NFC North Tour: Martz Loves WRs

New Bears offensive coordinator Mike Matz is high on his unproven wideouts. The Lions are really high on rookie running back Jahvid Best, who will be used in numerous ways. And the Vikings received potentially bad news about the 'Williams Wall.'

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz knows one thing for sure about the 2010 Bears: The young wide receivers will make an impact.

For the most part, it's an inexperienced group, long on potential and game-breaking speed but, so far, short on consistent production. Martz believes that will change this season.

"I love our receivers," Martz said at the conclusion of the weekend rookie minicamp at Halas Hall. "I think that our receiver corps will be the strength of this team. You can put that in granite. I can promise you that one.

"There's not very many things I would say are unretractable, but that one is pretty strong. This will be the strength of this football team. That's a terrific group."

And that's a pretty strong endorsement for a group that has never had a member catch more than 57 passes in a season, accumulate more than 757 receiving yards or score more than five receiving touchdowns.

As recently as one year ago, the group of Devin Hester (the old man of the group at 27), Earl Bennett (23), Johnny Knox (23) and Devin Aromashodu (25) had a total of nine NFL starts.

But Bennett emerged as a 54-catch, 717-yard receiver last season after not catching a single pass as a rookie in 2008. Knox, a lightly regarded fifth-round pick from Abilene Christian, caught 45 passes for 527 yards and five touchdowns. Hester was on pace for a 1,000-yard season and, despite a late-season swoon, finished with career bests of 57 catches and 757 yards. Aromashodu didn't get much of a chance until the final month of the season, but he responded with 20 catches for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games.

The tight end position is a little more uncertain, but more so because of uncertainty about roles than lack of talent.

Former Rams and Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, the 6-foot-2, 295-pound road grader, was brought in as the extra offensive lineman that Martz needs in his scheme. But talented pass-catching tight end Greg Olsen has become one of the Bears' more potent offensive weapons, and Desmond Clark is a solid two-way performer, more than capable as a blocker and receiver, as he enters his 12th season.

But Martz generally has not made the tight end an integral part of his explosive passing attacks, and if Olsen is to remain a factor in the offense, he will have to block. If he can do that, Martz says he will find a way to use him in the offense.

"Good players at any position, you find a way to get them the ball," Martz said. You take advantage of their strength. This is a system that allows you to bend to what you have. When you get a guy like Greg, he has to get grounded in the running game, obviously. But there are some things we'll do with him that we haven't been able to do before.

"It's exciting for me because, as a coach, you get the chance to explore some different avenues, plus you can have him on the field where he's almost a third receiver on first down. It's unlimited."

But any tight end in Martz's offense has to be able to block first before he becomes a part of the passing game.

"Before you even go there, you have to get down to the basics of putting your hand on the ground, coming off the ball and sustaining a block," Martz said. "And if a tight end can't do that, you've got to wonder. And (Olsen) can certainly do that. He's proven he can do that. We've just got to get him involved in that. It's easy for him to get into the passing game. He's certainly capable of putting his hand on the ground and throwing a good block."

He'll have to be if he wants to get the ball in Martz's offense.

Extra points

Tim Ruskell, who was announced last Friday as the Bears' director of player personnel will, in essence, handle the jobs that Bobby DePaul and Greg Gabriel did previously.

DePaul was the Bears' director of pro personnel until Feb. 15, when he was relieved of those duties. On Tuesday, director of college scouting Gabriel was told he would not be rehired for the 2010 season. Both were hired by Bears general manager Jerry Angelo on June 19, 2001, shortly after he became the team's general manager.

Now those duties have been merged into one job, Ruskell's.

"We will not have a director of college (scouting) or a director of pro (personnel)," Angelo said. "So, Tim will oversee all matters in personnel."

— It's a whole new ballgame for sixth-round pick Dan LeFevour, the record-setting quarterback from Central Michigan and Benet Academy.

He's learning a new offense with the Bears and relearning how to take the snap from under center, which he hadn't done since his high school days. It's not an overnight process, which Martz fully understands.

