No significant or final depth-chart decisions were expected to be made during the three-day minicamp at Halas Hall this weekend in May, but competition officially began at several positions.
The marquee matchups are at quarterback, between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton; and at running back, between Cedric Benson and rookie Matt Forte. But the left guard spot is up for grabs, the entire wide receiver position is unsettled and there are several contenders at safety. For now, left tackle is being manned by veteran John St. Clair, but rookie Chris Williams is expected to win the job.
Because of Benson's arrest the first weekend in May for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest, more attention has been paid to the impending battle between him and Forte. The Tulane standout was impressing coaches at the rookie minicamp the same weekend Benson was, according to him and some observers, being mistreated by officers on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas.
Both players say they're looking forward to competing.
"I'm just here to create competition," Forte said after the rookie minicamp. "We're a team, so it's not like we're one against another person. I'm just trying to make everybody better as well as myself."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo went into the draft adamant about creating more competition for Benson.
"Until somebody proves that they're the guy," Angelo said, "we have to make sure that we create as much competition at that position. I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team."
Benson has yet to live up to his draft status as the fourth overall pick from 2005, and he might have to perform better than he ever has in his first three seasons in order to keep his job. Last week, during the first batch of organized team activities, Benson looked better than expected following last season's fractured ankle and appeared quicker after having dropped 10 pounds, the result of a healthier diet.
"Nobody wants to be given anything," he said of the battle for featured role in the run game. "It makes it more fun and more exciting when you've got a challenge going. I'm just going to be me and make plays."
Benson has the advantage of three years in the system, but he's coming off the worst of three unimpressive seasons. Forte has had four weeks to learn a system similar to the one he played in last season, when he rushed for 2,127 yards.
"I've been playing football my whole life, so I just have to get used to the speed of the game when everybody gets here," he said at the rookie minicamp. "I'll take my playbook with me, keep learning it, keep going over the plays and also stay in good shape so when I come out here I can run play after play after play."
"I would bet I wouldn't be there," Urlacher told Yahoo! Sports two weeks ago.
"He's not going to be there," Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs told ESPN on Tuesday.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner will be looking for specific attributes from the quarterbacks, but a decision might not be made until well into the preseason.
"I think the No. 1 thing is decision making," Turner said. "Obviously, they have to have the physical talent to make all the throws, but decision making, accuracy and athletic ability."
"With the second knee injury, you start questioning yourself like, ‘What did I do? Is it me?'" Bowman said. "But I realized that there was nothing I could do about it. When I hurt both my knees, I was going 100 percent, playing hard and they just happened."
Because of the severity of the injuries and a senior season that didn't live up to his earlier performances, Bowman plummeted from a possible first-round pick to the 142nd player drafted. But, starting with this weekend's minicamp, Bowman is hoping to prove that he has recaptured his previous performance level. Before the knee surgeries, Bowman was running sub-4.4 40s.
"I'm getting back to that point," he said. "I feel great. I feel like I felt in 2005. My knees are healthy. It's just about getting them stronger and getting my body to work as one again."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "For a receiver, I just have to be where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be there and catch the ball for them. It really doesn't matter who is throwing the ball." — Bears free-agent WR Brandon Lloyd on the quarterback competition between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.
In his third year with the Lions, coach Rod Marinelli feels he finally has the type of team he wants — a fast team.
It's about foot speed. But it's more than that. It's about playing fast. It's knowing what to do so well that you don't have to think. You just do it.
"We've added speed," Marinelli said after a recent organized team activity. "When you know what you're doing, it's faster. It's condensed, concise and precise for you. If you can simplify just a little bit, guys know what they're doing, and now their ability to execute really goes up. Now they start playing with speed and confidence, and they're faster when you know what to do.
"Those things are key. And you've got to have speed. You've got to bring it in. Sometimes you can have speed and you can slow it down by cramming them too much. Right now, I think we're a fast team, and now we've just got to play fast."
One place the speed shows up is in the secondary. The Lions added Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson, all of who played the Tampa Two system in Tampa Bay, as well as Leigh Bodden.
"You can see it in our secondary right now," Marinelli said. "We're fast. They have been (making plays). We have some good ball skills. Tall, lean. It's a very lean team overall. The secondary is very rangy, and they cover a lot of territory right now. And it helps we brought some guys in that have played in the system and they understand."
Marinelli likes the Lions' practice habits overall.
"It's impressive," Marinelli said. "We're really hustling down the field. We're hustling, and that's what you want. Our strength will be just attitude, speed, tempo, knowing what to do, not making mistakes, eliminating penalties and not turning the ball over."
