So who needs Lance Briggs anyway?
The two-time Pro Bowl linebacker was a no-show at minicamp in May and has yet to attend any of the Bears' 14 Organized Team Activities, which conclude this week, and he isn't expected to do so. Briggs also hasn't participated in any off-season weightlifting workouts, and he isn't expected to be at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais when the Bears report for training camp on July 26. The smart money says Briggs won't be around for any portion of training camp or any preseason games.
Briggs and his agent Drew Rosenhaus are demonstrating to the Bears their unhappiness that the fifth-year veteran was designated as the team's franchise player, which discouraged any other team from pursuing him with a long-term offer with an expected $15 million to $20 million signing bonus for the unrestricted free agent. Instead, if Briggs remains with the Bears, he has to settle for $7.2 million this season, approximately a 1,000 percent raise over his 2006 salary.
So Briggs may not be back in uniform until the regular-season opener.
The Bears are still the favorite in Las Vegas to make it back to the Super Bowl, they're still just about everyone's pick to dominate the NFC North again and a virtual lock to make it back to the playoffs. Their status won't change with or without Briggs. He's clearly talented but just as clearly a replaceable player on a team with more talent than almost every one of its opponents.
Briggs is not a difference maker like middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, defensive tackle Tommie Harris or return specialist Devin Hester. He's not as integral to the Bears' success as featured ball carrier Cedric Benson is expected to be this season, or even quarterback Rex Grossman, if he makes the presumed strides in his second season as the full-time starter.
Briggs finished second to Urlacher in tackles last season 185-176, and in 2005, 171-170, and he led the Bears with 168 tackles in 2004, when Urlacher missed seven games with injuries. But the Bears' defense is designed for the weak-side linebacker to make a lot of tackles.
In Briggs' absence, Jamar Williams has been running with the first team at weak-side linebacker. The 2006 fourth-round pick played just three games before a chest injury ended his rookie season, so no one expects him to play as well as Briggs has since he cracked the starting lineup as a third-round rookie in 2003. But the difference between Briggs and Williams isn't drastic enough to make a discernible difference in the defense.
Even Urlacher, who has been staunchly behind Briggs from the beginning, admits the team will survive without him if necessary.
"We have guys that have been in the system for a couple of years now," Urlacher said. "We have guys that can step in. They're not going to replace Lance, we know that, but we have some guys that can fill in for him and do a good job right away."
Harris practiced Monday at Halas Hall for the first time since he was hurt on Dec. 3, pronounced himself fit and cleared up some misconceptions about the injury. It was actually a tendon that was damaged and not his hamstring, which is the group of muscles in the back of the upper leg. Tendons are made up of tissue and connect muscle to bone. Harris isn't concerned about a recurrence.
"It can't come back," he said. "They put sutures in my bone and hooked it back. This one will never pull again. It's more likely for the right one to pull than the left because this one should be there for life now because of the screws and stuff, so I should be faster, and I should be stronger, so we'll see.
"I don't have any excuses. During the season you won't hear me say, ‘Well, my hamstring's been killing me. Right now I feel great. I'm working hard where there won't be any excuses and let's just go, let's get ready for football. That injury's over with."
The Bears consider Harris the premier defensive tackle in the NFL, although he's still just 24, and he's ready to live up to the hype.
"I think I train hard enough to receive that as a compliment," he said, "but I'm not satisfied. I'm not finished."
Obafemi Ayanbadejo's chances of sticking are excellent considering the Bears are down to one healthy fullback, Jason McKie, after J.D. Runnels suffered a left knee ligament injury last week that is expected to land him on injured reserve after he was waived injured on Tuesday.
Obafemi Ayanbadejo suspected he might not fit the style of new Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, so he met with him almost immediately and thought he'd have a chance to find a role in training camp. His release came as a surprise.
"He said I'd have every opportunity to show him that," Ayanbadejo said. "So for the rug to kind of get pulled out from under me in June after I went through all the OTAs and everything; I thought the timing was just a little bit, like ‘What's going on?'
