NFC North Players To Watch

Every NFL team enters training camp with questions. We've already detailed the Vikings' issues several different ways, so now it's time to look at their NFC North competition as they head to camp.


Players to watch in training camp:

  • Quarterback Rex Grossman: He needs first to stay healthy, which he hasn't done in his first two NFL seasons, and then to live up to the expectations of a front office and coaching staff that believe he is the Bears' franchise quarterback.

    When asked if he considered it a tough task to make the 2005 Bears his team after having missed the last 13 weeks last season, Grossman said: "I don't know if tough's the right word. (But) I think I still have a lot to prove to everyone. I'm glad I have their confidence, but there's still a lot to prove, and I understand that and it's just a process that any quarterback goes through not having a lot of experience."

    Grossman has started six games with varying results.

    "I've won three games," he said, "but I need to show a little more."

    The Bears have given him a better supporting cast than he's had in the past, which Grossman acknowledges.

    "Without knocking the last couple years," Grossman said, "we're a lot more talented on offense this year with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson in the backfield. We've got Muhsin Muhammad, a Pro Bowl wide receiver. "(Center) Olin Kreutz is a perennial Pro Bowler; he's an unbelievable player. We have a couple new linemen (right tackle Fred Miller and guard Roberto Garza), and (second-year wide receiver) Bernard Berrian's stepping it up."

    Now it's up to Grossman to guide that talent into the end zone, which the Bears visited less frequently than any team in the NFL last season, while also finishing last in total yards, passing yards, third-down efficiency and sacks allowed.

    Based on last year's lack of production, it could be a daunting challenge for Grossman, who will be working with his fifth different offensive coordinator in the past five years.

  • Defensive left end Ogunleye has a reputation and a $33 million contract to live up to.

    When the Bears traded Pro Bowl wide receiver Marty Booker and a third-round draft choice to the Dolphins for Ogunleye, they expected double-digit sacks from the 2003 AFC sack leader. But the 2003 Pro Bowl pick's sack total dropped from 15 to 5, as he struggled to overcome a nagging ankle injury that caused him to miss four games and required postseason surgery.

    Ogunleye was back on the field in a limited capacity by the end of the spring practices, and he may get some time off during camp, but the Bears are expecting a big season from their best pass rusher.

    "I think as you talk about defensive ends, you have to start with double digits with the sack total," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Wale has had about 15 or so. We're expecting those types of numbers from him. His body is in the best shape that it's been in in a long time. I'm just not talking about coming off of injury but working with (new strength coach) Rusty Jones in the weight room. He's improved quite a bit. We're expecting big things out of him."

    In addition to a healthier body, Ogunleye said he's more comfortable in the Bears' defense. He didn't join the team until after training camp last year.

    "It feels more like this is my team (now)," he 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."

    This year, there are no such excuses, health isn't expected to be an issue, and it's still on Ogunleye to be the pass rusher for which the Bears paid.

  • Running back Cedric Benson was chosen with the fourth overall pick in the draft to be the Bears' franchise running back, even though incumbent Thomas Jones rushed for 948 yards and caught a Bears-best 56 passes last season. Benson seems to be better suited to be the workhorse, between-the-tackles runner that new offensive coordinator Ron Turner's scheme demands. General manager Jerry Angelo obviously considers Benson to be an upgrade over Jones, who may have a difficult time adjusting to a backup job, since he was brought in just a year earlier to be the main man.

    Chances are, the odd man out - probably Jones — is not going to get nearly enough playing time to keep him content.

    But if Benson turns out to be the type of back who can carry an offense, as he was at Texas, the Bears will have a player to build around for years to come.


  • For the second straight season big bucks were poured into the offensive line. Unrestricted free agent Fred Miller was signed (for $22 million) to play right tackle, allowing John Tait to move to left tackle, which was a massive headache last season. Even if Tait isn't as proficient on the left side as he is on the right, he'll be a major upgrade. Roberto Garza was added as insurance in case Terrence Metcalf is unable to hold on to the starting right guard spot or if 11-year veteran Ruben Brown struggles in his return from last season's neck surgery. Metcalf has been given opportunities in the past only to lose them based on performance or because of injury. If he falters, there will be plenty of competition, including former starters Steve Edwards and Qasim Mitchell.

  • In addition to rookie wide receiver Airese Currie, starting tight end Desmond Clark (ankle), backup fullback Jason McKie (pectoral) and defensive tackle Greg Pauly (ankle) will begin camp on the active/NFI list. Starting fullback Bryan Johnson (foot) and cornerback Alfonso Marshall (knee) finished the 2004 season on injured reserve and will begin camp on the active/physically-unable-to-perform list.

