Chicago BearsBears' general manager Jerry Angelo has always believed in building a defense starting with the big guys up front, and he's used three of the top five draft picks over the past two seasons on defensive linemen.
Now it's time for some of them to come up big, or at least contribute.
Angelo used his first choice, a third-rounder (68th overall), on Jarron Gilbert in 2009. He was made famous by the YouTube video that showed him jumping out of a swimming pool onto the deck flat-footed. But Gilbert hasn't made a splash yet in the NFL — or even caused a ripple. He played very briefly in four games last year and did not record a tackle. He hasn't done much more than that in training camp.
"Jarron lost a lot of weight so he could be a little bit lighter so he can play on the outside as an end," Angelo said. "He had a handful of plays (in the preseason opener). He looked OK. He's got to pick it up, obviously. We need to see something out of Jarron."
If not, Gilbert, who the Bears still list at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds, probably won't be cut. But he could spend most of the season watching on Sunday, especially if the Bears decide to activate only eight D-linemen, instead of the usual nine. Gilbert was inactive in Saturday night's second preseason game with a neck injury.
Henry Melton was drafted in the round after Gilbert (105th overall), but he spent his rookie season on injured reserve. He has bulked up some from the 260 pounds he weighed last year in order to compete for playing time at the three-technique tackle, but he's still undersized at around 265, although his quickness can cause mismatches. Melton also has the ability to play end in nickel situations as an extra pass rusher. He has been moist noticeable in training camp during two-on-two pass-rush drills, where his quickness is difficult for bigger players to contend with.
"Henry, we think he's really going to blossom this year," Angelo said. "He's put on some weight in the off-season. He's looked really good in certain aspects of the scheme. (Defensive coordinator) Rod Marinelli is starting to play him a little bit outside as a defensive end. That's what he played in college. But he's got all of the necessary traits that we look for at the under (three-technique) tackle. Obviously pass rush is what we see in his future with us."
This year, just as last year, the Bears were without draft picks in the first two rounds, but Angelo used his second choice to take Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton in the fourth round (109th overall).
Marinelli likes some of the intangibles that the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Wootton brings to the table, although he has yet to make a major impact, and he needs some technique refinement.
"(He's) playing too tall; he stands up too much and plays too high," Marinelli said. "What I've really been impressed with is his mental toughness. I mean, every down, he plays hard and he's physical. He listens, he's not thin-skinned and he's getting better every day. I mean he plays hard; I'm impressed with that. He just plays too tall right now."
Camp calendar: Training camp at Olivet Nazarene University concluded last Friday.
— Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie says he isn't worried about losing the No. 2 job while his injured right shoulder heals, and offensive coordinator Mike Martz gave him a vote of confidence.
"Caleb is further than I thought he would be," Martz said. "You go through growing pains, and we put a lot of pressure on him trying to get him ready and stress him out a little bit. He went through that phase and he's fought through it real well and he understands what we're doing and he's done a real nice job. I was very pleased with him in that (first preseason) game."
Hanie completed 10-of-17 passes for 148 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 82.5, but his night ended early and painfully when he landed on his throwing shoulder while being sacked.
"There are some things that you don't want to him to do mistake-wise, and he's just got to make those mistakes in the preseason and clean them up," Martz said. "But he understands those things. He is better at this point than I ever thought he would be."
The problem now is that Hanie is in a holding pattern for the foreseeable future, while the backup work goes to sixth-round draft pick Dan LeFevour and street free agent Matt Gutierrez, who was signed Wednesday (Aug. 18).
"I like some of the things Dan LeFevour has done, being able to get more (practice) reps," coach Lovie Smith said. "We've seen improvement from him each day."
But the rookie is still a long way from being ready to play effectively in a regular-season game as his performance in the first two preseason games suggests.
"We need a quarterback, No. 1," Smith said when asked what Gutierrez brought to the team. "He has some experience, and some of our coaches are familiar with him. I don't know a lot about him right now, but he's a quarterback who's played in the league, we're going to give him an opportunity."
Gutierrez, who was undrafted out of Idaho State in 2007, has thrown just two passes in three NFL seasons. When the Bears called, Gutierrez was home in California contemplating a gig with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL. It's possible he could be out of a job as soon as Hanie is healthy, but he could conceivably pass LeFevour for the No. 3 job, which probably means a spot on the practice squad.
— Angelo is expecting big things from Matt Forte and the running game, even if the emphasis this year will be more on throwing the ball under Martz.
Angelo said Forte looks like a different player from the one who played hurt with knee and hamstring injuries most of last season.
"Matt has worked his tail off," Angelo said. "He's in the best shape he's been. It's just a matter of getting the opportunities. I expect big things out of Matt this year. This offense will create some (opportunities) for him in terms of using him as a receiver as well, which again will play in to his strengths."
