NFC North Notes

The Bears' quarterback situation is a little unsettled after acquiring Brian Griese, the Lions are hoping Mike Martz can put some excitement into their offense, and Packers disgruntled receiver Javon Walker doesn't appear any closer to making amends with the team. Get the top stories of the week from the NFC North, along with a bevy of notes.

CHICAGO BEARS

If he wanted to, Rex Grossman could look at the acquisition of veteran Brian Griese as a threat to his job as the Bears' starting quarterback.

But that's really not Grossman's focus.

"I feel like anytime you're in a situation where you're being pushed, it brings out the best in everyone," Grossman said. "I think that's just human nature to make you want to work harder to improve yourself, and I think that'll be a positive for me. If I take care of what I need to take care of, understand this offense, keep meeting with coach (Ron) Turner, and play the way I'm capable of playing, that'll be fine."

Griese, who has 72 NFL starts, a 39-33 record, a career passer rating of 84.8 and a 103-78 TD-to-interception ratio, is the best backup the Bears have had in recent memory. The 31-year-old eight-year veteran provides an insurance policy for the Bears, who have been snake bitten at the quarterback position because of injuries and poor play for the past several years. The acquisition makes sense, even to Grossman.

"I think it's a good move," Grossman said. "The way they explained it to me was that it makes our team better. (I'm) the starter, but just like every other position, you have to perform to keep your job. That's the way life is, but it's not like if I throw an interception I'm out. It's my job, and I have to perform to keep it, just like anyone else."

To give himself the best chance to succeed, Grossman has spent the past four weeks meeting almost daily with offensive coordinator Turner so that his execution of the offense is automatic by the start of the season. The fine-tuning and detail work is a luxury Grossman hasn't had in quite a while. This is the first time he's has had the same offensive coordinator and run the same offense since his sophomore season at Florida, which was his best season with the Gators.

"Anytime things come to you quicker (mentally), you're going to react faster (physically)," Grossman said. "Football's a game of inches, and you have to be quick and fast. Pre-snap reads will come quicker when you know where you're going with the football. I would think that after I get done with training camp and get through preseason, when I line up for the first game, it'll be boom, boom, boom. Everything will come more natural to me than just thinking about it."

The oft-injured three-year veteran has also been spending a great deal of time with strength and conditioning coordinator Rusty Jones, doing flexibility and strengthening work to prevent future injuries like the knee and ankle maladies that have caused him to miss 26 of the last 32 games. If he's healthy, Grossman likes his chances of retaining the starter's job.

"I feel good about where I'm at, and as long as I control what I'm supposed to do, everything will take care of itself," he said. "I knew this was going to happen. Most teams have two legitimate quarterbacks, and I think we have three because I think Kyle (Orton) will be a lot better than he was last year having (gotten) a lot of experience and being able to build off that. Obviously Brian's been to the Pro Bowl (in 2000). I'm just anxious and excited about my opportunity to establish myself as a good quarterback in this league and as the type of quarterback who can lead the Bears to a Super Bowl championship."

NOTES

  • For the first time in six years, Bears quarterback Rex Grossman is working with the same offensive coordinator and in the same scheme as he did the previous season.

    But Grossman still has to deal with change. Every other team in the NFC North has a new coaching staff and new defensive schemes, but Grossman doesn't see that as a problem.

    "The good thing is most of them are going to run our (cover 2) defense, so I'm going to get a chance to practice against it every day," Grossman said. Especially Detroit, but all three of them run a very similar defense to what we do. You can't get much (better) practice than working against our defense through mini-camp and training camp."

  • The Bears have been very quiet in free agency thus far, adding quarterback Brian Griese to back up starter Rex Grossman — at least initially — and signing Dante Wesley, primarily a special-teams player. But they still have plenty of cap room and could make some minor moves, although probably not for a while.

    "We've got a lot of plates in the air," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We're certainly going to still look in free agency. You don't set a course and see things through a straw. You have to have a plan, which we do, but you also have to have flexibility within that plan.

    "A good part of free agency last year were the players that were released as new coaches come in and start to get a better feel for their players. They start bringing in free agents, they go through a draft and players are released because they're no longer a fit. So we'll be looking at those players as well."

  • QB Rex Grossman is spending a lot of time with offensive coordinator in the off-season, zeroing in on what both hope will make the Bears' offense more potent this year.

