NFC North News

The Bears are finding Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ruben Brown to be a good fit, Lions coach Steve Mariucci is trying not to get used to losing, and the Packers are still hoping to work out a deal with Cleveland's Tim Couch.


As a nine-year starter at left guard for the Bills, Ruben Brown played that position well enough to make it to the last eight Pro Bowls. But the newest Bear said he won't have a problem moving to right guard, where he is the presumptive replacement for Chris Villarrial, who switched teams with Brown.

"I know how to brush my teeth with both hands, so it's just switching stances," Brown joked during a press conference at Halas Hall late last week after signing his three-year, $4.5 million contract. "I've done it before. I've played right guard in the Pro Bowl quite a few times. It won't be that tough. I don't think it will be a difficult thing. I'm a player, I'm a competitor, so it won't matter. I'd like to fit in anywhere that I can participate and help the team."

Despite his perennial selection to the Pro Bowl, Brown did not receive a lot of attention around the league last month when the Bills decided they couldn't afford his $5.8 million salary. Brown said he wasn't surprised by the lack of interest, considering he's 32 years old and has started 140 NFL games, including playoffs.

"I knew that because at this stage of my career, (having spent) nine years with one team, that's not common that teams (would) come rushing out of the closet, not unless you're Bruce Smith or one of those type of impact players," Brown said. "But I'm an offensive lineman, so I knew that it was going to take time, and it would be more of a slow process."

Brown said it was a mutual parting of the way with he and the Bills, who drafted him in the first round in 1995 (14th overall). While it took Brown awhile to find a home, he said he already feels comfortable with his new team, mostly because of the feeling he got from talking to new head coach Lovie Smith, who did a masterful recruiting job.

"Chicago wants me, and I'm here with them, and I'm happy about that," said the 6-foot-3, 304-pound Brown. "(Smith) just said the right things to me. He was an honest guy. He didn't b.s. He didn't beat around the bush. He was straightforward. He's going to tell you like it is. There's no two ways about him, there's only one way, and that's the right way. I was impressed by him. I was more interviewing Chicago, than they were interviewing me. I was blown away."

Brown, whose Bills teams won just 17 games in the past three seasons, said he also had a good feeling about offensive line coach Pete Hoener and liked what he saw of the Bears' personnel and the team's prospects for the future.

"They definitely have an outstanding center (Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz) here, and I'm looking forward to getting back to playing with some really good athletes who know the game and understand it. Last but not least, there's a lot of tradition here in Chicago and I'd like to be a part of it.

"The way the league is now, you never know who's going to be that team that's going to make that run. I think with the coaching staff that's here, the personnel, there's as good a chance here as any other place, especially with Lovie Smith and his attitude. I think things could get contagious around here."

  • Ruben Brown is the fourth projected offensive starter that GM Jerry Angelo has added in an offseason that became even more productive than he had hoped. Offensive right tackle John Tait, running back Thomas Jones and fullback Bryan Johnson were added earlier in the offseason.

    "Ruben was a very, very good pickup for us," Angelo said. "Did we anticipate that happening? No. (But) we were able to initiate conversation with him, and it seemed like it was going to be potentially a good fit. That was a nice way to end it if that's the last thing we're able to do."

  • The Bears will get a change of pace during this summer's training camp when they travel to downstate Macomb from far south suburban Bourbonnais for three days of practices with the Rams, head coach Lovie Smith's former team.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel like we've done and accomplished what we set out to do for the most part. We're very happy the way things worked out, given that you don't know for sure who's going to be out there in the market place." — GM Jerry Angelo, after the Bears made OG Ruben Brown their fourth starter acquired during free agency, joining OT John Tait, RB Thomas Jones and FB Bryan Johnson.


    What was the old Vince Lombardi line? Winning's not the best thing, it's the only thing.

    With apologies to Vince, it was something like that.

    Except when it applies to the Lions in the past three years when winning wasn't the only thing. To coach Steve Mariucci, who suffered through a 5-11 season in his first year with the Lions, it was the exception to the rule. And it made him appreciate victories.

    "To me, winning is only a relief," Mariucci said. "That's all it is. It's like you dodged a bullet.

    "You should be able to celebrate and enjoy it a little bit more than you do, but you just don't. You (enjoy it) in the locker room, you (enjoy it) on the ride home and then as soon as you get home you start thinking about the next one. And looking for the scores and how did they do and did somebody get hurt?"

    By beating St. Louis in the season finale, Mariucci avoided matching his coaching career all-time low 4-12 record (4-12 in 1999, the first of two rebuilding years at San Francisco), but he admits the first year in Detroit was difficult.

    "You know what was rough," he said. "We won the first game and everybody was feeling okay. For about five minutes. And then we went on a streak and lost six in a row."

    As the season progressed, the Lions lost more and more starters with season-ending injuries and never got on any kind of a roll.

