Season of hope in the NFC North
Boise State coach Chris Petersen has known all along what NFL scouts realized this past season and many draft prognosticators didn't figure out until after the Bears chose defensive end Shea McClellin 19th overall.
"Shea McClellin is a trained assassin on the football field," Petersen told the Idaho Statesman. "That guy has been such an unbelievable player for a long time for us and completely and totally underrated, I think, in the public eye. I don't think so much in our opponents' eyes and certainly not in our coaches' eyes. I just think all that's coming to light right now."
From a town of 1,000 and a high school graduating class of 37, all the way to the Chicago Bears.
That's the path McClellin has journeyed, his life grounded by growing up on his grandparents' farm in Marsing, Idaho, and nurtured as a well-kept secret at Boise State. He was raised on that 20-acre farm on Chicken Dinner Road in Marsing after his grandparents adopted him as a toddler.
"My mother didn't have enough money, and my dad didn't really want a part of me, I guess you could say," McClellin told the San Diego Union-Tribune last week. "But my mother was there for me. She tried as much as she could to see me, be there for me.
"(My grandparents) stepped up and did what they needed to do. More than anything, they taught me how to be humble, and that's something I'll (have) with me for the rest of my life."
McClellin has been under the radar for a long time, but that's understandable when a player comes from a tiny high school and then plays in the Mountain West Conference. He didn't coast to the big time. Often he toiled in relative obscurity, overshadowed by a prolific offense.
"I think it's very tough just because I came from a small school, and I wasn't rated very high," McClellin said after being selected by the Bears. "Boise State really liked me. They thought I could do big things (and) it played a big role in my life. Coach 'Pete,' helped me out so much, not just for football but in life, teaching me to be a man. That's why, as a team, we're great. Props to coach Pete and the rest of the coaches there because they definitely get us right, not only as players but as young men as well."
No one disputes the speed, character or work ethic that helped McClellin pile up 16.5 sacks the past two seasons. The level of competition he faced and his lack of size draw some scrutiny, but at 6-3 1/2 and 260 pounds, he ran a 4.63-second 40 at the Combine. The only defensive end who ran faster was West Virginia's 245-pound Bruce Irvin, who went 15th overall to the Seahawks. Only three linebackers ran faster.
"To all the doubters, I'm going to have to go out there and prove myself, and I'm used to that," McClellin said. "I came from Boise State. We had to prove ourselves every week, so I'm used to that, and that's what I'm out to do every day."
It'll be different in Chicago, a town that, before Friday, McClellin had only experienced while on a layover en route to somewhere else. In his home town there's already a billboard dedicated to his Boise State exploits, and he's known to everyone by just his first name, as much due to the size of the town as his fame.
"There always some little adjustments," McClellin said. "Life off the field, people are going to treat you differently. On the field, just the speed of it (is different). For myself, I don't think that's an issue. I think for everyone it takes a little bit of time. Other than that, I think the hardest thing will probably be just the mental aspect of it. You've got to get your mind right for sure and just be able to handle everything."
McClellin doesn't have to do everything for the Bears, just give them a better pass rush than they had last season, when they were 29th, with just 33 sacks, 16 less than their opponents.
"I can't wait to play alongside (Julius) Peppers, (Brian) Urlacher, (Lance) Briggs, the whole defense," he said. "It's going to be awesome."
The Lions remain optimistic that running back Jahvid Best will be ready to compete fully at the team's mandatory minicamp June 12-14.
"He's been doing everything in the offseason program, and we expect he'll be cleared sometime probably in June," general manager Martin Mayhew said in a local radio interview last week. "We look forward to having him on the field."
Although Best has been working out since December, he has not been cleared for contact. The Lions do not expect him to take the concussion tests until right before the minicamp.
"Those doctors felt like it just made sense to do that in June," Mayhew said. "It gives him the most time. We are not doing anything that involves any contact, and he's been cleared to do everything that we're doing right now (conditioning)."