The presence of veteran running back Chester Taylor gives the Bears depth they haven't had in the past.
"Chester is the real deal," Angelo said. "He's a great complementing back. He does a great job on third down. We saw that firsthand when we had to play against him in Minnesota. I think we have a real good tandem."
— Defensive tackle Tommie Harris missed numerous practices last season when his post-surgical knee bothered him off and on all year. But he had perfect attendance at training camp practices.
The Bears are hoping Harris recaptures the form that got him voted to the Pro Bowl from 2005 though 2007.
"He's looked good in practice," Angelo said. "No reason to believe Tommie isn't going to have a very, very good season for us. We're excited about that. A healthy Tommie, a practicing Tommie, should be a very, very good football player."
— Devin Aromashodu was the Bears' leading receiver over the final four games last season, even though he only started two of the games. He's still listed as the team's No. 3 wideout behind Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, but Aromashodu could wind up leading the team in this year.
"We've seen improvement, but he finished the '09 season strong, too," coach Lovie Smith said of Aromashodu's 22 catches for 282 yards and four TDs down the stretch. "He's been in that third receiver role for us. He's a different body type from Hester and Knox, a big target (6-2, 201). We know what he can do. We know he can perform under the lights and all of that."
S Major Wright is out for another couple weeks after having surgery on his left index finger last week. Wright had been getting snaps with the first team and might have been well on his way to winning a starting job. But that is unrealistic now, since he is not expected back until the season opener. ... DE Corey Wootton has impressed coaches with his work ethic and attitude, but his technique needs work, especially his habit of standing up at the snap of the ball and not bending his knees. ... CB Joshua Moore has gotten some snaps with the second team but is not going to challenge for playing time either at cornerback or nickel. ... The shoulder injury to backup quarterback Caleb Hanie has elevated sixth-round pick Dan LeFevour to No. 2 on the depth chart, giving him increased practice reps and additional playing time in the second preseason game, but he struggled for the second straight week.
Detroit LionsThe Lions continue to bring in refugees from incompatible systems. They have rescued tight end Tony Scheffler from a bad fit in Denver and defensive tackle Corey Williams from a bad fit in Cleveland.
The latest, defensive end Lawrence Jackson, a former first-round pick of Seattle that they got Wednesday for a sixth round pick in 2011. Jackson, though he started 24 of 32 games the last two seasons, had his position obliterated by new coach Pete Carroll's defensive scheme. The Seahawks were trying to turn the 267-pound Jackson into a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end.
"I was kind of caught in between two extremes there," said Jackson, who will turn 25 on Aug. 30. "I was the only guy over 260 (267) and under 280. It left me in a weird spot."
Even though he was a pass-rushing demon at USC, the Seahawks had pretty much reduced him to a run-stopping specialist.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
He is thrilled to be back in a traditional 4-3 system — even if he comes to Detroit as a backup to starters Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril.
"This is a great opportunity for me," he said. "This is a fresh start. I get a chance to play football the way I know how. I'm excited."
Coach Jim Schwartz isn't putting any limits on the role Jackson might play.
"He's a big guy with long arms and he plays with his hands very well," Schwartz said. "He's still really young and a change of scenery and a change of scheme can benefit him. But it's going to be what he puts into it and how he responds to it. He didn't get his career started the way he wanted to, but he's got a great chance to make up some ground now."
The Lions were desperate for some depth at defensive end. Veteran Jared DeVries, whom the Lions were counting on, has still not practiced because of a knee problem. There is concern he might out for an extended time. They released Jason Hunter, a former starter, at the beginning of the week, and had only rookies Willie Young, Chima Ihekwoaba and Korey Bosworth backing up Vanden Bosch and Avril.
The Lions are kicking the tires on a potential trade for safety help. The player Schwartz identified as the team's top defender in the offseason — Louis Delmas — has been slowed significantly by a groin injury.
It has the look of an injury that's going to hover all season, which is at least partly why the Lions' brass is keeping a keen eye on the goings on in Kansas City with safety Jarrad Page.
Page, 25, remains unsigned and has asked the Chiefs to trade him. The Lions, who have had interest in Page in the past, would be willing to talk should the Chiefs decide to grant his wish.
Camp calendar: Training camp technically breaks on Wednesday, though the Lions work out of their own practice facility in Allen Park. The only difference after Wednesday is practice is closed to media and fans. They are scheduled for two-a-days Tuesday and Thursday before hosting Cleveland on Saturday.
— Everybody is sick of talking about it but the topic of starting free safety Louis Delmas' injured groin isn't going away — nor, apparently is the lingering pain — any time soon.
"I guess it's just something I am going to have to deal with," Delmas said.
