NFC North Notes and Quotes

The quarterback controversy is already brewing in Chicago, while the Lions and Packers might both be ready to start two rookies apiece. Get news and notes from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

Brian Griese might be about to overtake Rex Grossman as the Bears' starting quarterback, but Grossman isn't turning around to look.

"Every time he's in there, I see the same looks, and he makes nice passes, and I congratulate him," Grossman said. "But as far as looking over my shoulder, you can't; you just can't. As soon as you do that you're done. I'm not looking over my shoulder.

"I'm going about my business with the first-team offense and playing my game. Hopefully, that'll take care of itself, but as soon as you start looking over your shoulder, that's a bad sign."

Grossman and the first-team offense were booed vigorously by the Soldier Field crowd during Friday night's 23-16 loss to the Cardinals. Griese and the second-teamers were welcomed with applause, and they responded with one touchdown drive in three possessions. That's one more touchdown than Grossman's group has accumulated through three preseason games.

The fault is not nearly all Grossman's. Factor in dropped passes by Muhsin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian and Thomas Jones, and Grossman's stats (13 of 21 for 117 yards) could have looked exceptional. But the bottom line is that the Bears' No. 1 offense has yet to visit the end zone. Failures in and around the red zone haven't helped.

On back-to-back possessions in the second quarter Friday night, the Bears drove inside the Arizona 15-yard line, but came away with just three points on a 39-yard field goal by Robbie Gould. The other possession ended when Adrian Peterson lost a yard on a fourth-and-2 gamble from the 14-yard line. A false start penalty on Muhsin Muhammad turned a first-and-10 at the Cardinals' 22-yard line into a first-and-15 at the 27.

"Once again we moved the ball pretty well, but we need to get better in the red zone because that's crucial," Grossman said. "We need to play our best when we're down there. That's where you win and lose football games. I need to play better; we need to stay onsides. We kicked some field goals, but that's not going to win you any football games."

The Bears still say they believe Grossman will help them win a lot of football games despite his early lack of production.

Coach Lovie Smith didn't even wait for the questioner to finish the obvious inquiry as to Grossman's status, before he blurted, "Yes, he is. He's our No. 1 quarterback."

Why is Smith so confident in Grossman?

"Because he's a good football player," the Bears' coach said and then repeated. "The quarterback did a lot of good things. Brian Griese came in and did a lot of good things. The quarterback position did a lot of good things. We're not going to throw this all on Rex Grossman, believe me."

That seemed to be what most of the disgruntled home fans wanted to do Friday night, which didn't make much sense to center Olin Kreutz.

"I understand the lack of offense and them booing that," Kreutz said. "I've been here long enough that I understand that. They should be booing our offense. (But) to boo one guy, especially the way he threw the ball tonight, that I don't understand."

Despite the phenomenal stats Griese has put up in each of the first three preseason games, Kreutz said support for Grossman hasn't wavered.

"Grossman is our guy," Kreutz said. "That's not a knock on Griese; just Grossman is our guy. He's our starter. We believe in Grossman, we do. We know he's good enough. Trust me, it's not just him. It's our whole first offense that has to get things corrected."

NOTES

  • RB Thomas Jones carried four times for three yards in his first preseason action of the year. Jones missed all but the final day of training camp with a strained hamstring, and although he looked rusty last Friday night, he is expected to be 100 percent for the season opener.

  • RB Cedric Benson was back at practice on a nearly full-time basis Sunday (Aug. 27) and could be available by the season opener after suffering a mild shoulder separation on Aug. 4. He has not played in the preseason and is unlikely to do so in the finale Thursday night, although he has not yet been ruled out.

  • DE Alex Brown, who suffered a separated shoulder Friday night against the Cardinals, said he'd be ready for the season opener, but there appears to be very little chance of that.

  • DL Israel Idonije, who played tackle, end and special teams last season, will start Sept. 10 against the Packers if Alex Brown (separated shoulder) is out.

  • CB Nate Vasher (back) has yet to return to practice, but is expected to be ready for the start of the preseason and could start the final preseason game Thursday.

