NFC North Hot News

The Chicago Bears caught the attention of the football world last week with an unprecedented sponsorship agreement. Meanwhile, other NFC North Division teams continued to tweak their training camp rosters.

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Banking on it

While the Bears weren't allowed to sell naming rights to the new Soldier Field they found a different route to cashing in. The Bears have come to an agreement with Bank One to allow the company to be a presenting partner.

The 12-year deal is reportedly worth $30 million and is the first of its kind in NFL history.

Bank One, the country's sixth largest bank, has had a relationship with the Bears dating back to 1934 when Bears founder George Halas opened an account at the bank. In the early years, the bank advanced the Bears money for player paychecks, with the Bears repaying the loan from that Sunday's gate receipts.

The bank will have their name featured prominently throughout the stadium, on game broadcasts, on certain non-game TV and radio programs, at training camp and at community outreach and other events. "Bears football presented by Bank One" will be a signature phrase for the team.

Although it is unique to the NFL, similar deals presenting partnerships are common in golf, tennis and college football bowl games.

The Bears are reportedly seeking similar smaller deals in an attempt to boost their profits in the new stadium.

Quarterback rift

According to a Bears insider, Kordell Stewart and Rex Grossman do not have a teacher and student relationship. Obviously, Stewart has to learn the Bears offense as does Grossman, but the veteran is reluctant to help a rookie that could eventually supplant him as the starter.

However, backup QB Chris Chandler has filled that role for Grossman.

Long road ahead

Defensive lineman Bryan Robinson missed the two weeks of spring practice that ended June 19 while being treated as an in-patient at an alcohol treatment center, and he could miss the start of training camp.

Robinson, who started 48 straight games at left end from 1998-2001, was arrested twice within a four-month span last year for driving under the influence. After completing rehab, he will be sentenced and the term is expected to last 30 days. If he serves the full sentence, Robinson would miss the start of training camp, scheduled to begin July 25.

Bears coach Dick Jauron has been a staunch backer of Robinson's while not condoning the pair of DUIs that got him into his current predicament.

"Our first thought is always the health and welfare of the player," Jauron said. "Bryan knows that he made an error. He made a terrible error in judgment, and he's got to pay a price; whatever price they determine that he has to pay. I'm certainly in agreement with whatever they've decided, and so is he."

Robinson has worked hard to regain the strength he lost last offseason when a mysterious fall at home resulted in a pair of fractured wrists. That kept him from lifting weights for most of the offseason and resulted in a weaker player during a 2002 season that was a major disappointment. Robinson lost his starting job at end last year to rookie Alex Brown, but he is expected to start at tackle this season or to be part of a three-man rotation inside with Ted Washington and Keith Traylor.


No concerns

The Lions have hopes that their second-round draft pick -- outside linebacker Boss Bailey of Georgia -- will be one of the steals of the draft.

While most teams were in open admiration of Bailey's speed and all-around athletic ability, he was passed over through the entire first round of the draft apparently because of concern over two previous knee injuries and his somewhat unimpressive tackling skills. Bailey has no reservations about his knee injuries.

"I had two ACLs," he said. "One was in '97 and one was in 2000. I played two full seasons, no games missed and I've been fine."

The Lions will work with Bailey over the pre-training camp part of the summer to increase his strength in hopes he will become their full-time starting strongside linebacker and a three-down player.

"I feel like I'm a guy you definitely want in there on passing downs because I have the ability to go cover guys, just be out there in coverage and use my speed," he said. "Kind of cover the field. "First and second down, I think my intensity carries me a long way with making big hits on the running back."

Rogers impressing Mariucci

Lions' rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers hasn't disappointed head coach Steve Mariucci thus far.

There was not much of a question about the talent of rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers. While rumors circulated through the league prior to the NFL draft that Rogers could possibly be tainted goods, the Lions have been pleased with the rookie following the team's latest mini-camp.

"Charlie (Rogers) has been hampered a bit with a hamstring, but he has been putting in the time with the offense and is learning our offensive scheme daily," Steve Mariucci said. "The hamstring has slowed his on-the-field progress. We expect he will be ready to be a full-go when training camp starts next month. We haven't had any issues with Charlie, he has been everything we expected and we have high expectations for him."

Latest releases

Division III standout receiver Todd Fry, who was signed following the NFL Draft as an UDFA, was released by the Detroit Lions June 26. Fry left Washington & Jefferson as the school's career reception leader (186 grabs). The receiver position remains incredibly deep in Detroit, and Fry likely won't be the last WR to depart.

The Lions also placed undrafted rookie free-agent Rob Vian on waivers prior to releasing Fry. The 6-4, 316-pound Boise State product plays both the tackle and guard position.


