Around the NFC North
Mike Tice is the Bears' new offensive coordinator, but this year, more than ever, it will be Jay Cutler's offense on the field.
Management has provided its franchise quarterback with Brandon Marshall, the receiver who was Cutler's go-to guy in Denver when he threw for a combined 8,023 yards in 2007 and '08.
"He's a guy that I've missed," Cutler said. "It's good having him back. He's a little bit different guy than he was in Denver – in a good way."
Cutler's new quarterbacks coach, Jeremy Bates, worked closely with him and Marshall those two big seasons in Denver. Aside from Kristin Cavallari, the Bears couldn't have hired anyone who works better with Cutler.
"Jeremy has a really good feel of what I like to do and what I don't like to do," Cutler said after Wednesday's OTA practice. "There were plays out here that I told him, 'I don't like them. Let's think about getting rid of them.' And he's fine with that, and coach Tice is fine with that.
"It's a give and take, and that's a breath of fresh air around here, being able to give ideas and everyone giving ideas and let's pick the best ones that work for everybody."
That wasn't the case last season under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, when the offense operated as more of a dictatorship then a democracy.
Cutler is looking forward to utilizing the most talented collection of skill-position players the Bears have possessed in more than 20 years. And his passing-game weapons aren't just better; they're bigger. The addition of two big wide receivers – the 6-4, 230-pound Marshall and 6-3, 216-pound rookie Alshon Jeffery – gives Cutler much bigger targets than he's had in three previous seasons with the Bears.
"It changes things, (like) where you can throw the ball, (and) when you can throw the ball," Cutler said. "Those guys are getting better and better each day."
Marshall caught 206 passes in the two full seasons he played with Cutler as a Bronco. He was asked to explain their past success.
"We're two guys who are really passionate about the game," he said. "But I think the most important thing is that we see the field the same. A lot of times you have to wing it out there, and we seem to be on the same page when we do that. That's what the great ones do – see the field the same way."
Cutler believes Marshall's presence will help the entire receiving corps, and not just with his own catches, yards and touchdowns.
"Game-day-wise, he's going to attract a lot of attention," Cutler said. "He's going to attract a lot of coverages. Guys on defense are going to have to decide with Matt (Forte) and Brandon and all the other weapons, what they're going to give us.
"Are they going to let us run the ball or are they going to let us pass the ball? He helps those guys. And he's been through a lot of adversity. He's had some great seasons. So he's able to pass on to these young guys some of the good and bad things he's done."
There are plenty of both, bad and good. Marshall's off-the-field incidents involving alcohol and violence against women have been well documented, and he's been up front about striving to improve. But he also sees room for improvement on the field, even though he's put up monster numbers for the past five seasons.
"In 2008 we finished No. 2 in offense and everyone says we were really successful, and even we walk around sometimes saying it," Marshall said. "But when I look at film now, I think we were terrible. We were just young and immature out there on the field, not understanding the big picture of the offense and the game itself. To see where we're at now, where our football mind is at now, it's going to be really dangerous."
Cutler threw for a career-high 4,526 yards in that 2008 season and Marshall caught a career-best 104 passes for 1,265 yards, a year after catching 102 passes for a career-high 1,325 yards.
"We made plays, but 4,000 yards, that's on paper," Marshall said. "Compared to everyone else around the league, that's good, but when you look back on it, we left so much on the field."
You'd think the big no-show news from the first week of organized team activities would involve defensive end Cliff Avril, who still hasn't signed his $10.6 million franchise tender.
But no, it was second-year receiver Titus Young who stole the headlines.
During a voluntary training session at the Lions' practice facility two weeks ago, words were exchanged between Young and safety Louis Delmas. Young lost his temper and sucker-punched Delmas.
Young has not been to the facility since. The Lions balked at reports that he was banned or suspended, and would not comment specifically on the incident or Young's absence.
"This is the voluntary portion of our offseason," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We're not in mandatory minicamp. I am not commenting on which guys are here and which guys aren't. They are all accounted for. We are aware of the reasons each one is not here or not participating and we will work through these things as we go."
Schwartz would not discuss when Young would be back with the team.
"It's one of those things that happen all the time," said veteran receiver Nate Burleson. "When I played in Minnesota, we fought like every other day and that was the closest team I had been on up to that point. A scuffle that happens once at every eight or nine months here, that just shows you how rare it was – we don't even do it that often."
