Around the NFC North
Long-time Bears scouts Marty Barrett and Chris Ballard have been promoted by general manager Phil Emery, who was a colleague of both men when he served as a Bears area scout from 1998-2004.
Barrett has spent the past 15 seasons as the Bears' West area scout, becomes the team's director of college scouting. Ballard, who has spent the previous 11 seasons as the Bears' Southwest area scout, will be the Bears' director of pro scouting. Tim Ruskell oversaw both departments last season as the Bears' director of player personnel under general manager Jerry Angelo, who was fired at the end of the 2011 season. Emery replaced Angelo in January.
"The focus during the selection process for the directors' position was not whether the scout came from a pro or college background, rather it was their level of skill as communicators and evaluators," Emery said. "We were also looking for people with a successful background in coaching, organizational and administrative experience.
"Chris and Marty's abilities in these important areas really stand out. Their high level of skill in these areas is why we placed them in these leadership roles."
Barrett spent three years as a scout with the New Orleans Saints (1995-97) before joining the Bears. Prior to scouting, he was an assistant to the athletics director/football operations at Rutgers from 1991-95 after serving as a graduate assistant/defensive backs for the Scarlet Knights for one season. From 1986-89, Barrett coached at his alma mater, the University of Buffalo, and handled the duties of recruiting coordinator during his entire tenure with the Bulls.
Before joining the Bears, Ballard spent seven seasons (1994-2000) as a coach at Texas A&M-Kingsville under 2012 College Football Hall of Fame inductee Ron Harms, including his final season as defensive coordinator.
During his time with the Javelinas, Ballard helped develop future NFL players Al Harris, Richard Jones, Karl Williams and Floyd Young, while also being a part of a coaching staff that developed first-rounder Jermaine Mayberry and current Bears center Roberto Garza.
"Our personnel department is a team of evaluators with a wide and diverse background," Emery said. "Our scouts, coaches and support personnel will work together to shape a roster in an effort to win championships. This diversity of backgrounds greatly enhances our collective efforts in the evaluation of perspective players' football abilities, as well as the players' fit for our scheme, locker room, team and community."
Kevin Turks, the Bears' assistant director of pro personnel the past five seasons, will be an assistant director of pro scouting along with Dwayne Joseph, a former Bears safety (1995-96). Joseph has 14 years of experience in scouting and football operations, spending the last eight seasons with the Miami Dolphins serving as a pro scout and adding the title of assistant director of pro personnel for one season in 2007. Turks is in his 11th season with the Bears. He has worked as a pro scout for the Bears since 2002 after serving as an intern in Chicago's scouting department in 2001.
Under the restructuring of the personnel department, Jeff Shiver will serve as the Bears' executive scout/assistant director of college scouting with a focus on the Big Ten Conference. He has 28 years of NFL scouting experience and is in his 26th year with the team. Shiver previously worked as an area scout for the Bears focusing on the Midwest region.
Two other long-time Bears college scouts remain in the organization. Rex Hogan and Mark Sadowski will both work as national scouts, working the West and East regions, respectively. Hogan joined the Bears as a college scout in 2003 after working five years in college football at Utah and Notre Dame in the areas of recruiting and football operations. Sadowski has 15 years of scouting experience with the New Orleans Saints (1998-2005) and the Bears (2005-12).
Ted Monago, who is in his 12th season in the Bears' scouting department, will serve as an executive scout with a focus on the Southeastern Conference. Monago has worked as an area scout for the Bears since 2003 after working as the team's BLESTO scout for two seasons.
Robyn Wilkey will serve as the executive assistant/scouting coordinator in her 15th season with the Bears. Kent Kahl, James Kirkland, Francis Saint-Paul and Sam Summerville have been added as area scouts, and Breck Ackley, Bobby Macedo, Zach Truty and David Williams as scouting assistants.
The Lions aren't expecting defensive end Cliff Avril to participate in the mandatory minicamp this week, but they want it known that he is more than welcome.
"We know he's working hard and we'd like to have him back out here," coach Jim Schwartz said. "But business is business. As soon as we can we will welcome him right back and hope that he will pick up right where he left off last season."
Avril has until July 16 to sign the $10.6 million franchise tender. In the meantime, he is hoping to work out a long-term deal with the Lions. If the tender is not signed and a long-term deal can't be worked out, Avril would have to sit out the season. He cannot play for another team this season.
Nobody expects the situation to get that far.
"We have the tender out and he is welcome to sign that any time he wants," president Tom Lewand said. "We continue discussions on whether we can convert that into something longer term, but in many ways, in terms of the tender, the ball is in his court."
Lewand wouldn't comment any further on the progress on the negotiations.
