Rookie running back Matt Forte's chances of being the Bears' opening day starter increased the weekend after the draft, and it wasn't just because of his performance at the team's three-day rookie minicamp.
Forte was chosen in the second round (44th overall) because of the Bears' dissatisfaction with their running game in general and Cedric Benson in particular, after Benson averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season. Already burdened by having to rehabilitate a fractured left ankle that ended his 2007 season five games early, Benson undermined his position further when he was arrested near Austin, Texas.
The fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft was charged with boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest, both Class B misdemeanors.
"I'm very disappointed," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Benson at the conclusion of the rookie minicamp. "I haven't had a chance to speak with Cedric yet, but any time we're talking about one of our players getting arrested, you're disappointed. What we're going to do from here is, I'll go back and try to get as much information as I possibly can and go from there."
According to a Bears spokesman, general manager Jerry Angelo was out of town and unavailable for comment.
According to the police report, Benson was aboard his 30-foot boat with about a dozen friends, although he was the only one arrested by the Lower Colorado River Authority after failing a sobriety test on the boat. He then refused to put on a life jacket or to take a follow-up sobriety test on land. Benson allegedly resisted when officers attempted to arrest him and was pepper sprayed and then booked shortly before midnight.
According to the police report: "When Benson did not pass the test, he presented himself as a threat to the officer and argued about whether or not he would be taken to land to have a follow-up field sobriety test performed ... and refused to put on a life jacket (procedure for transporting civilians). At that time the officer decided to arrest Benson, who continued to present himself as a threat to the officer, argue with him and refuse to do as the officer requested, which resulted in the officer using pepper spray on Benson."
Smith declined to elaborate on the extenuating circumstances of Benson's arrest.
"I'm going to make comments when I see information, and right now I haven't," the Bears' coach said last week. "So right now I'm not going to comment on that."
After reaching Emerald Point Marina, Benson was transferred to the Travis County Sheriff's custody for transport to jail, where he continued to "refuse to cooperate and would not leave the officer's boat," according to the police report. "The LCRA officer requested assistance from (the) Travis County Sheriff's Office deputies in removing Benson from the boat and basically carrying/dragging him to the deputy car for transport. At Travis County Central Booking, Benson was offered a Intoxilyzer test and refused to take it."
Benson was released after posting bond of $14,500.
During his 2003 season at the University of Texas in Austin, Benson was charged with criminal trespassing when he kicked down the door of an apartment in search of his plasma television that had been stolen. He received an eight-day sentence but got off with time served on the day of the arrest and good behavior.
Drew Stanton is starting from scratch as the Lions begin their organized team activities.
After the Lions drafted the quarterback in the second round last year, offensive coordinator Mike Martz immediately altered his mechanics.
"He changed everything, and I didn't really understand why and I never really got explanations on how to work on it," Stanton said. "It was one of those things, ‘Well, you're just doing this wrong.' "
Stanton said he "felt robotic" and struggled to think about the offense while thinking about his mechanics. On the third day of training camp, he had stiffness and swelling in his knee. He had surgery and went on injured reserve, ending his season.
Even when he was physically ready to return, he wasn't permitted to practice with the team under NFL rules. He said he learned about the offense from attending meetings but didn't work out individually with Martz and quarterbacks coach Adam Gase, who were focused on the season.
"I was on my own, basically, with our strength coach, just throwing with him, trying to work on mechanics but not knowing if I was doing it correctly," Stanton said. "So it was tough."
Martz was fired after the season, and he and Gase were hired in San Francisco. The Lions replaced them with Jim Colletto and Scot Loeffler.
Stanton's mechanics are now closer to what they were in college. He said he's "back to feeling comfortable" and enjoys working with Loeffler.
"If something's not clicking or I'm not getting it, he tries to go about it a different way to make sure I'm understanding," Stanton said. "It's really refreshing from that standpoint, definitely, being able to communicate with somebody on that level."
Just getting on the field is important, though.
"These past couple of days I took more reps than I took all of last year," Stanton said. "I feel like I've grown even more in these past two days mentally."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our expectation is we will be disappointed if we don't win 10 games, because that will mean we're not in the playoffs and that sucks. I can't make it any simpler than that. Anybody who says that's not their expectation level is unfortunately not very much of a competitor." — QB Jon Kitna, in the latest incarnation of his 10-win talk.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Cincinnati Reds had the "Nasty Boys" once upon a time with the relief-pitching trio of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers.
Football's version could reside in Green Bay. Although the atmosphere was purposely subdued because it was an indoctrination, the Packers' rookie orientation camp May 2-4 gave the coaches a taste of the nastiness possessed by offensive linemen Breno Giacomini and Josh Sitton.
"It's whistle to whistle and, sometimes, beyond the whistle," Giacomini said of his ornery disposition on the field. "That's just having fun. I'm going to have fun playing as an offensive lineman. That's how I learned to play offensive lineman, so I don't know a different way. It's just fun."
Giacomini, though, was reprimanded last year at Louisville after making an obscene gesture toward fans of Kentucky before the teams' rivalry game. He chalked that up as an isolated incident and has moved on from it, but the fifth-round draft pick isn't apologizing for his feisty approach to playing football.
Ditto for Sitton, who was taken a round ahead of Giacomini out of Central Florida.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was encouraged by the fire he saw from the two rookies in an otherwise relaxed practice setting involving only about 45 players.
"I really like their disposition, and they're both very aggressive," McCarthy said. "They have the right attitude. Athletically, they're really what we thought they were."
Of the pair, the 6-foot-3, 319-pound Sitton is in a better position to vie for a starting job this year already. The Packers are unsettled at both guard spots. Sitton lined up mostly at right guard in the rookie camp but also has experience at left guard and right tackle, his primary starting position the previous three years.
"The versatility is huge. You've got to be able to play more than one position at this level," Sitton said.
Giacomini is a possible successor to one of the team's veteran tackles, Mark Tauscher on the right side and Chad Clifton on the left. The 6-7, 303-pound Giacomini is a converted tight end who started at right tackle for Louisville last season.
The league mandates that the Packers' rookie class be off for two weeks following the orientation camp. Consequently, those players won't return to Green Bay and be with the veterans for the first time until May 18.
McCarthy said none of the rookies would be affected by academic schedules at their former schools, which in previous years has kept a few players from participating in minicamps or portions of OTAs.
"Who do you want me to put in there?" McCarthy responded when asked at the start of the rookie camp why the team is maintaining Favre's locker for the here and now.
Favre, who announced in early March his retirement after 16 years as the team's starting quarterback, has made subtle suggestions in recent weeks that a comeback isn't out of the question.
McCarthy, though, isn't expecting Favre to reconsider and indicated that the team is interested in preserving Favre's locker space as a shrine of some sorts.
"I think it's more than a locker, and there's some plans for the locker that will be addressed in the future," McCarthy said. "But, there's nothing else to it.
"I wouldn't want his locker, especially after his hygiene — my goodness," a joking McCarthy added. "It's a locker of a very special player in the history of our organization."
The Packers have 89 players on their offseason roster — nine more than the league maximum — but their nine draft picks and running back Ryan Grant have yet to sign contracts and don't count against the roster limit. Grant is an exclusive-rights free agent and isn't signing the tender from the team as he tries to get a long-term contract after his productive 2007 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think things will settle some more once we're around the vets, working out with them (later in the month). Right now, it's just good seeing the building (Lambeau Field) and trying to get familiarized with everyone and everything that goes on on a day-to-day basis here." — Receiver Jordy Nelson, a second-round draft pick this year, on breaking in as an NFL player at the Packers' rookie orientation camp May 2-4.