NFC North News, Notes and Quotes

Tank Johnson stands to lose about $200,000 with his suspension from the Bears, the Lions' building up of a rookie quarterback includes tearing him down first, and the Packers are putting their kickers to the test. Get news, notes and quotes from the Vikings' divisional rivals.


The other shoe dropped last Monday afternoon (June 4), and the NFL used it to boot Tank Johnson with an eight-game suspension without pay, which will be reduced to six games if the Bears' defensive tackle stays out of trouble and complies with league-specified conditions.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's ruling that Johnson violated the NFL's personal conduct policy comes 22 days after he was released from Cook County Jail following a 60-day sentence for violating terms of his probation for a weapons violation.

"It's not my call to say whether it's fair or unfair," Johnson said following Monday's (OTA). "But Roger Goodell's a fair man, I know that. He took everything into consideration that he and I talked about, and what he came up with is what he came up with it. If it's in the best interest of the NFL, then I'm all for it too."

In a letter to the fourth-year veteran, Goodell said he would reduce the suspension by two games if Johnson meets certain conditions, including that he have no further adverse involvement with law enforcement and have full compliance with any requirements imposed by a court. He also must be in compliance with all league requirements, including counseling.

Johnson will not be allowed to participate in any practices or other organized team activities during the period of the suspension, but he may be at the Bears' facility for counseling sessions and other approved activities such as physical treatment or individual workout sessions. Johnson is eligible to participate in the Bears' off-season workout program, training camp and preseason games before the suspension begins after the final preseason game.

Based on Johnson's 2007 base salary of $548,000, a six-game suspension would cost him $193,410. If he serves the full eight games, Johnson would lose $257,880.

The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder is planning on being out just six games and insisted that he would be ready to contribute immediately after that to the Bears' quest of returning to the Super Bowl.

"I'll get better," he said. "I'll get closer to my family. I'll get my body in great shape to make the postseason and the end-of-the-season run. I'll be ready to go as soon as they open the gates."

In the real world, though, players rarely come back from absences as long as six weeks and step onto the field without any loss in effectiveness.

Nevertheless, he insisted: "I'll be in playing shape long before those six weeks are up."

Bears coach Lovie Smith expressed confidence that Johnson would do everything within his power to get back on the field as soon as possible and in peak condition.

"I do have faith in Tank," Smith said. "Tank has been a different guy for a long time. I think he's demonstrated that, and this is just another step toward getting him back on the field and getting this behind him.

"We have some game-planning to do on exactly how much he's going to play in the preseason, and how we get him in the best shape we possibly can before the suspension begins."

A bigger concern could be keeping him in shape during the six weeks of non-game activity.

"The bottom line is I'm a professional," Johnson said, "and anytime you're a professional, you have to deal with adverse situations. I firmly believe that having to sit out for six games is going to only give me time to get better."


  • Following in the footsteps of Bears backup Rashied Davis, wide receiver Timon Marshall signed with the team Tuesday (June 5) after spending five seasons playing Arena Football. The 5-10, 188-pounder spent the past three seasons with the Grand Rapids Rampage.

    Davis had 22 catches for 303 yards last season after spending the 2006 season as an extra defensive back for the Bears following an MVP season in Arena ball.

    Like Davis, Marshall excelled as a wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner in the AFL, leading the league with a team-record 2,374 all-purpose yards in 2006.

    Before joining the Bears, Marshall had caught 102 passes for 1,134 yards and 27 TDs this season for the Rampage. He also led the AFL with 83 kick returns for 1,901 yards and 6 touchdowns.

    "This is a dream come true for me," Marshall said after signing a three-year contract. "I've been waiting for this opportunity and I finally got a chance. Now I just have to play to the best of my ability to make this team."

    Marshall will compete as a slot receiver and return specialist with the Bears.

  • The Bears' coaching staff is convinced that most of quarterback Rex Grossman's problems, and a lot of his 20 interceptions, were the result of throwing off his back foot or falling off his throws rather than stepping into them.

    So, throughout the off-season program, Grossman has worked with new quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton on stepping up in the pocket, which the team believes will result in stronger, more accurate throws while also enabling Grossman to occasionally pick up a few yards with his feet when no receivers are open.

    Grossman has been concentrating on holding the ball with two hands further back toward his right shoulder in order to keep his weight on his back foot as he sets up to throw.

    "We're trying to get everything (to be) muscle memory so I don't think about keeping two hands on the ball or stepping up, it just comes naturally," Grossman said. "Pep Hamilton's been great and I'm excited that he's here working with me."

  • Even though he missed his entire rookie season following foot surgery, Bears defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek doesn't considered it a wasted year.

    He said spending a year in the program, even though he didn't play beyond the preseason has been beneficial.

