NFC North News

The Bears are flipping safeties and changing their offseason program, the Lions are trying to get their youth on the same page, and Green Bay's Mike Sherman is trying to make the best of being stripped of his general manager duties. Get those and more offseason notes from the NFC North division.


The offseason flip-flopping of free safety Mike Brown and strong safety Mike Green doesn't represent a huge change in responsibilities for either player, since their duties have frequently been interchangeable in the past.

But it does make sense given the traditional qualities expected at each position. Since Brown lacks ideal speed but is extremely tough and a force vs. the run, he is more effective near the line of scrimmage. In the past, he made up for anything he lacked in pure speed with an uncanny knack for taking the proper angle to the ball and a cerebral approach.

Green (6 feet, 195 pounds) is taller but slighter and probably has better range.

"We watched tape last year on Mike Green, and Mike's big plays were when he was playing (off the line in coverage)," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "We also saw that Mike Brown is an aggressive football player, a tremendous blitzer based on stuff we saw from the ‘03 defense and before he got hurt (in 04), and that he's a box safety."

Brown played in just two games last season before suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon. While he intends to be back in the best shape of his life and there are no indications he won't be 100 percent at the start of training camp, even if Brown is a half-step slow initially this summer, strong safety would suit him best.

"In college, I was a safety that was up towards the line of scrimmage a lot," said Brown, who led Nebraska in tackles three seasons in a row. "I feel real comfortable in the box. I like to play physical football and usually at that position you get a chance to play some physical football. I'm going to enjoy it. That's my favorite part of the game and hopefully I'll do pretty well at it this year."

The 5-foot-10, 212-pound Brown isn't the prototypical linebacker-sized strong safety, but he's big enough for Bears coaches.

"He's not tall, but there have been a lot of good ones who were short because they're stout, and they're football players," Rivera said, "and that's what he is."

Rivera denies that Brown's injury, the first of his NFL career, had anything to do with the switch to strong safety.

"The biggest thing is how stout he is," Rivera said. "When you look at the two of them and stand them side by side, you say to yourself, ‘This is the guy that's probably best suited to be a strong safety,' and that's a big part of the reason we're doing it."

As a 16-game starter at strong safety in 2002 and ‘04, Green was second on the Bears both seasons with 138 and 132 tackles, respectively. The sixth-year veteran had two interceptions last season but only one in the previous four seasons.

"I'm happy with the move," Green said. "I'll be back there roaming the field and just trying to make plays. It will help me use my range a little bit more. Now I can run and play the deep ball and run from sideline to sideline. At free safety I can freelance and read everything."

Brown has developed a reputation as a big-play guy. He had a 95-yard fumble return for a TD in the second game last season before his injury. Also a sixth-year veteran, he averaged 99 tackles in his first four seasons with 11 interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns, including back-to-back overtime game-winners in 2001.


  • The Bears have been bitten hard by the injury bug for the past three seasons, so there will be some changes this year.

    Former strength coach Russ Riederer retired and was replaced by Rusty Jones, who spent the past 20 years with the Bills. The Bears have focused their offseason weight-lifting program on working smarter rather than harder.

    The NFL allows 56 workouts, but the Bears have cut their number to 40. "Our studies of other teams who have been more successful in terms of staying healthy throughout the season have shown that more doesn't mean better," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "So we changed our offseason program considerably. We're doing different things in terms of nutrition that we have never done before. We've changed it up quite a bit.

    "We put a lot of teeth and emphasis into our offseason program in terms of what we want to accomplish and how. In fact, addressing that was my No. 1 goal going into the offseason, and I feel like we're headed in the right direction."

    The Bears finished last season with 12 players on injured reserve, including seven starters. Sixteen players who started at one point missed at least two starts last season.

    Ten players finished the 2003 season on injured reserve and 11 starters missed at least two games with injuries.

  • Special-teams play will be a factor in determining the players at several positions who make the final roster to provide depth — running back, linebacker, wide receiver and defensive back, specifically.

    "Two of our linebackers (Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs) won't play a lot of special teams," coach Lovie Smith said. "The rest of them have to be special-teams players. The defensive backs, quite a few of the positions, we'll determine whether the guy stays or goes based on that, special teams."


    The Lions' rookies have started their crash course in learning exactly what it takes to survive the day-to-day routine of the NFL. They joined the team's veterans at the Allen Park headquarters last week and will have approximately six weeks of work before breaking for the league's rookie symposium, and will get a few more days in early July.

    "By the time they cut out of here in July, they've got a pretty good idea of what we do," coach Steve Mariucci said.

    And the element Mariucci wants them to learn the best is hard work. In fact, he says virtually each of the team's 25 rookies will have to work harder than he has ever worked at football in his life.

    "Over the years, the rookies tend to pull muscles because they simply haven't been working at the pace of our practices," Mariucci said. "Or they train for that combine and then they shut it down a little bit. "They think they're working but they're not working out. Then they get into a minicamp and these OTAs, and all of a sudden it's fast, change of direction and they tend to pull hamstrings, groins, hip flexors. It happens every year.

    "So this is for strength and conditioning and flexibility, core training and those sort of things to prevent those injuries."