  • SS Mike Brown (Achilles) will not play in the last preseason game but still expects to be fine for the regular season.

  • DT Ian Scott (knee) was back at practice and should be back in the starting lineup for the season opener.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Linebacker Ernie Sims and safety Daniel Bullocks, the Lions' two top picks in this year's NFL draft, could both be in the starting lineup for the season opener Sept. 10 against the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.

    Sims, the Lions' first-round pick, got his first start in the third preseason game Friday night at Oakland after drawing solid reviews from coach Rod Marinelli throughout training camp.

    Bullocks, the second-round pick, is pushing veteran Terrence Holt for the starting free safety job while putting in time at both free safety and strong safety.

    While Marinelli is reluctant to commit a starting job to either of his young defensive players, it is apparent they are proceeding at a pace the Lions had hoped for when they drafted them in April.

    Sims, in particular, has made a strong case for himself at the weak-side linebacker position. He was solid in the preseason opener against Denver, got his first sack in the second game at Cleveland and had three solos among his four tackles at Oakland in the third game.

    "I like his awareness, his instincts," Marinelli said. "He has great explosion in his hips and he's got great instincts in the running game."

    Sims' sack against the Browns came on a blitz, but it was the result of hard work and perseverance more than an artistic success. He was initially blocked, but kept going until he finally got to Browns backup quarterback Ken Dorsey.

    "He just kind of bounced around and stayed alive and kind of wiggles through them and got it," Marinelli said. "Nothing great but he just stayed alive."

    Bullocks is perhaps a step behind Sims in the competition for an opening day starting assignment but he has shown he can play either safety position in a defense that uses the strong and free safeties almost interchangeably.

    "He is really a load as a tackler," Marinelli said. "He can tackle. He's got good ball skills. He's got a lot of talent back there, so we've just got to let him compete, let these guys get after each other and let it all shake out."

    NOTES

  • DT Shaun Cody, who had played at the nose tackle position in the first two preseason games, was moved to the under tackle and responded with two quarterback sacks in the Lions' 20-3 loss at Oakland. All-Pro DT Shaun Rogers, still out with a shoulder injury, usually starts at the UT.

  • MLB Boss Bailey, who got a slow start in training camp as he recovered from off-season ankle surgery, has been cleared for action and had four tackles in the Lions' third pre-season game, against Oakland.

  • WR/PR/KOR Eddie Drummond looks like he will have a full menu of assignments for the start of the NFL regular season. The Lions are using him in all three roles — slot receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner. He has also played on some of the special teams coverage units in the past.

  • RB Kevin Jones, who had only 32 yards on 13 carries in the Lions' first two preseason games, rushed 11 times for 43 yards in their third game Friday night at Oakland. Jones also caught three passes for 27 yards and had a 15-yard run called back by a penalty

  • QB Dan Orlovsky was the Lions' No. 2 quarterback in two of their first three preseason games, playing ahead of the more experienced Josh McCown. After an impressive first game, Orlovsky has struggled at times, but is still in the competition for the backup job to Jon Kitna.

  • WR Charles Rogers, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft, has missed two of the Lions' first three preseason games with a knee injury. He will play in the final preseason tune-up if he is healthy but there is growing anticipation the Lions will trade him or release him.

    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Barring a catastrophe in the final week of the preseason, the Packers will have two rookies starting at guard to open the season.

    Jason Spitz (third round) and Tony Moll (fifth) were named the starters for the Sept. 10 game against Chicago last week. Head coach Mike McCarthy was adamant about giving a predominantly young offensive line ample time to jell before the games start for real. Predecessor Mike Sherman, conversely, waited until just days prior to last year's opener to settle on his starting guards, and the consequences were dire for both the rushing attack and quarterback Brett Favre in a 4-12 season.

    Surrounding Spitz and Moll will be veteran tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher and Scott Wells, who has full-time duties at center for the first time.

    "This is the direction we'll go," McCarthy said. "I was not comfortable with waiting until the end of training camp to name the starting five. So, by going this direction it gives us a chance to get these five guys (more repetitions) and ready for Chicago."

