Bears second-round draft choice Mark Bradley figured a rise in the level of the competition he was facing in college would lift his chances of getting to the NFL.
That's why the gifted wide receiver left his hometown school of Arkansas-Pine Bluff after two years and enrolled at Oklahoma, where his father Danny was an option quarterback in the 1980s. Although he had offers from Division-I schools, including Texas, Bradley opted for Division-II Pine Bluff.
"My mom wanted me to stay close to home," he said, "and at first I was real reluctant (to see) if I could play at the Division-I level."
But when he suffered a torn ACL midway through the 2001 season, Bradley rethought his decision. Although he was Pine Bluff's leading receiver with seven touchdowns and more than 600 yards, he was ready for a step up in class, a move that his father, who is also his agent, advocated from the beginning.
"It's hard for me to say that I couldn't have made it (to the NFL) from a Division I-AA school — maybe I could have — but I thought that I would have a better chance going to a Division-I school and a program like Oklahoma's," Bradley said. "In my opinion it made it a little easier because of the higher level of play."
Not only did Bradley fit in on a team that played for the national championship the past two seasons, he stood out. Coach Bob Stoops said he was the best athlete on a team that included running back Adrian Peterson, 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Mark Clayton.
"I took my hat off to him for that comment," Bradley said with a big smile. "We had a lot of great guys; a lot of good athletes."
If Bradley had not elevated his level of play, he would've fallen by the wayside at Oklahoma, but that didn't happen.
"I think my level of talent and play rose along with those guys," he said.
But it was still initially difficult to get playing time on an Oklahoma roster that was loaded — especially at wide receiver. That's why Bradley started his Oklahoma career as a cornerback and then quarterbacked the scout team while sitting out a transfer year in 2002. He was back at wide receiver the following season but caught just 11 passes, although two went for touchdowns. He added another score while averaging 35.3 yards on seven kickoff returns. Last season, Bradley had a modest 23 catches, but an impressive 21.3-yard average and seven TDs.
In making him the 39th overall selection last weekend, the Bears didn't look at how many catches Bradley had as much as they noticed what he did with the ball when it was in his hands.
"That ball was spread around," said Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, who tried to recruit Bradley to Texas when he was the wide receivers coach in Austin. "Mark Clayton didn't have the numbers he had as a junior because they spread the ball around so much. They also had that big horse at tailback (Peterson), and they gave it to him a lot more than they gave it to anybody in previous years. So I don't look at his numbers, I look at his athletic ability."
And that is considerable. Bradley runs a 4.43 40-yard dash, faster than track all-American Airese Currie, the Bears' fifth-round rookie wideout from Clemson. Bradley set the Arkansas high school record in the high jump at 7 feet 4 inches and broke the state meet record with a 24-foot, 7-inch long jump.
That athleticism translates well to all aspects of football. Bradley will make an immediate impact on special teams. He covers kicks as well as he returns them and even holds for placements. Special teams are a chore for some players but just another form of enjoyment for Bradley.
"It's fun to me," he said. "When I got to Oklahoma, that was the first thing I got involved in, and I've been having fun ever since. You have to have a crazy man's mentality to play it, but it's exciting."
That's an accurate description of Bradley's style of play at receiver. He brings to the Bears' table a lot of ingredients that were lacking last season.
"He's a guy that has the potential to be a complete receiver and can do a lot of different things," Drake said. "Not only can he stretch the field, but he can catch the ball and make people miss, and he can outrun people after he catches the ball. If you watched us play last year, that's one thing that we had problems with. We'd catch the ball and make a couple moves, but we weren't outrunning anybody."
Before he runs away from anyone, Bradley will have to learn to walk, like any rookie. He performed best at Oklahoma when he wasn't given too much responsibility and, because of his limited experience in a major-college program, the Bears will bring him along slowly. But his speed makes him a deep threat right now.
"I think that's primarily what he'll be early," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We're going to put him in a limited role early, teach him a little bit.
We'll find out what he can do well and try to put him in a position where he can do those things. We're not going to expect him to learn and master the whole package right away. We're going to find out where he is and what he can do."
All they have to do it put a ball in Bradley's hands to find that out.
"You sit in the meeting room for so long, writing it down and stuff, (but) you can learn it most out here," Benson said. "In the classroom I was getting a little mind-boggled, and I was asking questions over and over, trying to get it all down, maybe trying too hard. But when we got out here and got to running the plays, it all just felt good."
"He was real cool about it," Benson said. "He wasn't like trying to charge me up or anything. I mentioned to him that it was a jersey that I've had for years and would love to have."
Tens of thousands of dollars have changed hands in some instances involving number switches in the NFL, but Johnson, who wore No. 26 at Florida, wasn't looking to make a killing.
"He was just a good guy and turned it over," Benson said. "I might have to carry his pads (after practices) for a while. It was no big deal."