    "As far as knowing the scheme, knowing all the plays, not having to worry about coming to practice and learning as much, it's helped a lot," the third-round pick said. "Now it's just review. Getting to know the guys (last year), I think you just feel more comfortable. I think once you start feeling comfortable it makes everything easy. You just go out and play, you're not trying to impress people as much, you're just going out there and playing, and that's when you play your best."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got a guy down. We're going to rally behind him and keep his spirits up and we're just going to have fun and pray for Tank and just keep it going." — Bears DT Anthony Adams, who is expected to pick up a lot of slack left by Tank Johnson's suspension.


    After a month of working with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Lions rookie quarterback Drew Stanton is starting to feel comfortable. He finally got some reps during seven-on-seven passing drills and team drills the last week of organized team activities.

    "It was my first chance to kind of get in there and do some stuff, and the best way to learn is to get in there and do stuff," said Stanton, a second-round pick out of Michigan State. "So it's pretty exciting."

    A month ago, Martz did what he always does with a new quarterback. He stripped down Stanton so he could build him back up again.

    Martz even re-taught Stanton how to hold the ball correctly, because he felt Stanton had the ball too deep in his hand. Some of Stanton's passes wobbled at the rookie minicamp.

    A week and a half later, when he joined the veterans for the mandatory minicamp, Stanton just watched as the Lions went through team drills.

    Stanton hadn't had a chance to swallow Martz's complicated system, let alone digest it. The Lions didn't want to throw him in too soon.

    "Just to get the verbiage out sometimes is unbelievable," coach Rod Marinelli said. "The worst thing is, all of a sudden you're putting a guy in, he can't get the words out. He can't get out of the huddle."

    Stanton said he tried to work on one thing at a time. When he perfected that thing, he moved on to the next thing.

    He said everything from his grasp of the football to his grasp of the offense was getting a little easier. He still has a long way to go. But so far, so good.

    "It's just a matter of continuing to do the things that Coach Martz is telling me to do, and it's getting easier, definitely," Stanton said. "It's nice. You can see the results coming. It drives you to work that much harder. It's coming together nicely."


  • Wide receiver Roy Williams didn't practice much during Organized Team Activities because of a pulled hamstring he suffered in the mandatory minicamp. "It's pretty good, but I can feel it still," Williams said. No need to push it. "We want to be really smart," coach Rod Marinelli said. "The last thing I want to do right now at the end of this thing is aggravate a guy's injury, and then you get him in the off-season and he's trying to heal up."

  • Williams wore an all-green outfit to the Lions' charity golf tournament — green pants, green shirt, green Texas Longhorns hat. All he needed was a green jacket. "Yeah, this is the Masters outfit here," Williams said before hitting the course at the TPC of Michigan in Dearborn. "I only bring this out on big events. This is a big-money event today, and I'm out there to get the championship." The championship? Well, not really. Asked if he was good at golf, Williams said: "No. If you were a captain and we were lining up to pick teams, you would probably pick me first by the way that I dress and the way I look. But when we play, you would be disappointed."

  • The Lions brought in free agent cornerback Kelly Herndon for a visit. Herndon also had visited Kansas City and Tennessee, and he was scheduled to visit Jacksonville. Seattle cut Herndon, who returned an interception a record 76 yards for Seattle in Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

  • The Lions are not interested in quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who is available now that Miami has acquired Trent Green in a trade with Kansas City. Marinelli said the Lions were set at the position.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know about quarterbacks. But I'd say I am." — QB Jon Kitna, asked if his team-best 235 at a team bowling outing was further proof quarterbacks were the best athletes on the team.


    Game, er, kicks on.

    The battle for the kicking job was ramped up in the second week of the team's Organized Team activities. Incumbent Dave Rayner and rookie challenger Mason Crosby were put under the gun for the first time in the off-season on back-to-back days, June 6 and 7.

    Special teams coordinator Mike Stock calls the showdown a toss-up so far.

    "It will be an ongoing competition that we think is going to be a very good one," Stock said.

    Rather than have them wait until the start of training camp in late July, Stock and head coach Mike McCarthy summoned the two kickers for field goals during team segments of the two OTA sessions.

    Rayner had the upper hand on the first day, when Crosby missed one of his four attempts. The next day, though, the advantage swung the newcomer's way when Rayner sandwiched a pair of errant kicks from 46 yards around Crosby's conversion from the same distance inside the team's practice facility.

    "I'm not happy about it, but it's something that is definitely correctable," Rayner said of his misses.

    Rayner and Crosby are on equal ground with a powerful right leg. At the same time, there are question marks attached to both because of accuracy issues.

    Rayner ranked 26th in the league with a field-goal percentage of 74.3 in his first pro season handling all kicking duties. He was the kickoff specialist for the Colts as a rookie in 2005. Rayner struggled in the second half of last season, missing six of 20 field-goal tries.

    Crosby was the top-rated kicker coming out of college but fell to the sixth round in the draft, where the Packers selected him. Crosby, though, was a sub-par 19-of-28 on field goals in his final season at Colorado.

    The job to replace Ryan Longwell, the Packers' all-time leading scorer who bolted for rival Minnesota in free agency, was handed to Rayner early in the preseason last year. Fellow free agent Billy Cundiff was cut after just the first exhibition game.

