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."
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."
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.