NFC North Notes and Quotes

The Bears are sticking with using a versatile player on defense, the Lions are taking time off after a violation of the offseason rules, and the Packers are going easy on Brett Favre. Get those stories and notes from around the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS

There are several personnel people around the league who believe it's a mistake by the Bears not to play second-round pick Devin Hester on offense.

At Miami, Hester was magic with the ball in his hands. In three seasons, he returned four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. He'll have an opportunity to continue those roles with the Bears, but in addition to special teams, they drafted him to play cornerback. He did that at "The U," and he looked like a natural doing it last Friday at the first day of the Bears' three-day rookie mini-camp at Halas Hall.

But he also played wide receiver and running back in addition to cornerback. And considering he ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at Miami's pro day, a lot of teams might be tempted to get him as many touches as possible.

The Bears and Hester believe his future is on defense, though, even if it takes a while to realize his potential.

"He's a guy who is raw at the position," Bears defensive backs coach Steven Wilks said, "but he has outstanding speed and great upside. He has all the tools you would want in a corner, they're just not developed yet. We're going to put him in one spot and let him grow. He's a guy who loves to work. He's going to give everything he has."

Hester said he has no position preference.

"I'm a football player," he said. "I really don't have a favorite position. Anywhere the coaches put me, wherever they need me, that's what I'm willing to do. I'm a team ballplayer and I'm just trying to come out and contribute and try to win a Super Bowl."

Hester is confident that putting his vast talents into the hands of Bears coaches will result in him becoming a quality NFL cornerback.

"We have great DB coaches," he said. "Just working with them, I feel I'm going to be one of the most dominant corners in the league in a couple years."

NOTES

  • Disgruntled running back Thomas Jones continues to stay away from the Bears' off-season workout program.

    He signed a $10 million, four-year deal as a free agent after the 2003 season, but based on his 1,335 rushing yards last season, Jones believes he's underpaid. A trade would likely result in a new, more lucrative contract. But the Bears might be hesitant to let Jones get away, since it would deprive them of the depth they value at running back.

    "I figure it all will work out," Bears running backs coach Tim Spencer said. "I know he hasn't been there, but I know Thomas, and he is working out. I know he will be ready to go."

    Jones was the key to the Bears' offense last season. He was fifth in the NFC in rushing yards and third on the Bears with 26 receptions.

    "Ain't no question," Spencer said, "that was our guy. We've got to have Thomas. I hope everything gets squared away, so I can get my man back. He did a lot of other things, a lot of the stuff that other guys don't want to do, a lot of that dirty work."

  • Tight end Zach Puchtel participated in last weekend's rookie mini-camp, even though he wasn't drafted by the Bears.

    He wasn't even signed as a free agent like fellow rookie tight ends Tim Day and Cooper Wallace. Puchtel hasn't played football in four years, not since he was a freshman at Harvard.

    "Yeah, it's a long shot," admitted the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Puchtel, who played basketball for two years at Harvard and then at Minnesota for three years.

    When basketball season ended, he was planning on going back to Harvard and finishing his degree. But a couple teams NFL teams contacted Puchtel to find out if I he was interested in giving football a try.

    "I'm in the best shape of my life right now," he said. "I figured if there was a time to go for it, it was now. I understand the possibility isn't that great, but there is a shot and I had to take it."

  • Bears coach Lovie Smith said he could sympathize with safety Chris Harris, who was removed from his seat at the United Center and relocated after arguing with Heat center Alonzo Mourning during the Bulls' Game 6 loss last Thursday night in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.

    "I'm a season ticket holder with the Bulls," Smith said. "I'm a big basketball fan, and I try to go down and support the team as much as I possibly can. I assume that's what Chris was trying to do. Sometimes you can support your team a little bit too much, but hopefully no damage was done.

    "We realize how it is to be on the field competing with fans heckling you behind, so hopefully that wasn't the case."

    The argument began when Harris reportedly asked Mourning why he wasn't playing.

  • As a hedge against a possible trade of incumbent starter Thomas Jones, the Bears last Friday signed 5-foot-10, 219-pound running back Tony Hollings to a two-year contract.

    Selected in the second round of the 2003 NFL supplemental draft out of Georgia Tech, Hollings has totaled a modest 149 career rushing yards on 49 carries and caught seven passes for 71 yards. He appeared in just two games with the Texans in 2005, with no statistics. But in just four career starts at Georgia Tech, he rushed for 633 yards.


    DETROIT LIONS

    The first wave of player resistance cost coach Rod Marinelli two days of off-season workouts and the new Lions coach indicated he might have to adjust his approach to bringing a tougher, more disciplined work ethic to the team.