    "When we watch tape we get down to detail on each route," Grossman said. "What can we do better on each individual route? What do (I) like? What does coach Turner like? We analyze exactly what I'm comfortable with, and then he'll get me on the board to draw a formation and ask what plays (I) like vs. a certain defense, and I'll draw up the plays I like so he understands more about what I like, what I'm used to doing in the past, what he likes and what he thinks will work and just analyzing it as much as possible and also watching other teams. "We've been watching the Seahawks, who had the best offense in the league last year. They have a similar-type offense. What variations did they have off the same plays we had and why? We're just trying to get to know each other in the football sense."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's a good situation from the standpoint that it is an offense that I am familiar with, that I have run in the past. I talked to coach (Ron) Turner, and a lot of the things he likes to do are things I feel I can do well. And I think it is a great situation from the standpoint of the guys in the locker room. I know a few of them, and in talking with coach (Lovie) Smith and seeing the attitude this team has, it's something I want to be a part of." — QB Brian Griese.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Although Lions new coach Rod Marinelli has a background on the defensive side of the ball, it has not taken him long to figure out one of his team's most pressing needs for the 2006 season — an explosive offense.

    That was why he worked long and hard to convince former St. Louis coach Mike Martz to take the Lions' offensive coordinator job and he obviously is expecting big things — in a hurry — from Martz and the Lions' long-dormant offense.

    "I think high-tempo, high velocity offense," Marinelli said. "We're going to explode. That's one thing I'm really excited about with Mike."

    Any kind of offensive explosion would be an upgrade from the Lions' offensive production in the past five years of West Coast offense under previous coaches Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci.

    Despite spending the No. 1 pick on offensive players in each of the last five drafts, the Lions never averaged better than 19 points a game (in 2002). During the past season, they ranked 27th overall in the NFL in offensive yardage and were 28th in the NFL in scoring, with an average of 15.875 points per game.

    The Lions scored 21 points or more only three times in the entire 2005 season; in 12 games they managed only 17 points or less.

    Seeing what appeared to be an obvious discrepancy between the offensive talent available and the lack of production, Marinelli didn't need long to decide he has a coordinator capable of turning things around.

    "I was in personnel one day," he explained. "I could see the talent we had on offense, the young receivers. Seeing them, I had to get the best guy in football. I made up my mind — get these guys excited, get them to explode. I want to be daring."

    NOTES

  • With Joey Harrington out of the picture, the Lions' quarterback job is up for competition, but coach Rod Marinelli said that Jon Kitna will probably take the first snap in minicamp.

    "If we walked out today, he'd take the first snap," Marinelli said. "Somebody's got to come out first. It doesn't mean anything."

    Marinelli added hastily that he hasn't settled or even come close to settling on his starter for the regular season. With four quarterbacks on the roster — Kitna, Josh McCown, Dan Orlovsky and Shaun King — he expects the job to be won during training camp and the exhibition season.

    "I think it works itself out," he said. "It can be done quick or it can be done maybe a little bit later.

    "You don't want to say this is a day I want to make (the decision) until you're ready to make it. Everything I've been involved with, it all works itself out."

  • Although he was frequently scorned by Lions teammates and even former coach Steve Mariucci, quarterback Joey Harrington has attracted considerable attention since the Lions have said they will trade him or release him.

    Team president Matt Millen said he has given six teams permission to talk to Harrington. That includes Miami, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Oakland, Seattle and Dallas. Another three — Baltimore, Denver and the New York Jets — spoke with Millen regarding Harrington's availability also.

    Not all of those teams have actually initiated a discussion with Harrington's agent, David Dunn, but Harrington touched off his job search earlier this week with visits to Miami and Cincinnati.

    There are two factors at play in the Harrington situation:

    First, his current contract calls for a $4 million roster bonus in June as well as annual salaries of $4.5 million in 2006 and 2007; unless he agrees to renegotiate the deal, it is unlikely any team will make a trade with the Lions. Therefore, he can veto any deal simply by refusing to renegotiate.

    Second, the entire NFL knows that the Lions will have to release Harrington in June so teams can take their chances on negotiating a fresh deal with him at that time if they don't want to give up compensation in a trade.

    Millen and coach Rod Marinelli have set no deadline for moving Harrington, although Marinelli admitted he would like to do something "quickly."

    "That would be nice," Marinelli said. "He just kind of made his decision to move in a different direction. That's kind of how I left it. I wish him the very best. The thing I can tell you is, he's got terrific talent."

  • Two of the players getting a lot of attention in the early stages of the Lions' off-season conditioning program are young wide receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.

    Rogers has underachieved in his turbulent first three seasons with the Lions due to two broken collarbones and a drug suspension; Williams was criticized in his rookie season last year for being out of shape and not having the best work habits.

    With the arrival of coach Rod Marinelli and a new intensity in the conditioning program, there has been speculation that Rogers and Williams might be on the spot.

    So far, however, team president Matt Millen says things have gone well for the receivers.

    "They're getting a better idea of what's going to be expected of them," Millen said.