    The Packers will have at least three rookies starting on opening day for the first time since 1988, with No. 5 overall pick A.J. Hawk entrenched at weak-side linebacker. Receiver Greg Jennings could be the fourth rookie in the starting lineup. Green Bay has never had as many rookies starting in the first game since the league merger in 1970.

    Those potential front-line players underscore a decided youth movement that is afoot with the NFL's oldest franchise. The Packers could have upward of 35 players with fewer than three years of pro experience make the final cut this weekend, which would account for nearly two-thirds of the 53-man roster.

    Ted Thompson was hired as general manager last year with a reputation of building through the draft at his previous stop in Seattle. Nine of the 11 picks in the Packers' 2005 draft class made it on the field last season. They drafted a league-high 12 players this year, and all but injured cornerback Will Blackmon could stick on the season-opening roster.

    Although Thompson is committed to winning now, he acknowledged that retaining young players for how they project with regard to paying dividends to the team down the line factors into the shaping of the roster.

    The financial investment made in them notwithstanding, it's not just the draft picks Thompson is banking on to ensure the Packers are competitive in future years. Undrafted rookies such as defensive end Jason Hunter, safety Tra Boger, offensive tackle Josh Bourke and running back Arliss Beach are under strong consideration for roster spots.

    "After you get to training camp, everything's equal. Certainly, guys have to be able to play and perform," Thompson said. "But, if you are, say, a reserve at a position and you have potential to really come on and be a good player in the future and you can perform a role now, then, yeah, those kind of guys make it."

    In the process of putting his stamp on the team in a short amount of time, Thompson has all but eradicated Sherman's myriad draft mistakes. Just nine of the 27 players taken on Sherman's watch as general manager from 2001 to ‘04 remain on the roster, and of those, the only sure keepers come final cutdown day are linebacker Nick Barnett, defensive end Aaron Kampman, Wells and tight end David Martin.

    NOTES

  • P B.J. Sander was released Aug. 21, bringing closure to perhaps the most controversial draft pick in recent years for the franchise. Sander never panned out after former head coach/general manager Mike Sherman traded up in the third round to take the Ohio State product with the 87th overall pick in the 2004 draft. After a redshirt season taking up a spot on the 53-man roster as a rookie, Sander was among the bottom feeders in the league last year with averages of 39.2 gross yards and 33.9 net yards. Canadian Football League record-setter Jon Ryan was signed in the off-season and has a booming leg that Sander couldn't match, thus factoring into the release.

  • FB William Henderson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Aug. 21. The 12th-year veteran aggravated a preexisting injury in the preseason win over Atlanta on Aug. 19. Henderson is questionable to return for the season opener against Chicago on Sept. 10. Vonta Leach is Henderson's top backup, though halfbacks Samkon Gado and Noah Herron and tight ends David Martin, Donald Lee and Tory Humphrey have been cross-trained at the position.

  • OL Daryn Colledge, a second-round draft pick this year, returned to his natural spot at left tackle in practice last week. Colledge had been demoted from the starting spot at left guard after the first preseason game Aug. 12 and replaced by fellow rookie Jason Spitz, who slid over from right guard. Colledge is the top backup at left tackle and left guard. Second-year player Junius Coston is handling the same responsibilities on the right side.

  • WR Marc Boerigter was released Aug. 22. The Packers signed the four-year veteran to a one-year contract in free agency, considering him a good fit as a situational receiver in the West Coast offense. Boerigter, though, was done in by an inordinate amount of drops in off-season workouts and training camp.

  • WR Carlton Brewster was acquired from Cleveland in a trade Aug. 22. The Packers sent CB Therrian Fontenot to the Browns. The 5-11, 214-pound Brewster was signed by Cleveland as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Ferris State. Brewster will be looked at as a kickoff returner in the final preseason game, although he didn't have any experience in college.

  • OT Todd Williams was released Aug. 23. The Packers signed the third-year player early in camp. Williams injured a knee while blocking on an extra-point kick in the Aug. 19 game.


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