"You tell me one thing and you do another. But that's football, that's the way it goes. I think coach Whisenhunt's a hell of a coach, I think the Cardinals are going to be a great team this year. I won't be a part of that, but hopefully I can be a part of this here (on Chicago). I'd love to do that."
"Everything is healthy," he said. "I'm not thinking about it. No pain, no nothing. I'm just back to normal. I'm full force, ready. If we had a game, I'm ready."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Once you get your hands on the ball it's show time, you know what I mean. The more repetitions I get, the better I'll get as a player." — Devin Hester, a Pro Bowl return specialist, who has converted from CB to WR.
Serious allegations of off-field misconduct are swirling around defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, perhaps the Lions' best player. But although police have filed an arrest warrant, prosecutors have not filed any charges.
Rogers allegedly groped a dancer at a Detroit strip club with a gun in his waistband at 1:15 a.m. June 8.
The woman gave this account in a police report: She was in her dressing room wrapped in a towel when Rogers walked in and forcibly groped her with a gun in his waistband. Rogers asked her if she knew who he was, made lewd comments and dragged her by the arm into a hallway, where a second man propositioned her profanely. Rogers said: "You can probably have her for $100." The woman called for help, only to be told Rogers was intoxicated and not to worry about it.
Rogers could not be reached for comment. His agent, Kennard McGuire, did not respond to messages.
"We have a case with very serious allegations, and it is important that we take the time needed to make a fair assessment of the facts and evidence before a decision is made," Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Wayne County prosecutor's office, said in a statement.
The woman, 20, said she didn't want to say anything until the prosecutors reached a decision.
A Lions spokesman said the team was collecting information and had no further comment.
Rogers can be one of the most dominant players at his position in the NFL. He went to the Pro Bowl after the 2004 and ‘05 seasons. But critics say he doesn't get the most out of his ability because he doesn't work hard all the time, and last season was his worst in the NFL.
After an excellent performance in the opener, he was less effective over the next five games. Then he served a four-game suspension for taking a banned dietary supplement. He had knee surgery during the suspension and didn't come back after he was eligible to play again.
Rogers didn't show up at the start of the voluntary off-season conditioning program in March. But after speaking to coach Rod Marinelli, he came a week later. Rogers has worked in the weight room and gone through some individual drills, though he didn't practice while rehabbing knee and shoulder injuries.
Marinelli has spoken glowingly about Rogers this off-season and emphasized how important the defensive line is, saying the front four has to drive the franchise. Rogers rarely speaks to the media, but he held an upbeat session with a group of reporters last month.
"I just feel high expectations will bring about more prosperous things," Rogers said then. "The higher you set the bar and the closer you can get to it, the higher you achieve. I'm happy that (Marinelli) has so many expectations for me. I'm not going to do anything but try to live up to them."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't like to come out and just say something to say something. I have to see it. ... I've just seen this group of men coming together." — Coach Rod Marinelli, on his repeated assertions the Lions are going to be a good team.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Brett Favre is giving his sore throwing arm a break the next few weeks, but the rest of his body won't have much downtime.
Favre incurred what he thought to be tendinitis in the right shoulder during Organized Team Activities. Consequently, the team shut him down for the final four of 12 OTA practices, which were to conclude June 19.
The injury isn't considered serious.
"I probably could practice, but it really don't make a lot of sense to go out and make it any worse," said Favre, who participated in seven of the OTA sessions.
Favre stuck around for his charity softball game June 17 in the Green Bay area but was to head back to his home in Hattiesburg, Miss., to get ready for some rigorous training.
Trainer Ken Croner, from Athletes' Performance in Tempe, Ariz., was expected to drop in on Favre at the end of June or early July. Croner has worked with Favre, 37, in the past on strengthening his core as a way to build up his endurance and improve his mobility late in his career.
Favre said footwork drills would be the emphasis of the upcoming training, leading up to the start of training camp July 28. The cardio-based workouts last an hour, with the repetitions done at an accelerated rate to simulate what Favre endures on game day.