So, despite the optimism, there are no guarantees - which made it a bit surprising the team opted not to draft a running back last week.
Not only is there uncertainty regarding Best, second-year power back Mikel Leshoure is coming off Achilles tendon surgery and stands to be suspended up to four games after two marijuana-related arrests this offseason.
Leshoure, who has been conditioning with the team and expects to participate in the minicamp, has a preliminary exam scheduled for May 11 in Berrien County District Court. The maximum penalty if convicted on a second charge would be up to two years in prison.
The Lions did sign one undrafted rookie free agent, speedster Stephfon Green from Penn State. He will be in camp along with Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams and Joique Bell.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Charles Woodson didn't hold back at different times last season with his criticism of the atrocious performances turned in by the defense, especially the 37-20 upset loss to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Less than four months after the forgettable end to an otherwise remarkable season for the Packers, Woodson changed his tune and spoke in positive terms after general manager Ted Thompson went about trying to fix the league's worst-ranked unit.
"We drafted what we needed. And we needed a whole lot of help on defense. Anybody who watched our season last year understands that," the veteran cornerback told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel when he appeared at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, D.C., on April 28.
The dinner was held shortly after the three-day NFL Draft concluded. Thompson used his first six of eight draft picks on defensive players, getting three of them by trading up three different times.
"That tells you that we're going to win another championship," Woodson said of Thompson's bold moves. "I don't believe we needed much (on defense), but I think we got more than we needed and that's even better."
When Woodson further credited Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and the team's scouting department for doing "a great job of bringing in guys that I think are going to help us right now," he couldn't have been more discerning.
The Packers not only will be counting on first-round draft pick Nick Perry to be the pass-rushing complement to Clay Matthews at outside linebacker, but they may have to depend on defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels early and often as well.
The additions of Worthy and Daniels in the early rounds of the draft look to be shrewd moves by Thompson, who undoubtedly was preparing to lose defensive end Anthony Hargrove for a portion of next season.
Sure enough, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday suspended Hargrove for the first eight games of the 2012 season for his involvement in the New Orleans Saints' bounty program.
Hargrove played for the Saints in 2009 and '10. The Packers signed him as an unrestricted free agent previously with the Seattle Seahawks in late March this year.
In meting out suspensions to four players, including linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season, the NFL office in a statement said Hargrove "actively participated" in the bounty program and "also actively obstructed the league's 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators."
The Packers declined comment on the suspension of Hargrove, who is expected to appeal Goodell's decision.
Hargrove has been in Green Bay since the start of the team's offseason program April 16. He will be allowed to continue working out with the team through the offseason and training camp before sitting out the first half of the season without pay.
Presumably with the knowledge Hargrove could face discipline from the league, the Packers didn't make a significant investment in the eighth-year veteran. They signed him to a one-year contract for a salary of $825,000 with no signing bonus.
The Packers will be without two defensive ends when next season opens. The league previously suspended Mike Neal for the first four games because of a violation of its policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Consequently, the learning curves will have to be expedited for Worthy and Daniels in their indoctrination to pro football.
Thompson made his first trade-up to take Michigan State's Worthy with the 51st overall pick. The 6-foot-2, 308-pound Worthy will be moved from tackle to end with the intent on getting him involved as a situational pass rusher beside nose tackle B.J. Raji, if not see if the rookie can be an every-down contributor.
"He's quick for a big guy," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "He's got good movement. He's got really good agility. He's got excellent instincts. He's one of the better players I've seen in a couple years on finding the ball very fast.
"I think he'll add some juice to our front, if he can get off blocks and do some of the things that we ask him to do."
The Packers will be looking for the 6-0, 291-pound Daniels to bolster the interior of the line after picking the former Iowa standout in the fourth round.
Green Bay has added four defensive linemen through free agency and the draft this offseason. Big tackle Daniel Muir, a fifth-year veteran, is back with the team after signing as a free agent.
"It's getting better," Trgovac said of the D-line group, which was a liability last season.
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