    Currie and Johnson were both expected to be ready for the start of camp, as was Clark, who sprained his ankle at the end of May. McKie's injury, which occurred early this month while he was lifting weights, is not a complete tear of the muscle. According to his agent, Richard DeLuca, McKie hopes to be back on the field before the end of camp on Aug. 17.

    All six injured players count toward the 80-man training camp roster limit and are eligible to return after passing a physical.


    Players to watch in training camp:

  • Quarterback Joey Harrington: It's starting to sound like a broken record but the fact — pure and simple — is that 2005 has to be a breakout year for Harrington if the Lions are going to make their anticipated step up in the NFC North.

    No one is asking him to carry the team on his back. He doesn't have to be the next Brett Favre or Peyton Manning. That's not what the Lions expect of him.

    But he has to make the plays to take advantage of the quality supporting cast president Matt Millen has assembled around him, make good decisions, take care of the ball and get it downfield to the open receivers.

    If Harrington falters — and it has been suggested he will not have an extended grace period with coach Steve Mariucci — it is likely former San Francisco Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia will take over the job.

    While Garcia might provide a short-term fix, it could mean an end to the Lions' long-term plans for Harrington, a first-round pick they felt would be good enough to get them into the playoffs and beyond.

  • Wide receiver Charles Rogers: In two years, the line on Charles Rogers is this — six games, 22 receptions, one touchdown and two broken collarbones.

    The question as the former first-round pick begins his third NFL season is whether he is too fragile to last in the NFL or whether he is just one of the most unlucky players to wear the Lions' Honolulu blue and silver.

    The Lions hierarchy has maintained that Rogers has simply been a victim of bad luck, suffering a broken collarbone in a practice session five games into his rookie season and suffering a similar break in the season opener of his second season.

    Rogers himself has become sensitive to the issue and, in his defense, no one has worked harder to succeed and to do the right things than he has. He worked extremely hard coming back from the first injury and might have worked even harder during the past year to come back from the second injury.

    He has added some upper body weight and strength and the Lions believe they will finally be able to tap into the big-play ability he showed in two seasons at Michigan State University.

    Another five-game season with 22 catches won't do it this year, however. They need 16 games from Rogers and all the production they can get.

  • Tackle Kelly Butler: There weren't a lot of tears shed when the Lions lost starting right tackle Stockar McDougle to the Miami Dolphins during free agency this spring. Although he had all the talent necessary to excel as a dominating right tackle, he was inconsistent and, when he got beat on a play frequently gave coaches the impression that it was just part of the job.

    But with McDougle gone comes the reality of replacing him and they can't afford to take a step back at that position. They have to be as good or better than they were with McDougle if the right side of the line is to be solid in both the running and passing game.

    It appears there will be competition for the starting job with Butler, former San Francisco starter Kyle Kosier and fourth-year veteran Victor Rogers all in the mix.

    Rogers has little playing time and worked primarily on the other side — as a backup to left tackle Jeff Backus — throughout the summer minicamps.

    Kosier has the experience to handle the right side but the Lions feel he also has value as a quality backup to both guards and both tackles.

    Butler, a seventh-round pick who got no playing time as a rookie in 2004, has the size and demeanor for the job. He got most of the reps at RT in the minicamps but he will have to win the job in training camp and the pre-season.

  • Linebacker Teddy Lehman: It's a good thing Lehman is versatile because there was very little the Lions did not ask him to do last year as a rookie. He practiced as a middle linebacker (the position he was drafted for), practiced at the weak side (where he spent much of his college career) and then abruptly was moved to the strong side (a position he had never played) after the season-ending injury to Boss Bailey last August.

    Lehman adjusted well, started all 16 games and improved significantly as the season progressed but now Bailey is back and — assuming his knee holds up — is expected to reclaim the strong side linebacker job.

    There is little doubt Lehman will be in the lineup; the question is where.

    It appears likely Lehman will work with veteran Earl Holmes in the middle but there is also a possibility he could compete with James Davis at the weak side. One way or another the Lions want Lehman's speed and athletic ability on the field, but they probably won't know how he'll be used until they see what happens in camp.


  • It's not unusual for rookies to make a few headlines in the final days leading up to the start of their very first training camp but Lions defensive tackle Shaun Cody, the team's second round pick in the April draft, is getting noticed for an unusual reason.

    Cody isn't getting headlines for contract negotiations, he's getting them for his role in a reality television show — Super Agent — that debuted last week.

