The Bears surely can't be accused of overreacting to the 10 penalties their offensive line committed in Thursday night's preseason victory.
"It's kind of typical," said right tackle Steve Edwards, who was flagged for two false start penalties. "We have to knock off some rust. My technique was off as far as the snap count. I have to learn from it and get better for the next game."
Guard Mike Gandy was called for holding three times, and left tackle Qasim Mitchell was penalized three times, too, twice for false starts and once for holding.
"You don't sweat it too much," Gandy said. "We're just getting things rolling for the season. The second preseason game will be better, the third, fourth, and then we'll be ready to go."
Gandy isn't expected to start this season, but he was being counted on as a top backup after starting 14 games last season. Mitchell is getting first crack at the starting left tackle spot that Gandy held last season, but he'll have to play much better to even be considered.
"It really doesn't matter during preseason," Mitchell said. "People are only going to play a certain number of plays anyway. We should definitely be ready by the time the season comes."
But they won't be based on Thursday night's performance. In addition to the penalties there are injury concerns. Guard Terrence Metcalf, who wasn't penalized and was playing well, suffered a sprained left ankle vs. the Rams, although he called it a minor injury. It remains to be seen how serious tackle John Tait's groin injury is, but he didn't play in the opener and hasn't practiced since Sunday. Guard Rex Tucker (ankle) also didn't play in St. Louis.
Right tackle Aaron Gibson, who was being considered for a starting job if Tait has to play on the left side, was penalized once for holding and allowed a sack Thursday night.
Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, who was originally and incorrectly identified as the culprit on a first-possession holding call that was later pinned on Gandy, is concerned with the line's opening effort.
"We're not where we want to be," Kreutz said. "We're killing ourselves and that's not something you want to do no matter what the call looks like (on tape)."
Continuity on the line is critical to success, but that has been difficult to achieve because of injuries and with coaches moving players in and out of different positions. Kreutz said it's not as important to rush a decision on who the starting five will be as it is to make sure the right five are ultimately in the game.
"It doesn't have to be done right away," Kreutz said. "If it takes longer, it's OK, as long as you get the right guys on the field. You're not going to have complete continuity until the sixth or seventh game of the season anyway."
When the Bears resume training camp practices Monday afternoon at Olivet Nazarene University, coach Lovie Smith will refocus on the offensive line.
"We're going to chalk those (penalties) up to the first game and guys moving around to different positions," he said. "We realize there's a lot that we have to work on, and we'll go to work on that."
The regular-season opener is four weeks and one day away. Hopefully for the Bears, that's enough time.
CAMP CALENDAR: The Bears break camp following a morning practice on Wednesday, Aug. 18.
Thursday night's game against the Rams in St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome wasn't just another preseason opener to the Bears' Lovie Smith, who made a successful head-coaching debut against the team whose defense he coordinated for the past three years.
"Forty-six years to this spot; so to say this is just another game for me personally, no, that's not the case," Smith said. "I have a lot of great memories in that stadium. I was an assistant (with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) in the visitor's dressing room. I moved over to the other dressing room, and now I'm coming back. So I know quite a bit about that place, and I'm looking forward to bringing our team down there to play."
Smith said he considered the game a competition, so naturally it was worth winning, which the Bears did, 13-10, in overtime.
"If you and I start wresting right here," Smith told a reporter, "I would try to win that, too. I believe anytime you compete you're trying to win. We're going down to St. Louis definitely with winning in mind."
Gone were his impressive display of dreadlocks and instead was an extreme buzz.
"That's one less thing he has to worry about," said coach Lovie Smith, who despite his close-cropped style can sympathize with time-consuming hair care. "In the old days, I had the big ‘fro, and you took all your time (doing your hair). It's like being a woman, fixing your hair and stuff. Now it's one less thing he has to worry about."
It has been six years since Johnson wore his hair so short, and he has had dreadlocks for five years.
"I just feel young again," the 22-year-old, second-round pick said. "I was getting so tired, and my body was feeling old. I just wanted to cut my hair and feel light and see how good I looked. I've been blessed with good hair genes, and I can shave it and grow it back and do what I want with it. I just wanted to do something different and see how pretty I was."
First-round pick Tommie Harris provided the finishing touches on his fellow rookie tackle's new hairdo.