Avril, meanwhile, continues to train daily on his own.
"There's one thing that's been consistent with what's been going on and that is that it's a business decision; from the Lions' standpoint with putting the franchise tag on him, to his standpoint of not signing his tender and trying to work a long-term deal," coach Jim Schwartz said.
"None of that changes the way we feel about Cliff or his long-term future with our club."
Green Bay Packers
D.J. Williams has made his first offseason as a pro count for something.
The Packers tight end noted during the final week of organized team activities how he's been applying lessons given indirectly by veteran receiver Donald Driver.
"I worked on my agility watching Driver (on the TV show) ‘Dancing with the Stars' – getting my hips right, learning how to get in and out of breaks from watching him salsa," Williams said.
Driver and professional dance partner Peta Murgatroyd won the title in the latest season of "Dancing with the Stars." Driver's teammates met Murgatroyd when she made a special appearance at his charity softball game near Green Bay on June 3.
"She just gave me an influence to work hard," Williams said of Murgatroyd. "Maybe I can find a girl who looks like her."
Williams is one of several young Packers who are reaping the benefits of having an offseason filled with football, one year after a glaring absence of springtime activities and workouts because of the NFL lockout.
Randall Cobb, who was part of the Packers' 2011 draft class with Williams, remembers the drawn-out experience of no football all too well.
"It was a waiting game," the receiver said.
Cobb compensated for being barred from stepping foot inside the team facilities for the first time until the lockout ended in late July just before training camp opened by "working out every day, doing the little things that I could."
A year later, and with nearly two months of a structured offseason this spring under his belt, Cobb is on the ascent in his development as a pro player.
Head coach Mike McCarthy would like to get the football in the versatile and electric Cobb's hands more, particularly on offense.
While the second-round draft pick dazzled as a kick returner last season with two runbacks for touchdowns, Cobb had limited opportunities as a situational pass catcher lined up in the slot. He finished the season with 28 receptions and only one touchdown in 16 games (including the playoffs).
"Randall had an excellent rookie season. He contributed," McCarthy said. "I thought he made an impact on our special teams with his return ability. I look for him to take a step in the right direction there. And, now, he's more involved with what we're asking him to do offensively.
"I look for him to grow from year 1 to year 2," McCarthy added. "We have a long history of players growing from year 1 to 2, and I look for him to take that step."
The hope is Graham Harrell falls in line on that chart of progression as well, although the quarterback is on year 3 with the team.
This, too, is his first offseason of work with the Packers. He missed the quarterback school McCarthy holds each year early in the offseason in 2010 because Harrell didn't sign with Green Bay as a free agent until late May. Last year, of course, was wiped out by the lockout.
Harrell hasn't squandered his opportunities to run the offense this offseason and appears to have eased concerns about what the Packers would do about replacing departed free agent Matt Flynn (Seattle Seahawks) as Aaron Rodgers' top understudy.
"I think everybody would agree that Graham's throwing with more velocity," McCarthy said. "I would say that would start with him. That's a credit to really what he's done from the end of last season until now. He's stronger. He's done an excellent job in the weight room. He's done a few things fundamentally, where we can help him with his power side as far as the throwing mechanics, and you'll see that improve as time goes on.
"I think Graham's having a nice spring, but there's still things he needs to work on, and he will continue to do so. I really like his mental makeup, his awareness, his instincts. He has an excellent grasp of the offense."
The growth as a football player realized by Harrell and so many others this spring will continue for one more week this offseason. The Packers have their mandatory minicamp June 12-14.
McCarthy said the three practice days will be an extension of nine days of OTA workouts when the installations were made, but they will have an in-season purpose. The minicamp practices will stress the array of situational segments that are common to the team's Wednesday and Thursday practice days before a Sunday game.
The running game has long taken a backseat in head coach Mike McCarthy's pass-centric scheme.
McCarthy, however, has been encouraged in the offseason work about what his young group of halfbacks could add to the offense.
The Packers still are waiting on Alex Green to return to the field, which should happen at the start of training camp in late July. The promising third-round draft pick missed most of his rookie season in 2011 because of a torn ACL.
Fellow returnees James Starks and Brandon Saine, meanwhile, have caught McCarthy's eye, as have undrafted signees Marc Tyler and Du'ane Bennett.
"I like the way James Starks is moving," McCarthy said. "I'm anxious to see Alex Green out there. Brandon is so consistent, probably the most consistent guy we have back there. And, I think both of the young free agents have a chance, as far as their movement and ability."
Starks, who split most of the carries with since-departed veteran Ryan Grant (free agent) last season, has focused on his conditioning in an effort to build endurance to take into next season. Starks has been plagued by hamstring, knee and ankle injuries his first two years in the league.
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