Last season most draftniks insisted the Bears had to have one of the bevy of talented tight ends in an extremely strong class. General manager Jerry Angelo strongly considered several options at tight end but each time the Bears were on the clock, there was a player at another position they valued more highly.
So they stuck with veteran Desmond Clark for a fourth season, even though he was showing signs of wearing down. As it turned out, the Bears made a good decision.
After two mediocre seasons, Clark rebounded to a career-best 626 receiving yards in 2006 and tied his personal best with six touchdowns. His 45 receptions were his second most ever and his best mark with the Bears. It helped that the Bears occasionally made an effort to throw the ball to the tight end, a position that has been ignored in Chicago's passing game in recent years.
But Clark turns 30 on April 20, and the Bears don't have another tight end that has established himself as a receiving threat.
John Gilmore, who at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds is an effective blocker, has never caught more than 10 passes in any of his five seasons. Gabe Reid isn't as big or physical as Gilmore, but he has good hands and some run-after-the-catch skills, although he has just 7 catches in two full seasons.
So the Bears might decide to pull the trigger on a tight end this year.
DRAFT STRATEGY — Defense is what got the Bears to Super Bowl XLI, and if they return this season it'll be defense that gets them back. But that may require some wheeling and dealing during the draft because it doesn't look like the Bears will have the same cast on defense- at least in the early going, and maybe for more than half the season.
Considering the sooner-or-later departure of linebacker Lance Briggs, it would be surprising if the Bears didn't try to find a potential replacement on the first day of the draft.
The Bears pick 31st, 37th and 94th on the first day, and there are several linebackers who could contribute in the near future — possibly immediately. But there isn't much depth at the linebacker position this year, so the Bears might not be able to wait too long before making their move.
Mississippi's Patrick Willis will be long gone before the Bears are scheduled to pick, and chances are Florida State's Lawrence Timmons and Penn State's Paul Posluszny will also be off the board, although the Bears can always hope — or trade up for a higher pick.
Even if the Bears don't improve their present draft position, they might still be able to get a great linebacker to add to their own legacy at the position.
Miami's Jon Beason is a possibility. Like Briggs, he converted to linebacker from fullback after his freshman season in college. He's an explosive tackler who has started at middle linebacker as a redshirt freshman and then started the past two seasons on the weak side, where Briggs plays for the Bears.
Two-time Pro Bowler Briggs has threatened to sit out at least the first 10 games this season because of his disgust with his one-year, $7.2 million contract as the Bears' franchise player.
If he follows through with that threat, or if Briggs gets his wish for a trade and a long-term contract with a lucrative signing bonus, the Bears need help immediately. But, even with Briggs on the weak side, the Bears need to address the linebacker position. Even if the disgruntled Briggs plays this season, he won't be back in 2008.
Future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher in the middle and underappreciated Hunter Hillenmeyer on the strong side are entrenched. The five-year, $13 million extension given to Hillenmeyer last year means he and Urlacher are both under contract through 2011, but there is very little depth behind them or Briggs.
There is not a lot of young talent in the pipeline, as might be expected on a team that hasn't drafted a linebacker in the first three rounds for the past three years and has taken just one linebacker (Briggs) on the first day in the past six years.
It's hard to determine at this point how strong the Bears will be on the defensive line this season because of question marks at tackle.
Defensive line is an area that coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo both consider essential to effective defense, believing that success begins up front. And defensive tackle was the strongest and deepest area on the team last season. Angelo has selected nine defensive linemen since he began running the Bears' draft in 2002, including starters Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson at tackle and Alex Brown at right end. He also traded for starting left end Wale Ogunleye.
But Angelo may have to dip back into the draft's talent pool this year. Johnson's facing a likely suspension of 4-8 games or more once his prison sentence is finished on May 15. Harris' second straight Pro Bowl season ended prematurely with a torn hamstring, and he should make a full recovery, but the timetable is uncertain. Backup tackle Alfonso Boone left via free agency, and Ian Scott, who started 33 games at tackle the previous three seasons, is also unrestricted and could be gone soon.
The Bears hope Dusty Dvoracek, a third-round draft choice last season, will play effectively in the defensive tackle rotation this year, but he remains an unknown quantity after spending last season on injured reserve.
The Bears are in better shape at end, even though Brown, and especially Ogunleye, under-produced last season in relation to their salaries, combining for just 13 1/2 sacks, barely more than the 12 that fifth-round rookie Mark Anderson had by himself. The Bears probably won't be looking for help on the edge, unless they decide that their starters are too expensive to keep.
"I don't know what to make of it," Brown said. "To have somebody start blowing people away, I don't know how anybody down there could have expected that. It's slow living down there. People go fishing and hunting and sit on the porch. For this to happen, it's surreal. It's crazy."
