The Bears were out-gained 175-92 with the starters playing the first half in Friday night's 24-3 victory, but middle linebacker Brian Urlacher set the tone for the game with a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown to open the scoring. Turnovers are integral to any defense, but Bears coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera aren't content just to take the ball. They want their defenders to make the most of every takeaway, the way Urlacher did. But that didn't overshadow some sloppy tackling that gave the Chargers extra yardage. Smith shouldered part of the blame for the missed tackles, two of which — by cornerback Charles Tillman and safety Danieal Manning — allowed running back Michael Turner to turn a short gain into a 45-yard romp.
"I thought the defense as a whole came out and played with energy, but you can't miss tackles like that," Smith said. "I'm going to take a lot of (blame for) that. In training camp we don't tackle live a lot, but we have to do a better job with it."
The No. 1 defense hasn't given up a touchdown in three quarters, a good sign for a unit looking to duplicate its feat of allowing the fewest points in the NFL last season. Chris Harris, who moved from free safety to strong safety in place of injured Mike Brown, said it helped to have a bigger spotlight than in the preseason opener.
"I felt the defense showed up this week," Harris said. "Last week we didn't put our best foot forward. But playing in front of a national audience, we wanted them to know we are the No. 1 defense in the NFL, and I felt we took a step."
Harris had the Bears' only sack and also a quarterback hurry, but he also had some missed tackles. He is expected to remain at strong safety for the remainder of the preseason as the Bears take a cautious approach with Brown's strained left Achilles' tendon. Harris has a ways to go before he reaches the level of Brown, one of the Bears' best tacklers.
"I'd like to se Chris work on his tackling," Rivera said. "He had a couple chances to really make big plays and missed those opportunities. A little bit of it was the unfamiliarity with the position. But I really believe he'll learn from this and get better at it. He was aggressive, and he was physical."
Rivera turned his players loose more in Game Two, and he was encouraged by the results. The Bears used several different blitzes and coverages after playing it pretty much straight up in the 28-14 loss to the 49ers a week earlier.
"We gave them an opportunity to play a little more," Rivera said. "I called different fronts and coverages. I called different stunts, and we pressured a little bit more, instead of being vanilla. So our guys got to do things that we've been working on and got to show what we can do. The truth is we played more in terms of the game plan with our inventory of defenses. We just didn't stay there and play basic front, basic coverage."
The starters are expected to play even more this Friday night at home against the Arizona Cardinals, and the next order of business will be improved tackling.
"It's just getting used to the live hitting, the live contact," Rivera said. "In practice, when you hit a guy, you (just) front him up. He's not struggling to continue to run, whereas in live situations, these guys are. I think our guys just have to adapt to it."
"Whenever you can't be out there, obviously something's not right with your body," Brown said. "So you're concerned because you're not doing what you're paid to do."
Brown, who missed the final 14 games in 2004 with a ruptured Achilles tendon in his right leg, said the injury occurred during last Friday's preseason opener.
"It's hard to pinpoint," he said. It was a little twinge, but there's really not anything else I can tell you except that I'll be ready for Sept. 10 (against the Packers), when we go up there to Lambeau."
With Brown out, rookie Danieal Manning, the Bears' top draft pick (42nd overall) will get most of the playing time with the first string.
"The plan was to get him a lot more (work) and to rest Mike a little bit more anyway," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's good to see Danieal get those plays."
Brown is unconcerned about the prospect of missing the three remaining preseason games, especially if it helps him start the season healthy and stay that way. Redskins running back Clinton Portis suffered a separated shoulder in a preseason game Sunday night and is unlikely to be available when the real game start.
"It makes you take a step back and say, ‘Let's make sure we're healthy for the real season,' " Brown said. "That's really the only thing that matters. Really, the preseason doesn't mean a lot to veteran guys, guys that have been in the league, guys that have played some football games."
"This is the NFL, and this is Chicago," the nine-year veteran said. "I've been in Miami; I've been in Denver. They're pretty rabid down there as well. It's good to see that people care and that people are interested in how the Bears are doing."
Griese, who rested his surgical knee during Monday's practice, had a reunion with NBC (Ch. 5) sportscaster Mike Adamle outside the Olivet Nazarene dining hall Monday afternoon. Adamle, a former NFL running back who spent two years with the Bears (1975-76), worked on college football telecasts 20 years ago with Griese's father, Bob, a Hall of Fame quarterback with the Dolphins.
