NFC North News

Quarterback was the talk of the division over the past week, with Tim Couch's negotiations making waves in Chicago and Green Bay, while Detroit's Joey Harrington is quickly becoming the veteran of that offense. Green Bay's Brett Favre was also speaking out against Mike McKenzie's minicamp holdout.


The Bears would neither confirm nor deny that they have asked for and received permission to negotiate with the agent for Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch.

But Browns spokesman Todd Stewart said Bears GM Jerry Angelo contacted Browns coach Butch Davis on Wednesday regarding Couch, whose agent, Tom Condon, has been negotiating fitfully with the Green Bay Packers for nearly a month with little progress. Couch, the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, was replaced as the starter after Cleveland acquired veteran Jeff Garcia.

Couch is due $15.6 million over the next two seasons but will not get nearly that much from any team. He was first given permission to work out a trade with the Packers, but those negotiations have stalled.

Enter the Bears - maybe. No one in the organization has even hinted that Rex Grossman, whom Angelo drafted in the first round last year (22nd overall), is not entrenched as the starter. While it's very possible Couch would consent to playing behind the 34-year-old Favre for a short while, it's highly unlikely he would accept a backup role to the 23-year-old Grossman, and that's the only job available with the Bears.

"We have our quarterback," Bears coach Lovie Smith said when the topic of Kurt Warner's possible free-agency was broached last week. "Rex Grossman is our quarterback."

After the Bears drafted Ohio State's Craig Krenzel in the fifth round Sunday, director of college scouting Greg Gabriel said: "We assume Rex is going to be the guy for a long time."

Asked specifically about Couch on Sporting News Radio by James Brown on Thursday, Smith said: "Every guy that becomes available you look at. However, we like who we have right now. We're not openly pursuing any quarterback. We think we have the guy to lead us in our system right now. Tim is a good quarterback just like Kurt Warner and Kerry Collins. All those guys are good quarterbacks, but they're not the fit for us. We like who we have."

In 62 appearances, 59 of them starts, Couch has completed 1,025 of 1,714 attempts, for 11,131 yards, with 64 touchdown passes, 67 interceptions and a passer rating of 75.1.

  • Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel was no different than most NFL executives who wondered if molecular biology major Craig Krenzel was more committed to pursuing his goal of medical school or sitting on the bench - initially, anyway — in the NFL.

    "The first question I asked him was, ‘Do you want to be a doctor or a quarterback?'" Gabriel said of the Bears' second fifth-round pick (No. 148 overall). "He said, ‘quarterback.' Then again, I'm getting old, so if I need a doctor later, maybe he's a quarterback for a few years, goes to med school, and then I have a doctor and he'll owe me."

    Seriously, Gabriel was convinced.

    "He's always said he wanted to play football," Gabriel said. "He's a very, very competitive kid. He loves the game; he's got a passion."

    The 6-foot-3 1/2, 228-pounder said med school is a fallback option, not the other way around, but he had to convince a lot of people.

    "A lot of teams wondered how serious I was playing about in the NFL or if it was kind of go give it half an effort knowing I could fall back," he said. "That's not the case. My No. 1 goal is to go in the NFL. I plan on going and becoming as good as I can and hopefully start some day."

    He will start as the Bears' No. 3, behind Rex Grossman and Jonathan Quinn.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "He wants to be the best. He's been the guy most of his life, from a young kid up. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a freshman. All the major awards he's won; he has a national championship. He's been at that type of level. Some guys are winners. He's a winner, and we want him to bring that same type of attitude here." — Bears coach Lovie Smith on top draft pick Tommie Harris.


    At the age of 25 with two NFL seasons behind him, Joey Harrington has become the old man of the Lions offense. And he's fine with that.

    He has never shied away from taking a leadership role but he found it difficult at times in his first two seasons, especially with the offense floundering as it did.

    With so many young players now in the offensive picture for the Lions, Harrington is not only in the position to be the leader but has the experience to lead as well.

    "It's actually kind of nice," Harrington said. "The last couple years it's been tough for me to take a leadership role because you've got Bill (Schroeder) and Ray (Brown) and you've got James Stewart, guys who have been around for so long.

    "The reality of the situation is that not many guys are going to look to a rookie quarterback for leadership. Now we've got young guys around us - a young offensive line, guys I'm comfortable with now. I feel a lot more comfortable out there. I feel like it's a group of guys I can relate with, a group of guys I can grow with and it's guys I feel good in the huddle with."

    Not only are the Lions offensive players younger, it is expected they will be more capable also with the likes of wide receivers Charles Rogers and Roy Williams, running backs Kevin Jones and Artose Pinner.

    Harrington, the Lions' first-round pick in 2002, has yet to prove he can be the Lions' savior, although even his most harsh critics admit he has had virtually nothing to work with in his first two NFL seasons.

    The Lions receivers struggled to get open and hang onto the football last year and their running game was so anemic (last among the NFL's 32 teams in yardage production) that teams showed no respect whatsoever for the run and focused entirely on shutting down the passing game.

  • Although he's starting his second season with the Lions, running back Artose Pinner is going through his first no-holds-barred minicamp.

    A year ago, he was coming off a broken ankle - complicated by ligament damage - suffered in the Senior Bowl game and was limited in what he could do. Even when he played the final three games of the season he wasn't 100 percent physically.

