NFC North notebook

Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson improving; the Bears make Tommie Harris the NFL's highest-paid DT; Lions DT Shaun Cody must stay healthy; and much more from the division.

The Minnesota Vikings got an opportunity to see expensive offseason additions Jared Allen, Bernard Berrian and Madieu Williams on the field during the team's recently concluded workouts, but the biggest reason for optimism might have surrounded the performance by quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

Jackson, entering his second season as the Vikings' starter, looked far more poised and in control as the team went through practices during organized team activities and minicamp that were open to the media.

Jackson's improvement will be crucial if the Vikings are going to have the type of success that many expect after they invested more than $60 million in guarantees on Allen, Berrian and Williams.

Last season, Jackson went 8-4 as a starter but threw three more interceptions than touchdowns (12-9) and his 70.8 passer rating was 28th among the 33 quarterbacks listed in the NFL statistics.

The Vikings, of course, will want to see Jackson continue to show this type of improvement when the hitting starts and the pressure grows far more intense, but an offseason spent working with the coaching staff appeared to pay some dividends in minicamp.

One example came on the second day when the Vikings ran a blitz drill. A year ago, Jackson struggled in the face of pressure and often made panicked, and incorrect, decisions. Jackson wasn't perfect this time but he was more decisive in his decision-making. At one point during an 11-on-11 drill, he evaded the pressure, moved up in the pocket and completed a short pass to running back Chester Taylor.

"It's like night and day," Jackson said. "Compared to this time last year, I feel like a whole different quarterback, really. Running plays, poised, knowing the system, and just being more confident. ... Things are much slower. I'm seeing things a lot better."

More Vikings

- The Vikings' training-camp schedule includes two Saturday night practices this year. The team will report to camp on July 23 and begin practicing July 25. The Vikings will travel to River Falls, Wis., to practice against Kansas City on July 31.

- Although the potential of having running backs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor on the field at the same time could cause big problems for opponents, Vikings coach Brad Childress sounded like he plans to pick and choose his spots when he uses the two together.

"At times it will make sense," Childress said. "It we feel like it can create a personnel advantage. There's only one ball to carry. ... But we're not apt to just do that just to say that they're both in the backfield at the same time."

BEARS: Team spends to keep core intact

It cost the Bears $40 million in new money to get three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris to agree to a four-year contract extension that runs through 2012, but general manager Jerry Angelo was upbeat in announcing the deal on June 20.

"There's a lot of give and take - mostly give on our part and take on theirs," Angelo said with a smile. "But we were able to (remain) consistent with what we believe in, rewarding our own players. This is a very proud day for us to have Tommie in the fold."

In terms of yearly earnings, Harris is the highest-paid player in Bears history, and the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL. But he said he won't feel pressured by the size of his paycheck, and believes players in the league are overcompensated.

"I feel like the reason I have this contract is because I've already displayed that I can carry this role," said Harris, who is the only defensive tackle in franchise history voted to three straight Pro Bowls. "It's nothing that I have to become; I'm already there.

"I don't believe any NFL player deserves the amount of money that we get. But in the business that we're in, they give us all tags and say, 'This guy's worth this, this guy's worth that.' We play a game, a kids' game and get paid a king's ransom. I'm just fortunate to be able to be in this position, and I will make the Bears' organization proud."

That being said, Harris believes he's earned the right to be paid as an elite player.

"It seems like I deserve this," he said. "I feel like I've worked hard for it. I've earned it, going out there playing through different ailments of the body (knee and groin injuries last season) and putting it all out there on the line for this organization, and I'll continue to keep doing it. I'm ready to go out there and continue to keep being the best defensive tackle in the league."

Harris has one year remaining on his five-year, $9.8 million rookie contract that included a $2.1 million signing bonus. He'll get $18 million in guaranteed money with the new deal and a total of $27 million over the first three years of the extension with a $13 million base salary in 2012.