Brown initially was concerned about the safety of his brother Cornell, a former Virginia Tech star and NFL linebacker who is still affiliated with the school's football program and is often on the campus. But Cornell had already headed overseas to coach in NFL Europe.
NFL rules prohibit gear that advertises any product but a designated sponsor, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Urlacher was fined for drinking vitaminwater and wearing the hat during the Tuesday media session in Miami leading to the title game. Gatorade is the NFL's official drink.
McCarthy said this is the first time such a fine has been levied. He added that $100,000 is the standard fine for such a violation at the Super Bowl. A violation during the regular season is $10,000. It is $50,000 at the Pro Bowl.
But this year, with unrestricted free agent Alfonso Boone already departed, Ian Scott perhaps soon to follow and Tank Johnson's legal situation shaky, Dvoracek has a chance to step into the rotation.
"It's a great opportunity," Dvoracek said. "I'm looking forward to it very much."
Dvoracek has been cleared to participate in off-season activities without limitations.
"I'm 100 percent healthy," he said. "My foot feels great. I haven't felt this good in a long time. My body's had a long time to rest and relax and I'm just ready to go."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I knew what I had in these two men, Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith, and I want that continuity and I want them to feel comfortable knowing they can make decisions for the short term and long term and not have it be based on whether or not they have a contract in place." — Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips, after Angelo and Smith signed multi-year extensions last month
Here's the latest trade rumor: Lions president Matt Millen is plotting to move up from No. 2 in the NFL draft, not down.
"I think Mr. Millen said they were going to trade with Oakland to take me at No. 1," Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Thomas said.
OK, just kidding. Thomas was smiling as he said that.
But who knows? So much stuff has been circulating about the Lions, it's hard to separate fact from fiction.
The Lions love Thomas. No, wait. They love Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams.
They traded the No. 2 pick to Tampa Bay for the No. 4 pick and Simeon Rice. No, wait. They didn't.
We can safely say this: The Lions aren't going to trade up to No. 1. They have talked to a number of teams about moving down from No. 2, but so far it's just talk. There are a lot of ways the Lions could go.
Everything seems to hinge on Oakland. If the Raiders take JaMarcus Russell first overall, then there will be a market for the No. 2 pick because Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson — considered by many the best player in the draft — will be available. But if the Raiders take Johnson, all bets are off.
If the Raiders take Russell, the Lions might want to move down — or take Johnson and trade him — for two reasons. One, there are players they like who would be available a little lower, such as Thomas and Adams. Two, more picks would help them fill more holes.
But completing a trade is easier said than done. Tampa Bay seems like a possible trading partner at No. 4. The Bucs are said to covet Johnson. They have to move up only two spots, and they have two second-round picks. But Washington, at No. 6, doesn't have many picks to offer. Atlanta, at No. 8, might be too far down.
Don't rule out the Lions taking Johnson and keeping him. They would be ridiculed for taking a receiver in the top 10 for the fourth time in five years, but they still need help at receiver and pass-happy Mike Martz is still their offensive coordinator. And anyway, they will be ridiculed if they pass on Johnson, too.
If the Raiders take Johnson, the Lions might be "stuck" with the No. 2 pick. It seems unlikely they would take Russell, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn or Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson. They could shop the pick in case someone is worried Cleveland will take one of those guys at No. 3. They could stretch and take Adams, but more likely they would play it safe and take Thomas.
One thing to remember, though. As bad as the Lions have been at the top of the draft, they have failed later in the draft, too. They need help in a lot of areas and can't afford to miss at the top, middle or bottom.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think anyone would hold a grudge." — QB Brady Quinn, on how Michigan football fans would react if the Lions drafted a kid who was born in Columbus, Ohio, and played at Notre Dame.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
With a little more than a week to go until the first day of the NFL Draft, the Packers welcomed their possible top pick to Green Bay. Cal running back Marshawn Lynch was at team headquarters April 20, on the heels of visits to Buffalo and Detroit.
The Packers' biggest need is at running back after Ahman Green bolted for Houston in free agency. It's up in the air whether Lynch, considered the second-best back in the draft class, will be available when Green Bay picks at No. 16 in the first round.
Head coach Mike McCarthy believes a player of Lynch's caliber would be able to contribute from the outset.
"It depends on how (that player) comes in. We'll give him an opportunity to; that's one thing I can tell you," McCarthy said. "If you go through the history of guys that have played well (as rookies), a lot of it is they were given an opportunity — maybe even before they were ready, and they overcame that."
