Around the NFC North
Personnel changes alone will give the Bears' offense a different look this season.
The addition of two veterans, No. 1 wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush; and two rookies, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Evan Rodriguez add multiple new weapons to the attack.
But there will be other differences between Mike Tice's 2012 offense and Mike Martz's 2011 offense.
"We're going to play fast, and we're going to make sure the players are able to show us their speed, explosiveness, quickness; and their toughness, if you will, up front," Tice said. "We're going to make sure they know what we're asking them to do, so they can go out and play fast. Not going on the field thinking, but going on the field and being athletes.
"We have some great athletes on offense," Tice added. "As coaches, we have to put them in a position to show us and the fans their athleticism and their explosiveness. We want to be explosive. We want to be able to get the ball down the field. We want to be able to run the ball explosively, and we're going to do those things."
The change in Tice's job description, from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, won't be a big deal according to the former Vikings head coach (2001-05).
"You're talking about managing people and putting people in position to do their jobs as best they can," he said. "I've been blessed to be a head coach in the league before, so I've had to manage people. You're talking about taking a bunch of ideas from a bunch of guys (assistant coaches) who have a chance to have some input. (Then) filtering through that information and putting it together on paper and deciding what the Bears are going to look like based on the talent pool that we have. That's what we're trying to do right now."
The Bears are in the process of going through the installation of the offense for the second time. It will be done for a third time during organized team activities, which start later this month and run through early June. A fourth installation will occur during training camp.
Coach Lovie Smith says the transition to Tice has been smooth.
"It's just like he's always been there, as far as I'm concerned," Smith said. "Mike's been in the league a while. He's been doing a super job just rallying and organizing our offensive staff, getting them all on the same page. I think you'll like the look of our offense this year. Again, it helps a lot when you get more weapons, which we've done. But I'm really pleased with what the staff has done."
None of that will matter if the play of the frequently disparaged offensive line doesn't improve in pass protection. Veteran guard Chilo Rachal, a starter for the 49ers in 2009 and ‘10 but a backup last season could help, but the draft brought no additional reinforcements. Tice, who will continue to work closely with the line despite his promotion, is OK with that, although questions remain, especially at left tackle.
"If (general manager) Phil (Emery) and Lovie, with the help of the scouts and the staff, felt that tackle was a dire need for us," Tice said, "I'm sure they would have answered the bell on draft day."
Tice said getting Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams back would help. Carimi played just two games at right tackle before a knee injury ended his rookie season. Williams started nine games at left guard before a dislocated wrist halted his season.
"With the change in scheme, the change in personality, an offseason (unlike last year) and getting some guys healthy, I think we'll make a big jump in the offensive line," Tice said. "We have a couple young guys who have played good football in half the scheme, if you will. They need to step it up in the other half of the scheme."
All things considered -- and all qualifiers about not drawing conclusions from a three-day sample duly noted -- coach Jim Schwartz was pleased with what he saw from the Lions' rookie minicamp last weekend.
"It's way too early to tell, but everybody showed why we drafted them," he said. "I think we are excited about every one of them. I don't want to sound like I am not excited about it because they did what we expected them to do. We were already excited about them. Maybe if you aren't expecting much you get a little excited.
"But we were expecting a lot."
Of the eight drafted players, first-round pick offensive tackle Riley Reiff, fifth-round cornerback Chris Greenwood and seventh-round linebacker Travis Lewis seemed to stand out.
Reiff, the only draft pick yet unsigned, appeared to be equally comfortable playing left and right tackle. He also took charge of his position group during the drill work. It took him a while to adjust to locking in on the defensive ends charging from the wide angles the Lions use, but he was mostly stout at the point of attack.
Greenwood's size and athleticism were as advertised. He may have come from a Division III school (Albion) but he did not look in awe or out of place.
Of the group though, Lewis might have been the biggest revelation. Almost completely overlooked on draft day (picked 223rd) despite leading Oklahoma in tackles for four straight years, Lewis looks like he will be in the fight for the open fourth linebacker spot this season.
"I just take it day by day and try to get better," he said. "If you are handling your business then everything else will handle itself. It's not my thought process to think about how many ‘backers are on this team and what spots are open and available to me. I just go out and do what they tell me to do and let them look at my skill-set and see where I best fit the team."
