One of the biggest mysteries surrounding the 2007 Bears is why so many observers have so many doubts about quarterback Rex Grossman's ability to lead the team, even though it got to Super Bowl XLI with the four-year veteran starting every game.
Sure, the 26-year-old was maddeningly inconsistent in 2006. But how many quarterbacks not named Dan Marino weren't a little uneven in their first season as a starter?
Grossman's 23 touchdown passes in ‘06 were seventh best in the NFL, and the list of players ahead of him — Brees, Palmer, Brady, Bulger, Manning and Manning — include the league's elite quarterbacks. But Grossman also had 20 interceptions, and only the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and the Lions' Jon Kitna had more. It's interesting to note that no one is calling for the replacement of Roethlisberger, another talented, young quarterback who suffered the inevitable inconsistencies that come with the position.
So why does Grossman get singled out so often for criticism, even from rabid Bears fans?
Why not the veteran defensive end that's making upwards of $5 million a year and had 6.5 sacks last season? Or how about the other veteran defensive end who, based on his career-best seven sacks last year, wants to escape the final three years of a $15 million contract that he signed just two years ago?
Where are all the critics of the defensive tackle whose legal problems have been a major distraction the past six months and probably will be for another six months, minimum? How about the greedy Pro Bowl linebacker and his slimy agent who are trying to hold the Bears hostage for abiding by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement that allows them to use the "franchise" tag and obligate them to pay that designated player $7.2 million this year?
So why Grossman? Is he something special? Like Maury, the pain-in-the-butt wig salesman in "Good Fellas," who was upset with the vigorish on his loan, Grossman might be tempted to ask: "What am I, a schmuck on wheels?"
Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner is convinced that Grossman is something special — in a good way — and he will implement some use of the shotgun formation into the scheme this year to emphasize the quarterback's positive attributes.
"When he sets his feet and steps up, there's nobody in the league who throws it better than Rex," Turner said. "Where he got in trouble was when he was bailing out and throwing off his back foot."
Ideally, when Grossman is in the shotgun, he'll always be stepping up into the pocket, either to find a passing lane or to scramble for a few yards rather than taking a sack or throwing an ill-advised pass.
Maybe the problem with the inordinate criticism is that Grossman stepped up and answered every question asked of him last season from the first day of training camp to the Super Bowl. No one else did that, especially after dropped passes, fumbles, missed tackles and blown assignments. But win or lose, success or failure, Grossman showed up to take the heat, the abuse, and the same monotonous questions week after week.
You'd think that Grossman would catch a break for his honesty and his cooperation, but maybe that just gives critics the opportunity to take more cheap shots. So the hits just keep on coming.
Coach Lovie Smith downplayed the apparent lineup switch.
"We have a starting rotation," he said. "(Left end) Adewale Ogunleye is a good football player. Alex Brown is a good football player. Mark Anderson played as well as any of our ends this past year. We had three guys all rotated in with the No. 1 defense, and it looks like that's the way it will be this year. If we feel like a player can help us play, we'll play him. And we know for sure we have three ends we can play with."
In 2004, Brown was placed on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles' tendon in Week Two. In 2005, a calf injury forced him to miss the final four regular-season games and exit the Bears' playoff loss to the Panthers before halftime.
Still, when he steps on the field, Brown insists that the injuries aren't even in the back of his mind.
"I just go out there and I do what I do," he said. "I play hard and let the chips fall where they may. I know that I can play this game and it's just a matter of me being healthy.
"I don't worry about getting injured. I go out there and I do the best I can every play because you don't know when it's going to be your last one. I just go out there and try to have fun with it."
Brown hears whispers about a lack of durability, but he isn't concerned.
"Of course people are going to bring up the fact that I'm injury-prone or whatnot," he said. "But it's just that I've had bad luck. I got caught in a pile and it could happen to anyone. Every injury that I've had is not because I had another injury, especially the one last year. It was bad luck."
"I don't feel like I've got to show anything," Benson said. "I think I just need to go out there and be me and be the best that I can be out there. That's the reason why they made the trade (involving Jones). I don't believe they had any doubts that I wasn't going to go out there and do my best."
Benson has shown glimpses of becoming an elite back in his first two seasons, especially late in 2006. The 5-11, 220-pounder gained 432 yards and averaged 4.9 yards over the final seven games after rushing for 215 yards and averaging 3.1 yards in the first nine contests.
