NFC North Tour: Improving Lions

In our weekly rundown of what's new with the Packers' NFC North rivals: It's not just about Matthew Stafford in Detroit anymore; third-round pick Major Wright has shot to start at safety for Chicago; the Vikings are considering adding a veteran guard.

The Lions entered the offseason with a goal of helping quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft last year, hoping more weapons, better health and another year of experience would lead to a big leap in his second NFL season.

After the 2009 season ended, coach Jim Schwartz was asked to categorize Stafford's progress. This was the first thing he said: "We need to do a better job of supporting our quarterback."

The Lions have added offensive weapons like wide receiver Nate Burleson, tight end Tony Scheffler and running back Jahvid Best, while bolstering the defense with linemen like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh.

"Now all of a sudden it's not just about the quarterback," Schwartz said in an interview on ESPN Radio. "He can hand it off to a Jahvid Best, and he can go 70 yards for a touchdown. He can throw a short pass to Nate Burleson, and he can go a long way with it also. And then defensively, if we can stay in games and not have to play catch-up, then that's going to help a young quarterback also."

Stafford suffered three injuries as a rookie — knee, shoulder, shoulder aggravation — and threw 20 interceptions. But Schwartz pointed out all three injuries came when the Lions were trailing in the fourth quarter and many of the picks came when the Lions put Stafford in bad situations.

"It was basically taking hits because he was trying to do something that he shouldn't have to do being down 17 points with four minutes left or something like that," Schwartz said. "So staying healthy's important for him, and that will help him take care of the football. A lot of our turnovers occurred on third-and-extra-long, and then in the fourth quarter of games when we're trying to play catch-up.

"So if we can play with the lead a little bit, improve our defense, I think we can help Matt out."

Stafford is healthy now and has been spending extra time working with the wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. It shows in OTAs.

"He's been zipping the ball the whole off-season," Schwartz said after one practice. "That's what we like about him. He does have a live arm. He's feeling a little bit better and a little bit better, and he's progressing from just dropping and throwing to moving around a little bit and things like that. ... They're starting to have a little bit more communication and a little bit more just rapport with all those players."

Stafford also has been developing chemistry with teammates off the field. He went to the Masters this spring with guard Stephen Peterman and center Dominic Raiola, for example.

"I know as a rookie when I came in, you don't know anybody," Peterman said. "You haven't played with anybody. So you have your guard up a little bit. You're kind of walking around on eggshells.

"Even though you're a top pick and you're going to play, you've got to find your groove. Coming from college to the NFL, it's a whole different scene. You're still intimidated a little bit.

"But now he looks confident. He's a great guy, a good guy to hang out with, and I think it's going to be great for us."

Extra points

— With the addition of end Kyle Vanden Bosch and tackles Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh, the Lions feel they pose a threat to NFC North foes Jay Cutler, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. "We've got a bunch of pieces to the puzzle; we've just got to put all the pieces together," said Williams, echoing a comment Suh made the night he was drafted. "We're going to surprise a lot of people. I'm going leave it at that. We're going to surprise a lot of people."

— Williams is adjusting back from the 3-4 scheme he played in Cleveland to the 4-3 he once played in Green Bay — the one he prefers because it allows him to attack the quarterback. He said he feels "way ahead" of where he thought he would be at this point and is developing chemistry with Kyle Vanden Bosch. "We work out every morning together," Williams said. "We're getting to know each other a lot better. He's a great guy. I think once we just keep coming together, we're going to be a force."

—Tight end Tony Scheffler wore a boot on his right leg and didn't participate in an organized team activity, but he said it was "just a precautionary deal" and "nothing bad."

"He's got an irritated foot," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We just put him in the boot for a little while. He'll probably be back soon. Nothing big. Just a little bit of irritation."

Chicago Bears

Third-round pick Major Wright is coming into a wide open position battle at safety, which means he should have plenty of opportunities over the next four months to prove he belongs in the starting lineup opening day.

"Everybody competes for jobs in training camp," said Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke when asked about Wright and fifth-round cornerback Joshua Moore. "There are no givens, so they're in the mix just like everybody else. We play the best football players. So, if they're up to speed and they're playing good, they'll play."

S Major Wright
Warren Wimmer Photography
Just stepping on the practice field at Halas Hall for this weekend's three-day rookie minicamp has been a thrill for Wright, but he's got a long way to go before he can compete for the starting job at free safety, where he will get his first chance.

"I was like, 'Wow, my dream's come true,'" he said. "I dreamed about this when I was younger and it's here. Now I just have to go out and hustle and just stay focused."

At Florida, Wright exhibited the skills to play strong safety, which has traditionally been more of a run-support role, and free safety, which often requires good ball skills and coverage ability.