"I went in my room and just started cutting my hair with some scissors and Tommie went and barbered it up for me," Johnson said. "Now I sleep better because my hair doesn't get tangled up in the pillow."
"I would have no problem at all starting those guys," Smith said. "The four of them (including starters Bryan Robinson and Alfonso Boone) have been in the mix. (Harris and Johnson) are here to play, so we want to get them in and see exactly where they are.
"You have a first-round draft pick with first-round talent, we've got to get him some reps and let him go. That's what preseason is all about; letting young guys play and seeing exactly where they are."
The South pacific islands occupy an area slightly smaller than Rhode Island, but NFL rosters are sprinkled with players from Samoa, including Kansas City Chiefs second-round pick Junior Siavii.
"We grew up together and went to the same church," Reid said. "My parents and his parents are good friends."
San Francisco 49ers fourth-round pick Isaac Sopoaga is another of Reid's Samoan acquaintances.
"I played with his older brother," Reid said. "Isaac's an explosive athlete. I'm happy for all of them, anyone who comes from the islands, from Samoa, I'm happy."
Reid didn't play high school football until he was a senior, and he said most Samoans don't start playing until midway through high school.
"Football's probably the biggest high school sport, but we don't have pee-wee; we don't have JV. Before that we play basketball, volleyball, cricket and everything else."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Thomas Jones is fast and strong. He looked like everything we need." — Bears center Olin Kreutz.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Terrence Metcalf's days of being overlooked could be over.
Going into camp, the popular misconception was that Ruben Brown would be handed the right guard job on a platter. But that wasn't the way Metcalf saw the situation.
With the new coaching staff juggling players to find the best starting offensive line combination from among a deep and talented group, Metcalf has been getting most of the work with the first team. The 2002 third-round draft choice from Mississippi hasn't done anything to disappoint coaches or his linemates, and the approval of both groups is essential.
"Right now, the coaches are pleased with it, so I guess I must be doing something right," the 6-foot-3, 311-pounder said. "That's the whole thing right now, trying to show the coaches and (center) Olin (Kreutz), and the other guys on the O-line that I am going to be accountable for what I have to do."
As the leader of the offensive line, and in some regards the team as a whole, Kreutz's vote of confidence counts for more than one. So far, he likes what he sees from Metcalf.
"He wants to kill people," Kreutz said, "so that always helps."
Although he started at tackle and guard at Ole Miss, Metcalf's physical abilities are geared toward guard in the NFL. But he was stuck behind Chris Villarrial the past two years on the right side, although he did get two starts last season when Villarrial was injured. However, when left guard Rex Tucker went down before the start of last season, Steve Edwards got that job.
In the off-season, after Villarrial signed with the Buffalo Bills as an unrestricted free agent, the Bears picked up eight-time Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown. That left Metcalf in danger of being lost in the shuffle again, especially with Tucker back starting at left guard. But Metcalf is getting the same opportunity as Brown and Mike Gandy to earn a starting job.
"There's a starting rotation that we have, and going in, Gandy and Ruben were a big part of that battle," coach Lovie Smith said. "But Terrence Metcalf has really played well, so he's gotten into it also.
"He's a big, athletic guy. He's strong, and that's what you're looking for in a guard. And he's picking up the offense. That's what had stopped him a little bit. Whenever you can (learn the offense) you can play a lot faster and a lot better, which he's doing."
"I have my own goals, what I'm trying to do is reach my own goals," he said. "I don't know what people thought of me or what I could be, but I knew what I could do, and if everything goes well and everybody stays healthy and everything, I think I've got a shot."
Kreutz thinks he might have a shot, too.
"He's got everything you need," the Pro Bowl center said. "He was stuck behind a lot of good players, but he can be and will be a great NFL guard. He reminds me a lot of Chris Villarrial; he's a strong guy who can move. He's just so much stronger than a lot of guys, but he's also good, he's got that drive."
While he was biding his time the past two years, Metcalf, a married man with three children, said he learned how to play the game at the NFL level from limited playing time and by watching a lot of how the players ahead of him worked.
"You've got three of the best interior guys (Villarrial, Kreutz and Tucker) that I've ever been around," Metcalf said. You don't (just) come in and play at their style of play. You've got to learn the way that they play and follow suit. You have to learn their technique and how they come off the ball. That was the whole thing learning how to play like them."
