Even after rushing for 5,136 yards in just three seasons at Northern Illinois, 5-foot-7 running back Garrett Wolfe wasn't overly optimistic about his NFL status two months before the draft, when he spoke at the Scouting Combine.
"Me being 5-7, there's only so high a team is going to draft me," he said. "I could never be a first-round draft pick. I'm not going to be a second-round draft pick. But hopefully I could creep into the third round; maybe a fourth-rounder."
To the surprise of almost everyone, including himself, Wolfe did sneak into the tail end of the third round, when the Bears selected him 93rd overall. Most teams and draft prognosticators had him sticking around for at least another round or two. But some things changed between the end of February and the end of April.
"Nothing changed as far as me, but I think people started to get over the fact that I'm 5-7 and 185 pounds," Wolfe said. "People just started to look at the numbers and see that regardless of size, regardless of stature, regardless of what conference you played in, there's only 11 people who have more career rushing yards in NCAA (Division 1-AA) history than I do, and that's got to count for something."
The Bears believe it counts for a lot, as does his ability to catch the ball down the field, which Wolfe displayed in a personal workout at Halas Hall shortly before the draft. He displayed the same pass-catching skills last weekend at Halas Hall during the Bears' three-day rookie mini-camp.
"He made a lot of great catches," coach Lovie Smith said. "We knew that he was a quick player. We got a chance to see him in the open field, making a couple guys miss. He should be able to help us a little bit this year."
After the first of three non-padded workouts, Wolfe said he was pleased with his first performance as a pro, but he believes he has a difficult job ahead trying to prove himself.
"I want to let everyone know that it wasn't a wasted pick; that I'm as good as the newspaper clippings and the stats have shown," Wolfe said. "Some people choose to believe that I may not be that good, but I like to think I am."
Wolfe did a thorough job convincing the Bears that he was worth a first-day pick, but he knows there are a lot more opinions to change. That's fine with him. It provides him with even more incentive, as it always has.
"It's constant motivation because people talk about how I'm 5-7," he said. "People have doubted me my entire life, and up to this point I've always proven them wrong, and I want to continue to do so."
"I just wanted to do whatever I could to help the team," he said, although the love wasn't totally selfless. "I thought about it, talked it over with the head coach, and I felt like as a career (move) it was better for me and it would help the team more."
Both parties agreed the move could also help Payne reach the next level.
"Even playing running back (for two years) in college, I got hurt a couple times," Payne said. "I figured I could play longer at DB than I could at running back."
The 6-foot, 200-pounder figured he'd rather be the windshield than the bug.
"Yeah," he said, "I'd rather give out the pain than take it."
That's what the Bears had in mind when they targeted the all-around athlete on the second day of the draft. Payne average double digits in points and rebounds at Junction City (Ark.) High School as a basketball player and was an all-state catcher. In his senior season at Louisiana-Monroe, he took over the punting job and averaged 40.6 yards gross, with a 36.0-yard net.
Payne is bigger than the top four safeties on the Bears' depth chart — Mike Brown, Adam Archuleta, Danieal Manning and Chris Harris, his former college teammate. That's part of what attracted the Bears to him.
"You have to really look at what we ask our safeties to do, particularly the strong safety, who is really a lot of times a linebacker in the box," said Bears defensive backs coach Steven Wilks. "We wanted someone 220 or 225 who is going to be able to take that pounding and beating. Payne is a good fit for us, and I liked him on film. He's a tough guy, a hard hitter, and he also has good range.
"The one thing about Payne is we felt he gave us a little of both. He's a guy who can go down in the box and be tough and physical, but even (Friday) you could see him in certain drills where he had that range where you can flip him in the middle of the field for a free safety. He has that range that you like. I'm not saying (he has) the range of Danieal Manning, but he can give you that ability back there in the open field."
Payne went up against another pretty good athlete in the Bears' weekend rookie minicamp when he faced tight end Greg Olsen, the team's first-round draft choice.
"He's one of the elite of the elite," Payne said. "So I have to step up with my ‘A' game when I go up against him."
Since before the draft, Payne has been getting advice from Harris, his former Louisiana-Monroe teammate. Harris' departure for the NFL was partly responsible for Payne moving from offense to help shore up a short-handed defense.
"He's been helping me out," Payne said, "giving me a couple of tips."
Ironically, if Payne proves to be a quick learner, he could move ahead of Harris on the depth chart or even replace him on the roster. But that's not a scenario Payne wants to consider.
"We're just competing," he said. "We're really not thinking about that right now."
Johnson, who is expected to be released from Cook County Jail on Sunday after having served 60 days of his 120-day sentence for violating the terms of his probation stemming from a 2005 weapons conviction. Johnson is scheduled to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell May 16 in New York, and that a decision on an expected suspension will come soon after that.
Speculation is that the Bears will be without Johnson for eight games. Goodell could take into account that Johnson has served jail time, but since his incarceration did not prevent him from playing in any games, it might not be much of a factor in the commissioner's ruling.
