NFC North Camp Battles

As training camp battles get waged across the NFC North, we take a look at the most intense ones from the Vikings' rivals, along with a peek at how their rookies are faring so far and who else is injured around the division.


BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Fourth-year wide receiver Justin Gage got off to a slow start in training camp, but Wednesday afternoon he stood out, making several receptions from short slants to longer sideline routes.

"He was even better (Tuesday) night," Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. "He's one guy I don't ever worry about. He's so dependable. It's a blessing we have Justin Gage because of the things that he can do. When he's in there, I'm comfortable with him because he's going to be where he's supposed to be, and he'll make some plays for us, but it's also expected from a guy like him."

Although Gage started 11 games last season and was second on the team with 31 catches and 346 yards, Bernard Berrian and Mark Bradley are the receivers fighting for the starting spot opposite Muhsin Muhammad. But Gage will have a role on the team.

"Everybody's tried to write him off since he's been here," Drake said, "but he finds a way, and you can appreciate that. What he's going to become for us is a guy who can play any position, a guy that can move around, and he's insurance at every position because he's smart and you trust him."

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Bears defensive back/special-teams coverage ace Dante Wesley is an aspiring model with his own website,

When the Bears acquired him as an unrestricted free agent on March 16 of this year, they knew they were getting a standout special-teams player and adding some depth in the secondary. But Wesley has been better than expected at cornerback, picking off several passes in early practices. At 6-1 and 210 pounds, he gives the Bears another big, physical defensive back who can cover.

While former Panthers teammate Ricky Manning is entrenched as the Bears' third corner behind starters Nate Vasher and Charles Tillman, Wesley has leaped ahead of every other corner on the roster.

"It just seems like each day he's making a play," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a great special-teams player, but we think he can play as a defensive back, and he's done everything that he could possibly do to help himself. We're getting more and more confident with him each day."

For the time being, Wesley is focusing on football and putting modeling aside.

"I haven't been doing too much (modeling) lately," he said. "I've been doing nothing but trying to get out here and make some plays."

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Rex Grossman — Over the past couple days, it's been difficult to tell which unit finished No. 29 last season (the offense) and which finished No. 2 (the defense).

The Bears' offense seems to be moving especially well through the air against the defense, which allowed the fewest points and the second-fewest yards in the league last season. The offense looks especially crisp with Grossman at quarterback.

"It starts with the quarterback," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Our quarterback is throwing the ball exceptionally well. The receivers are picking it up. We're a little thin at the position (with Bernard Berrian nursing a hip injury and Mark Bradley requiring occasional rest for his surgical knee), but we're getting a chance to see guys like Rashied Davis, Justin Gage, guys that are stepping up and making plays."

The common denominator has been Grossman, who is getting rid of the ball quickly and throwing with impressive zip on all routes that require arm strength.

"I really like what Rex Grossman is doing," Smith said. "I like what the offense is doing and the progress that they're making. It's good competition between the offense and defense out here right now."

ROOKIE REPORT: S Danieal Manning got some work with the first team when Mike Brown sat out a day of practice last week to rest a sore calf. Manning made a lot of mistakes that day, but he benefited from the experience according to defensive coordinator Ron Rivera because he learned from every mistake.

  • RS/CB Devin Hester is focusing on contributing in the return game and being treated as a long-range project at cornerback. So far the Bears are resisting the temptation to use the explosive Hester on offense.

  • DT Dusty Dvoracek has battled some heat-related problems, but he continues to get opportunities as Tank Johnson remains on NFI with a quad injury.

  • FB J.D. Runnels has a legitimate chance to wind up as No. 1 or No. 2 on the depth chart with the hamstring injury to starter Bryan Johnson.

  • DE Mark Anderson tweaked a hamstring on the second day of practice and has not practiced since.

    INJURY REPORT: RB Cedric Benson suffered a shoulder injury Friday night that should keep him out at least two weeks. It's being called a sprain for now, but the Bears have not ruled out a shoulder separation.

  • RB Thomas Jones has yet to practice after tweaking his hamstring during a physical the day of the first training camp practice. He is expected back the week after the preseason opener.

  • WR Alex Bannister remains out with a groin injury suffered early in training camp.

  • DT Ian Scott missed his fourth straight day of practice Saturday with a sore knee.

