NFC North News

The Bears are going into the summer still without a good veteran backup quarterback, the Lions are in the discovery stages with wide receiver Mike Williams, and the Packers are trying to put up a good front when it comes to their depleted defense. Get post-draft news and notes from around the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears haven't put much effort into acquiring a veteran backup quarterback in free agency, but they believe their selection of Purdue's Kyle Orton in the fourth round of the draft may be a better solution.

"When you look around and you look back at the history of this league, your best backup quarterbacks come from within, the ones you drafted and developed," Bears GM Jerry Angelo said. "When you have to go out and sign a veteran, very few teams, if any, particularly in the last three years, have won with veteran quarterbacks."

The Bears talked with Kurt Warner each of the past two offseasons, and the former league MVP visited Halas Hall in February. But he signed with the Giants in 2004 and with the Cardinals this year shortly after his interview with the Bears. Jay Fiedler and Brad Johnson also visited Halas Hall earlier in the offseason. But Fiedler signed with the Jets, and Johnson accepted the backup job with the Vikings. None of the three even got an offer from the Bears.

The Bears' plan to go with inexperienced Chad Hutchinson and Orton backing up Rex Grossman is a gamble, at least for this year. They took the same gamble last season and crapped out when Jonathan Quinn and rookie Craig Krenzel proved inadequate after Grossman was injured. Hutchinson was an improvement, but he struggled in most of his five starts, losing four of them.

Regardless, Angelo remains convinced that homegrown talent is better than the imported kind.

"We want to build from within," he said. "You look at Tennessee with Billy Volek. I looked at Green Bay when they had (Matt) Hasselbeck; Philadelphia with (A.J.) Feely. All those teams, when these quarterbacks had to go in, they kept the offense going and up and running, and that tells me something. You have to do that from within. You can't go out and rent a quarterback. You can't get a quarterback (in free agency). Even the great Joe Montana and Joe Namath. When Kansas City brought Montana on board, they were still the same team."

The Bears are convinced they got a bargain in Orton with the 106th overall pick.

He started out last season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but some poor individual and team performances later in the season and some nagging injuries sent his stock plummeting. He still wound up throwing 31 TD passes and just five interceptions.

"He's there in the fourth round, you have to take him," said Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel. "He was too good; he was too productive. He played for four years at Purdue. It's a good program, and he had a lot of production. He was just too good to leave go, and we had calls (to trade the pick). We had people calling us, and we know it was for him. When we were getting ready to pick, teams were trying to get in that spot, and based on who it was, we felt it was for him."

Orton was disappointed he had to wait so long before hearing his name called. He was hoping to be taken in the second round or at least on the first day, but he said he didn't obsess over it.

"Throughout this entire process, I didn't really worry what round I was going to go in or anything like that," he said. "I just wanted to get with the right team and get a locker and get a football number and go play some football. That's what happened finally."

The 6-foot-4, 233-pounder knows he's starting off behind Grossman and Hutchinson and that he has to compete with last year's fifth-round pick Craig Krenzel for the No. 3 job. But he's anxious to start the process and confident he has the tools to make the conversion from Purdue's wide-open shotgun system to the Bears' more conservative scheme, where he will have to adjust to taking the snap from under center.

NOTES

  • The Bears are finished in free agency, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

    "It's not about collecting a number of players," GM Jerry Angelo said. "We wanted to be specific in our goals and who we went after. If we got them great, if we didn't, then we weren't just going to sign a player at a position just to have a new face on campus."

    The Bears added No. 1 WR Muhsin Muhammad and starting ORT Fred Miller.

  • Rookie WRs Mark Bradley and Airese Currie will give the Bears much greater big-play capabilities, something they were missing last season.

    "We want to create more speed on our offense," GM Jerry Angelo said. "I just felt watching us last year, there was nobody that you had to really concern yourself with. (Running back) Thomas Jones started out real well, but you hit that point during the season, the wear and tear starts taking its toll."

    DETROIT LIONS

    Mike Williams had been warned, but -- after a year out of football -- his first day in Lions minicamp was still tougher than he expected.

    "It was a lot more than I thought it would be," said Williams, the USC wide receiver taken by the Lions with the No. 10 pick in the draft.

    For Williams, it was the first time he had taken part in a meaningful practice session since he left USC after the 2003 college season.

    "The game's a lot faster and the fact that I haven't played the game in awhile, they're moving faster than me. But I'm going hard, playing hard and going as fast as I can go. It's just good to be back out here, it's a lot of fun."

    As might be expected, Williams drew praise from his teammates in his first practice with the Lions.

    "He's a big target," said quarterback Joey Harrington. "Uses his body well. He's got a lot to learn in this offense but I was real encouraged by his attitude and the way he worked today ... he's got a lot to offer."