If Metcalf continues to be given opportunities to show that he's learned his lessons well, he likes his chances of increasing his playing time this season. It's possible he could even win a starting job, but it's a long way until the season opener on Sept. 12.
"I can make no assumptions," he said. "As long as every day they tell me to go in and practice (with the first team), all I take is one practice at a time. If I'm the one that they put it there at the guard, then so be it.
"It's not my goal to go out there and mess up and lose the situation. As I can keep Olin and the other guys confident in me, then I ain't worried about anything."
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: RB Adrian Peterson, battling Brock Forsey for the third — and probably last — RB spot, rushed for 52 yards on 10 carries against the Rams. Forsey had five carries for 10 yards.
Forsey has neither the explosiveness of starter Thomas Jones nor the power of injured backup Anthony Thomas, so he needs to get the job done with other tools, like vision and cutting ability, in order to earn a roster spot this season.
When Thomas was out with a foot injury last season, Forsey the understudy stepped in and rushed for 56 yards on 19 carries against the Lions in Week Eight. Five weeks later, with Thomas sidelined with pneumonia, Forsey picked up 134 yards on 27 carries against the Cardinals. The next week it was back to reality, as Forsey netted minus-4 yards on 3 carries vs. the Packers.
Peterson, like Forsey a sixth-round pick, had been sidelined with a hamstring injury for a few days prior to the Rams' game, and he missed the final 10 games last season with a sprained ankle.
Coach Lovie Smith puts an emphasis on speed, which isn't either player's forte, but Peterson has some limited-area quickness and make-you-miss ability.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: RB Thomas Jones rushed for 53 yards on 7 carries (7.6-yard average) vs. the Rams in the preseason opener, including back-to-back runs of 17 and 26 yards.
ROOKIE REPORT: Second-round defensive tackle Tank Johnson has played at least as well as first-round defensive tackle Tommie Harris, and much is expected of both this season.
Johnson said both benefit from each other's presence and their shared experiences.
"Tommie and I lean on each other a lot," Johnson said. "He brings me up, and I do the same for him. I think we make the perfect combination as far as two interior linemen."
Both players are listed at 6-feet-3 and 300 pounds, but Johnson is more powerful, while Harris relies more on quickness. They are different off the field, too.
"We're like night and day," Johnson said. "Tommie's a low key, smile and smirk, and I'm just an out-loud, laughing type of person. It works for the best because he evens me out and I even him out and we end up a good tandem."
"He's getting paid right now," Smith said, "so we're going to definitely throw him in. But we're just going to put him at the right position. We try to ease him in as far as letting him play the corner position first. We try to let our rookies get one position down and then kind of go from there."
Berrian totaled 60 yards on three tries and appeared somewhat tentative.
INJURY REPORT: Brian Urlacher (hamstring) is able to jog but won't be back for at least another two weeks.
The one thing the Lions didn't need going into the 2004 NFL season was a serious injury to a linebacker.
In fact, the linebacker position was the area of their defense the Lions probably could least afford to lose one of their best players.
That's what happened to them last week, however, when Sam linebacker Boss Bailey went to visit a surgeon in Athens, Ga., for what was expected to be a routine arthroscopic procedure on his sore right knee and it turned into a major undertaking.
Dr. Mixon Robinson, who performed surgery when Bailey blew out a knee at Georgia in 2000, found more cartilage damage than expected and the Lions aren't sure when they'll get him back.
"I don't want to give you a number of weeks because we need to see how he responds to the treatment," coach Steve Mariucci said. "But, hopefully, it will be at some point this season."
Bailey has been advised to keep his weight off the knee for several weeks before beginning the rehab work.
Special teams standout Donte Curry, Bailey's backup at the strong side, is expected to take over the starting job. Although Curry is considered a capable backup, it could be costly to the Lions if Bailey is lost for most or all of the season.
Bailey, who started all 16 games and played well last year as a rookie, is considered one of the Lions' best young defensive players. His speed and athletic ability made him an instant starter.
The Lions viewed Bailey as the only sure-fire starter in their linebacker corps for 2004. Veteran Earl Holmes and rookie Teddy Lehman are battling for the middle linebacker job; James Davis and rookie Alex Lewis were competing for the weak side linebacker position.
