay, but Baltimore signed him before he could get away.

Bears excited about Grossman

The Bears say they had Rex Grossman rated higher than Kyle Boller on their draft board, and much of that was based on his production as a three-year starter. They discounted his lack of height, pointing out that he found passing lanes playing behind a big o-line at Florida. They also liked his toughness, arm strength and confidence. There is no pressure to play right away since Kordell Stewart is expected to be the starter for at least one year.

Shepherd's solid campaign

Edell Shepherd spent the majority of his rookie season on the Bears practice squad. The receiver was signed as an undrafted free agent out of San Jose State but made enough of an impression to keep around. Now Shepherd is putting up numbers in Europe. In Week 4 he caught two passes for 46 yards and one touchdown against the Scottish Claymores.

On the year, Shepherd has 14 receptions for 205 yards and a touchdown, which put him among the league leaders. He is making a bid for the Bears fourth receiver spot. Come training camp he'll be competing with Ahmad Merritt, Jamin Elliot, Elijah Thurmon and fifth-round draft picks Bobby Wade and Justin Gage.


Safety Damon Moore has been released. He played in six games last season.

Stewart surprised by QB selection

Kordell Stewart knows he will be the Bears' starting quarterback this year, but when he signed there were reports that the team gave him assurances they would not select a quarterback in the first round.

Well, that was when the Bears had the fourth slot. The team changed their tune when Rex Grossman was on the board at the 22nd pick.

"We thought they would draft a Chris Simms or Dave Ragone in the second or third round, so it was a surprise that it was Rex Grossman in the first round," Stewart1s agent, Leigh Steinberg, told the Chicago Tribune.

GM Jerry Angelo did call Stewart before the team chose Grossman to let him know of the situation.

Let the best man win

David Terrell seemed like a can1t-miss product coming out of Michigan two years ago, but since being drafted by the Bears with the 8th pick in the 2001 draft he was been anything but stellar.

An inconsistent rookie season was followed up by an injury-shortened sophomore campaign. Terrell will have to pick things up as the Bears selected two receivers, including Justin Gage, who could push the former Michigan receiver for playing time.

Brown becoming a leader

Alex Brown came into the league with questions about his work ethic but quickly erased that label by working hard enough to earn a starting role. Now, Brown is taking on more responsibility as he called the Bears' first-round pick, Michael Haynes, hours after he was drafted.

Despite the fact that the two will be competing for playing time, Brown offered congratulations to the rookie and a helping hand upon his arrival to Chicago.

Center signs with Bears

Vanderbilt center and two-time captain Jamie Byrum signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Bears Monday.

Byrum, a native of Grove City, Ohio, becomes the third Commodore to sign a free-agent deal since the NFL draft concluded Sunday. Previous Vanderbilt players to ink contracts were cornerback Rushen Jones with the Minnesota Vikings and wide receiver Dan Stricker with the New England Patriots.

Byrum was a four-year offensive line letterwinner for the Commodores and earned 34 consecutive starts since the 2000 season. The durable player participated in all but 15 offensive plays for Vanderbilt last year and received a "winning" blocking grade of 80 percent or higher in 11 of the team1s 12 games. He shared or won VU's "Offensive Lineman of the Week" honors 11 times during the 2002 season.

Shared Piccolo Award

Defensive ends Phillip Daniels and Alex Brown were named on May 1 as winners of the Brian Piccolo Award for their contributions to the 2002 Bears. The award, which is voted on by the players, is presented annually to a rookie and veteran who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of Piccolo. The former Bears running back died in 1970 at the age of 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma.

Despite a nagging ankle sprain that slowed him much of the season, Daniels led the defensive line with 64 tackles and was second on the team with 5 1/2 sacks. He also provided guidance and on-the-field coaching to young players like Brown, who started nine games after being drafted in the fourth round. He was the team's leading rookie tackler with 49, tied for the team lead with 3 fumble recoveries and was fifth with 2 1/2 sacks.