Running back signs

Free agent running back/fullback Adam Tate signed with the Green Bay Packers, the team announced. Tate was the second-leading rusher for the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe this season. Tate rushed for 207 yards on 53 attempts (3.9-yard avg.) and scored two touchdowns in the 10-week spring league. The Galaxy finished with a 6-4 record and beat the Rhein Fire in World Bowl XI last Saturday. Tate also caught 10 passes for 87 yards (8.7-yard avg.).

Tate, 25, signed as an undrafted rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars in April of 2002. He was placed on waivers late in training camp last year and was out of football until the NFL Europe season began.

Tate is a longshot to make the Packers' 53-man roster. Ahman Green, William Henderson and Najeh Davenport are locks to make the team. The other two spots will be up for grabs between veteran Lamar Smith, Nick Luchey, Tony Fisher, Reggie White, Jerry Westbrooks, Tommy Collins and Tate.

Tate split time at running back and gained 1,479 yards rushing in 320 attempts over two seasons at the University of Utah. He had 19 rushing touchdowns, which ranks seventh on the school's all-time list, including 12 as a senior in 2001, third on the university's single-season list.

Return specialist added

The Green Bay Packers today added NFL Europe standout Brian McDonald to their pool of return specialists. Green Bay, which ranked near the bottom of the league in punt and kickoff returns last season, will be looking at a handful of candidates when training camp opens next month.

McDonald averaged 27.8 yards on 14 kickoff returns for the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe this spring, ranking second in the league behind the Rhein Fire's Kendall Newson (28.7-yard avg. on 15 runbacks). He returned five punts for 43 yards (8.6-yard avg.).

As a receiver, McDonald caught 19 passes for 312 yards (16.4-yard avg.).

McDonald played for the Louisville Fire of the AFL2 in 2001 and set the league record for all-purpose yards with 3,289. He signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in January of 2002 and was allocated by the Eagles to play for Frankfurt. He finished the '02 season as the league's third-ranking punt returner (27 for 289 yards, a 10.7-yard avg.) and tied for 16th in pass receptions with 23 for 310 yards.

McDonald will be competing in training camp against free agents Antonio Chatman, Gari Scott and Erwin Swiney, draft picks DeAndrew Rubin, Carl Ford and Chris Johnson, and third-year pro Robert Ferguson for the right to return punts and kickoffs this season.

The Packers had the worst punt return unit in the NFL in 2002, averaging just 4.2 yards per return. The Packers were 26th overall in kickoff returns with a 20.4 yard return average. In 2001, the Packers also finished near the bottom of the league.

What are the odds?

Akili Smith did absolutely nothing during his four seasons in Cincinnati to make anyone think he could one day be the successor to Brett Favre in Green Bay. Then again, the Packers didn't have anything to lose. Thus, Smith signed a one-year contract with the Packers for a bargain-basement price that reportedly included a signing bonus of $15,000.

Now he will enter a crowded backup quarterback picture that includes old standby Doug Pederson, who is 35; second-year man Craig Nall, who is coming off an outstanding season in NFL Europe; and Eric Crouch, a former Heisman Trophy winner from Nebraska who quit last summer when the St. Louis Rams tried to make a wide receiver out of him.

"Talent-wise and stuff, when he came out of Oregon he showed a lot of talent in the workouts," Packers vice president of football operations Mark Hatley said. "You could see (in his workout for the Packers June 10) that he's still a very good athlete. There's a lot of things Akili brings to the table that you're excited about having. "Obviously, we're happy with Doug, and Craig had a heck of a season over in NFL Europe and Eric has done a nice job for us. He's progressed faster than we thought that he might."

Favre, who will turn 34 in October, has hinted that he might retire, perhaps as early as January 2004. The Packers didn't have a chance to draft one of the top four quarterbacks this year and went for Smith, who was the third player picked in 1999. Smith, 6-2 1/2 and 230, was drafted so high almost solely on the basis of his outstanding season for the Ducks in '98. He averaged 314 yards passing per game, throwing 32 touchdowns and merely eight interceptions. His offensive coordinator in '98 was Jeff Tedford, who also has developed Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller.

Smith, however, was a complete bust in Cincinnati. He played in 22 games in all, starting 17 and finishing with a 3-14 record. His career passer rating was 52.8.

"Every time he got in a game he seemed overwhelmed," a personnel director for an AFC team said last week.

Hatley said the Packers weren't concerned with Smith's numbers in Cincinnati. "I don't think you try to (explain his past struggles)," Hatley said. "I think you try to bring him and coach him up and see if he can fit into your system.

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