NFC North News, Notes and Quotes

The Bears have a confident rookie waiting to take over the starting spot in the offensive backfield. The Lions aren't concerned about a star receiver missing OTAs. And the Packers get more players to join a rebuilding effort in a tornado-ravaged area. Get stories and notes from around the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS

  • With the demise of Cedric Benson, rookie Matt Forte' will go to training camp as the team's de facto featured running back.

    And that's just fine with the second-round pick from Tulane who believes he can handle the major responsibility of resurrecting a rushing offense that was the worst in the NFL last season in average gain per attempt.

    "I'm not going to sit here and doubt myself or my talent or anything," the 6-foot-2, 216-pound Forte said. "I believe that I can come in and play. I have the ability, (but) it's going to take a lot of work."

    Forte worked overtime for the Green Wave last season, carrying 361 times for 2,127 yards (second in the nation), 23 touchdowns and a 5.9-yard average per carry. Benson averaged a career-worst 3.4 yards per carry in 2007 for the Bears, who, as a team, averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per try, so the bar isn't set very high for Forte.

    Although the Bears have yet to run a single full-speed play in pads and won't until the training camp practices start on July 23, offensive coordinator Ron Turner has been impressed with Forte.

    "He's been tremendous," Turner said. "He's a very intelligent young man. He's been here 10 practices or whatever counting OTAs and minicamp, and right now we're not afraid to call anything in our offense with him: first down, second down, third down. Sure he's made some mistakes, and he's got some things to clean up technique-wise and assignment-wise and all that, but we'll continue to work on that. But he's a very bright young man who can do a lot of things."

    Part of Forte's allure on draft day was his versatility. He caught 103 passes for 985 yards at Tulane and showed a willingness to stick his nose in as a blocker, making him a reliable third-down option, a designation Benson never achieved. Forte will encounter a more complicated third-down blocking scheme in the NFL, but he is confident he can be a complete back, even though he's aware it won't happen overnight.

    "It's a process," he said. "I'm just a rookie coming in, so it's going to be a long process. That's why we go to training camp, that's why we're out here now in OTAs. (We're) learning the plays; learning the system and getting used to the speed of the game."

    If the Bears don't sign a free agent running back off the NFL scrap heap to replace Benson, the Bears would be left with only seventh-year veteran backup Adrian Peterson and second-year situational runner Garrett Wolfe behind Forte. At just 5-foot-7 and 186 pounds, Wolfe's role figures to be primarily as a receiver in passing situations or as a change-of-pace back.

    Peterson is one of the Bears' best special teamers and has performed well as a receiver out of the backfield in passing situations. He had a career-best 51 catches last season, which was second best on the team, and his 420 receiving yards were fourth best on the Bears. Peterson's 151 carries last season exceeded his total from his first five NFL seasons, but he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry, and his longest run was for 21 yards.

    Forte doesn't see his niche in the Bears' offense changing much without Benson in the mix.

    "It's probably the same role that they brought me in here for," he said. "I'm a pass-catcher, runner and a pass-blocker."

    But, with Benson gone, Forte will have to be fast-tracked into a more significant role than previously envisioned, even though the team made it clear on draft day that the rookie would contend for the starting job.

    "I see him as a guy who is very talented," Turner said. "He's been in a system similar to ours. They asked him in college to do a lot of things in the passing game, protection-wise and route-wise that we do. That gives him a little bit of an edge, and that's why, looking at the film, why I liked him so much. And I thought he was a good fit for what we do."

    Forte seems to embrace the idea of becoming the Bears' go-to guy sooner rather than later, although he has been politically correct when discussing his situation.

    "I didn't want to sit on the bench and sit back and relax," he said. "Everybody wants to play, so everybody comes in with the mind-set to learn the whole playbook and act you're like a starter and learn behind these veterans and be like them."

    The Bears are hoping that Forte acts differently, on and off the field, than the player he's succeeding.

  • The people at Halas Hall who were closest to Cedric Benson expressed their feelings about him Wednesday, two days after he was released following a pair of recent alcohol-related arrests in a 35-day span.

    "It's always tough to lose one of your players," running backs coach Tim Spencer said. "He has a lot of friends in our running back room. We've had numerous conversations, and I like Ced. Ced was all right with me, and you hate to see this happen. But we all have a responsibility. We're responsible to a lot of people, and we've got to handle our business."

    Benson's DWI arrest early Saturday morning convinced the Bears' decision-makers that he wasn't handling his business off the field, and last year's 3.4-yard average per carry was evidence enough that they could live without his production on the field. But second-year backup running back Garrett Wolfe said he will miss Benson.

    "Me and Cedric were close," said Wolfe, one of few teammates who could say that about Benson. "You know things are expected of us, and obviously the staff felt Cedric didn't do things that were necessary. But Cedric was a good friend, (and) he's a great teammate. He's been nothing but a help to me since Day One."

    Wolfe had yet to speak with Benson but was planning to do so soon.

    Spencer was Maurice Clarett's position coach for the one year the enigmatic and troubled running back spent at Ohio State before trying (unsuccessfully) to enter the NFL draft a year early and then failing miserably as a pro when he did enter the league. But unlike Clarett, currently incarcerated for armed robbery and aggravated assault, Benson at least played in the NFL for three seasons.

    "Obviously I'm saddened and disappointed that it did happen to him and that we had to let him go," Spencer said. "I've kind of been in a little situation before where you want things to happen for an individual who's having a little difficulty, and it hasn't gone right. As a coach, you really can't control everything. All you can do is tell them what they should and shouldn't do and hope that they do it."