Hillenmeyer began last training camp as a questionable bet even to make the final roster, but he started 11 games, seven at middle linebacker when Brian Urlacher was hurt and four more on the strong side as the result of his performance as a fill-in. Hillenmeyer's spot isn't guaranteed, though.
"That is one position that's wide open as far as competition, and we're going to play whoever earns that right," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "That's what we said last year when we gave him the chance to be the Sam (strong-side) linebacker."
Ideally the Bears would like to get some pass-rush pressure from that position, and Hillenmeyer had 2 1/2 sacks last season, tied for fifth best on the team.
"You pretty much have to be just like our Will (weak-side) linebacker," Rivera said. "We do ask the Sam to do a little more blitzing, so you've got to have a little bit of pass-rush ability. "You're looking for that guy who's explosive, who can get up the field and put a little pressure on the quarterback and at the same time when we get into another front, we're going to put you on the tight end, so you've got to be able to handle the tight end as well."
It didn't take long to get the Lions' anticipated quarterback controversy up and running.
The post-draft minicamp was more than enough to get the speculation started on whether the team had a better chance to compete with three-year starter Joey Harrington on the job or six-year veteran Jeff Garcia, a former Pro Bowl quarterback at San Francisco.
Comments by Garcia contributed to both sides of the argument.
Harrington critics took heart from one particular comment by Garcia on the opening day of the minicamp: "My attitude is to not come in here and be a No. 2."
The Harrington backers took heart from another Garcia comment in the same interview: "Joey is the starter and he's been the starter the last three years. It's his job. I'm going to do everything that I can do to push him to better himself."
And so it went. Those who wanted to see a controversy felt Garcia had thrown a challenge to Harrington; those who believe Garcia's role is as a backup felt he came in to help Harrington become a better quarterback.
The issue is likely to simmer all summer and possibly into the fall. Coach Steve Mariucci, the driving force behind the Lions' decision to sign Garcia after he was released by the Cleveland Browns, has said Harrington is the Lions' No. 1 quarterback going into training camp.
The skeptics, however, speculate that Harrington will be on an extremely short leash when the season gets underway Sept. 11.
The speculation is that if Harrington doesn't get off to a good start and the Lions aren't winning early in the season, Mariucci will be ready, willing and eager to give the job to Garcia, who was his quarterback when he was coaching the 49ers.
Pro Bowl cornerback Dre' Bly seemed to have perfect position to break up a pass thrown by quarterback Joey Harrington to Williams, the outside receiver on the left side of the Lions' offensive formation.
Williams seemed to have no chance of catching the ball and it appeared he was reaching behind Bly with his right hand simply to knock the ball down, so Bly could not make an interception.
Instead of knocking the ball down, however, Williams got control of it, flipped it behind his own back and was able to make the catch.
The team let out a united gasp of amazement as he got control of the ball and finished the play.
"I was watching the film ... and the camera followed him all the way into the end zone," coach Steve Mariucci said. "You could see Roy, through his Darth Vader visor, was smiling and the camera started shaking because even the cameraman started laughing. It was such an awesome catch."
Mariucci paused for a moment, then laughed and continued. "He makes lucky catches like that a lot," he said.
If Johnson has any regrets about his decision to sign with Detroit, however, he isn't letting them show. He says he believes there will be enough passes to go around.
"I just feel that this is a good opportunity," Johnson said. "I think they're going to throw the ball a lot. No matter what you say, you can have as many receivers as you want; there are enough balls to go around.
"One thing I like about these guys is that there's no selfishness from anyone. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. I think any time you have a group collectively supporting each other, that is when success is made."
Johnson reportedly had problems with coaches and quarterbacks during the four and one-half seasons he played with the Cleveland Browns. He was released during the 2003 season, finishing that year in Jacksonville, and played the 2004 season at Baltimore.
Even with three first-round picks — Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams — lining up ahead of him, Johnson says he believes the Lions represent a good opportunity for him.
"But I think the thing I like most about it is that it's a good group of guys," Johnson said. "They're young, no one is older than 23 years old — and I think that is a pretty young group of guys. They're eager to learn and eager to get better."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The holdout of Packers wide receiver Javon Walker has caused considerable stir in Green Bay, the NFL's smallest city and a place where contract squabbles bring on intense scrutiny.
Walker, a Pro Bowl player in 2004 after a breakout season, changed agents from David Ware to Drew Rosenhaus this winter and then stayed away from last week's minicamp. He is trying to pressure the team into reworking the final two years of his contract, which calls for base salaries of $515,000 this year and $650,000 next year.
"Obviously, right now it's a slow process," Walker said. "The team's probably going to see how far I'm going to go and I'm going to see how far they're going to go.
"But I'm a strong person. I don't need the money for them to force me back in. I'm going to stick with what I believe in. Ain't nobody going to look after me but me.
