Kurt Kittner's excellent spring got a little better, as did his chances of competing for a roster spot, when the Bears waived quarterback Craig Krenzel June 14.
Kittner, fresh from leading the Amsterdam Admirals to the championship of the NFL Europe League last Saturday, moved up a peg on the Bears' depth chart with Krenzel's release. Krenzel was the Bears' 2004 fifth-round draft choice from Ohio State, and he got an unexpected five starts as a rookie last season, when he was thrown into the fray after Rex Grossman was injured and Jonathan Quinn was ineffective.
But Krenzel struggled, completing just 46.5 percent of his passes (59 of 127) for 718 yards, 3 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. His passer rating of 52.5 was the worst of the four quarterbacks who started for the Bears, but they were 3-2 in Krenzel's starts.
The team asked Krenzel to play in Europe this spring, to accumulate more game experience, but he declined, choosing instead to work on his game at Halas Hall. That decision didn't help his future with the Bears, and when the team selected Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton in the fourth round in the April draft, Krenzel fell to fourth on the depth chart. Kittner is now No. 4, behind Grossman, Chad Hutchinson and Orton.
Kittner was named MVP of World Bowl XIII Saturday after completing 15 of 28 passes for 239 yards and two TDs in a 27-21 win over the Berlin Thunder. The Schaumburg High School graduate played five years under Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner while he was head coach at Illinois.
"He's got a real good feel for what we're doing," Turner said of Kittner's familiarity with the offense. "It's changed a little bit since he was there, but not much, very minor. He'll be able to pick it up and that'll help him tremendously."
Kittner, who was drafted in the fifth round in 2002 by the Falcons, had four starts for Atlanta in 2003 but completed just 44 of 114 passes for 391 yards with 2 TDs and 6 interceptions. He spent last season out of football after being released by the Falcons, Bengals, Giants, Patriots and Steelers in a five-month span. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Kittner is looking forward to reuniting with Turner.
"I think he just has an understanding of what's going on, and he teaches the quarterbacks well," Kittner said. "So when you're on the field, you can almost predict or you know what types of plays he's going to call in certain situations just because over the week you've gone over it so much."
Krenzel was behind center for the Bears during consecutive come-from-behind road victories against the Giants Nov. 7 and the Titans Nov. 14. In the process, he became the first Bears quarterback since 1965 to start his career 3-0. Since 1970, just seven quarterbacks have begun their NFL careers with victories in their first three starts, and only three quarterbacks have won more than three straight starts to open their careers.
Krenzel suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter at Dallas on Thanksgiving and was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 7.
--The Bears' defensive starting lineup appears fairly well set five weeks before the start of training camp, but coordinator Ron Rivera wants to keep some uncertainty among his players.
"I think you have to create a little situation where they're a little bit uncomfortable," Rivera said. "If you can do that, get them feeling uncomfortable, they'll push each other and they'll push themselves."
--Bears DE Adewale Ogunleye finally returned to practice in a limited capacity on June 15 after undergoing postseason ankle surgery.
The 2003 AFC sack leader was hampered most of last season by the nagging injury and managed just five sacks, 10 less than a year earlier. He cost the Bears $30 million plus Pro Bowl wide receiver Marty Booker and a third-round draft choice.
Despite continuing his rehab, Ogunleye said he feels more comfortable this season, as opposed to last year, when he joined the Bears in the preseason.
"It feels more like this is my team, like I'm here with my linemates," Ogunleye said. "Last year I was like one of the new guys. Now I'm part of the team and I'm one of the leaders of the team. It was kind of hard last year, like it was thrown upon me at the last minute."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Lovie (Smith) said last year, and I agree with what coach said: There's never been a middle linebacker with his ability in this system, and in this system, it could be tremendous what he does." -- Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera talking about MLB Brian Urlacher
It's one of Matt Millen's pet sayings: "You can never get too many good defensive backs." And he's giving the phrase more than lip service.
The addition of seven-year veteran cornerback R.W. McQuarters is the fourth major move Millen has made in the past three seasons to shore up the Lions defensive secondary.
It started with cornerback Dre' Bly, who was acquired as an unrestricted free agent in 2003. Bly has earned Pro Bowl honors in both years with the Lions.
Millen added cornerback Fernando Bryant, also by the free agent route, a year ago but didn't have quite the same luck. Bryant was hampered by an ankle injury, was limited in his effectiveness and missed much of the second half of the season.
In the past four months, Millen has made two more free agent moves - landing strong safety Kenoy Kennedy in the early days of free agency in March and, more recently, convinced McQuarters to accept a one-year, $1.6 million contract to join the Lions.
There is still a question as to how the Lions plan to use the versatile McQuarters when they get into the NFL season.