When Adamle asked a question during a group interview, a startled Griese blurted out: "Are you Mike Adamle?"
Griese then explained: "He used to work with my old man. When I was a little kid running hotdogs back and forth, I used to see you down on the field."
"(Coach) Lovie (Smith) is giving me an opportunity to stand around and coach guys, and when you're coaching a guy with his mistakes, that's a mental rep for you," said Johnson, the Bears' second-round pick in 2004. "I've never been hurt in my life, and this is the first time I've ever sat out of anything. It's a humbling experience, but at the same time I'm learning a lot about offenses and defenses."
Johnson has even offered his coaching expertise to fellow tackle Tommie Harris, the team's first-round draft pick in ‘04 and a Pro Bowler last season.
"I coach Tommie all the time," said Johnson, who was asked if Harris has been listening to him. "Of course; he better. He's doing well, and I'm sure he's headed back to Hawaii."
He spent the 2004 season on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL in training camp and played in just one game as a rookie in 2003. Last season he participated in all 16 games and started three times when the Bears opened in a two-tight end formation.
Reid's forte is catching the ball, and he hauled in a 12-yard TD pass in Friday's game, which should help his efforts to earn a roster spot on a team with five tight ends in camp.
"First of all, I'm just glad I caught it," said the 29-year-old Reid, who is married with three children. "I think anyone could have made that catch and that run. It was a perfect play. I just caught the ball and turned upfield and protected the ball.
"For me, right now, anything will help my cause. I'm still trying to make the team, so to be able to have that opportunity and take advantage of that, I'm grateful for that. I guess all my kids' prayers help, huh?"
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's why we have a four-game preseason schedule and a couple more weeks of training camp (at Halas Hall). You need all of that time. If someone has all the answers down in about three weeks, they're doing a heck of a job." - A lot of players believe the length of the preseason is excessive, but Bears coach Lovie Smith said he needs the three weeks of training camp, all the preseason games and three more weeks of practice at Halas Hall to be ready for the regular season.
There is growing speculation — based on training camp coaching decisions — that wide receiver Charles Rogers' days with the Lions are numbered.
Rogers, the second player taken in the 2003 NFL draft, came to camp getting rave reviews from his coaches and quarterback Jon Kitna but has since gotten little playing time while sinking to third-string on the depth chart.
Rogers caught one pass for seven yards in the opening preseason game and sat out the second game with a sore knee. When asked about his status, coach Rod Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz are non-committal, saying he is working but players must earn their reps on the practice field and in games.
With the cutdown days (Aug. 29 and Sept. 2) approaching, however, there is increased speculation among fans and media that the former Saginaw High School and Michigan State University star might be released.
And the sentiment is going both ways.
Detroit News columnist Rob Parker wrote recently that Rogers had expected a fresh start under a new coaching regime.
"Instead, the speed-burning Rogers has been left on the back burner by the Lions," Parker wrote. "They don't seem to have any interest in seeing if he can use his talents and help this team win."
A few days later, however, Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp wrote: "His days as a Lion are clearly numbered, and he has only himself to blame. By some accounts, Rogers has already surrendered."
The one thing that cannot be disputed is that Rogers has had no luck except the bad variety. He broke his right collarbone on consecutive years — after five games in his rookie season in the season opener the following season.
It can be said, however, that Rogers contributed to his own problems when he tested positive for illegal substances last season, resulting in a four-game suspension. And when he rejoined the team his approach was less than inspired.
"Nothing would surprise me," Rogers was quoted as saying in Parker's column. "I'm thinking worst-case scenario at times — whatever it might be. It won't surprise me — whatever happens."
Sports talk radio in Detroit buzzes with discussion — some callers sympathetic, others critical.
The two things that everyone agrees on are that it will be another black eye for the Lions organization if they decide to dump Rogers and that three years into his NFL career a significant talent has been wasted.
Furrey, a wide receiver-turned-safety, and Harris, a backup running back/kick returner, both had played the past three seasons at St. Louis under Mike Martz, the Lions' new offensive coordinator. They seemed like the type of fringe players who frequently follow coaches from job to job.
They understood Martz's system and could help the rest of the Lions veterans during the installation process, then fade into the background when other more talented players took over.
So far, however, Furrey and Harris have shown no inclination to fade off the Lions depth chart. Furrey, who returned to his more familiar role as a receiver with the Lions, has been their best slot receiver and Harris is hanging tough as the No. 2 running back behind Kevin Jones.