"Whatever you did in the past has no bearing on today," he said after last weekend's rookie minicamp. "They've got to learn a whole new way of offense, a different way of looking at things. Everything is different, no matter what your background or how successful. He's come here obviously with a completely open mind, which is terrific. So he's very, very easy to coach. He's like a sponge. He's trying his best if he doesn't do it right. He's a long ways away."

Operating out of the shotgun at CMU, LeFevour became the only player in NCAA history to throw for more than 12,000 yards and run for more than 2,500. Now he's adapting to a different situation.

"It's a lot to pick up," he said. "It's a lot to learn, but it's exciting and it's a great opportunity for me. I'm looking forward to the challenge and every day just hoping to get a little bit better."

Jay Cutler has never missed an NFL game because of injury, but that doesn't mean the Bears aren't a little apprehensive about the possibility of playing without him.

Backup Caleb Hanie is in his third year in the system, but he has thrown just seven NFL passes. Brett Basanez, last year's No. 3, has thrown 11 NFL passes, all in his rookie season of 2006 with the Panthers. So, Martz was asked if the Bears need an experienced veteran backup behind Cutler.

"It makes you a little nervous doesn't it?" Martz said. "I think Caleb is going to be a real good player, but you really don't know."

Detroit Lions


Jahvid Best
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
When the Lions' rookies went home after a three-day orientation at team headquarters, one of them needed to study his playbook the most so he could step right in when eligible to return May 17.

The Lions traded up to draft running back Jahvid Best at No. 30 overall because they think they can use him in several ways to make an immediate impact. They need to add explosiveness to their running game, so defenses won't sit back and smother wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and running back Kevin Smith is recovering from a torn ACL.

"We threw just about everything we have at him, didn't spoon-feed it, didn't do just a little bit," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We did just about everything because he's a guy that when he does come back, he needs to assimilate right away into the offense. We can't slow the offense down for where he is. So we moved him around a lot, exposed him to a lot of different things."

How did Best handle it?

"He sort of got his feet under him as the weekend went on," Schwartz said. "He started off maybe a little bit lethargic, then all of a sudden just exploded, and you can see what you saw on film with him. He obviously has speed. He obviously has instincts and quickness and those kind of things."

As Best took a break at one point, resting on one knee along the sideline, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan came up with a smile and started tutoring him on the spot.

"He just keeps throwing offense at me," Best said. "Outside of what we're learning for this camp specifically, he throws in more stuff just on the fly — just letting me hear it, so then, when I come back and everybody knows it already, I'll just have it already in my mind."

Best knows he has a lot to learn and a lot of pressure on him.

"I definitely feel the pressure," Best said. "There's a lot of potential that I have to play. But I've just got to come in and do the best I can and help the team the best way I can. Things should go great."

Best said his Lions playbook was about as thick as the only he had at California.

"But at Cal," he said, "the running back portion was just like ..."

He held his thumb and forefinger a pinch apart.

"It was a little bit slim," he continued. "I didn't need to know everything. But at this level, you've got to know everything. I've got to know what the receivers are doing. I've got to know everything about the linemen. I've got to know what the quarterback's thinking. So I've got to learn the whole thing."

Extra points

Quarterback Matthew Stafford went through all team drills after having clean-up knee surgery at the end of the season. Right guard Stephen Peterman returned to his starting spot after finishing last season on injured reserve with an ankle problem.

That was expected. What wasn't expected was seeing tight end Brandon Pettigrew, running back Kevin Smith and cornerback Jack Williams on the field. All three suffered torn ACLs the second half of last season.

"Those guys are starting to do individual-type drills and stuff like that," Schwartz said. "They're still not even close to being cleared for team work and competitive stuff.

"They're not right in the middle of a long-term rehab. They're probably more past the middle. But they've still got a long way to go. They've done well in their rehabs. There's been no setbacks. Hopefully by the time training camp comes, they'll be able to be on the field and not have very many limitations."

Pettigrew said he started running about a month ago and had been cleared to "start amping it up a little bit." He tore the ACL in his left knee after tearing the one in his right knee in high school.

"As far as coming back, I may be coming back a little bit quicker, stability-wise maybe a little better, a little bit faster," Pettigrew said. "But I'm still taking it easy, not rushing at all."