    The show is based on the premise that Cody will select an agent from nine agents, one of whom will be eliminated from consideration in each episode of the show.

    The Detroit Free Press described the show as "The Apprentice meets Jerry Maguire."

    Filming actually began last January when Cody arrived at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., with the nine agents interested in representing him and it will continue until he picks between the final two.

    For the record, the Lions don't have to wait until the final episode before negotiating a contract with Cody. They've been dealing with agent Harold Lewis of Maryland Heights, Mo., for several weeks and are optimistic he will be signed by the start of training camp.

    "For us, it's business as usual," executive vice president Tom Lewand told the Detroit News.

  • After an impressive rookie season in 2003, it seemed only a matter of time until Terrence Holt took over a starting job in the Lions' defensive secondary.

    Although he was drafted (fifth round, 137th overall) as a safety, Holt played well when the Lions ran out of corners and had to play him there. And he eventually started the final two games of the season at free safety, finishing with 38 tackles and three interceptions.

    But he found himself in a backup situation — with less playing time — in the 2004 season after the Lions signed veteran Brock Marion and moved him into the free safety job.

    Although Marion didn't play particularly well, the Lions seem reluctant to throw Holt into action.

    That seems to be changing as Holt prepares for his third training camp with the Lions. Marion has been released and Holt will go to camp as the No. 1 free safety with his teammates — including cornerback Dre' Bly — pulling for him.

    "Terrence, as a rookie, he played well," Bly said. "Every time he's been in the game, he's made plays so I'm happy for Terrence and I believe he will have his breakout year.

    "He's a playmaker and I feel like we can get the job done with the guys that we have. I'm happy for Terrence but, like I say, I think we have the necessary guys for us to move forward and do great things."

    That doesn't mean Holt won't have competition for the job. The Lions signed defensive back R.W. McQuarters earlier in the summer and, although he is primarily a cornerback, he also has experience at free safety.

  • The only lingering question from the off-season is whether defensive tackle Kelvin Pritchett will return for a 15th NFL season or decide on retirement. Pritchett is extremely popular with teammates, coaches and administration and the Lions feel he can still contribute in the d-line rotation on a limited basis.

    Although Pritchett hasn't declared his intentions it's likely he'll wait until a week or two into training camp before making his final decision, but it seems likely he will be back if the Lions have the roster space.


    Players to watch in training camp:

  • Wide receiver Robert Ferguson: The Packers thought long and hard about drafting Wisconsin wide receiver Chris Chambers in the second round of the 2001 draft but ultimately made the decision to take Texas A&M wide receiver Robert Ferguson.

    Chambers has developed into a premier player and Ferguson has been no better than ordinary, but Ferguson would like to start making up some ground in 2005.

    Ferguson underwent Lasik surgery on both eyes in April. Not only did his vision show marked improvement, but the headaches that stemmed from the illegal hit delivered by Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius in a Week 14 game at Lambeau Field abated.

    "I've been telling cats already that Javon went across the water and it's my turn now," Ferguson said. "I plan on being the No. 1 with him or whoever else is here."

    Ferguson has uncompromising toughness, good size, good speed and good hands. He lacks polish as a route runner, an area that has limited him to only 84 receptions in four seasons.

  • Guard Adrian Klemm: The New England Patriots wanted to re-sign Klemm during the off-season but he simply didn't want to go back. Despite collecting three Super Bowl rings, Klemm seldom felt a part of the Patriots' dynasty because of a rash of injuries that limited him to 26 games and 10 starts in five seasons.

    Two weeks into unrestricted free agency, Klemm signed a two-year, $2.6 million deal with Green Bay. The Packers immediately installed him as their No. 1 left guard, a position played with distinction by Mike Wahle for the last four seasons.

    Klemm is a little bit like Wahle in terms of size and athletic ability. He knows this is his time. He must put all those major injuries behind him and secure his future with an organization that badly needs him.

    However, the Packers have considerable depth at guard. Going to camp, Klemm's backup is Grey Ruegamer, who started most of last season at center. The Packers also are high on free agent Atlas Herrion and draft picks Junius Coston and Will Whitticker. Backup tackle Kevin Barry could play guard as well.

  • Defensive tackle Corey Williams: A sixth-round draft pick from Arkansas State in 2004, Williams played sparingly as a member of the D-line rotation as a rookie. He played some at power end behind Aaron Kampman, three-technique tackle behind Cletidus Hunt and nose tackle behind Grady Jackson.

    This year, there will be opportunity galore for Williams. Jackson wants to renegotiate the final year of his contract and probably will hold out. Hunt blew off the June minicamp and the entire off-season program. He's in the doghouse of coach Mike Sherman and just about everyone else in the organization.

