NFC North News

The Bears are counting on big receiving numbers from their new running back, the Lions are concerned about inexperience at linebacker (sound familiar?), and the Packers are just cutting their losses with a recent first-round bust.

CHICAGO BEARS

How important is it for new featured running back Thomas Jones to be an integral part of the passing offense?

It's imperative if you use the Chiefs' offense as a blueprint, which is essentially what new offensive coordinator Terry Shea will do, having spent three years as the quarterbacks coach in that system.

In those three seasons, Chiefs running back Priest Holmes had 206 receptions, just one less than tight end Tony Gonzalez, the team's leading pass catcher during that span.

"If you just track the history of this offense, the three years that I was with the Kansas City Chiefs, our leading pass catcher (other than Gonzalez) was the running back," Shea said. "So, from that standpoint, it reflects that the running back better have the ability to make the catch, but a lot of his catches are checkdowns."

Jones won't necessarily be expected to function as a down-the-field receiver, which is fortunate, since he isn't an easy to locate target at 5-feet-10. But there are many other ways he can be utilized in the new Bears offense.

"We do push him up the field a little bit, but most of the time he's catching screens, checkdowns and flat routes," Shea said. "That's where this offense, if it clicks, the quarterback's passing percentage is very high. That's why Trent Green's quarterback rating started to go up and up and up because our offense got better and better."

Jones has never caught more than 32 passes in a season, and he's never averaged more than 7.5 yards per catch. But Shea believes he can blossom in his offense, much as Holmes did in Kansas City.

"He's got a real natural feel for the passing game," Shea said of the 220-pound ball of muscle. "He's got great quickness out of the break, and I won't hesitate to put in some option routes with him because he gives us that kind of skill."


NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Following his retirement as a player, Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera spent four years as a TV analyst covering the Bears and college football.

But, after coaching his son Christopher's peewee football team, Rivera got the urge to get back on the sidelines and out of the broadcast booth.

"I coached some peewee football, and it made me realize how much I missed it," said Rivera, who played nine years for the Bears as a linebacker. "I got a big kick out of it, so I thought, ‘What the heck?' I thought, ‘You know what? I think I'm going to give this a try."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There was consideration given, and we had to obviously try to evaluate what was best for this football team as we start to progress and grow." — Bears offensive coordinator Terry Shea on the team's interest in Kurt Warner.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): OG Corbin Lacina.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OT Steve Edwards; OT Mike Gandy; CB Todd McMillon; WR Ahmad Merritt; DE Joe Tafoya.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OG Ruben Brown; FB Bryan Johnson; RB Thomas Jones; OG Michael Keathley; QB Jonathan Quinn; OT John Tait.

PLAYERS LOST: QB Chris Chandler; DE Phillip Daniels; LB Jack Golden; LB Warrick Holdman; FB Stanley Pritchett; QB Kordell Stewart; DT Keith Traylor; OG Chris Villarrial; WR Dez White.

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: DT Terry Johnson; CB Nathan Vasher; LB Leon Joe.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


DETROIT LIONS

On the surface, the numbers don't sound too bad - 10 years of NFL experience for the linebackers considered most likely to get the bulk of the playing time for the 2004 Detroit Lions.

But when you consider that eight of those 10 years belong to middle linebacker Earl Holmes, it shows the obvious - the Lions are almost certain to have one of the least experienced linebacking crews in the NFL when they open the season Sept. 12 at Chicago.

And there is no guarantee that Holmes will be the fulltime Mike linebacker, considering the high expectations the Lions have for second-round draft pick Teddy Lehman from Oklahoma.

"That's where he's getting his snaps and we're really training him hard for that position," coach Steve Mariucci said.

During the spring minicamps, Lehman and Holmes were alternating at the middle. Holmes has the obvious edge as an experienced run-stopper but Lehman's athletic ability gives him the potential to stay on the field for more than the running downs, and the Lions like that idea.

The only other linebackers with any kind of experience are Boss Bailey, who started all 16 games at the strong side last year as a rookie, and James Davis, a fifth-round draft pick in 2003. He played in eight games as a rookie but has gotten thicker and stronger, and now will get the first shot at the weak side linebacker job vacated when Barrett Green signed with the New York Giants.

Coach Steve Mariucci doesn't have to be told how NFL quarterbacks can take advantage of young, inexperienced linebackers.

"It's not just in coverage," Mariucci said. "It's in your run fits and it's in play-action pass and it's the movements and misdirection. It's faster for ‘em and there's more to it, more formation than they're used to seeing. It happens faster with bigger men but the more they practice, the more experience they get, the more they get used to doing this."


NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
  • Backup quarterback Mike McMahon is a coach favorite because of his swagger and his ability to run with the football, but his accuracy always surfaces as a problem.

    In three NFL seasons, including three starts as a rookie in 2001 and four starts in 2002, McMahon has a career completion average of 42.3 percent and the numbers have gotten worse each year instead of better.

    In those three seasons, he has had 12 games in which he has thrown nine or more passes. Only twice in those 12 games has he completed more than 50 percent of his passes.

    McMahon was promoted to the starting job ahead of Charlie Batch by former Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg in 2001 and completed 46.1 percent of his passes (53 of 115). The following year he lost the starting job to Joey Harrington two games into the season and completed 42.2 percent (62 of 147). Playing last year, strictly as a backup, he completed 29 percent (9 of 31).

  • The Lions have announced plans to build a $40 million office complex and parking structure adjacent to Ford Field, the 65,000-seat stadium they opened in downtown Detroit in the summer of 2002.

    The five-story structure is to be built on a four-acre site immediately east of Ford Field.

