Around the NFC North

The Brett Favre ultra-drama is finally over after his trade to the New York Jets, leaving us to other matters when it comes to the NFC North. A Bears receiver is working on an image problem, a Lions running back is proving very entertaining and a Packers running back is getting a week's work after returning to the team with a new contract. Get those stories and numerous notes from the NFC North.

CHICAGO BEARS

There's no truth to the rumor that it took three bellhops working overtime to carry all of Brandon Lloyd's baggage when he arrived in Chicago. But the sixth-year wide receiver does have a bit of an image problem that he's working to improve after two troubling years with the Washington Redskins.

Even if you only believe half of what you read, Lloyd clearly did not work and play well with others while he banked about $12 million in D.C. and caught just 25 passes without reaching the end zone even once. There were profane confrontations with coaches and meltdowns on the sidelines and in the locker room on top of the lack of production.

"I don't feel like that's who I am, and I think that the people who know me, know that's not who I am," Lloyd said. "But it's something I have to combat because that's what the perception is. That's where I'm at in my life and in my career. Now it's going to be what I make of it. Am I going to come in here and let people be right? Or am I going to come in here and continue to work hard and let my play do the talking and mature that way? That (second option) is what I'm going to choose."

Fortunately for Lloyd, after he wore out his welcome with the Redskins, he found a lifeline in Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who recruited him and coached him when he was the head coach at Illinois (1997-2004). Although he left Champaign with a year of eligibility remaining, Lloyd was the second-leading receiver in Illini history with 2,583 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. He caught 65 passes in each of his final two seasons and picked up 1,010 yards as a junior and 1,062 as a sophomore.

He also impressed Turner as a hard worker with solid character, which is why the Bears signed him on March 7, nine days after the Redskins said goodbye.

"I basically went by what I knew of him as a person," Turner said. "Obviously we all heard some stuff. I told Brandon, ‘The only thing I'm concerned with is the here and the now; what you're going to do here and what you do now.'

"I told him, ‘I've heard stuff. Every guy in that locker room has probably heard stuff. The equipment guys have probably talked to other equipment guys and heard stuff. Trainers talk to trainers. Everybody's heard stuff. But you're here, you have a fresh start, and none of that matters. I know what kind of person you are, and I've got faith in you.'"

That meant a lot to the 6-foot, 194-pound Lloyd, a fourth-round pick in 2003, whose career was off to a solid start after back-to-back seasons of 43 and 48 catches with the 49ers in 2004 and ‘05 before he was traded to the Redskins.

"When Coach Turner called me, he said, ‘I've known you since you were 16 or 17 years old,'" Lloyd said. "‘I know your mom and dad, I know what kind of kid you are, but I don't know what happened from the time you left Illinois.' It's good to know that he understands me, and he knows where I'm coming from, and he knows that I want to do great on the football field. I feel like Coach Turner really knows what kind of person I am on the football field."

Now it's up to Lloyd to reward that faith. He had an impressive offseason at Halas Hall, and so far in training camp he has gotten as many practice reps with the first team as any receiver on the roster and has been a frequent target of both Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton. Lloyd could be in the starting lineup against the Colts Sept. 7, but he's not making any predictions. Asked what his role would be on opening night, he checked his watch for the date and said, "I'm focused on July 29th. Seriously, it's a day at a time."

The early returns are encouraging.

"So far it's working out great," Turner said. "He's working extremely hard, playing well, making some plays for us. Like anybody in camp, he has some good plays and bad plays. That's training camp, but his attitude's great, studying, working hard, doing a great job, he's going to help us."

But it's going to take more than one offseason and one training camp to alter the image of the selfish, petulant underachiever that Lloyd helped create.

