NFC North Hot News

Teams in the division are beginning to sign their draft picks and figure out which players they are counting on for contributions and which ones will be projects.

News bits collected from division sources LionsFans.com, PackerReport.com and BearReport.com.


CHICAGO BEARS

League to have their say with Bryan Robinson
According to the league, discipline for a second alcohol-related violation "is likely to be a suspension, the duration of which may escalate for repeat offenses."

The Bears and agent Mark Bartelstein are optimistic that Bryan Robinson will avoid jail time or at least have his sentence reduced.

"We're just leaving it in the league's hands," Bartelstein said. "Bryan's doing everything he can to get it sorted out the right way."

First Gator to sign
The Bears agreed to terms on a four-year contract with fourth-round draft pick Todd Johnson Wednesday. The deal is worth $1.8 million, including a signing bonus of $425,000.

Although, as a rookie Johnson's biggest impact will likely come on special teams, at some point he should compete for a starting job. He's played both free and strong safety while at Florida, meaning the Bears see him as a possible replacement for Mike Green or free agent-to-be Mike Brown. (Numbers: Johnson's deal is worth $1.795 million, including a $425,000 signing bonus and base salaries of $225,000 this year, $305,000 in 2004, $380,000 in 2005 and $460,000 in 2006. Johnson, a 6-1, 200-pound safety, was one of four players chosen by the Bears from the University of Florida. A three-time all-Southeastern Conference performer with the Gators, Johnson started 35 of 47 career games played and registered 284 tackles and nine interceptions.)

Signs three-year deal
Bryan Anderson thought he was going to be an undrafted free agent, but with the second to last selection (261st overall) in the draft he was picked by the Bears. Anderson agreed to a three-year deal with the Bears on Wednesday that included a $23,000 signing bonus. (Numbers: The numbers behind seventh-round pick Bryan Anderson's three-year deal? His $933,000 contract calls for base salaries of $225,000, $305,000 and $380,000 and a $23,000 signing bonus. Anderson, the Bears' final selection in the draft, was a four-year fixture at right guard at the University of Pittsburgh. The 6-4, 325-pounder started 45 of 46 games played and earned all-Big East Conference honors as a senior.)

The guard has a shot to make the team as a backup but will have to compete with Terrence Metcalf and veteran Aaron Gibson.

Health is key
When R.W. McQuarters started 16 games he played like a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2001. He had three picks and became the Bears' shutdown cornerback. Last season, McQuarters couldn't stay healthy playing and starting in just nine games.

For the Bears defense to return to top form, McQuarters has to be there every week going up against the opposition's best receiver.

Gibby's last chance
Former Lions first-round pick Aaron Gibson is battling for a roster spot with the Bears and maybe for his NFL life. Although only 25, the 6-foot-6, 390-pound Gibson has plummeted since he was the Lions' top pick in 1999. He has since been released by Detroit, and late last year by the Cowboys, when he was claimed on waivers by the Bears. Gibson is being worked at right guard and right tackle, where he was an all-American at Wisconsin.

"We're moving Aaron inside and out, and that's what we're going to keep doing," coach Dick Jauron said. "We really like what Aaron's done for us since he got here in terms of our offseason program, what we've asked him to do weight-wise. He's obviously a massive man, very strong, naturally strong. He's worked hard in our offseason strength training program too and all of our other programs. I think Aaron's going to make a run at it, I really do, and we're really glad to have him and glad to witness firsthand his attitude. He's been tremendous with us."


DETROIT LIONS

Contract talks to heat up soon
Although the negotiating season is just beginning, the focus soon will be on the Lions' talks with wide receiver Charles Rogers, the No. 2 pick in the draft. The player drafted ahead of Rogers -- quarterback Carson Palmer of Cincinnati -- agreed to terms before the NFL draft in April, so that puts Rogers next in line for a deal. Rogers is represented by Kevin Poston of suburban Detroit, a factor viewed by some -- but apparently not the Lions -- as a red flag issue at the time of the draft. Rogers has expressed an interest in being signed in time for the start of camp, Poston has indicated he expects to have a deal in place by that time and Lions vice-president Tom Lewand is quick to point out the team has not had a rookie holdout since 1997. Last year's No. 2 pick in the draft -- defensive end Julius Peppers -- signed a seven-year, $46 million contract that included a $9.1 million signing bonus. With the Lions' $5.5 million rookie pool for 2003, it is a foregone conclusion that Poston will be seeking a deal worth considerably more than Peppers got from the Carolina Panthers.

