NFC North News and Quotes

With the release of Cedric Benson, the Bears find themselves short on experienced running backs. The Lions are hoping their first-round pick can fulfill his promise, just like a former first-rounder took time to develop. And the Packers are pleased with their participation and accomplishments during OTAs. See what coaches and players from the Vikings' NFC North rivals are saying.


Another No. 1 bites the dust.

His draft status and the $13 million he received in guaranteed bonus money as a top-five draft choice aside, the Bears decided Monday afternoon that running back Cedric Benson wasn't worth the aggravation and cut the troubled running back with two years left on a five-year, $35 million deal.

Benson's latest arrest, early Saturday morning in Austin, Texas, for DWI, came just 35 days after he was arrested and charged with boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest on Lake Travis, near Austin. He has disputed both of the boating charges, as have two witnesses. Benson also claimed not to have been intoxicated during his latest arrest.

But the Bears weren't buying it.

"Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate," said general manager Jerry Angelo, who drafted Benson fourth overall out of Texas in 2005. "As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions. When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team. Those who fail to understand the importance of ‘team' will not play for the Chicago Bears."

Hours after Benson's latest brush with the law, Angelo had said, "Disappointment is too much an often-used word when we're talking about Cedric."

According to his attorney, Sam Bassett, Benson showed up at Halas Hall Monday morning in preparation for that day's practice but was instructed to go home by Bears coach Lovie Smith, who declined to comment on the running back's status after practice.

Benson tried to do some last-minute damage control by issuing a statement of apology through Atlanta attorney David Cornwell, but less than an hour later he was an ex-Bear.

"I apologize for making the poor decision to drink and drive during the early morning of Saturday, June 7," Benson said in the statement. "Given the incident last month, it was a particularly bad decision. I have no excuse for this lack of judgment.

"Though I strongly believe that I am not guilty of any crime, I realize that the public and the Bears organization hold me to higher standard. Though my local attorneys will continue to work hard to prove my innocence, I confess to using poor judgment. Please accept my deepest apology."

Because Benson's play on the field was as erratic and disappointing as his behavior off it, his loss shouldn't have a huge affect on the Bears, who finished dead last in average gain per rushing attempt last season. But it does leave them with a lack of depth at the position. Rookie Matt Forte, a second-round pick from Tulane who is, as yet, unsigned becomes the Bears' featured runner by default.

The only other running backs on the roster with NFL experience are journeyman Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe. Peterson is a seventh-year veteran who averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season, the same as Benson, and undersized second-year player Garrett Wolfe, who averaged only 2.7 yards on 31 carries as a rookie in 2007.

Benson never came close to living up to expectations. In his three injury-marred seasons with the Bears, he rushed for a total of 1,593 yards on 420 carries for a 3.8-yard average and 10 touchdowns.

His lack of production was a major disappointment after his college career at Texas, where he picked up 5,540 yards on 1,112 carries and scored 64 touchdowns.
Benson's inconsistent play was exacerbated by a string of injuries.

In his first NFL start as a rookie in 2005, Benson picked up 50 yards on 12 carries in Week 10 against the 49ers but suffered a sprained knee and missed the next six games.

The next season, Benson was given the starting job after Thomas Jones failed to participate in any of the Bears' voluntary off-season workouts. But, in a light-contact, 11-on-11 drill, he suffered a separated shoulder after a collision with safety Mike Brown. Throughout that camp, Benson was hit harder than Jones by defensive players, many of whom favored the older veteran who had rushed for a career-best 1,335 yards the previous season.

Jones and Benson both helped the Bears to Super Bowl XLI that season, but Jones got about twice as many carries, although they had identical averages of 4.1 yards per carry. Benson enjoyed his most productive stretch as a pro in the second half of that season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in the final seven regular-season games. But he suffered another sprained knee in the first quarter of the 29-17 Super Bowl loss to the Colts.

With Jones traded to the Jets the following offseason, Benson had the No. 1 job all to himself last season but failed to capitalize, rushing for a career-worst 3.4 yards per carry and losing playing time to Peterson. Benson's season came to a premature conclusion when he suffered a fractured ankle on Nov. 25 and missed the final five games.

Benson is the latest in an ever-lengthening list of recent Bears first-round picks to fall far short of expectations.

Heisman Trophy-winning running back Rashaan Salaam played just three seasons after being drafted in the first round in 1995 and finished with numbers depressingly similar to Benson's, rushing for 1,682 yards on 470 carries and a 3.6-yard average.