    "That's what was scary," Mariucci said. "The future of the season was going to be with guys that are not even on the team. You've got to call ‘em up and invite ‘em to play. That's so unsettling; that's where we were."

  • If the first few days of the offseason workout program are any indication, the Lions should be far better prepared for the 2004 season than they were for the 2003 season.

    Most notably, they are much better off - healthwise - than they were when they went to work in their first season under Mariucci.

    "We have fewer guys this year that are nursing surgeries and injuries, and are limited in our off-season program," he said. "We had - what? - nine guys enter the season on PUP. This year we seem to be healthier in March and April."

    Among the players who were limited last year but are healthy this year are wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim, tight end Mikhael Ricks and defensive end Kalimba Edwards. And three of last year's injured players - wide receiver Charles Rogers, cornerbacks Chris Cash and Andre Goodman - are participating in the April workouts, although they might not be 100 percent quite yet.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It got to a point where he was one of the least of my worries last year. Really. I wasn't concerned so much about Joey; it was the other guys I was hoping would run the right route or do the right thing, because they were new." — Coach Steve Mariucci on the play of quarterback Joey Harrington in 2003.


    The Packers' corps of defensive ends is expected to be two names shorter by the start of training camp with the release of Joe Johnson and Jamal Reynolds.

    That leaves Green Bay with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila at elephant end and Aaron Kampman at power end. The only backup of any merit is Chukie Nwokorie.

    The Packers would like to add at least two ends. One undoubtedly will come via the draft. The other could come via restricted free agency.

    St. Louis end Bryce Fisher, a restricted free agent, visited Green Bay but the Packers still were uncertain if they were going to submit an offer sheet. Deadline for making a move on restricted free agents is April 16.

    "They're definitely very interested," agent Peter Schaffer said. "He had a great visit. He doesn't have any bad feelings for the Rams. It's two great organizations. It's always nice to be wanted."

    The Rams could be expected to do everything in their power to match an offer for Fisher. However, the Rams are relatively tight against the cap and might deem it financially imprudent to match if the offer is steeply front-loaded.

    If the Rams don't match, the Packers would owe them a seventh-round draft choice. They have two picks in the seventh, including a compensatory selection.

    Fisher, 6-3 and 268, has adequate pass-rush ability and could play both end spots in the Packers' scheme. The Packers would like to reduce "KGB"'s workload this season.

    Fisher played in 16 games last year behind Leonard Little and Grant Wistrom and had 47 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass defensed. He was drafted in the seventh round by Buffalo in 1999 but spent his first two seasons on reserve to fulfill a two-year service obligation in the Air Force. He played at the Air Force Academy.

  • The Packers wanted to sign Tennessee's Billy Volek to be their backup quarterback behind Brett Favre but in the end he opted to re-sign with the Titans.

    Now the Packers have been pursuing Tim Couch, who is on the way out in Cleveland.

    Andrew Kessler, an associate of Couch's agent, Tom Condon, said length of contract remains an issue because Couch, the No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, doesn't want to be a backup for very long.

    "It's not all about money," Kessler said. "Green Bay is attractive for a variety of reasons. Tim wants a good situation. But Brett could play four more years. Tim doesn't want to give away four years. One or two is a different story. Those things have to be considered."

  • Eric Crouch was in camp for three days last summer as a quarterback before announcing his retirement.

    Now Crouch wants to play again and the Packers have taken him off their reserve/retired list.

    "We'll play him at safety and try him at punts (returns)," Sherman said. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained. He is athletic. He was confused: Was he a quarterback? Was he not a quarterback? Now he's a safety."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think if we're able to rest Cletidus Hunt he'll be a better pass rusher. Everybody always talks about resting Kabeer (Gbaja-Biamila) but I think Cletidus played too many snaps last season." — Coach Mike Sherman.


    The Packers have stepped up their efforts to re-sign safety Antuan Edwards. They're willing to give him a signing bonus and incentives that could earn Edwards considerably more if he became a starter.

    However, Edwards has drawn interest from the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons and apparently has no interest in returning to Green Bay.

    "He just thinks a change of scenery will be the best thing for him," agent Brian Levy said. "The Packers have been in contact with us, but I think it's highly unlikely he'll end up back there."

    In December, shortly after he left the team to rehabilitate a torn hamstring on his own, Edwards indicated a desire to leave.

    "Do I like Green Bay?" Edwards said at the time, repeating a question. "No. No. It doesn't fit in with me. It doesn't fit in with many guys.

    "But would it be my first choice? Yeah. I mean the organization is one of the best. I've never been anywhere else but listening to other guys talk about where they've been, it's probably one of the best. And five years. That's a long time."

    The Packers drafted Edwards out of Clemson in 1999 with the 25th pick. He was too slow for cornerback and not physical enough for safety. His career also was interrupted several times by major injuries.

  • Viking Update Top Stories