NFC North News, Notes and Quotes

The Bears' Tank Johnson says he has a new outlook on life after being released from jail, the Lions are hoping a guard looking for a fresh start can be their answer, and the Packers may end up with one of the most expensive backups if their recent minicamp was any indication.

CHICAGO BEARS

A changed Tank Johnson discussed his transformation during last weekend's minicamp, his first participation in a team activity since he was released from Cook County Jail on May 13 after serving 60 days for violating terms of probation on a weapons charge.

"I'm very thankful that I went through a situation like that," Johnson said. "Every situation makes you stronger, and today I stand here before you guys just a much more patient person. I have tremendous respect for so many people around (Halas Hall) and also around the country. I got so many positive letters of support. I just feel that, now that I'm out, I just have a different outlook on life. It's just bright."

Gone were what Johnson described as "my beautiful dreads," replaced by a neat, close-cropped crew cut. The team's starting nose tackle said that he would accept whatever suspension is handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, which could come as soon as this week.

"One day I want to be the face of the league for guys who have come through adversity; came through it and ultimately became the Man of the Year in the NFL," Johnson said. "That would be a tremendous ending to the story."

The next chapter in Johnson's story will deal with his suspension, which is expected to be anywhere from four games to a full season. Johnson said he appreciated the opportunity to sit down with Goodell last Wednesday in New York because it gave him a chance to explain himself. He also heard from Goodell about the commissioner's mission to clean up the off-the-field incidents that have increasingly embarrassed the league in recent years.

"Mr. Goodell has a tremendous responsibility to get this league in order," Johnson said. "Whatever he decides to do, it's in the best interest of the league. I feel like whatever sanction he imposes, I'm man enough to take it, and I know that once I get back on the field, that chapter of my life is closed and I can move on with a sense of closure."

Johnson said his jail term wasn't necessary for his rehabilitation, but he said he used it to become a better person.

"I wouldn't say that I needed to go to jail," he said. "I'm saying that I used a negative situation, and I turned it into a positive. Anytime you go through something tough in life ... everything you go through can be a learning experience, and I learned a lot. Anytime you can sit down and learn something, it's beneficial to you. While I was there, I learned a lot about myself and it was beneficial to me.

The four-year veteran said his two months of incarceration were made easier by frequent visits from Bears personnel.

"At the time the sentence was handed down, it was something that I had to deal with," Johnson said. "There was no way around it, so I prepared myself for that. It was a tough time for me. But during that process, I got to know that I have tremendous support from all walks of life. The Bears showed me unconditional support. My friends and family showed me unconditional support."

That support and knowing he would return to a stable and nurturing environment made Johnson's jail time more palatable compared to his fellow inmates.

"While you're incarcerated, you're around a bunch of different people; some with little to no hope, some guys who just hope to get out," he said. "For me to know that I was coming back to a great opportunity, and that I've been given a chance from the Bears to show the world who I am, it was an experience like no other. I knew at the end of those 60 days I was coming back to Halas Hall, coming back to my job and my family, and that's a great feeling."

The Bears and Johnson hope to feel the same way after Goodell hands down his ruling, which is expected on the next week.

NOTES

  • To no one's surprise, Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs was a no-show at last weekend's minicamp in protest over his designation as the team's franchise player, which prevents the unrestricted free agent from testing his long-term value on the open market but also would pay him $7.2 million this season.

    "I had a chance to talk with Lance," coach Lovie Smith said. "These things happen. We're getting a chance to look at all of our other players, Jamar Williams in particular. Players go down at any time, so you have to have a plan 2, and that's where we are."

    Williams was the Bears' fourth-round pick in 2006 and played just three games on special teams last season before landing on injured reserve with a torn chest muscle.

    Smith wouldn't speculate on Briggs' future with the Bears, but isn't panicking yet.

    "I'm just going to try rely on history a little bit," Smith said. "History tells me that guys will occasionally miss minicamp. History will tell you that they're sometimes late for training camp; some maybe miss training camp. History tells me that players don't miss an entire football season."

  • Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester had a short and simple response when he was asked what convinced him to switch from cornerback to wide receiver this year.

    "Lovie Smith," Hester said with a smile. "He was meeting with me. It started once a month, then once a week, (then) every day, and I said, ‘Well, there's not no ‘I' in team.' However the head coach feels, it's going to be better for the team. He put the thought in my mind, and it was like, ‘You're right.'"

    Smith made some convincing arguments.

    "As I was talking with Devin, I told him he didn't get a chance to do that Chunky commercial based on (his) backpedaling," Smith said. "We want to get his hands on the ball a few more times. We both saw it that way."

    At last weekend's minicamp, Hester looks as if he's been playing wide receiver exclusively his whole life. He showed soft, reliable hands along with his usual flair for making tacklers miss in the open field after the catch.

  • Safety Mike Brown, who missed the final 10 games last season following foot surgery, practiced without any apparent limitations.

    "They wouldn't have had me out there if I wasn't all the way back," Brown said. "So, yes, I'm all the way back."

    Brown also missed four games in 2005 with a calf injury and 14 games in ‘04 with a ruptured Achilles tendon but said he's not worried about more injuries.

    "If I'm out there, trust me," Brown said, "I'm not worried about all that."

  • Coach Lovie Smith said Alex Brown hasn't been given permission by the Bears to seek a trade, although the defensive end and his agent, Joel Segal, have broached the idea.

    "Alex has a long-term contract with us," Smith said. "He worked extremely hard out there."

  • Seventh-round OT Aaron Brant (241st overall), seventh-round CB Trumaine McBride (221st overall), third-round RB Garrett Wolfe (93rd overall) and fifth-rounders, SS Kevin Payne (167th overall) and CB Corey Graham (168th overall) have already signed with the Bears. The Bears' only draft picks yet to sign are first-round tight end Greg Olsen (31st overall), second-round defensive end Dan Bazuin (62nd overall), third-round linebacker Michael Okwo (94th overall) and fourth-round guard Josh Beekman (130th overall).

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I learned patience. In today's day and age, with everything being so fast-paced, I think patience has been put to the wayside. I think I learned a great deal of patience and self-control. A lot of those things that maybe I didn't work on them enough in my life before, but I got a chance to really work on those things." — Bears DT Tank Johnson on his 60 days at Cook County Jail


    DETROIT LIONS

    Stephen Peterman feels he is finally becoming the player he was supposed to be. He is working as the Lions' starting right guard this off-season.

    Peterman was an All-American at Louisiana State in 2003, the year the Tigers won the national championship. Dallas drafted him in the third round in 2004.

    But in the Cowboys' final exhibition his rookie year, he suffered two torn knee ligaments and went on injured reserve. He was inactive for the first 11 games of 2005.

    The Cowboys never came out and said they had given up on him, but they didn't really need to, according to Peterman.

    "They brought in other guys," Peterman said. "They never really gave me a shot. Maybe they didn't tell it to me, but I could see it that I wasn't in their plans. You can feel it when you're around the building and they're not working with you."

    Peterman credits Dallas strength and conditioning coach Joe Juraszek for helping him get back, and he credits the Lions for giving him another shot. The Lions signed him to their practice squad last season. They promoted him to the active roster in December when they ran into injury trouble, and he played three games, starting two.

    The Lions love Peterman's attitude and toughness, which the injury helped forge.

    "It was a good growing process," Peterman said. "It makes you respect the game a lot more. You sit back and you see the guys that don't work hard, that have the talent and don't make it. You see guys getting cut. You see the guys trying to just go through the motions. Being hurt just taught me a lot about the NFL. It's not promised to you. You've got to come out and work. It's a privilege to be here."

    The Lions also love how Peterman fits offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system.

    "He is the prototypical guard for what we do," Martz said. "We're going to see all those big inside tackles defensively, and at 320 pounds, he can handle that in the running game. The five-step drops that we do with the quarterback, he's pretty stout."