  • WR Bernard Berrian was held out Saturday after injuring his hip during Friday night's practice.

  • OG-C Terrence Metcalf had his knee scoped Thursday and is out approximately two weeks.

  • WR Airese Currie is expected to miss 2-3 weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery on Thursday.


    BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Devale Ellis and Shaun Bodiford vs. Glenn Martinez, Paris Hamilton, Mike Furrey and Charles Rogers. The Lions went to camp with 11 wide receivers on the roster and the two undrafted rookies are making a case for themselves, although the competition is far from decided. Ellis and Bodiford were among the players invited to participate in a rookie mini-camp and they were kept on for training camp.

    THER BATTLE FRONTS: WR Mike Williams, whose weight issues and work ethic had created problems for him as a rookie, is coming off a good week of practice that seemingly earned him new respect in the competition for roster spots. Charles Rogers, however, seems to have slipped in the WR pecking order.

  • It is expected that rookie Daniel Bullocks (second round) will push for the starting FS job but veteran Terrence Holt hasn't given up the job yet.

  • Although coach Rod Marinelli cited the DE positions as areas of strong competition, last year's starters — James Hall and Cory Redding — remain firmly entrenched as the starters, ahead of Kalimba Edwards and Jared DeVries.

    PLAYER OF THE WEEK: DE Cory Redding played like a man on a mission in the opening days of training camp and has maintained the pace — and intensity — through the ensuing days of camp. In a goal-line scrimmage late in the week, he was the defense's vocal leader and also a play-making leader. Marinelli said he is pleased with Redding's work so far in camp.

    ROOKIE REPORT: LB Ernie Sims is progressing in his battle for a starting job, taking mental reps when he is not actually taking a play on the field. Coach Rod Marinelli has made it clear he'll have to win a starting job, it won't be handed to him.

  • FS Daniel Bullocks is working primarily with the second defense but is expected to compete for a starting job with veteran Terrence Holt when the exhibition season gets underway.

  • RB Brian Calhoun has shown speed and quickness, and is in the competition for a backup role behind RB Kevin Jones.

  • OT Jonathan Scott is practicing at RT and getting more work than he might have expected because of injuries to starter Rex Tucker and backup G/T Barry Stokes.

  • CB Dee McCann is working primarily with the third defensive backfield unit but could win a roster position if he is good enough on special teams coverage units.

  • OL Fred Matua, a guard at USC, has taken snaps at both guard and center, working with backup OL units.

  • LB Anthony Cannon got off to a fast start, getting more work than expected because of injuries to Boss Bailey and Teddy Lehman, but he missed a couple of days of practice with a pinky finger injury.

    INJURY REPORT: Three players remain on PUP — LB Teddy Lehman (foot), TE Dan Campbell (elbow) and WR Scottie Vines (groin) — and the injury list continued to grow. Most of the injuries are considered minor but DT Shaun Cody (knee) has missed a full week of work and Pro Bowl DT Shaun Rogers (shoulder) is listed as week-to-week, as is starting RT Rex Tucker (knee). RG Damien Woody is expected to miss two weeks of practice for repairs to his right wrist, which was injured in mini-camp and reinjured last week.


    BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Robert Ferguson vs. Rod Gardner vs. Greg Jennings for No. 2 receiver spot. Jennings, a second-round draft pick this year, has been the biggest hit of training camp in the early going, making one clutch play after another seemingly every day. Jennings has clearly outperformed the seasoned duo of Ferguson and Gardner. Ferguson missed the scrimmage because of a personal matter, and Gardner had only two receptions for 14 yards. The first preseason game at San Diego on Aug. 12 could be a telling one as the Packers try to fill a huge void opposite Donald Driver.

    OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: The game-like scrimmage Aug. 5 yielded a stalemate at the punting and the kicking positions. Jon Ryan continued to flash his strong leg, averaging 52.5 yards in two punts, but sub par hang time contributed to a sickly net average of 24.5. A 61-yard punt was returned 40 yards by Greg Jennings. Incumbent B.J. Sander is nowhere close to being Ryan's equal in distance, averaging 39 yards, but he put a lot of air under both punts, resulting in fair catches. Kickers Billy Cundiff and Dave Rayner each made three of five field-goal attempts and didn't distinguish themselves in the battle to replace Ryan Longwell. Cundiff missed from 39 and 52 yards. Rayner was off the mark from 39 and 49 yards. The Packers brought in free agent Paul Edinger for a workout last week but are content for now to let the Cundiff-Rayner faceoff sort itself out in the preseason games.

    PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Greg Jennings — An impressive opening week of training camp proved to be not a fluke for the unheralded rookie out of Western Michigan. Brett Favre connected with a streaking Jennings on a sideline route for 57 yards in a two-minute drill Aug. 1. Four days later, in front of more than 62,000 observers, Jennings turned on the afterburners for a 27-yard gain on a short slant from Favre in a scrimmage at Lambeau Field. Jennings is pushing hard for a starting job on offense and also has to be taken seriously as a returner after he returned two punts for an average of 27.5 yards in the scrimmage.

    ROOKIE REPORT: LB A.J. Hawk (first round) has been less than stellar out of the gate in training camp. The weak-side starter has shown flashes of chasing down the ball in practice. He didn't have an impact in the live scrimmage Aug. 5, recording only three tackles.

  • OG Daryn Colledge (second) is gradually making the necessary adjustments as the starter at left guard after he played his entire college career at left tackle. Colledge made a key block, sealing off the outside, to give Samkon Gado a running lane for a 10-yard touchdown in the scrimmage.

  • OG Jason Spitz (third) has a firm hold of the starting spot at right guard after Junius Coston was moved to left tackle to ease depth concerns.

  • LB Abdul Hodge (third) was the defensive star in the scrimmage with nine tackles, including five solo. Hodge has upstaged Hawk in his relentless pursuit of the football and leveling ball carriers. Hodge, though, went too far in taking Samkon Gado out of bounds for no gain with a horse-collar tackle that drew a 15-yard penalty. Hodge is No. 2 on the depth chart at middle linebacker but could be vying soon for a starting spot, possibly on the strong side where veteran Ben Taylor is now.

  • WR Cory Rodgers (fourth) turned in the biggest play by the offense in the scrimmage, ripping off a 64-yard gain on a crossing pass from fourth-string quarterback Brian Wrobel. Rodgers took grief from fellow receivers, however, because he was chased down by Ahmad Carroll and Jerron Wishom inside the 20. Rodgers is more regarded for his return skills, but he's had a bevy of drops in drills during practice.

  • QB Ingle Martin (fifth) had a so-so performance in the No. 3 role in the scrimmage. He completed five of nine passes for 44 yards. His longest completion went for 13 yards to Rodgers on a crossing route.

  • S Tyrone Culver (sixth) followed Hodge on the tackles chart for the scrimmage with six and also had a pass breakup. Culver replaced Nick Collins at free safety with the No. 1 unit after Collins slipped on concrete near the stands and hurt his lower back early in the scrimmage.

    INJURY REPORT: The offense finished the past week in a familiar dilemma — Samkon Gado and Noah Herron were the featured backs, as the case was throughout the off-season. Ahman Green, the would-be starter, has yet to be cleared for training camp as he recovers from a torn quadriceps tendon sustained last October. Najeh Davenport was cleared from the get-go after being sidelined for nine months because of a broken ankle. Davenport, though, dropped out of practice Aug. 1 with a calf cramp and was held out the rest of the week, including the scrimmage Aug. 5. Green figures to do some limited work in another week.

  • FS Nick Collins hurt his lower back early in the scrimmage and was held out the rest of the night. Collins took a hard spill on concrete near the stands in the end-zone area after he was in coverage on a long pass attempt from Aaron Rodgers to Marc Boerigter. Collins said afterward that he was fine.

  • The team was being cautious with LT Chad Clifton, who aggravated his surgically repaired right knee July 30 and was held out the rest of the week. The injury isn't considered serious.

  • TE Bubba Franks experienced swelling in his right knee at midweek and missed two days of practice and the scrimmage.

  • SS Marquand Manuel still wasn't over the hump with a strained right calf he suffered while working out a week before camp started, which has kept him off the field.

  • LB Brady Poppinga expected to be cleared this week for limited work. Poppinga suffered a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee last December.

  • Others who have yet to practice in camp thus far are CB Will Blackmon (foot) and LB Byron Santiago (back).

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