— Right tackle Gosder Cherilus had arthroscopic surgery to clean out debris from his right knee in mid-April after tweaking the knee during offseason conditioning. He played through injuries to both knees, an ankle and a shoulder last season.

—The Lions brought in three quarterbacks for tryouts during rookie orientation: Louisiana Tech's Taylor Bennett, New Mexico's Donovan Porterie and Eastern Michigan's Andy Schmitt.

Minnesota Vikings


Pat Williams
Tom Dahlin/Viking Update
The Vikings could be without starting defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams to start the season after a ruling by a Hennepin County (Minn.) judge.

Judge Gary Larson said the fact that the NFL violated Minnesota state law in applying its drug policy wasn't enough to stop the league's four-game suspensions that the two were handed in 2008 in the StarCaps case.

While appeals are nearly certain to take place — the Court of Appeals likely will be the next stop — this ruling means the Williamses are that much closer to being replaced by Jimmy Kennedy and Fred Evans for a four-game stretch.

A key for the Vikings and the Williamses will be if Larson reinstates his injunction, pending the appeal. Larson told lawyers from the players and the league to submit briefs and plans to make a ruling on that in the next two weeks.

The Vikings' opening four games of the 2010 season include three against teams that finished in the top six in the NFL in rushing offense last year.

The Vikings will begin the season Sept. 9 against New Orleans, which was sixth in the NFL in rushing and will turn to Pierre Thomas as its primary running back. The Vikings also will face the Dolphins (fourth), Lions (24th) and the New York Jets (first).

Kennedy was re-signed to a two-year, $6 million contract in March after becoming a free agent, and Evans received a second-round tender as a restricted free agent that will pay him $1.8 million in 2010.

The two have been valuable backups who received time when one of the Williamses came out but their jobs could be that much more important.Evans likely would play the nose tackle in place of Pat Williams, and Kennedy likely would replace Kevin Williams at the nose tackle.

Kennedy had three sacks last season. Evans was a surprise inactive in Week 1 and ended up playing in 13 games. However, the Vikings would not have put a second-round tender on him if they did not like him.

The Vikings have two other defensive tackles on their depth chart with 2008 fifth-round pick Letroy Guion and free-agent signed Tremaine Johnson, who spent last season on the practice squad.

Extra points

Here's what we know about Brett Favre.

The quarterback needs minor surgery on his left ankle to remove some bone spurs.

Here's what we don't know about Favre.

Will he elect to have the surgery and return for the 2010 season?

The Vikings patiently remain in a holding pattern waiting for Favre to make a decision about whether he will play a 20th season.

How long can that wait continue? That's a fair question and one the Vikings really haven't answered. It appears as if it will go into the summer and perhaps into training camp.

It's conceivable that Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels could begin battling for the starting job at the outset of training camp for a second consecutive year only to have Favre show up after the Mankato portion of the practices are complete.

"I don't have a lot of illusions about the timing of the thing," Vikings coach Brad Childress said of the Favre situation. "As I mentioned to you, way back when, there was no manual back then and he played at a high level. How much does he need? He knows. I've got a ballpark idea of how much he needs and obviously what he got last year was plenty."

—Kicker Ryan Longwell, an avid golfer, plans to attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open starting next Monday at a course near his home in Windermere, Fla. "I've been working hard," Longwell said. "I've been really working hitting a bunch of wedges, chipping and putting and have been playing pretty well. It's one of those things where I've always wanted to try it but never really gave it a go." If Longwell gets through his first qualifying, he will make it to the 36-hole sectional qualifying in Hobe Sound, Fla.

—Cornerback Chris Cook, the Vikings' second-round pick, said he would have been open to moving to safety if that's what the team wanted. Cook is 6-2, 212 pounds, leading many to believe he might be better at safety. The Vikings have made it clear that won't happen. "I was pretty much open to anything," Cook said. "If a team wanted to move me to safety I was more than willing to make that transition. I just want to help the Vikings win games."

— Although he was not signed, one of the players the Vikings invited to try out at their recent three-day rookie camp was defensive end Dexter Manley II., the son of the former NFL star.


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 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.


Packer Report Top Stories