    Stock said the scenario will be different this year, with Rayner and Crosby given an extended look in the preseason.

    "We're at a distinct advantage, in terms of one of those two guys is going to be our kicker. We think both are very strong," Stock said.

    A confident Rayner is taking the battle for what it is.

    "Obviously, there's only one kicker (to make the roster), so it's a little more hype and everything," Rayner said. "But, if I kick well, I obviously deserve the job. And, if he kicks well, the same thing for him."


  • Cornerback Al Harris and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett rejoined the team June 4 for organized team activities after missing the initial week of the voluntary sessions.

    Harris said he showed up to "knock the rust off" and planned to participate in the remainder of the OTAs, which end June 19.

    Last year, Harris skipped all non-mandatory workouts during the off-season as a way to protest not having a renegotiated contract. The Packers rewarded the 10th-year veteran in February this year by extending his existing deal two years through 2011.

    Harris doesn't have a problem with fellow cornerback Charles Woodson's skipping the OTAs for the second straight year so he can work out on his own in Houston. Yet, Harris acknowledged that the practice sessions serve a purpose before the entire team reconvenes for training camp in late July.

    "You can work as hard as you want, wherever you're at, but as far as doing football stuff, as far as playing bump and run and what not, you've got to come and get some of that with live bodies," Harris said.

    Besides Woodson, the only other player who had yet to report to the OTAs as of June 7 was defensive tackle Corey Williams. He reportedly has been tending to an ailing sister in Arkansas.

  • At the midway point of the 12 OTA practices, quarterback Brett Favre had been given two of them off. Head coach Mike McCarthy said at the outset that the plan was to have Favre participate in nine of the sessions.

    Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin indicated that Favre would be held out of one of the four practices scheduled for the week of June 10.

    The team wraps up the OTAs with practices June 18 and 19.

    Favre's top backup, Aaron Rodgers, missed the June 7 practice to attend his brother's high-school graduation in California. Favre was on the field that day. On the days Favre is out, Rodgers runs the No. 1 offense.

  • The Packers on June 4 signed receiver David Clowney, the first of their 11 draft picks this year to be under contract.

    Clowney, a fifth-round choice out of Virginia Tech, received a four-year deal. His annual base salaries are $285,000 this year, $370,000 in 2008, $460,000 in ‘09 and $550,000 in ‘10. Clowney's signing bonus wasn't available.

  • The club brought back former receiver Terrence Murphy as a coaching intern in early June.

    Murphy is assisting running backs coach Edgar Bennett for the remainder of the OTAs and for most of training camp. He then will resume his first-year duties as a receivers and kick-return coach at Trinity Valley Community College in his home state of Texas.

    Murphy's promising playing career ended four games into his rookie season with the Packers in 2005. He took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Carolina's Thomas Davis on a kickoff return and was diagnosed with stenosis, a narrowing of the spine near the neck.

    Several specialists advised Murphy to not attempt a comeback, and the Packers cut him last year.

    "I had to not be selfish because I could have said, ‘I'm going to play; I'm going to force my way back on the field,'" said Murphy, 24, a second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M. "I can honestly say that I know I would have been pretty good, without a doubt. But, it came down to having a family. I want to be able to play with my kids when I'm 35, not be in a wheelchair because I wanted to be selfish and go out and catch a football."

    After coming to grips with the injury, Murphy had an itch to stay connected to the game and was turned on to coaching. He aspires to be an offensive coordinator, either in the college ranks with preferably Texas A&M or in the pros with the Packers.

  • Tony Moll was invaluable as a versatile offensive lineman during his rookie season last year. The late-round pick gained a starting spot at guard after Daryn Colledge struggled in the preseason, making a total of five starts in the early going. Moll, a converted tight end in college, then had five starts at right tackle toward the end of the season in place of an injured Mark Tauscher.

    Having apparently settled on Colledge and fellow second-year player Jason Spitz as their starting guards, the coaches are going to keep Moll on the outside as Tauscher's understudy entering training camp next month.

    "I'm of the opinion that when you have young linemen — and we have a number of them — if you want them to progress, you need to keep them in one spot," head coach Mike McCarthy said.

    McCarthy allowed that Moll's flexibility to move along the line is crucial if needed in an emergency situation on game day, though there's an inherent risk of stunting his development.

    "I've been through this it seems the last three or four years where you have a young guy that is talented and you want to get him up on the 45, so you have him playing two or three positions (and) his progress doesn't move forward as fast as you'd like," McCarthy said. "I would like to keep all of your young linemen at one position for now so they can progress, and when they do move to multiple positions, I think the transitions will be easier for them."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Everybody thinks I'm supposed to hate this kid. Shoot, he got drafted here; it wasn't his choice. Nice kid. I have no issues with him. Obviously, I want to beat him out. But, at the same time, I wish him luck, and I hope he does well in the NFL." — Incumbent kicker Dave Rayner discussing his relationship with challenger Mason Crosby, a sixth-round draft choice this year.

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