Lewis suffered a high ankle sprain also last week and is likely to be out of action for a couple of weeks, leaving the Lions extremely thin at linebacker.
CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 20 - break camp.
— Rookie wide receiver Roy Williams caused a stir in his recent comments regarding the degree of difficulty in his first training camp with the Lions.
"I thought it was going to be a hard, hard game to play," Williams said. "Especially, playing against 28-, 30-year-old men, but I've adjusted pretty quickly."
Although he was two days late getting to camp, Williams - the No. 7 pick in the first round of the draft - has fit smoothly into his role as the starting X receiver in coach Steve Mariucci's West Coast offense.
And Williams says it hasn't been that much of a challenge.
"The position I play, I just run a bunch of slants and a bunch of short stuff, so it's not that hard," Williams said.
The Lions are hoping Williams makes the transition from college to NFL as smoothly as he made the transition from high school to college.
As a freshman at Texas, he caught 40 passes for 809 yards and eight touchdowns. He played only the first series with the Lions starter and got no passes thrown his way in the opening preseason game but is likely to get plenty of chances as the season progresses.
— This is supposed to be the season Joey Harrington blossoms as the Lions starting quarterback and he's getting a good start at it.
"He's a much-improved quarterback," coach Steve Mariucci said. "Statistically in this camp, he's better than he's been ever.
"In seven-on-seven drills, blitz drills and team drills, all of the drills he's been more productive and more accurate and more consistent in terms of his decision-making.
"His location with the football has been improved. As long as we can keep these young receivers out here working with him, you're going to see an improvement in the passing game."
Harrington has worked hard in training camp and his confidence appears to be improving along with his passing game. He was talking recently about picking up the intricacies of the game in his third NFL season and noted a touchdown throw to Bill Schroeder in the 30-20 win against St. Louis in the final game of 2003.
"That was an on-the-fly check," Harrington said. "That was something that Steve Young or Joe Montana would have done eight years in."
Defensive end Kalimba Edwards, who is being counted on to give them a speed rush, got no sacks during the time the starting defense played against Steelers starting quarterback Tommy Maddox and rookie backup Ben Roethlisberger.
The Lions' only sacks came from Jared DeVries and Cory Redding late in the game against Brian St. Pierre, when it was obvious the Steelers were going to be throwing on virtually every down.
Edwards is coming off a two-sack season last year, when he was hampered by the after effects of a sports hernia. This year the Lions are concerned with his technique, which has limited his ability to get past the offensive tackle.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You don't have to throw the ball down the field 20 yards to get a 20-yard gain." - Quarterback Joey Harrington on the West Coast offense style of getting the ball to backs or receivers on short >RATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Tight end Casey FitzSimmons isn't going to win the battle but he's giving the Lions a very secure feeling about their tight end depth. Veteran Stephen Alexander has a virtual lock on the job but FitzSimmons, an undrafted rookie who won the starting job last year, has gotten bigger, is catching the ball as well as ever and has a good feel for the game. His touchdown catch in the preseason opener helped his stock also.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Veteran MLB Earl Holmes has retained the starting job but rookie Teddy Lehman is getting practice time with the starting defense and is showing his superior athletic ability. ... The competition is strong for the nickel and dime positions in the defensive secondary. With Fernando Bryant and Dre' Bly nursing injuries last week, Andre Goodman, Chris Cash and Rod Babers got more work than usual. ... RB Paul Smith is listed as a halfback but his size and running style make him a candidate to take over some of the FB duties that have gone to Cory Schlesinger.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Joey Harrington, who has taken the heat for the Lions offensive shortcomings his first two years in the NFL despite having virtually no running game and a subpar set of receivers, is showing what he can do if he gets some help. He has been sharp throughout training camp and connected only five of seven passes for 68 yards in the 27-21 exhibition win against Pittsburgh.