The Bears have now signed seven of their nine 2007 picks. Okwo, the 94th overall pick, and Beekman (No. 130), followed third-round running back Garrett Wolfe (93rd overall), fifth-round safety Kevin Payne (167th), fifth-round cornerback Corey Graham (168th overall), seventh-round cornerback Trumaine McBride (221st) and seventh-round offensive tackle Aaron Brant (241). First-round tight end Greg Olsen and second-round defensive and Dan Bazuin are the only Bears draft picks that haven't signed yet.
Before Tuesday, the five Bears rookies accounted for half of the entire NFL's 10 signed draft picks. At this time last year, only two NFL draft picks were signed. Last off-season the Bears were the first NFL club to have all their picks under contract after second-round safety Danieal Manning and third-round defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek signed on July 6.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He looked comfortable from Day One lining up as a receiver, and we know when he gets his hands on the ball he's definitely comfortable with it them. I'm excited about what he'll bring to our offense this year." — Bears coach Lovie Smith on the conversion of Devin Hester from cornerback to wide receiver, which officially began at the mid-May minicamp.
Eric Beverly is back in Detroit. He started his NFL career on the Lions' practice squad in 1997 and ended up starting 41 games for them over the next six years at center and guard. Now, after a stint in Atlanta, he is a blocking tight end.
The Lions finished last in the league in rushing last season, and they wanted to bolster their blocking ability. Coach Rod Marinelli faced Beverly twice a season when he was Tampa Bay's defensive line coach and Beverly played for Atlanta. He said Beverly was a force at the point of attack — and a good guy, too.
"He's a guy who's a classy veteran," coach Rod Marinelli said. "When we were bringing him in to have a chance to visit with him, this whole building, everybody who was here when he was here before, said, ‘Wow. What a great person. You're going to love this guy.' "
Beverly has caught only one NFL pass. And it was for zero yards. And it wasn't even on an offensive play. In the third quarter of last season's finale at Philadelphia, the Falcons botched the snap on a field-goal attempt. Quarterback Matt Schaub was the holder. He got the ball to Beverly back at the line of scrimmage — and Beverly got nailed, he estimates, by five guys.
"Yeah, I remember," Beverly said. "It wasn't memorable, though."
But you never know. Beverly might get a chance to catch some passes. Dan Campbell came to Detroit last year with modest career numbers and the label of blocking tight end, and running back Kevin Jones was not known for his pass-catching ability. Both made plays as receivers in Mike Martz's offense.
"Eric is a very gifted athlete," Martz said. "He just hasn't been put into a position to catch the ball. Same thing with Kevin Jones, remember? Same kind of deal. These guys are athletic and have good hand-eye coordination."
Beverly showed it on one play during the mandatory minicamp. He ran his route, caught the ball over the middle and took off downfield.
"I'm versatile," he said, laughing. "You know, honestly, I feel comfortable blocking. I've been doing that all my life. Even when I was a tight end in college, I was more of a blocker.
"I try not to set limitations on myself. Am I going to catch 100 balls or something? No. Probably not. Will I try to? Probably not."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm expecting this to be a good team — a very good team. We've just got to stay the course right now." — Coach Rod Marinelli, repeating what he has said often this off-season.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
A weird, oft-contentious offseason for the Packers became a little crazier and apparently combustible toward the end of May.
Rather than counting down the last few days to the start of his retirement, Bob Harlan will stay on as chairman and chief executive officer of the organization. That decision was approved by the board of directors May 30, only four days after a stunning announcement was made that John Jones, Harlan's handpicked successor, had been placed on paid administrative leave of absence.
Harlan cited "management concerns" about Jones, who has been in the front office since 1999 and was presently in the role of president and chief operating officer. The plan was for Jones to officially replace Harlan as chairman and CEO at the board's quarterly meeting May 30 at Lambeau Field.
Instead, Harlan was left to explain to the board that day a chain of disturbing issues that prompted the temporary removal of Jones. Although Harlan didn't reveal the nature of the incidents in speaking to reporters, he acknowledged that they began to surface last fall. Complaints about Jones' management style were leveled by those working in administration for the team as well as those in football operations.
"I had had some incidents myself with John, so I knew that a problem existed," Harlan said. "But, I wanted the staff to let me know what its everyday workings were, and when those problems continued to exist, I thought it was time to go to the executive committee," Harlan said. "I thought the plan (of easing Jones into the leadership role) was working very well, but I could see it falling apart during the fall. And, it concerned me as it grew."
Peter Platten, secretary of the franchise's executive committee, said the management concerns about Jones didn't stem from personal conduct or ethics.
Harlan asserted that the decision to put off Jones' ascension to the head of the organization also wasn't health related. Jones, 55, underwent open-heart surgery in June 2006.
