NFC North Tour: Around Camps

Ndamukong Suh makes a fast first impression in Detroit. In Chicago, the receivers coach defends his players, especially Devin Hester. In Minnesota, a relative unknown is ahead of Toby Gerhart on the depth chart.

Detroit Lions

There was no Albert Haynesworth moment for rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick who finally signed and reported to camp on Wednesday after a four-day holdout. With his teammates watching and cheering him on, Suh easily passed his conditioning test, blasting through the two 300-yard shuttle drills in 65 and 67 seconds.

"I was kind of surprised to see my teammates cheering me on like that — that was great," said Suh, who signed a five-year deal that could pay him as much as $68 million, with $40 million guaranteed. "All the contract stuff is beyond the point now. I am excited to be here. I got a great pat on the back from my defensive linemen, especially from Kyle Vanden Bosch who pulled me aside and said he was happy for me to be here.

"Now all I want to do is come in and work and make sure I earn that starting job."

Suh, who wound up missing seven practices, was immediately inserted into the starting defensive tackle spot alongside veteran Corey Williams and he had a rough couple of days. In team drills he was worked over pretty good by guard Stephen Peterman.

"That's one of the disappointing things about his holdout," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Everybody else had their conditioning test one day, practiced in shorts the next, then just in shoulder pads, then back to shorts and then in full pads. They were able to take a nice, reasonable progression.

"But Ndamukong he came in, ran his conditioning test 45 minutes before practice, went out to practice and in his second day he's in full pads. It's a tough situation. His head was swimming. There's a lot of ground that gets covered from a scheme standpoint and he has some catching up to do that way. But he's OK physically."

The day before he signed, Schwartz and some of the players were getting a bit edgy about his holdout. Center Dominic Raiola, a fellow Nebraska Cornhusker, summed up the feeling of the players best.

"I understand the business side of it but when you are talking in the $40 millions, you have to get your named signed already, right?" Raiola said. "He's the second overall pick. He needs to go ahead and tell his agent, 'Look, I want to sign and get into camp.'

"We're talking $40 million, $42 million, $43 million, I don't know what the big difference is. Any way you cut it, after taxes that's about $20 million. So you've got to get that name signed and get out here."

Suh was signed later that night and he made quick work to allay what, if any, negativity may have accrued in his absence.

"It was a tough time, obviously," he said. "Obviously, I wanted to be in camp on time. That's what I said. I wanted to be here on time. Unfortunately I wasn't and I apologize for that."

When asked about how he handled some of the negativity, he said, "You have to look past those things. Obviously, I know the fans were excited and wanted me to be on the field. They just want the team to win and I don't fault them for that.

"Unfortunately, some things were said but I am not holding a grudge on it. I am just happy I am here."

He reported at 305 pounds, but was already under 300 by the end of the week.

"I felt a positive attitude around here from Day One of the OTAs," Suh said. "Everybody was ready to work and eager to get into the season. The belief we have here is that we don't have to have 1-15 or 2-14 seasons. We can have standards that are a lot higher. That's what I feel around here from everybody else, that it's time to get out of that slump."

Lions notes

— Lions players were having quite a good time at kicker Jason Hanson's expense. He's missing his second straight training camp with arthroscopic knee surgery and some of the veterans were accusing him of Favre-ing it. Hanson, who is 40, would be the oldest player in the NFC North if Brett Favre doesn't come back. "Yeah, but that's tainted because I am a kicker," he said. "Either I am living a lie or something but I really feel I can continue to play. I just need to stop visiting the surgeon and stay on the field."

— WR Nate Burleson is more than willing to play Robin to Calvin Johnson's Batman. As he said last week, "I'll speak for him. I'll be his buddy, his sidekick and his promoter. He has just about every tool you can have — height, speed, strength, the ability to jump. He's the closest thing to Randy Moss, and in my eyes, Randy Moss is one of the biggest threats in NFL history."

— Nobody campaigned for the Lions to draft Ndamukong Suh harder than defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. His pre-draft grading of Suh was the highest he'd ever bestowed upon a prospect. Cunningham never lost faith, even when Suh's holdout reached Day Four. "My son got married and he was in Hawaii and the first thing he did was send me a bad text," Cunningham said. "'Dad, your guy said he was going to be in and he's not in.' So I sent him back, 'Adam, just stay cool. It'll be about 12 hours.' And he was signed in six. I knew he was coming in."