    Marinelli said he expects receivers coach Kippy Brown to give the receivers good direction and recently-signed veteran Corey Bradford to provide a good example.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would just say, ‘Men, I appreciate your wisdom and everything you're trying to tell me, but you're like elevator music to me. You're singing but I'm not listening.'" — Coach Rod Marinelli on how he handles suggestions of how he should handle coaching decisions.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    With his empty house on the market, consider Javon Walker as good as gone from Green Bay.

    If the disgruntled wide receiver's bombshell from last month that he would retire before playing again for the team in the league's smallest market wasn't taken seriously by the organization, inflammatory comments from Walker's stepfather can't be dismissed.

    Charles Goldsmith lashed out at both the Packers and venerable quarterback Brett Favre during a lengthy interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    "They could give him a $15 million signing bonus, and he would decline it," Goldsmith said of Walker. "I think everybody is thinking it's going to blow over and Javon's going to show up (for next season). He's not showing up. I mean, he is absolutely not showing up. Period. At all."

    Walker is at a presumed point of no return because he's been rebuffed in the last year on trying to renegotiate the contract he signed as the team's first-round draft pick in 2002. Walker has a year left on the deal and is due to earn a base salary of $1.15 million.

    Walker's agent, Kennard McGuire, has demanded that the Packers trade the 2004 Pro Bowl receiver, who's on the mend from a torn ACL that ended his season after just one game. Although Denver reportedly has expressed some interest in pursuing a trade, the Packers are remaining firm that they don't want to part with Walker.

    Furthermore, head coach Mike McCarthy is planning for Walker to be with the team next season.

    "I expect him back. He's under contract," McCarthy said at the league meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

    Goldsmith, though, made it known in separate conversations with McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson that Walker no longer will be playing with the green and gold. Walker wants out without causing waves, which, according to Goldsmith, would happen should the Packers insist on holding on to him.

    "He doesn't want to do like ‘T.O.' (Terrell Owens) did and cause a big disturbance. He doesn't want to do what Mike McKenzie did (before the Packers traded him during the 2004 season)," Goldsmith said. "We really tried to handle this very professional."

    Goldsmith and Walker's mother, Bernita, recently packed up Walker's belongings at his home in the Green Bay area and have it up for sale.

    "Javon just doesn't like the environment," Goldsmith said. "There have been a lot of things that have been done to him underhanded (by the team) that he knows about. He does not enjoy Green Bay and does not enjoy even thinking about Green Bay."

    Meanwhile, Goldsmith said that even if Favre were to retire, Walker wouldn't be tempted the slightest to come back to the team. The teammates became estranged last year after Favre was critical of Walker's off-season holdout until the start of training camp.

    "Javon is not fond of Brett," Goldsmith said. "All that stuff on the field when they score touchdowns and they're high-fiving, that's for show. He just doesn't want to play with him anymore.

    "Last year, Brett Favre did something that I thought was wrong. I wish someone would tell Brett, ‘What if someone blasted one of your daughters on national TV? What would you do?'"

    The Packers have been just moderately active in protecting themselves against the loss of their top receiver. They re-signed Rod Gardner and added another tall target in Kansas City free agent Marc Boerigter, who signed a modest one-year deal March 27.

    With Walker's situation in limbo, Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson, Gardner and Boerigter currently make up the receiving corps. Terrence Murphy is holding out hope that he will get medical clearance to play again after his rookie season ended because of a neck injury sustained in the fourth game.

    NOTES

  • With Brett Favre still sitting on his decision whether to return or retire, the Packers find themselves somewhat handcuffed about what they'll have at quarterback.

    They've begun readying Aaron Rodgers, last year's first-round draft choice, for the possibility he'll have to be the starter on opening day in five months. Yet, should Favre walk away, Green Bay is without any sort of reliable backup after allowing Craig Nall to bolt for Buffalo as a free agent.

    The Packers, armed with the fifth overall pick in the draft, are giving Texas' Vince Young strong consideration.

    Save for linebacker and possibly addressing an upgrade over Ahmad Carroll at cornerback, the Packers are in better shape defensively after re-signing end Aaron Kampman and then landing former Seattle safety Marquand Manuel and onetime St. Louis nose tackle Ryan Pickett in free agency.

    If he were to get assurances by the start of the draft April 29 that Favre will continue to play, GM Ted Thompson can concentrate on finding a starter-ready player at linebacker, cornerback or possibly defensive end (if Mario Williams lasts that long) with the high-end pick.

  • Free agent Pro Bowl defensive back Charles Woodson postponed a visit that was to take place Thursday and Friday to early next week, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

    The Packers, who are about $20 million under the salary cap, are poised to make a run at the former Oakland standout. The only other team Woodson apparently has drawn interest from is Tampa Bay.

    "If we're talking to him, we're serious," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said during the league meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

    Green Bay views the versatile Woodson, 29, as a cornerback who would be an upgrade over inconsistent incumbent Ahmad Carroll on the left side. At the time of Woodson's visit, however, the team will have to get assurances that a recent history of injury — he missed the last 10 games in 2005 because of a broken right leg — won't continue to nag the standout.

