NFC North Tour: Martz and Cutler

The Bears like the early look of their offense, which pairs Jay Cutler and Mike Martz. In Detroit, the Lions might add a familiar face to their defense. And in Minnesota, you-know-who is making headlines after surgery.

Chicago Bears

Quarterback Jay Cutler and the other members of the Bears' offense are learning new coordinator Mike Martz's scheme, but they're already excited about it.

"We never really know what play's going to be called," Cutler said after last weekend's high-energy, up-tempo minicamp practices. "We've got a good idea. But Mike does a great job of mixing things up and keeping the defense off balance, putting guys in matchups where they can win. It's exciting. It's always changing. It's always different."

Martz's offense puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but it also gives the quarterback a lot of opportunities for success.

"Quarterbacks have to make quick, precise decisions, and you have to be really accurate with the ball," Cutler said. "It puts a lot on the quarterback, puts a lot on the receivers. But it's going well. The guys are picking up and they're really receptive to it."

Coach Lovie Smith has seen positive signs from the Cutler-Martz collaboration, which is expected to jumpstart a Bears offense that has often stalled during the three nonplayoff seasons since Super Bowl XLI.

"What I hope to see is exactly how it's been from Day One," Smith said. "They have mutual respect for each other. Of course being in the middle, I knew both of the guys, knew that it would be a good fit. Jay, (like) all players are looking for someone that can help their game. Mike can help Jay's game, he can help our offense, and guys see that, so Jay has taken over the offense and is learning each day with it and growing each day with it."

Cutler, Martz and the rest of the offense have a lot of time until the regular season starts, but they have much work to do.

"We've got a lot of time, but we've got to keep putting a lot of pressure on myself and the rest of the guys to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible, (and still) be able to retain all the information throughout the year," Cutler said. "That's going to be the hard part."

Martz has a reputation as being hard on his quarterbacks, but he's better known for helping quarterbacks put up huge numbers in his pass-heavy offenses.

During a six-year span with the Rams from 1999 through 2004, Martz's offenses never failed to accumulate less than 4,287 passing yards in any season. The Bears haven't thrown for that many yards since 1999, when they had 4,352. Over the previous five years, the Bears have passed for an average of 3,251 yards per season, about 1,500 less per year than the 4,721 passing yards the Rams averaged under Martz.

"Everything he does is to put a quarterback in a good position to be successful," Cutler said. "He's not going to call plays, he's not going to install stuff (that doesn't work). Everything we have done, he makes sure I am comfortable with. If not, we adjust it or find some medium ground to make it work."

Extra point

Coach Lovie Smith weighed in on the Gale Sayers-Brian Urlacher war of words that has already been blown out of proportion since Sayers criticized the lack of success of recent Bears teams.

"Those are guys in the Bear family," Smith said. "When you're in a family, ideally you would like to keep things in, but when you're in the Bear family, no one in the Bear family is happy with where we are right now. That's why you need minicamps and things like that. Our football team is better, and when we play better this year, everybody will be happy."

The Bears have missed the playoffs the past three seasons. But they missed the playoffs in all seven of Sayers' seasons while compiling a cumulative record of 41-54-3.

Detroit Lions

Keith Bulluck
Judi Bottoni/AP Images
Could Keith Bulluck follow Kyle Vanden Bosch in reuniting with Jim Schwartz in Detroit?

Bulluck reportedly is three weeks away from being fully recovered from his torn ACL and will begin visiting teams as a free agent. He played for Schwartz in Tennessee, as Vanden Bosch did before signing with the Lions in March, and the Lions could use him.

"I think that he's a guy, among others, that we've had our eye on," Schwartz said. "It just throws a little bit of a monkey wrench into it for him because he's coming off an ACL. But he's a quality player that's played for a long time in the NFL, and when he's available, I'm sure there will be a lot of teams that will be interested in him."

Schwartz was Tennessee's linebackers coach in 2000 when the Titans drafted Bulluck in the first round. Schwartz became the defensive coordinator the following year. Bulluck led the Titans in tackles six out of the last seven seasons he played for Schwartz.

The Lions have an opening at Bulluck's spot: outside linebacker. They're giving Zack Follett a shot in organized team activities, but Follett, a seventh-round pick last year, has never started an NFL game.

What would have to happen for the Lions to sign Bulluck?

"No. 1 would be a contract," Schwartz said. "No. 2 would be where he is physically and at what point he would be cleared for complete things."

Bulluck, 33, suffered his injury Dec. 20. As reference points, tight end Brandon Pettigrew tore an ACL on Nov. 26 and running back Kevin Smith tore one Dec. 13. Both are moving around well but are limited.