NFL Europe standout signed
DT Toby Golliday, who played for F.C. Barcelona in NFL Europe this spring, has been signed. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Fifth-round pick signs
Terrence Holt, a safety from North Carolina, became the first Lions draft pick to get his contract signed for the 2003 NFL season. Holt, the younger brother of St. Louis receiver Torry Holt was drafted in the fifth round, signed a three-year contract but details were not immediately known. Holt is an interesting prospect for the Lions, although they are not expecting him to step into a starting role in their defensive secondary. He lasted longer in coach Steve Mariucci's "beep test" -- an endurance test -- than any other player on the team in minicamp and has shown an eagerness to prove he can play in the NFL.

"There's a lot to learn yet," Lions president Matt Millen said, referring to Holt. "He's smart enough. You have to be smart back there because you're going to have to run a lot of the defense. You have to have some man cover skills, which is where I'd like to see him get a little better. But he does have feel in space and he can get to spots. Those are all good things."

At 6-feet-2 and 208 pounds, Holt has the size to become a force at one of the safety positions and had moments when he flashed in minicamp, despite having only average speed. On one particular day, he caught a Lions rookie tight end from behind and a couple of plays later got in position to knock down a pass intended for veteran wide receiver Bill Schroeder. Millen is waiting to see what happens when the hitting starts in training camp.

"I'm anxious to watch him with pads on," Millen said. "His movement skills are good enough. I mean they're not great but I want to see him when he hits."

Education continues for Rogers
The development -- and education -- of rookie wide receiver Charles Rogers is going to be an interesting angle in the Lions' 2003 NFL season. Team president Matt Millen and coach Steve Mariucci launched the process even before they took the Michigan State wide receiver with the No. 2 pick in the draft last April.

They brought Rogers in for a workout at their Allen Park practice facility and liked what they saw in talent, skills and confidence. They nudged him a little farther along during the post-draft minicamps. But the biggest steps in the process will come in training camp, the exhibition season and -- finally -- the NFL regular season.

The Lions obviously expect big things from Rogers, but Millen seems set on not overburdening the promising young receiver by demanding too much, too soon. He has made it clear from the start that very, very few players make the transition from college starter to NFL Pro Bowler in one season.

"He needs a lot of work, but he pays attention and he keeps his head in things," Millen said recently. "He needs to keep on lifting, he needs to get a little bit bigger but you saw some of the things he can do. He'll be fine. When I said he's going to have his tough times early, he's going to. That's just the way it is. Plus, it's going to be an adjustment but he's football smart. He'll figure it out."

The regulars at the Lions minicamps -- the reporters and observers who were there every day -- got a pretty good glimpse of Rogers in the figuring-out-phase earlier this spring. Sources say when Rogers went through his pre-draft private workout with the Lions he had a good workout and his confidence was showing. He was still feeling good about himself when he came in for the start of minicamp after the draft but was justifiably reserved.

As one source put it: "His eyes were real big." A couple of acrobatic catches over veteran cornerback Dre' Bly gave him another boost in confidence, but Rogers came back to earth in a hurry when one of the Lions young cornerbacks drilled him squarely in the chest as he tried to get off the line of scrimmage. Although Rogers played it off as no big deal, the play apparently made a big impression on him. He was a little more reserved for the remaining days of the minicamp, as some of the scouting reports had indicated he would be at various times.

The feeling is that Rogers went into his learning mode -- stepping back slightly to figure out the speed, the intensity and the way the game is played in the NFL. He still has a couple of weeks to mull it over before he and the rest of the Lions report for the start of training camp later this month. The guess among the Lions insiders is that he'll have a better understanding when he goes to work. And, eventually, he'll be everything the Lions expect of him -- one of the best receivers in the NFL.


