NFC North news and notes

Recent news and notes from the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears:<p>

Minnesota Vikings

QB Gus Frerotte said he enjoyed his two seasons as Daunte Culpepper 's backup, but he's now ready to compete for a starting job elsewhere. "I wouldn't say there was stellar quarterback play throughout the NFL this season," said Frerotte, an unrestricted free agent this offseason. "I'm not going to run all over the place for you, but if a team needs a strong-armed quarterback who can stand in the pocket and knows where to throw the ball, I can do that."

– QB Daunte Culpepper's wife, Kim had to be rescued by security officers at Lincoln Financial Field from verbally abusive Eagles fans during Sunday's game against the Eagles. Said Culpepper: "Lord knows, if I had been up there, somebody really would have gotten hurt."

– WR Randy Moss was in a rare talkative mood after the playoff win at Green Bay -- you know, the game in which he fake mooned the fans at Lambeau Field. Well, a week later at Philadelphia, Moss was back to his usual self when reporters approached. "I ain't doing no interviews," he said. Moss didn't give himself a chance to comment on Eagles WR Freddie Mitchell's playful touchdown celebration. After giving the Eagles a 7-0 lead, Mitchell pretended to pull his pants up.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"Goodbye, Minnesota." – Former first-round draft pick Chris Hovan , looking over his shoulders at reporters as he pushed open the door from the locker room to the players' parking lot on the day after the season ended with a 27-14 loss in an NFC divisional playoff game at Philadelphia. Hovan, who is a free agent this offseason, lost his starting job to rookie free agent Spencer Johnson at midseason and was inactive for five of the last seven games, including both playoff games.

Detroit Lions

Ted Tollner, a veteran of 30 years coaching on the college and NFL level, has been hired as the Lions' offensive coordinator, replacing Sherman Lewis, who retired at the end of the 2004 season.

"I've known Ted for more than 20 years and consider him to be one of the best minds in football," said Lions head coach Steve Mariucci, in a statement released by the team Wednesday. "His pedigree is incomparable, having learned from Don Coryell, who most regard as one of the most innovative offensive coaches in the history of our game.

"Ted's been involved with the most successful and progressive offensive philosophies in football from Don Coryell to LaVell Edwards to John Robinson to Marv Levy to Chuck Knox. He will be a tremendous asset to our young offensive players. This is an exceptional addition to our staff."

What Mariucci did not say was how Tollner will be used – whether he will work primarily in the background, as Lewis did, or handle play-calling, a responsibility Mariucci does not freely delegate.

Tollner, 64, is highly regarded around the NFL and spent the past season as the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, but there are questions whether Mariucci is bringing him in to help with alterations to the Lions' West Coast offense or to help him hold the line in running what has been a relatively conservative offense in Detroit.

Mariucci is expected to answer some of those questions soon but the real answers might not be known until the Lions get into the 2005 season.

– Mariucci and team president Matt Millen hastily denied a published report recently that they are entertaining plans to release quarterback Joey Harrington rather than pay him a $3 million signing bonus he is due later in the summer.

The team put out a statement categorically denying the report and also refuted the suggestion that Sherman Lewis had been forced out as offensive coordinator.

– Depending on exactly what happens in the free agent chase this spring, the Lions have a schedule that appears favorable to their attempts to get back into the race for the playoffs and an NFC North title.

The Green Bay Packers (10-6) and Minnesota Vikings (8-8) both finished ahead of the Lions in 2004, but neither appears to be a dominant team in the division. And the Lions' 10 opponents outside the division include only three teams -- Atlanta (11-5), Baltimore (9-7) and Pittsburgh (15-1) -- with winning records.

The other seven non-division opponents are no better than 8-8. They include Carolina (7-9), Arizona (6-10), Cincinnati (8-8), New Orleans (8-8), Tampa Bay (5-11), Dallas (6-10) and Cleveland (4-12).

QUOTE TO NOTE

"We are giving Joey – and I'm trying to prove it by the way we've been with him – every opportunity to develop into our quarterback. I can't guarantee he's our quarterback for the next 12 years, but everything we have been doing is in keeping with developing him for the future, making progress every way we can." – Coach Steve Mariucci on a report that the Lions might dump quarterback Joey Harrington during the offseason.

Chicago Bears

When asked to summarize his first season with the Bears, the first thing that fullback Bryan Johnson reflected on was the warm reception he received.

"As far as the fans go, they were great welcoming me into Chicago," said Johnson, who was acquired in a March 29 trade with the Washington Redskins for a sixth-round pick.

Bryan Johnson had 14 catches for 55 yards and 2 TDs in 2004.

"I had a good experience with that and I'm excited about how much the fans know football and care about football. When we're not doing well and we're losing, they're upset and they should be."

A three-year starter at linebacker at Boise State, Johnson was converted to fullback after joining the Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2000. He spent four seasons in Washington, catching 33 passes for 314 yards while rushing for five yards on three carries.

After serving as a lead blocker for Stephen Davis, Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts with the Redskins, Johnson was paired with tailback Thomas Jones in Chicago.

– In all, 12 Bears eventually landed on injured reserve, including three players who appeared in last season's Pro Bowl: middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, guard Ruben Brown and defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. Johnson also was part of that group, missing the final four games with a foot injury that required surgery.


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