NFC North tour: Offseason notes

Some-quick hitting news items to keep you up to date with our rivals in Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota.

Bears: Happy with Marinelli

— Early in the offseason, coach Lovie Smith called the addition of Rod Marinelli as defensive line coach/assistant head coach the Bears' biggest move in free agency. At the end of OTAs, Smith still felt strongly that his old friend will have a huge impact on a defense that has underachieved for two straight seasons.

"I talk a lot about Rod being one of our most important free agents that we've gotten in the offseason, and I think that held true," Smith said. "He has done a super job with the line. I have seen improvement in all of our linemen, (defensive ends) Adewale (Ogunleye), Alex (Brown), Mark Anderson, Israel Idonije, and all of our inside players."

— Not all of the national attention that Jay Cutler's trade to the Bears has attracted has been positive, but that's OK with him.

"It's fine," Cutler said. "Anytime a player goes to a different team, there's a lot to take in. There's an adjustment, not only in this city and with teammates, but a playbook. There are a lot of questions out there and throughout the year hopefully a lot of them get answered in my favor."

Cutler doesn't seem to mind some of the doubters and detractors, and he said none of it affects how he handles the situation.

"Whether or not it's positive or negative, I'm going to come out here and do everything possible in my power to help this team win," he said. "Some of it gets backs to me and some of it doesn't."

— Coach Lovie Smith believes the Bears have made enough improvements in the offseason to become contenders, even if they don't bring in a veteran wide receiver to bolster an inexperienced group.

"We feel real good," Smith said. "We think we're a strong football team without adding anyone. You always like to improve on every position, but right now we feel like we can win with this group."

— Barring the late addition of an established wide receiver, Devin Hester will be the Bears' go-to guy this season, a situation that the coaching staff is comfortable with -- at least publicly.

"Devin Hester, I don't really feel like I have to answer a lot of questions about his growth as a wide receiver," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a legitimate No. 1 receiver, I think, and I think we'll all see that this coming season. I like the progress he has made throughout."

Lions: Raiola stays at home

— Center Dominic Raiola signed a four-year extension worth $20 million with $9 million guaranteed, committing himself to the Lions through 2013. He said he never considered playing out the last year of his contract and testing free agency, even though the Lions are 31-97 since they drafted him in 2001. "There's so much I put into this," Raiola said. "I think it'd be like quitting. This place is worse now than when I came in. I definitely want to be a part of when this thing is turned around."

Raiola has had run-ins with Lions fans. He was fined last year for flipping them the bird during a game. But he said Detroit is home now, even though he is from Honolulu.

"I've seen pretty much every other sports franchise win in this city, and there's nothing more that I want for the city than to see this team win," Raiola said. "This city's special to me. It's hard times right now, and I've been through a lot with the fans. I think that's just because I've been here for so long. I'm excited to try to change that view on the Lions."

— The Lions signed tight end Dan Gronkowski, a seventh-round pick, to a three-year deal. They have signed quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick, too. "So we've got the bookends," president Tom Lewand said.

— Will the Lions have a sponsor's logo on their jerseys during training camp? "I'm not projecting anything," Lewand said. "I think we'll continue to look at all the options that make sense for us and understand that the practice jersey is an important co-branding opportunity. If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right - with the right partner and in the right way. We've been doing a lot of work on it already, and we'll continue doing a lot of work this summer."

— Coach Jim Schwartz changed the conditioning regimen after he was hired in January because he wants a bigger, stronger team. The Lions emphasized free weights, going back to the roots of Olympic power lifting. The result? Schwartz said team upper body strength had increased almost 21 percent, not including rookies or players who didn't go through the full program.

"That's significant," Schwartz said. "Consider the starting point. These are professional athletes. These are world-class athletes. For them to increase 20 percent said something, No. 1 about the program, No. 2 about their work ethic and how they embrace the program." Schwartz said team lower body explosiveness increased 14 percent.