The Bears went back to the running back well in 1998 and came away with Penn State's quirky Curtis Enis, who also lasted three seasons and was equally unproductive, rushing 456 times for 1,497 yards for a 3.3-yard average.

In 1999, the Bears busted on quarterback Cade McNown, who was banished after two forgettable seasons. In 2001, they went the wrong way with wide receiver David Terrell, who lasted four seasons but never caught more than 43 passes in any of them. Defensive lineman Michael Haynes (2003), a Big Ten sack leader, was gone after three years and never had more than two sacks in any NFL season.

Offensive tackle Marc Colombo (2002) spent the vast majority of his four seasons in Chicago rehabbing a dislocated kneecap before being released and catching on with the Cowboys.


Lomas Brown was the Lions' first-round pick in 1985. When he looks at right tackle Gosder Cherilus, the Lions' first-round pick this year, he thinks of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions' first-round pick last year.

"You know what that kind of reminds me of?" Brown said. "A lot of people were talking about Calvin Johnson. ‘Oh, he's a bust.' "

Then Brown thinks back to 1991, when he was the Lions' left tackle and they drafted wide receiver Herman Moore in the first round. Brown and teammate Kevin Glover weren't impressed at first.

"Remember Herman's first two years, man? He couldn't catch a cold," Brown said. "I remember me and Glove went to the locker room after practice. ... ‘Glove, man, they wasted their money on their first-round pick. He's horrible.' "

Cherilus hasn't necessarily been horrible during the Lions' organized team activities. But he has been beaten in pass-blocking drills at times. He is adjusting to the speed of the NFL and no contact is allowed — a tough challenge for a guy whose strength is run blocking and physical play.

"A lot of times it looks like he's grabbing and he's not punching the guy, but it's all about the timing," Brown said. "He can learn. He'll get that down during training camp. The more reps he gets with it, the better he'll get. So I'm not really concerned with him.

"I do like what I heard, that he's got a nasty attitude. You can't teach that."

Brown went to seven Pro Bowls in 10 years with the Lions. He was a backup when Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl after the 2002 season — while several current Lions coaches and players were with the Buccaneers.

Coach Rod Marinelli, the Bucs' defensive line coach then, called Brown the best scout team player he had ever seen — studious and enthusiastic.

Brown plans to work with Cherilus this offseason and in training camp, though the specifics haven't been ironed out.

"I don't think he's very far (away)," Brown said. "I just think there's fundamental things for him.

"When you're young and you step into this league, man, it's rare that you get some guys who can come and start right now."

  • Before he became coach of the Lions, before he was the defensive line coach at Tampa Bay, before he rose through the college ranks — Southern Cal, Arizona State, California, Utah State — Rod Marinelli started out as an assistant coach and history teacher at Rosemead High, his alma mater, outside Los Angeles.

    His coaches and teachers had a huge impact on his life, and he has never forgotten it.

    Last June, the Lions opened their last offseason practice to the public and held it at Detroit Renaissance High, so coaches and players from the Public School League could see how professionals went about business.

    This year, the Lions tried something different. The Lions invited 10 high schools from across southeastern Michigan to send seven players, two coaches and a teacher to an offseason practice. They attended meetings, took a tour of the building and got an up-close look on the field.

    Marinelli doesn't see much difference between Lions coaches and high school coaches and teachers in general. It's just a different level, a different environment.

    "They're all teaching," Marinelli said. "What they're doing is the same as what we're trying to do — teach."

    Marinelli wanted to limit the number of people to keep the experience intimate. He asked the coaches to pick the players they wanted to come — maybe guys who needed inspiration, maybe guys who deserved a reward, maybe a young guy on the rise.

    "For my kids, it's just the work ethic and how they're running around in practice from drill to drill and then from team to team," Ann Arbor Pioneer High coach Jeremy Gold said. "Just getting these kids to understand that this is a fast-paced deal. You have to be in great shape to go for two-hour practice."

    Allen Park High coach Tom Hoover was thrilled after watching offensive coordinator Jim Colletto instruct the offensive linemen in the classroom and then move the lesson outdoors.

    "Every single guy in there was glued to the screen, and he was showing them what he wanted," Hoover said. "And then when I watched practice out here, they did it at full speed, under fire. He's an excellent teacher. I saw it before, during and after."

    Marinelli also asked the coaches to pick a teacher who doesn't coach.

    "I thought that was a real benefit for them to see what goes on here," Marinelli said. "It just helps them to relate to a student better. ... I just wanted to show why players like this stuff.

