NFC North Notes

In Chicagoland, Thomas Jones has been a salve for the lack of productions from Cedric Benson. In Detroit, it's tryout time for the quarterbacks … as usual. Get notes from the Vikings' other NFC rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

First-round running back Cedric Benson's lack of production isn't a concern to the Bears as long as Thomas Jones continues putting up the best numbers of his career and some of the best in the NFL.

Jones is on pace for 1,606 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns with a 4.6-yard average. That, more than anything, has kept Benson under wraps and has kept the Bears from fretting over his slow start.

"I'm excited about what we're able to do running the run the football right now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Cedric is a good football player. We know that. In time, he will show that to everyone. But right now, we have Thomas Jones, who's having as good a football season as any running back in the NFL as we see it.

"That's what's ahead of (Benson). That's how I see it right now. Cedric's time will come. All first-round draft choices don't get a chance to play right away. Each situation is different. We like Cedric as much as we ever did. He's going to be an outstanding player in time."

But that time probably won't be Sunday against the Ravens at 3:15 in Soldier Field, as long as Jones doesn't have any repercussions from his 23-carry, 89-yard effort last week on a sprained right knee. Both teams are 2-3 and have relied heavily on strong defensive play to offset impotent offense.

Jones has been largely responsible for the only consistently productive aspect of the Bears' offense, rushing for over 100 yards in three straight games before last week. What looks like a career year for Jones is god for the Bears' offense, but it's been bad for the development of Benson, whom the Bears took with the fourth overall pick when it appeared they had much greater needs, like at wide receiver or cornerback.

Benson has 8 carries for 8 yards in the past three games and is averaging 2.5 yards per carry this season with 67 yards on 27 attempts.

On Sunday, Benson had just three carries for two yards and remained on the bench, even with the Bears leading 21-3 following Thomas Jones' 24-yard TD run with 13:03 left in the game. Jones, who was playing on a sprained right knee, nevertheless was still on the field with 4:11 left to score his second touchdown on a 1-yard run, as Benson remained idle.

"Thomas was running the ball well," said Benson, who has remained seemingly unaffected so far by his lack of playing time. "I didn't get much of a chance."

Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked why.

"I didn't see that there was a big edge there until late," Smith said of the 25-point blowout. "They could come back at any time. Our plan was to use Cedric, which we did. I wouldn't say that he took a step back. It's just a part of his growth, as he'll continue to work through some things."

Benson's growth has been stunted since he rushed 16 times for 49 yards in the 38-6 blowout of the Lion in Week Two. He didn't play at all the following week, then picked up just six yards on five carries and lost a fumble in his next outing, a week before the Vikings game.

Ironically, the Bears have been getting outstanding production from lower draft picks who weren't supposed to be much of a factor.

Second-round wide receiver Mark Bradley was considered a long-range project whose early contributions were expected to be on special teams, but he has already started two games.

Fourth-round quarterback Kyle Orton wasn't even supposed to see the field this season, but he's preparing for his sixth NFL start, and he's had three games with a passer rating of more than 84.

Sixth-round safety Chris Harris from Division I-AA Louisiana-Monroe has started four games and picked off his first NFL pass on Sunday.

But Benson appears to be regressing.

"The situation is different for different positions," Smith said. "Kyle, you know the circumstance on how that happened. Mark's in a little bit different situation, and Chris, too. In time all of them will contribute. As (it) happens, Cedric is behind Thomas Jones, who is having an outstanding year."

NOTES

  • LB Brian Urlacher had to be pressed to elaborate on himself or the manufactured rivalry between Lewis and himself.

    "I'm not too worried about it," said Urlacher, who leads all NFL linebackers with six sacks. "Next question. I'm not going to make this between me and him all week long. It's a team game. I know we both play the same position, but I'm not going to make it between me and him."

    Urlacher was asked if he respected Lewis' game.

    "Yeah, he plays hard," Urlacher said.

    The Bears' middle linebacker, a Pro Bowl pick in four of his five seasons, has a team-best 52 tackles. The Ravens' middle linebacker, a seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time defensive player of the year, has a team-best 64 tackles with one sack and one interception. Urlacher gets the angle, but he sees it as just one part of the story.

    "There's 11 guys on defense and 11 guys on offense, and it's not going to be decided between him and I," Urlacher said. "There are going to be 10 other guys on defense out there, and they make a lot of plays themselves on our team."

  • Everyone concerned seems to be in agreement that the Bears' passing offense needs to contribute more to the attack. But that may have to wait awhile.

    "You can't win a whole lot of games throwing for 120, 130 yards a game," said rookie quarterback Kyle Orton, who has thrown for 117 yards in each of the past two games. "Our strength of the offense is obviously the run game; that's not going to change. We're not going to go out and throw the ball 40 times in a game and expect to win that way. Obviously I'd like to throw for 250, 300 yards, but I'm realistic in the fact that I'm a young guy still learning to play thins game and still learning the system. So those days are down the road. I'm pretty confident in that. Down the road we're going to get this pass game going. We're going to be throwing for a lot of yards, (but) we just have to be patient."

    The Bears are No. 30 in passing yards and average gain per pass, while the Ravens' defense is No. 3 in passing yards and No. 1 in average gain per pass allowed.

  • With punter Brad Maynard unable to practice and questionable with a strained right calf, the Bears signed punter Gabe Lindstrom to the practice squad Wednesday.