    The primary tenant of the building will be the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is currently located in the northern suburb of Bloomfield Hills.

    Groundbreaking is expected in September, with completion scheduled for January, 2006. Super Bowl XL is to be played Feb. 5, 2006, at Ford Field.

    Lions executive vice president and chief operating officer Tom Lewand said a hotel, long rumored to be part of the continuing development, is in the works but plans have not been finalized.

    The development is part of an on-going commitment to the downtown area by Lions owner William Clay Ford and his son William Clay Ford, Jr.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last year we were the oldest team in the NFC. I don't know who figures it up but we're going to be one of the youngest teams in the league, I think." - Coach Steve Mariucci on the number of inexperienced players expected to play critical roles for the Lions in 2004.


    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
    UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): OG Kerlin Blaise; OG Ray Brown; CB Doug Evans; WR Shawn Jefferson; P John Jett; CB Leonard Myers; LB Brian Williams.

    RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

    EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

    PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Scotty Anderson; RB Shawn Bryson; CB Chris Cash; LB Donte' Curry; S Julius Curry; WR Eddie Drummond; DE James Hall; P Nick Harris; WR David Kircus; LS Jody Littleton; OG Josh Lovelady; QB Mike McMahon; DT Kelvin Pritchett; WR Reggie Swinton; FB Stephen Trejo; S Bracy Walker.

    PLAYERS ACQUIRED: TE Stephen Alexander; DT Marcus Bell; CB Fernando Bryant; OG David Loverne; S Brock Marion; QB Rick Mirer; CB Dainon Sidney; WR Tai Streets; OG Damien Woody.

    PLAYERS LOST: OG Eric Beverly; QB Ty Detmer; DT Luther Elliss; LB Jeff Gooch; S Corey Harris; TE Mikhael Ricks; WR Bill Schroeder; CB Otis Smith; RB James Stewart; WR James Williams.

    MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    In early March 2001 the Packers traded quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the 17th selection in the first round to Seattle for the 10th pick in the first round and a third-round pick.

    Later, general manager Ron Wolf revealed that he made the deal solely to get into position to select defensive end Jamal Reynolds, whom he was convinced wouldn't be there at 17.

    The Packers' ill-fated choice of Reynolds came to a close this week when coach Mike Sherman traded him to Indianapolis for an undisclosed draft choice. Packers vice president Andrew Brandt said the pick wasn't conditional upon Reynolds making the Colts' final roster.

    "We wish Jamal well," Brandt said. "A good guy. Everyone liked him as a person around here."

    The problem was that Reynolds couldn't play. In three seasons, he finished with three sacks in 390 snaps, six knockdowns, 11 solo tackles and 1/2 tackle for loss.

    He will go down with tackle Tony Mandarich, quarterback Rich Campbell, tackle John Michels and cornerback Terrell Buckley as the team's worst No. 1 picks in the last 25 years.

    Reynolds never found a way to defeat tackles as a designated pass rusher and he was too small to hold up against the run. He wasn't fast enough to win around the edge and he wasn't skilled enough to come back inside on counter moves.

    Two weeks in to his first training camp Reynolds suffered a left knee surgery that would require microfracture surgery in January 2002. Last August, Reynolds said his knee was 100 percent.

    The emergence of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila in the same right end role that Wolf and Sherman envisioned for Reynolds helped mitigate to an extent the failure of Reynolds. He became almost a forgotten man in Green Bay, active for just 22 out of a possible 53 games.

    Reynolds was due a roster bonus of $217,250 on July 15. Now it will not have to be paid.

    Now, however, the Packers will have to count $1.3 million in unamortized signing bonus for Reynolds against their cap this season.


    NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
  • The Packers gave Steve Morley a $100,000 signing bonus this winter to leave the Canadian Football League. Through minicamps, he was their No. 2 left tackle behind Chad Clifton. Morley shows promise but has a long way to go before he's ready to play in a regular-season game.

    "He's a real good athlete but he hasn't been exposed to some of these things," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "So we just have to wait and see. It's a process."

    Morley, 22, is 6-6 and 332. He's a fine athlete but lacks strength.

    "I came down here a couple months ago and saw the program they're doing here," Morley said. "They run and do weights four days a week and I was, like, ‘Wow, these guys do this? No wonder these guys are so good.' I was in awe of the workout program. The way these guys train, no wonder they're so good."

    Morley said he has had trouble adapting to the close quarters in which linemen operate in the NFL.

    "These guys are right on top of me so I've got to get out of my stance really quick," he said. "It's so much faster. That's the biggest difference for sure."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he can cover better at the safety position. He has burst and he has range. He has to work on his tackling and ball skills." — Director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie on S Bhawoh Jue, a former cornerback.


    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
    UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): WR Antonio Freeman; S Bobby Jackson; OT Marcus Spriggs; TE Wesley Walls.

    RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

    EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

    PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OT Kevin Barry; OT Chad Clifton; RB Tony Fisher; S Curtis Fuller; CB/S Michael Hawthorne; CB Bhawoh Jue; LB Paris Lenon; LB Torrance Marshall; TE David Martin; QB Doug Pederson; DT Larry Smith; CB James Whitley; LB Marcus Wilkins.

    PLAYERS ACQUIRED: TE Steve Bush; QB Tim Couch; S Mark Roman; LB Armegis Spearman; CB Chris Watson.

    PLAYERS LOST: P Josh Bidwell; NT Gilbert Brown; S Antuan Edwards; DE Joe Johnson; DE Jamal Reynolds; NT Rod Walker; CB Bryant Westbrook.

    MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


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