    Because he's just 25 and had looked good physically in offseason practices after suffering a season-ending fractured ankle last season, Benson could be an attractive pickup for another team willing to give him a fresh start. But that's no guarantee, according to Spencer, who was asked if he thought Benson would play in the NFL again.

    "I have no idea," Spencer said.

  • Rookie running back Matt Forte' worked with the first team at Wednesday's OTA, during which the Bears were short-handed at the position.
    Veteran Adrian Peterson, the most experienced ball carrier remaining on the roster after Cedric Benson's release, underwent an appendectomy Monday night. Peterson is expected to resume normal football activities well before the first training camp practice on July 23.

    On Wednesday, Forte, Wolfe and even wide receiver Devin Hester lined up at tailback. The Bears have discussed bringing in another veteran running back but haven't made any decisions yet.

    "With Ced gone, obviously the younger guys that we have will have an opportunity to get better," Spencer said. "I'm sure that as we go on, we'll talk (about adding another running back). But for right now, I'm going to get (reps for) my guys that I have right now."

  • Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher practiced during Wednesday's OTA, his first appearance at a voluntary workout this offseason.

    Urlacher has been staying away in hopes of forcing the Bears to fatten his nine-year, $56.65 million contract, which still has four years remaining. He declined to talk to the media after practice, but defensive coordinator Bob Babich was glad to have him back.

    "Anytime you're practicing football it's a big plus to have Brian Urlacher out here," Babich said. "He picked up right where he left off from the minicamp. It was good to have our leader out here."

    Babich did not know if Urlacher would be back for next week's final three OTA practices.

  • If the message about protecting your job by avoiding trouble off the field wasn't clear to any of the Bears, Cedric Benson's release has underscored its importance.

    "I think a lot of people already had that message clear," fullback Jason McKie said. "When coach (Lovie) Smith first came here, he said he was going to treat us like real men. He said, ‘You've got to be real men on and off the field, and you've got to carry yourself in that way. So everybody knew what was at stake.

    "Anytime you get in trouble, in all different instances, the first person they're going to look at is you because you're an athlete. And nowadays, trouble finds athletes off the field. So you've got to be real careful and you've got to be aware of your surroundings and the environment you put yourself in."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're in shorts. Obviously if Ced (Benson) was here, we'd have more competition. But that's not to say that we don't have competition. He's not going to be given anything. He's got to go out there and earn it. We are not in pads. When we get to camp, we'll see what he does in pads. But so far he's picking up everything and he's doing a good job." — Bears RB coach Tim Spencer, who likes second-round draft pick Matt Forte' but will reserve final judgment.


    DETROIT LIONS

  • Wide receiver Calvin Johnson was absent the last two times the media was allowed to watch the Lions' organized team activities. The practices are voluntary. "It's personal for him," coach Rod Marinelli said. "I know where he's at. It's a private issue for him."

  • Defensive tackle Landon Cohen, a seventh-round pick out of Ohio University, finally joined the Lions for his first practice during their last week of OTAs. He was ineligible to practice until then under NFL rules because of his college schedule. "It's frustrating," Cohen said. "The one thing that I really have to do is just get all the mental stuff down. Physically I'm ready to go and I'm in shape and ready to do the things."

  • Marinelli is pleased with his team's physical conditioning — and wants to keep it that way. "The thing that impresses me now with them — and I've just got to just keep hitting it — is how lean," Marinelli said. "This team is lean. Everybody that walks in, ‘Wow, is this a lean team.' And we've got to continue that through the summer and stay quick and fast."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "The game of football is special. I tell you all the time. It's a special game." — Coach Rod Marinelli, on inviting high school players, coaches and teachers to watch an offseason practice.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

  • Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman returned to his tornado-ravaged hometown area in Iowa during a break in organized team activities the weekend of June 7-8 and had some familiar help with his ongoing cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

    Packers teammates Colin Cole, Will Blackmon and Thomas Gafford, along with team trainer Pepper Burruss, joined Kampman in Parkersburg.

    Kampman, a native of nearby Kelsey, attended high school in Parkersburg. The school was destroyed by a May 25 twister that killed seven people. Kampman's grandfather, Claas Kampman, 81, resides in Parkersburg and suffered injuries during the storm that required surgery.

    "There were other things going on over the weekend for guys (on the team), and to have a couple of them say that they wanted to come down and help out, it was really significant," Kampman told Packers.com. "I gave them all a pretty big hug and really said thank you."

  • The Packers cut third-year offensive tackle Joe Toledo.

    The one-time Miami Dolphin was subsequently signed by San Francisco.

  • A barometer of how the absence of retired quarterback Brett Favre will affect the Packers' fan appeal will be made in the coming days.

    Tickets were to go on sale Saturday morning, June 14, for the team's intrasquad scrimmage, which will be held at Lambeau Field on the evening of Aug. 3 during training camp.

    The 8-year-old scrimmage has sold out each of the previous four years, when Favre remained the face of the franchise before calling it quits in March this year.

  • The finish line is in sight for the players with their offseason program.

    The on-field schedule concludes with the mandatory minicamp, June 17-19. The team will practice twice, in the morning and the afternoon, on each of the first two days. The minicamp will wrap up with a morning practice on the final day.

    The players will report for training camp July 27. The first practice will be the morning of July 28.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "He seems to be very bright, and he seems to be picking things up at a fast pace, and that's important in our scheme because our receivers play all three positions, four positions in some cases. So, I am very, very pleased with that. He has the size and speed and looks like a natural route runner. We're excited about all of our players, but I'm glad he is here." — Head coach Mike McCarthy on his early impressions of rookie receiver Jordy Nelson, the team's top pick in the draft.


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