"The average play is about four seconds. So, each exercise is four seconds (and) rest for 30," Favre said.
Favre's work with the personal trainer had to be scaled back in the spring because Favre was recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle. Favre said other than some soreness that flared up during the first half of the OTA schedule, the ankle isn't bothering him.
Favre and head coach Mike McCarthy have discussed giving the quarterback more latitude than he had last season in rolling out of the pocket next season. Favre believes he functions better as a passer on the move. He didn't have the green light from McCarthy last year to do a lot of freelancing, in part because of a young offensive line. Favre finished the season with a career-low completion percentage of 56.0.
"I think he's still a very effective player when he is on the move," McCarthy said. "Frankly, the people that know him fairly well, the people who have competed against him from a defensive standpoint, a number of them play with a wider end, rush the ends up the field (and) try to take that away from him. So, for a quarterback that's as old as Brett is and they're running the ends up the field, I think that speaks of his ability to play on the move."
The sixth-year player never played a down for second-year head coach Mike McCarthy. Barry suffered a torn quadriceps in a spring minicamp in 2006 and was on injured reserve all of last season.
Prior to McCarthy's arrival, Barry, whom the Packers signed as an undrafted free agent in 2002, was a fixture in the U-71 power-run package (named for his uniform number) as an extra blocker. McCarthy, though, implemented a zone-blocking scheme, and Barry was the antithesis of the lighter, agile linemen desired for the system.
"He was a player that did some positive things (before last year), but when you talk about offensive line and when people talk about being a third tight end, I wasn't looking for another tight end," McCarthy said. "We were looking for offensive linemen that particularly can play multiple positions. And, really, his opportunity just did not happen because of his injury situation."
Barry had yet to be cleared for on-field work this off-season before he was cut.
Listed at 6-foot-4, 332 pounds, though he was heavier than that at times, Barry claimed in May that he was on the right track to getting his weight down to satisfy the team's desires.
The Packers also cut offensive tackle Josh Bourke, whom they signed as an undrafted free agent in 2006.
Woodson said during the mandatory minicamp in May that he was going to stay away from the OTAs, as he did last year, choosing instead to work out on his own in Houston.
"I told coach (McCarthy) I would come back. So, I'm just trying to keep my word," Woodson said of attending a portion of the OTAs.
He didn't stay for the final two OTA practices June 18 and 19, however.
Fellow starting cornerback Al Harris also cut out early after showing up for the second week of the OTAs. Harris and Woodson were on the field together for a couple days before Harris bolted June 13.
Jennings is the incumbent starter opposite Donald Driver but has been prone to injuries not even two years as a pro. Jennings was bothered by an ankle injury during the second half of last season.
Ferguson, meanwhile, said he's fully recovered from the Lisfranc foot injury that cost him all but the first four games of 2006. He needed only one day off from the eight practices in the last two weeks because of fatigue with the foot.
Cornerback Will Blackmon, expected to challenge for the nickel-back spot, missed most of the OTAs because of a groin injury.
Defensive tackle Justin Harrell, this year's first-round draft pick, remained limited to individual drills. The team has taken a cautious approach in the off-season after Harrell suffered a torn biceps tendon early last season at Tennessee.
Rouse and receiver David Clowney, a fifth-round pick, are the only draftees out of 11 signed by the Packers.
Freeman had two stints with the club — 1995-2001 and 2003 — and ranks fifth in team annals with 431 receptions. He was Green Bay's top receiver during the Super Bowl-winning season of 1996.
Freeman has been out of football since 2004, when he signed with Miami but was cut in training camp.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're doing stuff that's really good for my style of play — it's in-pocket stuff, making the first guy miss, trying to quicken my first step. Not trying to run a 40-yard dash any faster, but being able to move around and throw from awkward positions. It's core training, strengthening your core and not trying to go out and bench press 400 pounds." — Quarterback Brett Favre on his off-season workouts with a personal trainer at home in Hattiesburg, Miss.