Only one thing is certain in the Bears' retooled defensive tackle rotation, and that is that it will revolve around two-time Pro Bowler Tommie Harris.
Harris is returning from a torn tendon in his upper left leg that ended his 2006 season after 12 games, but he is adamant that he is no longer an injured player.
But the top three tackles in his supporting cast from last season — Tank Johnson, Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone — have all departed. They started a combined 21 games in 2006 and played in 41. But Johnson was released and Scott (Eagles) and Boone (Chiefs) took the free-agency route out of town. The Bears will try to replace them with Darwin Walker, Dusty Dvoracek, Anthony Adams and Antonio Garay. Dvoracek was the Bears' third-round pick in 2006, but he missed his rookie season with a foot injury. Adams came from the 49ers via free agency, and Garay played sparingly as the Bears' fifth tackle last season.
"Of course Tommie Harris will be in his same three technique position (lined up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard)," coach Lovie Smith said. "Dusty Dvoracek, Antonio Garay, Anthony Adams; all those guys will compete for time. I know that Tommie will be there, (but after that) that's one of the training camp battles that we will look at closely."
Even if Dvoracek would have been healthy last season, he might have gotten lost in the shuffle behind so many veterans. Now, he's being counted on to fill the void in their absence, and in Friday's first training camp practice, he was with the first team, right next to Harris.
"Coaches have expressed to me this is a big opportunity," said the 6-foot-3, 303-pound Dvoracek, who played on the same D-line with Harris at Oklahoma. "It's on my shoulders now to go out there and contribute and show my worth."
Although this is Dvoracek's second year in the program, he's hardly a veteran, considering he was injured after playing in just two preseason games last year.
"I'm pretty much still a rookie this year," he said, although he's in peak physical condition now and ready to assert himself.
"I'm going to compete every snap," Dvoracek said. "They drafted me for my attitude and my motor and (I have to) just show them those things every day throughout camp, flying around the field, making plays and just improving every day."
Having a former linemate next to him in a new rotation is comforting for Harris.
"I was with Tank for (three) years, but I played with Dusty for three years in college," Harris said. "We came in together as freshmen. So just getting a feel of having somebody there and the security of knowing that he can handle his business, that he knows the plays and we're familiar with one another, it's a definite confidence booster."
Not that Harris needs much of an ego pump. He has taken to calling himself "The Real Deal," a nickname that he says dates to his high school days. It was pointed out to Harris that former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield had the same nickname.
"OK," Harris said. "But now that's my name."
Bears coach Lovie Smith was unaware of, and then amused by, Harris' new moniker.
"That's the first time I've heard about it," Smith said. "Is that Tommie's nickname for himself?"
Told that it was, Smith was fine with the idea.
"Well, if he's for it, I'll start calling him that," the coach said. "It sounds good to me. He is the real deal, I'll say that.
"He's arguably our best player on the team, so getting him back is special. He's got all kinds of talent. We start off talking about our defensive line, and Tommie is the leader of that group."
Hester has caught the ball effortlessly and demonstrated soft hands. Friday night he slipped at the end of a route but still caught a Brian Griese pass while lying flat on his back. Later, without breaking stride, he plucked a slightly high throw from Griese with his fingertips on a short crossing route and turned it into a 50-yard touchdown as the estimated crowd of 7,000 at Ward Field roared in appreciation.
A few minutes later, the offense faked an end around to Hester, and while all eyes and a good portion of the defense followed him, running back Cedric Benson burst up the middle of the field with the ball for a 40-yard touchdown.
Last year, the Bears' defense finished No. 3 in the league in points allowed and No. 5 in yards allowed after spending several weeks at No. 1 in both categories.
The loss of safety Mike Brown for 10 games and defensive tackle Tommie Harris for four contributed to a fade at the end, as did the drop in intensity after as early clinching of a playoff berth.
With everyone returning this year and no starter older than 29, expectations are high, but are they high enough for the Bears to declare themselves the NFL's top defense?
