There were some noticeable changes in the Bears team that attended the weekend's only veteran minicamp, which began Friday afternoon at Halas Hall.
Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs didn't attend, and Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester spent his time catching passes rather than defending them. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris (hamstring) and Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown (foot) still aren't at full speed, and their participation was extremely limited, as they continue to rehab injuries. Trade acquisition Adam Archuleta lined up as the starting strong safety. When Brown is able, he is expected to start at the other safety spot.
Unrestricted free agent pickup Anthony Adams is helping to fill the void created by the departure of nose tackle Ian Scott, who left via free agency. And, recently returned from an extended engagement at Cook County Jail, nose tackle Tank Johnson was back in the middle of the Bears' defensive line. Johnson is awaiting a likely league suspension following his May 16 meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Briggs is dissatisfied with his status as the Bears' franchise player and the $7.2 million salary that comes with the designation, and is threatening to stay away as long as it takes to get a multi-year deal or a trade. Until Briggs and agent Drew Rosenhaus capitulate, Jamar Williams, last year's fourth-round draft pick, will get a lot of work at the weak-side linebacker spot. Michael Okwo, a third-round pick this year, could also see some action there.
Defensive end Alex Brown is also attempting to discover if the grass is greener or the money more plentiful in other NFL cities. He recently dispelled rumors that the Bears were shopping his services by admitting that he and his agent, Joel Segal, approached the team to request permission to seek a trade.
Hester began his conversion from cornerback to wide receiver/running back in earnest on Friday, May 18. The Bears envision Hester playing a scaled-down version of the role Reggie Bush assumed as a rookie with the Saints, although he isn't expected to get nearly as many touches as the former Southern Cal star did last season, when Bush caught 88 passes for 742 yards and rushed 155 times for 565 yards.
"We're just trying to see what's out there," Brown said on Sirius Satellite Radio Wednesday afternoon. "It's not the Bears. They don't want to get rid of me. I think I'm a very good guy. It's just sometimes you kind of want to test to see if there's something else out there for you. If it were up to me, I'd get a new contract here and play the rest of my career here. We're handling this in a real low-key fashion and that's the way we want to keep it."
Brown signed a five-year, $15 million contract prior to the 2005 season that runs through 2009. He had career-best seven sacks last season.
Florida quarterback Chris Leak measured an eighth of an inch short of six feet tall at the scouting combine in February, which is a big (or little) reason why he went undrafted two months later, even after leading the Gators to a national championship. Bears coach Lovie Smith isn't counting him out, though, and says he isn't concerned with Leak's lack of stature.
"He's been that same height most of his career; all of his career you could say," Smith said. "He got a scholarship at the same height, won a national championship at that same height. As you can see by our quarterbacks and by our football team, height never has been a big deal for me. Just ask Garrett."
Starting quarterback Rex Grossman has only marginal height for an NFL quarterback at 6-1. Leak threw a national record 185 TD passes in high school and threw for 15,593 yards, second best in prep history. He started 47 games at Florida and set school career records for completions (895), passing yards (11,213), total offense (11,350 yards), 200-yard passing games (33) and attempts (1,458).
"You go to his track record," Smith said. "He's led his team to a national championship, so you know he's a good leader. He's thrown a lot of passes, played a lot of people, and started a lot of games, so that tells you a lot. We've been able to see some of that. He does have a good arm and he picks it up fairly quick."
Actually, one of the knocks on Leak was that he wasn't a very outgoing leader, and that he lacked the arm strength to be effective on anything longer than intermediate routes. But he's impressed Smith at first glance.
"I was lucky I was able to work with my brother (because) this was actually his offense in college, so he knew a lot of it," Greg said. "So before we came in, I had a playbook, and he was able to teach me a lot of stuff because this terminology to me was like Chinese. They could've been speaking a different language.
"But to him it made a lot of sense. Any time you study with someone who knows it already and they can kind of teach you in layman's terms rather than just reading it out of a book, it always makes it easier. He's a quarterback, and they know a lot more than the rest of us. They're supposed to know a lot more than me."
Christian Olsen, who played sparingly at Virginia, was one of about two dozen players who received tryout invitations for the weekend.
"It doesn't matter at all," Turner said of the height shortcomings. "For what you do in this league and what he's going to be asked to do; not at all."
