Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake isn't looking forward to life without unrestricted free agent Bernard Berrian, who signed last month with the Vikings for $42 million over six years.
Playing with three different starting quarterbacks last season, Berrian still caught 71 passes for 951 yards, both career highs. Without him, the Bears will be forced to rely on the potential of Mark Bradley and Devin Hester and free agents Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd.
Drake believes Bradley and Hester have the potential to succeed, but they've yet to produce on a consistent basis. Drake said a variety of factors contributed to Bradley's limited involvement last season, which resulted in just six receptions.
"He practiced well enough (that) he deserved more of an opportunity to get out there and play," Drake said. "We've got to do a better job of making sure he plays — just give him an opportunity. He'll have that opportunity this year."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has seen glimpses of greatness from Bradley since drafting him in the second round in 2005, but that isn't enough.
"Mark's got talent," Angelo said. "We've all recognized that. But he's got to do it and do it on a consistent basis. If you grade the flashes, you like what you see because, when he's on the field, big plays happen. Do we feel good about him? Certainly. But are we going to have other people competing? Certainly."
As for Hester, Drake agrees with coach Lovie Smith and Angelo, that he can eventually become a go-to receiver, but it won't happen overnight.
"He grew tremendously this past year, and he'll only get better," Drake said. "He's got a lot of want-to right now. He's putting the time in. It's going to take some time, but he's done extremely well and learned things extremely fast, contrary to what a lot of people think. If he continues to grow like he did, he can be as good as anybody in this league."
Hester's struggles with the mental part of the NFL game in his first year as a full-time wideout have been overstated according to Drake.
"People were saying during the season it looked like he didn't know what he was doing when he did," Drake said. "We threw him a (short) ball in the Redskins game and he kept running, which was right, (but) everybody beat him up, saying he didn't know what to do. But he was right because the cornerback didn't back up, and when the cornerback doesn't back up on a three-step drop, you run by the guy."
That's something Hester is extremely capable of, provided the Bears have someone to get him the ball, but that's another story.
The Bears are expected to draft a quarterback and still could also sign an afterthought in free agency, but the battle for No. 1 will be between Grossman and Orton.
Grossman has been the Bears' starter, when healthy, in each of the past four seasons, until he was benched early last season following three poor starts. He was reinstated late in the season and showed significant improvement. A ruptured ACL caused him to miss the final 13 games in 2004, a fractured ankle knocked him out of the first 14 games in ‘05, and a sprained knee kept out of the final three games last season, which gave Orton an opportunity to audition.
Offensive coordinator Turner said Grossman had no qualms about having to compete this season for the job.
"He's fine," Turner said. "Nothing else was ever discussed. I've talked to him several times, and we've talked about (competing for the job). I said, ‘Come in, sign with us and compete for a job,' and he said, ‘That's great.' "
"I've been doing this a long time, but you're learning all the time," said Angelo, whose career as an NFL scout began in 1980 with the Dallas Cowboys. "About two years ago another little light went off, and we're looking at things a little differently. We're looking at things differently from an intangible standpoint. That's the light that went off in my mind, and I feel we're going to be a lot better because of this from top to bottom."
Tank Johnson, a second-round pick in 2004 who didn't work out, obviously contributed to Angelo's current mindset. Johnson was a talented player, but his many off-the-field indiscretions forced his release ultimately making him a bad pick.
Projecting how a young adult will handle NFL prosperity is an inexact science, which Angelo realizes now more than ever.
"As I've said many times before, the two things (a player) doesn't have in college that he will have in abundance up here are time and money," Angelo said. "How he uses that and allocates that will determine what kind of career he has. That usually holds true for all players, so that's what we have to do and we have to do a good job of (predicting) that."
A fifth-round draft pick last season, Payne impressed coaches during training camp and the preseason. After injuries decimated the secondary early in the season, he saw his first significant playing time in a Week Four loss in Detroit, but suffered a broken arm while making a tackle.
"It was disappointing because I'd been working so hard," Payne said. "When you're a rookie, a late-round rookie, you want to get out there and prove to the coaches what you can do."
Because of the hitting ability that he displayed last season Payne will have that opportunity this off-season.
"That's one thing we've talked about," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "That's a scenario. If we go in the draft and the best tackle is a left tackle, what do we do with John? But you see a lot of players who played left tackle in college come in and move to the right side, (because it's) probably a little bit easier to develop and bring them along. Then in a year or two you move him over to the left side. We've talked through that scenario, too. In the event that we do get an offensive tackle, those possibilities exist."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to use the draft as a strong vehicle to build our team. Fiscally, it's sounder. Obviously, when you develop your own players it is easier to reward them." — Bears general manager Jerry Angelo.
Lions president Matt Millen said he has total faith in coach Rod Marinelli. He must, because frankly Marinelli is making him look bad by parting with so many of his high-profile draft picks and free agents.
Before Millen hired Marinelli in 2006, he drafted 12 players in the top two rounds. Those players should be the core of the team now. But Marinelli has parted with eight of them — five of them this offseason.
Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (trade), running back Kevin Jones (release), defensive end Kalimba Edwards (release) and linebackers Boss Bailey (free agency) and Teddy Lehman (free agency) have all departed Detroit in recent weeks. They joined quarterback Joey Harrington (trade) and wide receivers Charles Rogers (release) and Mike Williams (trade), who departed previously under Marinelli.
