NFC North Issues

Unit by unit analysis, notes, quotes, camp calendars for each of the four NFC North Division teams

CAMP CALENDAR: Bears players report to Olivet Nazarene University in far south suburban Bourbonnais on July 23. The first practice is at 3 p.m. on July 24. Camp ends on Aug. 18, although the final practice is at 3 p.m. on Aug. 17. Unlike in past years, there will be six night practices, including one back at Soldier Field on Thursday, Aug. 4.

-- Last season, second-round defensive tackle Tank Johnson started out so impressively that some observers predicted he might outplay first-round defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

But Johnson flamed out during the course of the season, and after getting a start in the third game of the year, he was strictly a backup after that. Harris, meanwhile, started all 16 games and often attracted double-team blocks to neutralize his disruptiveness.

Johnson still has the talent to wind up starting alongside Harris for years to come, and new defensive line coach Don Johnson is looking forward to Tank realizing that potential this season.

"Just based on his ability, his quickness and his athleticism (he should be much better)," Johnson said. "I would like to see him put the complete package together and get on the field with it."

-- The Bears were 0-7 last season in games that middle linebacker Brian Urlacher missed because of injuries.

For the first time in his five-year NFL career, Urlacher failed to make the Pro Bowl last season, even though he had 105 tackles with two forced fumbles and 5.5 sacks in nine games.

During off-season workouts, he showed no trace of the hamstring and calf injuries that sidelined him on three separate occasions last season.

"Brian went through everything in the spring, so I believe that his health is very good," linebackers coach Bob Babich said. "He did a fantastic job. He's playing at a high level and he's the type of guy who really wants to be the best he can be. He's working extremely hard and we expect big things from Brian this fall."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We know we can be good. I think the No. 1 thing is we have to stay healthy, and then secondly we just have to keep improving." -- CB Jerry Azumah on the Bears' defense.

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Rex Grossman. Backups - Chad Hutchinson, Kyle Orton.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Cedric Benson, FB Bryan Johnson. Backups -- RB Thomas Jones, FB Jason McKie, RB Adrian Peterson.

TIGHT END: Starter - Desmond Clark. Backups - Dustin Lyman, John Gilmore.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Muhsin Muhammad, Justin Gage. Backups - Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade, Mark Bradley.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT John Tait, LG Ruben Brown, C Olin Kreutz, RG Terrence Metcalf, RT Fred Miller. Backups -- G Roberto Garza, G-T Steve Edwards, T Marc Colombo, T Qasim Mitchell.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Adewale Ogunleye, DT Tommie Harris, NT Ian Scott, RE Alex Brown. Backups - DE Michael Haynes, NT Tank Johnson, DE Israel Idonije, DT Alfonso Boone.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer. Backups - Marcus Reese, Joe Odom, Jeremy Cain.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Charles Tillman, Jerry Azumah, SS Mike Brown, FS Mike Green. Backups - CB Nathan Vasher, S Bobby Gray, S Todd Johnson, CB Todd McMillon.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Doug Brien, P Brad Maynard, LS Patrick Mannelly.

CAMP CALENDAR: July 27 - Rookies report to Allen Park practice facility; July 28 - All players report; July 29 - First day of two-a-day workouts; August 19 (tentative) - End of training camp.

-- With the retirement last year of defensive end Robert Porcher, placekicker Jason Hanson ranks as the veteran active player with the most years of service to the Lions. Hanson, originally a second-round draft pick by former coach Wayne Fontes in 1992, is beginning his 14th NFL season.

With so much player movement in the era of free agency, that kind of longevity with the same team is somewhat unusual.

In fact, the Lions have only six other players who have been with the team four years or more.

Fullback Cory Schlesinger is the longest-ranking position player with 10 full seasons, followed by defensive end Jared DeVries with six years, defensive end James Hall with five years and three players with four years - tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola and defensive tackle Shaun Rogers.

