NFC North News

The Bears are bringing running back Cedric Benson along slower than expected, the Lions are expected to get their kicker back this weekend, and the Packers are hoping that a longer week of preparation will help them get Ahmad Carroll back on track and the team into the win column for the first time this season. Get those stories and the personnel notes from the Vikings' division rivals.


In Week 3, Dolphins rookie running back Ronnie Brown rushed for 132 yards on 23 carries and Bucs rookie Cadillac Williams carried 37 times for 158 yards, while Bears rookie Cedric Benson had zero yards and zero carries.

Brown was the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft, Benson was No. 4 and Williams No. 5. Williams leads the NFL with 434 rushing yards and Brown has 224, while Benson has just 59. Benson has had only 19 carries, while Brown has 57 and Williams 88.

Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said this week's open date would help the Bears get Benson more involved in the attack. That's been the plan ever since Benson arrived 36 days later after a contract holdout.

Asked what he's learned since signing, the underutilized Benson said: "I'm not in Kansas anymore."

He's certainly not in Texas, where he rushed for 5,540 yards as a Longhorn and for 8,423 at Lee High School in Midland. That's the kind of production the Bears envision from Benson, but it's a process.

"We wanted to get him out there, and we're going to bring him along," Turner said. "Now we've got a couple days this week to do that. He's still going to be a big factor, and we'll definitely get him in the mix."

But there's a limit to how involved Benson can get playing behind Thomas Jones, the third-leading rusher in the NFC with 276 yards, four touchdowns and a 4.5-yard average per carry. Game situations will also dictate how much action Benson gets. If the Bears jump ahead in games and have the luxury of keeping the ball on the ground, there will be enough carries to keep two runners content.

For now, Benson has only the prospect of playing time, while he sits and watches his classmates putting up big numbers.

"I'm glad for them," Benson said. "I got to meet most of those guys, and it's exciting to see them ripping it and running it up and down the field."

Benson isn't admitting to having second thoughts about missing training camp, even though Smith said he's just now approaching where he would have been with the benefit of a full Bourbonnais experience.

"I know my time will come," Benson said. "It may not be now, but my time will come. There will be a day when I'll be looking to the sideline wanting somebody to come give me a break."

GOOD NEWS: The Bears' defense may very well be as good as advertised, although the pass rush remains suspect.

Despite a modest six sacks in three games, only two of which came from the defensive line, the Bears are No. 4 in total yards and No. 7 in points allowed. Defensively, the Bears rank in the top quarter of the league in 12 categories after the first three weeks.

The defense has proven especially adept at stopping the run after a tough outing against Clinton Portis and the Redskins in the season opener. Since then, the Bears have allowed 112 rushing yards on 51 carries.

In the first two weeks the Bears allowed just 15 points, their lowest yield in 21 years. The Bengals scored 24 points in Week 3, but part of the blame for that goes to a Bears offense that turned the ball over six times.

BAD NEWS: The Bears have all the ingredients for an effective running game - veteran Thomas Jones and promising rookie Cedric Benson at running back and a veteran offensive line loaded with talent, even though it's getting a little long in the tooth. The problem is the passing game.

Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton will suffer the inevitable growing pains that plague every rookie quarterback in the NFL, especially a fourth-round draft choice. And while Orton has the benefit of Pro Bowl wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad on one side, the Bears are missing a reliable complement on the other side.

Justin Gage started the first three games and caught just two passes for 31 yards. Rookie Mark Bradley will be the better player, and he is already on the field for more snaps, but he is inexperienced and inconsistent.

The other wide receivers are role players and not very experienced either. Second-year man Bernard Berrian can fly but is fragile and unlikely to make an impact between the hash marks. Three-year veteran Bobby Wade has good quickness and can work underneath, but he lacks size and speed.


  • LB Brian Urlacher will be given more chances to rush the passer if the Bears don't get better pressure from their front four. Urlacher already has three sacks.

  • CB Nathan Vasher will remain in the starting lineup, even though former starter and current nickel corner Jerry Azumah is healthy enough to return kickoffs.

  • CB Jerry Azumah has averaged just 22.1 yards on seven kickoff returns since coming back from preseason arthroscopic hip surgery. Azumah has also been relegated to the nickel corner spot behind Nathan Vasher.


    They might not know with absolute certainty until they get to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, but it appears the Lions will get kicker Jason Hanson back for the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Hanson, who suffered a slight tear in his right hamstring in the season opener against Green Bay and sat out the second game of the season, kicked both Wednesday and Thursday and was no worse for wear afterward.

    "He's making good progress," coach Steve Mariucci said Thursday. "We were encouraged. We're going to have to take it a day at a time."

    If Hanson cannot kick - or if he is unable to handle kickoffs - the Lions will probably activate rookie Remy Hamilton from the practice squad. Hamilton filled in for Hanson in the Lions' game Sept. 18 at Chicago and had an extra point attempt blocked but was adequate on kickoffs.

    Mariucci doesn't want to take a chance on re-injuring Hanson after investing three weeks (including the bye last week) in his recovery. The 14-year NFL veteran has been a model of consistency on kickoffs, extra points and field goals and the Lions would clearly miss him if he were to miss additional time.

