Coach Lovie Smith, who coached defensive backs at Ohio State and Tennessee in the mid 1990s, personally worked out the Bears' top two picks, safety Danieal Manning and cornerback Devin Hester. It was a match made in heaven as far as Miami's Hester was concerned.
"From the first day I laid eyes on him, it's like me and a girl, it was love at first sight," Hester said. "Just going through the draft, everybody I talked to in my family, everybody said, ‘Watch, Chicago is going to be the team that picks you up.' It's the team I've been dwelling on and looking to."
Hester, who ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at his pro day workout, was one of the most exciting players in college football during his three years at Miami. As a freshman he averaged 30.3 yards per kickoff return and averaged 16 yards as a punt returner, with three touchdowns. He started games at tailback, cornerback and nickel back.
"The one thing that really distinguishes him is his tremendous athletic ability and his tremendous speed," Bears defensive coordinator Rob Rivera said. "He's an explosive football player. When he had a chance to settle (at cornerback) the last two years, you see him produce five interceptions. He had four his second year playing and one last season. He gives us something we don't have, and that is that true top-end speed. With these two young men we feel we have become an even faster defense."
Hester is still a raw talent as a cornerback, though, and it will take some time and a lot of practice before he contributes there. He remains an enigma, as he was at Miami.
"Devin is a little bit of a mystery," Hurricanes coach Larry Coker said. "He never really established himself at a position. People are intrigued with his skills, especially as a kick returner. The Bears took a risk, and hopefully Devin will do well, whether it is on offense or defense. That's what NFL teams were questioning. He certainly has an opportunity to be a great NFL player once he gets established."
"I'm going in and trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can from those guys," he said. "I know I'm going to have a great opportunity to learn a lot from those guys because they have already established themselves. I look at it as a positive. I'm going to try to stick on their side and try to follow them around and try to learn the ropes from them."
The three-year starter has played on the strong side and the weak side, with eight career interceptions.
"I liked the way he attacked the line of scrimmage and played downhill into his gap," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "He (uses) his hands extremely well. I saw a lot of good separation and an ability to shed and get off blocks. He had a knack for slipping the blockers, too. Instead of getting stuck or taking a guy on and getting tied up, you would see him get up, present his shoulder and then all of a sudden drop and get underneath the blocker. Things you look for in our system are guys who can run, guys who can slip blocks and then get into their crease and maintain their position."
The Bears don't necessarily want to bulk him up if it detracts from his 4.65 speed and ability to come off the edge and pressure the quarterback.
"He really doesn't need to (gain weight), especially for what we're going to ask him to do initially in his career," defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. "He'll come in and spot our other two guys in pass-rush situations, or if a team gets into two-minute mode and our guys feel gassed. There most certainly is a spot for a guy like this."
"The only position that people talked about was tight end," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "I think offensively we are pretty good everywhere else in terms of our personnel and experience. So (tight end) would be the position people might be scratching their heads about, why we didn't address it."
The Bears didn't get any of the 17 tight ends who were drafted last weekend. But the Monday after, they signed a pair of promising tight ends — Oregon's Tim Day and Auburn's Cooper Wallace — who went undrafted. Both were three-year starters.
"I thought Day would have gotten drafted and Wallace could have gotten drafted," Angelo said. "So we felt in free agency those were probably as good players as you could get."
The Lions rookies were in shorts, T-shirts and helmets — no hitting allowed — but that didn't keep them from trying to do their best in the first mini-camp of their NFL careers.
"I wanted to show that I'm competitive," said linebacker Ernie Sims, the first-round draft pick. "I feel like I want to go out there and show you all that you got in the first-round draft pick.
"I want to go out there and show my best. I might not be in the best shape, but I want to show you that I'm a ballplayer."
Safety Daniel Bullocks, the second-round pick, had the same thought in mind in his first workouts under Lions coach Rod Marinelli.
"The way I look at it, I want to win every snap I can, whether it's going against a receiver or a running back," Bullocks said. "I want to try to win every competition I can for myself and to be a leader out there on the field."
It has been suggested that third-round pick — running back Brian Calhoun from Wisconsin — might have to develop his receiving skills to play in the slot in order to win a roster spot.
Calhoun transferred from Colorado to Wisconsin as a college player in part to avoid the full-time receiver role, but he said he has no problem if the Lions want him to incorporate receiving skills into the job.