He almost certainly will get a chance to compete with Bryant for a starting cornerback job and Millen knows McQuarters could be effective as a nickel back. Because McQuarters has experience at free safety there is another scenario that isn't getting a lot of discussion.
It has been assumed that third-year player Terrence Holt would be the successor to Brock Marion at free safety but coach Steve Mariucci and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron have seemed at times to have reservations about turning the job over to Holt.
If Bly and Bryant look solid at the corners, there is a possibility McQuarters will join Holt in the competition for the free safety position.
Either way, the Lions look stronger in the secondary than they have been in recent years.
--Although the Lions say they never considered it an issue, quarterback Joey Harrington is assured of collecting the $3 million roster bonus as it was written in the contract he signed as a rookie three years ago.
With the $3 million bonus and the $4.95 million salary he is due this year, Harrington's salary cap number comes in close to $8 million, giving rise to speculation the Lions might ask him to renegotiate the contract. One news report last spring even speculated the Lions might cut Harrington.
As it turned out, the Lions did not even approach Harrington to renegotiate and the team says there was never a serious consideration of cutting him.
"There's no issue around it," said Lions executive vice president and chief operating officer Tom Lewand.
Lewand said the $3 million bonus became guaranteed on June 15 and is payable on July 1. Harrington, a three-year starter, has two years left on his original contract.
--Russ Bolinger, who played seven years with the Lions and has been in the team's scouting department the last nine years, has left the team to accept a similar position with the Washington Redskins.
Bolinger played with the Lions as an offensive guard from 1976 through 1982, continued his NFL career with three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and also had a season with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL in 1985.
The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Bolinger as a scout in 1994 and he rejoined the Lions as an area scout in 1996. He was the team's director of college scouting in 2001-2002, and was the college scouting coordinator the past two seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we get a multi-year deal worked out, great. If we don't, we've always been comfortable with Eddie playing at that $1.43 million tender." - Lions executive vice president Tom Lewand, on the team's decision not to reduce the tender offer to Pro Bowl kick returner Eddie Drummond as they could have on June 15.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers will enter training camp without knowing who either of their two starting safeties will be.
Last year, Darren Sharper was listed as the free safety but actually played more to the tight end side as the strong safety. The other starter was Mark Roman.
After Sharper was cut (and later signed with Minnesota), the Packers brought in a total of five safeties. The group includes Bethune-Cookman rookie Nick Collins, a second-round pick; San Diego State rookie Marviel Underwood, a fourth-round pick; former Brown Earl Little; former Dolphin Arturo Freeman; and former Redskin Todd Franz. Roman also returns after a lousy season.
"Two guys will come out of that group," new secondary coach Joe Baker said. "We're giving everybody a shot right now. We're certainly not where we feel we need to bring somebody else in.
"We feel good about the guys that are here right now. We need to see these guys play in a competitive situation against guys in different jerseys, and see what we look like."
Little, a long-time starter for the Browns, is nearing the end but wants one more shot.
"I came here for the offense; I know they can put a lot of points on the board," Little said. "And I also knew the safety position was wide open; that's what every coach told me. They've been true to their word so far."
Collins is the fastest player in the bunch but comes out of a Division I-AA program and figures to need extensive seasoning. Underwood isn't as athletic as Collins but looks more ready to play.
--Hockey is coming to Lambeau Field in February. It really will be the Frozen Tundra Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. when Wisconsin and Ohio State play the first hockey game of any kind at Lambeau.
The 72,000-seat stadium will be converted into a 40,000-seat outdoor ice rink. It has been dubbed the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic.
"I just hope the football gods give the hockey gods one day," Ohio State coach John Markell said. "Outdoors, I hope it's not subzero."
At that time of year, the average mean temperature in Green Bay is about 19 degree and the average high is 27.
The only other outdoor hockey game in NCAA Division I history was played between Michigan and Michigan State in October 2001 at MSU's Spartan Stadium. That game drew 72,000 fans.
A portable rink will be set up on the north half of Lambeau Field.
--Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the team's first-round draft pick, failed to distinguish himself in the nine-day June mini-camp that ended last week.
"The one thing we didn't see is the accuracy that we all saw in college," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "I think that that's just a part of being overloaded with the thinking. Sometimes he was a little bit quick to shuffle-step back up inside and I think it's because he's not seeing downfield."
Rodgers, a 66.1 percent passer at Cal, wasn't on target often enough.
"He's high on all his throws," Rossley said. "When he doesn't cut loose, he's not following through and finishing on the ball. I want to see him torque and throw the ball hard."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm assuming he'll report to camp on time and ready to go and be in the greatest shape he's ever been in. That would certainly be good for him, that he would undertake that." -- Coach Mike Sherman on DT Cletidus Hunt, who blew off the voluntary minicamp in June.