    "The classroom teachers were able to see it's the same thing — presenting material, how you present, changing the environment of a room, voice inflection, all those type of things. It's all the same."


    After some trial and error, head coach Mike McCarthy found an offseason recipe to his liking.

    McCarthy called the 13 days of organized team activities, which were spread over four weeks and concluded June 12, an unmatched success in his three years on the job.

    "I'm not trying to sit up here and throw flowers ... but our participation has been outstanding. Our numbers are clearly way ahead of what they were last year," McCarthy said after the final OTA practice. "This is the vision of the offseason program that I had prior to coming here."

    Although the OTAs are voluntary, the Packers had everyone on the roster under contract and in good health partake in at least a portion of the practices. The attendees included veteran cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson, who were notorious in recent years to skip the OTAs and work out on their own.

    "It makes me feel good that they're here because I want ‘em here. It's very important," McCarthy said.

    Coaching regimes prior to McCarthy's arrival in 2006 were lax in their expectations for veterans to show up for OTAs, including in 1999, when McCarthy was the quarterbacks coach.

    "I go back to 1993 (when he was an assistant with Kansas City), and I tell our players this all the time, that was my first year in coaching — Joe Montana flew in for all of the OTAs and Rich Gannon ... we always had full participation for OTAs," McCarthy said. "I know it's cold (to demand players' attendance), but we pay the bills just like every other NFL team. So, it's important for our players to be here. If it wasn't important for them to be here, I wouldn't ask them to be here.

    "We create an incredible culture for our players to develop, and it's important for us to do it together. That's why we have them come back."

    This year's OTAs were vital for player participation because of changes made by McCarthy with regard to the structure of the offseason schedule and the time constraints the team will be under in training camp.

    For the first time in his tenure, McCarthy moved the mandatory minicamp back by about a month to come after the OTAs. So, the coaching staff put a greater emphasis on the OTAs, using nine sessions as installation days, and will devote the June 17-19 minicamp as what McCarthy referred to as "a cleanup" of the OTAs.

    "It's a very comfortable feeling coming out of your offseason program basically having everything in," McCarthy said. "We can carry that forward into the minicamp and even challenge them more with every situation that we can possibly get done in a three-day period."

    The players then will be excused for more than a month before reporting for training camp, which starts later than usual July 28 because of the Packers not playing their first preseason game until Aug. 11. The condensed exhibition schedule, with four games in 18 days, means the team will have fewer workouts in pads during camp.

  • Running back Ryan Grant tops a list of six players the Packers aren't expected to have on the field for their mandatory minicamp, June 17-19.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy suggested at the end of the four-week organized team activities June 12 that getting Grant under contract isn't imminent. Consequently, he won't be allowed to practice in the minicamp.

    "I don't think it's going to change. I don't anticipate it's going to change," McCarthy said of the unresolved contract situation. "I do not know what the time frame is, but there has been nothing said to me that would indicate for his situation to change."

    Grant, though just a second-year player, refused to sign Green Bay's one-year minimum tender of $370,000 as an exclusive rights free agent. He is coming off a breakthrough second half of the 2007 season, when he assumed the featured-back role, and is seeking a lucrative, long-term deal from the club.

    Grant has said in the past that he doesn't plan to miss any time in training camp, which starts July 28.

    McCarthy isn't concerned about the matter potentially dragging on into training camp and perhaps threatening Grant's status with the team by the start of the regular season.

    "I think he's done the best that he possibly can based on their approach," McCarthy said. "That's really what I keep focused on. I think it would be hypocritical for me to say otherwise. You need to concentrate on things that you can control in every aspect of this business. I think he's done that, and we have done that with him. It's a business matter. He will stay the course, and hopefully, we get it resolved."

    Meanwhile, McCarthy said the quartet of cornerback Will Blackmon and defensive tackles Johnny Jolly, Colin Cole and Justin Harrell will be held out of minicamp. All of them are continuing to rehab from injuries sustained last season or, in the case of Harrell, a setback incurred this spring.

    "We anticipate those guys at some point in training camp being ready to go," McCarthy said.

    Pro Bowl defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila also is expected to be sidelined until training camp after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery May 29.

    Rookie tight end Jermichael Finley hasn't been ruled out from getting some time on the field in the minicamp. Finley suffered a bruised knee after taking the brunt of a collision with two defenders while jumping to try to make a catch in an OTA session June 4.

    "I think he's going to be fine. It didn't look very good on film," McCarthy said.

    Defensive tackle Daniel Muir was cleared for the final week of OTAs after recovering from an injury to a pectoral muscle.

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