Ever since the Bears used the fourth overall pick in the draft to select Texas running back Cedric Benson, the popular theory has been that incumbent Thomas Jones is merely renting the starting job until August. That may be accurate, but that's not the way Jones chooses to look at the situation.
"That's not even how I'm thinking," Jones said Wednesday afternoon, following the first of the Bears' 14 organized team activities this month. "I haven't even had those thoughts in my mind. I'm just trying to enjoy my offseason and get ready for the season like everyone else.
"I was a starter last year. I was a very productive player last year considering the situation. And I look for great things for this season."
In light of the Bears' league-worst offense, Jones' 948 rushing yards on 240 carries (4.0-yard average) and team-best 56 receptions for 427 yards were impressive. But his numbers weren't enough to convince the Bears to pass up a potential franchise runner in Benson.
"That was the administrative department's decision and the coaches', and (Benson) is a guy who's here just like everyone else to help us be a better team, and that's how I see it," said Jones, who got his best opportunity last year to be an every-down back in his fifth NFL season. "They (had) said, ‘We may end up drafting a running back (because) he may be the best player at that position (in the draft), and that's fine. They make the decisions and I play football."
For now, coaches say the No. 1 job belongs to the veteran, but it's rare for a team coming off a 5-11 season not to get a high draft pick on the field immediately, other than at quarterback. New offensive coordinator Ron Turner has proposed using both Jones and Benson extensively. But in the NFL, that plan rarely works to the satisfaction of both runners.
"It depends on the coaches," Jones said diplomatically. "Definitely having other options in the backfield and other options at receiver and all over the field makes us a better team. However they can help us and make us a better team, then I'm sure they'll figure out a way to put them on the field."
Jones was considered an ideal fit in last year's offense, which placed a premium on utilizing the running back as a primary receiver. Turner's scheme is thought to prioritize a power running game, which would appear more geared toward Benson's talents.
Jones denied that he's using Benson's presence to motivate himself to the next level after putting up the best numbers of his career.
"I motivate myself just by my will to play the game and be the best player I can be," he said. "That's how I've always played and that's how I'll continue to play."
"I think I'm a lot better technique-wise and also being able to see more things happen during the course of a play," said Berrian, who had 15 receptions for 225 yards and two TDs as a rookie.
Berrian often stood out during the Bears' late May minicamp utilizing not only his blazing speed to gain separation but catching the ball more consistently and running tighter routes than he did last year as a third-round pick from Fresno State.
"He's got the speed, the burst and the big-play capabilities," said first-year offensive coordinator Ron Turner. "That's huge; you've got to have that.
"I wasn't here last year, but from what everyone says he's catching the ball much more consistently and playing with more confidence right now.
"He stepped up and had five good (practices) and is competing well. He's determined to prove that he can be an every-down receiver, that he's not going to be limited to certain types of routes and I think he'll be able to do that."
"It's a big relief, finally going ahead and getting it done," Harris said. "There's no sense in waiting on it. We got a good deal, so I decided to go ahead and sign.
"I don't see any reason to wait," he said. "A lot of guys wait because they want to see what this guy got and try to match, but honestly I think you probably get your best deal if you go ahead and get it done earlier than later."
Harris, a smart, physical 6-1, 206-pounder who registered 96 tackles and seven interceptions last season at Louisiana-Monroe, is beginning to feel comfortable with the Bears.
"Everything's going a lot smoother than the first couple minicamps, just finally getting the concepts where you can actually play and not think," Harris said. "There's a lot less thinking going on now and I can do more reacting."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have two guys that can play, and the challenge is to find a way to maximize their talents and get them both on the field and get them both being impact players, which is something we can do." — Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner on running backs Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones.
The June cuts have begun and, although the Lions will be paying close attention, early indications are that their interest will be limited to adding at least one body to what is already a reasonably deep set of cornerbacks.
Team president Matt Millen met with former New England cornerback Ty Law last month and brought in former Chicago cornerback R.W. McQuarters for a visit to the Lions' Allen Park headquarters last week.
"I can't imagine we would have room for both of them," coach Steve Mariucci said. "First of all, we like our corner situation right now. I think we're better than we were a year ago when we're all out there healthy.
"We're pretty deep there in some ways but you're always looking to add a player to your team if you can."