— Veteran placekicker Jason Hanson for the second year in a row will miss most of training camp. The 40-year-old had arthroscopic surgery on his right (kicking) knee last season. This year, he had the knee on his plant leg scoped. He underwent surgery on Aug. 18 last year and kicked in the season-opener. His surgery this year was on Aug. 3, so he certainly expects to be ready for the opener.

"Yeah, what's unknown is that it's the plant leg. Will it be stable and fine or will it be more of an issue because there's more force on it," Hanson said. "Everything has been positive, so it should be all right."

The Lions will use rookie Aaron Pettrey out of Ohio State in the exhibition season. He's got a strong leg and coach Jim Schwartz indicated that he wouldn't "close the door" on keeping him to handle kickoffs if Hanson doesn't regain full strength.

— In somewhat of a surprise, the Lions cut nine-year veteran S Marquand Manuel on the third day of practice and replaced him with undrafted rookie S Randy Phillips. Manuel, a former Packer, had incurred Schwartz's wrath the previous day for knocking a wide receiver to the turf in a non-tackling drill.

— It appears that if RB Aaron Brown is going to win a roster spot, he's going to have to do it with his work on special teams. Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith, Jerome Felton and probably Maurice Morris are ahead of him at running back. Brown has been working on both kick and punt return teams.

— LB Caleb Campbell right now appears ticketed for the practice squad. He's have trouble making the jump from safety to linebacker.

— How many players in the NFL play middle linebacker and work in as a nickel back? That's what Jordon Dizon has been doing. At 232 he is probably too light to play MLB full time, but he has been impressive with his quickness and tenacity.

Chicago Bears

Do not get Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake started.

He doesn't want to hear any of the negative chatter about wide receiver Devin Hester being a poor route runner.

"When people say he's not really a good route runner, boy, that is ignorance at its highest level," Drake said. "Who says that he's not really a good route runner? I guess it's people who haven't been out there watching him run a route or watching his body control. If somebody says that, that tells me how really non-visual football (intelligent) that they are."

Hester ran routes well enough last season to lead all Bears' receivers with 757 yards and all wideouts with 57 catches. If he continues to improve at the same level he has for the past three years, Hester has a legitimate shot at becoming a 1,000-yard receiver. He was on pace for that milestone last season before a calf injury hobbled him for the final four games of the season.

So, that business about Hester not being an "elite" receiver, that's another place you don't want to go with Drake.

Devin Hester (23) and Devin Aromashodu
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"It bothers me that you even ask me that," he scolded a reporter, half in jest, fully aware that the question was meant to push his buttons. "It's the same thing I've been hearing for years. You ask me that all the time just to (mess) with my nerves. But I don't even think about that. He can be as good as he needs to be."

Hester spent part of his offseason working with future Hall of Fame wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who retired in June at 37. But not before making four Pro Bowls as a key member of the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" under the direction of Mike Martz, the Bears' new offensive coordinator. Bruce holds the Rams' career records with 942 receptions, 14,109 receiving yards and 84 touchdowns. He finished his 16-year career with 1,024 receptions, 15,208 yards and 91 touchdowns.

Bruce will be helping all the Bears assimilate Martz's offense starting Wednesday and going through the end of camp. He already spent almost a month of the offseason mentoring Hester at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., near Hester's hometown.

"That was my whole mentality for working with Isaac, to get a feel for what Mike Martz's expectations are for the 'Z (position),' because I play the Z," Hester said of the wide receiver position that often has him in motion before the snap. "I worked really hard with him, and I just told him, 'Just take me through the ropes of how you became the great receiver you (were),' and he basically taught me all the things he could in the amount of time we had. I hope I can bring it to this table and hopefully learn from it."

Bears notes

— Tight end Greg Olsen, who led the Bears with 60 catches last season, had not made much of an impact as a receiver until Friday night's practice at Soldier Field. That was concern the minute Mike Martz was hired as offensive coordinator because he doesn't have a history of utilizing the TE position in the passing game.

Olsen isn't panicking, although he is understandably tired of hearing the questions about his role.

"We've addressed this a ridiculous amount," said Olsen who caught 114 passes for 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons. "It is what it is. The past has nothing to do with the guys that we have here. Coach Martz has said all along that the guys who show that they can help the team and make plays and do the thing they're asked to do, are going to play."

— Quarterback Jay Cutler explained on Wednesday, the only day he talks, about his bullet pass Tuesday afternoon into the top of a VIP tent 30 feet wide of the sideline.

