NFC North News

Chicago's Rex Grossman wants to win now despite his lack of experience, the linebackers are still a concern in Detroit, and the Packers are counting on the experience of the offensive line to lead their team in 2004. Get an inside look at the Vikings' competition for the NFC North crown.


Rex Grossman has only made three NFL starts and is learning a new system.

Growing pains are expected, but the 2003 first-round draft choice showed enough promise in his late-season audition that there are still high expectations for him.

"I'm expecting Rex to win right now," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "There will be the growing pains, yes, because of the experience factor. But Rex has played in a lot of big games in his career. He's played in full houses, so he's understanding of that type of environment, both at home and on the road. That was part of why we drafted Rex, because he's been in that kind of arena.

"It's just a matter of him now doing it, and we feel real good. He's been exemplary in the offseason in terms of his work habits. He has a sense of urgency. He gets it, and because of that, I feel very confident going into the season that he's going to take that next step."

This will be Grossman's fourth different offense in the past five seasons. That could create some confusion for a young player, but the experience has enabled Grossman to experience the process of adapting to different schemes in a short period of time.

The feeling is that once he learns Terry Shea's offense, Grossman will rapidly make this his team.

"He just has to execute the offense; learn it, make sure he's comfortable with it," Angelo said. "Our coaches have to make sure they (determine) what he can do the best and accentuate on that. That could be said at most any position, but particularly at that position. What we want him to do is to be the piece that he can be and to execute the offense, and I feel he knows that."

  • Through nine weeks last season, the Bears' defense was 29th against the run, allowing 135.5 yards per game, but it finished a respectable 16th, yielding an average of 116.6 yards. That improvement is expected to continue under the new staff.

    With head coach Lovie Smith operating a similar system as Rams defensive coordinator, St. Louis ranked third in 2001 (86.6 yards per game), 14th in 2002 (113.5) and tied for 20th in 2003 (123.8) vs. the run.

    Last season the Rams led the NFL with 46 takeaways, ranked fourth with 42 sacks and yielded just nine rushing touchdowns, well below the NFL average of 13.3.

    The 2003 Bears defense, on the other hand, forced just 20 turnovers. The Bears also had only 18 sacks, ranking dead last in sacks per pass play. The Bears allowed 13 rushing touchdowns.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Yes, it is a make-or-break year for David. He's got to do it. He knows it. We know it. He's been very, very good in the offseason. He works hard in the weight room. He's been working very hard on the field. He's an intense competitor. He wants to be a great player." — Bears GM Jerry Angelo on WR David Terrell, the team's disappointing 2001 first-round draft choice.


    Depending on how the competition shakes out when the Lions get into the training camp routine next week, Boss Bailey - at the age of 24 with one year of experience - might find himself the old man of the Lions' linebacking corps.

    A second-round pick in the 2003 NFL draft, Bailey - the younger brother of Denver cornerback Champ Bailey - started every game as a rookie and played virtually every defensive snap.

    And in a linebacking corps that is likely to include - in some capacity - another second-year player and two rookies, a year's experience means a lot.

    "He's still a developing young player but he got 1,068 snaps last year, a lot of practice time and great experience," coach Steve Mariucci said. "So I don't want to say we look at him as a veteran but, in some ways, we do, compared to other players.

    "He doesn't need all the little detail stuff the way a Teddy (Lehman) or an Alex (Lewis) would at this point. He got more than his feet wet last year, he should have a heck of a season for us."

    In his 16 starts at the strong side, Bailey registered 109 tackles (including 73 solos), as well as 1.5 sacks and an interception. He also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.

    The thing Mariucci and Lions president Matt Millen liked about Bailey when they drafted him was his speed and athletic ability. They have worked hard to make him stronger in the offseason and their feeling is generally that he can be a superior player as he gains experience.

    Bailey might be surrounded by players even younger and less experienced than he. Lehman, a second-round pick this year, will compete with veteran Earl Holmes for the middle linebacker job and Lewis, a fifth-round pick this year, will compete with second-year player James Davis for the weak-side job.

