Bears GM Jerry Angelo has made a point in recent months of stressing the character issue.
In the aftermath of the Tank Johnson fiasco, in which the Bears were practically forced to release a talented player because of repeated off-the-field embarrassments, Angelo has insisted that the team will do a more thorough job of not pinning their hopes on players of questionable character.
But on draft weekend, the Bears used their second third-round pick on Arkansas defensive tackle Marcus Harrison. He has a felony drug arrest in his past.
Three rounds later, they chose Michigan State tight end Kellen Davis, who was suspended four games and placed on 18 months probation for his role in a fight that occurred at an off-campus party in 2006.
According to Angelo, there are different degrees of character problems, and this year's picks convinced him that their problems were isolated instances rather than patterns of behavior.
"We are in the business to win football games," Angelo said. "This isn't an angelic game, as we all know, so we certainly aren't going to get all angels. But we are not going prostitute character. We do not put winning in front of character. It doesn't work that way here. We researched these players in depth. They made mistakes. I have learned by my mistakes and we did eons of work on these kids.
"We missed on Tank. I can sit here and say that I thought we knew him, but we didn't know him. We made a mistake, but I am not going let that interfere or interrupt us from how we have done business, and I think we have been pretty good on how we have researched character."
Harrison got into trouble last August. He was pulled over for speeding and found to be in possession of one ecstasy pill and two cigars that tested positive for marijuana, but the Bears were convinced that he learned from the mistake and the one-game suspension. Davis was charged with aggravated assault and has satisfied the terms of his probation. According to the Bears' director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel, his record is otherwise spotless. And Angelo vouched for both players after the draft.
"We like these two guys," Angelo said. "They are good people. We did a lot of work with the coaches, with the support staff, and we feel good about them. Do they need structure? They might need some guidance, but we feel we can be that for them. They're very, very good players, and we are in the business to win games. Talent is No. 1, character is No. 1a, but we didn't prostitute ourselves by taking these players, I can assure you of that."
There also is a difference between using a mid-second-round pick to take someone like Johnson, as opposed to a late third-rounder on Harrison and a sixth-rounder on Davis. The Bears can easily defend the latter pick simply by pointing out that there's no such thing as a sixth-round bust.
"I don't want to be a hostage to a character issue, and we won't be," Angelo said. "What does that mean? As long as we have the leverage, I am fine with that. And that's the key. We won't reward (character concerns), but as long as we have the leverage (it's OK), and we do in this situation. We felt good about these players. They are not bad people. They made some mistakes, and they earnestly showed us that they learned from their mistakes and that's behind them. That's the way we left it."
"It's very nice because me and Chris are very good friends," Bennett said. "I called and told him. He was still in bed. I don't know what he was doing (Saturday) night, but he said, ‘Congratulations, let's get ready to head to Chicago to win the Super Bowl.' That is our main focus right now, coming up there and helping them win some games."
Williams said Bennett brings a lot to the table.
"He catches everything," Williams said. "That's what you want in a receiver, and he's going to work hard, and he won't be in any trouble or anything. He's a smart guy, too."
But an inexperienced traveler, according to Williams, who got an amusing call from Bennett on his cell phone a couple weeks ago while both were criss-crossing the country visiting NFL teams.
"Earl was on a team visit," Williams said, "and he calls me and says, ‘Hey Chris, when you change planes, do you have to go get your bags?' I'm like, ‘No, Earl, they're going to change the bags for you.' "
Other than Matt Ryan, they weren't thrilled with any of the quarterbacks available when it was their turn to pick. They liked USC's John David Booty in the fourth round, but they like LSU safety Craig Steltz a lot better with the 120th overall selection. The Bears' brain trust was in agreement that Steltz could become a starter.
"I didn't want to pass up a player that was a starter to take a quarterback that maybe could be a good backup," Angelo said. "By our grades, I will agree that I didn't think that it was a great quarterback class. I thought earlier on that it was going to be pretty good, but the more we did research and evaluation, we just felt it was going to be a very mediocre. And I think you saw that on how the players were picked. We didn't want to put a square peg in a round hole, we didn't want to manufacture a player because of a need, so we stayed the course."
A week earlier, as a restricted free agent, Davis signed his one-year tender offer of $927,000 while a long-term deal was negotiated. The former Arena Football League standout joined the Bears as a backup cornerback and special teams player in 2005 before converting to wide receiver and catching 39 passes for 468 yards and 2 touchdowns the past two seasons.
The 5-foot-9, 187-pound Davis did not play organized football until he attended West Los Angeles Community College and then San Jose State. Davis was also the Bears' leading kickoff returner in 2006, averaging 23.5 yards on 32 attempts. He was fifth last season with 11 special-teams tackles and has 29 special-teams tackles in his three-year Bears career. He was originally signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2005 after spending four years with the San Jose Saber Cats of the AFL.
The 6-foot-2 1/2-inch, 214-pound Hill, who began his college career at Western Kentucky on a basketball scholarship, started all 27 games in his final two seasons at Southern, throwing 43 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions. The left-hander threw for 3,175 yards last season while completing 71.5 percent of his passes (258 of 361).
Longest, who also played baseball at St. Xavier, hit 42 of 55 field-goal attempts over the past two seasons, punted for a 43.2-yard average and had 20 touchbacks on 87 kickoffs. As a junior he was 7-for-7 on FG tries from 40-49 yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have made a really horrible mistake and of course I have seen how it has cost me, especially (on draft day). That is exactly what it was. It was a mistake that I made in the past, but I've moved on from it and right now I'm just being positive about the whole situation and taking care of my business as far as my counseling going on and the classes I have to attend in order to get past the things that I went through. The situation is pretty much behind me and I'm moving on." — Bears third-round DT Marcus Harrison on his arrest last August for felony drug possession.