GREEN BAY PACKERS

So far, so good
Linebacker Hannibal Navies, who signed in March as an unrestricted free agent from Carolina, looked good in the minicamps. The question is, can he stay healthy? In four seasons with the Panthers he missed 25 of 64 games with an assortment of injuries and registered only two sacks and one interception. The Packers are planning to start him on the strong side. "He has really good movement skills for a guy that size (6-3, 247)," new linebackers coach Mark Duffner said. "He can cover the tight end. He can twist and bend. He has some explosiveness coming off the edge as a rusher. I like his athleticism."

Not much hope for former Duck
Signed last month to a bargain-basement contract one year in length, QB Akili Smith has little chance to succeed in Green Bay. He's a player who requires an enormous number of repetitions anyway, and the fact that he joined the Packers after their three-month offseason program and is coming into an entirely different offensive system makes failure almost a given.

Barring injury, the quarterback situation in Green Bay probably shakes down this way. Craig Nall gets every opportunity to assume the No. 2 job from Doug Pederson. If Nall wins it and engenders widespread confidence among the coaches in doing so, then Smith would have a chance to stick with an impressive training camp. Coach Mike Sherman still might want Pederson as No. 3 to serve as a security blanket. However, if Smith offers long-range potential as the eventual successor to Brett Favre, Pederson easily could go and Smith might stay. Eric Crouch is just too short and raw to be much of a factor. Smith, who will be 28 in August and was part of the quarterback draft class of 1999 that was heralded as the best since 1983. Tim Couch went first to Cleveland, Donovan McNabb went second to Philadelphia, Smith went third to Cincinnati, Daunte Culpepper went 11th to Minnesota and Cade McNown went 12th to Chicago. McNabb and Culpepper rank among the top 10 quarterbacks in the business, Couch has been so-so and McNown and Smith have been busts. The third-best quarterback in that draft, Aaron Brooks, was taken in the fourth round by Green Bay.

Last month, a personnel director for an NFL team was asked if Smith could ever be developed. "You can't say he can't because he's got athletic ability," the scout said. "Sometimes the maturation process is longer for some guys than others. Maybe the change in scenery will help. Maybe being around a guy like Favre will help him. Maybe getting away from that organization will help."

Why was Smith so horrendous in Cincinnati? "I don't think he has any understanding what's going on," the scout said. "Every time he got to play he just got overwhelmed. He's a good athlete but he's not very well prepared and he's not very smart. He may be worse than that (15 test score). He plays dumb and I don't think he spends a lot of time at it.

"He's an athlete but he doesn't make much as a runner. And I really don't know how tough a guy he is, to be honest with you."

The personnel man said he was told by Bengals officials over the years just how eager they were to wash their hands of Smith. "Every (year) he thought he should be the starter going in," the scout said. "He tried to rally the players against whoever else was the starter. They didn't see any way they could get it done with him."

Clearly, Smith had worn out his welcome in Cincinnati. Following his release, 86.8% of respondents in a Cincinnati Enquirer poll said they approved of the Bengals' decision. For his part, Smith blamed the sad-sack Bengals for his failure, describing his four years as "hell for everybody. I'm kind of baffled that they drafted me. Ten games into my second season they benched me, and it was over after that."

In 22 games, including 17 starts, Smith completed 215 of 461 passes (46.6%) for 2,212 yards, five touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His passer rating was a minuscule 52.8. His record as a starter was 3-14.

Suspended four games
Packers LB Torrance Marshall has been suspended for the first four games of next season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He won't be eligible to play in a regular season game until Oct. 5 vs. Seattle.

Signs three-year contract
CB Chris Johnson, who was labeled the fastest player in the draft after posting a 4.23-second time in the 40-yard dash at the pre-draft workout, has signed a three-year deal. The seventh-round pick is the fourth Packers draft choice to sign.

German-native gets shot
WR JJorg Heckenbach, a native of Dusseldorf, Germany, and an NFL Europe veteran, has been signed by the Packers. In seven NFL Europe seasons, Heckenbach has 65 receptions for 759 yards and five TDs.



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