    Hanson did virtually no kicking from the day he was injured until Wednesday, when the Lions medical team cleared him to begin practicing short field goals and extra points. His longest field goal attempts were no more than 35 yards. On Thursday, he moved back to 44 yards with no adverse effects.

    Mariucci said he probably would not make a decision on whether to activate Hamilton for kickoffs until Saturday, when the Lions leave for Tampa.


  • LB Teddy Lehman, who missed both of the Lions first two games with a knee injury, practiced all week and appears likely to play Sunday at Tampa Bay. Lehman is not a starter but can backup all three LB positions and is a regular in the nickel defense when he's healthy.

  • DE James Hall has not been ruled out of Sunday's game at Tampa Bay but has not practiced all week because of a groin injury suffered Sept. 18 in Chicago. Lions coach Steve Mariucci said Hall might be able to play despite missing the Wednesday and Thursday practice sessions, but he probably won't decide until Saturday or Sunday whether Hall will play against the Bucs.

  • LB Alex Lewis has had nearly three weeks to rest his injured ankle but he apparently will need more time. Lewis, a backup OLB and a key player on Lions special teams coverage units, did not practice this week and it appears unlikely he will be active for the game Sunday at Tampa Bay.


    Seeing as how their secondary will be confronted with its biggest challenge of the season thus far, the Packers aren't moaning about having a longer week of practice that comes with playing a game on Monday night.

    Green Bay's frustrating quest to notch its first victory may hinge on whether it has a full complement of defensive backs to thwart Carolina's Steve Smith, who has an NFL-high-tying 23 receptions for 342 yards and a co-league-best four touchdowns. As of Thursday, that's not a certainty.

    Ahmad Carroll, who had reclaimed the starting job at left cornerback with a solid performance Sunday, missed practice for the second straight day. Carroll suffered a bruised left knee in the 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay and is questionable for Monday's game.

    Carroll acknowledged that he won't be cleared for action until swelling in the knee subsides.

    "It doesn't hurt that bad. It just hurts when I do certain things. When I try to go side to side, it kind of hurts," Carroll said Thursday. "Good thing we have a Monday night game; we get an extra day. But I expect to be playing on Monday night ... hopefully."

    If the knee continues to plague Carroll into the weekend, Joey Thomas will get the start. Thomas had his own medical issues last week in the wake of a mild concussion suffered in the Week 2 loss to Cleveland. Thomas started in place of a demoted Carroll in that game and was able to finish it after taking a blow to the head while making a tackle in the first quarter.

    Thomas, though, experienced recurring headaches and was sensitive to bright lights throughout the subsequent week. He didn't play Sunday, which enabled Carroll to jump back ahead in the seesaw competition at the spot opposite Al Harris.

    Carroll responded with a fourth-quarter interception that put the Packers in position to overtake Tampa Bay, to no avail. Last year's first-round draft pick also wasn't penalized for the second straight game, after he committed four infractions in the season opener and took a back seat to Thomas on the depth chart.

    "Sometimes, it's a wake-up call," defensive coordinator Jim Bates said of how Carroll has rebounded since the one-game demotion.

    Bates, though, is growing tired of what has become a weekly predicament of not knowing who will be available at cornerback. Rookie Mike Hawkins, who worked as the nickel back with Thomas out Sunday, didn't practice Thursday because of a groin injury and is probable for Monday's game.

    "Right now, it's hard to get some stability," Bates said. "The injury situation is really keeping it in turmoil to get the continuity we're looking for."

    Unlike last year's season opener at Carolina, when Harris reckoned he covered Smith for all but "maybe two plays," the scheme employed by Bates in his first season with the team keeps the cornerbacks on their designated sides of the field. Harris held Smith to six catches for 60 yards before the Panthers standout suffered a season-ending broken leg late in the game.

    This time, Harris doesn't anticipate seeing the ever-moving Smith lined up on his side more than 50 percent of the time.

    Since Carroll possesses more quickness and is better suited for operating from the outside than Thomas, who's been relegated to the slot on passing downs, the Packers would be better served if all that's been ailing them clears up by Monday.


  • TE Bubba Franks didn't practice for the second straight day and remains questionable for Monday's game at Carolina. The sixth-year starter is recovering from a bruised left knee that kept him out of his first pro game last Sunday. David Martin would start again in Franks' absence.

  • WR Donald Driver returned to practice after being held out Wednesday to rest a sprained right ankle he suffered Sunday. Driver is probable for Monday's game.

  • DE Aaron Kampman also practiced Thursday after missing the previous day to recover from a bruised thigh he sustained in the last game. Kampman is probable for Monday.

  • C Mike Flanagan didn't practice Thursday because of an abdominal strain. He was added to the injury report as probable for Monday's game. Scott Wells filled the void in practice with the first-string offense.

  • RB Najeh Davenport also missed practice Thursday because of a sore right hamstring. He was added to the injury report as probable for Monday. Davenport expects to practice Friday.

  • WR Javon Walker said he's scheduled to undergo surgery next week in his native Texas to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Walker suffered the season-ending injury in the third quarter of the opener Sept. 11 at Detroit.

    The fourth-year veteran earned his first Pro Bowl spot last season by leading the team with 89 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns.

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