As part of his crackdown on aberrant off-field behavior, Goodell banned Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for the entire 2007 season, with the possibility of his return after 10 games if he complies with a series of conditions. Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry received an eight-game suspension.
"I have no idea," Smith said. "That's the first thing that we've done that's mandatory, so I assume he'll be there. But if not, we'll kind of go from there."
Briggs has not participated in any of the Bears' off-season workouts, and he isn't expected at minicamp.
"Obviously I wasn't happy about it," he said of the misogynous lyrics. "It's not one of the proud moments of my life. But I've moved on. I've come on a long time since then. It was a long time ago. As I said before, I apologize for what's happened and to anyone who was offended. That's not who I am. That's not what I represent. And you guys will see that."
Unfortunately for Olsen, a lot of people, especially women, find the lyrics demeaning, and the tight end has been criticized in the media since he was chosen with the 31st overall selection, although he said the song wasn't a concern of the Bears or of other teams at the scouting combine.
"It was a stupid thing back in college that happened," he said, "and we kind of all moved on from that."
Olsen impressed coaches during three practices at last weekend's rookie minicamp.
"We're excited about him," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "He's going to be an impact player for us right away."
"This is the best situation for me, to learn under a veteran quarterback like Rex Grossman," Leak said. "Being a freshman at Florida, we learned how to play the game just watching film of Rex. It really helped me know what to expect in college. He's somebody I admired and watched through college."
Leak was one of seven undrafted free agents who attended last weekend's rookie minicamp.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Well I'm not trying to dunk a basketball out here, so I'm not sure whether (being) 5-foot-7 matters." — Bears third-round draft pick, RB Garrett Wolfe.
Of the 68 players at the Lions' recent rookie camp, two commanded the most individual attention from the coaches — second-round picks Drew Stanton and Ikaika Alama-Francis.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is a quarterback guru. He strips down quarterbacks and builds them back up again. And he got started with Stanton by teaching him the most basic of the basics — how to hold the football.
"He's had a fat hand on the ball, so he kind of pushes it," Martz said. "He's got a live wrist, so when he gets his hand placement right, the ball snaps out of there pretty good."
As Stanton worked on it, he didn't throw a lot of spirals. The ball was wobbling; his head was spinning.
"There are a lot of things — from your feet, to your eyes, to the way I hold the ball, all those things that he's taught all the quarterbacks that have had success," Stanton said. "Now I just need to really hammer it home and get it through repetition."
Coach Rod Marinelli is a defensive line guru. He tutored the likes of Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp in Tampa Bay. And in Alama-Francis he has raw clay to mold. Alama-Francis didn't start playing football until 2003 and didn't become a starter at Hawaii until ‘05.
Marinelli often pulled aside Alama-Francis while the defensive linemen went through their drills. Sometimes it looked like martial arts training, as Marinelli worked on Alama-Francis' hands. Sometimes it looked like a mini-scrimmage, as Marinelli lined up aides as blockers and backs to instruct Alama-Francis on the intricacies of the Tampa Two run defense.
"I never would have imagined that," Alama-Francis said. "Coming into here, I heard so much about him, how he's such a great D-line coach. ... I just try to soak it all in. I'm so inexperienced. His knowledge is just unbelievable. I'm excited just to be under him."
Baldwin didn't go to the Scouting Combine. But he put up impressive numbers at his Pro Day. A couple of poor-quality game tapes piqued the Lions' interest. They called down to Alabama A&M, got some more tapes, watched about seven games and liked what they saw.
"And then from the tape that we got we said, ‘Hey, this kid's got a chance,'" defensive coordinator Joe Barry said.
Baldwin was raw, but he had the tools.
"You see he's got great instincts," coach Rod Marinelli said. "You look at production. You look at how he hits with his face, his speed, his ability to close on a tackle."
Several teams showed interest in Baldwin, especially those that run the Tampa Two defense. He visited six teams — Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Chicago and Minnesota. Baldwin said everyone looked at him as a weak-side linebacker except Detroit, which drafted him in the fifth round and has him in the middle behind Teddy Lehman and Paris Lenon.
"Good players can come from anywhere," Baldwin said. "I'm trying to show that."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Well, he was lying if he said he had his way with A.J. I'm all over him like white on rice." — A smiling CB A.J. Davis, on WR Calvin Johnson, who had said "yeah" when asked if he had success against Davis when Georgia Tech played North Carolina State.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
There's a good chance the Packers will have just two quarterbacks on the field for their one and only full-squad minicamp May 18 to 20. Those two aren't the top tandem of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has all but ruled out Favre from participating in the mandatory camp. Favre will be on hand for it but more than likely as an observer.
The medical staff wants to give Favre more time to recover from the arthroscopic ankle surgery he underwent Feb. 26.
"I don't think it makes a lot of sense (for him) to do a whole lot, especially where he is as far as the time frame in his workouts," McCarthy said.
