NFC North Hot News

The Green Bay Packers opened training camp over the weekend while the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings get set to follow this week. Here's the latest news and notes from the NFC North Division.

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Good-bye, Henry

The Chicago Bears waived quarterback Henry Burris in early July.

Burris made his NFL debut with the Bears in 2002, playing in six games with one start. The Canadian Football League veteran completed 18 of 51 passes for 207 yards in one season with Chicago after spending a single campaign as a reserve with the Green Bay Packers. Burris signed with the Bears on February 2, 2002.

The Bears allocated Burris to the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe for the recently completed 2003 season, where he started the first six games of the season, connecting on 55 of 99 passes for 589 yards.

Safety re-signs

Veteran free safety Mike Brown signed a new six-year contract, extending one of the Bears' leading defensive playmakers through the 2008 season. Brown's original five-year contract, signed in 2000, was set to expire following the 2004 season. The deal is worth about $17.5 million with a signing bonus of $4.5 million.

"This is definitely where I wanted to be," Brown said. "I'm real excited to remain a Bear."


Elliss injury hurts

This is a problem the Detroit Lions didn't need.

The injury to defensive tackle Luther Elliss is worse than originally feared. Elliss tore a pectoral muscle during off-season workouts in late June. The Lions are taking a cautious approach and hope that the muscle will heal with rest, but with Elliss' dicey health history, who's going to bet on that?

Add to the equation the fact that Detroit didn't address the position in the NFL draft. Now, what was once considered a strength is fast becoming one of the weakest positions on the team.

In order to address the matter, veteran Robert Porcher may be moved inside to the tackle position he played in college at South Carolina State. Porcher played briefly at the tackle before making his mark as a pass-rushing end under coach Wayne Fontes.

If Detroit does this, it would pave the way for Kalimba Edwards , a rising star, to take over the end position next to Porcher. Edwards has a knack for getting to the passer and appears ready to take the next step to reach the double-digit sack total of premier sack men.

The Lions are counting on third-year man Shaun Rogers. Rogers had a strong rookie season, dominating opposing offensive lines. But last year he slumped badly while gaining excess weight that slowed his productivity.

Kelvin Pritchett is a good situational player, but entering his 11th year in the league, he isn't an every-down player, adding to Detroit's need for depth.

Rookie Corey Redding of Texas could help solve the puzzle by turning in a great preseason and making himself the starter at the right end, making a move of Porcher to the inside more plausible. Detroit would then have Redding, Edwards and holdover James Hall at the ends providing rush, with Porcher working in tandem with Rogers.

Two more picks sign

The Lions announced Monday that they have signed two more of their 2003 NFL Draft picks, RB Artose Pinner and T Ben Johnson, each to three-year deals. Additional terms of their contracts were not disclosed. The team also released undrafted rookie free agent DB Chris Kern.

Large donation

Quarterback Joey Harrington's first major venture into fundraising for The Harrington Family Foundation was worth $30,375 to the Shriners Hospital of Portland, Ore.

Harrington announced he would present the check to the Shriners Hospital after a sold-out concert featuring members of Blues Traveler at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. A crowd of more than 1,500 attended.

The Harrington Family Foundation was launched by Harrington shortly after his rookie season. Its goal is to provide quality education and proper health care in a safe nurturing environment for the children of needy families in the Portland area.


Top pick makes camp debut

What a difference a day makes. Packers first-round draft pick Nick Barnett sat in his vehicle Saturday, watching his team practice from across the street. Sunday, Barnett was finally on the other side of the fence as the recently-signed linebacker took the training camp field for the first time.

After inking a seven-year deal Saturday night, Barnett practiced with the rookies and other first-year players Sunday as they wrapped their weekend debut. Barnett has been in town for more than a week and missed only the rookie reporting day and Saturday's session.

"Football is my love," Barnett said. "She left me for a day, so I had to stalk her a little."

Once on the field, Barnett made an impact in two 75-minute sessions. He drew cheers from the crowd of about 350 by batting down a Craig Nall pass intended for tight end Joey Knapp in 7-on-7 drills.

"Being on the field, it's sort of natural as a football player," Barnett said. "It's just getting the scheme down and playing. I was just happy to be out here."

If he's rusty, it didn't show. Barnett has been diligently doing his homework, studying a computerized playbook and watching film of practices he missed. Barnett was unable to participate in the second mini-camp due to NFL rules prohibiting rookies from practicing when their colleges are still in session.

"I'm excited to see what he can do," head coach Sherman said after the morning practice Sunday. "I think I know what he can do, that's why he's here, but I don't think the fact that he missed the last mini-camp will have any factor on him. He's studying and he'll get caught up fairly quickly."

Backup QB battle begins

Craig Nall, back from his NFL Europe stint, made his 2003 Packers practice debut. A hopeful Akili Smith acknowledged the GB playbook is still a mystery. Eric Crouch worked to erase his "long shot" status. So begins the battle to back up Brett Favre at training camp in Green Bay.

Smith, 27, is looking for a fresh start after a disappointing four-year stint in Cincinnati. The Bengals cut their former first-round draft pick last month. "To be quite honest, I'm here fighting for my life," Smith said. "I still have to make the team. Me and my family and my agent understand that. I have to get ready to play football."

Smith told reporters that he has been studying the Packers playbook for a month and feels like he still has a lot to learn.

Packers coach Mike Sherman is willing to give Smith a shot.

"We're going to see if we can do something with his career that hasn't been done at this level and take our shot," Sherman said.

Craig Nall walked onto the field feeling like a rising star. The 2002 fifth-round draft pick coming off an NFLEL season where he emerged as the league's top quarterback.

"A roster spot is not guaranteed," Nall said. " I could come out and just play the worst ball I've ever played during camp and really lose confidence pretty quick. But I don't see that happening."

Nall stressed that he has to improve on the preseason performance he turned in as a rookie last year.

"I have to be better than that this year," Nall said.

Smith, Nall and Crouch all participated in drills Saturday. Favre and top backup Doug Pederson will join the QB hopefuls at practice Tuesday, when full-squad workouts begin.

"We're going to have to make a decision in camp between Akili and Nall at some point and also Doug," Sherman said.

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