    "We think Brad will be OK," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But if not, we wanted to at least have some type of an insurance policy on that."

    Lindstrom was with the Bears from July 31-Sept. 2 this preseason and punted in all five preseason games, while Maynard nursed the same injury. Lindstrom averaging 43.7 gross and 34.5 net yards on 27 punts.

  • P Brad Maynard did not practice because of a strained right calf, but the Bears are confident that he will play on Sunday. He punted last week at less than 100 percent and it was obvious, but he performed adequately, with a gross of 38.8 and a net of 36.6.

  • WR Muhsin Muhammad's 27 receptions are nine more than the Bears' five other wideouts combined. His 298 yards are 100 more than the other five combined.

  • LB Lance Briggs has 51 tackles, one less than Brian Urlacher. Briggs also has two sacks, and his four tackles for loss are second on the team.

  • DT Ian Scott leads the linemen with 29 tackles and the team with six tackles for loss.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Five games into the NFL season, the Lions are holding what amounts to an open competition - Joey Harrington vs. Jeff Garcia - for the starting quarterback job.

    Harrington, who has held the job since the third game of his rookie (2002) season - except for two games he missed for surgery to correct an irregular heart beat, is under fire for an offense that has been sluggish and unproductive.

    Garcia, who was a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback for coach Steve Mariucci when they were in San Francisco in the 2000-2002 seasons, is coming off a broken fibula but is perceived by some as the savior of Mariucci's West Coast offense in Detroit.

    They are splitting the reps in practice this week and Mariucci says he will make a decision "later on in the week."

    The criterion for the decision?

    Part of it will be Garcia's physical condition - whether his broken leg has healed sufficiently to allow him to play with the mobility and escapability that made him effective with the 49ers - but there will be other factors as well.

    "We'll take that into consideration, how they practice, how they feel and then I've got to decide who gives us the best chance to win this game," Mariucci said. "We make most of our decisions - at any position - with that in mind: Who gives us the best chance to win this game?"

    Although there was a perception at the start of training camp that Mariucci was chomping at the bit to get Garcia into the starting job, that feeling - if it ever existed - might have been tempered by Garcia's unimpressive play in the preseason and the fact he missed six weeks of practice with the broken leg.

    There is little doubt Garcia understands Mariucci's offense better than Harrington, has more experience in that offense than Harrington and is probably better suited to the short, accurate throws required in the West Coast offense.

    At 35, however, Garcia's modest arm strength has faded somewhat and the problems facing the Lions involve more than poor play by the quarterback.

    Harrington, admittedly, has not played well. He has completed only 53.1 percent of his passes, has four touchdown passes to eight interceptions and his passer rating of 55.6 is the worst among NFL starting quarterbacks.

    But he has frequently been the victim of an offense that is seemingly incapable of handling opposing blitzes, holding off the normal pass rush or opening holes for the running game.

    The three first-round receivers who were expected to bring offensive fireworks to the Lions have fizzled. At least so far. Charles Rogers is two games into a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, Roy Williams has been only so-so and missed the Carolina game with a quadriceps injury, and rookie Mike Williams is still learning his job.

    The running game - expected to provide a needed balance for the passing attack - is 30th in the NFL with an average of 88.6 yards per game - and running back Kevin Jones, who had such an impressive second half of his rookie season a year ago, is averaging only 2.7 yards per carry.

    Regardless of whom Mariucci selects as the starting quarterback Sunday at Cleveland, it's doubtful he will have solved the problems with the Lions offense.

    NOTES


  • Offensive tackle Jeff Backus came out of the Lions 21-20 loss to Carolina on Sunday with a sprained left ankle and had his foot in a walking boot when the team began practice for the game next Sunday at Cleveland.

    Just because he has a sprained ankle, however, it does not necessarily mean Backus will be out of action against the Browns.

    In his first four seasons and the first five games of this season, Backus has not missed a starting assignment. His streak currently stands at 69 games and he has played over numerous injuries that frequently aren't revealed until the season is over.

    Coach Steve Mariucci isn't ruling him out. "We're aggressively resting his ankle," he said. "We'll have to wait and see."

  • Wide receiver Roy Williams says it won't make a lot of difference whether it is Joey Harrington or Jeff Garcia at the quarterback position as long as the Lions receivers do their job Sunday at Cleveland.

    "Whoever's back there, just catch the football," Williams said. "We can only do our job. Everybody should be tired of trying to fix this football team (and) I think it just comes on that individual person. If the ball's coming to you, catch the football. That's all it is."

    Williams, who missed the last game with a quadriceps injury, says there is not a lot of difference in the balls thrown by Garcia and Harrington.

    "I really don't see any difference in the way they throw the football," Williams said. "I don't see much difference as far as the spiral or velocity or touch. I think they're both the same.

    "I think their mechanics are different. I think one drops back faster than the other; I think that just comes with experience," he said, referring to Garcia.

  • PR/KOR Eddie Drummond, who suffered a bruised shin and hyper-extended knee against Baltimore on Oct. 9 and missed the Carolina game last Sunday, did not practice Wednesday. Drummond and WR Roy Williams worked with trainer Al Bellamy early in the session.

  • RB Kevin Jones got only limited participation in the Lions' Wednesday afternoon workout, due to a bruised left shoulder. Jones wore a shoulder brace and did not wear pads, participating only in the individual and skeleton drills, and missing drills where he might have been jostled by defensive players.


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