ROOKIE REPORT: WR Roy Williams is stepping into a starting job with poise and confidence, and is playing better than the Lions could expect from a rookie, even the No. 7 pick in the draft. ... RB Kevin Jones was off to a good start but has missed nine days of practice and the opening preseason game because of a strained hamstring. ... LB Teddy Lehman is making steady progress at MLB, playing behind veteran Earl Holmes but showing his ability to run with backs and receivers as well as handle the running plays. ... CB Keith Smith got off to a good start in the preseason with four tackles with the defense and two with special teams in the preseason opener against the Steelers. ... LB Alex Lewis suffered a high ankle sprain and missed most of last week's practice, putting him further behind James Davis in the competition for the weak side linebacker position. ... OT Kelly Butler is getting practice and game time with the second offensive line, although he might be a year away from being ready to play in the NFL.
INJURY REPORT: The Lions are expecting to be without second-year OLB Boss Bailey for a minimum of six weeks after he had arthroscopic knee surgery last week to repair cartilage damage in his right knee. ... LCB Fernando Bryant is likely to be out at least one more week with a strained hamstring and RCB Dre' Bly might get additional time off to get rid of a hip flexor problem. ... The only other serious injury that has surfaced in training camp is rookie OLB Alex Lewis, who has a high ankle sprain.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
By now, the Packers should know precisely what Bubba Franks is.
Six months from now, coach Mike Sherman must decide if a) he wants that type of player as his tight end, and b) he is willing to pay substantial money to ensure his return.
Ever since GM Ron Wolf selected the fourth-year junior from Miami over tight end Anthony Becht and a pair of linebackers, Julian Peterson and Keith Bulluck, with the 14th pick in the 2000 draft, the Packers grudgingly have come to accept the fact that as a receiving tight end he isn't an ideal fit for the West Coast offense.
The 26-year-old Franks has more than earned his money. He has suited up for all 69 games, played in two Pro Bowls as a starter and a third as an injury fill-in, and been a consistent contributor.
Now Franks enters the final year on his $6.45 million rookie contract with a modest cap salary of $1.002 million. He will become an unrestricted free agent in early March if the Packers don't make a move, and to this point they've taken a wait-and-see approach.
There are times, however, when an organization must concede the comfort zone and gamble on getting better with another player. Will next winter be the time that the Packers decide they're better off without Franks?
"Mike is the guy who signs guys to contracts and is maybe better to answer that," new tight ends coach Joe Philbin said. "Do we want more? The devil you know is better than the devil you don't. The guy, from what I can see, is a darn good football player and a good team guy. I don't see why we wouldn't, put it that way."
Franks' agent might argue that his client is a big target, has soft hands (three drops in 125 chances over the last two seasons), is always available and is an effective receiver inside the opponents' 5-yard line.
If the agent were to promote Franks as a great blocker, there would be some room for disagreement.
It is true that the Packers assign Franks to block some defensive ends by himself on strong-side runs because of his toughness and range. Smaller or less physical tight ends probably wouldn't draw such assignments.
"He has very good balance for a big guy and he stays on his feet real, real well," Philbin said.
It also is true that Franks misses more than his share of blocks. Last year, in non-goalline and short-yardage runs in which the gain was for 1 yard or less, by subjective analysis Franks was responsible for 19. That total led the team, two more than runnerup Chad Clifton.
"At times, he needs to get on his aiming point a little bit faster," Philbin said. "I think he's a good blocker. I think he can become an outstanding blocker."
As a receiver, Franks is much better short than long. He entered the league with a 40-yard dash time of 4.97 seconds, and if he's faster it isn't by much.
In April, the Packers were eyeing three players in the first round if cornerback Ahmad Carroll was gone. One of them, tight end Ben Troupe, ran a 4.68. The six other tight ends taken in the first four rounds had 40 times of 4.58, 4.51, 4.61, 4.78, 4.81 and 4.84.
Each year, Franks' average gain per catch has decreased, from a high of 10.7 in 2000 to a low of 8.2 in ‘03. The average gain of the leading receiver at tight end for the other 31 teams was 11.0. Cleveland's Steve Heiden (7.4) was the only leader with a lower average than Franks.
Not counting this year's rookies, there are maybe six to eight proven tight ends that can threaten a secondary deep and another 10 with the potential. Yet, some of them would be trashed trying to block a 280-pound end.
"How many guys out there can do everything and run a 4.5 something at tight end?" Philbin said. "There aren't many of those animals out there. Bubba's a good enough target and catches the ball well enough and can get off the ground and adjust to a ball enough. He can make a play when it presents itself.