"We're going to play him at free to begin with," Hoke said. "In this system they have to be able to do both jobs, so he'll learn both but he has characteristics (for both). He's a ball guy, he's obviously got excellent speed from the times he ran, and he plays fast, but he is a physical guy also."

Extra points

— DE Corey Wootton, a fourth-round pick, is from New Jersey, but after playing five years at Northwestern and being drafted by the Bears, he almost feels like a Chicago guy.

He's trying to learn everything he can from defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who will continue to work extensively with the defensive linemen, as he did last year as the defensive line coach.

"I've already learned a lot," the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Wootton said. "Coach Marinelli is a great coach. He's teaching a lot of pass-rush technique, a lot about get-off, and I'm just trying to be a sponge and absorb everything."

— At Benet Academy High School in west suburban Chicago, Dan LeFevour directed a double wing offense.

"We threw the ball maybe five, 10 times a game," the sixth-round draft pick out of Central Michigan said. "So I didn't have a lot of offers coming out of high school. But obviously I landed in the right spot. I was in a great situation being able to play for four years, and it's led me to at least have a chance to play at the next level."

With Jay Cutler under contract through 2014, LeFevour's prospects for early playing time with the Bears are bleak, but he's OK with that.

"I haven't waited to play since my true freshman year back in 2005," he said. "But that's part of the territory. My first goal is to make the team. I have some other goals in mind before I start thinking about being a No. 2 or No. 1 quarterback on this franchise."

— One of the things that Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz learned last year when he was an analyst for NFL Network is that he missed coaching.

"I just missed teaching," Martz said. "That's how I was raised, as a teacher basically. I just missed teaching and coaching the details. That part of the game is so much fun. But it was a good break for me."

Martz is considered an excellent, though strict teacher of quarterbacks, but he says the process also helps him learn more about the game.

"I think as a teacher in this game you learn something from everybody that you coach," he said. "You take something away from it. When you feel like, 'OK, this is the holy grail for this position or whatever that might be, then you probably should retire. I always learn something from these guys. We're always trying to make them better. That's the challenge of coaching at this level."


The Vikings appear to be kicking the tires on a veteran interior offensive lineman.

Longtime Houston Texans left guard Chester Pitts told the Fox Sports Houston Web site that the Vikings recently called him to find out where he is in his rehabilitation process.

Pitts, who will turn 31 on June 26, started every game for the Texans for seven seasons, but he injured his right knee last September against Tennessee and underwent microfracture surgery. Pitts has been rehabbing the knee for several months and likely won't be ready to go until around training camp.

Pitts reportedly has received interest from Seattle, Detroit and San Francisco, but the opportunity with the Vikings could be an interesting one.

The feeling is he would provide competition for Anthony Herrera, meaning Pitts would have to make the move from left to right guard. Steve Hutchinson has the left guard job locked up in Minnesota.

Herrera had some difficult moments last season, in part because he was coming off shoulder surgery that limited how much work he could do last offseason.

Pitts told the Houston-based Web site that his knee "is doing great. It's structurally sound," he said. "Because I had to be off of it for nine weeks, it's kind of a deep hole you climb into. It takes time to get it back strong. But I'd say it's about 85 percent right now."

Extra points

K Ryan Longwell
Rich Gabrielson/Viking Update
— Kicker Ryan Longwell, an avid golfer, shot an 11-over-par 83 at an Orlando, Fla.-area golf course and failed to advance in his attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open.

"It was a blast and a great experience,"? he said. "I'll be much better next time just having gone through it."

— Former Vikings DT John Randle has picked his former defensive line coach John Teerlinck to present him on Aug. 7 when Randle is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Teerlinck was the Vikings' defensive line coach from 1992 to '94 and helped develop Randle from an undrafted rookie free agent into an All-Pro defensive lineman.

—The Vikings will open organized team activities on May 18 at Winter Park. There are 14 such practices scheduled and all are voluntary.

Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels and rookie free-agent R.J. Archer from William & Mary will split reps at quarterback. Brett Favre, of course, still hasn't decided if he will play in 2010 and even if he does play he won't be in Minnesota until some point in the preseason.

—The Vikings have 14-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, according to the online wagering site The Colts and Saints are co-favorites to win next season's Super Bowl at 9-to-1.

— Cornerback Cedric Griffin, who tore his left ACL in the NFC title game, and linebacker E.J. Henderson, who broke his leg in December, continue to rehab their injuries in hopes of returning at some point in 2010. Guard Steve Hutchinson (shoulder) and nose tackle Pat Williams (elbow) are coming off offseason surgeries and are believed to have made progress. Antoine Winfield also continues to recover from the broken right foot he suffered last October.

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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.

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