NFC North news, notes and quotes
Now that the Bears have accumulated more offensive skill-position talent than they've had in a generation, offensive coordinator Mike Tice has to figure out how best to utilize the different components.
"I think he's got probably the hardest job in the building of being able to mesh these offensive players with different schemes," quarterback Jay Cutler said after a minicamp practice at Halas Hall. "It's always hard as a first-time coordinator installing your offense and getting it up and running for Game One. He's got a tough gig, but he's doing a great job. He's listening to a lot of different guys and taking everyone's opinion into consideration and then trying to find the best solution."
Finding the ideal role for everyone may be a challenging job for Tice, but no coach ever complains about having an abundance of talent. In his first year running the Bears' offense, Tice is working to build a consensus among players and coaches.
"The communication across the board has been fantastic," Tice said. "Amongst the players and between the coaches and the players, you see a good rapport, and that's always important. At the end of the day, we are all in it together, and we're trying to do one thing – that's win a championship. We need them, they need us, and if we work together toward that goal, we'll be successful."
The biggest goal is to provide Cutler with the highest level of comfort possible. Personnel wise, his relationship with Earl Bennett goes back to their days at Vanderbilt, and he and Brandon Marshall put up sick numbers together in two full seasons with the Broncos. The goal is to do the same schematically, accentuating what Cutler does best and avoiding plays, throws and concepts that don't dovetail with his strengths and skills.
"It's stuff that I do well," Cutler said of Tice's playbook, which has the input of quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, an offensive assistant in Denver when Cutler and Marshall were there. "It's stuff that I know. I don't know if ‘tailored' is the right word, but it's stuff that, as a quarterback, you want to be in the same offense over and over and over again so that you get a good feel for it so that you know all the nuances. This offense, I was in it three years in Denver. Now this is my fourth year, so it's something I'm very comfortable with."
According to Cutler, it's a collaborative effort, with aspects of what worked for the Broncos in 2007 and ‘08, and what has worked for Tice in the past when he was the Vikings' head coach and an assistant head coach with the Jaguars.
"There's a lot of carryover (from Denver)," Cutler said. "A lot of stuff that we did the last couple years. It's kind of a mixture of some stuff that Mike likes from his past, stuff that Jeremy has, he learned even more at Seattle (in 2009 and ‘10 with the Seahawks), so it's kind of a mixture of a lot of different things."
Unlike the system under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Cutler now has the option to audible.
"That's the word," he said with a wide grin.
Tice seems pleased with the offense as well. He said it's hard to tell what Cutler is comfortable with at this point because he looks good on every throw he makes. And the variety of talent at the wide receiver position has him optimistic.
"We have guys that can run and catch, make plays, play physical, and go take the ball out of the sky," Tice said. "We have to be able to get those athletes the football when the situations deems. We can't be afraid to throw the ball down the field against single coverage. We've got to be able to take advantage of that. Free access (to) a great player should be something that a defense should be punished for (allowing). I've always felt that, and we're going to make sure we do that."
Are the Lions gently easing jack-of-all-trades return ace Stefan Logan out of the picture? It's difficult not to think that when you see the moves the Lions made in the offseason and notice that Logan has worked exclusively with the running backs this offseason.
Coach Jim Schwartz, of course, immediately dismissed that notion, cautioning against reading too much into offseason deployment.
"He probably played more snaps at running back the last couple of years than he has any other position other than kick and punt return," Schwartz said. "He is a multi-dimensional player, obviously. He can play running back, receiver, he can return kicks and punts and he can cover kicks and punts. He's just continuing in the same role he's been in."
Maybe so, but consider this: Logan is listed as a receiver, yet the Lions have 13 other receivers in camp, including recently-signed veterans Maurice Stovall and Jarett Dillard.
The Lions drafted receiver and return specialist Ryan Broyles in the second round. They are also giving return reps to receivers Titus Young and Patrick Edwards and running back Joique Bell.
He has been taking first-team reps on both coverage units, but the Lions made no secret of the fact they drafted for special teams help with the likes of Ronnell Lewis, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Chris Greenwood and Bill Bentley.