"It was hot out there," he said. "We're trying to make every play perfect. That's our goal offensively. Whenever we don't, I get frustrated, the older guys get frustrated, and (center) Olin (Kreutz) gets mad. It's a good thing, though, because if we're just going out there and going through the motions, then we're doing things a little bit wrong."

The frustration seemed to have more to do with the offensive line's inability to handle the pass rush of the defensive line. Cutler said he's encouraged by the performance of the skill-position players.

"The receivers have looked great," Cutler said. "It's been a big question mark for you guys (the media) for a long time, and those guys have come out and had a great camp. I think (tight end) Greg (Olsen) has done a great job blocking. That's one of the things we were kind of questioning with him. We knew he could catch the ball, we knew he could run, but we had to get him in some different facets of the game and be able to keep him in there in some blocking situations, and he has done a great job of that."

— In a perfect world, offensive line coach Mike Tice would have a room full of players with the same type of mentality that helped him have a 14-year playing career in the NFL as a no-nonsense, smash-mouth, lunch pail-type tight end. The tenacious Tice has also spent 14 years as a head coach, assistant head coach, offensive line coach and tight ends coach in the NFL.

Tice values aggressiveness on the O-line, and he'd like to see more of it from left tackle Chris Williams to go along with his improving skills.

"I'd like to see a little more tenacity there, but we can't change people's make-ups," Tice said. "Just because I'm a turd, doesn't mean all the players are going to be that way."

— By now, everyone knows Julius Peppers is difficult to block, but Bears offensive left tackle Chris Williams knows it better than anyone, considering he has to battle the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end every day in practice.

"He's so tough to block because he's as quick as any guy we've got, but he's (almost) 300 pounds," said the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Williams. "His arms are long and, I mean, he's kind of a mutant. Every play he's got something different and he does a good job of feeding off of me, so if I make a mistake, he's going to take (advantage of) it, and that's what the good ones do."

— In order for the offensive line to play better as a unit than it did last season, the Bears need two things to happen.

Frank Omiyale has to play better this year at right tackle than he did last year at left guard. And someone has to step up at left guard where Josh Beekman is currently the starter but Johan Asiata and Lance Louis are contenders.

New offensive line coach Mike Tice believes Omiyale was miscast last season.

"I thought he was out of position for the most part at left guard," Tice said. "I felt he kind of had two seasons. He played early, sat a few games (when he was benched in favor of Beekman), and then played late. I thought the second part he played better. Early in the season he was lost; later in the season he was better."

— Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who had some of his greatest seasons with the Rams when Lovie Smith was a defensive coach there, took in his first Bears practice as a guest coach.

"He's a guy that believes in our system and knows how to be a great receiver in it," Smith said. "He can only help our players. We're just going to let him try to teach the guys some of the tricks of the trade that he's learned."

Bruce was asked what was missing in the Bears' offense from what his explosive Rams teams had.

"I don't see much missing," Bruce said. "I see guys out here who can make plays. You've got a quarterback out here who can wing it. I always like that. You've got guys on the outside who can make plays and who are fast and can run routes without breaking down. When you've got guys like that in this offense it's always good."

— S Major Wright has missed an opportunity to get snaps with the first team because of a groin injury that has kept him out since early last week. Injuries to Chris Harris (back) and Josh Bullocks (quad) have opened up more opportunities for backups like Craig Steltz.

— OG Lance Louis has been taking snaps with the first team at right guard, a position held by Roberto Garza for the past four years.

Minnesota Vikings

When the Vikings swung a trade with Houston in April in order to move up in the second round of the draft and grab Stanford's Toby Gerhart, the thought was that the young running back would end up serving as Adrian Peterson's top backup this season.

But that might not be the case.

While Gerhart has shown he has a long way to go before he's ready for regular action in the NFL, second-year running back Albert Young has impressed early in training camp and could slide into the second spot on the depth chart.

Young has worked his way up with the Vikings since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2008. The former Iowa Hawkeyes star — he was only the third player in school history to rush for over 3,000 yards in a career — spent his first season with Minnesota on the practice squad.

Last year, he made the 53-man roster, played on special teams and also gained 53 yards on only 12 rushing attempts in seven regular-season games. Young was active for the Vikings' playoff victory over Dallas but did not touch the football.

The lack of playing time surprised no one.