-- Dre' Bly played in two Super Bowls in his first three NFL seasons as a member of the St. Louis Rams but twice is not enough for the Pro Bowl cornerback.

Now going into his seventh NFL season and his third with the Lions, Bly looks at his current teammates and feels his chances for another Super Bowl are improving.

The nucleus of the team is still young but it is not so young and inexperienced that the Lions can't compete with other quality teams in the NFC North and the rest of the league.

"The third year is the most important year," Bly said, referring to the coming-of-age of several teammates. "Everybody is watching you. We have the necessary talent; guys aren't young anymore, we have the guys in place to get the job done.

"No more excuses about 'the guys are young' or 'we need to wait for them to develop.' Guys have developed and guys understand that if they haven't, they have to mature fast because we're moving forward.

"This is a big year for this organization, a big year for a lot of guys here. But the most important thing is that guys understand that and that guys are looking for us to challenge."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really don't know any other team that has three big, fast guys that can get it done. We don't know if we can get it yet either." - Wide receiver Roy Williams on the Lions trio of receivers that includes himself, Charles Rogers and rookie Mike Williams, all first-round picks.

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Joey Harrington. Backups - Jeff Garcia, Dan Orlovsky, Todd Mortensen.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Kevin Jones, FB Cory Schlesinger. Backups - RB Shawn Bryson, RB Artose Pinner, RB Jamel White, RB Paul Smith, FB Will Matthews, RB Howard Jackson, FB Greg Hanoian.

TIGHT END: Starter - Marcus Pollard. Backups - Casey FitzSimmons, Leonard Stephens, Jason Randall.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - FL Roy Williams, SE Charles Rogers. Backups - Mike Williams, Kevin Johnson, Scottie Vines, David Kircus, Eddie Drummond, Glen Martinez, Adam Herzing, Steve Savoy, Paris Hamilton.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Jeff Backus, LG Rick DeMulling, C Dominic Raiola, RG Damien Woody, RT Kyle Kosier. Backups - T Kelly Butler, T Victor Rogers, G/C Tyrone Hopson, G David Loverne, G Rob Murphy, G/C Brock Gutierrez, T Matt McCoy, T Sean Bubin, G Cory Proctor, G Levi Newton, T Tom Kaleita.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Cory Redding, NT Dan Wilkinson, RT Shaun Rogers, RE James Hall. Backups - T Marcus Bell, E Jared DeVries, T Shaun Cody, E Kalimba Edwards, E Bill Swancutt, E Robbie Valenzuela, T Marcus Jasmin.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Cory Redding, NT Dan Wilkinson, RT Shaun Rogers, RE James Hall. Backups - T Marcus Bell, E Jared DeVries, T Shaun Cody, E Kalimba Edwards, E Bill Swancutt, E Robbie Valenzuela, T Marcus Jasmin.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB James Davis, MLB Earl Holmes, SLB Boss Bailey. Backups - O/MLB Teddy Lehman, OLB Alex Lewis, OLB Donte Curry, MLB Wali Rainer, OLB Scott Genord, OLB Andrew Battle, OLB Johnathan Goddard.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Fernando Bryant, RCB Dre' Bly, FS Terrence Holt, SS Kenoy Kennedy. Backups - CB R.W. McQuarters, S Bracy Walker, CB Keith Smith, CB Stanley Wilson, CB Chris Cash, CB Andre Goodman, S Vernon Fox, CB Michael Echols, S Kentrell Curry, S Chip Cox, CB Jeff Sanchez, S Andrew Guman, CB Brandon Payne.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jason Hanson, P Nick Harris, LS Don Muhlbach, PR Eddie Drummond, KR Eddie Drummond.

CAMP CALENDAR: Camp opens July 25 with the reporting of rookies, first-year and injured players. Veterans report July 27. The first full-squad practice is July 29. The highlight of camp is a practice against Buffalo Aug. 4 in Green Bay and a scrimmage against the Bills the next night at Lambeau Field.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus responded this week after absorbing another round of disparaging remarks from quarterback Brett Favre regarding his representation of wide receiver Javon Walker.

