NFC North Notes and Quotes

The Bears' defenders are trying to help out a rookie on and off the field, the Lions' quarterbacks are getting more than their fill of information at practices, and some of the Packers' draft choices are making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

CHICAGO BEARS

Working with his veteran teammates for the first time at last week's OTA practices was a much more pleasant experience than second-round safety Danieal Manning had anticipated.

"I came in here expecting the worst," said the Bears' top draft pick. "You hear all those stories about how they treat the rookies. I've probably got it coming later on, but right now I'm glad that they're helping me and just letting me get back in my playbook."

Manning received an especially warm reception from his fellow safeties. Veteran Mike Brown offered guidance in the film room and second-year pro Chris Harris provided tips on the field.

"I thought they were going to be rough on me and they wouldn't talk to me," Manning said, "but those guys are real helpful people."

While he was relieved to be welcomed with open arms, Manning realizes that his veteran teammates will be closely monitoring his progress throughout off-season workouts.

"They want to see how you perform and see how you make the transition from college to playing in the (NFL)," said Manning, who was selected with the 42nd pick in the second round of the draft. "They kind of want to gauge you and know exactly what they need to teach you. They threw a lot at you and you hope that you learn the defenses like they want you to. We had to learn four defenses every day."

While Manning believes that the speed of the game is the biggest difference between college and the pros, he certainly didn't feel out of place practicing with other NFL players.

"I felt like I belong," he said. "Slowly but surely I'm going to make some plays. You've got to get enough reps and know it so it'll be second nature.

"You have to know how to use your eyes, your feet and your hips, and just execute. Everything is about execution at full speed with no wasted movements and no wasted steps."


DETROIT LIONS

In 10 full seasons of NFL quarterbacking, Jon Kitna says he has never seen anything like the diet of offensive plays the Lions quarterbacks are being fed by new offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

"There's so much more volume to it," Kitna said. "Where a team might have 40 plays, we have 160 plays. That's totally different now. It's different for what (defensive) people have to prepare for; it's different for what you have to prepare for."

The Lions quarterbacks — Kitna, Josh McCown and Dan Orlovsky — have been force-fed a steady diet of the Martz system since they reported for a voluntary quarterback "school" about three months ago. And there is no indication it will let up between now and the start of training camp next month.

Asked how many plays he thought the Lions would have in their offensive playbook when they get to camp, Kitna grinned. "I don't now," he said. "A thousand?"

Despite the demands of learning the system that proved to be extremely productive for Martz both as an offensive coordinator and head coach at St. Louis, Kitna says it is a system that is "so quarterback friendly."

"It puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback but if you understand it, it's very friendly, because there's completions there, there's big plays there. I remember being in systems where you're working the whole game to try to set up a big play. It's not that way with this system; there's big plays throughout the system, just in the normal play-calling."

The fundamentals of the Martz system are not entirely new to Kitna. He says the fundamentals are similar to offenses he played in his final three years at Seattle and the last five years at Cincinnati.

The variations, however, mean the quarterbacks have to more to absorb.

"In the past, I always tried to figure out a system and figure out like, ‘Oh, I got it,'" Kitna said. "I'm not trying to do that. I'm just trying to stay with it each day and understand what he's trying to do with each play. Whatever he throws at me, I'm going to try to absorb it, take it and go with it, knowing that each day can change."

NOTES

  • Three months after taking the job as the Lions offensive coordinator, Mike Martz says he is still in the process of evaluating the personnel at his disposal.

    Anyone who knows Martz knows that he has no trouble formulating a strong opinion but he says he has had a problem evaluating the Lions offensive players because they were "grossly out of shape" when they went to work in the off-season program.

    In his first comments with the Detroit media since the NFL scouting combine in February, Martz said his players are progressing nicely, however, and will be ready for the season opener Sept. 10 against Seattle.

    "Sure. Absolutely," he said. "These guys are so willing, we'll be fine. I'm excited and encouraged about their attitude."

    Because Martz is moving the Lions out of the West Coast system they played the past five years under Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci, there is a great deal of work yet to be done but he basically shot down theories that the Lions three first-round receivers are busts.

    Martz said he views Roy Williams as a player in the formative stages of becoming an elite receiver, says Mike Williams has better speed and quicker feet than he expected, and that Charles Rogers has made excellent progress in the past week.

  • In signing veteran offensive lineman Ross Verba, the Lions have probably completed the revamping of their offensive line.

    Verba, 32, has played 106 games with Green Bay and Cleveland but missed the 2003 season with a torn bicep muscle and did not play last season after negotiating his release from the Browns.

    The Lions signed Verba to a one-year contract (with club options for additional time) and had him working at left guard with the starting offense during the mandatory mini-camp.

    Verba played for Lions offensive line coach Larry Beightol when they were both at Green Bay and he has no doubt he will be in the starting lineup when the Lions open the season against defending NFC champion Seattle.

    "I'll be starting," Verba said after his first mini-camp workout. "I'll earn it. I don't not start."

    Assuming Verba wins the left guard job from Rick DeMulling in training camp, the Lions will probably have two new starters on the offensive line. Rex Tucker is likely to start ahead of Kelly Butler at right tackle.

  • The writing was on the wall, so Lions coach Rod Marinelli felt it was only fair to let quarterback Shaun King try to find a job elsewhere in the NFL.

    Marinelli, who was the defensive line coach at Tampa Bay during the time King was the Bucs' starting quarterback, gave King his release before the start of the Lions mini-camp in Allen Park on May 31.