"The guy is very professional about everything he does. Very reliable. The guy just is extremely valuable."
CAMP CALENDAR: The Packers will check out of their dorm at nearby St. Norbert College Aug. 22.
Tim Couch might be the Packers' No. 2 quarterback but he hasn't done much of anything to deserve it.
In fact, offensive coordinator Tom Rossley was quick to concede that golden oldie Doug Pederson had played better than Couch in the first two weeks of training camp.
"To outperform a guy who has been through this for as long as Doug has ... to come in and it's all new terminology ... no, that hasn't happened," Rossley said. "But we do see a lot of things we like in Tim Couch."
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Couch, 27, was the first overall selection in the 1999 draft. By and large, he was the starter for the Cleveland Browns the last five seasons.
Pederson, 36, was offered and signed a one-year contract for minimum salary April 28, three days after the draft ended without the team taking a quarterback.
Couch has been getting a pass from the coaches largely because he didn't sign his one-year, $1.25 million contract until June 15, too late for any off-season work. They've been patient with Couch because their version of the West Coast offense is much different than the various offenses that he operated in Cleveland and the degree of memorization required has been known to paralyze newcomers.
Still, Couch probably has had three or four times as many repetitions as Pederson during training camp. That gave Couch countless opportunities to demonstrate what was expected to be his clear athletic and play-making superiority to Pederson, who had been his backup with the Browns in 2000.
Whether it's because he has been thinking too much or his sore arm, Couch has been decidedly mediocre. There's Brett Favre and a massive dropoff.
Pederson and Couch come next, and some days rookie free agent Scott McBrien doesn't look any less productive than Couch, either. Craig Nall hasn't been 100 percent since the second day in pads because of a pulled hamstring and is becoming a forgotten man.
"I would say that Tim Couch is our No. 2 guy right now," Rossley said. "Because he's a young guy that we have a lot of confidence in. He's very athletic but he's got to learn the system. We want him to be the No. 2. We know Doug is not our quarterback of the future."
Nevertheless, the plan now would be to keep Pederson active on game days because he's unchallenged as the top holder.
At some point, the coaches must determine whom they would start if Favre suffered a major injury early in the season. Unlike a rung on a depth chart, that designation will have to be earned.
For now, at least, the Packers don't know if their best chance to win would rest with Couch or Pederson.
"Eventually, you've got to show something," Rossley said. "You've got to make plays. Somebody has to give us confidence in him and give his teammates confidence in him. We'll find that out in pre-season."
Couch has battled repeated elbow and thumb injuries during his career but says his current arm problem stems from simple overuse and shouldn't linger.
Couch lobbed only a few passes at the start of practice Saturday. He intends to play Monday night against Seattle but Sherman isn't sure if that's possible.
Couch battled arm fatigue and recurring tendinitis in his elbow for most of his five-year career with the Cleveland Browns. His worst arm injury occurred in an exhibition game at Lambeau Field in late August 2002.
"I tore something like a ligament in my elbow in the pre-season game here," Couch said. "I was actually playing the best I had at that point. I missed three or four weeks and it kind of healed back. The tendinitis actually went away at that point."
Each summer in Cleveland, Couch would go through a spell during which his arm would go dead and he'd have to sit out a few days. His current soreness is located well above the elbow in the area of the biceps.
Couch attributed his arm problem to the fact that he wasn't allowed to participate in the Browns' minicamps or off-season program. Then he signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the Packers on June 15, five days after the Packers' final minicamp.
"I had my brother catching but that's really the only person I could throw to," said Couch, who spent the off-season at home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I just came right into camp and my arm really wasn't in throwing shape for two-a-days."
Couch participated in three practices before the veterans arrived and then took on a heavy workload with Favre given practices off to rest his arm and Nall sidelined.
"After the first couple practices I felt it starting to get sore and it kind of grew from there," Couch said. "I didn't want to miss anything because I was new and I was playing catchup already."
Couch has had two operations to repair fractures in his right thumb. The first occurred during his high-school career at Leslie County in Hyden, Ky. The second occurred after he was injured at practice in October 2000.
With a rejuvenated arm, Couch says it's only a matter of time before he will perform more effectively.
"Definitely," he said. "You kind of combine that with not knowing the system yet. It's a complicated offense. It's just going to take a little time."
