NFC North news, notes and quotes
Just minutes after his two-year contract extension was announced, Bears head coach Lovie Smith told a media throng at the NFL's Scouting Combine that he was looking forward to taking the next step after his team fell a game short of the Super Bowl XLV.
"I feel like we made progress," said Smith, who led the Bears to a third NFC North title in his seventh year as head coach. "We got some things accomplished but came up a little short at the end."
Still, Smith was rewarded with a two-year extension that will keep him with the Bears through 2013. He had one year left on the $22 million, four-year extension that he signed after the Bears' Super Bowl XLI loss to the Colts after the 2006 season, his second with the team. Smith was making $5 million a year, and although terms of his new deal weren't announced, he was expected to receive a slight raise.
"Of course, I feel great about the extension," Smith said. "Just like I have every day I've been in the job as the head coach for the Chicago Bears. It's a great organization with great players that come to work every day. I have an excellent coaching staff. I'm in position to be here to get that extension based on what players and our staff have done."
Smith is tied for the second-longest tenure in the NFC behind the Giants' Tom Coughlin, and he's tied for the fifth-longest tenure in the NFL.
Last year, Smith's Bears won the NFC North with an 11-5 record and advanced to the NFC Championship Game. But he is aware that his team has a difficult task next season, playing in the same division as the Super Bowl champion Packers, who eliminated the Bears in the NFC title game.
"We realize we have the Super Bowl champs in our division, and we're looking up to them," Smith said. "We're looking forward to this nest year of trying to get ourselves in position to where we can hold up the Lombardi Trophy."
The 52-year-old Smith led the Bears to NFC North titles in 2005, '06 and '10, achieving double-digit win totals in each of those title seasons. The three division titles since '05 are the second-most in the NFC, trailing only the Seattle Seahawks, who have four. Since 2005, the Bears and the Falcons are the only NFC teams with three 11-plus-win seasons.
Smith's regular-season record is 63-49, a 56.3 winning percentage, and he is 3-3 in the postseason. His 66 wins are third most in franchise history, trailing only Hall of Famers George Halas and Mike Ditka. He also guided the Bears to their first Super Bowl appearance in 21 years, which they lost to the Colts 29-17 after the 2006 season.
Smith, a native of Big Sandy in East Texas, was the Associated Press NFL coach of the year for 2005 after becoming the fastest head coach in Bears history to lead the team to a division title. They finished 11-5 after going 5-11 in Smith's inaugural season. He and Mike Ditka are the only coaches in franchise history to lead the Bears to consecutive division titles ('05 and '06), and Smith is the first coach in team history to reach the playoffs in two of his first three seasons with the club.
Since Smith became the 13th head coach in franchise history in '04, the Bears' defense leads the NFL in takeaways (235), opponents' third-down efficiency (33.8 percent), and it has the highest percentage of three-and-out drives forced (26.6 percent) and tackles for negative yardage (398). The Bears' defense ranks second in the NFL in interceptions (137) and fumble recoveries (98), third in the Aikman Efficiency Ratings for defense (78.8) and fourth in average points allowed (19.2) since 2004.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I believe in him. He's the anchor of our team; our team leader. Not the leader of the offense, defense or special teams; our team leader. So he's very important to what we do. I know he's without a contract right now, but I think Olin knows that he's wanted and that's not really even a question. " -- Bears coach Lovie Smith on 13-year veteran C Olin Kreutz, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
It looks like the Lions won't quietly accept the NFL's ruling that they tampered with former Kansas City safety Jarred Page before the 2010 season, a ruling that will cost them their seventh-round draft pick and 14 spots (from nine to 23) in the fifth round.
Coach Jim Schwartz, addressing the media at the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday, indicated the Lions might appeal the ruling.
"I think that too much has been said about something that should be confidential," Schwartz said. "I am disappointed so much has come out.
"But we have received that notification and I believe firmly in our case and that we reached the wrong conclusion in that. We still have some options we can pursue."
At issue was a comment made by defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham made during the 2009 season but printed in the Detroit Free Press last offseason.
The quote, published Feb. 14, 2010, read: "They keep wanting to dump players. I would like to be there to catch a lot of them, because I know a couple of those guys. ... Some of those young kids I coached, I really believed they were going to be good players, and I know I'm right about that."
Cunningham coached in the Kansas City organization for 19 seasons. It is believed he was talking about Page, who was involved in a contract dispute with the Chiefs at the time. He eventually signed with the New England Patriots.
The NFL indicated that the punishment doled out to the Lions wasn't based solely on the quote. Goodell ruled that Cunningham's actions amounted to "impermissible contact with a player (or his agent)."
