Around the NFC North

It's the time of year when mid-round picks are talked about as sleepers and future performers. The Bears believe a college conversion to safety will be good for one of their picks, the Lions got a player that visited the Vikings before the draft, and the Packers are searching for a replacement for Ahman Green.


Even though he had led Louisiana-Monroe in rushing as a freshman with 976 yards, Kevin Payne took the practical approach when coaches broached the idea of switching him to safety after his sophomore season.

"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."


  • The Bears should know within the next two weeks how severely defensive tackle Tank Johnson will be punished by the league.

    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.

  • The Bears' only full-team minicamp runs from May 18-20. Coach Lovie Smith was asked if he expected Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who is dissatisfied with his one-year, $7.2 million contract offer as the team's franchise player, to be present.

    "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.

  • First-round pick Greg Olsen continued to apologize for the lewd rap song he and some Miami Hurricane teammates recorded while he was a freshman.

    "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."

  • Despite starting for four years and leading the Florida Gators to a national championship, Chris Leak is considered a marginal NFL quarterback because he's just 6-feet tall and lacks arm strength. But he relishes the opportunity to learn from Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, whom he succeeded in Gainesville.

    "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.

  • With Lance Briggs not expected at next weekend's mimicamp or at any of the Bears' OTA's, coaches are talking up his possible successors, including last year's fourth-round pick, Jamar Williams, and this year's third-rounder, Michael Okwo.

    "That's the prototype that we're looking for at that position," coach Lovie Smith said of the 6-foot, 234-pound Williams and the 5-11, 232-pound Okwo. "They move. They have some defensive back skills as far as their movement; hips, changing direction and things like that. And they have a little bit of strength. You look at Okwo. His body percent is down under 10. He is a prototype that we're looking for at the position. He was sideline to sideline in college and we're hoping he'll do the same thing for us."

    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.


    The Lions think they might have found a bit of a sleeper in fifth-round pick Johnny Baldwin, a linebacker from Alabama A&M.

    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."


  • After all the hoopla of being drafted second overall — the interviews, photo shoots and travel — Calvin Johnson fell ill with a viral infection. Still, he was impressive at the Lions' rookie camp. "For a guy so tall and athletic, he can drop his hips and get in and out of sharp cuts like the little guys can — really unusual," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "He just instinctively snatches that ball. He's pretty good."

  • Johnson was at Radio City Music Hall in New York when he found out the Lions had drafted him. Drew Stanton was at his agent's draft party in Miami. Ikaika Alama-Francis was at the driving range in Honolulu. Gerald Alexander? He was at home in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., getting ready to do some laundry. "I heard the phone ring in the other room and ran in there," Alexander said. "I saw a number I didn't recognize, and it was the Detroit Lions, and the dream came true from there." The laundry didn't get done until a couple of days later.

  • Cornerback A.J. Davis was so fired-up at rookie camp, the coaches had to tell him to tone down his trash talk. He bemoaned not wearing shoulder pads. He loves what he can do in the Tampa Two defense. "It gives you a chance to come up on blockers and hit people, really play football, the man's game," Davis said. "When we get the shoulder pads on, I can really show you." Davis is looking forward to facing Johnson, Roy Williams and Mike Furrey in practice. "It's good to have all the good receivers on your team," he said, smiling. "So on Sunday it's going to be pretty easy."

  • Right now the Lions' depth chart at defensive end looks like this: Kalimba Edwards and Corey Smith on the right, Dwayne White and Jared DeVries on the left. Ikaika Alama-Francis can play both ends and might move inside to tackle in nickel situations.

    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.


    Ahman Green wasn't a highly coveted running back coming out of Nebraska. He wasn't taken — by Seattle — until the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft and didn't get his first opportunity to be a featured back until the Seahawks traded him to Green Bay two years later.

    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 team is being careful with Justin Harrell, in whom it will be making a big financial investment as its first-round draft pick this year.

    The defensive tackle from Tennessee still isn't fully recovered from the season-ending ruptured biceps tendon he sustained early last year. As such, the Packers kept Harrell out of one-on-one pass-rushing and team drills during their rookie orientation camp May 4-6.

    "He's in the final stages of his rehab, so we're just being smart," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "The kid feels fine."

    Harrell said he needs to rebuild the strength in his surgically repaired left arm. He expects to be able to participate in all phases of practice during the May 18-20 full-squad minicamp.

    Harrell will be vying for a starting job alongside nose tackle Ryan Pickett.

  • Head coach Mike McCarthy indicated May 6 at the conclusion of the rookie orientation camp that quarterback Brett Favre probably would be held out of the mandatory full-squad minicamp May 18 to 20.

    Favre is recovering from Feb. 26 surgery to clean out calcium deposits in his left ankle. The 17th-year veteran should be ready to participate in organized team activities, which begin May 31.

    Favre's top backup, Aaron Rodgers, will either be limited in the upcoming minicamp or kept out completely as a precautionary measure. Rodgers suffered a broken left foot in relief of an injured Favre during a game in November.

    Meanwhile, McCarthy isn't expecting safety Marviel Underwood to be cleared for on-field work until the start of training camp. Underwood sustained a season-ending torn ACL during the preseason last year.

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