If not for a new Army policy allowing him to play pro football, Caleb Campbell would graduate from West Point and become an air defense artilleryman, a platoon leader in charge of about 32 soldiers, likely headed to Iraq or Kuwait.
But Campbell isn't coming to Detroit to get out of combat. And if he isn't good enough to play outside linebacker or safety, the Lions won't be afraid to cut him. Campbell will be proud to wear either uniform.
"I find it really as a win-win situation," Campbell said. "I get to pursue a career because of this new policy the Army has implemented, doing something that I love, and that's playing football.
"But if football doesn't work out, I get to do what I came to the academy for in the first place. I get to be an officer, and that's something that I love as well."
Campbell could have played college football elsewhere. He had a scholarship offer from Tulsa. But he chose to go to West Point, knowing he was making a five-year commitment to the military at a time when the United States was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Army policy was not in place at the time. Campbell was playing for football for fun. It wasn't until his sophomore year that he considered the NFL a possibility.
"When I came to West Point, I wasn't saying, ‘God, I hope they make a new policy so I don't have to go to Iraq,' " Campbell said. "I knew what I was getting myself into."
Coach Rod Marinelli and president Matt Millen can relate to Campbell. Marinelli served in the Army in Vietnam. Millen's son Marcus was a teammate of Campbell's at West Point.
Millen said Campbell will receive no favoritism, nor will he need it.
"He'll get the same opportunity as every other guy," Millen said. "He's been trained for four years, and I know the type of training he's gone through. He's prepared for if he won't make our football team. In fact, he's more prepared if he doesn't make our team, probably, than if he does make our team."
"There's so many times here when you don't think you can go on, that you think you've just got to call it quits," Campbell said. "But you keep going and you just never look back, knowing that, hey, tomorrow's a whole new day. And I think that's really going to be the attitude that you have go into rookie camp. I think it's going to be tough. I think there's going to be some times that you want to quit, you don't think you're going to make it. But you just have to keep your head up, and you've got to continue and drive on."
"The guys that we draft, we've got to make sure they make this team," coach Rod Marinelli said. "So let's not draft somebody where all of a sudden we have four guys in that spot and he doesn't make this team for whatever reason. I want to make sure the guys were getting, we have spots, we have a plan for these guys and we know how to use them and they're going to come in and make our team."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Check me out in my Detroit Lions uniform first preseason game." — RB Kevin Smith, answering critics who say he racked up yards at Central Florida against inferior competition and wonder if he can be productive in the NFL.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Koren Robinson's days as a Packer could be numbered, incidentally because Green Bay has a new, younger receiver who resembles the veteran wideout.
The Packers will need to find room for their top draft pick this year, Jordy Nelson, whom they selected in the second round (36th overall). Receiver wasn't a need position entering the draft, especially with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones entrenched as the primary trio.
Yet, general manager Ted Thompson and scouts were high on the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Nelson and took him after trading out of their first-round slot at No. 30.
"His versatility (stood out)," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "Just a big, strong, physical receiver. Loved his toughness, particularly yards after the catch was the thing I admired the most. If you watch our receivers the last two years, the production that we've been able to obtain in our three-step and five-step passing game, he's a perfect fit."
Nelson was a quintessential playmaker at Kansas State last year. He excelled mostly out of the slot with 122 catches and, while not blessed with blazing speed, churned out the majority of his 1,606 yards eluding defensive backs with the football in his hands. Both numbers are school records.
"I think he's probably closest to a Koren (Robinson)," Thompson said. "He's a big guy. He's good after the catch. He catches inside, catches in traffic, and we think he's got excellent hands."
Nelson's game-breaking ability in limited duty on punt returns at Kansas State — he scored two touchdowns in 2007 — adds to the appeal for finding a spot for him in the crowded receiving corps.
Consequently, Robinson, 28, could be the odd man out after he found salvation in Green Bay the last two years following repeated league suspensions for alcohol use.
Robinson has been hampered by knee problems in his short time with the Packers, which is a cause for concern. Robinson also hasn't been participating with teammates in the offseason workout program that started in late March, choosing instead to work out on his own at home in North Carolina.
"Sometimes they have legitimate reasons why they're not here," Thompson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "And I want to say his was a fairly legitimate reason. I just don't specifically remember what it was."
Notable undrafted signees were Georgia running back Kregg Lumpkin, Notre Dame long snapper J.J. Jansen and Wisconsin punter Ken DeBauche, a Green Bay-area native.
Jansen will compete with previously signed first-year player Thomas Gafford for the vacancy at long snapper, created by the retirement of Rob Davis after 11 years with the club.
The team's mandatory minicamp will follow June 17-19.
Players will report for training camp in Green Bay on July 27. The first practice will be the morning of July 28.
The Donald Driver Charity Softball Game will be held June 15 at Fox Cities Stadium near Appleton, Wis., which is about 30 miles south of Green Bay. The game pits members of the Packers offense against players from the defense.
Favre's wife, Deanna, said at his retirement news conference March 6 that the family would be taking a year off from holding fundraising events for the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation, which supports disadvantaged and disabled children in Wisconsin and the Favres' native Mississippi.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "In our minds — (coach) Mike (McCarthy) and mine and the entire organization — Aaron's the guy. I even told Brian that, and he understood it, and he knows exactly that. But, our job is to get him ready to play, and he'll be a good teammate. He's a very smart guy; he's had a good career at Louisville. His senior year wasn't quite as good as his past years, but he's going to be a good addition to our team. I think he adds a lot of credibility and value to our offensive group." — General manager Ted Thompson, on the second-round selection of Brian Brohm and how it wasn't meant to put any more pressure on Aaron Rodgers as he succeeds the retired Brett Favre as starting quarterback.