    The rookies will get some classroom time and will get a refresher course in the offensive and defensive basics they were given during the post-draft minicamp in late April. But mostly they will be spending time with strength and conditioning coach Jason Arapoff.

    "We could teach them the whole book but if they're not physically capable of staying on the field, healthy, then you're whistling Dixie."


  • There is money to be made in the NFL but the rookies are learning they won't get rich in the couple months of offseason workouts. The league rules establish modest limits on how rookies are compensated in minicamps and organized team activities (OTAs).

    "They get room and board," Lions coach Steve Mariucci said. "We put them up, we feed them breakfast and lunch (at the team practice facility) and they get per diem for dinner. That's what they get. There's no paycheck over and above that."

    Veteran players frequently try to negotiate some sort of financial rewards for offseason workouts into their contracts but the rookies aren't yet at that stage.

    "It's just a room and board scholarship," said Mariucci, referring back to his college coaching days. "That's all it is."

  • Rookie linebacker Johnathan Goddard, a sixth-round draft pick from Marshall, is making a position switch — from defensive end to linebacker — and has been surprised at help he's getting from the players with whom he is competing for a job.

    "The rest of the linebackers are helping me out to make sure I get everything going," Goddard said. "It's a big adjustment but I think I can get through it.

    "Even if someone's there to get your job, you still want to win. If you want to win, you've got to at least teach this person what to do and help them out. You're all teammates or you're all going to be teammates.

    "I was a little surprised, but this team has got it going in the right direction. They know what they want and that's a championship. They seem to know what they have to do."

  • The "bottom feeding" phase of the free agent market is still a couple of weeks away — when teams begin making their June 1 salary cap cuts. Meanwhile, Lions president Matt Millen is biding his time, keeping a watchful eye on former New England cornerback Ty Law, who was in for a visit two weeks ago.

    The Lions have indicated a strong interest in Law and say they will compete financially for the four-time Pro Bowl players when he is sufficiently recovered from the broken left foot he suffered last season.


    Mike Sherman would never admit that he wasn't cutting it as both coach and general manager. Three NFC North Division titles and four straight trips to the playoffs are proof to him that the dual role wasn't too much and was working.

    However, in January, Packers President Bob Harlan pulled the plug on Sherman as GM and hired veteran personnel man Ted Thompson to replace him. The decision by Harlan clearly crushed Sherman's spirit.

    Associates say he barely left his Lambeau Field office for two weeks. Today, Sherman enters the final year on his contract as a wounded and lame duck but also as a man that has reconciled with what happened. He still respects Harlan and enjoys working with Thompson, and his love for the Packers remains boundless.

    "If you told me when I was 16 years old that I would be the head coach of the Green Bay Packers I would be in awe of that," Sherman said during a recent minicamp. "Then you finally become that, you've worked so hard to get here, you become so consumed in staying here. You don't enjoy the ride.

    "That's one of the things, when I looked at myself, I want to enjoy my job even more. I made up my mind this year that I was really going to enjoy my job and go from there."

    For the first time since the 2000 season, Sherman isn't the GM. Being coach only changes several things.

    "As general manager at practice, you're watching the players as players, you are observing talent," Sherman said. "As a coach, you're observing players in your scheme and the scheme itself, the plays you call and how they are working. You have a tendency to be more interactive from that standpoint.

    "When I was general manager, I'm trying to evaluate our team and our talent level. You have to sit back a little bit and not get caught up in it. Now I can get caught up in the personality of the player, the play that you're going to run and how you're going to teach the play. That makes you more interactive with the players."


  • With Brett Favre back home in Mississippi, rookie Aaron Rodgers competed against Craig Nall and J.T. O'Sullivan and looked like a first-round pick.

    "You have to be cautious this time of year," coach Mike Sherman said. "What we asked him to do I thought he handled it extremely well. "He showed very good accuracy. Quick delivery. He made a couple bonehead moves, throwing the ball down the middle late, which you never want to do. But No. 4 has done that a few times."

    Nall, described by Sherman as "just a fighter," performed poorly on one day but appeared at least semi-competent the other four days. O'Sullivan had fewer chances but made the most plays of any quarterback on the move.

  • New running backs coach Edgar Bennett said the team still was trying to determine the best weight for fullback Nick Luchey. He showed up at minicamp lacking body definition and weighing 284.

    The other backup fullback, Vonta Leach, might be just as powerful as Luchey at 256 but is stiff and needs improvement as a receiver. Despite the trauma in his personal life, Ahman Green impressed the staff with his burst through holes and by reporting lighter than he was at the opening minicamp last year.

    Running back Walter Williams, who has exceptional strength, flashed power and quickness. Rookie free agent Chaz Williams, an option quarterback at Georgia Southern, showed quick feet and better speed than anticipated.

  • Holdout wide receiver Javon Walker played host to his first Big Hit Celebrity Softball Slam last weekend at Miller Park in Milwaukee. With Walker was his new agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

    When Rosenhaus was unexpectedly summoned to take an at-bat, most of the 13,447 in attendance booed him viciously. Rosenhaus good-naturedly smiled and waved, then weakly grounded out to short.

    "I'm here for the charity," Walker said. "The people are why I am here today. If it wasn't for them, no one would know who Javon is. I'm not a guy who is going to hide. The fans are the ones who are buying the tickets."

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