    "I've just got to be smart with what we're doing," he said in response to a reporter's question.

    Neither the Lions nor the NFL Players Association would confirm the exact nature of the grievance that was filed by the unknown player or players after Marinelli's first mini-camp in mid-April.

    The statement put out by the league and the players association was unclear also, saying in one place that the grievance involved "violations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement's off-season workout rules" and in the next paragraph saying the Lions "violated rules pertaining to the scheduling of off-season activities."

    Judging from Marinelli's response, speculation at the Lions' Allen Park training facility is that a small group of players might have felt the off-season workout involved too much contact and was too tough, prompting them to complain to the players association.

    "We're just prepared to move on," Marinelli said. "That's really all I have to say."

    When pressed on the issue of the players' alleged reluctance to work at the level he believes is necessary to win, Marinelli later added, "No, they've been very good. I've been actually very pleased. The majority of them have really gone fast and understand the tempo that we want.

    "It's not good enough yet, that's the thing. That's the issue: It's not good enough. That's the thing I've got to keep working on."

    At least some of the Lions players apparently do not support the grievance or those who filed it.

    "I'm hard working," tight end Marcus Pollard told the Detroit Free Press. "A lot of guys are hard-working. You can't just lump the entire team as guys that don't want to work or we got some guys whining about this or that."

    Yet, Marinelli could be walking a fine line in his demanding approach to improving the Lions, who are 21-59 in the last five seasons.

    His approach might be considered comparable to that of Les Steckel, who was hired by the Minnesota Vikings in 1984 after the retirement of Bud Grant. The team rebelled, won only 3 of 16 games and Steckel was fired after one season.

    NOTES

  • After two months of haggling and occasional acrimony, the Lions have finally traded quarterback Joey Harrington to the Miami Dolphins.

    The deal was completed Friday, giving the Dolphins time to get Harrington into camp for the start of their organized team activities, which begin next week.

    The Lions reportedly received a sixth-round pick in the 2006 NFL draft, with the possibility that it could become a fifth-round pick, depending on how much Harrington plays for the Dolphins in the upcoming season.

    The deal has been pending for weeks. Harrington asked the Lions to trade or release him after attending an early "quarterback school" with new coach Rod Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

    Although Harrington has not addressed the subject publicly, sources say he was not sour on Marinelli or Martz as much as he was uncomfortable returning to the site of his four unpleasant seasons, during which he had taken abuse from Lions fans and teammates.

    Lions president Matt Millen gave Harrington and agent David Dunn permission to shop him to other NFL teams. After a brief tour, Harrington announced he would play with Miami.

    The Dolphins want Harrington as insurance for newly acquired Dante Culpepper, who is recovering from a season-ending 2005 injury and is not expected to be ready for the season opener.

    The Lions had to get him off the books by June 15, when he was due to receive a $4 million roster bonus.

  • Although Lions first-round draft pick Ernie Sims and his family all agree that his five concussions suffered at Florida State are nothing to worry about, that feeling is not universal.

    Florida State defensive ends coach Jody Allen recently told the Detroit Free Press that the only thing that could stop Sims from a successful NFL career is "the injury thing."

    "The only thing I worry about is, at that level, with the size and physicality of the other players and how physical he is, he's going to hit somebody so hard and get into such collisions that he's going to have a concussion thing," Allen said.

    Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews also expressed concern over the concussion factor, simply because of the way Sims plays.

    "I know this: When you're flying around hitting folks, there's going to be some damage done," Andrews said. "He dishes out a lot more than he receives, I promise you."

    Sims was put through a battery of tests by NFL teams at the scouting combine and — according to the Lions and Sims' family — he was deemed fit, with no lingering affects from the five concussions he suffered in three years at Florida State.

    "Four of them were minor concussions and then one of them was kind of serious," Sims said. "But overall, I took my neuron-psych tests, and (the doctors) said it was okay."

  • An unprecedented (for the Lions) tryout format yielded three players after the three days of rookie mini-camp — defensive end Val Barnaby from Rutgers, safety Marcus Demps from San Diego State and wide receiver Devale Ellis from Hofstra.

    The three players were signed to one-year contracts after joining another 23 undrafted, unsigned rookies in the Lions' rookie mini-camp.

    The Lions previously had signed eight undrafted rookies after the NFL draft at the end of April but new coach Rod Marinelli — utilizing a concept the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have used in recent seasons — wanted to bring in another 26 players for the all-rookie camp.

    "You just put them on tape and you film them and you look," Marinelli explained. "You just never know. They key is, you have to keep looking. I look to the franchise and our team to just keep digging and looking."