    Some of the Lions young defensive players also took it upon themselves to give the rookie some good-natured razzing as part of the getting-acquainted process.

    "I was just messing with him," said third-year linebacker Boss Bailey, laughing. "I thought he might come out there and mess with me, and I might have to put my hands on him. He might be a little bigger than me but I am a linebacker; he's just a receiver."

    The Lions anticipate using Williams primarily in the slot position, hoping to create mismatches with opposing nickel backs or linebackers. Charles Rogers and Roy Williams -- their first-round picks in the two previous drafts - are expected to operate from the outside position.

    NOTES

  • Quarterback Jeff Garcia is 35 years old and coming off a disappointing season in Cleveland, but he still finds it hard to look at himself as a backup quarterback.

    The Lions signed Garcia as the No. 2 behind three-year veteran Joey Harrington, but there has been speculation since Garcia was signed in March that coach Steve Mariucci will not hesitate to move Garcia into the starting job if Harrington falters early in the season.

    "I'm not coming in here with the satisfaction of being a No. 2," Garcia said during the Lions' minicamp. "I'm coming in here to push and work and be the best that I can be, to help strengthen the position.

    "One of the things that has been missing here the past few years is winning football games. That's why some of the guys that have been brought in during this free agency time have been brought in to add some depth, add some experience and add some competition at the positions, to hopefully make this team better."

    Garcia said the situation is not something he and Harrington had to discuss. "We're all professionals," he said. "We're not here because we've been satisfied being backups, being second string, being guys content picking up a paycheck.

    "We're here to battle, to make this team as good as possible. That means from the starters to everybody down the depth chart."

    As for the depth at quarterback, however, Garcia says he understands how he and Harrington will line up going into training camp.

    "Joey's the starter, he's been the starter the last three years," Garcia said. "It's his job. I'm going to do everything I can do to push him to better himself, and if he can't do that, then somebody has to step into the position and make it happen.

    "But I'm here to create positive competition, to help him as much as he's going to help me and, hopefully, create a better situation at the quarterback position."

  • The competition for the right tackle job officially got underway at the Lions' weekend minicamp, and Kelly Butler, last year's sixth-round pick out of Butler, seeming to have the inside track on the job. Butler, who did not appear in any games as a rookie, worked with the first offense while Kyle Kosier, signed as an unrestricted free agent from San Francisco, worked with the backup units and Victor Rogers worked on the left side, behind starter Jeff Backus.

  • Coach Steve Mariucci has at least three players cross-training at different positions. Linebacker Teddy Lehman, who started all 16 games at strong side linebacker last year as a rookie, is working at both the strong side and middle linebacker. Kosier, who is expected to compete for the ORT starting job, is also working at the guard positions to take advantage of his versatility on the offensive line. And running back Shawn Bryson is taking an occasional turn at fullback, although Mariucci wouldn't want to use him there on a fulltime basis.

    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Has GM Ted Thompson done enough for the Packers defense?

    That's the $64,000 question in Green Bay these days as the Packers assemble for minicamp.

    Thompson neither signed a big-money free agent nor drafted a big-name collegian for a defense that was one of the NFL's worst a year ago.

    More specifically, Thompson added next to nothing to bolster a pass rush that didn't scare anyone most of the season.

    You probably think the new defensive coordinator, Jim Bates, must be singing the blues right about now, right? Well, guess again.

    "Some people say it's going to take three years," Bates said after the draft. "I don't believe in that. Time will tell but I like what we have."

    The Packers began the draft with four selections in the first three rounds. It figured to be like 1999 and 2003 all over again when the club used its first four choices on defensive players.

    Instead, the Packers traded out of the third round and took just one defensive player, safety Nick Collins of Bethune-Cookman, among their three first-day selections.

    Barring additional moves in free agency, the Packers will enter 2005 with the same starting defensive line and most of the same backups, the same starting linebackers plus former Cardinal starter Raynoch Thompson and a hodge-podge of young and old safeties trying to replace Darren Sharper and, in effect, LeRoy Butler.

    Besides Collins, the 51st pick, the draft provided five other defensive players with selections numbered 115, 125, 167, 180 and 245.

    "When the first pick came who knew he (Aaron Rodgers) was going to be there?" Bates said. "The chance to get a highly-rated quarterback with the 24th pick, that was understandable. No problem whatsoever. Then you're trying to get the highest-rated player (wide receiver Terrence Murphy). Then we were able to rebound."

    The Packers could receive back-end help from Collins, safety Marviel Underwood and cornerback Micheal Hawkins. At this point, Bates said he harbors no more concern about safety than he does cornerback.

    "Collins is not a reach," Bates said. "We got two really good safeties that can tackle. And if Hawkins is into football the way we think he's into football, we may have a steal."