"I wish he would call me so we could talk and I could let him know the facts," Rosenhaus said. "I think there are a lot of things he doesn't know about our situation. There are a lot of things he needs to know."

The agent defended Walker's decision to skip minicamp and said that his client would have attended if the Packers had given him some kind of assurance they would address his contract situation in the near future. He said the Packers refused even to consider it.

In a TV interview, Favre said: "I'd hate to walk into the locker room every day and know I turned my back on the players. Ultimately the player has to make a decision. The agent can make a recommendation but you can say yeah or no.

"If you're going to listen to your agent and let him tell you everything and you go by it, I mean, you have to step up for yourself and your team. The money is out there to be had. When a contract is signed you understand that if you play well, maybe in time they'll renegotiate."

-- Gary Knafelc, the public address announcer at Lambeau Field since 1964, is stepping down. He will be replaced by Bill Jartz, a Green Bay newscaster.

Knafelc played end for the Packers from 1954-'62.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't want to be traded. I want to be in Green Bay. I like it there. But they're telling me they won't redo a contract and they want me to wait until the end of the season. It's like they don't have any faith in me. I don't get that." -- NT Grady Jackson.

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Brett Favre. Backups - Aaron Rodgers, Craig Nall, J.T. O'Sullivan.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Ahman Green, FB William Henderson. Backups - RB Najeh Davenport, FB Nick Luchey, RB Tony Fisher, FB Vonta Leach.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Bubba Franks. Backups - David Martin, Ben Steele, Sean McHugh.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - SE Javon Walker, FL Donald Driver. Backups - Robert Ferguson, Terrence Murphy, Antonio Chatman, Craig Bragg, Andrae Thurman.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Chad Clifton, LG Adrian Klemm, C Mike Flanagan, RG Grey Ruegamer, RT Mark Tauscher. Backups - RT Kevin Barry, RG Matt O'Dwyer, C Scott Wells, G Steve Morley, T Brennan Curtin, T Brad Bedell, T-G Atlas Herrion, G Junius Coston, G Will Whitticker.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Aaron Kampman, NT Grady Jackson, UT Cletidus Hunt, RE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Backups - LE-UT Cullen Jenkins, UT Donnell Washington, DT Corey Williams, RE R-Kal Truluck, LE Kenny Peterson, NT James Lee, NT Colin Cole, RE Mike Montgomery.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Raynoch Thompson, MLB Nick Barnett, WLB Na'il Diggs. Backups - SLB Hannibal Navies, SLB Brady Poppinga, MLB Paris Lenon, WLB Kurt Campbell, SLB Ray Manning.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LC Ahmad Carroll, RC Al Harris, SS Mark Roman, FS Arturo Freeman. Backups - CB Joey Thomas, SS Nick Collins, FS Marviel Underwood, SS Earl Little, FS Todd Franz, CB Mike Hawkins, CB Jason Horton, CB Chris Johnson.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters - K Ryan Longwell, P B.J. Sander, KR-PR Antonio Chatman, LS Rob Davis. Backups - P Brooks Barnard, P Bryce Benekos.

CAMP CALENDAR: Reporting day, July 29; Intra-squad scrimmage, 8-9:30 p.m., Aug. 5, Minnesota State, Mankato Stadium; Intra-squad passing scrimmage, 8:30-9:30 p.m., Aug. 9, Minnesota State, Mankato Stadium; Intra-squad passing scrimmage, 8-9:30 p.m., Aug. 16, Minnesota State, Mankato Stadium.

Free safety Darren Sharper might not be in the prime of his career anymore, but the former Packer is determined to prove he can still play at a high level now that he's on the other side of this heated rivalry.

