About the only person not making a big deal about tight end Greg Olsen's role in Mike Martz's offense is Olsen himself.
Olsen led the Bears last season with 60 receptions and eight touchdowns, but Martz's offenses have rarely utilized the tight end to that extent.
In Martz's seven years with the Rams, the first season as the offensive coordinator and the next six as head coach, no tight end ever caught more than 38 passes and all the tight ends combined never caught more than 50 passes in one season.
The Bears' new offensive coordinator has mainly used the tight end as an extra blocker in the run game or pass protector. So, when the Bears signed 6-2, 295-pound blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna early in free agency, Olsen's demise was widely anticipated. Either he would be traded, or his role as a pass catcher would be drastically reduced, according to the doomsday predictors.
But there was Olsen on Wednesday afternoon at Halas Hall in the first of 14 OTA (organized team activity) practices sprinting down the field catching lasers from Jay Cutler as a member of the first team, often in the same personnel package as fellow tight end Desmond Clark. Manumaleuna has been limited to individual running drill so the sideline since his recent minor arthroscopic knee surgery. Olsen is not worried about his place on the team.
"I've addressed this a million times," he said. "I feel good the way things have gone so far, and it's early in the process, but so far everything's been great."
But, will it remain that way? Olsen will be asked to block more and more effectively than in the past, and he may never be an 80-catch guy, as had been predicted when he was drafted in the first round in 2007. But Olsen doesn't seem worried. It's still football, and Martz has said that the 6-5, 255-pound former Miami Hurricane presents a receiving threat at tight end he never had in St. Louis.
"Sometimes you focus your offense around what you've got," Olsen said. "In the past, (Martz) has had great wide receivers and great backs. It's the same here, but we feel like we have a couple tight ends who can do some stuff in the passing game along with those other guys. So we'll see how that works out.
"We feel good that he can kind of make it work to whatever his players' strengths are, and that's something that they continue to hit on."
As for the blocking, that's something Olsen knows wasn't a strength coming out of college, but he continues to work to improve that aspect of his game.
"It's been part of the program every single off-season, and each year I've gotten better," he said. "This year is no different, regardless of all that's happened. Every off-season we work hard at it, and that's not going to change."
Bears extra points
— Offensive coordinator Mike Martz doesn't see the point in rehashing the 2009 season with quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw a league-high 26 interceptions, along with 27 TD passes.
"We're not running last year's offense, so it doesn't make much difference to me what they did last year," Martz said. "I could care less. It has no bearing because whatever he's done in the past has no bearing on today for me. It's a clean slate."
Martz preferred to start at Square One with Cutler.
"It started with him how he stands underneath the center, how his hands are, the cadence, like he was a high school quarterback," Martz said. "I've always believed that's what you do. That's how you start, and he's still a very young quarterback. Whatever happened in the past, no matter how good he played, I don't care. It has no bearing on anything today."
— Bears chief contract negotiator Cliff Stein set a May 28 goal for signing all five of the team's draft picks, and he made it barely under the wire, when third-round pick Major Wright, the team's top pick this year, signed a four-year contract last Friday.
With Wright's signing, the Bears are the first NFL team to have all their draft picks signed for the fifth consecutive year and are the first team in league history to have all of their draft picks signed prior to the end of May.
They didn't have selections in the first and second round.
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One night, quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the No. 2 pick this year, were signing at memorabilia stores on opposite sides of the metro area. Suh's signature cost $40 to $55, Stafford's $30 to $35.
The first fans in line for Suh were Allen McCord, 40, and son Thomas, 12, of Detroit. They showed up two hours early so they could nab Suh's signature and then race over to get Stafford's.
"I haven't seen two Lions signing at the same time," said Steven Graus, who has been in this business for 22 years and owns DC Sports, where Suh signed. "It's good for the city. People are spending their hard-earned money, and so the memorabilia market is hopefully back for the Lions."
Joe Morgan has owned Motor City Sports Gallery for five years. He said for the first time he is receiving more requests for Lions autograph signings than for Red Wings, Tigers or Pistons.
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson drew a larger crowd recently than athletes like Chris Chelios, Carlos Guillen and Curtis Granderson. Stafford's crowd was even bigger than Johnson's.
Graus said Barry Sanders used to be in high demand, but because he was Barry Sanders, not because he played for the Lions. Fans actually are interested in the team now.
"I think it's about the best it's been since we've been in business, as far as the renewed interest in the team, with some of the drafts they've had," Graus said.
When the Lions drafted Stafford last year, there was fear and skepticism. But he has won over fans, and the Lions have added more pieces. Suh is viewed as a coup. As Graus said, "He was the player everybody told them they should take, and they took him."
"Stafford, I was always kind of hemming and hawing about whether or not he was actually going to be good," said Randy Osbourn, 33, of Shelby Twp. "But Suh, it feels different with him versus the last five or 10 draft picks we've had.
"There was always the excitement, but with him, it's just that thing you can't really describe. You feel he's not going to be just either your average guy or follow the Charles Rogers route of just complete collapse."
Osbourn has an impressive personal collection that includes more than 100 individual autographs. But he had only one Lions autograph, that of former defensive tackle Shaun Rogers', until he stood in line to get Suh's.
"I've had opportunities to go to other shows, and no one's piqued my interest, really drawing me out," Osbourn said. "Suh, as soon as I heard we got him on draft day, it was pretty much wherever he was going to be at."
