NFC North Tour: News and Notes

We have the latest on the quarterbacks in the division, plus this week's big training camp battles and more.

Chicago Bears

Broncos fans have burned their Jay Cutler jerseys and bad-mouthed him since he orchestrated a trade after finding out that new coach Josh McDaniels wanted Matt Cassel as his quarterback. Cutler has moved on, to the Bears, even if a lot of Broncos fans haven't.

"I'm not the first player to get traded to a different team," he said. "I'm not going to be the last. So that's their business, that doesn't concern me."

Cutler went so far as to say before the Aug. 30 nationally televised preseason game against the Broncos that it held no special significance for him, even though no one was buying that.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "It doesn't count for anything. We just want to go out there and play well, execute our offense. It's a preseason game. We can't make it more than it is. We just have to prepare ourselves and get ready for a tough team."

Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, whom the Bears traded along with two No. 1 draft picks and a No. 2 for Cutler, said that the trade that sent him west was a shock.

"I certainly didn't expect it," he said. "I wasn't paying attention to the whole (Cutler) matter. But I didn't feel sorry for myself. It looked like an opportunity that I certainly could take advantage of."

Orton suffered through a disastrous preseason opener, throwing three interceptions and compiling a passer rating of 32.6. He was booed with gusto during an ineffective scrimmage at the Broncos' Invesco Field.

"I feel bad for Kyle," Cutler said, "(but) I think he's going to pull through in the long run. Offensively they've got a lot of good players. They've got a great offensive line, they've got good receivers, and Josh McDaniels, he's an offensive mind, he puts guys in spots to make plays, so I think they're going to be fine."

Orton bounced back last week against the Seahawks to complete 18-of-26 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 85.7. Cutler rebounded from a mediocre opener to complete 8 of 13 passes for 121 yards, a TD and a passer rating of 117.8.

Cutler said he was looking forward to seeing some ex-teammates but doubted that he would run into anyone from Broncos management.

"I don't think they want to talk to me," he said.

When Cutler was asked what, if anything, he missed about Denver, he said: "Nothing. I'm here right now."

Extra points

— The Bears need to get healthy in the secondary in a hurry, with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers leading off the schedule.

They knew they'd be without their best cornerback, Charles Tillman, at least until the end of the preseason because of his mid-June back surgery. Tillman still hopes to play at Lambeau Field, and he's been able to handle some individual work, but he probably needs to be back on the practice field in the coming week to have a shot at facing the Packers.

And as if Tillman's questionable status weren't enough, free safety Danieal Manning and cornerback Zack Bowman, both of whom were playing well, suffered hamstring injuries early in August and only returned to practice last week on a limited basis.

"You would like for that first game of action not to be against Green Bay," coach Lovie Smith said. "We have a lot of work to do. They're (both) making progress. It's good getting them back on the (practice) field taking the first step."

Manning not only was the starter at free safety, but he was moving into the slot to play nickel back in passing situations, with Josh Bullocks or Craig Steltz taking his place at free safety.

With Manning out, strong safety Kevin Payne has moved to free safety, and rookie Al Afalava took over at strong safety. And since Corey Graham has had to fill in for Manning at nickel back, it left Nate Vasher and Trumaine McBride, neither of whom has played well, as the starting corners.

Tillman, Bowman and Graham are arguably the Bears' three best corners, yet none of them have started a preseason game there.

— In the second preseason game, a scrambling Cutler launched a pass over the head of Devin Hester, who had slowed up 60 yards downfield. Hester learned this important lesson: "To just keep running as fast as I can," he said, drawing laughs. "No matter what. If he gets flushed out of the pocket, don't come back, don't do any scrambling drills, just keep going."

Battle of the week

Frank Omiyale was considered the favorite to take Josh Beekman's spot at left guard, if for no other reason than the $14 million contract he signed as an unrestricted free agent. But, after a slow start in camp as he converted from tackle to guard, Omiyale is starting to earn his money. He had a key block on Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn on Matt Forte's 32-yard TD run in the second preseason game that demonstrated the progress he's made in his position switch.

Player of the week

As a sixth-round draft pick, rookie safety Al Afalava wasn't expected to do much more than participate on special teams. But, because free safety Danieal Manning missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, starting strong safety Kevin Payne moved to free safety, and Afalava took over in Payne's old spot and started the first two preseason games. "Al Afalava has really taken advantage of the situation," Smith said at the end of camp. "It seems like every night he's doing something that we like."

Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford
Getty Images
The competition continues between quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford, and we might not know the winner until the Lions take the field for the season opener Sept. 13 at New Orleans.

"I know they have a quarterback race going on," quarterback Peyton Manning said Saturday after his Colts played the Lions in an exhibition. "But both of them looked good tonight, and I think the race is going to go down to the wire."

If coach Jim Schwartz has a preference, he hasn't tipped his hand.

Culpepper started the first exhibition. Stafford started the second. Culpepper started the third. Schwartz said Stafford had a "good chance" to start the fourth and key players would not simply make cameos.

Both quarterbacks have gotten about equal time in the exhibitions — about a quarter and a half each — and split reps in practice every day.

"Try to read tea leaves, get your tarot cards out, Ouija boards, whatever it is," Schwartz said. "The only thing we've done so far is try to equal reps out. We've done it in practice. We've done it in preseason games."

Schwartz said the Lions were trying to put Culpepper and Stafford in similar situations with similar personnel "to be able to make a fair evaluation. It's a rotational thing, and there's nothing to read into it."

Each quarterback has led the Lions to 10 points through three exhibitions — a touchdown and a field goal. In short, the difference is that Culpepper has been steadier, while Stafford has made bigger plays and bigger mistakes.

"I think the ball's going to the right spot," he said. "I'm trying to think of a play today where I didn't throw it to the right spot, and I'm having a tough time thinking of it. I'm not going to hit every throw. I'm not going to be 25-for-25 every night. But going to the right place is a big step, and I felt like I did that well."

Culpepper has not turned over the ball but hasn't made many big plays. Stafford has thrown an interception in each exhibition, but he also has thrown some darts downfield.

He has shown his veteran savvy and improved mobility. "I feel great," said Culpepper, whose career was derailed by a serious knee injury in 2005.

"I honestly feel like I felt before I got hurt now — finally. It took some years." Winning the starting job is critical for Culpepper, who turned down backup jobs last year and retired — only to sign with the Lions in early November. He has lost more than 30 pounds since then. "I'm looking at this as an opportunity for me to put myself back on the map, show I'm healthy," Culpepper said.

Schwartz said he would decide on a quarterback after the exhibition finale but most likely would not make an announcement before the opener.

"There's a team down in New Orleans that's getting ready to play us," Schwartz said. "If they can zero in on one quarterback, it makes it a little easier for them to play.

"Most likely we'll try to just keep that a little bit close to the vest."

Extra points

— Wide receiver Derrick Williams and running back Aaron Brown have made some plays. But Williams, a third-round pick drafted mostly for special teams, fumbled a punt against Indianapolis. And Brown, a sixth-round pick with impressive speed, went the wrong way on one play and was responsible for a sack. Both need to eliminate those types of errors.

— As Schwartz went over the kicking situation in a team meeting one night, he said he had another option. He showed a film clip of George Yarno kicking an extra point against the Lions. The thing is, it happened in 1983 at the Silverdome — when Yarno was a guard for Tampa Bay. He is now the Lions' offensive line coach. You could say the players got a kick out of it. "That was pretty funny," center Dominic Raiola said. Yarno was the Buccaneers' long snapper and emergency kicker back then. The Bucs' kicker got hurt in their second-to-last game, and his replacement struggled so badly in the season finale that coach John McKay fired him in the fourth quarter. Sure enough, the Bucs scored and sent Yarno, a 280-pound guy wearing No. 68, onto the field to kick the extra point. He ran straight ahead and booted the ball through the uprights with his left foot. The Silverdome roared, even though the Bucs were 2-13 and the Lions were 8-7, fighting for a playoff berth. "They just go crazy," Yarno said. "It's like I just kicked the extra point to win the Super Bowl."

— One player who does not shy away from contact is safety Louis Delmas, a second-round pick this year. He blew up two teammates in practice in two weeks. The second time, he ignited a minor brawl. "You look at a guy like Louis Delmas," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "The thing I worry about him, when he runs and goes and gets the ball, I'm sure his mindset says, 'If I run 25 yards, I'm going to kill this guy on the way.' That's his makeup. That's his attitude. So you've got to be careful with those kind of guys. You've got to tone them down a little bit. But there are a lot of masquerade guys. I call them pretenders instead of contenders. They don't have the want-to in their body and we're looking for want-to guys."