"All the stuff that I've heard and that other people have heard; I'm sure he's heard the same things, and I think he does have something to prove," Turner said. "Probably more so about his character and attitude than football. Everyone knows he's got tremendous ability. I think he's got to prove that he's a good guy. He wants to prove that he's a good person and can be a team guy, which I believe he can be."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The great thing about it is that you get to come here and hang out with your teammates for three weeks. Slumber parties and all those big things, staying in the dorms with one another. You go from a nice big ol' house to sharing showers and having stalls and having to see dudes' feet underneath while you're trying to handle your business. Training camp is an amazing place to be, man." — Bears DT Tommie Harris.

NOTES

  • C Olin Kreutz, after taking the first six days of camp off after a recent Achilles procedure, is back with the first team.

  • WR Mark Bradley, who has missed a couple practices with knee soreness, is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle among a deep but not terribly talented group of receivers.

  • WR Rashied Davis might not be a threat to crack the starting lineup, but he will be more of a factor than he has been in the past. He impressed coaches with his consistent production, and he had an impressive off-season.

  • OL John St. Clair could move inside to left guard if rookie Chris Williams is able to step in as the starting left tackle, but he Williams has already missed nine days of practice.

  • QB Caleb Hanie, an undrafted rookie, is the clear-cut No. 3 since Nick Hill was released, but the Bears haven't ruled out bringing in a veteran to back up Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.


    DETROIT LIONS

    Kevin Smith wondered where he stood among the running backs on the Lions' depth chart, so he clicked on the team's official website.

    "If you look on the website, I'm No. 5," Smith said. "I looked at the depth chart. I peeked at it one time just to see."

    Well, that's only because it was in alphabetical order. The Lions actually hadn't posted a depth chart yet, just a position-by-position breakdown. Rookie mistake.

    Smith isn't No. 1 yet. He hasn't played a preseason snap.

    "I'm not the starter," Smith said. "I know that. That's obvious. I'm the guy in the preseason game who comes in when all the vets got their reps. I try to get 100 yards."

    But he certainly isn't No. 5, and he might be No. 1 before long and play a key role, considering the Lions plan to run the ball more this season. The third-round pick has gotten plenty of reps with the first and second teams in training camp.

    Smith was expected to show good vision and cutting ability. He played in the same zone scheme at Central Florida. But he has shown he can pick up blitzes and catch the ball, too. He told reporters he developed his receiving skills playing flag football in Florida growing up.

    "I was the air-it-out champion every year at receiver," Smith said. "I've got a little something. I wouldn't be surprised if sooner or later in my career I'm at the slot position."

    "Get out of here," a reporter replied.

    "No, I'm serious," Smith said, smiling. "Running post routes. If Reggie Bush can do it, I can do it. I'm just saying I'm not scared. We have post routes at the running back position. We're just not that far in the playbook. But I can do it. I can do it."

    Smith says he can do it all.

    "I even threw a halfback pass for a touchdown in college," Smith said. "I'm 1-for-1, baby."

    The kid is a colorful character. He is already a mini-media darling. If he plays well and keeps this kind of attitude, he will be an even bigger media darling and a fan favorite.

    After practice one morning, he sat on an exercise bike and held court with reporters, a white towel draped over his shaved head. He clearly enjoyed the attention, but he didn't come off as a braggart or a showboat. He came off as fun and playful.

    A sampling:

  • "If I just stayed home and didn't come to practice, I'd be sick," he said. "All I would think about is this. It's just so natural to wake up. If I had to sleep in bed all day today, even though my body would love to, it still wouldn't feel right. It's just a love, man. Football."

  • "I'm like a veteran," he said. "I'm a football veteran. I'm an NFL rookie. But football, that's all I know. Some guys haven't been playing that long. Some guys maybe started in college or high school. I've been playing from ‘85."

  • As confident as he is, Smith said he would be nervous for the exhibition opener Thursday against the Giants. What's the best way to combat that?

    "Go out there and get some contact," Smith said. "Just hit anybody. If you've got no one to hit, fall on the ground. Just do something. Hit yourself."

  • Smith said he is the man in Orlando, where he played college ball at Central Florida. He gets recognized everywhere.

    "Campus," he said. "Red Lobster. Jiffy Lube."

