Around the NFC North

Jackson says he'll be ready for Packers; Bears' defense struggles; Lions have questions at middle linebacker.

Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson missed the Vikings' third preseason game because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee but said he had "no doubt at all" that he would be ready to go for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 in Green Bay.

While that could be considered good news, the Vikings would have liked to get a long look at the second-year, unproven starter in the exhibition game that is considered the final dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Jackson played well in limited time during the Vikings' first two exhibitions, completing 15 of 22 passes for 200 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 127.1 passer rating.

He was injured in the first quarter of the Vikings' 23-15 loss Aug. 16 at Baltimore when he decided to take on defenders at the end of a scramble and took a hit on the knee. The injury is the fifth Jackson has sustained since the Vikings selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft.

Jackson went 8-4 as a starter last season, missing time because of a strained groin, fractured finger on his throwing hand and a concussion.

Jackson said he isn't concerned about being labeled as injury prone. "I really don't care about that stuff," he said. "Stuff I've been getting is stuff that I really can't control. There are different things that you control, but ligaments and cartilage and stuff like that, you really can't control. So, I really don't care about that label at all."

Despite being four games over .500, Jackson threw three more interceptions than touchdowns (12-9) and had a sub-par 58.2 completion percentage and 70.8 rating. Thus, he had plenty to prove entering training camp.

Coach Brad Childress said Jackson could have played in the Vikings' 12-10 loss to Pittsburgh but that it wasn't worth taking any risks. Veteran backup Gus Frerotte got the start and completed 13 of 19 passes for 133 yards with an interception.

Jackson wasn't the only Vikings offensive starter who missed the game. Wide receivers Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice sat out, and there could be concern about Berrian's situation.

Berrian continues to battle a turf toe issue that bothered him for much of last season when he was with the Chicago Bears. The fact that the pain has reoccurred has to worry a team that invested $42 million, including $16 million guaranteed, over six years for a player who is expected to stretch the field with his speed.

It was the second consecutive game Berrian has missed and it's uncertain if he will play in the Vikings' preseason finale Thursday in Dallas.

It wouldn't be surprising if Jackson and Berrian sit out that game. Starters traditionally only make brief appearances in the final exhibition game.

Childress had indicated at one point he would play Berrian against the Steelers but changed his mind. "I didn't have a good feeling about where he was," Childress said. "He could do some things, he couldn't do others. He was good on one side, wasn't good on the other side. You've got to be able to play on both sides of the formation. We weren't going to put our arm behind our back with being able to run plays one way."

BEARS: Where's the defense?

Coach Lovie Smith is not pleased with the Bears' defense, which is supposed to be the team's strong suit, especially after Thursday night's 37-30 preseason loss to the 49ers.

"Defensively, after we looked at it in detail, we have a lot of improvement to make," Smith said. "We're better than that. It's as simple as that. There's no need for panic or anything like that, but that's not acceptable, and we'll play better defense in the future."

One problem is that the Bears will have precious little game action to make the improvements since the starters will only make token appearances in the preseason finale Thursday in Cleveland.

"It's what we can do in practice," Smith said. "We haven't decided exactly how much we're going to play our guys in this (last) game. We're going to do whatever we need to do to get ready for the Colts, so that may be a little bit more (at practice) than what we normally do."

Having allowed 37 points and 425 yards to a 49ers offense that was the NFL's worst last season, the Bears are concerned about what could happen in the regular-season opener against the Colts, who were No. 3 in scoring last season and No. 5 in yards.

Smith said the coming practices would more closely resemble those from training camp, but even though missed tackles were a major problem vs. the 49ers, he said his team would not resort to live tackling in practice.

"I don't think you need to," he said. "We haven't ever (done that), and we don't plan on doing that right now. That's not the answer. We made some mistakes (Thursday) night. I wouldn't say that it was all tackling."

Well, what else was it? Fits within the scheme? Missed assignments?

"All of the above, really," Smith said. "We had some missed tackles; we made mistakes. We didn't play as hard as we need to from time to time. We got in position to make some plays, and we didn't."

Some defensive players didn't seem overly concerned, pointing out that it's the preseason.

"A lot of us are trying to pace ourselves, and that's myself, too," said 25-year-old defensive tackle Tommie Harris. "It's difficult the older you get to go out in a game and know that none of this stuff matters. But you still have to play full speed; you still have to go hard. Now, it's up to us. I think we need to turn up the pace a little more, change our attitude a little more. But I'm not going to panic. I think our guys are capable of doing a great job."

The Bears have allowed 90 points while losing each of their first three preseason games, and veteran safety Mike Brown said the defense can't hide behind the excuse that the preseason doesn't count.

"That's a horrible excuse," Brown said. "There was a lot at stake out there (Thursday). We wanted to come out and show what type of defense we're going to be for the season. If we play like that, obviously we're going to be a pretty bad defense. It's going to be a replay of how we were last year — 28th, 29th, 30th in the league."

The Bears were 28th in yards allowed last season and 16th in points allowed in a 7-9 season. In 2006, the Bears finished fifth in yards and third points allowed en route to Super Bowl XLI. Defensive players have talked frequently about duplicating their accomplishments from 2006, but so far, that's all it's been — talk.

"We talk about it, but talking about it and doing it are two different things," Brown said. "We wanted to come out and show the people that we can be a dominant defense. Everyone just has to look in the mirror, see what type of player they want to be, see what type of defense we want to be and go from there. Because if we play like we did (Thursday) night, we're not going to win many football games."

LIONS: Swinging and missing

Coach Rod Marinelli wanted to sign free agent Takeo Spikes to play strong-side linebacker. Spikes visited Detroit, the Lions put an offer on the table and Spikes signed with San Francisco.

So, now what? The Lions have been trying to upgrade linebacker for months. They tried to trade for Jonathan Vilma, but the Jets traded him to the Saints instead. They kicked the tires on free agents Al Wilson and Dan Morgan, but didn't sign them. They targeted Jerod Mayo in the draft, but New England nabbed him first and they settled for Jordon Dizon.

Now the Lions have some decisions to make. Ernie Sims is established on the weak side. But who is going to play the middle? And will anyone move from the middle to the strong side?

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said the Lions have no plans to move over any of their middle linebackers; Paris Lenon, Buster Davis or rookie Jordon Dizon. At least not yet.

"The likelihood of us keeping three middle linebackers is low," Barry said in reference to the Aug. 30 final cuts. "So, I don't think we'll be stacked there when it comes to cutting time. However many linebackers we keep — six or seven — those will be the best six or seven linebackers. And the three guys that start will be the three best linebackers that we have on this team."

The Lions have Alex Lewis, Leon Joe and Darnell Bing on the strong side, with Sims, Anthony Cannon, Gilbert Gardner and Tyrone Pruitt on the weak side.

The ideal scenario: Dizon wins the middle linebacker job, and Lenon moves to the strong side. When the Lions were looking at middle linebackers in the offseason, it was with the idea of moving Lenon, a former Packer.

The Lions think Lenon could switch to the strong side easily. The problem is that the middle linebacker position is so demanding and Dizon is so inexperienced.

Barry was asked why the Lions don't move Davis or Dizon to the strong side now, so one of them can get as many reps as possible at the position.

"There's some people that dual-train their linebackers," Barry said. "I'm not from that school. If a kid has a thousand reps in training camp, I want him to get a thousand reps at one position."

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