NFC North Player Notes
GREEN BAY PACKERS
QB Brett Favre is in reach of multiple milestones. The eyes of most NFL observers will be on Favre early in the season as he takes aim on a handful of attainable league records, including seven touchdown passes to eclipse Dan Marino's 420, two wins to surpass John Elway's 148 and the dubious distinction of five interceptions to overtake George Blanda's 277. Coach Mike McCarthy, though, is determined to get Favre in position for a career-best season, if that's remotely possible at his age of 37. While progress was made in cutting Favre's interception total from a league-worst 29 in 2005 to 18, his completion percentage was at an all-time personal low (56.0) and he had only 18 TD throws, despite putting the ball up an unprecedented 613 times. Coach Mike McCarthy wants to get Favre on the move and operating outside the pocket, where he thrived earlier in his career, and he should have the mobility to do so after undergoing arthroscopic ankle surgery in February.
QB Aaron Rodgers is back to full strength after recovering from a broken foot that prematurely ended his 2006 season in November. The setback came during one of the few opportunities Rodgers has had to play in place of starter Brett Favre the last two years, and the results in those haven't been encouraging. That makes it a pivotal preseason for the former first-round draft pick, who must engender confidence among his teammates and team officials, as well as the fans, that he'll be ready to take over for Favre once retirement beckons.
QB Ingle Martin should remain the No. 3 QB, though accuracy was an issue when he ran the No. 1 offense in offseason workouts when Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers were on the mend.
G Allen Barbre, a fourth-round choice out of Missouri Southern State, signed with the Packers. Barbre received a four-year deal reportedly worth about $2.1 million. His base salaries are $285,000 this year, $370,000 in 2008, $460,000 in '09 and $550,000 in '10.
RB Vernand Morency and second-round draft pick Brandon Jackson are being given first crack at assuming the featured role, which they'll probably share as the season gets started. Both fit the zone-blocking scheme with initial burst and elusiveness but are sorely lacking experience of being a full-time guy for an extended period.
RB Brandon Jackson and RB Vernand Morency are being given first crack at assuming the featured role, which they'll probably share as the season gets started. Both fit the zone-blocking scheme with initial burst and elusiveness but are sorely lacking experience of being a full-time guy for an extended period.
RB DeShawn Wynn, a seventh-round choice this year, is a sleeper candidate to be in the mix but has to shed the character and work-ethic issues that plagued him in college.
TE Bubba Franks, a three-time Pro Bowler once upon a time, is the de facto starter entering camp, but that could quickly change based on how the offseason workouts played out.
TE Zac Alcorn, signed as an undrafted free agent last year, has caught the eye of coaches because of his sure hands.
TE Clark Harris, a seventh-round draftee, has a lot of work ahead of him to snare a roster spot.
WR Donald Driver has established himself as a No. 1 receiver, with at least 80 receptions and 1,200 yards each of the last three years.
WR Greg Jennings must bounce back from a rookie season that sizzled early but fizzled late because of an ankle injury. A hip injury curtailed his involvement in practices this offseason.
WR Robert Ferguson's injury history won't do him any favors of hanging on with the club for another season.
WR James Jones could be a difference maker as a rookie. The third-round pick caught QB Brett Favre's eye in offseason work for being physical with his big body (6-1, 207) and grabbing just about every ball thrown to him.
C Scott Wells graded out as the Packers' top lineman in 2006, giving up only a half sack.
OT Tony Moll, who started 10 games as a rookie on the right side, will back up RT Mark Tauscher.
DT Justin Harrell should be a starter, but there are no assurances that he'll be ready to assume the role by the start of the season. No one has yet to see him function in team drills on the practice field. The club didn't rush him back from the ruptured biceps tendon that he sustained early last season at Tennessee, thus training camp will be Harrell's big introduction.
CB Will Blackmon has been held back by a spate of injuries since he was a rookie last year.
SS Marquand Manuel is on shaky ground as the incumbent starter after having a disastrous debut with the team as a free-agent signee.
FS Nick Collins is entrenched for the third year at free safety but has to shore up his coverage abilities.
PK Mason Crosby is PK David Rayner's equal and even a little more with leg strength. Crosby also displayed better field-goal accuracy in limited kicking chances the two had in offseason practices. The preseason games will be telling.
PK Dave Rayner, who misfired on nine field-goal tries last season, was anything but thrilled to find out the team drafted a kicker, taking Mason Crosby in the sixth round. Crosby is Rayner's equal and even a little more with leg strength. Crosby also displayed better field-goal accuracy in limited kicking chances the two had in offseason practices. The preseason games will be telling.
P Jon Ryan appeared to be benefiting from having his steps shortened in the spring work. The hang time must improve, after having a woeful net average of 35.7 yards, to retain the punting job for a second season.
QB Rex Grossman believes he'll benefit from the combination of added firepower (rookie tight end Greg Olsen, wide receiver Devin Hester, rookie running back Garrett Wolfe) and continuity. The only starter who won't be returning in 2007 is running back Thomas Jones, and the Bears consider his former backup, Cedric Benson, to be a better player. "I'm just excited that we've got the 10 guys back, and we've got a few new guys that can spread the field out a little bit and make some things happen," Grossman said. "So it's a huge benefit for me."
