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.
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.
"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."
"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.
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."
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."
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 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.