Burleson did not see the altercation and he deferred questions about Young's return to Schwartz, who did not address the media on Tuesday. But Burleson was adamant that the incident not be blown out of proportion.
"We have a great team here and we hang out more off the field than we do on the field, and that includes TY (Young)," Burleson said. "When he gets back to work it will be business as usual. We're not concerned. There isn't any cancer on this team or anybody that's dragging us down.
"We have a strong team here that's headed in the right direction."
Nationally, the Lions have a reputation as a talented but immature team. The on-field blowups of Ndamukong Suh, Young and others last year, plus the three marijuana-related arrests this offseason to Mikel Leshoure, Nick Fairley and Johnny Culbreath – all, like Young, members of the 2011 draft class – have fueled the reputation.
Burleson isn't buying it.
"I am not going to start questioning the organization and the people they have selected to come here because of a couple mistakes," he said. "In life that is going to happen, especially when you are young. I just hope people don't listen to exaggerated stories and I hope they realize that we all make mistakes."
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is starting over in one regard this year.
With four pro seasons as a starting quarterback, a Super Bowl victory and a league MVP award under his belt, Rodgers has been consumed this spring with breaking in a new center.
Scott Wells, the Packers' best lineman last season and Rodgers' trusted delivery man since 2008, bolted the team after eight years to sign with the St. Louis Rams as an unrestricted free agent.
Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson countered by getting another veteran on board so as to not disrupt the high rate of execution by the offense with Rodgers at the helm. That replacement is Jeff Saturday, previously the longtime running mate with another stellar QB, Peyton Manning, in Indianapolis.
The Packers snatched Saturday in free agency, signing him to a two-year deal worth close to $8 million.
The transition from operating with Wells to Saturday has been a work in progress after a little more than a month of the team's offseason program, but Rodgers likes the addition of the 14th-year veteran.
"He's doing good," Rodgers said after the team's first practice session in organized team activities May 22. "It's going to take a little time, I think, (for him) to get used to the cadence variations and some of the little things we do, but he's going to be fine."
Although the vertically oriented and up-tempo nature of the offense run by the Colts when Manning directed it up until he missed all of last season with a neck injury has similarities to the Packers' pass-first scheme, Saturday is learning all over again.
"There's nothing transferrable," said Saturday, referring to the terminology used in Indianapolis and how the verbiage is vastly different in Green Bay's playbook.
For that, Saturday is thankful he hooked on with a team that has an established and highly successful quarterback after the All-Pro center took a pass on following a healthy Manning to the Denver Broncos.
"The thing that probably impressed me most about Aaron when I first got here is he knows all of the offensive-line checks, he knows where to put us, why we're going there," Saturday said. "That's important for a quarterback, to know where every piece fits. And, you feel comfortable that as long as we're on the same page, no matter what the call is, as long as we're all doing it the same way, we can block it up and he can make plays down the field.
"That was the same way with Peyton. As long as we all knew who was responsible for who, we can move the ball up and down the field. They're very comparable in that way."
Saturday, who turns 37 on June 18, will have plenty of time to build a rapport with Rodgers as well as what appears will be only two young backup quarterbacks going into training camp in July.
In the process of signing veteran defensive end Phillip Merling on May 23, the Packers cut two players, including quarterback Nick Hill.
Green Bay had signed Hill, a first-year player who starred in the Arena Football League, after last season ended.
That leaves the Packers with first-year player Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman, a seventh-round draft pick this year, as the understudies for Rodgers.
A day before the team released Hill, head coach Mike McCarthy didn't seem hung up on needing to have several quarterbacks in camp this summer.
"How many quarterbacks we take to training camp really is (based on) what's going on at the other positions," McCarthy said. "It's always an overall talent evaluation on your roster. We don't have a board that says you take this many players to camp at this position.
"Aaron's an excellent mentor," he added. "He spends a lot of time in the (quarterback) meetings just doing the little things. I feel very good about the opportunity for growth in that room. I'm confident we'll be where we need to be at the quarterback position."
The free-agent loss of Matt Flynn, Rodgers' top backup the last four years, for a starting opportunity with the Seattle Seahawks prompted Harrell to get serious about winning the No. 2 job this year. Harrell has been a developmental player with the Packers since they signed the former Texas Tech standout two years ago.
Harrell said on the first day of OTAs he improved his arm strength and put on about 15 pounds of muscle weight in an intense training program at a facility in his native Texas.
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