Last season Wale Ogunleye became the first Bears defensive end to reach double digits in sacks since Richard Dent in 1993, and tackle Tommie Harris earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Defensive end Alex Brown received a vote for NFL defensive player of the year, and defensive tackle Ian Scott was a steady presence at the nose.
The Bears' defensive line didn't terrorize opposing quarterbacks, but it usually applied solid pressure and was stout against the run. By using a four-man rotation inside, including Tank Johnson and Alfonso Boone, and by utilizing athletic Israel Idonije at end, the Bears were able to have fresh troops on the field most of the time and maintain a high level of performance and intensity. Since Boone is the only defensive lineman on the roster older than 28, the group is expected to be even better this season.
"You can overcome adversity by playing hard," Bears defensive line coach Don Johnson said. "(But) we need to be more fundamentally technically sound with some of the things that we do in terms of the little details — taking the proper step and using some of the different things that we do to take advantage of offensive linemen."
Harris made the Pro Bowl after registering just three sacks last season, as opponents saw more than pass-rush skills from the 23-year-old.
"He's a disruptive player," Johnson said. "Everybody measures sacks, but we had 24 interceptions, and some of that was due to pressure and some of that was due to coverage. We had a lot of hurries and drew a lot of holding penalties, and (Harris) contributes to that by getting up the field and disrupting the offense."
Ogunleye (10) and Brown (6) combined for 16 sacks last season, but both are also better than advertised as run defenders. Both were Pro Bowl alternates.
"Somebody recognized that they were doing something right," Johnson said. "Statistically, you always want to get the sack numbers up on your edge rushers. They also played run defense well."
CAMP CALENDAR: Players report to Olivet Nazarene University in far south suburban Bourbonnais on Wednesday, July 26, and the first practice is at noon, Thursday, July 27. Camp closes after a 10 a.m. practice on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The Bears have a 7 p.m. practice at Soldier Field on Wednesday, Aug. 9; and 7 p.m. practices under the lights at ONU's Turner Field on Friday, Aug. 4, Tuesday, Aug. 8, and Sunday, Aug. 13.
The day is finally at hand, the day Rod Marinelli has been waiting for most of his life, even though he might not even have not even known it until recent years.
Not the start of the off-season program. Not the mini-camps or the organized team activities.
Nearly six months into his new job as the Lions head coach, it's time for the start of training camp. Players in helmets and pads. Contact. Hits. Finally, the real thing.
It's Marinelli's firm belief that games are won through preparation, toughness and hard work. And he has been waiting for July 28, the day the Lions begin practicing in pads.
"It's hard to teach skill at this level without pads," Marinelli said. "That's key. The other phase is your body needs to get hardened. Sometimes when you keep a team really fresh early, you come out of the blocks early, you feel pretty good but your body has a tendency to get worn down because it's not used to the hitting."
It is Marinelli's intention to avoid that wearing-down process in the 2006 Detroit Lions. He is more interested in getting the game-hardening than keeping them fresh in the early weeks of the season.
"I've always been around teams that finished strong at the end of the year and that's always been in my mind. There's a different conditioning you get when you're in pads. You can run all day but when it's body pushing and body shoving, that's a whole different world."
If players can fight through practice field fatigue during two-a-days in the Michigan July heat, he believes they will be ready for the Sunday afternoon battles in October and November and they will be able to avoid many of the injuries that can beset them as the season progresses.
"I worked for Tony Dungy and that's how we practiced," Marinelli said. "And most of the guys on this staff, their background, where they come from, it's been like that. Dick Vermeil was with Mike Martz. Physical. Tippy Brown was with Jimmy Johnson.
"I don't know if it's old school or anything but a lot of guys continue to do that today. It's just a philosophy; it's not so much a system but it's how you've been brought up in this profession."
CAMP CALENDAR: July 27 — All players report to training camp; July 28 — Two-a-day workouts begin; Aug. 5 — Ford Field scrimmage, open to the public; Aug. 11 — exhibition opener against Denver; Aug. 24 — Kickoff luncheon, hosted by Economic Club of Detroit.
Bryant played his first five NFL seasons at Jacksonville under Tom Coughlin, who was considered a taskmaster during his early seasons with the Jaguars.
As tough as Coughlin was, Bryant says he believes Marinelli's staff, which includes defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, will be even tougher.
"I'd say this coaching staff (is tougher) just because of the added presence of Donnie, having been a defensive backs coach and knowing what to expect, knowing the relationship I have with him and the expectations he has with me," Bryant said.