    After a full offseason of rehabbing the leg, he was ready to go in the Lions minicamp over the past weekend.

    "Actually, I feel like I've gained a couple steps this minicamp," Pinner said. "I felt a lot faster. Sometimes I was a little out of control but as the practice progressed I gathered it all together and got used to my speed again."

    Pinner hardly resembles the player he was when he arrived as a rookie out of Kentucky a year ago. He's bigger, stronger and healthier by far. He also has an additional incentive to play well - rookie Kevin Jones, who many expect to win the running back job for the 2004 season.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought the veteran guys were going to push me to the side and not try to teach me. But these guys have embraced me and they're trying to help me learn the offense and do things on the field." - Rookie WR Roy Williams on his experience at minicamp.

    Before he even began working out in his first Lions minicamp, guard Damien Woody had changed positions.

    When the Lions signed him in the opening days of the free agent signing period, they indicated he would move into the left guard position, which he had played at times at New England.

    With the team's inability to land a starting right guard, however, Woody was moved to that side of the offensive line, with utility lineman Matt Joyce taking over - temporarily, at least - the left guard job, with which he is more familiar.

    The vacant guard position is the last to be addressed. Last year's fifth-round pick, James Davis, and second-round draft pick Teddy Lehman both worked at the weakside linebacker position, which is another area of concern.


    Quarterback Brett Favre, no shrinking violet when it comes to leading an offense, followed the same path this week when he came time to discuss wayward cornerback Mike McKenzie.

    McKenzie has told the Packers that he has no intentions of ever playing for them again.

    "He should be here, we expect him to be here and the Packers have the upper hand," Favre said at the start of a week-long minicamp. "He says he wants to be traded and all that stuff, but they don't have to do that. When paycheck time starts coming around and you're not getting one, it's amazing how quickly you start waking up.

    "I hope it doesn't come to that. Mike, he's a good guy. He really is, and things like this sometimes give people a false impression of someone's character. I respect him. I think he's an excellent player and he's a good guy.

    "Sometimes we don't make good decisions or we have people telling us the wrong things. I don't know what's going on in this case. But he is one of the top corners. I will agree with that. But it will work itself out if he will just come back."

    McKenzie signed a five-year, $17.1 million deal in December 2001 and has three years left. During the offseason half a dozen corners received signing bonuses of $7 million or more, and most of them aren't as good as McKenzie. His signing bonus was $3.5 million.

    McKenzie is irked not only by his contract but what he regards as slights involving teammates Vonnie Holliday, Nate Wayne and Na'il Diggs. Holliday left as an unrestricted free agent, Wayne was cut and Diggs was retained when the Packers matched a restricted offer sheet from Detroit.

    Favre wasn't afraid to take on wide receiver Sterling Sharpe during his brief walkout on the eve of opening day in 1994 and he certainly isn't afraid now to call out McKenzie.

    "When you sign a contract, you sign a contract," Favre said. "And we all make a lot of money and sometimes it doesn't seem fair that other guys make more who you know you're better than. But that's the way this business works and as bad as that may seem at times, it will work itself out.

    "I hope he realizes that because he will hurt our football team if he's away, and he will really help our team when he's here. I don't know what more the team can do. I think they've done what they're supposed to do."

  • The Packers are high on Tony Donald, a free-agent linebacker in 2003 who was moved to tight end during training camp. Donald is starting at tight end for Amsterdam of NFL Europe League and making an impact.

    "As far as pure talent and able to run, he's good," vice president of football operations Mark Hatley said. "He can flat run. He's learning how to block."

  • Just about every team in the league uses what is called the Trade Value Chart to make trades during the draft.

    The chart assigns a point value for all 256 selections in the draft. Teams then attempt to make the trades equitable so each of the team involved receives comparable point values.

    "Everybody's starting to get it," St. Louis Rams general manager Charley Armey said. "Jimmy Johnson likes to take credit for it but Tommy Prothro developed it.

    "Most people trade on their gut. You're trading players, you're not trading numbers. But it's a good guide. Bill Parcells uses it a lot."

    For example, the first pick in the draft had a value of 3,000 points. The 256h pick had a value of 0.1 points.

    The Packers made four trades during the draft. Their net point differential for the four trades was plus-23.9 points.

    Jacksonville had a plus-23 in their first deal with the Packers Saturday but the Packers had a plus-10 in their second trade with the Jaguars. The Packers had a plus-35.5 differential in their deal late Saturday with Washington.

    On Sunday, the Packers were plus-1.4 in their deal with San Francisco.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not only does he have a strong leg but he has the unique ability to directional kick, which is very important. When there's a player like that, go get it." - Director of college scouting John Dorsey on P B.J. Sander, the Ohio State specialist the Packers traded up to draft in the third round.

    On April 22 the Packers signed veteran cornerback Chris Watson, who has played for Denver, Buffalo and Detroit in a five-year career.

    Last year, Watson had a decent shot to make the Lions' roster when he had to undergo back surgery late in preseason. The Detroit defensive coordinator in 2003, Kurt Schottenheimer, is now the Packers' secondary coach.

    Watson looked good in the first two days of minicamp. He has size and speed. He could compete for a job in a thin secondary.

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