    NOTES

  • Coach Rod Marinelli keeps saying the Lions are going to be good, even though people roll their eyes because the Lions went 3-13 last season and have gone 24-72 since 2001. "I really like the speed we brought in," Marinelli said. "We're fast. I had a chance to see this team for a year. I can see we have some dominant players at certain positions, and they've got to go out and have career years for us."

  • Marinelli has been pleased with the attendance this off-season. The only player who hasn't been around is defensive lineman Cory Redding, the Lions' franchise player, who hasn't signed a contract. "We don't have to hunt anybody down," Marinelli said. "I'm not looking for anybody. You want them here. They've got to want to be here because it's not mandatory."

  • Running back Kevin Jones has had two pins removed from his surgically repaired left foot. One remains. "That one stays in," Jones said. "It's not anywhere where it's going to affect me from flexing it at all." Jones said he was still on target to return for training camp. He will be competing with guys like Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett who have been going through all of the off-season practices and conditioning, but he doesn't seem concerned. He has been running gassers at half speed, as well as riding a stationary bike and working in the weight room. "The best thing for running and getting in shape is running," Jones said. "I'll be a little bit behind, but it won't take me too long."

  • Wide receiver Calvin Johnson continues to impress. It seems he makes a highlight-reel catch in every off-season practice. During a recent organized team activity, he made a one-handed grab as he was twisting and falling to the ground.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I mean, he was a load, man. We had a few thighbones in our jaws." — Coach Rod Marinelli on RB T.J. Duckett, who faced Marinelli's Buccaneers twice a season when he played for the Falcons.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    If the mandatory minicamp May 18-20 was the first sign of things to come, Bubba Franks stands to be the wealthiest backup tight end in the league next season.

    Two years after receiving a seven-year, $28 million deal, Franks wasn't the starter at the outset of practices. Donald Lee was given the nod over Franks, although the three-time Pro Bowl player did get reps with the No. 1 unit.

    Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said there is "an open competition" at the position, which was a weak spot for the offense last season.

    "The money (Franks is making), I don't really look at the budget. I have no idea what Bubba's salary is, to be quite honest," said Philbin, promoted to coordinator this year after previous stints as tight ends and offensive line coach with the club.

    Rather than stew about the apparent demotion, Franks plans to do everything in his power to remain the starter come the start of the season. The seven-year starter and former first-round draft pick cautioned the media not to read anything into the insertion of Lee, an unheralded fifth-year player, with the starting group on the first day of the minicamp.

    "One day, Donald went with the ones. The next day, Tory (Humphrey) went with the ones. The next day, I went with the ones. Then, we started over again," Franks said. "Don't fall into that trap. We're just getting our work in."

    Franks has a lot of convincing to do with the second-year coaching staff under Mike McCarthy after enduring his worst pro season. Franks didn't have a touchdown catch for the first time and equaled his career low of 25 receptions, which he also had in 2005.

    To some degree, Franks wasn't utilized as he had been under former coach Mike Sherman. He frequently was kept in as a blocker to help a line that had three rookie starters.

    Franks, though, was the first to admit upon returning home to Miami in the offseason that he needed to make some changes. Sitting in the stands during Super Bowl XLI left him craving for the day he can help Green Bay get to that point and spurred him to action. Franks altered his eating habits as a way to get leaner and quicker.

    "If (my role) doesn't change, it's because of me," Franks said. "But, if I go out and practice and show everybody, ‘Hey, I should be getting the ball' — in the red zone or wherever, that's on me. I feel like I'm going to prove that (in) training camp, so once the season comes around, there's no question why I'm in the game and not sitting on the sideline. We'll see, but I have to prove that to the coaches because this is a (relatively) new coaching staff. They don't know what I can do."

    The coaches, though, like the potential of Lee and second-year Humphrey, both of whom bring the athleticism and big-play dimension down the middle of the field that Franks lacks.

    "He's a guy that we think has the capability of adding a little spark to our offense at that particular position," Philbin said of Lee.

    NOTES

  • The club might not get its first significant look at defensive tackle Justin Harrell, its first-round draft pick this year, until training camp.