"Every time you step out there there's going to be pressure," Sharper said. "You have to go out there and play. Looking good on paper isn't going to win any games."

Sharper is coming off an injury-plagued season. He claims to have come back too early from a knee injury, which made it worse and affected his play.

The Packers wanted to keep him, but were forced to release him because of salary cap reasons. Two days later, the longtime Packer signed with the Vikings and slipped on a purple jersey for the first time as a pro.

"I think it looks good on me," Sharper said. "The purple and gold definitely looks good."

Sharper also likes the look of the Vikings' revamped defense. Sharper is one of at least five new starters that was added to last year's 28th-ranked defense.

"It's going to be fun playing with these guys," Sharper said. "If you look at us on paper, we're probably one of the most talented defenses in the league. But, again, that doesn't mean anything. You have to prove it."

Playing for Green Bay, Sharper said he watched the Vikings closely as they struggled defensively in recent years.

"I think a lot of the things last year were inexperience and youth," Sharper said. "With the additions we have, with the experience, we should knock some of that inconsistency out."

-- Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell has far more talent on the defensive line than he does at linebacker. But if Cowart and Henderson both excel in training camp, it's possible the Vikings will tinker with a 3-4 defense. "We'll find ways to get the best linebackers on the field," Cottrell said. "We might run some 3-4." The 3-4, which is becoming increasingly popular among NFL teams, won't be the Vikings' base defense this season.

-- First round draft pick Troy Williamson dropped his share of passes during his first mini-camp in May. However, he also showed off his 4.34 speed, blowing past veteran cornerback Fred Smoot for one deep reception. "Looks like Smoot got wind-burned there," joked special teams coach Rusty Tillman from the sideline.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "People can say what they want, but there is no job locked up, except for Pep (quarterback Daunte Culpepper)." -- Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who enters training camp as the backup to Sam Cowart.

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Daunte Culpepper. Backups - Brad Johnson, Shaun Hill, John Bowenkamp.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Michael Bennett. Backups - Mewelde Moore, Moe Williams, Ciatrick Fason, Butchie Wallace.

TIGHT END: Starters - Jim Kleinsasser, Jermaine Wiggins. Backups - Sean Berton, Jeff Dugan, Richard Owens, Richard Angulo.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson, Travis Taylor. Backups - Troy Williamson, Kelly Campbell, Keenan Howry, Ryan Hoag, Ben Nelson, Skyler Fulton, Aaron Hosack.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Adam Goldberg, C Matt Birk, RG Chris Liwienski, RT Mike Rosenthal. Backups - C Cory Withrow, T-G Nat Dorsey, G-T Marcus Johnson, G Anthony Herrera, C Brandon Newton, G Shannon Snell, T Rian Melander, T William Obeng, C Kyle Schmitt, T Chris Jahnke.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Kenechi Udeze, T Kevin Williams, NT Pat Williams, RE Darrion Scott. Backups - RE Erasmus James, T Spencer Johnson, DE Lance Johnstone, NT Steve Martin, T Eric Coleman, T Matt Mitrione, NT C.J. Mosley.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Napoleon Harris, MLB Sam Cowart, WLB Dontarrious Thomas. Backups - MLB E.J. Henderson, SLB Keith Newman, WLB Raonall Smith, MLB Rod Davis, MLB Quincy Stewart, LB Grant Wiley, LB Heath Farwell.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Fred Smoot, LCB Antoine Winfield, SS Corey Chavous, FS Darren Sharper. Backups - CB Brian Williams, CB Ralph Brown, CB-S Ken Irvin, CB Will Hunter, S Dustin Fox, CB Rushen Jones, SS Willie Offord, CB Adrian Ward.

SPECIAL TEAMS: P Darren Bennett, P Travis Dorsch, K Aaron Elling, K Paul Edinger, LS Cullen Loeffler, PR Keenan Howry, KR Mewelde Moore, KR Kelly Campbell, PR Nate Burleson, KR Troy Williamson

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