  • The signing of former Dallas kicker Billy Cundiff to a one-year, minimum-wage deal March 27 certainly isn't the be-all and end-all to identifying a replacement for the team's all-time leading scorer, Ryan Longwell, who signed a lucrative contract with division rival Minnesota early in free agency.

    Cundiff, a four-year veteran, will get an opportunity to make an early first impression on the new coaching staff in off-season activities the next 2 1/2 months. Yet, the Packers figure to create a competitive atmosphere by bringing in another kicker or two.

    The big knock on Cundiff is he isn't in Longwell's league as an efficient field-goal kicker. He made just 73.2 percent of his kicks (60-for-82) with the Cowboys, who cut him twice last season.

    The Packers claimed Cundiff off waivers from Tampa Bay, who had signed him in February to protect itself against the possible loss of free agent Matt Bryant. However, Bryant re-signed with the Bucs, making Cundiff expendable.

  • The Packers figure to be set at running back after re-signing unrestricted free agent Najeh Davenport on March 27 to a one-year deal for the minimum salary of $585,000.

    Davenport drew interest from Miami and Oakland but decided to stay put and compete for the lead role at halfback, which isn't necessarily Ahman Green's.

    Both Green (torn thigh tendon) and Davenport (broken ankle) are on the comeback trail after sustaining season-ending injuries in October last year.

    Neither player is expected to be ready until the start of training camp in late July, at which time Green, Davenport and last year's rookie surprise, Samkon Gado, will sort out the pecking order heading into the season.

  • The team delved into free agency to land possibly another defensive starter, signing former Cleveland linebacker Ben Taylor to a one-year contract for the minimum salary of $585,000.

    The 6-foot-2, 238-pound Taylor started every game last season as an inside linebacker in the Browns' 3-4 scheme. The four-year veteran, though, sided with the Packers over remaining in his home state of Ohio because he'll have the chance to compete for a starting spot in a 4-3 front that suits him better.

    The Packers will try the athletic Taylor on the strong side as they seek a replacement for Na'il Diggs, whom they cut in early March.

    Up until last season, however, Taylor's pro career has been sidetracked by a gamut of injuries.

  • With or without quarterback Brett Favre, the Packers will remain in the "Monday Night Football" spotlight. If only in the preseason.

    The Packers' four-game exhibition slate in August is highlighted by a Monday night game at Cincinnati on August 28.

    The McCarthy era will unofficially start with a game at San Diego, which will be played in the period of August 10-14.

    Preseason opponents at Lambeau Field are Atlanta (August 17-21) and Tennessee (August 31-September 1). It will be the fifth straight year the Packers close the preseason against the Titans.

    The regular-season schedule will be unveiled April 6.

  • The Packers gained two compensatory draft choices this year for losing Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera (Dallas) and safety Bhawoh Jue (San Diego) in free agency last year.

    Those picks will fall at the end of the fifth and seventh rounds and can't be traded.

    General manager Ted Thompson was hopeful of getting a fourth-round pick to offset the loss of Rivera.

    The Packers have seven picks in the draft — one each in the first four rounds, two in the fifth and one in the seventh.

  • McCarthy indicated at the league meetings that the team is in discussions with Kansas City to hold a joint workout during training camp this year. Both teams train in Wisconsin, though it's unclear whether the Packers will remain in Green Bay or travel to the Chiefs' site in River Falls.

    The Packers held a joint workout with Buffalo in Green Bay last year, and the Bills participated in Green Bay's early-preseason scrimmage at Lambeau Field. A similar arrangement could be made with the Chiefs.

    "Knowing (new Chiefs coach) Herman (Edwards) and those guys, I think it would be excellent work for both teams," said McCarthy, a onetime Kansas City assistant.

  • Right guard Will Whitticker received a windfall of $212,307 in the league's Performance Based Pay system, ranking 12th among player distributions.

    Whitticker, a seventh-round draft pick last year, started 14 games as Rivera's replacement.

  • Former Green Bay tight end Keith Jackson was enlisted to present the late Reggie White for induction into the Packers Hall of Fame on July 22.

    Jackson and White were teammates with both Philadelphia (1988-91) and the Packers (1995-96).

    White died on December 26, 2004, at the age of 43 because of a respiratory ailment. The defensive end also will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 5.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel like it's Groundhog Day. I've been answering the question the same way for two months. The ($3 million roster) bonus, that's pretty much the goal we're trying to set (for a decision). Obviously, you keep moving back the date, (but) there's a reason behind the date. So, we would definitely like to know as soon as possible." — Head coach Mike McCarthy on waiting out quarterback Brett Favre to finally make a decision about his playing future.



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