More Bears

- With the money the Bears have spent this offseason on extensions for Harris, Alex Brown, Robbie Gould, Desmond Clark, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton and Rashied Davis, plus the six-year $36 million deal that weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs got, it's doubtful they have much left for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. They've offered him an $18 million package, but Urlacher, who has four years left on a nine-year, $56.65 million contract, was absent from most of the offseason's voluntary workouts as a ploy to get more.

- With a month to chill until the start of training camp, Bears coach Lovie Smith expressed confidence in a running game that features as-yet-unsigned second-round pick Matt Forte backed up by Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe, who averaged a combined 3.3 yards per carry last season.

Although the position appears thin numbers-wise since the release of Cedric Benson, Smith discouraged talk of bringing in veteran help.

"We don't have any plans to do that," Smith said at the end of organized team activities. "We like the running backs that we have right now, and those are the ones that we're going with."

Forte, who rushed for 2,127 yards last season at Tulane, is expected to be the focal point of the ground game, a role Bears coaches may have envisioned even before Benson's two alcohol-related arrests in a five-week span.

"We liked (Forte) coming in," Smith said. "He hasn't disappointed us at all. We feel real good about where he is. I feel like he'll meet the challenge."

- The Bears are also interested in extending the contract of WR/return specialist Devin Hester, which has two years remaining, and they have discussed terms with his agent, Eugene Parker.

The difficulty is deciding whether Hester should be paid as the best return man in NFL history or as the best return man in NFL history who also could wind up being a starting wide receiver this year.

"It's a very difficult dynamic," Angelo said. "I know I've never been involved in one quite like this with a player of Devin's abilities. It's a good problem to have, and we certainly want to take care of Devin. He certainly deserves our attention. We've talked to his agent and we'll just have to wait and see."

LIONS: Healthy Cody faces roster challenge

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Shaun Cody knows he needs to improve if he wants a new contract - or perhaps to even make the team. He has only 1.5 sacks in three seasons -- none since his rookie year.

Cody, a second-round pick in 2005, played all 16 games as a rookie. But he played only six the following year. He suffered a dislocated big toe on his left foot. The thing stuck straight up. He sat out four games. He tried to come back, taping down the toe and taking a pain-killing injection, but he lasted only two or three snaps and went on injured reserve.

He played 15 games last season and said the toe was "OK."

"I think any time you have a severe injury like that, to come back it takes a whole year," said Cody, who recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament at USC. "When I did my ACL in college, it took about a year to come back. I figure this year, I've had a chance to play on it for a year and get used to it and rehab it to its fullest. It feels great now."

Cody has been solid against the run, but he has struggled to penetrate into the backfield. That's why coach Rod Marinelli's phone calls have focused on the pass rush.

"I think what's happened here is, I've been playing cautious," Cody said. "I know that my reps were limited last year. When you get in there, you really don't want to make a mistake. And that's the wrong way to play football. You don't want to worry about making a mistake. You just want to go out there and play."

More Lions

- Speaking at an event in northern Michigan, former Lions coach Bobby Ross said of Lions great Barry Sanders: "I don't know if Barry really loved the game, but he worked hard at it. He did what he was supposed to do. I always wanted him to be a leader, but he didn't really want that role. He was the only player I ever coached that whenever he touched the ball, you thought he would run for a touchdown."

- Defensive end Jared DeVries returned to Parkersburg, Iowa, his tornado-ravaged hometown. "This is unbelievable, indescribable," DeVries told a Minnesota TV station. "I don't know what to feel. I didn't expect this. I really didn't. I've looked at the Internet, pictures. You come here, and you don't recognize anything. It's an eerie feeling you have. It's unbelievable."

- Quarterback Jon Kitna has often said that the Lions will be disappointed if they don't win 10 games, and he has often gotten grief about it. What is he supposed to say? That he doesn't have confidence? On the last day of OTAs, he cracked a little joke about it. A reporter asked Kitna if he had confidence this group of players could take the next step.

"Yeah," Kitna said.

"Simple as that?" the reporter pressed.

"Yeah," Kitna said.

After an awkward pause, Kitna added: "Well, I mean, you know, I guess I should say, 'No, we'll win three games this year,' something like that."

Packer Report Top Stories