NFC North News, Notes and Quotes

Bears DE Alex Brown says there is more to the position than generating sacks, the Lions have linebacker issues, and the Packers have several lingering questions on their offensive line. Take an in-depth ride around the NFC North with news, notes and quotes halfway through the preseason.


Too often, defensive ends in the NFL are judged solely by their sack totals, but there's more to the job than getting to the quarterback. The Bears' Alex Brown has never had more than seven sacks in any of his six seasons, and he had just 4.5 in 2007. But his value to the team was demonstrated in the offseason, when he was rewarded with a two-year extension through 2013 that will pay him $15.5 million in new money.

Brown says just because he's never approached double-digit sack numbers, it doesn't make him a bad player.

"You play maybe 500 plays a year and you get 10 sacks," Brown said hypothetically. "That means you've got 490 other plays. What did you do on those plays? Did you give up a 40-yard run? Did you not do your job? Just ‘cause you get 10 sacks, yeah, they're huge plays, don't get me wrong. But there's a lot more to football than sacks."

Last year, for the first time since the midway point of his rookie season in 2002, Brown was not a starter. His right end spot, the one usually associated with big sack numbers in the NFL, was given to Mark Anderson. As a rookie in 2006, Anderson racked up 12 sacks as a situational pass rusher and backup to Brown and left end Adewale Ogunleye.

Bears coaches downplayed the demotion, pointing out, correctly, that the team utilizes all three ends almost equally and considers all three to be starting-caliber players. But the bottom line for Brown was that he wouldn't be on the field when the game started, and he was clearly aggravated.

On the first day of training camp, he signified his mood by wearing a tee-shirt with a picture of "Grumpy," one of the seven dwarfs. He vented briefly early in camp and then went out and played maybe the best football of his career. Only Ogunleye had more tackles than Brown among the Bears' defensive linemen last year.

Brown tied for first on the team with 5 pass breakups by batting balls down at the line of scrimmage, and he was tied for second with 5 tackles for loss, forced 2 fumbles, recovered 2 fumbles and also had an interception.

Now he's back in the starting lineup, and his bubbly personality is back, too. But he admits last year's experience brought him face to face with his professional mortality.

"Just because you're a starter doesn't mean you're going to start the next day or even the next year," he said. "It's going to end one day, and it very well could have ended for me as far as starting last year. Mark played great his first year. But nobody really played great last year. You can't just put it on Mark, but I was fortunate to get another opportunity to come back and (start)."

Anderson's sack total dropped from 12 to 5, and he's back in his original role. Brown's also back in his old role, but with a new perspective.

"It can be taken away just like that," he said. "I don't believe I ever got complacent. I never got comfortable, but I kind of expected to start, and you shouldn't. You shouldn't expect anything. Granted, I did have my best (sack) year (with 7) in ‘06, and I lost my job. Things happen for a reason, but I'm not real sure why that happened. But everything's good now. Last year is last year."

The "Grumpy" tee-shirt hasn't been seen all summer, and neither has the withdrawn Alex Brown. He'd be a contender for the Mr. Congeniality award. The best dwarf to describe Brown's current mood has to be "Happy."

"I'm pretty excited about how everything has worked out with everybody," Brown said. "Not just myself but you've got (contract extensions for) Desmond (Clark), ‘ Lack' (Brian Urlacher), (Devin) Hester and Tommie (Harris). All the off-the-field stuff is worked out. Now we've just got to go play, and with the defense we have, we should be the best in the league. We should be. I bet we will be — just watch."

If the defense plays as well as Brown thinks they will, he may even get to that elusive and magical sack number. "I don't really care if I ever get 10 well, actually I do," he said. "I would love to get 10 just so people can't say, He's never gotten 10 sacks.' They could leave that alone. But I do a lot of other stuff and I take pride in that. You can get pressure on a quarterback, and he throws an interception. The defensive end never gets any credit for that, but as a team we got an interception. That's what we want."


