NFC North notebook: Forte could carry load

News on the Bears' holdouts, Lions' quarterback situation, Peterson's lofty goal and much more.

Running back Matt Forte claims he was drafted in the second round to create competition, not controversy.

From the moment Forte was chose 44th overall, the general consensus, especially among those disenchanted with Cedric Benson's performance last season, has been that Forte will be the Bears' featured runner sooner rather than later.

"I didn't really read too much about it because I already knew the situation," he said. "You can't really read what's on the Internet and what's in the paper because it'll just mess your head up anyway, so I just try to stay focused and come out here and play on the field and do what I have to do."

Last season at Tulane, Forte was the focal point of the Green Wave attack, rushing 361 times for 2,127 yards, the seventh-highest total in NCAA Division-I history, and he also caught 32 passes for 282 yards. Unlike many featured runners, Forte has also been described as a willing blocker. All those skills are currently on display at the Bears' organized team activities, although Forte is taking snaps with the second team for now.

Forte isn't making any predictions about his impact, but he's not planning to waste any time establishing himself as someone capable of contributing to a Bears offense desperately in need of improvement.

"I can do a lot of things, catch the ball, run the ball, pass block," Forte said. "I'm going to contribute wherever I can."

But Forte realizes he'll need more than physical skills to get on the field in a significant role when the season starts. Benson's role was diminished early in his career because his recognition in pass-blocking situations was deficient, and he has yet to establish himself as a reliable pass receiver.

"The quickest way to get on the field is to learn your pass protections," Forte said. "If you can block and protect the quarterback, then you can run your routes and catch the ball, it's really the fastest way to get on the field."

It's unlikely that, by the start of the season, Bears coaches will be hesitant to put Forte on the field in any situation. They already know he has the innate ability to run the ball and catch it, but he knows he can improve on the little things that make a back complete.

"Running the ball is a natural ability, and there are little things to work on with that," Forte said, "but most of all you want to work on pass blocking, knowing who to block each time, catching the ball when it's thrown to you and protecting the ball."

According to Forte, learning all the nuances that come with playing running back in the NFL can take a long time or a little. He seems to be in a hurry.

"If you come out here and practice 100 percent every day, it's going to come faster than for some other guys," he said. "I (practice) full speed, just like the game mode every play."

That attitude and his work ethic are part of what attracted the Bears to Forte, but the key consideration was his all-around ability to immediately make them a better team.

— In addition to Brian Urlacher, who is boycotting voluntary offseason workouts because he's disenchanted with his nine-year, $56.65 million contract that still has four years remaining, defensive tackle Tommie Harris, defensive end Alex Brown and cornerback Charles Tillman were not at organized team activity practice at Halas Hall on Wednesday.

Wide receiver Mark Bradley was at Halas Hall, but not on the practice field as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee early this month to clean up old scar tissue. Bradley, who wore a brace on his right leg, said he would be ready for the start of training camp, although the team said he was questionable for the start of camp.

— The move of veteran offensive tackle John Tait from left tackle to right tackle is under way.

Tait took all his snaps with the first team at right tackle in Wednesday's OTA practice, while veteran John St. Clair lined up at left tackle — a temporary situation with first-round pick Chris Williams taking over on the left side by the end of training camp, if not sooner. Williams has been the left tackle on the second unit in offseason practices.

Tait has been the Bears' starter at left tackle the past three seasons but started at right tackle the previous three seasons, the first two with the Chiefs, where he began his career as a left tackle in 1999.

— Safety Mike Brown, who recently had his contract restructured to limit the Bears' financial responsibility if he suffers a debilitating injury for the fifth straight season, was running with the first team.

Brown suffered a season-ending torn ACL in last year's season opener and has missed 43 of 64 games the past four seasons after playing in 64 straight, and starting 63, in his first four seasons.

Brown's base salary for this season was scheduled to be $2.44 million in the final year of the five-year, $17 million extension he signed in July 2003. Brown now has a base salary of $950,000 for 2008. The $1.49 million difference can be made up with unlikely-to-be-earned incentives based on playing time. If Brown is injured before the season starts and released, he would be paid $320,000.

Lions: Stanton long way from challenging Kitna

Some people in Detroit think Drew Stanton should push Jon Kitna for the Lions' starting quarterback job this season — and overtake him at some point.