    Lions president Matt Millen was impressed, not only with the tryout players but with the way Marinelli and his staff treated them.

    "I thought they got coached hard and I thought they responded really well," Millen said. "Their effort was outstanding. Very few mental errors. To be honest, I was really impressed."

  • The Lions, like most NFL teams, look for one particular quality in most players taken in the later rounds of the draft but in the case of at least two players — running back Brian Calhoun of Wisconsin and Fred Matua of Southern California — they might have gotten more.

    After getting his first look at the players in T-shirts and helmets at a three-day rookie camp, Lions president Matt Millen said he was impressed with the versatility of both Calhoun and Matua.

    Calhoun, a third-round draft pick, is expected to compete with Artose Pinner for a backup running back position but he might be able to help himself with ability in several areas.

    "What you really saw — the return skills, all that stuff was there," Millen said. "He fielded the ball really well (on) punts and kicks, caught the ball out of the backfield, showed some quickness."

    Matua left Southern Cal a year early for the draft after blocking for three Heisman Trophy winners — quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush but slipped all the way to the seventh round.

    Asked what he liked about Matua, Millen said: "The versatility. He can play center, he can play guard. He's a tough kid, he's smart, he picked everything up real well, played with a lot of confidence."

    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Somewhat peculiarly, coach Mike McCarthy is taking a page out of predecessor Mike Sherman's off-season plan from a year ago, which, in hindsight, didn't go over well.

    McCarthy has excused quarterback Brett Favre from attending the Packers' next mini-camp, May 19-21.

    "Physically, he's in good shape. But I don't think it's real smart for him to push it to the limit physically," McCarthy said. "The biggest thing, we have to be smart with Brett. You want him here for the mental part of it. But, if you look at all of his practice reps and game reps (in previous years), you don't need to sit down and throw everything on the board today."

    The 36-year-old Favre had limited participation in the first three-day mini-camp, May 5-7, less than two weeks after he informed the team that he would return for at least one more season. Favre backed off from a statement he made earlier in the off-season that if he were to play next season, it would be his last.

    "I know I said that," he said during a news conference May 6. "But I hope you guys will respect me. I'm going to play this year, give it my best and not talk about (retirement).

    "It's been a distraction not only for me but for, I think, the guys I played with in the past. And I'm not going to talk about it this year."

    Though McCarthy is installing his variation of the West Coast offense in the two mini-camps, he's allowing Favre to not report back until the organized team activities get under way May 31. McCarthy said he'll have Favre take part in possibly 10 of the 14 sessions.

    Sherman kept Favre out of all of the team's off-season workouts last year. For a number of reasons, Favre then had his worst season in 14 years as the Packers' starter. He had a league-high and franchise-record-tying 29 interceptions as Green Bay finished 4-12.

    Favre indicated that he's not about to tone down his ambitious approach to throwing the football even with a new, quarterback-friendly head coach on board.

    "I'm going to take chances," Favre said. "There's going to be people who agree with that, and there's going to be people who don't agree with it. And, I really don't care.

    "My desire and my commitment is why I'm here. Not my footwork, not my mechanics, not arm strength or decision-making. It's my desire to win. I want to win more than anyone else. I'm willing to do whatever it takes, and sometimes, it's not pretty."

    The absence of Favre at the next mini-camp will give heir apparent Aaron Rodgers more time to run the offense. McCarthy came away impressed with Rodgers during the first mini-camp.

    A year ago, McCarthy, then the offensive coordinator for San Francisco, soured on Rodgers as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft for the 49ers, who selected fellow quarterback Alex Smith. Rodgers tumbled to the Packers' first-round spot at No. 24.

    "(From) what I saw (of him) in college, I think he moves a lot better," McCarthy said of Rodgers following the first mini-camp. "He's a lot better athlete than I think people realize. He does a really good job in space.

    "He has an excellent arm; he always has. I would just say his movement qualities are something I don't recall seeing a lot of in college."

    Rodgers has been receiving individual attention from McCarthy during twice-a-week throwing sessions since the Packers' off-season program started March 20.

    NOTES

  • A day after ex-Packer Javon Walker received a whopping contract extension from Denver, word came May 11 that Green Bay rewarded its new No. 1 receiver, Donald Driver.

    The Packers extended Driver's contract by two years through the 2009 season. The total value of the reworked deal is $17 million. Driver reportedly will receive $4 million in bonuses this year, including a signing bonus of $2 million.