    All this from a guy coach Rod Marinelli described as "just a very serious, very determined young man."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I discussed that earlier in the year, and I don't want to talk about it." - Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., declining to comment on president Matt Millen, much as he did at the NFL owners' meetings in April.

    NOTES

  • Despite the Lions' 31-81 record since Matt Millen became team president in 2001, the Lions say sales remain strong. "We're not behind in sales," chief operating officer Tom Lewand said. "We're actually even or ahead in every key category." In the off-season, the Lions beefed up their sales department and began offering split season-ticket packages priced as low as $230. They have been running an advertising campaign. Lewand said the Lions are slightly ahead in season ticket sales at this point over where they were entering last season. He said they also were slightly ahead in corporate sponsorships and about even in suite sales.

  • Quarterback Drew Stanton has discarded virtually all of the changes former offensive coordinator Mike Martz made to his mechanics last year. "I have no idea looking back why all that happened, all the changes that he made," Stanton said. "There's one thing that I still use that he taught me, and that's it. And that was just changing my grip a little bit, and I'm sure just any coach probably would have come along and changed that a little bit, just the difference between an NFL ball and one of those Nike college footballs."

  • Roy Williams thinks he and Calvin Johnson rank behind two other NFL wide receiving tandems: Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and Cincinnati's Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "We haven't proven ourselves as a duo yet," Williams said.

  • Rookie running back Kevin Smith is wearing No. 34. He said he wanted No. 24, his college number. But it belongs to safety Greg Blue, and if Blue lets it go, veteran safety Dwight Smith is next in line. "I wanted 24 so bad it hurt my heart when I couldn't get it," he said. "Too much money. ... I was willing to pay, like, ten thousand, and I heard rumors it's going to cost, like, 50. I'm ain't buying nobody no car, now."

  • The Lions need somebody who can step in and snap the ball in case Dominic Raiola goes down. They signed center Andy McCollum, who spent the last nine years with St. Louis, eight as the starting center. "This guy's a quality veteran guy," coach Rod Marinelli said. "He's done it for a lot of years. Smart, high character guy. I'm really kind of anxious to see him get his pads on and go to work."

  • Linebacker Ernie Sims has bone bruise in his right knee, but that's good news. Sims' knee buckled when he leapt for a pass and had an MRI exam. He said the Lions' medical staff was worried he had torn meniscus, but he didn't. Had he, he probably would have needed his knee scoped and missed about a month. "Thank God I didn't have to deal with that," Sims said.

  • QB Drew Stanton has struggled after spending his rookie season on injured reserve, but he looked better in the Lions' controlled scrimmage, throwing two touchdown passes.

  • WR Devale Ellis appears to have the edge in the battle for the fifth wide receiver slot. He had caught the ball well and shown return ability.

  • LB Jordon Dizon has shown the speed, aggressiveness and instincts expected of him, but still is behind Paris Lenon and Buster Davis at middle linebacker.

  • CB Brian Kelly is nursing a minor knee injury, but the main reason he has been excused from practice often is that he is an 11-year veteran of the Tampa Two system and the Lions are taking it easy on him.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    The Packers began mending fences with previously disgruntled running back Ryan Grant.

    Feeling a sense of urgency to get its featured back on the field after he missed the first week of training camp, Green Bay brokered a long-term contract with Grant last Saturday.

    A week after Grant's agent, Alan Herman, went public with a retort to an offer made by the Packers that Herman called "insulting," the two sides agreed to terms on a four-year deal that could be worth more than $30 million.

    "I'm glad it's over. I'm glad I can get back to playing football," Grant said.

    Grant, who had been working out near his New Jersey home, reported to Packers camp Sunday and was expected to rejoin his teammates on the field Tuesday. The team didn't practice Monday after having an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

    Bringing resolution to the contract impasse with Grant removed one of two big storylines tied to the Packers at the outset of camp.

    Having Grant positioned behind Aaron Rodgers in the backfield is a necessity as the Packers break in their first-time starting quarterback.