"An appeal is one of our options," Schwartz said. "But, again, I will leave it at that. Too much has been said about this already."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Anybody that's been around Kyle Vanden Bosch understands why I was at his doorstep last year (on free-agent signing day). No. 1, he was outstanding as a player and anybody that's been around him understands how much he brings to you in addition to that. He's an incredibly hard worker. If anything, he's a guy that outperforms what he's asked to do. He's such a great example for free agency and for this league. We gave him a lot of money and Kyle feels as though it's his responsibility to earn that. We didn't give him that money based on what he's done in the past. He feels as though he needs to earn that. It's an absolute pleasure to have him. He's going to be a big, big part of our success as an organization." -- Coach Jim Schwartz on Vanden Bosch's impact.
Green Bay Packers
If the Packers are feeling any wobbly effects from their Super Bowl XLV victory and the ensuing celebration that featured live music from Kid Rock in the wee hours of the morning Feb. 7 at their hotel in North Texas, head coach Mike McCarthy is oblivious to them.
"A Super Bowl hangover? I thought that would mean because of all the extra alcohol," McCarthy joked Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "It's because of lack of sleep, is what it is."
McCarthy will have to wait a bit longer to catch up on the shut-eye. The 2½ weeks between the Super Bowl and the start of the Combine Thursday was anything but downtime for the architects of the league's reigning champions.
"I think it's a new season," McCarthy said. "I don't know if it (the lingering effects of winning the Super Bowl) hasn't hit me yet, but every time I ride down I-65 and I'm pulling into Indianapolis, it's time to move on to the next year."
That the Combine site, Lucas Oil Stadium, also will be the venue for Super Bowl XLVI next February ups the ante for general manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy to resist looking back at the delight that is in the rearview mirror and keep their eyes trained ahead.
"This league is about what's next. So, we're trying to get ready for the next play," said Thompson, who is in his element sizing up and picking the brains of the draft prospects at the combine.
The real threat of an NFL lockout beginning March 4 in front of them, the Packers already have ushered in changes as they set out to defend their title.
As he awaits a contract extension that would likely mirror the length of the pact that Thompson recently signed to keep calling the shots through 2015, McCarthy announced some significant alterations to his staff Friday.
Edgar Bennett, who starred as a running back for the Packers in the 1990s and coached the team's backs since 2005, takes over for Jimmy Robinson as the receivers coach. Robinson has been the only staff defection since the Super Bowl, going to the Dallas Cowboys to be assistant head coach and receivers coach.
McCarthy doesn't view the shift in duties for Bennett to be earth-shattering.
"I played tight end in college, so what the hell am I doing coaching quarterbacks?" McCarthy said. "I've seen that story written before.
"It gives (Bennett) an opportunity to expand his horizons and develop as a coach. This is an opportunity he jumped through the door; he wanted to do it."
Jerry Fontenot, who had been the team's assistant offensive line coach, will coach the running backs.
McCarthy said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who has deferred to McCarthy on the play-calling the last four seasons, would expand his responsibilities and help James Campen with the offensive linemen.
"This is about what's best for our offense," McCarthy said. "We're going to be better for it."
As much as the Packers project to be a better team than the injury-riddled 2010 outfit that found good fortune at the end of the season to roll to the league title as a No. 6 seed in the playoffs, their stout defense is expected to take a hit.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after the team didn't exercise the franchise or transition tag with him or any of its other prospective free agents by Thursday's deadline that he is "99-percent sure" he won't be re-signed.
Jenkins tied for second on the team last season with 7.5 sacks but was relegated to part-time duties in the postseason because of a chronic calf injury and is 30 years old. Jenkins has been upset since the team took a pass on giving him a contract extension during the season.
Thompson on Friday wouldn't specifically speculate on Jenkins' future with the team.
"We would like to keep all of our free agents," Thompson said. "We think that's good business, good policy, and we'll try to accommodate."
Thompson is taking a similar stance on whether the Packers, depending on what comes of the current labor unrest and a new collective-bargaining agreement, can afford to hold onto their high-priced quartet of inside linebackers: A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar.
"We'll see," Thompson said. "We'd like to keep our team intact as best we can. Those are business questions that we'll figure out as we go along."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody's been very gracious. They've said congratulations. I used to do the same thing. I didn't mean it. I was just being nice. They're being nice, and that's the way we do it. Everybody's very competitive in this league, and I'm sure we have 31 teams who are wanting a piece of us." - General manager Ted Thompson, on the flattery he's received from counterparts as a Super Bowl champion at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.
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