    Harrell isn't fully recovered from a torn biceps tendon that ended his 2006 season at Tennessee after three games. The Packers medical staff isn't taking any chances with the surgically repaired left arm and held Harrell out of 11-on-11 and pass-blocking drills in both the rookie orientation camp and the recent full-squad minicamp.

    "If you'd ask him, he's ready to go," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "With all of our players that are coming off medical issues, we're just being extremely cautious because once we release them, they're full go."

    McCarthy added that Harrell might be cleared for all drills within the first week of the organized team activities. The 12 practice sessions start May 30 and are spread out over three weeks.

  • A day after he announced his retirement, three-time Pro Bowl receiver Keyshawn Johnson acknowledged May 23 that the Packers were among a handful of teams in the running for his would-be services as a free agent.

    "They were very interested," Johnson said during a conference call for the announcement of his hiring as an NFL studio analyst by ESPN.

    "We continued to talk to them. My agent continued to talk to them," Johnson added. "(Pro personnel director) Reggie McKenzie did a terrific job in trying to persuade us at some point in time to take a look at the Green Bay Packers."

    Johnson, 34, said the Packers were under consideration because, in part, of quarterback Brett Favre.

    "I think that the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre is always an interesting and exciting opportunity, when you can play alongside one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the history of the game," Johnson said. "So, there was always an interest there. (But) we never really got to a point where it was full steam ahead."

  • Cornerback Charles Woodson said during the recent minicamp that he would be skipping the team's voluntary OTAs for the second straight year and would use the time to train in Houston.

    McCarthy indicated at the end of the three-day minicamp May 20 that he hadn't been informed by Woodson of his intentions.

    McCarthy excused Woodson for the final two of four practices in the minicamp because of a previous commitment.

  • The team's rookies had to stay put after the minicamp for extra work on the field and in the weight room. The rookie offseason program ran May 21 to 24 before the players were excused for the Memorial Day weekend.

    The OTAs for all players will start the morning of May 30.

    The only practices that are scheduled to be held outside and open to the public are May 31 and June 7, 14 and 18.

  • Linebacker A.J. Hawk gave anything but a positive referral for a Ohio photo studio that snapped shots of his wedding ceremony in March.

    Some bizarre photos of Browns rookie quarterback Brady Quinn, a brother-in-law of Hawk, from the reception first appeared on the Harcar Photography Web site and then circulated elsewhere on the Internet. Hawk said the disc jockey had some of the men, including Quinn, get dressed up in Village People-esque attire.

    The photos later were dropped from the Harcar site.

    "That was just a bad decision on the photographers we chose. It's been an issue a little bit. We had no idea what happened," Hawk said. "Some photos got put up without our permission. I just feel bad for Brady and other people that were at the wedding.

    "It's tough. I guess you've got to watch every single thing you do because anything is public now."

  • With rookie Brandon Jackson absent because he was required to be in Los Angeles for a promotional event with other top draft picks, Vernand Morency ran without competition as the featured back in the May 18-20 minicamp.

    Morency is the top holdover from last season's halfback group, which lost starter Ahman Green to the Texans in free agency.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, among others in the organization, are encouraged by what they've seen from Morency thus far in offseason workouts.

    "This guy is busting his tail, working extremely hard," Philbin said.

    The 5-foot-10 Morency has put on about 8 pounds of lean muscle and weighs 220.

    Morency, though, has yet to prove after two years in the league that he can handle a full-time role as the lead back and withstand the pounding for a long stretch.

    Consequently, Jackson figures to push Morency for the job to replace Green. Philbin suggested that going with a back by committee could be the prudent approach heading into next season.

    "I don't have a preference that it has to be by committee," said Philbin, in his first year as an NFL coordinator. "I think we all know in the NFL there's quite a few examples of two running backs getting a good bit of time sharing the ball. We'll just have to see how it plays out."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of treats I used to eat ... Oreos, Twinkies, Dunkin' Donuts, Krispy Kremes, all of the good stuff." — Tight end Bubba Franks on what he cut out this offseason in an effort to get leaner and quicker for next season.

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