    "It's time for him to get to camp," head coach Mike McCarthy had said shortly before the contract agreement with Grant was done. "He is still a young player. He doesn't have a high level of experience, and it's time for him to get here and be a part of what is going on."

    Grant, acquired in a trade with the New York Giants before the start of last season, burst on the scene the second half of the season as a first-year player.

    He led the league the last 14 weeks of the schedule, including the postseason, with 1,159 rushing yards. Grant ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns, both team playoff records, in a win over Seattle in the NFC divisional playoffs.

    Consequently, Grant felt he was worthy of a big payday despite being a young player entering a year when he was an exclusive-rights free agent. Grant refused to sign the Packers' offer sheet for a minimum tender of $370,000 and didn't practice with the team in the offseason, though he was in attendance for meetings and workouts.

    Grant had been optimistic that the lucrative deal he sought would come by the start of training camp July 28. On the eve of players reporting, however, Grant was turned off by the Packers when they offered a six-year deal with a signing bonus of only $1.75 million.

    He was prepared to hunker down at home for the long haul of camp, but Green Bay sweetened its latest offer and ensured Grant would get a full week of practice before its first preseason game Monday night (Aug. 11).

    The pact, laden with incentives, calls for Grant to make $8 million in the first two years, including $4.25 million this year with a $3 million roster bonus.

    Grant's absence the first week of camp - a total of 10 practices, including the scrimmage - was a boon to second-year Brandon Jackson, who received most of the reps with the starting unit.

    Jackson opened last season as the starter but suffered a shin injury in the first month that kept him out four games. Jackson put on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and is weighing 220 with more power and quickness than he had last year at this time.

    "He's been exceptional, particularly in the screen and draw periods," McCarthy said. "Those schemes are tailored to his running style."

    NOTES

  • Coach Mike McCarthy insisted the timing of a long-planned visit by former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to training camp amid the media circus caused by the team's flap with Brett Favre was merely coincidence.

    Still, McCarthy and the players turned to Fleischer, who addressed them on a non-practice day July 31, for guidance in the matter. Fleischer worked under President George W. Bush from 2001 to ‘03.

    "It really wasn't more of his opinion; it was really mindset, thought process," McCarthy said. "I thought he was very insightful - just the way he would process the information and how he would explain his message. He had his chain of command in order and stayed true to that and never wavered from that.

    "It was just all good organizational policies and principles that you read about, and ours are being tested at this time. He really kind of reinforced a lot of the things that we have been doing."

    Aaron Rodgers, the starting heir to Favre at quarterback, perhaps was most impacted by Fleischer's appearance. Rodgers was engulfed at his locker the first few days of camp by dozens of media from all parts of the country.

    Rodgers picked Fleischer's brain for a few minutes after the speech.

    "Some of the stuff (he shared) might be top secret," Rodgers quipped. "He just said be truthful (and) get your message out there if you want."

  • Scott Wells half-jokingly took exception to McCarthy's classifying the setback that the starting center suffered in practice Aug. 1 as a trunk injury.

    Wells said the next day that he had pulled a muscle in his back.

    "It's not like my butt or anything," said Wells, alluding to the "trunk" reference. "Let's clear that up. It's my back. I don't have any junk in my trunk."

  • The Packers held their intrasquad scrimmage at Lambeau Field on the night of Aug. 3.

    The event was considered a sellout for the fifth straight year, with all 60,000-plus seats in the bowl of the famed stadium sold. Tickets for the family-themed event cost only $8.

    The attendance count doesn't include the luxury boxes, which account for the seating capacity of 72,928 on game day.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I can't control what the perception is, but in the locker room, no one dislikes Brett Favre. That's not the opinion at all, and that's not the opinion that we want expressed. I've said it before, and I'll just say it again — he was a big part of our history, and with him reinstating and coming here, he'll be a part of our future." — Coach Mike McCarthy, on whether retired quarterback Brett Favre would be welcome by the team regardless of how the stalemate between Favre and the organization is resolved.


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