"He proved all of his critics wrong," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said of Brown, "including this one." Brown slipped in the draft because he had a reputation as a player who didn't always practice hard, but there was never any evidence of that last season. The Piccolo fund has raised more than $6 million since 1970, helping raise the cure rate for that particular cancer to 95 percent. In 1970, the disease was 100 percent fatal.


Lions try to get Streets

GM Terry Donahue did not entertain what he would call any serious trade inquiries for WR Tai Streets. Donahue said Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen called to ask for Streets in exchange for an unknown player and a fifth-round draft choice. Donahue scoffed at the notion that the 49ers would have parted ways with Streets for "a fifth."

"Maybe he thought I'd been drinking a fifth," Donahue quipped. "It wasn't a serious discussion. It was just Matt Millen trying. I told him that we think Streets is a starting player. He caught 70-plus balls for us last year. We're not going to trade our starting receiver."

Redding's scouting report

Cory Redding is a very enthusiastic, high energy defensive lineman. A hard worker, has a quick first step but maybe not the top speed of an edge rusher. Some consider him a defensive tackle in a defensive end's body. Good strength that makes him good at the point of attack. Was a finalist for the Lombardi Award. Very determined, high energy, wants to make it in the NFL.

Kircus ready to prove himself

Charles Rogers wasn't the only Michigan-grown wide receiver the Lions had their eye on in the draft over the weekend. Just 83 miles west of Michigan State University in East Lansing, where Rogers was wowing Big Ten opponents and NFL scouts the past two years, David Kircus was burning up the NCAA Division II competition at Grand Valley State University. In his final two years at Grand Valley, Kircus gathered in a total of 57 touchdown passes, including 35 during the 2002 season when he and quarterback Curt Anes led the Lakers to a national championship.

Kircus was literally too fast and too slick to be covered by Division II defensive backs and he showed in two post-season all-star games -- the Hula Bowl and Paradise Bowl -- that he could compete against Division I players. His stock rose over the past month after a workout in which he ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and demonstrated a 40-inch vertical. The Lions were impressed enough to take him in the sixth round of the draft. The only question is whether Kircus -- relatively small at 6-feet-1 1/4 and 182 pounds -- will be able to play and hold up physically for a 16-game NFL schedule.

"I'm up to the challenge," Kircus said. "I can't wait to get in there and see what I cam do against the best players in the world."

Lions almost traded pick

The Lions had trade offers from at least four teams before deciding to keep the No. 2 pick and draft wide receiver Charles Rogers of Michigan State. New England, New Orleans, Dallas and the New York Jets approached the Lions to move up in the draft. And Lions president Matt Millen admitted that the offers had been tempting, considering how many holes he has to fill in the team that went 3-13 last year.

"Don Corleone did not visit us," Millen said, referring to fictitious mob boss. "And we were okay with that. "I was looking forward to that but until that happens, until there's a deal you can't refuse, you do what's right."

The Patriots are believed to have made the most generous offer -- two first-round picks and their second-round pick, but the Cowboys' probably would have been most appealing to the Lions because they could have traded down just three spots and still have been able to get an elite player. Eventually, however, the Lions decided the right thing to do was take Rogers as a battery mate for quarterback Joey Harrington. "There were some offers presented that we needed to discuss and weigh the pros and cons," head coach Steve Mariucci said. "And unanimously we all felt this was the right thing to do, and I'm sure the fans feel the same way."

Dealt to Cowboys

Lions' running back Aveion Cason was dealt to the Dallas Cowboys for one of the Cowboys' three seventh-round selections. Cason was coveted by the Cowboys since Bill Parcells became their head coach in February.

Cason is recognized as a speed running back with solid receiving skills, but became expendable with the drafting of Artose Pinner in the fourth round. Cason isn't the only Lion leaving Detroit, though.

Traded to Cardinals

The Detroit Lions decided to unload wide receiver Larry Foster to the Arizona Cardinals for a seventh-round draft pick. Foster, a third-year player out of LSU, saw action in 36 games for the Lions with five starts and made 53 receptions for 610 yards and one touchdown. He was also used as a special teams returner and coverage player.

The Cardinals had dire receiver needs after losing David Boston and Frank Sanders to free agency. Arizona drafted Bryant Johnston of Penn State in the first round and Florida State's Anquan Boldin in the third round.