Battle of the week

Manny Ramirez vs. Daniel Loper at starting left guard. Ramirez split reps with Loper in both practice and the third exhibition. He has improved, while Loper has slowed down partly because of nagging injuries, including a neck stinger. The Lions drafted Ramirez in the fourth round two years ago, but he has played only five games. The road grader fits the Lions' new power running attack, and he likes the approach of offensive line coach George Yarno, who preaches technique in practice but doesn't grade it in games. The Lions signed Loper as a free agent. In four years with Tennessee, he never started a regular-season game, sitting behind some good linemen.

Player of the week

Quarterback Drew Stanton. With all the attention on Culpepper and Stafford, it's easy to forget how far Stanton has come. He entered camp fighting for a roster spot, but he has made great strides and solidified the third quarterback job. He threw the winning touchdown and two-point conversion to lift the Lions to an 18-17 victory over the Colts at Ford Field, going 4-for-6 for 56 yards in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota Vikings

Brett Favre
Bob Levey/Getty Images
After saying before Monday's game that he thinks he might have cracked ribs, quarterback Brett Favre went out and completed 13-of-18 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown against Houston on Monday.

He absorbed several hits and looked far more comfortable working the offense following a whirlwind first week as a member of the Vikings.

The future Hall of Fame quarterback returned to the NFL in part because he had the opportunity to operate within the confines of an offense with which he is extremely familiar. The Vikings' version of the West Coast system is very similar to what Favre worked in for 16 seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

However, Favre needs to get on the same page with his wide receivers, running backs and tight ends, not to mention the offensive line.

"My wife asked me the same question last night," Favre said before the Texans when queried about how his timing with his receiving corps was coming. "I said, 'You know, it's been a week, and there is a long ways to go.' I think we will get timing down up until the last game, and that's not a bad thing. That happens every year. You draft a kid that comes in and it's constantly a work in progress."

Favre's task has been made a bit more difficult by the fact that No. 1 wide receiver Bernard Berrian suffered a hamstring injury in the Vikings' preseason opener on Aug. 14 at Indianapolis and didn't play by Monday's game.

Favre, who will turn 40 on Oct. 10, also missed out on what could have been valuable time with his teammates by skipping the first two weeks of training camp when the Vikings were in Mankato. He had told the Vikings right before camp that he was going to remain retired and thus missed all of the two-a-day workouts.

That means he now must be on a fast-forward type of timetable as far as developing a rapport with guys like Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bobby Wade, Visanthe Shiancoe, Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor.

"The goal is to get him up to speed," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "One thing we want him to do is get in here and do it the way we've been doing it the last couple of weeks with all the guys in training camp. We need to get him up to where they are and once we get him there, then we can evolve and get into some other things we want to do."

Extra points

— Favre on the Vikings' talent on both sides of the ball: "There's some pretty good talent. I can't say that I'm unimpressed. I'm very impressed. For this team, it's all about chemistry. You've got to hit a little stroke of good luck along the way. The ball has to bounce your way some. But you have to be talented. And this team has got some serious talent."

— Special teams coordinator Brian Murphy, who was promoted to that position during the offseason, wasn't happy that through two preseason games those units had been assessed five of the Vikings' 23 penalties.

"We can't afford to leak yardage due to penalties," Murphy said. "Every yard is important. Every yard is closer to scoring. In the coverage game, it's our defense putting them in good position. So that's got to come to an end right now."

— Vikings coach Brad Childress is wearing a new-look headset on the sideline this season that is not the standard Motorola device that coaches are supposed to wear. Childress has a good reason for making a change.

"I have a hearing deficiency," he said. "I've gotten notes from the league on it and had somebody write an e-mail back to Ray Anderson (the NFL's executive vice president of football operations) to let him know. I'm not trying to circumvent anything. I'm just trying to hear."

Battle of the week

Jaymar Johnson vs. Darius Reynaud for fifth wide receiver spot: This one could be tough if the Vikings keep five wide receivers instead of six. Johnson and Reynaud have both flashed during the preseason, but Johnson might have the inside track because he appears to be the favorite to win the punt return job. Reynaud can return kicks but that spot is going to go to Percy Harvin.

Player of the week

Cornerback Benny Sapp continues to be in the lead to win the role in the nickel defense. Sapp finished last season as the fifth defensive back on passing downs and has battled rookie Asher Allen, among others, for that job this summer.

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