In two preseason games, Furrey has caught just two passes for 10 yards but he makes very few mental mistakes, gets open and does all the little things a player less familiar with Martz's offense might not do.
Harris got few opportunities to line up in the backfield with the Rams, playing behind Marshall Faulk, Lamar Gordon and Steven Jackson at various times in his three years with the Rams but he returned kicks in 2003 and 2004, and Martz liked his work ethic.
With the Lions, he has worked for his reps and made the most of them when they come along. He carried seven times for 36 yards and caught three passes for 26 yards (and a touchdown) in the opening preseason game; in the second game he carried twice for no net yards but caught another pass for 13 yards.
There are still no guarantees but it appears increasingly likely Harris and Furrey will be on the roster when the Lions open the season Sept. 10 against Seattle. One thing is certain: They have proven they had more going for them than a first-hand acquaintance with the offensive coordinator.
There is no doubt the Lions players with five years or less experience with the team are going through their toughest training camp ever.
Neither of the previous two West Coast offense coaches — Marty Mornhinweg (2001-02) and Steve Mariucci (2003-05) — drove the players as hard as new coach Rod Marinelli and his coordinators — Mike Martz with the offense and Donnie Henderson with the defense — are driving them.
And because they were thoroughly prepared with a rigorous off-season program, they presumably were ready to handle the pace and intensity of the two-a-days.
Injuries have taken a toll on the team, however, and it is starting to show up on both sides of the ball with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and middle linebacker Boss Bailey missing both of the first two games, Rogers with a shoulder injury and Bailey with an ankle.
The offensive line has been without former Pro Bowler Damian Woody, the right guard, and veteran right tackle Rex Tucker, a factor which is believed to have contributed to the team's inability to run the ball consistently. Woody is recovering from wrist surgery and Tucker from knee and ankle injuries.
Although none of the injuries has been deemed serious, they have cost key players more practice time than Marinelli would like. He has shown patience in bringing them back slowly but if they aren't back soon, it could mean a slow start in September.
Marinelli challenged a first quarter touchdown catch by Cleveland wide receiver Dennis Northcutt after Lions cornerback Dre' Bly came off the field signaling vigorously that the ball had hit the ground and should be ruled no catch.
Once Marinelli decided he wanted the play challenged, his assistant — Cedric Saunders — let fly with the weighted red flag, sending it a good 15-20 yards downfield.
"The referee commented to me — great arm," Marinelli said with a grin.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "All three of these guys can start this year." — Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, talking about the Lions three quarterbacks — Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky and Josh McCown.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Spared from having to look over his shoulder, Dave Rayner made a strong push August 19 to win the kicking duties for the start of the season.
Rayner, a second-year player, connected on a 30-yard field goal, made all five of his extra-point attempts and drilled six of seven kickoffs into the end zone during the Packers' 38-10 preseason win over Atlanta at Lambeau Field.
"He had an opportunity (Saturday), and it looked like he took full advantage as far as his productivity," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's a young guy. He was given a great opportunity, and he performed. I know he feels good about it, and we feel good about it right now, too."
Rayner's performance justified, at least for one outing, the Packers' decision to cut veteran Billy Cundiff two days before the game.
Rayner was equal parts ecstatic and surprised by the move, which left him as the sole kicker on the roster. Rayner said he was under the impression that he and Cundiff would be judged through the entire preseason before a decision was rendered.
Although Cundiff was more accurate on kicks in camp, the Packers sided with Rayner's potential and his powerful right leg. Rayner was Indianapolis' kickoff specialist as a rookie last season. He attempted only one field goal for the Colts, missing from 59 yards.
"We sort of came to the conclusion that over the course of the next couple, three weeks we wanted to give Dave the vast majority of the kicks and see how he did. We like his leg strength," general manager Ted Thompson said.
Thompson didn't rule out adding another kicker to compete with Rayner the final two weeks of the preseason. The team had veteran free agent Paul Edinger in for a workout early in camp but decided to stick with Rayner and Cundiff at the time.
"That's for them to decide if I proved myself or what," Rayner said after Saturday's game. "I'm out there to prove it to myself that I can do it."
Backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Saturday's game that a big smile comes over him under center when he sees Jennings lined up to one side.
"As good as Donald (Driver) is, it's encouraging to see Greg Jennings play as well as he's doing. To be able to get him in the seams and stuff, it's really going to open our offense up," Rodgers said.
