NFC North inside slant

News and views from the Packers' division rivals, including the Vikings heading to minicamp, the Bears QB derby and an interesting excuse from the Lions' Roy Williams.

The Vikings opened their three-day mandatory minicamp Friday amid expectations that this is a team that should be a serious contender in the NFC this season.

This comes after non-playoff finishes of 6-10 and 8-8 in Brad Childress' first two years as Vikings coach.

Minnesota has been holding practices as part of their organized team activities the past two-plus weeks. Center Matt Birk has been absent for all of those, running back Chester Taylor has missed the majority of them and running back Adrian Peterson also hasn't been around for a few.

But the entire roster was expected to be at Winter Park this weekend, including Birk.

Birk is entering the last year of his contract and so far the Vikings have made no attempt to discuss an extension with him. Birk has decided to stay away from the team's optional workouts and has been training on his own.

Agent Joe Linta made it clear that Birk will be present for this mandatory event. "Out of respect to Coach (Brad) Childress and the team Matt intends to be at the minicamp," Linta said.

While Birk figures to be one storyline of this camp, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson will be a primary focus. Granted these are offseason workouts, but the second-year starter is still going to have a spotlight on him.

His development is absolutely instrumental to any success the Vikings might have in 2008. This is a team that has added big-name free-agent receiver Bernard Berrian on offense and safety Madieu Williams and Pro Bowl end Jared Allen on defense.

Jackson, however, is the key variable and any chance to see how he's progressing is going to draw plenty of attention.

Bears: Orton, Grossman battle

For the first time in five years, quarterback Rex Grossman isn't No. 1 on the Bears' depth chart. He and Kyle Orton are alternating practice days running the first-team offense, and the competition is expected to extend into the preseason.

Grossman is coming off an inconsistent 2007 season when he was benched early for poor play but performed better when given a second chance, although not well enough to be given the starting job.

"I think I have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder striving to prove myself in this league and get myself over that hump to become a great quarterback in this league consistently," said Grossman, who has often mixed exceptional and horrendous games throughout his first five seasons. "I'm working as hard as I can to get there. There's a lot in front of me, but I feel I can handle everything that's thrown at me."

There has been unsubstantiated speculation in both directions that the Bears are leaning toward one quarterback over the other, but Grossman is focusing on what he can control.

"It is what it is," he said of the competition. "I'm doing my job and not commenting on anything else. I'm really just focused on me getting better."

Both quarterbacks are working with a wide receiver unit in transition. Veteran free agents Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd were added earlier in the offseason, and rookie Earl Bennett was drafted in the third round. All three could be major players in a revamped offense, which means both quarterbacks have a lot of on-the-field relationships to work on between now and the season opener. Having to split practice reps could slow the development of that rapport.

"I don't really know yet," Grossman said. "But I have plenty of time. If I feel like I don't have enough reps with somebody, I bring them out here when we're not practicing and we go through stuff. But I don't think it's going to be a problem."

Grossman re-signed with the Bears in the offseason rather than opting for a fresh start elsewhere, mainly because of his familiarity with the organization. But he's playing under a one-year contract, increasing the pressure on him to perform this year, which could determine in which direction his career heads.

"I think anybody going into their last year of their contract or signing a one-year deal it's added pressure on them to have a good season," he said. "And I'm excited about the opportunities if that were the case. Who knows what's going to happen? I've got one thing in mind: that's having a good season this year."

Lions: Williams' unique excuse

Lions wide receiver Roy Williams missed four consecutive organized team activities recently, but he has what he considers innocent explanations for his absences. He doesn't think they're a big deal, and he says they have nothing to do with his contract situation.

"I'm going to make a lot of money this year," said Williams, who is in the last year of his contract. "You all can look it up. They owe me 5.8 million this year. So why would I be mad? I'm not mad. I'm not missing OTAs because I'm mad at the Detroit Lions."

So why is he missing them?

"I'm missing because my flights got canceled," Williams said.

Williams blamed bad weather near his home in Texas for his three absences last week.

"I tried to get here two days in a row, and I just wasn't coming for one day," Williams said. "I called the coaches. They knew where I was at. So it wasn't a big deal."

What about Monday?

"That was my fault," Williams said. "I booked it wrong. I booked it on the second (of June) instead of the first."

The OTAs are voluntary according to the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association. Williams isn't the only Lions player who has been absent, either. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Tatum Bell were missing Wednesday.

But attending OTAs is strongly encouraged throughout the NFL, and most players attend.

Williams said he liked to run in the Texas heat and come to Detroit for team work.

"I'm an OTA guy," he said. "I want to be here (for) OTAs."

But he has missed OTAs before and doesn't consider it an issue if established players miss some.

"We know what guys can do, especially the veteran guys," he said. "Calvin's still a rookie, though. But he knows what to do, man. We know what he's going to give us on Sunday, so it's not a big deal that he's not going to be here or if I'm not going to be here.

"We know at some point we're going to be here. We're just not going to be like, 'Screw OTAs,' or, 'Screw the Detroit Lions.' We're going to show up and we're going to work hard when we get here."

Williams is willing to talk about a new deal at any time.

"I'm like 7-Eleven, baby," he said. "I'm always open. Even on the field."


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