NFC North Notes and Quotes

Despite a few "holdouts" from voluntary workouts, the Bears expect a full cast at training camp; the Lions are hoping for their full complement of linebackers; and the Packers are dealing with a middle linebacker who isn't happy with the City of Green Bay. Get news, notes and quotes from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

When the defending NFC North champion Bears reconvene on July 26 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, coach Lovie Smith expects to have all hands on deck.

Running back Thomas Jones and Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, two of the 22 returning starters, missed most of the "voluntary" portion of the Bears' off-season program. Both attended the mandatory minicamp the first weekend in June. Pro Bowl cornerback Nate Vasher, also unhappy with his contract, missed most of the previous two weeks but was back this week, although he was held out of practice to rest his sore knees.

"I would definitely be surprised if we had a holdout for training camp," Smith said. "I think the players know what's at stake. We need to be here. Training camp's important. You can look at what happened last year with (first-round pick) Cedric Benson, who held out, missed most of training camp and never got back on the right footing. Now Cedric Benson has been here throughout the entire off-season and has gotten better and better. We're really excited about what he might be able to do for us this year."

Benson was buried on the depth chart behind Jones last season, but they split carries during minicamp and are expected to compete on equal footing this summer for the featured role. Briggs was dropped to second string behind journeyman Leon Joe during the minicamp, but Smith said talk of demotions is premature.

"We haven't demoted anyone really," Smith said. "It starts all over this year, and the way to get on the depth chart is to be here and give us a chance to evaluate you. We don't really have a true depth chart right now. We're going to training camp and then we'll let everyone have an opportunity to compete."

Smith said Vasher would be in better position than Jones and Briggs based on his off-season attendance.

"He hasn't missed the entire off-season, so his situation is different," the Bears' coach said. "He finished up with us here."

MEDICAL WATCH

Defensive tackle Tank Johnson (hamstring), defensive back Brandon McGowan (knee) and fullback Bryan Johnson (foot) are the only injured players who aren't expected to be ready to practice the first day of training camp.


DETROIT LIONS

The Lions' running game is certain to come under close scrutiny when the team opens training camp in late July. They ranked 26th in the NFL last season with Kevin Jones, Shawn Bryson and Artose Pinner sharing the workload in a drab, ineffective West Coast offense.

Jones, Bryson and Pinner all are back for 2006, along with free agent acquisition Arlen Harris and third-round draft pick Brian Calhoun from Wisconsin. Although coach Rod Marinelli isn't bestowing any starting jobs, it is expected that Jones, a former first-round pick, could benefit greatly from offensive coordinator Mike Martz's insistence on a strong running game.

"It's like I've always said since I've been here, we've got to ride (Jones') coattails," said wide receiver Roy Williams. "We've got to be able to run the football in this league. If we can't do that, we'll be at the bottom of the barrel like we have been the last three years.

"We've got to be able to run the football (and) he's the man to do it. Calhoun can come in and get his little shake on in there and our running game will be at the top of the league."

Marinelli isn't promising the top running game in the NFL but he says he likes what he has seen from Jones in the off-season workouts, especially in becoming a more complete back, capable of catching the ball out of the backfield.

"He's catching the ball well, better," Marinelli said. "And he's worked hard at it. He's caught a million balls. I think he's really done a nice job."

  • It's been awhile since the Lions had a strong identity - either offensive or defensive - and coach Rod Marinelli says he doesn't mind keeping it that way a while longer.

    While admitting the players have reason to be enthused about the possibilities being developed by offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Marinelli wants the team concept to overshadow anything else.

    "The thing I keep trying to allude to, I think, is ‘Lions football,'" he said. "This is Lions football and every time I get into a team setting, I think it's really important (that) we're not an offense, we're not a defense, we're not a special teams and we understand it's ‘Lions football.' And each unit has the opportunity to impact Lions football."

    Except for occasional brief glimmers, the West Coast offense never gained any traction in the past five seasons under Marty Mornhinweg or Steve Mariucci, and the players were clearly ready for a change with Marinelli was hired last January.

    Although Martz is demanding as he installs the new offense, it has caught the players' attention and imagination during off-season workouts.

    "What the offense is doing right now with the energy of coach Martz and the offensive staff ... the team can see it," Marinelli said. "We've got to do it; the basis, the movement, the patterns, the speed, the energy out there, I really like the progress (and) the steps we're taking to be a really good offense. It's got a chance to really energize our team, yes."

  • Although the Lions starting offensive and defensive lineups seem fairly well set, coach Rod Marinelli says the jobs were won or lost during the off-season workouts.

    "We're getting a pretty good feel right now with them but the key is to get into the pads," he said. "I think it's going to happen pretty quickly ... but it can change pretty quickly also. It's a process.

    "The worst thing you can do in the off-season work is to start making decisions mentally and you disallow a man to make the progress because you've already mentally put him as a backup. So I try not to do that. Some of these players are going to look different in pads. Some will be better, some will be worse."

    In particular, Marinelli will have to settle on a starting left guard, right tackle and the pecking order for the receivers, including first-round picks Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.