DRAFT STRATEGY — Precedent was established the first two years Ted Thompson presided over the Packers' draft room. The otherwise low-key general manager was extremely ambitious, making seven trades to load up on 23 draft picks.
The common denominator in all of Thompson's wheeling and dealing on draft weekend was that he traded down to accumulate 10 more selections than with which he started. The exercise has proved to be beneficial because 16 of those players remain with the team, including six starters.
Armed with nine picks and with few needs to address, this could be the year Thompson breaks his habit and trades up to make a different type of splash in the draft.
Something has to give because the Packers, who were just 8-8 last season even after winning their last four games, have been remarkably quiet in the off-season. Money hasn't been an issue for a team that had nearly $30 million in salary-cap room at the start of the free-agent period. Thompson's only signing, however, has been former New York Giants cornerback Frank Walker, who will be no higher than third on the depth chart.
Thompson instead has been insistent on rewarding his own players, meting out contract extensions to cornerback Al Harris, linebacker Nick Barnett and defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, who would have been a restricted free agent.
The Packers also might be stashing away cap money in the event the long-rumored acquisition of Oakland receiver Randy Moss comes true. A draft-weekend trade is a possibility, which would augment Brett Favre's earlier decision to return for a 17th NFL season.
With all 11 defensive starters back in the fold, the draft focus will be on patching glaring holes on offense — namely, running back, tight end and perhaps receiver, depending on what happens with Moss.
Thompson is confident that "we're going to get a very good player at (number) 16." Yet, holding there could keep the Packers from replacing workhorse back Ahman Green, who signed with the Texans, with Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson or Cal's Marshawn Lynch. They surely would have to move up high to get Peterson and might have to vault ahead of Buffalo at No. 12 to land Lynch.
If the Packers were to trade out of 16 and go back in the first round, Miami tight end Greg Olsen, Florida safety Reggie Nelson and any number of quality receivers would probably be targeted.
"We're a young team, and we have some good, solid veterans, and we finished well at the end (last season). But, we're not naive to the fact that we need to try to get better," Thompson said. "I'd like to get better from within and have some of our guys develop. But, we're not in a position where we can be all that choosy. We can help our team at almost any position."
Classified as a minimum security risk, Robinson is able to rehabilitate a knee injury on the watch of Packers doctor Pat McKenzie and work odd jobs at a Green Bay hospital.
Robinson was sentenced to the 90 days in jail by a Minnesota judge in February. Playing for the Vikings at the time, Robinson was arrested Aug. 15 near the team's training-camp facility in Mankato, Minn., after leading police on a high-speed chase. Robinson, who had been drinking and was trying to get back to camp before curfew, was charged with a felony of fleeing police.
The Vikings subsequently released Robinson, and the Packers signed him after the first game last season. Robinson played in four games with Green Bay before the league suspended him for a year as a repeat offender of the substance-abuse policy. Robinson, who remains on the Packers roster, will be eligible to apply for reinstatement Sept. 18.
The most recent incident in Minnesota was ruled to be a violation of a probation Robinson incurred from a drunken-driving arrest outside Seattle in 2005 when he was with the Seahawks.
Robinson was sentenced to 90 days in jail for the violation and later was ordered to serve another 90 days for the arrest in Minnesota. The judge in the latter case ruled that Robinson could serve both sentences concurrently and in Green Bay. However, Robinson wound up serving the first 45 days at a facility near Minneapolis because the Green Bay jail was full.
Green Bay's only free-agent acquisition to date is former New York Giants cornerback Frank Walker, who will challenge for the nickel-back role.
"After I had done it, I jumped and I took off because the glass was shattering everywhere," the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Montgomery said. "But, after a couple of minutes, I calmed down, and I looked back and was like, ‘Man, I just shattered the glass.' It's amazing (to dunk like) Shaq and all of those big dudes."
A high-school student who was on the team playing against the Packers had to be treated at a hospital for a piece of broken glass in an eye. The student was released from the hospital.
Meanwhile, the Packers planned to send a check in the amount of $2,400 to Waupun High School to replace the broken backboard and the other backboard in the gymnasium.
"I wanted to explore other things and take a rest from football, but I realized that wasn't for me," Murphy told the Athens Daily Review.
Murphy's pro career ended not long after the Packers drafted him in the second round in 2005. The fallout from a helmet-to-helmet hit he took from Carolina's Thomas Davis on a kickoff return in October that year was stenosis, a narrowing of the spine near the neck.
The Packers released Murphy last year after doctors advised him to not return to the field.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He really knows what he's doing. As players, we trust that he's got a plan and a vision for the people who are here and adding a piece here or there in free agency and then really incorporating our draft picks in." — Running back Noah Herron on the off-season approach of Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who thus far has signed only one free agent from another team.