On June 20, after the Bears' final practice before the start of training camp, Lovie Smith admitted his outlook for the coming season was brighter than at any time in his four years as the Bears' head coach. Much of that optimism is a result of an offense that, at least on paper, appears to have more potential and more firepower than any Bears team in recent memory.
"The best team we've had since I've been here is coming up," Smith said. "So we're excited about that."
The shift of record-setting return specialist Devin Hester from cornerback to wide receiver, and the addition of rookie tight end Greg Olsen give the Bears two more impact players than they had on last season's 13-3 Super Bowl team.
"We have a lot of different options (on offense) now," Smith said. "Just Hester by himself. You saw him playing a little bit of running back today. He can do a lot of things. Olsen (is) a talent (with) wide receiver-type skills at the tight end position. He's a special athlete. We look for him to have an outstanding season. So we're excited about going a lot of different directions with our offense."
Olsen provided the highlight of Wednesday's practice, reaching out with one hand to snatch a deep pass in traffic down the middle of the field. Third-year wide receiver Mark Bradley has also impressed coaches throughout the June Organized Team Activity practices, and 5-foot-7 rookie running back Garrett Wolfe provides another option with big-play ability.
"I like what Garrett Wolfe has brought with his quickness, and Mark Bradley has really taken a step up," Smith said.
Recalcitrant Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs was the only player who didn't attend the spring OTA, and injured shortstop Mike Brown and defensive tackle Tommie Harris returned ahead of schedule. Left tackle John Tait was present but did not test his surgical ankle, although he's expected to be ready for the start of training camp.
"We like our team," Smith said. "We think they're hungry and ready to go. We got close (last season) and we're just anxious to take the next step with training camp and go from there.
"We have the core of our team back, we're more experienced and (with) the additions (of Hester on offense along with rookies Greg Olsen and Garrett Wolfe) that's why I'm a little bit more excited than I have been in the past."
The sign sits across the street from his childhood home, on the field where he once played and coached. "MARINELLI STADIUM," it says in big, block letters.
Rosemead High School in the Los Angeles suburbs dedicated its field in honor of 1967 grad Rod Marinelli, the Lions' head coach.
"It's phenomenal for our school and our community," said Matt Koffler, Rosemead's varsity football coach. "You can watch TV on Sunday and see a familiar face. Coach Marinelli is one of us."
Marinelli graduated from Rosemead in 1967. After playing a year at Utah, serving a year in Vietnam and playing three years at California Lutheran, he returned.
He taught history and coached football for two years at Rosemead before rising through the ranks — Utah State, California, Arizona State, Southern Cal, Tampa Bay and now Detroit.
"He's probably the most unique person I've met in my life," said Gary Schram, a friend and former teammate. "What you see is what he is and who he is. I've talked to him throughout the last 40 years, since we graduated, and he is just a person who loves football. To Rod, football is just ... it's sacred. It's a religion. He just wants to make football better."
The school also installed a rock with a plaque by the field, a fitting tribute to a man whose motto is "pound the rock." Schram put in a 6,500-pound boulder, but he thought it wasn't big enough. So he took it out and put in a 14,000-pound boulder instead. Needed a crane.
"It's a great-looking boulder," Schram said. "It's more Rod."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Formal charges had yet to be filed as of June 22 against middle linebacker Nick Barnett, who could land himself in hot water with the league for his recent arrest.
Barnett was taken into custody by Appleton, Wis., police in the early-morning hours of June 17. The fifth-year player and former first-round draft pick was arrested for battery after allegedly shoving a woman at a downtown Appleton nightclub.
The incident occurred only hours before quarterback Brett Favre held his celebrity softball game, pitting the Packers offense against the defense, in the Appleton area.
Barnett was taken to Outagamie County Jail in Appleton and incarcerated for an hour before he was released on $500 bond.
He appeared at Favre's celebrity event and played in a preliminary game involving Packers players and event sponsors. Barnett, though, left the baseball stadium before the main event, without commenting to reporters.
Police still were investigating the case and hadn't filed reports with the Outagamie County district attorney nearly a week after the disturbance at the Wet nightclub.
The Post-Crescent of Appleton reported June 22 that a bartender at the establishment said a woman threw a drink at Barnett. A short time later, the bartender said a woman was shoved or fell to the ground. It wasn't clear whether the same woman was involved in both incidents.
Barnett's arrest came two days before the Packers completed their offseason workouts with organized team activities. The players are off until they report for training camp July 27.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said June 18 that he and other members of the organization met with Barnett to get the player's account of what happened.
"He knows how we feel as an organization," McCarthy said. "We'll watch (the investigation) closely."
McCarthy said the team promptly notified the league office about Barnett's arrest.
The incident occurred two months after commissioner Roger Goodell instituted a rigid personal-conduct policy. The league could find Barnett in violation of the policy and discipline the defensive standout with a fine and/or suspension.
"It's a possibility," McCarthy acknowledged. "Everybody knows the emphasis that is going on at this time (throughout the league). We'll just watch it closely. I can't control it."
The irony of Barnett's apparent misbehavior is McCarthy had addressed the players only a few days earlier about keeping themselves out of harm's way.
The message was stressed again Monday, this time laced with a personal lesson.
"We take it very seriously," McCarthy said. "Anytime you have an opportunity to learn from someone else's experience, you need to take advantage of that. It's an experience that happened here, and we have talked to the team, and we'll continue to talk to them about it."
The Packers rewarded Barnett, who has been a mainstay in the starting lineup since his rookie year in 2003, with a six-year, $34.85 million contract extension in April.
Compared to a number of teams, the Packers had been squeaky clean with their off-field decorum this offseason. McCarthy emphasized that Barnett's run-in with the law wouldn't be dismissed as an isolated incident by the team.
"I know it's only one, but I'm not going to sit here and justify one incident because it shouldn't happen," McCarthy said. "Those things should not happen, and we need to learn from it so it doesn't happen again."
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