NFC North Hot News

Veterans around the NFC North are becoming accustomed to their rookie competition, and the rookies are finding out what it takes to be competitive in the pros. We take a stroll around the division.

Hot News from the past week around the NFC North Division, with notes from, and


New stadium could hurt accuracy

In three seasons Paul Edinger has hit 69 of 86 field goal attempts. The Bears let him test the open market and decided to match the Vikings' five-year $7 million offer to keep the most accurate kicker in franchise history

However, it will be interesting to see if the wind off the lake hurts Edinger's accuracy. Two years ago Pittsburgh had placekicker problems at the open end of Heinz Field. The new Soldier Field is in a saucer shape, so winds shouldn't have as much of an impact, but the Bears' most consistent offensive weapon could have to make some adjustments.

Encouraging words
Bears head coach Dick Jauron on QB Rex Grossman, the team's second first-round draft pick: "I think he's going to get more accurate as time goes by, and I think he's accurate now. Very strong arm, very compact motion, things that we liked on tape. Watching him play in college, you know that he's competitive. And he likes to play."

Not intimidated by first-round pick
Phillip Daniels isn't bothered by the fact that the Bears spent their first-round pick (14th overall) on DE Michael Haynes.

"It just adds depth, that's how I look at it," Daniels said. "I'm not insecure about anything. This is a guy that's going to come in and help this team. I know what I can do. He's not pushing me at all."

Daniels is projected to start at left end, while Alex Brown will compete with Haynes on the right side. Haynes and Daniels have the ability to play either left or right end.

Getting time at safety
Travis Coleman, a cornerback by trade, picked off a pass and added three tackles while continuing to start at safety for the Berlin Thunder. The team's normal safety is out with an injury and Coleman spent time at the position during training camp with the Bears.

The fact that Coleman can play both cornerback and safety will only help when rosters have to be trimmed. He has also been returning kicks and punts in Europe.

Picked up
Undrafted free agent rookie S Cameron Worrell has been added to the Bears' roster.


He's whatever the Lions want

Coming from an NCAA Division II school -- even the national champion Division II school -- wide receiver David Kircus knows he's got something to prove before he makes it in the NFL. But Kircus, a sixth-round draft pick from Grand Valley State in western Michigan, isn't opposed to taking on the challenge. In fact, he expects it and you get the feeling he might even thrive on it.

"I'm a firm believer in that it's not where you start but where you finish," Kircus said. "I could be sitting next to (No. 2 pick in the draft) Charles Rogers and I'd have the same chance he does of making the roster and making the team, or getting cut. It's all about what you do when you get there."

In his senior season at Grand Valley State, Kircus caught 35 touchdown passes from quarterback Curt Anes, who was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Lions. And, although Kircus has a reputation as a big-play receiver -- helped along by his 4.41 speed and 40-inch vertical -- he says he will do whatever the Lions ask of him.

"I've never been portrayed as a possession receiver," Kircus said. "I've always been portrayed as a big-play receiver -- go downfield, go up over the defender and get the ball. But I'm going to be whatever they want me to be. Obviously, my first year I can't go in there saying, `You know what, I'm going to be a big-play receiver, throw the ball deep to me every time.' I'm just going to have to fit in where I fit in. Once I start making plays, they'll see that I can make the big plays and I might be portrayed as a big-play receiver, but I'm not going to go in saying that I am."

But if they want him to make the possession catches, that's fine too. "I think I'll be able to do both," Kircus said. "It's just something I'm going to have to prove, come camp time."

Tough pill to swallow?
The Lions have situated themselves favorably for the round of roster cuts that typically hit NFL teams on June 1. By renegotiating contracts with defensive end Robert Porcher and defensive tackle Luther Elliss, the Lions are in a position to shop the free-agent market rather than put attractive players into it.

The Lions completed Porcher's renegotiation early in the spring and this week came to terms with Elliss on a deal that is believed to have saved them $2.7 million in cap room. The deal could not have been an easy one for Elliss, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, to swallow. His base salary for the 2003 season was dropped by nearly 80 percent -- from $4.7 million to $1 million -- but the Lions reportedly included a $1 million signing bonus to ease the pain. But he indicated two months ago he would accommodate the Lions' desire to renegotiate his deal to give them more cap room flexibility and -- considering his production over the past two seasons -- Elliss had little choice.

Although Elliss has remarkable speed and agility for a man 6-feet-5 and 318 pounds, it was his strength that made him special in the early years. He was a powerful run stopper, capable of disrupting an offense with inside pressure because of his upper body strength. His production peaked with 81 tackles and 8 1/2 sacks in 1997, and 84 tackles in 1998. He made the NFC Pro Bowl team the following two years while registering 69 and 65 tackles in the 1999 and 2000 NFL seasons, but has struggled -- after elbow surgery -- the past two seasons.

Playing basically with one arm, Elliss was credited with 38 tackles (and no sacks) in 2001 and 42 tackles (with 2 1/2 sacks) last year. The Lions appreciated the fact he was able to play hurt but felt they could not afford the $4.7 million outlay for the reduced production. As a result, the renegotiation was necessary. The Lions did not adjust the remaining (2004 and 2005) two years on Elliss' contract, so if he is healthy and returns to his previous level of play in 2003, he could conceivably increase the size of his paycheck accordingly.

Porcher, who will be 34 before the start of the 2003 season, remains the most dependable defensive line performer. And Elliss, now 30, can be a dominating force if he is healthy. If the Lions can get improved production from third-year tackle Shaun Rogers and second-year defensive end Kalimba Edwards -- with a solid d-line rotation that includes Jared DeVries, James Hall and Kelvin Pritchett -- they should be effective up front. Just as importantly, they now have some cap room available to pursue free agents who are likely to become available on June 1 or shortly thereafter. A veteran cornerback, for instance.


Looking good at safety

Green Bay cornerback Jacoby Shepherd, 6-1 1/2 and 208, never had played safety in his life until a shortage of safeties prompted secondary coach Bob Slowik to request that he make the move in the post-draft minicamp. Shepherd has appeared to be so natural that the team plans to keep playing at both.

"I like Shepherd," coach Mike Sherman said. "He has shown some pretty good instincts and excellent ball skills." Shepherd is trying to resurrect a career that has included all kinds of academic woes, two years of junior college, one year as a nickel back at Oklahoma State, two years as a backup in St. Louis after being the Rams' second-round pick in 2000 and a lost '02 season.

"At one point in Houston last year I was 215 pounds," Shepherd said. "I wouldn't have a problem with tackling. I'm a good tackler."

Faster and quicker?
Secondary coach Bob Slowik says CB Bryant Westbrook, 28, appears faster and quicker than he did in 2002. If Westbrook keeps his weight in check, vice president of football operations Mark Hatley says he can more effective than Tod McBride.

"I don't know if you'd say he was slow last year or was slowed by his injury problems," Slowik said. "He's a big dude and he's under 10% body fat. He's competing his butt off."

Case ended with fine
RB Ahman Green will pay a fine of around $200 after pleading guilty to one of two citations stemming from a driving incident in January. The other citation was dropped as part of the agreement.

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