Delmas started training camp on the PUP list and didn't start practicing until the end of the second week. He's taken part in just two padded practices and hasn't practiced yet on consecutive days.
"You saw him on Wednesday, he can run around at full speed, but he's not at the point where he can put those kind of days on top of each other right now," coach Jim Schwartz said.
Delmas has been battling this groin injury since June. Schwartz is doggedly sticking to the plan, and to his belief that Delmas will be ready to go in the season opener.
Schwartz identified Delmas as the top defender on the roster in February. He was a difference-maker as a rookie, but the Lions' roster is devoid of options if Delmas is out for a significant period of time or the injury lingers.
— The Lions used Kevin Best and rookie Jahvid Best in the backfield together for a few plays in their 25-20 exhibition win at Denver. "I like the dimension that they bring," Schwartz said.
—Kicker Jason Hanson (knee) was on the field Thursday afternoon during field goal drills. He wasn't kicking the ball but he was going through the full motion of the kick, including the plant. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left (plant) leg on Aug. 3 and appears he will be ready to start the season.
— Schwartz was not pleased with the Lions' second-team defense Saturday. They yielded an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final 59 seconds of the first half. And they nearly gave up a winning 80-yard drive in the final 1:52 of the second half. "We did a poor job in both of those two-minute situations from a management stand-point," Schwartz said. "We let guys get out of bounds on that last drive. On the first drive we were biting the cheese on short routes and allowing the deep routes behind — just stuff that's not smart football. Like I said, our backups have to be able to produce because they are going to have to play. They are going to have to respond to pressure situations."
— Also disturbing to the coaches was the punt coverage unit. They allowed 41 yards on two punts, the worst a 65-yarder by Broncos rookie Perrish Cox. Two of their better special teams players were out, though — gunner Jonathan Wade (finger) and Vinny Ciurciu (unspecified injury).
— The defensive line had two encroachment penalties and one offside call go against them in the exhibition opener in Pittsburgh, and two more at Denver. They jump the snap repeatedly in practice.
Get used to it.
The first order of business for this defensive line is to get off the ball quick and be aggressive. They will live with the odd 5-yard penalty.
"We're wired and when the center has his hand on the ball, if anything twitches, we're going to go," said defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. "There are going to be times when we're drawn offside. It's one way for an offense to slow a fast, attacking defensive line.
— The Lions waived veteran DE Jason Hunter, a former Packer, last Monday. Hunter was a part-time starter last season but had fallen off the depth chart. He was signed by Denver.
RB Jahvid Best is closing in on the starting job. He averaged 6.1 yards a carry (49 yards in eight carries) against the Broncos. DT Ndamukong Suh is getting stronger and more confident every week. He drew double teams again Saturday, and had a tackle and batted down a pass. ... DE Willie Young continues to show flashes. The Lions released Hunter partly because of the potential Young, a seventh-round pick, has shown. After a week or more of poor practices, he made five solo tackles at Pittsburgh. At Denver, he sealed the 25-20 win with a sack-fumble on the Broncos final drive.
Brett Favre's late, and expected, arrival in Minnesota means that Jackson is back to being the No. 2 quarterback and Rosenfels will be behind him, if the veteran isn't moved.
Rosenfels is due to make $2.6 million this season — a big salary for a third quarterback — but there could be an argument made that keeping him around would be a wise choice given that sixth-round pick Joe Webb appears in no way ready to play in a regular-season NFL game.
Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images
Nonetheless, Vikings veterans Jared Allen, Steve Hutchinson and Ryan Longwell were dispatched to Mississippi last week to convince Favre to return to the Twin Cities with them. The move worked and Jackson again find himself waiting his turn.
"I'm not saying I'm happy the guys went down there, but it's their prerogative," said Jackson, who has been nothing but classy through the last few years of Favre's wavering on whether to play. "Those guys chose to go down there and try to get him to come back. That's what they did. I just have to live with it."
That doesn't mean Jackson has to like it and perhaps next offseason he can do something about it. Not that his resume is going to have teams knocking down his door, but Jackson figures to be a free agent if there isn't a work stoppage and he could look for a fresh start.
The issue with that, of course, is that Favre now says this will be his 20th and final season in the NFL and the Vikings' quarterback job could be wide open.
That might be reason for the team to consider hanging onto Rosenfels, who will be due $3 million in 2011.
"Those guys are disappointed surely," coach Brad Childress said of Jackson and Rosenfels. "Tarvaris has had a great training camp. Sage obviously played very well (in the preseason opener at St. Louis). But they also have a good relationship with (Favre). We'll just see how it goes forward."
The same could be said to be true about the Vikings' entire quarterback situation after this season.