2nd is a common theme for Boss

Boss Bailey may have been unhappy that he slid out of the first round, but he didn't fall too far. The Detroit Lions picked Bailey with the 2nd pick of the 2nd round. Second was a theme for Bailey as he was also the 2nd linebacker taken overall in the draft. Bailey's physical numbers are off the charts, including a mind-boggling 48-inch vertical jump. He should make an immediate impact on special teams, and he has the ability to work his way into the rotation very early with his speed and coverage ability.

Bailey was a consensus first-round selection but fell into the second round, giving the Lions a relative no brainer. With linebacker being a need and Boss being a good value at the Lions' spot, the Lions wasted no time.

The brother of Redskins star corner Champ Bailey, the former Georgia standout fits right into the Lions' plans of having excellent speed on defense. Although Boss does trade strength for speed, he measures up at 6'3, 233.


Plenty of opportunity to impress

Third-round draft pick Nate Burleson is an accomplished receiver who gives the Vikings some depth at a position that had a lot of questions heading into the draft. Thanks to an injury to their top running back, the folks at Nevada went to a pass-happy scheme last year, and the result was Burleson -- whose older brother Kevin just finished his basketball career at the University of Minnesota -- catching a NCAA-best 138 passes, just four short of the all-time single-season record. Burleson is not a burner, but he is very quick out of his cuts, allowing his separation.

And he comes to the Vikings at a good time. After Randy Moss, D'Wayne Bates and Kelly Campbell -- whom the Vikings don't feel is big enough to be an every-down receiver -- the Vikings have a lot of questions at WR. Derrick Alexander and Kenny Clark are coming back from injury, and veteran Chris Walsh has yet to be re-signed.

Burleson is acquainted with Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan; Linehan was at Washington when another of Burleson's brothers played there, and Linehan recruited the younger Burleson out of high school before leaving Washington for Louisville. Burleson is perhaps the most polished receiver in the draft, able to play all three receiver positions. "We think he's a perfect fit for us," Linehan said. "I think he's a guy who can develop into a battle for the No. 2 spot."

Browns lose out to Vikings for free agent

Huge offensive tackle Adam Goldberg from Wyoming decided to sign with the Minnesota Vikings after weighing offers from the Browns and four other teams. Goldberg also got offers from the 49ers, Giants, Jets, and Redskins. It was expected that Goldberg would have an opportunity to get drafted but received six offers within a half-hour of the draft ending on Sunday.

Steal of a pick?

Second-round LB E.J. Henderson doesn't fill a huge need, but he was too good a value to pass up. The Vikings had him among the top 20 players in the draft and as clearly the best linebacker. Henderson, though, may have slid a bit because of a back injury that required surgery a year ago. Still, this gives the Vikings two Butkus Award winners on the same roster -- Chris Claiborne is the other one -- and the best middle linebacker in the draft.

He is not exceptionally fast, but he is instinctive enough to make up for it. He is a hard hitter and a sure tackler, which will allow him to contribute right away on special teams. He will be inserted in the middle behind veteran Greg Biekert, who will tutor the young player, preparing him to start, as early as the 2004 season. "He's smart, he's physical, he runs good enough," said Scott Studwell, the Vikings' director of college scouting. "We feel, all of a sudden, we've taken this linebacker corps and built it into a very strong unit."

Vikings may have interest in LB

According to the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, Jackson State linebacker Elgin Andrews has worked out and received some phone calls from the Browns and Vikings. Andrews was not selected in last weekend's draft and hopes to get a chance to play as a rookie free agent.

Chaos aside, he's who team wanted

Despite the draft-day mayhem, fact is, the Vikings got the player they wanted in the first round in Kevin Williams. And that is more than just spin. Talking to several sources who took part in the draft preparation process, the Vikings decided that Dewayne Robertson and Williams were the two best players for them in the first round, the two players who fit their need for a defensive tackle who could take pressure off Chris Hovan with a strong pass rush. Robertson went No. 4. So the Vikings were ready and willing to take Williams when their pick came up.

Editor's note: Hot News updates gathered from,, and

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