"You don't ever want to say that because people start putting it up on their bulletin board, but I'm really confident about this defense," left end Adewale Ogunleye said. "I really don't see a reason why we shouldn't be the No. 1 defense in the league. You have to be careful when you say stuff like that, but I'm really confident, especially getting No. 55 (Lance Briggs) back."
That's good news for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who spoke to the media for the first time since reporting to camp Thursday.
"I'm excited," Urlacher said. "Lance is my buddy. He's a great football player. (I'm) glad all this nonsense off the field is over. Now the season's started. I'm excited to have him back; he's a good guy."
In the last six years, the 2006 Seattle Seahawks are the only Super Bowl loser to make the playoffs the following season.
But Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn't put much stock in that statistic.
"I don't buy that at all," Smith said. "I think success can breed success, period. That's what we're talking (to the team) about. We've heard about the losing Super Bowl teams and what they're supposed to do. We haven't bought into that. What we're buying into is that we think we have our best team this year. A lot of things have to fall into place, but we're anxious to go to work and see if we can make that happen."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm happy to be here." — The only response Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs uttered to a media horde as he pedaled away from lunch at Bears camp Sunday. Briggs showed up two days late after grudgingly agreeing to a $7.2 million salary this season, the equivalent of the franchise tender.
With all the optimism the Lions are spouting, what is the reality?
There are some encouraging signs. Right guard Damien Woody lost a lot of weight, took a pay cut and reclaimed his starting spot. Defensive end Kalimba Edwards says he realizes he has to produce or he will be gone. The secondary — perhaps the team's biggest question mark — has looked sharp early.
But there are some troubling signs, too. Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is overweight and being brought along slowly because of a bad knee. Running back Kevin Jones is on schedule in his recovering from a serious foot injury, but he won't be ready to practice for a while. Left guard Edwin Mulitalo is rusty and overweight after recovering from an arm injury.
It doesn't help that wide receiver Calvin Johnson isn't in camp. Johnson, the second overall pick in this year's draft, might be waiting for Oakland to sign quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 pick. Russell and Johnson both play skill positions, and though Russell went No. 1 and Johnson No. 2, Johnson was widely considered the best player in the draft.
"No question about that," said Johnson's agent, Bus Cook. "We're certainly not sitting here waiting for the Russell deal. But it certainly wouldn't hurt if that got done."
There aren't many battles for starting spots. Teddy Lehman is pushing Paris Lenon at middle linebacker. Travis Fisher could push Stanley Wilson at corner. But that's about it.
The most intriguing battle might be for the backup quarterback job. The Lions don't have anyone with any real experience after Jon Kitna. Drew Stanton, a second-round pick this year, will be the No. 3. That leaves Dan Orlovsky and J.T. O'Sullivan. Orlovsky has a year in this offense, but O'Sullivan, who signed before camp, has picked it up quickly.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The saddle's on, and I'm in the saddle." — Coach Rod Marinelli, on riding defensive end Kalimba Edwards.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Hefty defensive tackles Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly landed in head coach Mike McCarthy's doghouse at the start of training camp.
Pickett, the starting nose tackle, and Jolly, a second-year backup, weren't cleared to practice because they failed a mandatory conditioning test.
"I'm not happy about it," McCarthy said after camp opened July 28. "Their conditioning was not where it needed to be. So, they are day to day."
Pickett and Jolly were among four players who weren't passed by the medical staff on their physical testing administered July 27.
Pro Bowl receiver Donald Driver was held out the first two days of camp because he failed a strength test. Driver has lingering weakness in his right shoulder, caused by a separated A-C joint sustained last December in a game at San Francisco.
The injury didn't keep Driver off the field the rest of the season, and he didn't need surgery in the offseason.
"(Team doctor Pat McKenzie) wants to make sure that if I have my arms straight out, I'm able to stop him from pushing my arms down. Right now, I'm able to stop with the left but not with the right. He's able to put that down with ease," Driver said. "I guess I'm not strong enough to go out there."
Head coach Mike McCarthy said Driver's initial absence from camp isn't a cause for concern and is more a precautionary measure to ensure that the ninth-year veteran will be ready for the start of the season.
Rookie running back DeShawn Wynn also was placed on the non-football injury list at the start of camp because of a stomach virus.