After putting it off for several years, Favre went through with the procedure to remove calcium deposits in his left ankle after he had informed the team that he would return for a 17th NFL season.
McCarthy would like to get Favre back up to speed with the offense during organized team activities, which start May 31 and are spread out over three weeks.
Rodgers, the former first-round draft pick entering his third pro season, would stand to benefit with Favre out of practice. However, McCarthy isn't sure that Rodgers will be cleared for the upcoming minicamp.
Rodgers is six months removed from suffering a broken left foot after relieving an injured Favre during a loss to New England. Rodgers has done minimal on-field work since the team's offseason program commenced in late March.
"(It's) kind of a common theme as far as just being cautious with him," McCarthy said. "He's another one that's champing at the bit. ... We're at that decision time for him — when do you just finally take the reins off and let him go? He's very close."
Should Favre and Rodgers be held out of the minicamp, the workload at quarterback will fall on Ingle Martin, last year's rookie third-stringer, and rookie free agent Jerry Babb.
The Packers chose not to sign former Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco, whom they had in for a tryout during their May 4-6 rookie orientation camp.
Brandon Jackson hopes he won't have to wait half as long for his starting shot as a pro back. The Packers' second-round draft pick arrived in Green Bay for the first time earlier this month with the mindset that he will be the one to carry on the rushing legacy left behind by fellow Cornhusker Green.
"Hopefully, I can just do the things he did when he was here," Jackson said of Green.
Green's decision to accept a lucrative deal with Houston early in free agency left the Packers with a gaping hole at a key position. Green was a four-time Pro Bowl selection in his seven years with the team and came within only 45 rushing yards of Jim Taylor's all-time franchise record.
In lieu of pursuing a capable veteran in free agency or by trade, Green Bay is content to try to replace Green with an assortment of young backs. Third-year Vernand Morency, whom the team acquired in an early-season trade with the Texans last year, and Jackson will be given first dibs to win the job.
It is possible head coach Mike McCarthy will opt to platoon Morency and Jackson, who are in the same mold as quick, shifty runners.
Jackson was accustomed to sharing carries for most of his career at Nebraska. He didn't take on a lead-back role until after the first third of last season.
The lack of starting experience and two surgically repaired shoulders diminished Jackson's draft stock, but the Packers thought otherwise in selecting the junior-eligible player 63rd overall.
McCarthy wasn't disappointed with his first glimpse of the 5-foot-10, 212-pound Jackson during the May 4-6 rookie orientation camp.
"He definitely has the quick feet and the explosiveness that we saw on film (before the draft)," McCarthy said. "I think he has the ability to be a playmaker from that position. I think he'll fit in excellent with that group, and it will be a very competitive group."
Jackson could stand out from the rest in the next few months because of his well-rounded pedigree in the West Coast offense at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers employed a variation of the zone-blocking scheme run by the Packers. Jackson was as effective catching the football and blocking blitzing defenders as he was churning out yardage on the ground.
"I feel like I can help (the offense) out in a lot of dimensions," Jackson said. "I would love to be the starter here, but I know it's going to be a lot of hard work."
Meanwhile, the other running back drafted by the Packers this year will have some catching up to do in his quest for a roster spot. DeShawn Wynn, taken in the seventh round out of Florida, suffered a calf strain on the first day of the rookie camp and missed the rest of it.
Wynn said the injury wasn't considered serious, and he anticipated being ready for the May 16-18 minicamp for the full squad.
The Kentucky bluegrass sod was unrolled on top of new drainage and heating systems that were installed during the late winter after the playing surface was excavated following last season.
"The sod looks terrific. It's great to see green in here again," team field manager Allen Johnson told Packers.com.
The sod is supported by a new sand base, which will facilitate better drainage during the season. Consequently, the field staff reduced the crown in the middle of the field from 14 inches to 5 1/2 inches.
The new surface will be a hybrid of the natural grass and synthetic fibers. The fibers will be stitched in with the grass in July.
By having a reinforced field, the team won't have to re-sod portions of the surface when the weather tends to wreak havoc late in the season.
Three of those newcomers were welcomed back after being invited for a tryout during the camp. They are fullback Corey White of Alabama-Birmingham, offensive lineman Pete Bier of Army and defensive end DeVon Hicks of Northwest Mississippi Community College.
All three days of the mandatory minicamp, May 18 to 20, will be held in the club's indoor facility and closed to the public, though open for the media.
The team previously announced that six dates for organized team activities would be held outside and open for public and media viewing. However, those days were cut to four: May 31 and June 7, 14 and 18.
In the past, the team has been more liberal than most clubs in allowing the media and its fans access to minicamps and OTAs.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "In my mind, just watching ‘em growing up and everything, it's crazy that Brett Favre's still playing. He's who I think of when I think of the Packers." — Rookie kicker Mason Crosby, 22, when asked what's the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of the Packers, who drafted him in the sixth round out of Colorado.