    Williams is a fresh face with excellent size and decent movement ability. He is joined by Kenny Peterson, Donnell Washington and James Lee as young players with a chance to make a move.

  • Safety Nick Collins: The Packers surprised some teams by selecting Collins out of Bethune-Cookman in the second round. He played cornerback and safety at the Division I-AA program and was regarded by some teams as more of a second-day pick.

    General manager Ted Thompson was high on Collins' ability to run, hit and think on his feet. The Packers sacrificed Darren Sharper on the eve of free agency for financial reasons and then didn't make a major move in free agency to replace him.

    The safety situation in Green Bay is one of the most unsettled in the NFL. Six players will be vying for the jobs held by Sharper and Mark Roman last year.

    The candidates, in no particular order, are Roman, former Dolphin Arturo Freeman, former Brown Earl Little, former Redskin Todd Franz, Collins and Marviel Underwood, a fourth-round pick from San Diego State.

    Collins was given the No. 36 jersey that hadn't been worn by a Packer since LeRoy Butler suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in November 2001. Those are enormous shoes to fill, but the Packers are extremely high on Collins' athletic ability.


  • The Packers blew $625,000 in signing bonus last year on quarterback Tim Couch but a favorable settlement this spring of his grievance against the team made the failed experiment at least a little more palatable.

    In fact, the Packers have an additional $214,206 under their adjusted salary cap of $86.227 million for 2005 after the two sides agreed to settle Couch's grievance shortly before it was to be resolved through arbitration.

    Under NFL rules, the Packers immediately were forced to count 50% of the player's base salary, which in Couch's case was $625,000, upon receipt of the grievance. Thus, when the grievance was filed Sept. 24, the Packers were charged $312,500 against their cap.

    The $214,206 was added to the Packers' cap room this year as a credit for the hit they were forced to absorb in 2004.

    Tim English, an attorney for the NFL Players Association, argued and negotiated on behalf of Couch whereas the Packers were represented by a lawyer for the NFL management council.

    Terms of the settlement are confidential. It is believed, however, that Couch received just under than $100,000 as his part of the settlement.

    Couch contended that the Packers released him Sept. 5 when his throwing arm was injured. However, he played 12 snaps in an exhibition game against Tennessee two days before being cut.

    Couch either dropped out or missed 12 practices during training camp but never complained to team physician Patrick McKenzie about his arm, according to Sherman. Couch has various arm ailments during his five seasons with the Cleveland Browns but said several times in August that his problem in Green Bay was soreness in the biceps.

    The Packers signed Couch on June 15 to a one-year contract worth $1.25 million in hopes that he would be Brett Favre's successor. Instead, Couch looked horrible almost from the first day of training camp and couldn't beat out Doug Pederson and Craig Nall for two backup jobs.

    In three exhibition games, Couch completed merely 32.4% of 34 passes. His passer rating of 41.5 ranked 106th out of 115 quarterbacks.

    Couch, who will turn 28 later this month, felt healthy enough Oct. 22 to seek a job with the Chicago Bears. However, the Bears decided not to sign him after he threw much better the first day than the second.

    In February, Couch reportedly underwent surgery on his right shoulder and elbow. He has begun throwing and hopes to latch on with another team soon.

  • The Packers are going to give B.J. Sander every opportunity to win their punting job but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sean Landeta back in Green Bay if Sander flops again.

    General manager Ted Thompson has spoken with the 43-year-old Landeta about filling the breach if Sander fails. Thompson was the Packers' director of player personnel and coach Mike Sherman was coaching their tight ends in 1998 when Landeta performed superbly in his only season for Green Bay.

    Landeta appears to be the No. 1 veteran punter on the Packers' list.

    In fact, Landeta's net average of 37.1 in 1998 stands as the best by a Packers punter since 1973. His gross average was 42.9.

    Landeta left as an unrestricted agent in February 1999 for Philadelphia, where he punted four seasons. He spent 2003 and the first 10 games of 2004 with St. Louis before being cut. Last season, he ranked sixth in gross average (43.3) and 30th in net (32.5).

    One of the drawbacks with Landeta is that he has never been a holder. Also, if the Packers cut Sander, they would be giving up on a player with a $583,625 signing bonus.

    The Tennessee Titans are considering signing Landeta until Craig Hentrich recovers from an emergency appendectomy.

    Last Tuesday, the Packers waived free-agent punter Brooks Barnard, leaving Sander and rookie free agent Bryce Benekos at the position.

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