NFC North tour: Lions see hope

Patience is not a virtue in Detroit; missing pieces in Chicago; Favre watch continues in Minnesota.

Before the Lions wrapped up their offseason program with a mandatory minicamp in late June, coach Jim Schwartz made a point in a team meeting.

"Patience is no longer a virtue," Schwartz said. "Indoctrination is over."

The Lions have made major changes since suffering the NFL's first 0-16 season.

They replaced Rod Marinelli with Schwartz, and Schwartz installed a new staff, a new philosophy and new systems on both sides of the ball.

They overhauled the roster and used every avenue to do it, from signing free agents, to making trades, to drafting quarterback Matthew Stafford first overall, to making several waiver claims.

From the start of the offseason conditioning program in March to the end of organized team activities in June, Schwartz was more concerned with teaching and learning than performance and evaluation.

But by the final minicamp, he felt the players were in shape and knew what they needed to know to execute.

"We need to get past it now," Schwartz said. "We need to start seeing results on the field."

The Lions haven't had results on the field in a long time. They haven't made the playoffs since 1999. They haven't had a winning season since 2000. They are 31-97 since 2001.

It might be tougher for the Lions to have the usual offseason optimism. But apparently there has been enough turnover that belief is starting to rebuild in the organization.

Owner William Clay Ford Sr. gave a rare interview after a minicamp practice and said he liked what he saw.

"The thing I liked really was the players' attitude," Ford said. "I mean, they're going at it like, ‘You know, we can win,' which is great.

"The past is history. Forget about that, and let's just keep our eye on the ball and what's up front, and they're doing that. That would be hard to do for some of the veterans who have been around here, but overall, I'd say it was very good."

Bears: Some parts missing

Having failed for decades to draft or develop a franchise quarterback, the Bears went out and traded for one, getting the Broncos' disgruntled Pro Bowler Jay Cutler.

They gave up their own presumptive starter, Kyle Orton, two first-round picks and a third-rounder, but the Bears believe they have cleared the toughest hurdle in their race to get back to being Super Bowl contenders. On paper and past performance, Cutler appears to be a huge step up from Bears quarterbacks of the previous 50 or so years. He is athletic enough to buy time in the pocket and has the superior arm strength required to complete passes that are ill advised for most NFL quarterbacks.

Realizing that Cutler could be the player who puts them over the top, the Bears took great pains to provide him with the protection that he was accustomed to in Denver. They signed future Hall of Fame left tackle Orlando Pace after he was cut by the Rams. Pace is past his prime but considered a quality player and a major improvement over last year's 16-game starter, journeyman John St. Clair. The Bears added unrestricted free agent Frank Omiyale, who is expected to replace Josh Beekman as the starter at left guard. Omiyale can also play tackle, although Chris Williams, the Bears' 2008 first-round pick, has been slotted in at right tackle, replacing John Tait, who retired after last season. Depth, which has been a problem area in recent years, was improved with the addition of Kevin Shaffer, a long-time starter for the Browns.

As yet, the Bears have not done anything to give Cutler the caliber of wide receivers he enjoyed with the Broncos. They drafted Juaquin Iglesias in the third round and Johnny Knox in the fifth, but they are counting on Devin Hester to become their go-to guy, even though he is learning the position. An even bigger leap of faith is counting on Earl Bennett to start opposite Hester. Bennett was a third-round pick in 2008, but he failed to catch a single pass as a rookie.

On defense, the Bears scooped up another cap casualty from St. Louis, when they grabbed linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who is expected to start on the strong side. If nothing else, they added depth to the defensive line with draft picks Jarron Gilbert (third round) and Henry Melton (fourth round).

Vikings: Wait continues for Favre

The Vikings have had a relatively quiet offseason when it comes to player procurement of veteran free agents, but that could all change soon.

Brett Favre is expected to announce before training camp that he is going to end his second retirement to play for the Vikings in 2009.

Favre underwent arthroscopic surgery on a partially torn biceps tendon in his throwing (right) arm in late May. The only sticking point is whether he feels the arm is strong enough for him to play.

Vikings coach Brad Childress said recently on a Twin Cities radio station that Favre's arm was "pain free" and that the only issues were the endurance and stamina of the arm.

Favre's addition would help solidify the one position that many felt was a question mark for the Vikings. The expectation had been that Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, who was acquired in late February from Houston for a fourth-round pick, would compete for the starting job but neither of them was considered a sure bet to have success.

Of course, the same thing could apply for Favre.

The biggest issue for him will be staying healthy. He will turn 40 on Oct. 10 and despite his iron-man abilities, age certainly could begin to catch up to him. That happened last season when Favre was ineffective late in the season with the Jets after he hurt his arm.

Favre stands to lead a Vikings offense that added a key part by selecting Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin in the first round of the April draft. Harvin joins a unit that includes big-play receiver Bernard Berrian, emerging tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson.

All of these pieces mean the pressure will be on Childress to not only repeat as NFC North champions but get his team deep into the playoffs. The Vikings lost in the first round to Philadelphia last season. Childress is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract and there have been no known talks of an extension to this point.

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

Packer Report Top Stories