Before Millen hired Marinelli, he paid big money to free agents like offensive lineman Damien Woody and defensive backs Dre' Bly, Fernando Bryant and Kenoy Kennedy.
Woody (free agency), Bryant (release) and Kennedy (release) have departed in recent weeks, joining Bly (trade), who left last year.
"Sometimes you add by subtraction, and we've done that, too," Marinelli said. "I like the direction of the type of players we have in here right now. I'm really excited about that."
For years, Millen has said he knows the Lions have the talent, that they just have to put it together. But Marinelli said: "It's not just talent. It's some of the other areas I'm looking for."
Marinelli often says that you become what you tolerate, and he will not tolerate players who don't live up to his standards. He said he was on the same page with Millen. He told Millen what he wanted before he was hired, and he has "not wavered one inch."
"The strength of a team is the chemistry of a team," Marinelli said. "That's my job. There's got to be trust and belief in what I say — by my actions, not by my words. Anybody can spill the words. Actions are everything."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We will be disappointed to not win 10 games because, as I've said, to not win 10 means you're not in the playoffs. That's why we play. So that's the same expectation level we'll have this year. I'm still trying to get over the disappointment of last year to be honest with you." — QB Jon Kitna, who talked about the Lions winning 10 games last year and watched them go 7-9.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers addressed perhaps their most pressing of just a few needs when they signed former St. Louis Rams linebacker Brandon Chillar.
Chillar, a four-year veteran, sided Green Bay's offer of two years and $5.4 million after he also was hotly pursued by Arizona. Chillar also stands to gain an additional $1 million in playing incentives.
In making the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Chillar his first acquisition of the offseason, general manager Ted Thompson has set the stage for a competition for a starting job.
Chillar excelled in a full-time role at strong-side linebacker the last two seasons with the Rams. Now, he'll get the opportunity to overtake Packers incumbent Brady Poppinga.
Poppinga has held down the starting role for two years, but he has been a liability in pass coverage.
Chillar has good ball skills for the position. He had four pass breakups last season, when he further showed a nose for the football with career highs of 85 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
The Packers still value the tenacious Poppinga as a capable contributor on defense and have reportedly been in discussions about extending his contract. Poppinga, a fourth-round draft pick in 2005, enters the final year of his rookie contract.
If Chillar were to wrest the starting job at linebacker, Green Bay could be inclined to make use of Poppinga as a situational pass rusher. Poppinga was primarily a defensive end in college at BYU.
"I think a lot of people overlook is that I was a D-end in college," Poppinga told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I've just improved and improved. I can just offer so much to this team, and they know that. I'm only going to get better."
Having emerged the second half of last season as a prolific godsend for Green Bay's once-porous running attack, Grant apparently isn't willing to wait his turn in the pecking order of tenured privileges.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported March 18 that Grant reported for the start of the team's offseason workout program a day earlier but will work out with his teammates on and off the field in the coming months without a contract.
Rather than settle for the minimum $370,000 salary he's entitled as an exclusive-rights free agent, Grant desires a more lucrative, long-term deal before training camp commences in late July. In lieu of that, a camp holdout would be a possibility.
Grant's agent, Alan Herman, however, expressed optimism that the two sides would reach an accord in time to avoid a potentially detrimental situation for the Packers.
"Nothing has begun in terms of the (negotiation) process," Herman told the Press-Gazette. "But listening to everything that's coming out of Green Bay in terms of the club taking care of their own, I'm optimistic, and that's why Ryan is there at this point. He's participating in the offseason program and we're looking forward to — let me put it this way, it's the golden opportunity for the Packers and Ryan Grant to get together on something that will keep him there for the rest of his career."
New Packers president Mark Murphy said he filled Favre in on the team's plans.
"I think he was honored," Murphy said.
Favre's number will be the sixth retired by the 90-year-old organization, the NFL's oldest franchise.
The others are 3 (Tony Canadeo), 14 (Don Hutson), 15 (Bart Starr), 66 (Ray Nitschke) and 92 (Reggie White).
Rodgers was in Fairbanks, Alaska, to participate in a sled-dog race March 12. Rodgers took a turn manning the helm of a two-man, 11-dog sled in the Jeff Studdert Passenger Race, which was part of the Open North American Championship.
When asked by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner whether there's a correlation between mushing and professional football, Rodgers responded, "You're remembered for your wins."
The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported March 14 that McCarthy, 44, and girlfriend Jessica Kress had recently purchased a marriage license in Maricopa County, Arizona. A wedding date wasn't known.
Kress accompanied McCarthy, who was previously married, and his daughter to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl in February. McCarthy and his staff were the coaches for the NFC team.
Incidentally, Kress is the ex-wife of William Kress of Green Bay, who sits on the Packers' board of directors.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think ‘fill' is the right word. I think Aaron Rodgers will be Aaron Rodgers. I think he's very confident in his abilities. I don't think you ever replace or try to fill someone of Brett's stature, what he meant to the organization, what he meant to the NFL, all of those different things. Aaron's just got to continue to stay focused on who he is. I think that's going to end up being a very good situation." — Defensive end Aaron Kampman on Aaron Rodgers trying to fill the shoes of retired quarterback Brett Favre.