QB Brian Griese doesn't have much of an arm, but he's a capable field general and knows the offense.
QB Kyle Orton has good size and a solid arm. He gained valuable experience in 15 starts, including 10 wins as a rookie, but he struggled in many of the games, as the Bears often won despite him rather than because of him.
RB Cedric Benson will finally get an opportunity to be the full-time featured back the Bears wanted when they made him the fourth overall pick in 2005. Injuries and the solid play of incumbent Thomas Jones limited Benson to part-time duty, although his 647 yards and 4.1-yard average per carry last season were solid, and he played especially well in the second half of the season. Benson is bigger, stronger and faster than Jones, but he has been dinged up throughout his NFL career, although he was extremely durable in college. If Benson stays healthy, 1,500 yards is realistic.
RB Adrian Peterson figures to be an occasional change-of-pace guy, a role in which he's been very productive in limited chances.
RB Garrett Wolfe is a different type of player with marginal size but big-play potential. If used correctly, he could be a difference maker, even if he gets just a few touches per game.
FB Jason McKie is rarely used as a runner but is a decent lead blocker and an adequate receiver who doesn't do much after the catch.
FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo contributes mostly as a receiving threat and as a key special-teams contributor.
TE Desmond Clark could lose his job to Greg Olsen early. While Clark is a more-than-adequate possession receiver and adequate blocker, Olsen has soft hands, much more speed to stretch the field and better run-after-the-catch ability.
TE Greg Olsen figures to take the starting job from Desmond Clark early on in the season. While Clark is a more-than-adequate possession receiver and adequate blocker, Olsen has soft hands, much more speed to stretch the field and better run-after-the-catch ability.
TE John Gilmore is bigger and stronger than Greg Olsen or Desmond Clark, and a more accomplished blocker, but not much of a receiving threat.nger than Greg Olsen or Desmond Clark, and a more accomplished blocker, but not much of a receiving threat.
WR Muhsin Muhammad, in his two years with the Bears, has been just a shell of his final season with the Panthers in 2004, when he caught 93 for 1,405 yards and 16 TDs. At 34, he's not much more than a possession receiver anymore, but he's tough and will still make some difficult catches in traffic, and he averaged a respectable 14.4 yards per catch last season on 60 receptions.
WR Bernard Berrian is a legitimate deep threat, and he took another step toward becoming a No. 1 receiver last season (51 catches, 775 yards, six touchdowns). If he can stay healthy, he could become the Bears' go-to receiver.
WR Mark Bradley worked his way into the starting lineup as a rookie in 2004, but a torn ACL ended his season after seven games and that and other nagging injuries limited him to just 14 catches last season, although he averaged 20.1 yards per grab. He stood out in off-season practices and could be a major contributor if he plays more consistently.
WR Devin Hester might not be on the field for many snaps after converting from cornerback, but as he proved last season with six kick-return touchdowns, he doesn't need many touches to make a difference in any game.
WR Rashied Davis can be an effective slot receiver and made some clutch catches among his 22 receptions.
RT Fred Miller is 34 entering his 12th season and is susceptible against speed rushers.
LG Ruben Brown is 35 going into his 13th season and made his ninth Pro Bowl when he was added as a late fill-in, but he's nearing the end.
LT John Tait is 32 and would probably be more effective on the right side if the Bears had a young stud who could be groomed on the left side, but they don't.
DT Tommie Harris is the key to the Bears' defensive line, with his rare combination of strength, quickness and agility. A two-time Pro Bowler and still just 24, he's already one of the NFL's top d-linemen and is expected to be 100 percent recovered from surgery late last season to repair a torn leg tendon.
DT Dusty Dvoracek, a sturdy run stuffer with some mobility, is healthy after spending his rookie season on injured reserve.
DE Mark Anderson, an undersized fifth-round pick in 2006 who had a team-best 12 sacks as a rookie, was playing ahead of DE Alex Brown, a decent pass rusher who is also solid vs. the run.
DE Adewale Ogunleye has had some outstanding seasons as a pass rusher. He had just seven sacks last season but 10 a year earlier.
LB Lance Briggs continues to hold out. Miffed by his franchise designation, the two-time Pro Bowler who plays Scottie Pippen to Brian Urlacher's Michael Jordan, has threatened to sit out 10 weeks before reporting, although that plan would appear to derail his plans to score a long-term deal next year with $15 million or more in guaranteed money. The Bears don't seem to have any intention of keeping Briggs beyond this season regardless of when he shows up or how well he plays.
LB Brian Urlacher, who continues to raise his level of play and still possesses freakish speed and range for a big (6-4, 258-pound) linebacker, is the leader of the Bears' defense.
LB Hunter Hillenmeyer is smart and technically superb, but he comes off in nickel.
LB Jamar Williams is the first choice to replace Lance Briggs if that need arises.
DB Danieal Manning started 14 games at free safety as a rookie in '06 and has the speed and coverage ability to convert to cornerback or nickel.
S Chris Harris started 13 games as a rookie in 2005 and seven times last year and gives the Bears another physical presence, but he lacks coverage ability.
PK Robbie Gould was phenomenal in his second season, hitting 88 percent of his FG attempts (32 of 36) and doing a decent job on kickoffs.
P Brad Maynard bounced back with a solid '06 after slumping in '05.
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