    Driver capitalized on Walker's season-ending knee injury in Week 1 last season by establishing career highs with 86 receptions for 1,221 yards, ranking in the league's top 10 in both categories. The previous season, Driver had 84 catches for 1,208 yards and nine TDs.

    Driver, 31, has produced three 1,000-yard seasons in the last four years and earned a Pro Bowl invitation in 2002.

    "Donald's a fine player, a real pro, and we're glad he's going to be here a little longer," general manager Ted Thompson said.

    Driver will have a base salary of $950,000 next season, a reduction of about $400,000 from what he was scheduled to make under his old contract. The salary shoots up to $2.7 million in 2007, $2.9 million in ‘08 and $3.9 million in ‘09.

    The timing of extending Driver's contract came on the heels of Walker's taking a parting shot at Thompson.

    The Packers traded Walker to Denver on the first day of the draft April 29 for a second-round pick. Walker, a 2004 Pro Bowl pick, forced the issue by declaring earlier in the off-season that he would retire before playing for Green Bay again.

    Though Walker was put off by quarterback Brett Favre's calling him out for his holdout during the off-season last year, the receiver told the Denver media May 10 that Thompson was the primary source of his unhappiness in Green Bay. Walker said Thompson refused to entertain discussions about renegotiating his rookie contract, which at the time had two years left.

    "I said, ‘Let's just talk about it,'" Walker recounted. "It was just a flat-out, disrespectful ‘No.'"

  • Favre and rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk might not be the only no-shows at the team's second mini-camp, May 19-21.

    Safety Mark Roman said at the conclusion of the post-draft mini-camp that "it's up in the air" about whether he'll be in attendance for the upcoming non-mandatory camp.

    Roman acknowledged that he asked Thompson to release him after the Packers signed Seattle free agent Marquand Manuel in March. Manuel received a five-year, $10 million deal with a $1.5 million signing bonus.

    Roman said the team never informed him about its intentions to sign Manuel and he learned of the acquisition through the media. He wasn't contacted by anyone from the organization until a week later.

    "I just thought I deserved to be respected at least with a phone call. There was no communication," said Roman, a seventh-year veteran.

    Roman skipped the first six weeks of the team's off-season workout program before reporting for the mandatory May 5-7 mini-camp. Manuel was signed to replace the underwhelming Roman at strong safety, but Roman remained the starter in camp because Manuel is recovering from a groin injury sustained in the Super Bowl.

    Coach Mike McCarthy said he expects Roman to be on hand for the next mini-camp.

    McCarthy, though, excused Favre from participating.

    Hawk, the No. 5 overall pick in the draft, also will be missing. Hawk is finishing his undergraduate degree at Ohio State, where the academic year doesn't end until June 9. A league rule forbids rookies whose school still is in session from taking part in more than a post-draft mini-camp until classes are done.

    Hawk not only will be absent from the upcoming mini-camp, but the projected starter at weakside linebacker will miss a good chunk of the organized team activities, which start May 31.

    "There's nothing you really can do," McCarthy said. "What he was able to accomplish (in the first mini-camp), he'll continue to grow on his own. He just needs to graduate school, get back here in June and he'll be fine. We'll accommodate him as far as what he's missed. We'll be sure to catch him up to speed."

  • Defensive tackle Donnell Washington, who hasn't played a down after two years in the league, is running out of time to stay with the team.

    Washington, a third-round draft pick in 2004, was banished to the sideline during the first mini-camp because he arrived out of shape after not taking part in the off-season workout program.

    "It's not a positive. He's not where he needs to be right now," McCarthy lamented. "I haven't been here the last two years. All I know is he was not ready to go in this camp. It is disappointing, and he needs to get it corrected."

    The 6-foot-6 Washington, who's listed at 328 pounds, was on injured reserve his entire rookie season in 2004 because of a foot injury and was activated only once last season but didn't see the field.

    Weight problems also have plagued offensive linemen Kevin Barry and Will Whitticker in the early going.

    Barry's weight ballooned to 345 pounds before the recent mini-camp, and the coaches are demanding he get down to about 320. Consequently, Barry, thought to be a starting candidate, backed up Junius Coston at right guard all three days of the camp.

    The hulking Whitticker, meanwhile, has lost his starting hold on right guard after only one season. Whitticker lined up at left tackle with the No. 1 unit because Chad Clifton and Adrian Klemm were out with injury issues. The 338-pound Whitticker isn't mobile enough to remain at guard in the newly adopted zone-blocking scheme.

  • The Packers signed a pair of undrafted rookies, Tabor College fullback Ben Brown and Stanford linebacker Kevin Schimmelmann, on May 8. Both players participated in the first mini-camp on a tryout basis.


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