Lions extra points
— The Lions are entering the final phase of their offseason program. They have wrapped up almost all of their organized team activities. While the coaches are in and out of the facility, taking a little time off, the players will go through two more weeks of conditioning. Then the whole crew will come back and go through a five-day training camp primer — two days of OTAs followed by a three-day mandatory minicamp.
"We'll have five days in a row," coach Jim Schwartz said. "The minicamp, they'll be here from 6 in the morning until 6 at night, so that will give them a good feeling of what training camp's going to be like. That's probably another step that we're going to take."
Schwartz said the Lions have installed about 80 percent of their playbook.
"That's a good position to be in," Schwartz said. "Where you'd like to be is about 95 percent installed by the time we get to training camp. You get to training camp, you're not really installing new things. You're just sort of reemphasizing and hitting some subtle points rather than overall installation."
— Cornerback Jonathan Wade sent a text message to former Rams teammate Oshiomogho Atogwe after he became an unrestricted free agent.
"I asked him if he was a Lion yet," Wade said. "I was just being funny. He wouldn't dare say anything to me."
Atogwe grew up a Lions fan in Windsor, and he could fill the hole alongside safety Louis Delmas, a second-round pick last year. He intercepted 19 passes and forced 14 fumbles in five seasons with the Rams.
"He makes the plays — not necessarily the big hits, but he will find the ball, the strips, the turnovers when you need it," Wade said. "He's very motivational. He's a great leader on and off the field. With the young secondary that we do have, I think he would be very beneficial."
But Atogwe, who turns 29 on June 23, is coming off shoulder and hernia issues, and the Lions are mum. "I'm never going to say who we are or who we're not interested in, because it doesn't help us in any way at all," general manager Martin Mayhew said.
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And that doesn't sit too well with the veteran of 14 NFL seasons.
"It's odd," said Longwell, who remains effective on field-goal attempts and made 28-of-30 attempts last season. "It wasn't like I asked to not do it and it's not like I prefer not doing it. (It's) definitely something that I've never had to deal with before. We kicked off yesterday and I was with the (second) team. It's just something that you've got to kind of take it a day at a time. We have a long ways between now and the final roster."
Longwell, 35, isn't just saying this because his professional pride has been hurt. He also made it clear that he feels he is a better field-goal kicker when he is booting the ball off the tee.
This is based on the fact that during outdoor games, Longwell is able to get a much better read on wind conditions and other factors when he is kicking off. He then uses that on field-goal attempts.
One example he gave came in late December last season when he kicked a 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter at Chicago.
"(That) was a kick that the wind was blowing hard off the left all game, but kicking that direction kicking off the ball (it) just wasn't falling right," Longwell said. "It wasn't going with what the wind felt like. So when we went out there, I aimed accordingly to how the ball flew on kickoffs and made it. It's things like that I think with games in Washington and New England and Philly, where we play this year, it's a tool that I've always used."
The addition of Lloyd indicates the Vikings are prepared to have two kickers on their 45-man game-day roster, a big commitment considering how precious each of those spots is considered. Lloyd does have 51 touchbacks over the past two seasons.
Asked about the situation, coach Brad Childress said: "I'm not going to tell you that Ryan Longwell will never kick off. He's going to have to keep that club sharp in his bag. Rhys Lloyd was brought in with a specific idea in mind but still in all, you have to come out and perform and you have to do it."
Said Longwell: "Rhys is a good guy and we both understand the business. We didn't ask to be in this predicament, but at the same time we both have jobs to do. I feel like for the four years I've been here, I've done everything I'm supposed to do and then some and performed well. So I'm not really concerned about employment, so to speak. It's just that you want to be able to go out there and do what you do to the best of your ability. You want all the tools to be able to do that."
Vikings extra points
— The Vikings' offensive line was considered one of the best in the NFL at one point but that was not the case last season.
The unit had a first-year starter at center in John Sullivan, who replaced perennial Pro Bowl pick Matt Birk, and a rookie at right tackle in second-round pick Phil Loadholt. Right guard Anthony Herrera and left guard Steve Hutchinson, one of the best in the business, battled injury issues.
All of this played a part in the Vikings run game dropping to 13th in the NFL (119.9 yards per game) after being fifth in 2008 (146.1 yards per game).
But coach Brad Childress feels the line took too much of the blame and used a question about the unit to convey his feelings.
"A couple of those guys had (surgical) procedures last year and obviously you had a new center and a new right tackle," Childress said. "I'm glad you asked that question because it gets bandied about. It depends on who you read. Somebody will say it's one of the better lines in the NFL. Whether it's just in the horizon that I look at locally, you might talk about them in a bad way, use their name in vain.
"I would point out that it was the second scoring offense (in the NFL). 'Yeah, but you didn't run the ball as well.' No, but we threw it better. You have to give something to get something. You can't have it all ways. Rarely do you see the top rushing team be the top passing team or vice versa. Really all we care about is finding a way to get into the end zone and bottom line win the game. It will be good to have those guys all together again and healthy."
— Running back Toby Gerhart, who has been unable to participate in most of the Vikings' OTAs because he's completing school at Stanford, plans to arrive in the Twin Cities early next week and take part in a portion of the June 11-13 mandatory minicamp. Gerhart is expected to miss Sunday's practice so he can participate in Stanford's graduation ceremonies.
— There were reports that the Vikings had interest in safety O.J. Atogwe, but that turned out not to be the case. Atogwe became a free agent on June 1 after the St. Louis Rams did not offer him a contract tender that would have kept him with the franchise. The Vikings are planning to go to training camp with Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams as their starting safeties. Second-year player Jamarca Sanford will push them for playing time.
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