"That's fine," he said. "I think here it would be more about creating matchups, whereas at Colorado they wanted to make it a permanent move. But I have no problem moving around — flanked out, offset or whatever it might be."
A grievance was filed by some of the players after Marinelli's first mini-camp, apparently complaining about the scheduling of off-season workouts. The exact nature of their complaints was not immediately known and the Lions declined comment.
The result was that the Lions lost two days of off-season workouts. During those two days (May 8-9) players were not be allowed to work out at the Allen Park practice facility, but they will be paid for the days.
"We did perform the MRI to make sure the brain stem was intact and it was fine," said Ernie Sims, Jr., father of the Lions' first-round draft pick. "The NFL — all the teams — did it and Ernie's fine.
"It's just that when you've got 230 pounds and run a 4.4 forty and hit like he does, it's going to be difficult. As a matter of fact, Ernie gave more concussions than he took."
In fact, the concussion Sims' parents — Ernie Jr. and Alice — remember best was not one he received but one he delivered — to his younger brother Marcus, when they were high school teammates.
"You'd better ask his mother about that one," said Ernie Jr., laughing.
Alice, a former Florida State sprinter and long jumper herself, recalls the incident well.
"Marcus was a freshman and Ernie was a senior," she said. "I was at work and big Ernie called me and said, ‘Alice, they had to rush Marcus to the emergency room, but he's okay now.' "
The rest of the conversation went something like this:
Alice: "Well, Ernie, what happened?"
Ernie Jr.: "He was running the football and somebody hit him, so he got a mild concussion."
Alice: "Well, who hit him?"
Ernie Jr.: (hesitating) "Ernie."
"So when they came home from camp, I said, ‘Ernie ... son, didn't you see that was your brother running the ball?' He said, ‘Mama, I just saw somebody running with the football, I didn't know it was Marcus,' " Alice said.
"That's when I told him, ‘Son, if you hit my boy like that again, I'm going to break both of your legs,'" she said, laughing.
Safety Daniel Bullocks, the Lions second-round draft pick, is the latest player to be influenced by Sanders.
Bullocks said his only familiarity with the Lions before they drafted him was watching them play their annual Thanksgiving Day on television and from idolizing Sanders as a youngster.
"I was a running back growing up," Bullocks explained. "When I got to high school I started playing quarterback but I loved to see Barry Sanders make moves on people. I just loved his game.
"Some of the moves he made back then, I haven't seen again to this day."
"I guess a source to the building said he saw him stomp out," Marinelli said. "That was a lie.
"It was Tuesday, he went out and looked for a home with his wife. I knew where he was at ... we had other coaches who had to go out and look for homes during the afternoon sometimes. I had two or three guys go in the afternoon, another guy did it in the morning. They left the building during the work time to maybe sign for a home or whatever. That's all it was."
Marinelli denied there had been any kind of disagreement or that Martz was angry when he left the team facility.
Booth Newspapers reported in Friday editions that Martz stormed out of the headquarters. Booth cited "several sources" who confirmed their version of the story, saying also that Marinelli was neither surprised nor upset by the incident and that Martz was back at his desk the next day.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's a tough guy, he'll get after you, he won't let you take no plays off, he's going to make sure you get to the ball, he's going to be watching you play in and play out." — Safety Daniel Bullocks on his first impression of defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson
GREEN BAY PACKERS
First-year coach Mike McCarthy already is putting his foot down better than predecessor Mike Sherman did toward the end of his six-year tenure with regard to Brett Favre.
Whereas Sherman excused Favre from participating in off-season workouts last year, McCarthy called on the franchise quarterback to be on hand for the first mini-camp May 5-7.
McCarthy met for almost two hours with Favre in the coach's office on the eve of the mini-camp. They didn't hammer out a schedule for how involved Favre will be in the two mini-camps this month and 14 days of organized team activities in June. Favre probably will be required to take part in most of the sessions, if on a limited basis.
"I'm going to be real smart with his arm," McCarthy said. "He is 36 and looks good. He's in good shape. But we're a long way from playing a game. I'm more worried about the mental and fundamental part than the physical."
It's critical for Favre to be in attendance because McCarthy is installing a variation of the West Coast offense that's been employed since Favre's first year with the team in 1992. Favre didn't let the Packers know until April 25 that he would be coming back for next season and didn't have access to the new playbook until returning for the mini-camp.