Two-time Pro Bowler Dre' Bly and last year's free agent acquisition Fernando Bryant are seen as the likely starters at cornerback, although Bryant's position might be in danger if the Lions sign either Law or McQuarters.
The Lions like two young corners they have landed in the last two drafts — Keith Smith in 2004 and Stanley Wilson in this year's draft. They are expected to compete with veterans Chris Cash and Andre Goodman for the nickel and dime roles.
Law, 31, is a four-time Pro Bowl player and would be a valuable addition to the defensive secondary if the Lions can afford him, which appears to be the case.
Law is recovering from a broken foot and subsequent surgery, however, and the Lions are waiting and watching his rehab work to make sure he's 100 percent before they begin negotiations.
Graves is using a system he says he developed during his 19 years as an assistant coach at Utah. He is lobbing bricks instead of footballs for Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams to catch.
"If I balled up a piece of paper or if I take a tennis ball or even a football, and I toss it to you, in your mind you say, ‘Oh, I dropped it.'
"But if I toss you a brick, I don't have to say anything because in your mind this thing is going to hurt. So you always get hands and eyes coordinated together and, basically, that's the drill."
Roy Williams said the brick drill is great for helping players develop concentration.
"You're going to catch the brick," he said. "You're not going to let the brick hit you in the stomach or drop it on your toe, you're going to catch it."
Although his speed was questioned coming out of North Carolina State, Holt seems to have a way of getting to the football and making plays. He demonstrated as much with an interception early in the Lions' current two-week minicamp.
Coach Steve Mariucci isn't promising Holt the job but he has liked what he has seen so far.
"He didn't get to play a lot last year but now he's lining up there as the one safety with Kenoy (Kennedy)," Mariucci said. "And he's doing a good job. He's a vocal guy, he's a headsy guy and he's getting better with practice. All those sort of things add up, they're good for him."
Holt had three interceptions as a rookie when the Lions were hit by a batch of injuries in their defensive secondary. He got significant playing time at cornerback and started the final two games at free safety in 2003.
He got very little playing time last year, however, lining up behind Brock Marion at free safety. The Lions released Marion this spring, however, and Holt is the leading candidate for the job unless the Lions go after a free agent before the start of training camp.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He called him Coach Carter. He really works us out pretty hard. He brought a new attitude to this football team, especially the wide receivers. And we want to work for him." — Wide receiver Roy Williams on new receivers coach, Fred Graves.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Coach Mike Sherman excused Favre from this minicamp just as he did the post-draft minicamp.
"I just want him busting the door down when he get here at the end of July," Sherman said. "That's the most important thing for me is that he comes here and he's excited. This is his 15th season. He's been working out with this personal trainer and we get reports that he's having a heck of an offseason.
"He's in great shape, so everything's going great physically. He feels great. He's on a special diet. When I talk to him he has an enthusiasm in his voice of a guy that's 22 years old instead of 35 years old. I think it's working, and I'm excited about the fact that he's excited about the season and can't wait for it to start."
Favre was introduced to his heir apparent, Aaron Rodgers, on the field. He also joked with teammates curious about intensive "core" workouts with a personal trainer have done to his physique.
"He's definitely lean," running back Ahman Green said. "He looks good. I can't wait to see him move around in the pocket and scramble as he does when he's trying to make time for himself to get the ball to the receivers."
Wide receiver Javon Walker and tight end Bubba Franks joined defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt as no-shows at minicamp.
Walker is holding out in hopes that the club will renegotiate the final two years on his contract. Franks, a transition free agent, has yet to sign his tender.
Running back Najeh Davenport recently fired agent Michael Harrison and hooked up with Drew Rosenhaus, who took on representation of Walker early in the year. Davenport has one year left on his deal.
"Any time you have somebody on your side that has a lot of respect, it can't hurt," Davenport said. "(Rosenhaus) explained to me that everybody has a different situation. For Javon to be doing what he's doing now, holding out to get a new contract, that's Javon's situation. It's a good time to do that because he has a lot of leverage. I ain't nothing but a second-string tailback."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just turned 50. You sit in al those funeral parlors, Masses and services, you do a lot of thinking. I've had all these little wake-up calls, saying, hey, get things straight, get things straight. You realize, the bottom line, what really matters, is the relationships you have with people. That really matters, and I want to improve those." — Coach Mike Sherman.