    With Jon Kitna, Josh McCown and Dan Orlovsky ahead of him in the quarterback pecking order, it appeared unlikely King would be able to make the Lions' 53-man roster in training camp.

    "I've got a great relationship with the guy over the years," Marinelli said. "I didn't know if he had a great shot to come in here. He's got a chance, maybe, to go and be in the mix someplace else."

  • Although the Lions have only a one-year contract in place with left tackle Jeff Backus, they are hoping to work out a long-term deal sometime in the next six weeks.

    The team has mentioned frequently its interest in a multi-year deal but had never approached Backus to get anything done. And when he was named the Lions' franchise player in March, the best they could do was to get him to sign the tender offer of the average of the five top-paid offensive linemen in the NFL.

    Chief operating officer Tom Lewand maintains the Lions want to get a long-term deal in place by July 15.

    "Once we go beyond the 15th, it's at best uncertain as to what happens," Lewand said.

    The uncertainty is based on the status of the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement with the players union. The league and the union have several unresolved issues, including the possibility that a team could lose the right to use the franchise tag if it negotiates with a franchise player after July 15.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    For all of the wrong reasons, a few members of the Packers' rookie class this year generated notice only a month into their pro careers.

    Wide receiver Cory Rodgers, a fourth-round draft pick, was compelled to apologize to the team and its fans in the wake of his recent arrest for firing a gun into the air amid a crowd. The incident occurred in the early morning of May 26 outside a bar in Fort Worth, Texas, where Rodgers starred at Texas Christian.

    "I made a mistake, and I have to live with it," Rodgers said May 31 on the first day of the Packers' organized team activities.

    Rodgers, 23, was apprehended on charges of unlawful carrying of a weapon and discharge of a firearm. Two of Rodgers' former teammates at TCU also were arrested. They told police Rodgers fired the gun to scare a group of men who were using beer bottles and pool cues as weapons in a brawl that ensued after Rodgers refused to sign autographs and buy drinks for patrons inside the bar.

    Officers heard two gunshots coming from behind the building. They found Rodgers in the back seat of his car with a .40-caliber automatic handgun and ammunition in a seat pouch.

    The case against Rodgers is still pending.

    "He's a young man that was in the wrong place, and he just needs to learn to not be in that situation again," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said.

    Meanwhile, Green Bay's other fourth-round draftee, cornerback Will Blackmon, is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery for a broken foot.

    Blackmon sustained the injury May 21 during the final day of the team's second minicamp. McCarthy couldn't say for sure that Blackmon will be ready for the start of training camp in late July.

    "There's a little debate, as far as how long he's out," McCarthy said.

    Rodgers and Blackmon are in the mix as kick returners.

    Of positive note, however, top draft pick A.J. Hawk should be back with the team for the second half of the OTA schedule, which entails 14 practices spread out over four weeks until June 21.

    Hawk is completing classes at Ohio State and will graduate June 11. The Packers pick up with the last seven OTA practices June 12.

    Hawk, anointed the starter at weak-side linebacker after being taken No. 5 overall, has been with the team only for its post-draft minicamp, May 5 to 7.


    NOTES

  • Pro Bowl running back Dorsey Levens retired as a Packer on June 2 after the team signed him to a one-day contract.

    Levens, 36, was a late-round (fifth) steal for then-general manager Ron Wolf in 1994 and played eight years with Green Bay. His best season was in 1997, when he racked up 1,435 rushing yards (third best in team history), caught 53 passes and had 12 touchdowns to earn a Pro Bowl spot.

    The acquisition of Ahman Green in a trade with Seattle in 2000 expedited the release of Levens a year later. He ranks fifth in club annals with 3,937 yards.

    Levens finished his career with two seasons in Philadelphia (2002 and ‘04) sandwiched around one with the New York Giants. He was out of football last season. He amassed 4,955 rushing yards in 11 NFL seasons.

  • Offensive lineman Kevin Barry is expected to miss the entire season after recently undergoing surgery to repair a torn quadriceps tendon in his left leg.

    Barry, a candidate to start at right guard, sustained the injury May 21 in a pass-blocking drill toward the end of the team's final minicamp practice.

    "He's in rehab, and it's going to be a while," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "I don't see him making it back for this season."

    Second-year pro Junius Coston is the early front-runner to man right guard, with incumbent Will Whitticker considered too heavy to play inside in the new zone-blocking scheme.

    Whitticker continues to line up at left tackle with the No. 1 unit as the fill-in for Chad Clifton, who will be held out until the start of training camp in late July. Clifton is on the mend after undergoing minor knee and ankle surgeries earlier in the off-season.

    Adrian Klemm, who initially filled the void during the post-draft minicamp, remains sidelined with a sprained knee.

  • The expected passing of the leadership torch for the publicly owned organization occurred May 31, when its board of directors named John Jones the team's 10th president.

    Jones last year was handpicked by outgoing president Bob Harlan to be his successor. Jones officially will take over next May, when Harlan must relinquish the position because he will be 70.

    Harlan has been president since 1989 and is widely credited with resurrecting a moribund franchise located in the NFL's smallest market. He will chair the board of directors and the executive committee until his tenure expires. The board then will formally elect Harlan chairman emeritus and Jones president and chief executive officer.

    Jones, 54, will remain in his current capacity as the team's chief operating officer until the transition is completed in May.

    "No one is going to replace Bob Harlan," Jones said. "His shoes aren't going to be filled. Bob is in a special class in all of football, and I'm the first guy to recognize that."

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