"They've done it a certain way for a long time now. He's not learning a new language, but he's learning a new slang version," McCarthy said. "He has to learn just like all the other guys have had to.
"I think any time there's change, there's anxiety. But there's also excitement because everything is new. It's about the challenge. And we all know how he responds to challenges."
Favre was outspoken earlier in the off-season that he wanted to see a team coming off a 4-12 season make significant upgrades, particularly in the interior of the offensive line, before deciding whether to play a 16th NFL season or retire. Many of the team's additions were made to the defensive side, highlighted by the free-agent signing of Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson and the selection of linebacker A.J. Hawk with the No. 5 overall pick in the draft.
Nevertheless, McCarthy is confident Favre is committed to playing for the team next season, which could be his last.
"If he weren't on board, I don't think he would have come back," McCarthy said.
McCarthy, whose expertise lies with quarterbacks, has the challenge of trying to rein in Favre after he threw a league-high and franchise-record-tying 29 interceptions last season.
Veteran Billy Cundiff and waiver pickup Dave Rayner are seeking to fill the glaring hole at kicker created by the departure of Ryan Longwell, Green Bay's all-time leading scorer, to rival Minnesota early in free agency. Special teams coordinator Mike Stock said Cundiff and Rayner were "very accurate" in off-season workouts leading up to the mini-camp.
The Packers released Rhys Lloyd on May 1. Lloyd was a street free agent signed last month.
"We will continue to chart and evaluate these guys as we try to find the right guy," Stock said.
Meanwhile, one-time Canadian Football League standout Jon Ryan is the lone challenger for incumbent punter B.J. Sander, who's coming off a shaky first season that ended prematurely because of a broken left (kicking) leg.
The Packers cut Ryan Flinn on May 1. Flinn was a bartender who replaced Sander for the final two games of last season.
General manager Ted Thompson defended his decision to not take a kicker or a punter with one of the team's 12 draft picks, though he suggested that the search will continue up to the start of next season.
"Our special teams coaches and our staff are comfortable with the fellows that we have," Thompson said. "That doesn't mean that's the way it's going to wind up. But we felt like the people that we have were as good or better than anybody that we could have maybe used a pick on or signed as a college free agent."
Thomas missed six of the last seven games last season because of a strained quadriceps. The Packers had acquired the fifth-year veteran prior to the start of the season in a trade with St. Louis.
Thomas, though, became expendable when the Packers took Ohio State's A.J. Hawk in the first round of the draft April 29. Hawk projects to be the starter on the weak side.
Green Bay also drafted Iowa linebacker Abdul Hodge in the third round, and earlier signed free agents Ben Taylor and Tracy White. Those three, along with returnees Brady Poppinga, Roy Manning and Kurt Campbell, will vie for the other starting spot to complement middle linebacker Nick Barnett and Hawk.
Hawk, taken No. 5 in the first round, is expected to command the most lucrative rookie contract in team history. The deal will be on par with, if not exceed, the five-year, $19.1 million contract, including a $2.9 million signing bonus, given to running back Cadillac Williams by Tampa Bay as the fifth pick last year.
A little more than half of the $12.4 million the Packers presently have in salary-cap space will be absorbed by the contracts for the rookies.
The deal became official May 1. It's a seven-year contract worth more than $39 million, though most of the value is tied into the first few years.
Woodson, 29, received a $4 million signing bonus and a $4.35 million roster bonus. His base salary for next season is $1.5 million. He would count $6.7 million against the salary cap.
The front-loaded structure of the deal spares the Packers from having exorbitantly high salary-cap numbers for Woodson in future years. His cap number in 2007 would be $3.5 million.
His base salaries for the remainder of the contract, which also includes annual roster and workout bonuses, are $1.25 million in 2007, $3.25 million in ‘08, $4 million in ‘09, $5 million in ‘10, $5.5 million in ‘11 and $6.5 million in ‘12.
Running backs Arliss Beach (Kentucky) and Shermar Bracey (Arkansas State), wide receivers Chris Francies (Texas-El Paso) and Calvin Russell (Tuskegee), tight ends A.J. Cooper (North Dakota State) and Zac Alcorn (Black Hills State), offensive tackle Josh Bourke (Grand Valley State), defensive ends Montez Murphy (Baylor) and Jason Hunter (Appalachian State), linebackers Tim Goodwell (Memphis) and Byron Santiago (Louisiana Tech) and safety Tra Boger (Tulane).