His ability to lead his group, to quickly learn the system and schemes at both outside and middle linebacker and to execute during seven-on-seven and full team drills was impressive.
"He's the one in this group that played both (outside and inside)," Schwartz said. "He was a four-year starter at Oklahoma and he's a smart guy with a lot of experience so it was easier for him to do that. You know how much we value multi-dimensional linebackers. They have to be able to do those kinds of things so it was important for him to show he could do those things."
Lewis said he's anxious to begin working with the veterans this week, though he knows he may have to tone it down more than he did this weekend.
"I am excited to see how fast it is and how everything moves," he said. "I've never had to compete for a job, never had competition. I've always been the top dog. So I am looking forward to being in an underdog role and going out there having to find my way, getting lost, getting yelled at - it's going to be fun to be in that position. I am going to embrace it."
He was by far the loudest player on the defensive side of the ball last weekend, but he knows he will be more of a listener when Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy show up this week.
"I am an outspoken guy," Lewis said. "I get excited about what I do and I try to get others excited. I am sure when the veterans show up my mouth will quiet up a little bit because that's not my role. I have to earn my place on this team."
Green Bay Packers
Having a player talented and worthy enough to follow in Clay Matthews' footsteps may be unthinkable, but the Packers are about to find out.
The team's rookie orientation camp, held May 11-13, foreshadowed what likely will be another position switch for Matthews in his spectacular young career.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had Nick Perry, this year's first-round draft pick, line up at left outside linebacker in the three practice days for rookies and select first-year players. That's the spot that has been occupied by Matthews the last two seasons.
"That will be the starting point for him," head coach Mike McCarthy said of Perry.
Matthews and Perry were teammates for a year in college at USC. The Packers' selection of Perry at No. 28 overall in last month's draft not only reunited the former Trojans but set the stage for them to become the bookend pass rushers at linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 system.
The Packers already took a leap of faith by taking Perry with the idea of moving him from defensive end to linebacker, where he has little experience of playing. Now, they apparently have every intention to try Perry on the left side - or "strong side" of the defense - and thereby free up Matthews to apply pressure on the right side.
Perry claimed to not have any inside knowledge on what's up Capers' sleeve with Green Bay under the gun after having the league's worst-ranked total defense and pass defense.
"They gave me a spot to play (in the rookie camp), and that's where I'm going to play," Perry said. "Hopefully, if all goes well, I may play the left side. So, we'll see.
"I just worry about today and focus on the rest later."
After Perry expressed before the draft he preferred to stay at defensive end, he isn't averse to going to linebacker and lining up on the opposite side from where he excelled as a pass rusher at USC.
"It doesn't matter," Perry said. "Last year, I played on the right side. The year before that, I played both sides. That's really not an issue. I can play both sides. I'm just ready to play."
Perry, however, doesn't seem to be inclined to cut weight. He reported to the rookie camp at about 270 pounds, which is on the heavy side for a player who will have to occasionally drop back into pass coverage.
"That (weight) will probably be where I end up playing," Perry said. "It's where I'm comfortable. Obviously, I have great athleticism. I guess they want to use that. Weight isn't really a concern."
If the apparent switch takes hold going into next season, the 255-pound Matthews will go back to lining up against many of the league's elite offensive linemen at left tackle.
Matthews' rapid rise to stardom began at right outside linebacker, where he had 11 sacks (including the playoffs) as a rookie in 2009.
Capers moved Matthews to the left side the following season, and Matthews performed at a higher rate with 17 sacks in the Packers' Super Bowl-winning season while finishing runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Matthews, though, encountered a heavy dose of multiple blockers last season from the left side, and his production dipped considerably to six sacks.
Fresh off signing a four-year deal for $7.5 million with a signing bonus of $4 million - the Packers signed all eight of their draft picks by the first day of the rookie camp - Perry wasn't ready to predict he will be the second coming of Matthews right away.
"I can't really say that I'm going to be the savior (for the defense)," Perry said. "But, I'm going to put my best foot forward to help the situation - just to try to help the team any way I can."
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