    If Bates had his druthers, the new pass rusher would have been Demarcus Ware, the lean defensive end from Troy State who might well have been a strong-side linebacker in Green Bay. But he went No. 11 to Dallas.

    "He was my favorite because we've had so much success with those types of guys," Bates said.

    Nor did Bates appear crestfallen when hard-working defensive ends Dan Cody, Matt Roth and David Pollack didn't end up in Green Bay.

    "Sometimes the great effort guy in college isn't as effective against the 340-pound tackles," he said. "But those guys were interesting to us."

    Ware was compared by some to Jason Taylor, the all-pro right end who amassed 63 sacks for Miami from 2000-'04 with Bates as his coordinator. In that span, the Dolphins also got huge sack seasons from Trace Armstrong (16.5) in 2000 and from Adewale Ogunleye (15) in '03.

    "We've had mainly speed rushers," Bates said. "The biggest factor is entry. Jason Taylor had 2.5 sacks the year before we got there. We've got great experience improving defensive ends."

    Brigham Young's Brady Poppinga, a fourth-round pick, has the speed to rush outside but Bates isn't going to rely heavily on a rookie. The only other candidate with edge speed is holdover R-Kal Truluck, but he was a bust in 2004 and is 30 years old.

    "We just don't have to have a speed rusher as long as they keep it contained," Bates said. "We can go with a power rusher out there and press the pocket."

    The Packers went to minicamp with Aaron Kampman and Kenny Peterson at left end, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Cullen Jenkins at right end, and five veterans working at what Bates considers the two interchangeable tackle positions: Grady Jackson, Cletidus Hunt, Corey Williams, Donnell Washington and James Lee. Jackson is recovering from knee surgery and won't practice.

    Gbaja-Biamila had 13.5 sacks last season but Bates is confident that he can improve his performance by turning him into more than a one-dimensional speed rusher.

    The new coordinator is extremely high on Jenkins as an inside pass rusher in dime, the futures of Williams and Washington and the overall talent level.

    "I've never been in a situation that we have such good depth in the 15 years I've been in the league," he said. "People will say, 'It wasn't a very good defensive line.' I disagree. The ability's there. We will get that ability level up and you will see vast improvement in the defensive line."

    Peterson, Williams, Washington and Lee have done little or nothing in their pro careers but Bates sees nothing but promise.

    "We've never had in Miami an (inside) rusher like Cullen Jenkins," Bates said. "We never had a backup guy like Corey Williams. We never had a guy with the potential of Kenny Peterson. I mean, on and on.

    "These guys aren't just big guys. These guys are athletes. I can list five tackles that are as good depth-wise as I've ever been around."

    Washington, the massive third-round pick from Clemson in 2004, has trimmed his weight from about 335 to 320 during the offseason. Lee is down to 325.

    "He was much heavier and softer looking," Bates said, referring to Washington. "Now he is really toned. Long arms. Big man. He's done a tremendous job. I think both Washington and Williams have outstanding potential."

    NOTES

    Cornerback Chris Johnson, the seventh-round draft choice from Louisville in 2003, actually had started to impress the Packers in practice late last season.

    However, the odds that Johnson ever will make a contribution in Green Bay took another blow about two weeks ago when he suffered a stress fracture of the tibia of his left leg. He said that he will miss four to six weeks.

    Last June, he suffered a similar injury to the same leg and wasn't able to practice until October.

    Johnson's rookie season ended about three weeks into training camp when he suffered major patellar tendon damage.

    The Packers are running short of cornerbacks because Jason Horton also is out indefinitely following surgery to remove lymph nodes.

  • Steve Morley, the Canadian guard who spent all of '04 on the 53-man roster, was dispatched to NFL Europe in order to gain playing time. Instead, Morley isn't even starting for the Rhein Fire. He plays in each game only because of league participation requirements.

    "If he wants to make it in this league he's got to pick it up," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "You've got to have a desire to want to be good. You've got to have that personal pride that you're not going to get your (expletive) kicked, that it's not all right."

    Morley began the season playing left tackle but when he was beaten too much there the Rhein coaches put him at guard.

    "I don't think he's pleased to be over there," Beightol said. "He's not doing what we would like. He's got to pick it up."

  • One offensive lineman that has made progress in the offseason is Brad Bedell. His weight is up from 305 to 318 and Beightol says his strength has increased, too.

    "You know who he reminds me of?" Beightol said. "Coach (Mike) Sherman said this to me the other day. He said, 'He's kind of like Barry Stokes.' Stokes was a great guy here for us. Could start or finish a game. Great for team morale."

    Stokes started three of 24 games for the Packers from 2000-'01 before signing with Cleveland, where he started two seasons. Beightol said he rates Bedell as good as Stokes.

    In minicamp, Bedell has replaced Chad Clifton (knee) at left tackle with the No. 1 offense.


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