    It is expected the Lions will have to cut four or five players before the start of training camp.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Middle linebacker Nick Barnett has been the talk of Green Bay in the early summer because of what he has been doing and saying off the field.

    Barnett landed in a political maelstrom after the Green Bay City Council denied his renewal for a liquor license for his downtown nightclub, FiveSix Ultra Lounge, on June 6. Council members cited numerous police calls and complaints from neighbors regarding late-night activities at the club, including at least 15 fights.

    Barnett, who is black, subsequently spoke out on what he felt was unfair treatment by the city and said the denial of the license renewal smacked of racist overtones.

    "I'm not saying the whole city is racist; that's not what I'm saying. But, we do get stereotyped here," Barnett told the Wisconsin State Journal in a June 21 article. "Like, when (the members of the council) were watching the video of my club. They looked at the way people were dressed and said, ‘How do you get that element in your club?' ‘Well, what do you mean by element? Just because they're black? Is that the element you're talking about?'"

    The allegations made by the fourth-year standout were fanned in the past week. Another Green Bay downtown establishment that had a litany of problems was absolved June 26 by a city committee, which recommended that the club's liquor license be renewed.

    The next day, Barnett was given a written citation by Green Bay police for jaywalking after leaving his club. Barnett had done an interview with a Green Bay TV station and walked across the street with the reporter and the camera operator. The media members weren't cited.

    On June 29, in what's perceived as damage control on the city's part, Mayor Jim Schmitt called for the city council to rescind the earlier decision about Barnett's liquor license.

    "It's making the city look stupid," Chad Fradette, president of the city council, told the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

    Barnett acknowledged in the Wisconsin State Journal article that the events of the last few weeks will factor into his decision on whether to re-sign with the team. The contract he signed as the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2003 is up after the 2007 season.

    "I want to play here; I do. I want to be part of this organization," Barnett said. "But, it is one of the things I will be thinking about when I'm making my decision. I mean, who wants to be in a city that doesn't want you to invest in the community?"

  • The Packers have five weeks off from the end of their organized team activities, which concluded June 21, to the opening of training camp July 28. Quarterback Brett Favre figures to be busy during the hiatus, however.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy said Favre, 36, will concentrate on keeping himself fit at home in Mississippi. Rock Gullickson, the team's strength and conditioning coach, will be dispatched for a few days to work with Favre.

    "Just going back through the cut-ups and things like that, I think his biggest concern when he left here was probably his conditioning, which we feel he's in pretty good shape for this time of year," McCarthy said.

    McCarthy excused Favre from the final day of the 14 OTA sessions, which were spread out over three weeks. Favre, in his 16th year in the league, participated in 10 of those practices and spent the other four days working out with Gullickson.

    Favre said earlier in the month that he planned to throw on his property two or three weeks before the start of camp.

    "He's got a big bag of balls hanging out there in his warehouse. So, I think there's a little more throwing that goes on than some people think down in Mississippi," McCarthy said.

    Favre also will be trying to stay mentally sharp in the coming weeks. He acknowledged early in the OTAs that he was overwhelmed by the new verbiage implemented by McCarthy in the West Coast offense. Favre left Green Bay with DVDs of practice footage and playbook material in tow for his laptop.

  • If he can help it, rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk will be on the practice field Day 1 of training camp with the ink of his signature on his first professional contract dry.

    Hawk said at the end of the OTAs that he's "confident" a deal will be struck with the team and that he won't be a camp holdout at the outset.

    "I know a lot of first-round picks don't come to camp on time, but we'll see what we can do," said Hawk, whom the Packers selected fifth overall. "You miss something in these OTAs, and you're behind. Obviously, training camp is even worse."

    Hawk missed the first seven OTA practices because he was completing school at Ohio State, from which he earned his degree in criminology.

    As a top-five pick, the Packers' first since they took cornerback Terrell Buckley at No. 5 in 1992, Hawk will command a hefty contract. Running back Carnell Williams received a five-year, $30 million package with guaranteed bonus money of more than $13 million as the No. 5 pick by Tampa Bay last year.

    The Packers have been nearly flawless in recent years to get their first-round draftees signed by the start of full-squad practices in training camp. Cornerback Ahmad Carroll missed only the first practice in 2004.

  • The publicly owned Packers reported record revenues of $208.4 million for the last fiscal year, which ended March 31. The 4.2 percent increase propelled the franchise from the smallest market to No. 7 in the league, Green Bay's highest ranking.

    The Packers had profits of $18 million. The renovation of Lambeau Field, which was completed three years ago, is the crux of the big revenue stream. The famed stadium has become a year-round destination for visitors with an atrium dotted by restaurants, shops and other attractions.

  • The team's intrasquad scrimmage at Lambeau Field on Aug. 5 sold out within three days. It's the third straight year all 60,000-plus seats in the stadium bowl were gobbled up.

    The scrimmage last year featured the Buffalo Bills. The Packers aren't aligning with a team in training camp this year.


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