They remember how Stanton starred at a local high school and at Michigan State. They remember the athleticism and moxie that made him a second-round pick last year.

But if they could see practice, they could see Stanton has a long way to go.

Stanton is still getting into the swing of things, participating in only his first few practices since the third day of training camp last year.

After the Lions drafted Stanton last year, offensive coordinator Mike Martz immediately altered his mechanics. Stanton said he didn't understand why and never really got an explanation on how to work on it. He said he felt robotic.

On the third day of training camp, he had stiffness and swelling in his knee. He had surgery and went on injured reserve, ending his season. He couldn't practice with the team, and he said Martz and quarterbacks coach Adam Gase didn't work with him much.

Stanton has been working closely with new quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler, and his mechanics are closer to what they were in college. Still, he sometimes struggled even to throw a spiral.

"He's gotten better," offensive coordinator Jim Colletto said on the second day of the Lions' mandatory minicamp. "Scot's worked on it with him a lot, and sometimes he reverts back to some old habits. Today he didn't throw an interception, so that was a huge plus."

One of Stanton's passes was particularly poor that day. He threw a ball down the left sideline that wobbled and sort of died in the air. Wide receiver Devale Ellis had to stop and come back to catch it.

Asked about that pass, Colletto smiled and said: "I kind of close my eyes and don't pay attention."

— Coach Rod Marinelli expects a lot of sacks from Dewayne White at right defensive end.

"Double digits," Marinelli said. White has never had more than 6.5 in a season. But White is now playing the premier pass-rushing position, and Marinelli thinks he can do it.

"I try never to limit a man," Marinelli said. "I want over double digits. That position has to have that. And is that pressure? You're dang right. Am I going to apply it? You bet. I am going to apply it."

— Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said linebacker Ernie Sims and defensive tackle Cory Redding had minor shoulder surgeries this offseason. He said it was "totally precautionary" that they weren't practicing in minicamp. They will be reevaluated June 1.

—The Lions will unveil a 75th anniversary team Nov. 9 to celebrate when the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans moved to Detroit and became the Lions in 1934.

Vikings: Peterson eyes 2,000 yards

Adrian Peterson has lofty goals for the 2008 season.

After rushing for 1,341 yards (second in the league) and being named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, the running back is shooting for a 2,000-yard rushing campaign in his second year in the NFL.

Can't be done? Don't tell Peterson.

"It's something I stay consistent with," he said. "I'd be cheating myself if I kind of set it lower. But 2,000 yards, that's my goal. I'm just going to work hard to give myself an opportunity to reach that goal."

Heck, Peterson also doesn't dismiss the idea of putting the NFL MVP trophy on his mantel and definitely wants to improve on the 19 receptions he had last season.

Don't get Peterson wrong. He isn't bragging or trying to diminish anyone else's goals. He's simply that confident. In fact, when Peterson talks about his expectations he keeps a very even tone and doesn't come across as cocky.

Part of the reason for this is running backs coach Eric Bieniemy doesn't allow his prized pupil to get swept up in the hype. Bieniemy is constantly working with Peterson on improving his game and becoming a more complete player.

This offseason has been spent working on pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield. The former is of utmost importance because last season Peterson frequently was taken off the field in passing situations.

"It was a big year my rookie season, but I look at it as I'm coming into my second year now," Peterson said. "I've learned a lot and experience a lot also, so I'm more mature as a man and as a football player. I'm just looking forward to seeing what I can bring to the team this year and to making the team better and just being in my second year and reaching my highest potential."

— Center Matt Birk has followed through on his plan to skip the Vikings' organized team activities, which are optional. Birk, entering the last year of his contract, has not been approached by the team about a contact extension. He does plan to attend the mandatory minicamp June 6-8.

— Veteran RB Chester Taylor missed the early portion of the OTAs because of a family emergency, according to coach Brad Childress.

— The Vikings haven't decided whether LB E.J. Henderson or S Darren Sharper will wear the communication device in his helmet this season to relay defensive signals. The team plans to experiment with the new technology — it was approved at the owners meetings this spring — during minicamp.

— CB Antoine Winfield (chest) participated in almost all drills during OTAs as he recovers from surgery.

— DE Erasmus James, a former first-round pick out of Wisconsin who has battled knee problems, was released on Friday.


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