  • Barry Sanders' induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is approximately two weeks away and his father - William Sanders - is preparing for a job that would make any father burst with pride.

    William Sanders will make the presentation remarks when the former Lions star running back is inducted - along with quarterback John Elway of Denver, defensive end Carl Eller of Minnesota and tackle Bob Brown of Philadelphia, the Rams and Raiders - into the Hall of Fame.

    Typically, William Sanders' presentation speech might not be exactly what most people would expect.

    Unless he changes his mind, William Sanders won't be giving a sentimental, heart-touching speech about his youngest son. He says his comments will be short, sweet and might include a little bit of good-natured father-to-son ribbing.

    "I'm going to say, `This is Barry Sanders, my son, the third-greatest running back that ever lived,'" William Sanders told the Detroit Free Press. "That's going to be it."

    It's hardly a surprise to anyone familiar with either Sanders, that the elder has always looked at former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown as the best runner in NFL history.

    But when he was asked who else might be considered better than Barry, his answer was vintage William Sanders.

    "The second one is me," he said. "I swear that's going to be my speech. Fifty years ago, when I was 17 - at the start of my junior year in high school - the way Barry runs today, my coaches forbid me to run like that then," he elaborated. "They wanted me to hit the hole with my head down and my knees kicking, and I couldn't do that."

    And thus the world was deprived of another great Sanders running back.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just making sure everybody gets on the bus and on the airplane and does the right thing, packs their shoulder pads. Just all the rookie things you worry about, making sure they do what they're taught, on a consistent basis." - Coach Steve Mariucci on some of the things that will be stressed to the Lions rookies during training camp.


    The Packers own one of the top five offensive lines in football. Left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard Mike Wahle, center Mike Flanagan, right guard Marco Rivera and right tackle Mark Tauscher have been the starters since the start of the 2001 season.

    Continuity is rare in the NFL and, given Wahle and Rivera's contract situations, this could be the last go-round for the five stalwarts. Offensive line coach Larry Beightol, who took the job in Green Bay in 1999 under Ray Rhodes, is planning only for the here and now.

    "I would like to have both players back," coach Mike Sherman said. "We have to determine what that money is yet. It's something we'll address at the end of the season."

    Rivera, a Pro Bowl pick each of the past two years, is in the final year of a four-year, $10 million contract.

    Wahle signed a six-year, $18.4 million deal in March 2002 and might have played as well as Rivera in ‘03. In actuality, his contract is for $7.5 million over three years. He has a roster bonus of $6 million due in March, so the club either will have to renegotiate the contract or cut him.

    Rivera, 32, thinks that Wahle, who is 27, will be brought back. Conversely, Wahle is guessing that Rivera will return.

    "There's always going to be favoritism and I've never felt I've been one of their favorites," Wahle said. "Of the starting offense, I'm the only guy never to play ‘quote-unquote' well enough to receive a game ball.

    "I'm the only lineman that's never been on the cover of the program. You pay attention after a couple years of doing this. Everybody's got their favorites."

    Rivera has conquered numerous arthroscopic knee operations, a broken left hand and a surgical thumb.

    "If you look at it from a business sense, Wahle's the more attractive player to keep," Rivera said. "You know, he's younger and they'll get more years out of him. Whatever happens, happens.

    "Nowadays, you really don't know what's going on. All I want to do is just play hard this season and hopefully all that stuff will just play out later on."

  • Defensive end Jamal Reynolds was cut by the Packers after their trade with Indianapolis was voided. The Colts reportedly didn't like the looks of his back and sent him back to Green Bay.

    The Packers then quickly waived him.

    In three seasons Reynolds, the 10th pick in the ‘01 draft, played a total of 390 snaps. Healthy and available for all but the first week of his rookie season, he was active for merely 22 of the next 52 games, or 42%.

    In all, he had 11 solo tackles (including 1/2 for loss) and six assists. He had three sacks, six knockdowns and 6 1/2 hurries. He had two forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles and no passes defensed.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "To me, he's the epitome of what a professional offensive lineman should be. If he makes a mistake you know it's an honest one." - Offensive line coach Larry Beightol on G Marco Rivera.

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