— What did William Clay Ford Sr. see in Lewand and Mayhew? "I like their judgment," he said. "I liked the thought processes they were going through to reach their conclusions. They don't get an idea and then jump off a cliff. It's all very well thought out, and it's not just thought out for the day. They think about it for a long time, weigh all the other possibilities and then make their decision. It's not a snap judgment on anybody's part, and I think that's important. Very important."

— What about Rod Marinelli? "Rod's a great guy. He's a wonderful coach. I liked him. I don't want to say anything against him. I'm not sure he was quite ready to be a head coach. Lord knows he had enough experience and had been around a lot of successful guys. But when it doesn't work out, it's easy to point fingers, and I'm sure not going to blame Rod for anything. We're all in it together."

— Ford said he would never order his coach to play a player, including Stafford. "No," Ford said. "I do not — contrary to public opinion — interfere with the football side of it. I mean, if so-and-so plays lousy, I'll said I think he's a bum." He laughed. "But no," he continued, "I've never said, 'Play this guy or play that guy or don't play him.' These guys know more about the game than I do by 10 miles. I'm not going to try to second-guess them."

Vikings: Harvin ill again

— Vikings Update's John Holler put it nicely: Perhaps Percy Harvin is going to start needing a note from his mother.

The first-round wide receiver missed the four-day rookie symposium in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., after becoming ill. Harvin, the Vikings' first-round pick, reported for the symposium but was sent home after being examined by doctors.

Harvin and the rest of the 256 players in the 2009 rookie crop showed up at the four-day symposium last week before he fell ill. After being looked at by the medical staff, Harvin was excused and sent home to where his family lives in Gainesville, Fla.

At the team's first scheduled minicamp in May, Harvin did not attend after falling ill at the airport waiting for a connecting flight out of Atlanta. He was hospitalized and excused from the minicamp. Some of the topics discussed at the symposium include penalties for criminal and drug arrests, financial responsibility, identity theft, dealing with the posse of friends and family from childhood, domestic violence, women who look to cash in on NFL players, sexually transmitted diseases, and, thanks to Michael Vick, dogfighting.

— The Vikings have signed two of their five draft picks. Fifth-round linebacker Jasper Brinkley and seventh-round safety Jamarca Sanford both have received four-year deals.

— Free agent WR Marvin Harrison is on the Vikings' radar, according to a report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Harrison, who turns 37 in August, was unwilling to accept a pay cut and was released by the Colts on Feb. 25. Harrison is second in NFL history with 1,102 receptions, had 60 last season — Bobby Wade led the Vikings in receptions with 53 in 2008 — and has been slowed by a knee injury since the 2008 season.

— Vikings coach Brad Childress on what he told quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels about the potential arrival of Brett Favre in Minnesota. "I said to them that you know what? 'You can't know (what's going to happen) because (Favre) doesn't know and I don't know. But it would be a bad deal for you not to do anything over the summer,'" Childress said on KFAN Radio in the Twin Cities. "In the last couple seasons here, somewhere, somehow, the same thing I told Tarvaris last year, 'We're going to need you.' Gus (Frerotte) went down (in 2008, Jackson) was able to come in and help us win a couple of football games. You look at it now. Sixty odd starting quarterbacks two years ago in the National Football League (were used), whether it's for a play, a series, a game, a couple games, you need all those guys. You need all 53 guys on your roster."

— While there has been talk that Favre was a less-than-ideal teammate with the Jets last season, in part because he did not dress in the locker room, Childress has no such concerns. "I talked to (former Vikings fullback) Tony Richardson, who was his teammate at the Jets, and he had nothing but great things to say about him," Childress said. "Did I get into did he have a separate locker? It's hard for me to see that and, of course, I know how Winter Park is set up. I think he'll be a great locker room guy. He's probably one of the better practical jokers out there over the course of 16 years (in Green Bay) and he's not afraid to give it to anybody. I think he'll be a tremendous teammate as well."

— Vikings left guard Steve Hutchinson was named to an NFL all-decade team by NFL.com. Hutchinson, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, and Alan Faneca were the two offensive guards.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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