"When this came to light last fall, my thought was, ‘We're going to be very patient and study this, re-evaluate it as time goes along and see if things improve,'" Harlan said. "I wanted to give (Jones) every opportunity to see if the situation wouldn't get better and we could move forward. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and I'm probably to blame. I waited."
The board of directors unanimously agreed to keep Harlan in office until a successor is found, although he had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 last September. Harlan, who has run the franchise since 1989, could stay on for another year, but he expects a competent replacement will be found sooner than later.
Possible candidates are first-year Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt, a Wisconsin native who Harlan originally hired in 1990 to be his eventual successor; and from within the organization, vice president of player finance Andrew Brandt, vice president of administration Jason Wied and vice president of finance Vicki Vannieuwenhoven.
The door hasn't been shut on Jones' returning to the club, but that is highly unlikely.
The front-office upheaval comes in the wake of franchise quarterback Brett Favre's purported demand to be traded after the draft in April. Favre questioned the direction of the team under general manager Ted Thompson, who didn't follow through on a long-speculated trade for Oakland receiver Randy Moss to bolster the offense.
"We're not in disarray," Harlan said of the franchise. "We're very well organized. We're ready to move forward."
Head coach Mike McCarthy said the latest episode won't be a detriment to what takes place on the field next season.
"The leadership of our organization is intact, and the landscape of the National Football League changing is part of what goes on in our industry," McCarthy said. "During times like this, you look at leadership, and without a doubt, everybody has confidence in Bob Harlan and the executive committee."
Favre and Rodgers were held out of team drills during the mandatory minicamp May 18-20, as they continued to recover from medical setbacks. Rodgers suffered a broken left foot during a game last November in relief of an injured Favre. Meanwhile, Favre underwent surgery on his left ankle in February.
Head coach Mike McCarthy is having Favre take part in nine of the 12 OTA practices, which are spread out until June 18. Favre, 37, hadn't thrown a football since the end of last season until the minicamp, when the team kept him on a "pitch" count.
"He's full go. He's in excellent shape for this time of year," McCarthy said. "He just anticipates so well (with his throws), and those are valuable reps for the younger players."
Top backup Rodgers said he's experienced no ill effects since resuming on-field work a month ago. The team's top draft pick in 2005 has been sharp with his passes and is throwing the deep ball with regularity and precision.
"I don't feel like I'm 100 percent yet, as far as mentally," Rodgers said of the recovery from the injury. "Just feeling 100 percent to where I have confidence (with the foot) where I can just take off whenever I want, I'm really close. I don't ever really think about it, but I'm just not quite all the way there."
Rodgers will get ample work running the No. 1 offense in the OTAs on the days Favre isn't participating. The first such outing came on the first day of the practice schedule.
Donald Lee and Tory Humphrey received the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 unit, while Franks was mostly relegated to the second team. The scenario was similar during the minicamp.
Franks, entering the third year of a seven-year, $28 million deal, is coming off the least productive season in his eight-year career. Franks, who admitted he became selfish toward the end of last season, had a change of attitude and was diligent about getting in better shape this offseason. He vows to remain the starter when next season kicks off, but he'll have to win over McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin the next three months.
"He's in excellent shape. He's not a youngster, so I think he's put a lot of preparation into this offseason, and you can see that," McCarthy said. "Particularly when guys do get older, the joints are the things you concern yourself about. I just think he's moving extremely well.
"The adjustments we've made schematically, he's picked them right up. Bubba's been excellent. I thought he had a very good minicamp, and he's off and running" early in OTAs.
Clifton reeled in a 92-pound halibut.
"He knocked it out (early on the trip) and kind of sat back the rest of the week and just watched us try to catch them," Colledge said.
More than 200 pounds of fish were shipped out from the haul of Clifton, Colledge, right tackle Mark Tauscher, center Scott Wells, right guard Jason Spitz and tackle/guard Tony Moll.
Receiver Donald Driver and defensive end Aaron Kampman, both of whom were Pro Bowl selections, were named the co-most valuable players.
Colledge and receiver Greg Jennings were tabbed co-offensive rookies of the year.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk was chosen as defensive rookie of the year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Personally, I'm very fond of John Jones. I think he's an excellent man, a wonderful family man. You feel for people. Anytime there's a change professionally, it's never easy. But, professionally, it's part of our business. But, he's a good man. He'll always be a good man." — Packers head coach Mike McCarthy on club president John Jones, who was placed on administrative leave by the organization May 26 because of management concerns. McCarthy first joined the team as quarterbacks coach in 1999, the same year Jones was hired in the front office.