Albert Young
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Young was behind not only Peterson but also veteran Chester Taylor, who served as the third-down back and was used extensively in two-minute situations. Under the scenario the Vikings had last season, the third running back simply wasn't going to see much action.

But Taylor departed as a free agent in March, signing a four-year, $12.5 million contract with Chicago that includes $7 million in guarantees. This appeared to leave the door wide open for Young to take over until Gerhart was drafted.

Ian Johnson had spent last season on the practice squad and also figured into the mix. The competition went up another notch when wide receiver Darius Reynaud, one of Young's best friends on the team, was moved to running back during the offseason. Then Ryan Moats was signed after being let go by the Texans.

"You can't take it personally because for one that's out of our control, that's not our department and you've got to understand," Young said. "We did lose Chester. We've got a lot of young guys. They want to make sure they bring in enough guys and let us battle it out. So they're covering their side on the business part, you can't blame them for that, and I'm just going out there to work every day."

So far Young's approach is working pretty well. The fact that Peterson experienced tightness in his hamstring early in camp, missed four practices and was limited in others also meant more first-team work for Young.

"Albert has come a long way," running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said. "He had an opportunity to learn from one of the better third-down backs I've ever been around in Chester Taylor. So he's watched him, he's observed him, he's been in the same classroom with him. He's gained a great deal of experience in the classroom and on the practice field. Now it's just about the opportunity and making sure he makes the most of it when he's getting the reps that he does."

Vikings notes

— Former Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston and former Vikings safety Willie Offord are working with the Vikings in camp as part of the Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship program. Pinkston was with the Vikings briefly in 2006.

— DE Ray Edwards wasn't happy this offseason when he failed to cash in on unrestricted free agency because the soon-to-expire collective bargaining agreement required players to have six years of experience instead of the normal four. However, Edwards, playing on a one-year, $2.5 million deal that he received from the Vikings as a restricted free agent, is at camp and said for now he's just focused on football. "It's over with," he said. "Ain't nothing I can do about it. I'm here with my guys, looking to do good."

— Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson, who serves as the Vikings' player representative, said he is "absolutely" concerned about a work stoppage in 2011 when the CBA expires. "The owners fully intend to lock us out," Hutchinson said. "That's why they negotiated a TV contract that would pay them with the lockout happening. They fully wanted this to happen because they made sure they were going to be compensated if in fact there was no season played."

Joe Webb, a sixth-round pick out of Alabama-Birmingham, was expected to move from quarterback to wide receiver once he reached the NFL. However, the Vikings liked Webb's arm enough that they left him at quarterback. Now he is trying to adjust to playing that position in the pros. "He is like most rookie quarterbacks, just kind of swimming in all of the verbiage," coach Brad Childress said. "Some things he's got cold but I think every situation is a new situation. ... He's a talented enough kid physically. I would just like everything to straighten out in his brain and you know that is a process. You can want that to happen but quite frankly most first-year quarterbacks are just about right there."

— S Husain Abdullah, who has had a strong camp, will be closely monitored by the team in the coming days as he begins observing Ramadan. That means Abdullah can't eat or drink after the sun comes up. The Vikings didn't know about this last year and it clearly affected Abdullah's play. Ramadan begins on Wednesday and is the holiest month on the Islamic calendar. It will last for 30 days. Abdullah has observed Ramadan since he was a child. "Last year he was shouldering it all by himself," coach Brad Childress said. "I think we have our arms around it now and know when he is going to wake up and when he is going to eat and what we can pack on him before the sun comes up."

— As the Vikings continue to wait for Brett Favre to make a decision on his future, Tarvaris Jackson continues to take almost all of the reps with the first-team offense.

— WR Sidney Rice remains on the physically unable to perform list because of a lingering hip injury suffered last January in the NFC title game at New Orleans. Rice went to see three specialists this offseason and although two thought surgery might be the best option none insisted he had to have the procedure performed. Rice said he will be ready for the Vikings regular-season opener on Sept. 9 at New Orleans. However, coach Brad Childress said last week that Rice is "a ways away" from returning.

— WR Percy Harvin left the team on Aug. 2 after the death of his grandmother and had not returned as of Saturday. The Vikings were hoping he would be back for their practice Monday in Mankato.

— CB Cedric Griffin, who is on the PUP list after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on the opening kickoff of overtime last Jan. 24 in the Vikings' loss to the Saints, won't be ready for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener at New Orleans, according to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

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