WR/KR Devin Hester isn't pleased with the league's decision to move kickoffs to the 35-yard line.
"They might want to put up the arena nets, because they are gonna be a lot of balls going in the end zone," Hester said on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. "I think it could hinder us a little bit because we dwell on good field position. ... They've gone too far, they're changing the whole fun of the game."
Hester had just 12 kickoff returns last season and Danieal Manning had 33. On the use of Hester, coach Lovie Smith said, "He didn't get into the mix as much as he probably would have liked. I liked what he was able to do in the return game. It's hard sometimes balancing both of them. I just know he's a dangerous guy with his hands on the ball, and it's up to us to try to find more ways to get him the football."
"I'm a big supporter of Jay Cutler. He is our quarterback," Phillips said. "He wants to be great, and we think he made great strides in his second year, and we think he's going to make even more strides, being with Mike Martz again, for 2011."
Calling Cutler "a great talent," who is "only going to get better," Phillips concluded, "The whole organization is behind him, 100 percent."
There's no doubt that QB Jay Cutler needs better protection than he received last year, when the Bears allowed the most sacks in the NFL. But it's almost as important that the Bears provide Cutler with more weapons in the passing game.
They currently have just three wide receivers with NFL experience under contract, since six-year veteran Rashied Davis is eligible for unrestricted free agency, and four-year pro Devin Aromashodu was not tendered a contract offer, so he will be free to sign with any team when free agency begins.
That leaves the Bears with only Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester returning in 2011, a group that is small in numbers and in physical size. None of the three are taller than 6-0, and only Bennett weighs more than 190 pounds.
Canadian import Andy Fantuz was signed to a reserve/futures contract last month, and the 6-4, 220-pounder is coming off a huge season (87 catches for 1,380 yards) with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But there's no guarantee he'll enjoy the same success in the NFL.
So the Bears will be looking for a big, rangy downfield threat at some point in the draft, even though coach Lovie Smith is downplaying the need.
"It's amazing," he said when asked if his team needed more size at wideout. "Bigger body, faster guy ... we're going to try to improve the receiver corps just like all our positions. But our receivers did some good things this past year. Johnny Knox had some games where he really played well."
Knox did play well. His 960 receiving yards were 399 more than the Bears' runner-up, Bennett. But there were also games when Knox wasn't much of a factor. He had five games with less than 35 yards, and Hester seemed to regress a bit as a receiver while recapturing his magic in the return game.
The Bears have several areas of need. This year it's even more difficult because, unlike other years, there probably won't be a free-agency period preceding the draft due to the work stoppage. Free agency usually begins early in March, and teams can start to shore up areas of weakness then. But, for now, the only help available is through the draft.
Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki has the Bears taking Miami offensive lineman Orlando Franklin with their first-round pick.
The 6-6, 315-pound Franklin was a three-year starter for the Hurricanes, and he played the all-important left tackle spot as a senior, after previously starting at guard.
Nawrocki explained his pick: "Although G.M. Jerry Angelo might prefer to find a replacement for Tommie Harris with this pick, the board could be more favorably filled with OL talent. Franklin could be the most physical blocker in this year's draft and perfectly fits the nasty disposition that OL coach Mike Tice seeks in the trenches."
QUOTE TO NOTE:"I really don't care where we have Chris, personally. I want to make sure that when everything plays itself it out, after we get through this period of allocating players, that we get the five best players on the field." - GM Jerry Angelo on OL Chris Williams.
QB Matthew Stafford said on Twitter he was going to begin throwing this week. Coach Jim Schwartz said, "Everyone is pleased with his rehab. We don't anticipate any difficulties going forward. I get reports on a consistent basis. We can't supervise the workouts but we can communicate with those who are supervising the workouts."
Asked about Stafford being affected by the lockout, Schwartz said, "I've heard a lot of people talk about young quarterbacks and the potential of missing offseason workouts and how it sets them back in their development. I know enough about Matt to know we're not really talking about that. We're talking about his health, not that he needs to learn the offense or he needs to become a more accurate thrower or he needs to learn the defenses or his work ethic needs to get better. He's not dealing with issues like that. He's dealing with the ability to be on the field and we are confident he is going to get that behind him."
The league announced the Lions and Chiefs would swap draft positions in the fifth round, with the Lions also forfeiting a seventh-round pick.
Romeus said he's impressed with the team's defense. He said, "The Lions' defense is much different compared to other defenses that I've seen. It works. I love the way their scheme is presented with the way they're playing and just the hustling that they have on the field. It would be a great fit for me."
The Lions also have had visits from Colorado CB Jimmy Smith, Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara and Cal DE Cam Jordan. They have workouts scheduled with Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray, Virginia Union OT Dave Mims and Fresno State LB Chris Carter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think that there will be an agreement anytime soon. I'm saying that I'm not too hopeful, but I'm working out right now as if I'm getting a call any day that things are back on." – WR Nate Burleson.
Green Bay Packers
At the league meeting, coach Mike McCarthy was asked about the futures of LBs Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar, who both finished the 2010 season on injured reserve.
Said McCarthy: "You have to look at the whole football team and how it fits together. Ted (general manager Ted Thompson) has made it clear from day one that we're going to keep as many good football players as possible. I don't look at that position any differently. That was an extremely competitive position going into camp last year. We felt from a depth standpoint it was clearly one of our better positions, and thank goodness it was with the injuries to both Brandon and Nick, we didn't miss a beat and A.J. (Hawk) and Desmond (Bishop) had excellent years and deserved those contracts. I don't really like to ever comment on medical situations because really a lot of this lays in the hands of what the doctors think.
Grant told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his weight dropped about 20 pounds to as low as 204 in the weeks after he sustained a torn ligament because he was on crutches and couldn't work out.
The team's top back no longer is rehabilitating the injury and has resumed his regular offseason training.
With the players barred from the team's facilities in Green Bay, Grant plans to join teammates Nick Collins, James Jones and possibly Brandon Chillar, who missed the last two months of the season because of a shoulder injury, for 7-on-7 drills with other NFL players in Florida.
The strong-legged Crosby's touchback numbers figure to spike if a proposal by the NFL competition committee is approved by league owners at their annual meeting in New Orleans next week. The point of kickoff would be moved up five yards to the kicking team's 35-yard line. Any touchback, however, would result in a starting spot of the receiving team's 25-yard line, an advancement of five yards from the longstanding policy.
Crosby is headed to free agency whenever the league resumes business but is expected to be re-signed by the Packers.
He was among the league leaders in touchbacks his first three years as a pro with 14 in 2007, 17 in '08 and 12 in '09.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I do feel like there will be football at some point. But, maybe this needs to happen. Being a part of this from my stance might hurt me individually and might hurt my age group, but maybe this needs to happen for the younger guys down the road so that they're in a better position, so that for the future this doesn't have to happen (again)." – Running back Ryan Grant, on the league lockout.