"We have a lot of guys nursing ACLs that are going through individual period, that are going out and doing some off-the-field work and things like that," Schwartz said. "None of them have been cleared for team activities. None of them are ready to go in that regard. So I have a hard time imagining a player like Keith, who's almost in the same boat as some of those guys as far as timetable with an ACL, would be a whole lot different."

Bulluck, listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, generally played on the right side in the Titans' base defense and in the middle in nickel situations. Schwartz called him a multidimensional player who could fit in several spots.

"He's smart," Schwartz said. "He's a veteran player. I think just about any team, he could play anywhere he wanted to, whether it was a 3-4, a 4-3, outside, Will, Sam, right, left. He's got that kind of skill."

Think of the Lions' linebacking corps with a healthy Bulluck on the right side, the up-and-coming DeAndre Levy in the middle and three-time All-Pro Julian Peterson on the left side. That would look pretty good, at least for the short term.

Extra point

Peterson said he has not heard about his contract since general manager Martin Mayhew spoke with his agent, Kevin Poston, early in the offseason.

"As far as I know, they just had a nice conversation," Peterson said. "I'm still here. We'll see. I want to stay here."

Peterson was a Pro Bowl alternate last season. But he wasn't as consistently productive as he has been in the past. He turns 32 in July, and he is due a $7.5 million salary in 2010.

At the NFL scouting combine in February, Mayhew said he had spoken to Poston. He stressed that he hadn't used the word "cut." Asked if he had used the word "restructure," he said he couldn't remember.

But Mayhew said he thought Peterson was "the kind of player who's going to be an even better player when he gets better players around him." Since then, the Lions have let Larry Foote leave as a free agent and traded Ernie Sims, though they have upgraded their defensive line with Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams.

Minnesota Vikings

Brett Favre
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Any doubts about whether Brett Favre would return for a 20th NFL season likely were erased with the news the quarterback had elected to have arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle.

Favre ended his second shot at retirement last August to sign a two-year, $25 million contract with the Vikings and proceeded to have one of the best years of his career.

He threw 33 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions as the Vikings won the NFC North with a 12-4 record and advanced to the conference title game.

Favre made it clear after that heart-breaking overtime loss to New Orleans that he wasn't sure if he would return. Given the way he played, it was hard to believe he would walk away.

It's a well-known fact Favre is averse to surgery, but it probably helped that he underwent a procedure to repair a partially torn biceps tendon in his throwing arm last spring and returned to post such impressive numbers.

Favre, 40, had surgery twice previously in his career on the same ankle for what amounts to some cleanup work. He has said on his Web site that the ankle bothered him in 2009 and it did not help matters when the Saints continually hit him in the title game defeat.

He was nearly forced from the game in the third quarter when he took a high-low hit from New Orleans' Remi Ayodele and Bobby McCray.

The projection is that Favre will need four-to-six weeks of rehab, but the reality is that there is almost no chance he's going to be at training camp when the Vikings report to Mankato in late July. It's a huge long shot Favre will show up in Mankato at all.

He likely will follow the same schedule he did last year, when he joined the Vikings in the latter part of August and got work in the second and third preseason games. This would allow him time to rehab on his own and not hurry things.

Vikings' coach Brad Childress doesn't seem to have any problem with a similar scenario playing out and Favre's teammates made it clear at the end of last year they would welcome him back even if they didn't see him at two-a-days.

Extra point

It appears as if the Vikings will have the services of defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams for the entire 2010 NFL season, despite the fact there hasn't been a resolution of the four-game suspensions handed down by the NFL against the pair nearly two years ago for taking a banned diuretic.

The Williamses went a long way toward assuring themselves of remaining eligible when their lawyer filed an appeal on their behalf and thus stayed the bans for an unknown period of time.

This comes after Hennepin County (Minn.) District Judge Gary Larson ruled on May 6 that the NFL violated the Williamses' rights under state labor law by failing to give them a timely notice of failed drug tests in 2008.

Larson, however, also determined the Williamses were not harmed and suffered no damages and dissolved his previous order allowing the two to play until their trail was done.

However, their attorney asked Larson to continue the stay of the suspensions and he ruled in the players' favor. The next stop will be the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

That court will hear the case, which could take a few months. A potential appeal of that ruling to the state Supreme Court could take beyond the 2010 season to complete, assuming that court agrees to hear the case.

All of this is good news for the Vikings because it keeps their starting defensive tackles on the field as the case slowly makes it through the court system.

In fact, Pat Williams said following last season that he thought about retiring and with his 38th birthday coming up in October there is a chance that he will no longer be an active NFL player by the time this case is completed.

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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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