Camp calendar: Camp in Mankato, Minn. closed with two practices on Aug. 12. The team will conduct its remaining practices at its Winter Park headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn.
— With Favre back in place, the Vikings again will be expected to contend for a Super Bowl berth. However, there are some real concerns that remain for this team and its offense.
Rice has yet to take part in any training camp practices because of a hip injury that he sustained in last season's NFC title game. He remained on the physically unable to perform list.
Rice is entering the final season of his rookie contract and the fact he is due to make only $550,000 also was believed to be a factor in his decision not to rush back.
Rice said on Friday that he still feels, "a little bit of pain," when he goes full speed and isn't sure if he will be ready for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Saints.
Up until that point, he had expressed confidence that he would be ready to go for that game. Rice's presence was key to Favre's success last season as he led the Vikings with 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns en route to earning a Pro Bowl spot.
Rice, who often used his 6-4, 202-pound frame to his advantage against smaller cornerbacks, added 10 catches for 184 yards and four touchdowns in two postseason games.
Harvin, meanwhile, also has done little work in training camp as the NFL's offensive rookie of the year in 2009 continues to suffer from migraine headaches.
Harvin's grandmother passed away in late July, causing him to leave the team, and he did not return for 15 days after an issue he has had since he was 10 years old flared up.
Harvin returned to the Vikings on Aug. 16 but collapsed on the practice field on Thursday because of a severe migraine. Childress knows there is no quick fix. Harvin dealt with migraines last season, missing several practices and a game, and at one point went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"I don't know if we're going to solve that riddle immediately," Childress said.
Without Rice and Harvin, the Vikings top receiver is Bernard Berrian and No. 2 on the depth chart behind him would be Greg Lewis, followed free agent Logan Payne. The Vikings worked out free agents Brandon Jones and Javon Walker late last week but did not immediately sign either.
— The Vikings sold 800 season tickets in the 48 hours after Brett Favre decided to return to the team last week. The club was expected to cut off season-ticket sales early this week.
— Childress was asked about a report by Yahoo! Sports that cited multiple team sources as saying Favre's disdain for the coach runs deep.
"I don't know that much about journalism," Childress said. "I know that most people write with a source. You can ask Brett about that. I'm probably biased in how I look at it. You can ask anybody on our football team. How do I look at it? You don't like it, but you deal with it. You sit at the top, everybody knows who they are shooting at. So they can say whatever they want to say and make an argument for it."
— Childress did not hide the fact he wasn't happy with the punishment Favre took in last season's NFC title game from the New Orleans defense. This included some late hits.
"In my opinion, yeah," Childress said when asked if he felt Favre was unduly punished. The Vikings and Saints will open against each other on Sept. 9 in New Orleans.
— Favre was seen carrying a bucket as he got out of Ryan Longwell's car last Tuesday after getting a ride to Winter Park from his friend. So what was in it?
"Metamucil. Calcium. All my essential vitamins," Favre joked. "No, it was actually protein powder."
— 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. Griffin continues to hold out hope he will be ready.
CB Chris Cook, the first of the Vikings' two second-round picks, has made a definite impression and is now taking snaps at both left and right corner. The 6-2, 212-pound Cook was scheduled to replace veteran Antoine Winfield after one defensive series in the Vikings' preseason game at San Francisco on Sunday night. Cook has play-making ability and appears to be comfortable playing at this level. ... RB Toby Gerhart, who also was taken in the second round, might have looked his best all of training camp in the Vikings' preseason opener at St. Louis. He rushed for 24 yards on eight carries in that game. Still, Gerhart has a lot to learn. The Vikings' hope is he can serve as Adrian Peterson's top backup, although Albert Young is battling Gerhart for that job. ... DE Everson Griffen (fourth round) is not only behind Ray Edwards at left end but also Brian Robison, who is used as a situational player. Griffen figures to spend the only portion of this season learning on the job. ... Chris DeGeare (fifth round) has been getting some work with the first team at left and right guard. DeGeare looks like a lock to make the roster and could back up at both guard positions. ... LB Nate Triplett (fifth round) probably will have to make the team based on his abilities on special teams. That isn't going to be an easy task. Triplett likely will end up on the practice squad. ... Joe Webb (sixth round) is now the fourth quarterback with Brett Favre back. The Vikings like Webb's ability but could have to try to sneak him through to the practice squad if veteran Sage Rosenfels isn't moved. ...TE Mickey Shuler (seventh round) will battle for a roster spot but it's going to be difficult with Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Jeff Dugan and Garrett Mills all on the roster. Don't be surprised if Shuler spends a season on the practice squad. ... FB Ryan D'Imperio is almost certainly headed to the practice squad. A fullback at Rutgers, D'Imperio is raw and needs plenty of coaching.
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