"Coughlin was more of an offensive guy; he was with Mark Brunell and he was more of an offensive (coach). He looked at the defense but yet he didn't. At that point in time, I had Dom Capers (as a defensive coordinator).
"Here, when your head coach is a defensive coach and your defensive coordinator was a secondary coach just two years ago, it put more emphasis on the secondary."
The Lions offensive players seem to have bought into the theory that he really is an offensive genius, a motivator and innovator capable of bringing the offensive explosiveness to Detroit that he developed in St. Louis.
Coach Rod Marinelli is doing nothing to discourage his players' faith in Martz.
"There's no doubt," Marinelli said, referring to Martz's credentials as a builder of offenses. "That's what I said to you men and ladies before, when I was pursuing him to get him here.
"I would go into that personnel meeting and I could see the young talent on this football team and I just thought it was imperative that he became a Lion. I know how good he is. I think he's even better than I thought he was."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers probably will feature Samkon Gado and Noah Herron as their top two running backs when training camp begins July 28.
General manager Ted Thompson indicated during the team's annual shareholders meeting July 19 that Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport won't be cleared to participate at the outset. Both players are recovering from leg injuries sustained last season and were held out of all off-season workouts.
"Ahman is a workaholic. He's feeling really, really good," Thompson said. "Some time during the preseason, maybe not the very start, we expect Najeh and Ahman to be back. We're going to try to be very cautious."
Davenport will be on the field before Green is. Davenport suffered a broken right ankle October 9 and declared himself fit to return for the organized team activities in June, but the medical staff thought differently.
Green is expected to be held back from contact drills for at least the first couple weeks of camp. He sustained a torn right quadriceps tendon October 23.
Thompson isn't concerned that the offense could be set back some without its incumbent number 1 and 2 backs initially.
"We kind of know what we have. Ahman is a marvelous athlete and an excellent football player. So, I don't think there's any unknowns there," Thompson said. "But, I guess coming back from the injury, you're never really certain. I think it's just getting them back and being able to say, ‘OK, they're all healthy now.'"
Green stands to reclaim the starting spot when he's given the green light to practice. First-year offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, though, isn't set on going into the season with the four-time Pro Bowler as his featured back.
"I'd like to see him run down the field without hurting first," Jagodzinski said. "How can I say, ‘Yeah, it's his starting job'? He hasn't played in over a year."
CAMP CALENDAR: Opens July 28 in Green Bay, closes Aug. 26. There will be an intrasquad scrimmage the evening of Aug. 5 before a sellout crowd at Lambeau Field. In a change from previous years, the team will have eight evening practices, including the initial workout of camp.
Chairman/CEO Bob Harlan said the club figured 11,400 attended the meeting, which was moved to Lambeau Field after a nearby arena couldn't handle the big crowds that turned out for the meeting.
The publicly owned Packers rewarded the stockholders by giving them a tour of the team's locker room and other facilities for the first time. Tours were held for 10-hour periods July 18 and 19. Harlan said an estimated 15,400 people took the team up on the offer.
"People have come from all around the country, literally, to take this tour," Harlan said.
Harlan, who will retire next spring, indicated that the shareholders meeting will remain at Lambeau Field in future years.
Harlan said there's no timetable for when Jones, 54, will be back at work, though Harlan didn't rule out a return by the end of August.
"It's up to John and the doctors," Harlan said.
"If you didn't cry when you saw that, I don't think you'll ever cry," Harlan said.
White, the team's all-time sacks leader, is the lone inductee in the Packers Hall of Fame this year. A ceremony was held July 22 in the Lambeau Field Atrium with a number of White's former teammates in attendance.
White died Dec. 26, 2004, at age 43 from a respiratory ailment. He will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 5.
"I've been calling (general manager) Ted Thompson, and I told him, ‘Yo, man, I understand how the situation is, but I know you all have a dollar sitting on the shelf around there somewhere. Give me the dollar so you can look good on paper that you're paying me and let me come back and play. He said he had to think about it," Brown told WGBA-TV in Green Bay.
Brown, 35, hasn't played since he sustained a season-ending torn bicep in a preseason game in 2004. The famously heavy nose tackle said he works out four hours per day.
While he awaits a call from an NFL team, Brown keeps active in sports as a part owner of The Milwaukee Mile racetrack in West Allis, Wis.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Once we hit the period (in late April) where Brett (Favre) came back, Charles Woodson signed and we had what looked like a very promising draft, it was like the phone company and the postal service went out of business at the same time. The calls stopped, and the mail stopped." — Team chairman/CEO Bob Harlan on how the fans' outlook for the 2006 season changed from pessimism to optimism.