NFC North Tour: Ready to Run

In Detroit, running back Kevin Smith is eager to get his career back on track after suffering a torn ACL. In Chicago, breakout rookie Johnny Knox has to learn a new offense again. In Minnesota, is quarterback Sage Rosenfels on the trading block?

Detroit Lions

Running back Kevin Smith has every reason to be pessimistic. He suffered a torn knee ligament Dec. 13 at Baltimore. The Lions traded up to draft explosive running back Jahvid Best in the first round April 22.

But Smith looks at things his own way. He hopes to be practicing fully when training camp opens in late July, and he looks at Best as a complement, not just competition.

Smith, a third-round pick in 2008, had surgery not long after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He has been moving around well in offseason workouts, but only in individual drills, wearing a baseball cap.

Now he plans to put a helmet on again. He said he will tiptoe back into team drills at next week's mandatory minicamp, about six months after surgery to repair a torn knee ligament.

"I'm not going to do much, but I'm definitely going to do some team stuff," Smith said. "This is the first time I've done that. I've been doing individual and just building up.

"I'm almost six months. I'm not even six months yet. There's been a guy that reinjured his ACL. Lord willing, I'm definitely not trying to be that guy. So I'm just going to take it slow."

How much will Smith actually do?

"If I can gauge it, probably six plays — probably three in 7-on-7 (passing drills), three in team running (drills), shut it down," Smith said. "I've got a big camp ahead of me. That's when I can start getting back into it."

Despite his injury, Smith has blogged at that he wants to "get back into the race" next year with the other running backs in his draft class: Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forte, Tim Hightower, Ray Rice, Jonathan Stewart, Darren McFadden, Steve Slaton and Felix Jones.

"Down the road, they're going to be talking about this draft class of running backs as one of the best, and I want to be part of that conversation," Smith wrote.

At least Smith seems to understand he's not part of that conversation. He rushed for 976 yards as a rookie. He rushed for 747 in 13 games last season. He has only three 100-yard games in his career. He had a long way to go to before the injury; now it's going to be even harder because of his knee.

"This season did not go as well as we had hoped," Smith wrote. "I didn't come in and play as well as I had anticipated, and as a team we definitely did not make the strides I thought we would make."

Lions extra points

— Like the Jaguars, Raiders and Ravens, the Lions have been slapped on the wrist for violating offseason workout rules, losing their last two days of organized team activities. They were cited for "the intensity and tempo of drills," according to a joint statement by the NFL and players' union. "We will comply with the league's directive, and we will continue to respect and emphasize the NFL's rules and regulations regarding the offseason training program," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said in a statement.

— The Lions also lost two days of workouts in 2006, their first year under then-coach Rod Marinelli. A player filed a grievance on his own in that instance. The league and players' union also can do spot checks of practices. Offensive tackle Jon Jansen, the Lions' union representative, said he did not file a grievance on behalf of his teammates in this case and was trying to find out the specific violations himself.

— The Lions claimed kicker Justin Medlock off waivers from the Redskins. They will evaluate him in their mandatory three-day minicamp. "I'm super-shocked," Medlock told the Toronto Sun. "They want to look at me for the next week or so. I don't know what they are planning (long-term)." Medlock, whom the Chiefs drafted in the fifth round in 2007, played for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts last season, going 40-for-46 on field goals. He was strong on kickoffs and also punted. He was expecting to sign with the Argos after the Redskins let him go. But the Lions will consider keeping him for training camp. He could spell veteran Jason Hanson, who turns 40 on Thursday, and provide insurance. He also could be a kickoff specialist.

Chicago Bears

For the second time in as many years, Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox is learning a new offense.

Last year as a rookie, after he was picked in the fifth round out of Abilene Christian, Knox caught on quick enough to catch 45 passes for 527 yards and 5 touchdowns in Ron Turner's offense, even though he missed the final two games with a sprained ankle.

Johnny Knox
Nam Y . Huh/AP Images
This year, with Mike Martz installing his offense, it's as if Knox and everyone else are rookies again.

"It's like learning how to become a receiver all over again," said the 6-foot, 185-pounder with blazing speed. "Just working on the basics: running routes, catching the ball, knowing where I'm supposed to be at the right time."

But there's a big difference for Knox this time around. He has already proven that he can produce at the highest level.

"I feel a lot more comfortable because I know how things work," Knox said. "I know how meetings work and how practice works. I know how to study for this offense, but it still is a new learning process just like last year for me."

Last year Knox was a huge question mark. Sure he had posted some eye-catching numbers in college: 118 catches, 2,227 yards and 30 receiving touchdowns in two seasons at Abilene. But that was Division-II, a long way from the NFL. Plus, Knox was so thin he appeared, at first glance, to be frail.

But he didn't play that way. From Day One, he flashed softy, sticky hands, and his timed speed — 4.31 seconds in the 40 — translated without a hitch to the playing field. He went over the middle without hesitation or fear.