The seventh-round draft pick, though, was cleared to practice July 29.
Pickett and Jolly's inability to complete a series of eight gassers across the 53-yard width of the field within 20 seconds for each run back and forth stunned McCarthy, who anticipated all of players reporting to camp in shape.
Pickett said he had to stop running with one sprint to go because he was exhausted and had a headache.
"I had made this run like nothing before, but circumstances happened and I didn't make it," he said. "I can't make any excuses for that. I just have to be better."
Pickett also failed a physical once when he was with the Rams, who drafted him in the first round in 2001. Pickett signed a four-year contract with the Packers in free agency last year.
He is listed at 322 pounds but acknowledged after this year's first camp practice that he reported three pounds heavier than he was at the end of offseason workouts in June. Pickett wouldn't say what his weight is.
"You never run 106 yards at my position," said Pickett, referring to the conditioning test, which was different from the running test last year. "I absolutely hate running long distance because my running (on the field) is probably 10 yards at the max. So, that's unfortunate."
A prognosis for Humphrey's recovery had yet to be determined.
Humphrey had a productive offseason and was contending with Bubba Franks and Donald Lee for the starting job.
"I feel bad for him. But, it's a part of our game. It's unfortunate," McCarthy said. "It gives these other guys an opportunity."
The organization hired a Chicago-based search firm, Spencer Stuart, to help find a successor to Harlan. He reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 but is continuing his longtime leadership role in the wake of handpicked successor John Jones' resignation.
The sudden departure of Jones was made official July 20. He originally was placed on administrative leave of absence just days before he was to take over for Harlan, with the Packers executive committee citing "management concerns."
However, in announcing his resignation after a financial settlement was reached with Jones, who had three years left on his contract, the team quoted Jones in a news release as saying that he had to step aside because of health reasons. Jones underwent open-heart surgery in June 2006.
"I am grateful that I survived," Jones said in the release. "However, like many heart surgery patients, I have found that the residual effects of the surgeries made it difficult to continue my current job."
Peter Platten, chairman of the executive committee, said the team has a preliminary list of 12 to 15 candidates to replace Harlan as president and CEO.
Among the frequently mentioned potential candidates are Andrew Brandt, who is the club's vice president of finance, and first-year Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt, who once worked in the Packers front office.
Should the Packers decide to go outside the organization for Harlan's replacement, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that they might have to wait until after the 2007 regular season. The newspaper cited an NFL tampering rule that prohibits any team from requesting permission from another team to interview one of its employees once training camp begins.
"Pete (Platten) and I have talked about staying around for one year as a helper and a consultant," Harlan said. "If that's what it takes, that's what it takes. I don't have any feelings whatsoever of, ‘I wish it was over.'"
Barnett was allegedly involved in a physical altercation at the establishment called Wet in the early morning of June 17. The case is still under review by an appointed prosecutor.
Barnett refused to elaborate on the incident the first two days of training camp, which started July 28.
"Not in this locker room," he said. "If it's (about) football, I'll talk. But if it's anything other than that, I ain't talking.
"I don't want to take the attention away from what's really good here, and that's training camp and what we're doing on the field. That's it, bottom line. I can control what I can control. From this point on, that's to play football and to be there for my guys."
Pending the outcome of the investigation, Barnett could face disciplinary action from the NFL, which has enforced a personal-conduct policy.
Davis is in his 12th year in the league, the last 11 with the Packers.
Terry, 33, previously was a pro personnel assistant with the club. The former linebacker with the Seahawks replaced George Koonce, who took a position with Marquette University's athletics department, as the player-development director.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've been asked this (by reporters in the offseason) that I look at this as some sort of rebuilding thing, that we want to win three or four years down the road. But, let's make this clear, and I want you guys to be clear on this because you're my bosses: We want to win, and we want to win now. We like where we are; we are getting better. Through the individual growth of our team and some new additions, and just toughness, I think we're going to be fine. We're going to win some games." — General manager Ted Thompson, addressing more than 11,000 shareholders during the publicly owned team's annual stockholders meeting July 25 at Lambeau Field.