NFC North tour: Lions keep adding

Detroit continues tinkering with its roster; Chicago says Devin Hester is a legit No. 1 receiver; Vikings defensive tackles get reprieve in StarCaps.

The Lions had just completed their offseason program with their final minicamp practice June 25. But the front office wasn't done.

Coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season, the Lions have tried just about everything to revamp the roster — trades, signings and several waiver clams, not to mention the draft — and they made another move the next day.

The Lions agreed to trade safety Gerald Alexander to Jacksonville for wide receiver Dennis Northcutt. They announced the trade on July 2 after both players passed physicals.

The deal helped the Lions fill a need at wide receiver and in the return game, while alleviating a logjam at safety.

The Lions came into the offseason needing depth at receiver beyond Calvin Johnson. They signed free agents Bryant Johnson and Ronald Curry, and they drafted Derrick Williams.

They also came into the offseason with a different special-teams philosophy. Former coach Rod Marinelli was conservative in the return game, wanting to limit penalties. Coach Jim Schwartz is aggressive.

Northcutt, 31, a 5-11, 172-pounder, is expected to play in the slot and return punts. But he said he would learn every receiver position in case he is needed.

He caught 44 passes each of the past two seasons for the Jaguars, averaging 573 yards and three touchdowns, after seven seasons with Cleveland. He has returned punts throughout his career.

"I think that's one of the biggest reasons they brought me in was to get me in the slot," Northcutt said. "Obviously that's my biggest strength. That's been my biggest strength though my nine years of playing in the NFL is working the slot. That's where I've made my money basically.

"But I have been able to play outside. Whatever they ask me to do, that's what I'm going to do. Anything to help the team win, that's what I'm all about."

Alexander, 24, was one of three recent second-round picks at safety. The Lions drafted him in 2007, between Daniel Bullocks ('06) and Louis Delmas ('09).

After starting 16 games as a rookie, Alexander suffered a fractured vertebra five games into his sophomore season. He had surgery and went on injured reserve, but he returned for the offseason program. He told Jaguars.com he was surprised by the trade.

The Lions still should have good competition at safety. In addition to Bullocks and Delmas, they also have veterans Marquand Manuel, Kalvin Pearson and Stuart Schweigert, plus Tra Battle and LaMarcus Hicks.

"Very competitive," Manuel said. "You've got to come in daily and make sure you're on top of your stuff," Manuel said. "It's going to come down to the wire."

Schweigert said the guys on the bubble need to make the most of every opportunity.

"Reps are going to be limited, which means the plays you make are going to be magnified, the plays you mess up or going to be magnified," Schweigert said.

Bears: Is Hester a No. 1?

Do the Bears need an upgrade at wide receiver or don't they?

That question has been debated since the end of the 2008 season, in which Devin Hester led the team's wide receivers with 51 catches, 665 yards and three touchdowns — modest totals, all.

And, with ineffective veterans Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd not returning, this year's roster is even less impressive and more inexperienced. After Hester and Rashied Davis, who is ideally a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver, the remainder of the wide receivers on the Bears' roster have a combined total of 11 catches in the NFL; none last season.

The Bears boast an impressive 1-2 punch at tight end in Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, and running back Matt Forte proved to be an excellent option out of the backfield last season, but the receiver corps could be one of the NFL's weakest.

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, 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," 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."

Vikings: Delay of game in StarCaps

Defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams have had their four-game suspensions stemming from their StarCaps case blocked by a judge.

Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson scheduled a hearing for July 22 to decide if the proceedings should be put on hold while a federal appeals court looks at other issues related to the case, according to The Associated Press. The Williamses have not been accused of taking steroids, but StarCaps is a banned diuretic that can be used to mask steroid in the system.

"Today's decision, which effectively exempts two players from the NFL-NFLPA collectively bargained program, further illustrates the critical importance of a uniform policy for all teams in the league and why this matter should be governed exclusively by federal law," read a statement issued by NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. "The Court's interim decision regarding the suspensions has no immediate practical impact since the suspensions will not take effect until the beginning of the regular season in September. In the meantime, our appeal to the United States Court of Appeals, which argues that the players' state claims are barred by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, should be resolved before the start of the season."

While attorney Peter Ginsberg, who represents the Williamses, said he would like to see the court case resolved prior to the start of the season, in his ruling, Larson ruled the players would "suffer a significant loss of playing time" if forced to sit during the appeals process — leading some to speculate that the case could drag on well into the fall.

In June, federal judge Paul Magnuson ruled against the players association in dismissing the case filed by the NFLPA on behalf of the Williamses and three members of the New Orleans Saints. Both the players association and the NFL appealed portions of Magnuson's ruling. That appeal is expected to be heard sometime in August. If the state case is delayed until after that ruling is rendered, it would seem to drag on into September, when the Vikings open the regular season.

In addition to blocking the suspensions, Larson ruled that the NFL can't increase the number of drug tests it administers to the players during the court process. Kevin Williams argued that he and Pat have been targeted by the league and forced to take numerous random drug tests.


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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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