Lee, a fifth-round draft choice from Oregon State in 2003, didn't make it through the first day of pads last July before succumbing to a back problem that landed him a berth on the injured-reserve list for the next six months.
After his return to health, Lee got down to business and transformed his body from sloppy and soft to chiseled and strong. At 6-4 and 325, with exceptional speed to match, he fits the profile of a dominating inside presence.
In the first two weeks of training camp, Lee hasn't missed a practice.
"He's played very well at times and at other times he can do a little bit better," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said. "But the guy is still making really positive strides."
Lee remains No. 3 nose tackle behind Grady Jackson and Larry Smith. The ability of Smith to play other positions, however, gives Lee a shot at being part of the regular-season rotation of eight defensive linemen.
"He sure could be," Slowik said. "Where he is now really doesn't reflect where he might be come opening game."
The knock on Lee coming out was he couldn't find the football. After two weeks, Slowik said that looks like a bad rap.
"Only thing he has to do is separate from a blocker quicker at times," he said. "He anchors the point and gets in the backfield. If we just get him shedding the blocker he'll make a lot more plays on the ball carrier."
In recent seasons the Packers never got any pass rush from nose tackles Gilbert Brown and Rod Walker. That changed down the stretch in 2003 with Jackson and Smith, and Lee is no slug, either.
Lee said he needs to improve his stamina. When Lee tires, his first move tends to be up and that's when offensive linemen push him back off the ball.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The reason Mike McKenzie was ready to play (as a rookie in 1999) was because he taught those guys how to play bump-and-run. He's a terrific teacher." — Former Packers S LeRoy Butler on Lionel Washington, the team's assistant secondary coach.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: William Henderson vs. Nick Luchey for the starting FB job - Henderson has been the starter since 1996 but lost some of his playing time last season down the stretch to Luchey. Of the two, Luchey is the more punishing blocker but also will miss more. Henderson has become inflexible after years of lead blocking and that's affected his receiving zone. Still, he is better in the passing game than Luchey. They'll both play, just like last year.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Rookie Ahmad Carroll and veteran Michael Hawthorne are competing for the left cornerback job vacated by the holdout of Mike McKenzie. Carroll is raw. Hawthorne is 6-3 but isn't good in the bump and run area, which the Packers want to do ... Hannibal Navies and Na'il Diggs are competing for the left end job in the 4-1 opposite Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Navies is the frontrunner, but the fact of the matter is the Packers need another upfield pass rusher.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: DE Aaron Kampman - Almost by default, Kampman was handed the starting left end job last season when Joe Johnson went out for good with a quad injury. Kampman came on late in the year and now is proving that he isn't a stopgap. In fact, he easily has been one of the two or three most impressive defensive players in camp. He is quicker off the ball, diagnoses plays beautifully and never stops hustling and learning.
ROOKIE REPORT: CB Ahmad Carroll flashes big-time speed and some play-making ability. At the same time, he gets beat too much because he's so raw and fundamentally unsound. ... CB Joey Thomas has missed about 50 percent of training camp with a knee injury. He has looked pretty good. ... DT Donnell Washington could be headed for injured. reserve with a torn arch. He didn't show much in the first four days ... P B.J. Sander has been mediocre. He's better pooching than hitting away. ... DE Corey Williams has been a pleasant surprise. He weighs 308 but moves pretty darn well and has been more than adequate at the point. ... C Scott Wells has looked terrific. Offensive line coach Larry Beightol thinks he will be an NFL starter some day. ... FA QB Scott McBrien of Maryland is growing on people. He's under 6-0 but the guy is decisive, quick-armed and can run.
INJURY REPORT: C Mike Flanagan (patellar tendinitis) is out indefinitely. ... G Mike Wahle (bruised knee) is out indefinitely. ... T Brennan Curtin (groin boil) is out indefinitely. ... QB Craig Nall (hamstring) is out. ... DE Chukie Nwokorie (hamstring) has been out for 10 days and his return isn't in sight ... DE Ja'Dae McGuire (abdomen) is out indefinitely. ... DT Donnell Washington (arch) is out four to six weeks. ... CB Joey Thomas (knee) should be back this week. ... CB Chris Johnson (stress fracture) is out indefinitely.