NFC North: Off-field issues dot Bears' draft

Also in the division, an Army player makes big news in Detroit, and the Vikings' signing of Jared Allen could help Darren Sharper.

Bears GM Jerry Angelo has made a point in recent months of stressing the character issue.

In the aftermath of the Tank Johnson fiasco, in which the Bears were practically forced to release a talented player because of repeated off-the-field embarrassments, Angelo has insisted the team will do a more thorough job of not pinning their hopes on players of questionable character.

But on draft weekend, the Bears used their second third-round pick on Arkansas defensive tackle Marcus Harrison. He has a felony drug arrest in his past.

Three rounds later, they chose Michigan State tight end Kellen Davis, who was suspended for four games and placed on 18 months probation for his role in a fight that occurred at an off-campus party in 2006.

According to Angelo, there are different degrees of character problems, and this year's picks convinced him their problems were isolated instances rather than patterns of behavior.

"We are in the business to win football games," Angelo said. "This isn't an angelic game, as we all know, so we certainly aren't going to get all angels. But we are not going to prostitute character. We do not put winning in front of character. It doesn't work that way here. We researched these players in depth. They made mistakes. I have learned by my mistakes and we did eons of work on these kids.

"We missed on Tank. I can sit here and say that I thought we knew him, but we didn't know him. We made a mistake, but I am not going let that interfere or interrupt us from how we have done business, and I think we have been pretty good on how we have researched character."

Harrison got into trouble last August. He was pulled over for speeding and found to be in possession of one ecstasy pill and two cigars that tested positive for marijuana, but the Bears were convinced he learned from the mistake and the one-game suspension. Davis was charged with aggravated assault and has satisfied the terms of his probation. According to the Bears' director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel, his record is otherwise spotless. And Angelo vouched for both players after the draft.

"We like these two guys," Angelo said. "They are good people. We did a lot of work with the coaches, with the support staff, and we feel good about them. Do they need structure? They might need some guidance, but we feel we can be that for them. They're very, very good players, and we are in the business to win games. Talent is No. 1, character is No. 1a, but we didn't prostitute ourselves by taking these players, I can assure you of that."

There also is a difference between using a mid-second-round pick to take someone like Johnson, as opposed to a late third-rounder on Harrison and a sixth-rounder on Davis. The Bears can easily defend the latter pick simply by pointing out that there's no such thing as a sixth-round bust.

"I don't want to be a hostage to a character issue, and we won't be," Angelo said. "What does that mean? As long as we have the leverage, I am fine with that. And that's the key. We won't reward (character concerns), but as long as we have the leverage (it's OK), and we do in this situation. We felt good about these players. They are not bad people. They made some mistakes, and they earnestly showed us that they learned from their mistakes and that's behind them. That's the way we left it."


Lions: A ‘win-win' for Campbell

If not for a new Army policy allowing him to play pro football, Caleb Campbell would graduate from West Point and become an air defense artilleryman, a platoon leader in charge of about 32 soldiers, likely headed to Iraq or Kuwait.

But Campbell isn't coming to Detroit to get out of combat. And if he isn't good enough to play outside linebacker or safety, the Lions won't be afraid to cut him. Campbell will be proud to wear either uniform.

"I find it really as a win-win situation," Campbell said. "I get to pursue a career because of this new policy the Army has implemented, doing something that I love, and that's playing football.

"But if football doesn't work out, I get to do what I came to the academy for in the first place. I get to be an officer, and that's something that I love as well."

Campbell could have played college football elsewhere. He had a scholarship offer from Tulsa. But he chose to go to West Point, knowing he was making a five-year commitment to the military at a time when the United States was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Army policy was not in place at the time. Campbell was playing for football for fun. It wasn't until his sophomore year that he considered the NFL a possibility.

"When I came to West Point, I wasn't saying, ‘God, I hope they make a new policy so I don't have to go to Iraq,' " Campbell said. "I knew what I was getting myself into."

Coach Rod Marinelli and president Matt Millen can relate to Campbell. Marinelli served in the Army in Vietnam. Millen's son Marcus was a teammate of Campbell's at West Point.

Millen said Campbell will receive no favoritism, nor will he need it.

"He'll get the same opportunity as every other guy," Millen said. "He's been trained for four years, and I know the type of training he's gone through. He's prepared for if he won't make our football team. In fact, he's more prepared if he doesn't make our team, probably, than if he does make our team."


Vikings: Allen has defense looking Sharper

There are many who feel the Vikings' acquisition of standout defensive end Jared Allen will prove to be a huge benefit for Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper.

Follow the logic:

Allen will provide the type of consistent pressure that the Vikings haven't been able to get in recent years -- he had an NFL-leading 15.5 sacks last season with Kansas City -- thus Sharper, who can sniff out a potential interception from a mile away, should be able to step in front of plenty of errant passes.

While this might be true, Sharper should enjoy any success he has in purple in 2008. Why? The veteran will turn 33 in November, is entering the final season of his contract and might have seen his replacement selected in the second round of this year's NFL draft. 

Minnesota traded up in that round in order to take Arkansas State safety Tyrell Johnson. Johnson opened eyes at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis -- he had a time of 4.44 in the 40-yard dash -- and also more than held his own in games against big-time programs such as Tennessee and Texas.

"When you compare him, we thought he had unique ball skills which is something that's very important, especially at the safety position," said Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel. "He has an excellent closing burst, anticipates well, does a nice job when they do send him on blitzes. He can play either off or up in the box, so he brings you a complete safety where it gives you some flexibility on the back end to roll your safety up."

The Vikings' long-term plan is to pair Johnson with veteran Madieu Williams, whom the franchise made one of the highest-paid free agents in the NFL in March when it signed him as a free agent. Williams, a member of the Cincinnati Bengals for his first four seasons, will turn 27 in October.

Johnson, whose father is former NBA All-Star Alvin Robertson, certainly doesn't lack any confidence about his ability to have an immediate impact.

"I think I can come in and contribute right away," he said. "Kind of like coming out of high school and going to college, I thought I could have played my first year but they redshirted me. I was ready and willing to play. It's the same thing coming into the NFL.

"I am ready and willing. It all depends on what the coaching staff has for me and I'm just going to respect whatever they have for me and whatever they want me to do. I'm going to be there and I'm going to get it done."

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