This offseason, with last year's starter Earl Bennett slowed a bit following arthroscopic knee surgery, Knox has been taking most of his reps with the first team, paired with Devin Hester in a tandem that gives the Bears exceptional speed and big-play potential.

"Our two starters, I think, are terrific players," Martz said, "so we're getting each guy an opportunity to move up and be counted on. There are a lot of good things going on out there."

And Knox is in the middle of it. Martz's offense is more complicated than Turner's was, with more plays and multiple formations, but it's also a pass-heavy offense that features wide receivers and should provide enough air traffic to keep three or four wideouts happy.

"It relates to my abilities," Knox said. "It's a much faster pace, and I feel like, with my speed, I can develop and make good things (happen in) this offense."

Bears extra points

— The Bears' offense has been behind the defense throughout the offseason, but with good reason.

"In fairness to the offense, it's a new offense and there are going to be growing pains because of that," general manager Jerry Angelo said on the team's web site. "It's going to be a process."

While Mike Martz is installing a new offense, the Bears will continue to run the same defense they have since 2004, even though Rod Marinelli has been promoted from defensive line coach to coordinator.

"Defensively, we've been playing the same system for a long time," Angelo said. "We're doing some different things this year with coach Marinelli, but basically it's the same scheme, and our players have a familiarity with it. We're also doing a better job breaking on the ball. That's been a real point of emphasis, and takeaways and interceptions are a big part of that. The defense has been doing a real good job. But that's not to say that the offense isn't progressing. It's just going to take more time. I have a lot of confidence in what coach Martz and our offensive coaches are doing with our players."

Brandon Manumaleuna was signed away from the Chargers as an unrestricted free agent because he's the kind of big (6-2, 295) blocking tight end that Martz values in his offense. But Manumaleuna hasn't participated in minicamp or OTAs as he continues his rehab from arthroscopic knee surgery.

"It's frustrating because it's a new team," he said. "You want to win the trust of your teammates. It's frustrating not to be out there with them trying to grow with the offense. But it's just one of the things you've got to deal with."

Manumaleuna says he'll be 100 percent by the start of training camp and, having played five years with the Rams under Martz, he's not really behind in learning the new offense.

Danieal Manning has been at free safety for 39 of his 42 starts with the Bears in his first four seasons, but he's working at strong safety this offseason.

Minnesota Vikings

Are the Vikings close to parting ways with Sage Rosenfels?

It certainly seemed that way after the veteran quarterback saw almost no work in the team's minicamp practices on Saturday and Sunday last week. Rosenfels, in fact, received no snaps in 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 drills in the final day of the camp.

Asked about the situation with Rosenfels, coach Brad Childress said: "Just rotating him around a little bit. We try to expose all those guys to all situations and it wouldn't be uncommon for you to see here (at Winter Park) or in training camp where you're trying to expose two quarterbacks and shutting (another) guy down for a day.

Sage Rosenfels
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
"I really wouldn't make anything of that other than we were trying to expose those other three quarterbacks to some of that red area stuff and some of that blitz stuff yesterday."

Rosenfels, however, refused to comment after both the Saturday and Sunday practices and it was clear he was less than thrilled to have not only fallen behind Tarvaris Jackson but also rookie Joe Webb.

Webb, whom the Vikings took in the sixth-round out of Alabama-Birmingham, got many of the second-team reps throughout the weekend.

Webb's rise as a quarterback with the Vikings is interesting considering the expectation was that he would be moved to wide receiver and only is playing quarterback because the Vikings were so impressed by what they saw from him when he threw some passes at the end of their rookie minicamp.

It appears Childress would like to go with a quarterback depth chart that would include Brett Favre, Jackson and Webb. That would leave Rosenfels as the odd man out.

Rosenfels had been obtained from Houston for a fourth-round pick after the 2008 season and was expected to compete with Jackson for the starting job in 2009. That, of course, was before Favre arrived.

The key question is what would the Vikings be able to get for Rosenfels? Obviously, the Vikings won't have much leverage because teams will know Rosenfels has fallen down the depth chart.

Vikings extra points

— Vikings coach Brad Childress will be joined by Philadelphia's Andy Reid, Carolina's John Fox and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis on a trip to the Persian Gulf in the coming weeks. The coaches will meet with members of the U.S. military for several days. The exact location where the coaches will travel and the dates when they will be gone are not revealed for security reasons.

— Childress would not say if the Vikings planned to fine running back Adrian Peterson for skipping the mandatory three-day minicamp last weekend so he could attend "Adrian Peterson Day" in his hometown of Palestine, Tex. Childress made it clear he wasn't happy about Peterson's decision saying, "The work is here."

— The Vikings signed running back Ryan Moats, who was recently released by the Houston Texans. Childress is familiar with Moats, having been Philadelphia's offensive coordinator in 2005 when the Eagles drafted Moats. Moats will compete with Albert Young, Darius Reynaud and Ian Johnson for the No. 3 running back job behind Adrian Peterson and second-round pick Toby Gerhart.

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 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.

Packer Report Top Stories