Turner's more focused on the many things that Wolfe can do, all of which he witnessed at last weekend's minicamp.
"He's got really good hands," he said. "Good acceleration. All those things we knew, all the things we thought."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Playing football is the easy part; it's about knowing where you're going. If you know where you're going, you'll get there faster instead of second guessing yourself." — Bears third-round rookie RB Garrett Wolfe, who on May 15 became the first 2007 NFL draft pick to sign a contract.
He didn't say they should win the Super Bowl. He didn't even say they should make the playoffs. Coach Rod Marinelli set no specific bar for the Lions after their mandatory minicamp.
But Marinelli made it clear he expects much more from the Lions than they have shown in recent history. The Lions have gone an NFL-worst 24-72 since Matt Millen became team president in 2001. They went 3-13 last year after hiring Marinelli, second-worst in the league.
"I just have great expectations," Marinelli said. "This is going to be really a good football team in my mind, and I've said in team meetings what our expectations are, and we've talked about that.
"I just believe in this team — a lot. I'm going to feel better and better every day we're here. There are going to be bumps in the road. So be it. Nothing changes. This is going to be a very good team."
Marinelli said he thought the Lions started to build a winner last season, pointing out how they lost several close games, kept fighting and eked out a victory in their finale at Dallas. He said they had made a lot of good off-season moves. He lauded their improved speed and attitude, and he praised players ranging from quarterback Jon Kitna to what he called the "no-name" secondary.
The comments are greeted with cynicism from a lot of Lions fans who have heard this kind of thing before. Several coaches have come and gone, sounding good on the way in, looking bad on the way out. The Lions have won one playoff game since winning the 1957 NFL championship.
But Marinelli is undaunted.
"That's OK," Marinelli said. "It's just me. It's what I see. I'm out here, I look, I see it, and I believe it. I'm not going to undersell it. I'm going to overrate those men, because that's expectations. I've got great expectations for this team. I like the way they're working. You're seeing what I'm seeing. It's fast and explosive."
Marinelli said more than anything he had to keep teaching the Lions how to deal with adversity. One reason for that is the Lions' history and the negative atmosphere it has created.
"As soon as something happens, it's, ‘Oh, God. Here it goes again,'" Marinelli said. "No. We've just got to keep going, keep believing, keep pushing straight ahead, believe, having confidence, be energized with it, look forward to this process."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "All year last year, going through some of the struggles we went through, guys going down with injuries, guys having to play maybe when they weren't ready to play. ... (Offensive coordinator Mike Martz) kept assuring me that he was going to fix it. And they fixed it." — QB Jon Kitna, on his supporting cast.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
For a player who was given the latitude to have a weekly news conference every other week during the season last year, Brett Favre sure had a lot to say in the past week.
Six days after touching off a dramatic miniseries that extended from his home base in Mississippi to Green Bay, Favre attempted to set the record straight once and for all May 18.
He opened a 16-minute news conference at Lambeau Field, prior to the start of the Packers' mandatory minicamp, by dousing a previously published report that he wanted out of Titletown after 16 years.
"I do want to clear up this trade issue, non-issue as I call it," Favre started. "Never was a trade ever mentioned, requested. I just don't know where it came from. That's not true."
The purported trade request surfaced a day after Favre publicly vented May 12 at his charity golf tournament in Tunica, Miss., about the team's inability to land receiver Randy Moss in a trade with Oakland. New England swooped in at the start of Day 2 of the draft last month and surrendered just a fourth-round pick this year for Moss.
Favre had been quietly campaigning during the early part of the off-season for the Packers to obtain the talented, but mercurial Moss. The grizzled quarterback felt a playmaker of Moss' caliber was needed to bolster an offense that stagnated last season because of inexperience.
"I think he could have helped this team," Favre said May 18, reiterating comments made six days earlier that prompted a tumultuous week during an otherwise quiet period on the team's schedule.
General manager Ted Thompson responded to Favre's agitation and the ensuing Website report about the post-draft trade request from Favre's agent, Bus Cook, with a statement that was posted on the Packers' Web site May 13.
"I think it's natural for a player to be frustrated from time to time — that's simply being human," Thompson said. "Everyone knows that Brett Favre is all about winning. As an organization, we share that commitment. And we want to win now."
In turn, Favre began resorting to damage control, via a statement through the team on May 14.