If Logan is sweating any of this, he is doing an exceptional job of hiding it.
"When you start worrying about that stuff, that's when you start losing focus on what you really need to do," he said. "I am not out here worrying about who they bring in or who they have back there returning kicks or taking a few snaps.
"They've got to look at these guys in case something happens. Somebody's got to step up and they've got to know what these guys look like."
Logan, who turned 31 on June 2, is coming off what he called a down year. The league moved the kickoffs up five yards, which drastically decreased the number of returns. Logan had 22 fewer kickoff returns and 616 fewer return yards last season than he had in 2010.
His average punt return also went down by four yards.
"Last year was kind of a down year for us, as far as kick and punt returns," he said. "Some of the new rules played a role in it. I was kind of down about some of the stuff that came in, but when they make new rules you adjust to them and you move forward.
"I am not looking back on last year, I am looking forward."
Logan, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, is on the books for $615,000, so he's not eating up much cap space. He is hoping that his experience and versatility - he does the work of three or four players - will preserve his roster spot.
"I am just trying to do everything I can to help this team, whether it is at running back, receiver or special teams," he said. "I know my role is doing everything they ask me to do. Even if I had to go get on defense like (receiver) Rashied Davis did last year, I am on it.
"I am just trying to get in anywhere I can."
Green Bay Packers
As typically loud as Jermichael Finley has been in making such a revelation, Aaron Rodgers is being just as quiet with regard to the tight end and quarterback spending some quality time together this summer.
Finley said more than once in the final days of the Packers' offseason program he planned to head Rodgers' way in California. The outspoken tight end believes the workouts far away from Green Bay would be beneficial after referencing the "chemistry" – or lack thereof – between him and Rodgers in the passing game last season.
Finley matched his regular-season career high with 55 catches in 2011 and had personal bests of 767 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions. However, more than a dozen drops tainted his production.
"It's going to take both of us, man," Finley told the Green Bay Press-Gazette on June 12 during the team's mandatory minicamp. "It's going to take (Rodgers) to come to me. It's going to take me to come to him. That means we've got to meet halfway.
"Hopefully, we can do that, and hopefully, he gets on the bandwagon with me because I'm his guy," Finley added. "Hopefully, I'm his guy … it's got to go both ways. It's a must."
Finley hopes to train with Rodgers, a Northern California native who has an offseason home in the San Diego area, for three days sometime after the minicamp ended June 14 and before training camp starts July 26.
"(I'd like to) go down by A-Rod, marinate on him, get in his head a little," Finley said. "I've got to work out the details on that one."
When asked about having Finley as a visitor in the coming weeks, Rodgers smiled broadly and said, "Those are just rumors at this point."
Whether or not Finley is on hand, the NFL's reigning MVP is committed to working out vigorously during the players' last remaining downtime of the year. Rodgers indicated he will be on a training schedule for the better part of the six-week break.
"It's just picking up where I left off here (in the offseason program) and keep on rolling," Rodgers said.
Rodgers will go into his fifth season as a starter with the Packers' overloaded passing attack intact with possibly an addition or two in the receiving corps.
Practice-squad holdovers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel are among a number of young prospects who will be battling for perhaps one roster spot if the Packers wind up keeping all five incumbents: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb.
Rodgers singled out Borel as being an ascending player this offseason. The Packers moved the 6-0, 199-pound Borel back to receiver after he signed as an undrafted rookie last summer following a three-year stint as the starting quarterback at Utah State.
"Diondre Borel is a guy who gives us a different look because he plays a similar position (in the slot) to that of Randall Cobb," Rodgers said. "I think Diondre's made as big a jump as anybody from year 1 to 2. He really made the most of his reps on the scout team last year.
"He really understands the game," Rodgers added. "I think he has the luxury of being a quarterback in college, so he sees the game through a quarterback's eyes. That gives him a slight advantage over guys he's competing with because he understands timing and progression maybe a little bit quicker than some of those other guys. Diondre, I think, has had one of the top springs out of the guys who you were looking for to make a jump."
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