Not regarded as a burner coming out of Western Michigan, Jennings punctuated the Packers' rout of the Falcons with an 85-yard touchdown on a tipped pass from Rodgers in the fourth quarter. Jennings was the intended receiver on a shallow crossing route. The deflection went right in his hands, and Jennings outran the defense the last 75 yards.
Jennings, a second-round draft pick, was credited on the stats sheet with three receptions for 115 yards. A 16-yard catch on a throw from Favre in the first quarter was mistakenly given to Driver.
Jennings contends that he's not consumed by winning the vacant starting job opposite Driver, but he appreciates the notice given him by Favre and Rodgers.
"I'm getting a smile on my face when I see him under center, too," Jennings said when informed of Rodgers' comment. "It's definitely a great experience, just knowing that the quarterback has confidence in you and me being a rookie being able to step up to the plate and make plays."
First-round draft pick A.J. Hawk, meanwhile, was on top of his electrifying game Saturday. He had three big plays from his starting spot at weak-side linebacker, playing into the third quarter.
Hawk snuffed out a run to the outside by Falcons fullback Justin Griffith for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter. Two plays later, Hawk stayed with tight end Dwayne Blakley on a deep pass route down the middle, and Hawk got a hand in as the ball arrived to knock it away.
Hawk also broke up a sideline pass to running back Jerious Norwood in the third quarter.
Hawk's effective defense of the pass was critical after he was beaten badly for a 17-yard catch by San Diego tight end Antonio Gates in the Packers' preseason opener Aug. 12.
"The more reps I get, the better you feel," said Hawk, noting that he fed off the playmaking exploits of his defensive teammates.
The Packers had three interceptions — highlighted by a 44-yard return for a touchdown by dime back Jason Horton late in the first half — and racked up five sacks.
"It's one of those things that when you have the guys like we do around me and we were playing as fast as we were . . . it makes my job a lot easier," Hawk said.
An uneventful start to training camp for Hawk didn't discourage McCarthy, among others in the organization.
"I'm not really concerned about him. I think he's one of those guys that just needs to keep playing," McCarthy said. "I compare him to Aaron Rodgers — when he hits his comfort level, you're going to see what it's all about."
"It's obviously not in the offing, I don't think. It wouldn't be this year," Wolf told the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Wolf did give a vote of confidence to Ted Thompson, the team's second-year general manager who was mentored by Wolf in the Packers' personnel department in the 1990s.
Thompson branched out as Seattle's vice president of football operations from 2000 to ‘04 before returning to Green Bay last year.
"It's just a matter of getting (his plan) implemented, which I'm sure he'll do," Wolf said. "He's got a track record. He put that team (Seattle) that played in the Super Bowl (last season) together. He knows what he's got to do. He's just got to get it done.
"He's got a ways to go, and I'm sure he'll do it."
"Well, if he did, I didn't feel it," Moss said the next day. "So, for me to feel something, he has to knock a tooth out or bloody my lips or something."
Moss played in the league as a linebacker for 11 years before retiring after the 1997 season.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and Moss employed a similar pass-blocking drill when they were assistants together at New Orleans.
The drill has caused numerous heated exchanges in Packers camp. Henderson mixed it up with a handful of linebackers, including Nick Barnett, during the Aug. 15 practice but brushed aside questions about his alleged run-in with Moss.
"I'm not going to get into that," Henderson said.
"I think preseason is a little too long, especially considering nowadays in the NFL you spend more time together in the off-season than you have in the past," Favre said. "So, I believe you can shorten the preseason. Six weeks is a long time; some teams play five games.
"I think there's a middle ground that could be met, but I don't make those decisions. It is unfortunate when veteran guys, guys that will be supposedly starting on opening day, are out for any period of time (because of a preseason-related injury)."
The safety measure was taken in the wake of Green Bay safety Nick Collins' slipping on the concrete and hurting his back while defending a pass play along the sideline near the end zone in the team's scrimmage Aug. 5.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As an offense, ‘Jags' (offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski) made sure that we had the whole thing in sync. Last week, we pretty much sucked. So, we had to come out and punch those guys in the mouth early, and we did." — Wide receiver Donald Driver on the stark contrast between the Packers' production in a 38-10 win over Atlanta on Aug. 19 and a 17-3 loss to San Diego to open the preseason Aug. 12.