Favre said: "I was frustrated a couple weeks back when Randy Moss was traded to New England. I never wanted to be traded and I don't want to be traded. I want to be in Green Bay. I want to finish my career as a Packer. Sometimes when I get frustrated I let my emotions get the better of me."
He went on to say, "I look forward to playing with this team and seeing what we can do. I think we can be pretty good."
Then, word spread May 15 from a report in the Sun Herald in Mississippi that Favre would be skipping the forthcoming mandatory minicamp. Besides being on the mend from February ankle surgery, Favre cited a desire to stay home so he could prepare for oldest daughter Brittany's high school graduation, which isn't until May 25. Favre told the newspaper his lingering unhappiness about the team's absence of notable moves on offense wasn't a factor in wanting to stay away from the team.
Yet, Favre did an about-face and was in Green Bay on May 17 for physicals and the minicamp the next three days.
Favre conceded before stepping out on the indoor practice field May 18 and picking up a football for the first time since the end of last season that he had no other choice but to show his face. Otherwise, "it becomes even a bigger issue," he said.
"To be totally honest with you, 17 years (of playing in the league), I just really didn't want to come. ... They're kind of boring," Favre said of minicamps. "What has been said and done is over. I think the best way to do that is to move forward. There's no hard feelings. I want to win, regardless of who's on this team or not on this team. Hopefully, we're all in this together.
"I'm glad I'm here. I'm glad that this will be over and done with," he added.
Saying he was physically fine, Favre was cleared to participate in the three-day minicamp, though he had limited work for precautionary reasons.
Meanwhile, Favre said efforts to smooth things over with the club, particularly with Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, were made in phone conversations earlier in the week. Favre also talked briefly with Thompson at the stadium on the first day of the minicamp.
"We have a good working relationship. We're able to talk about things," Favre said. "Ultimately, it comes down to me wanting to play and help this team win. That's the one thing I can control. By being here, that's what I'm doing.
"I'm fine with Ted. I'm not here to judge the way he runs his team. I know that he's probably caught a lot of heat (for his off-season decisions).
"Ted and I go way back, from Day 1. He has a plan; that's what he's paid to do. I'm paid to lead this team on the field. We're fine. I don't have to agree with everything he does. He doesn't have to agree with some of the things I do."
Jackson was all but required to be in Los Angeles for EA Sports' 2007 Reebok NFL Rookie Premier. The annual promotional function included 30 skill players on offense who were taken on the first day of the NFL Draft last month.
Jackson earned $12,000 for the weekend appearance, but he wanted no part of it. The second-round draft pick wanted to be in Green Bay for the minicamp.
However, the NFL Management Council ruled that Jackson either had to be at the Rookie Premier, as mandated in the collective-bargaining agreement, or sit out the minicamp.
"They literally locked him out of camp," Jackson's agent, Gary Wichard, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The team is not allowed to have him. I think it's ridiculous."
Jackson's absence could set him back as a prime contender for the starting halfback spot. Jackson participated in the team's rookie orientation camp two weeks earlier. Team personnel, though, were eager to get a better gauge of the former part-time starter at Nebraska with the veterans on the field.
The club plans to look at Thompson as strictly a quarterback, the position he played as the Sooners' starter only last season after primarily being a receiver.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Thompson is an intriguing prospect for his size, mobility and his efficiency (22 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions in 2006).
Thompson could stick beyond the minicamp and the organized team activities in June and compete with incumbent third-stringer Ingle Martin and undrafted rookie Jerry Babb in training camp.
McCarthy and the coaching staff first delved into a review of the 2006 season with the team on the morning of May 18 before getting the players on the field in the afternoon.
A mostly youthful squad salvaged an 8-8 season by winning its last four games last season.
"As I've experienced in past clubs that I've worked with, a lot of times you never really get to go back and correct the things as a whole with your football team," McCarthy said. "We (addressed) the positives (and) the negatives (of last season) and the direction and focus for 2007."
Tickets, priced at $8, will go on sale June 16, beginning at 10 a.m.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He only wants the team to be better, with experience, not thinking that they're not talented because I know that he feels they are. I know that Brett is very happy in Green Bay. I know that he loves the fans here. We both do." — Deanna Favre on husband and Packers quarterback Brett Favre during her appearance in Green Bay on May 16 for a breast cancer awareness speaking engagement.