"I hope something does come around. I do love the Packers. I would love to be there for the rest of my career, with Brett (Favre) for this year and if he decides to come back for more years, and with the young quarterback that they just drafted. I've never played for a team that has like Green Bay fans. I just hope they can respect the decision that I'm making."
Walker then intimated that the way the club has treated tight end Bubba Franks played a role in his decision to boycott minicamp in pursuit of a new deal.
The Packers designated Franks as a transition player at $2.095 million. The team has not met Franks' asking price for a long-term deal.
Walker said the time was right for him to get a new multi-year contract so he doesn't end up like Franks in two years.
"If the record would show that teams and everybody were loyal to that, then I could follow that same movement," Walker said of waiting at least another year to renegotiate. "And the person who I'm working out with every day that I see not getting a fair deal is Bubba Franks. Bubba's having a hard time getting a deal.
"And I'm not putting myself in his category. Here's a man: three-time Pro Bowler, great pass receiver in the red zone, great blocker. If I see them doing this to Bubba, will I fall into that same category?"
GM Ted Thompson said he didn't intend to get worked up about Walker. Coach Mike Sherman said he was disappointing and let it go at that.
The Packers faced a similar situation last season when cornerback Mike McKenzie held out with two years left on his deal. The Packers refused to tear up that contract and aren't expected to change their policy when it comes to Walker.
Favre was excused from minicamp by Sherman. However, a few days later, Favre severely criticized Walker just as he ripped McKenzie last year.
"I sure hope the Packers don't give in to him," Favre said. "My job is to throw passes and be a leader. That's why I decided to speak up. I need to be a leader, and even though I may not like having to do it, I think some things needed to be said.
"Whatever happened to buying into the team concept? If Javon does what he's supposed to do, and what he is paid a lot of money to do, he's paid to go to the Pro Bowl. He wasn't complaining two years ago."
If Walker's holdout drags on, Favre said "I'd just as soon go without him. He's a great player. I think he can help us. He's likeable and easy to get along with, but I'm guessing he's getting the wrong advice, and he's buying into that.
"I just don't see much good that can come from it. If it gets time for the start of training camp and he's not in, I think it'll start bothering him, and he'll be here.
"We've got guys who'll give great effort. Stars are made that way. Look what happened when Sterling (Sharpe) left. Robert Brooks stepped up. We can win without him."
It also should be pointed out that the Packers tried to replace McKenzie after his trade to New Orleans with Michael Hawthorne and Ahmad Carroll. Their performances were abominable.
Rushing to Walker's defense was Darren Sharper, the former Packers safety who was released in March and then signed with Minnesota.
"What's going on with the minicamps and whether or not Javon's there — Brett wasn't at minicamp so it really doesn't make a difference who is there," Sharper said. "He wasn't there so he shouldn't have anything to say about Javon not being there.
"Brett shouldn't have anything to say about that. I have the utmost respect for Brett and what he feels as far as guys on his team. But when it comes to contact situations, those are personal matters. Brett should not have anything to say about that. It has nothing to do with him."
Frank Novak will continue to serve as a volunteer coach for the Packers now and for the foreseeable future, according to coach Mike Sherman.
"He heads up some things for us with the youth football league across the state and works the camps," Sherman said. "Frank's a good ambassador for the Packers."
Novak, 66, retired in January 2003 after three seasons as the team's special teams coach but continued to serve as special teams consultant for the last two seasons under his successor, John Bonamego. Brad Miller is the new No. 2 special teams coach but Novak was back taking an active role helping with special teams during minicamp.
Novak got his start in coaching at the high-school level in Iron Mountain, Mich., in the early 1960s and has been going ever since. He loves coaching and expects to be at every practice again this season.
At this point, Barry is backing up Mark Tauscher at right tackle. But if Barry proves that he's the team's fifth best offensive lineman, which of the two players would move to right guard?
"We would probably move ‘Tausch' because ‘Tausch' has more experience in there," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "Something about ‘Tausch.' It doesn't matter where we put him. He's a player.
"He could certainly do that. He can probably do anything. We've played Kevin Barry in there some in the past and he's done OK. But we'd like to see those two guys we got step up, and I think that they will."
Veterans Grey Ruegamer and Matt O'Dwyer are running 1-2 at right guard.
T Chad Clifton (knee) sat out minicamp. He had reconstructive knee surgery Sept. 27 and might not be ready for the start of training camp. ... G Will Whitticker suffered a bruised knee on the third practice of minicamp and sat out. ... G Matt O'Dwyer missed the last three practices with blisters on his feet. ... FB Najeh Davenport missed minicamp rehabbing from shoulder surgery March 11. ... DT Cletidus Hunt pulled a hamstring in physical testing the day before the first minicamp practice and sat out the rest of the week.