"I didn't coach at this level when I got in this league," said Marinelli, who broke into the NFL as Tampa Bay's defensive line coach in 1996. "When he came and interviewed, he was really sharp, strong, understands what he's teaching and is a very good teacher. That was one thing I wanted more than anything, a guy that could really take a subject, present it on the board and teach well and have a command of the English language. That's really important. He really demonstrated that when he interviewed here."
Marinelli also was impressed by Loeffler's persistence.
"I liked that," Marinelli said. "I want a guy that will come after me and be very persistent. That's how much he wants something. He's really a fine young coach."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A bunch of guys are tight. I just feel it. That really gets tested when we hit adversity. When adversity hits, then we'll see how strong we are. But I believe in my heart we are." — Coach Rod Marinelli, on the Lions' chemistry.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Brady Poppinga isn't shy about shooting from the lip and is known to be a resident quipster in the Packers locker room.
Recent words uttered by Poppinga were in reference to how the team will have to try to improve on the heels of an astoundingly good season, but they might be prophetic words about Poppinga's job status.
"Nothing ever stays the same. It's a cliche, but it's true," Poppinga remarked May 22 during the first week of organized team activities.
Aside from the dominating story line of how Aaron Rodgers adjusts to replacing the legendary Brett Favre at quarterback, what little suspense there is in the off-season for a team with hardly any personnel turnover can be found at strong-side linebacker.
The start of the OTAs — when the majority of the team convened for the first time — was the launch for what should be a spirited competition the next few months between incumbent Poppinga and Brandon Chillar, the former Ram who is the Packers' only significant addition so far.
"I'm not going to lie. There's a competition component involved," Poppinga said. "But, the reality of that is competition is inherited. Everybody experiences competition on a daily basis.
"I think a lot of times competition is given a bad rap. Everybody always looks at it in such a negative way, but the reality is there's two sides to competition. Depending on how you handle it, it can either build you or it can send you down."
Poppinga's hold on the SAM spot after two years is tenuous at best. Although he has made at least 70 tackles each of those seasons, the high-strung Poppinga has been a liability in pass coverage.
Chillar excels in coverage. The Packers lucked out in signing him as a free agent after he had to spurn an offer from his preferred suitor, Arizona, because of complications the team was having with the salary cap when it was renegotiating the contract of receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Chillar received a two-year, $5.4 million contract.
Poppinga remained the starter at the outset of OTAs, but the battle lines have been drawn.
"There's competition everywhere you go in this league. It's nothing new," Chillar said. "If you don't go out there and compete, you're not going to be anywhere for very long."
Poppinga claims he's had difficulty sleeping at night but not because of fretting about his job security. He attributes the insomnia to envisioning the prospects for the defense with Chillar as a complementary piece.
"As soon as Brandon came in, I was very elated because it gives our defense many different options as to how we can attack an offense," Poppinga said. "To me, that's exciting. It only builds our team."
Both Poppinga and Chillar have experience of putting their hand down as a lineman in passing situations. Since the Packers play more nickel than dime and occasionally resort to having just three linemen in those packages, they could employ a combination with Poppinga or Chillar moved up to the line.
"I play hard, aggressive and go out there and just want to do exactly what the scheme empowers me to do," Chillar said. "I definitely consider myself a smart linebacker."
Thompson in late May gave some of his right-hand men new titles.
Longtime club lieutenants Reggie McKenzie, who was the director of pro personnel, and John Schneider, previously the personnel analyst to Thompson, are sharing the title of football operations director. Both McKenzie and Schneider are highly regarded in league circles and have been in the running in the past for GM posts elsewhere.
Tim Terry and Eliot Wolf, who had been aides to McKenzie, were promoted to the same role of assistant director of pro personnel. Wolf is the son of retired Packers GM Ron Wolf.
Jon-Eric Sullivan, who was Green Bay's representative for National Football Scouting, now is the team's area scout for the mid-South region.
Richmond Williams was hired as a college scout and assumes Sullivan's former duties.
"These title changes are more of an acknowledgment of the various duties these individuals already perform in our personnel department," Thompson said. "Reggie and John, along with our director of college scouting, John Dorsey, will continue to be leaders in player personnel with the Packers."
Players will report July 27 for physicals and conditioning tests, then take to the field the morning of July 28. The day is the first of five scheduled morning/evening two-a-days in the first two weeks of camp.
The team has eight evening practices on the docket, including the Family Night Scrimmage at Lambeau Field on Aug. 3 that is expected to be a sellout again.
The Packers are in the midst of organized team activities, which conclude June 12. Their last on-field work before training camp will be the mandatory minicamp, June 17-19.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's so much devastation, you can't look at the big picture. You've got to look at the small victories. That's been (the residents') rallying cry." — Defensive end Aaron Kampman on the aftermath of the May 25 tornado in Parkersburg, Iowa, which is near Kampman's hometown of Kelsey.