  • For the time being, the Bears are standing pat on the offensive line, although they're holding an uncertain hand after season-threatening back surgery for first-round pick Chris Williams and a knee scope for Terrence Metcalf.

    Williams was supposed to assume the left tackle position soon but, if it happens this season, it will definitely be later. And Metcalf was the starting left guard when he went down.

    So journeyman John St. Clair remains at left tackle, and Josh Beekman, last year's fourth-round draft pick, is the left guard du jour.

    Beekman played in one game last season briefly. St. Clair hasn't been a full-time starter since 2004, and even then he played in the usually-less-challenging right tackle spot.

    Beekman spent much of the off-season and the early part of training camp backing up six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, but he's back at the spot where he started 34 games for Boston College, and he's getting a crash course.

    Beekman started and played all of the preseason opener last Thursday, which is almost unheard of these days. He'll take all the reps he can get.

    "I'm still a rookie in my mind," Beekman said. "I still have to prove myself. These guys that I work with every day, they've been doing this in their sleep since I was a little kid, so if I have to play a whole game, then so be it."

    Beekman spent an extra 20 minutes after Sunday's two-hour practice working on his technique under the scrutiny of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, assistant offensive line coach Luke Butkus and Kreutz. He knows he's getting an opportunity that isn't ever guaranteed, so he's doing all he can to capitalize.

    "I embrace it fully," the 6-2, 310-pound Beekman said. "This is a situation that could possibly happen in the (regular) season. I remember when Ruben Brown (the Bears' starting left guard from 2004-07) said, ‘There are going to be seasons when a guy never gets hurt, and there's going to be a season where everybody could get hurt, so you have to be ready.' I just want to do more positive than negative out here on the football field."

    Beekman did enough in his extended play last Thursday to be given a shot to win the spot that could be an Achilles' heel for the Bears all season if someone doesn't step up in a hurry. He says one of the most valuable resources in his quest for knowledge is Kreutz.

    "Olin's been in this league 11 years," Beekman said. "That's just an honor unto itself. Think about it; six Pro Bowls. He must be doing something right. So every time he speaks, I'm silent, and I listen, and I try to soak it up like a sponge."

    If Williams hadn't been injured, he may have already claimed the left tackle spot from St. Clair, who doesn't have nearly the upside potential that the rookie possesses, but he has the experience of 91 NFL games, including 39 starts, although just six of them have been at left tackle.

    The Bears never really got a chance to see what they had in Williams, but they know what they've got in St. Clair.

    "I'm sure Chris is going to be a great player, and he was working hard, but we never really had him, so I don't know what we lost," Kreutz said. "John St. Clair's been our starting left tackle (since the off-season), and he's been there from Day 1. So we have all our starters and we're ready to go.

    "As an offensive line, you don't have to have one great player. You just have to be good together."

    It remains to be seen if the Bears can build a winning hand from the current personnel.

  • WR Brandon Lloyd had a team-high four catches for 37 yards Saturday night vs. the Seahawks.

  • TE Kellen Davis, a fifth-round pick from Michigan State, led all players Saturday night with 55 receiving yards on three catches..

  • LB Darrell McClover, fighting for a roster spot, blocked a punt that resulted in a safety Saturday night.

  • DT Dusty Dvoracek is expected to see his first game action in Thursday night's third preseason game.

  • RB Kevin Jones (knee) expects to play in Thursday night's third preseason game.


    Coach Rod Marinelli wanted to sign free agent Takeo Spikes to play strong-side linebacker. Spikes visited Detroit, the Lions put an offer on the table and Spikes signed with San Francisco.

    So now what? The Lions have been trying to upgrade linebacker for months. They tried to trade for Jonathan Vilma, but the Jets traded him to the Saints instead. They kicked the tires on free agents Al Wilson and Dan Morgan, but didn't sign them. They targeted Jerod Mayo in the draft, but New England nabbed him first and they settled for Jordon Dizon.

    Now the Lions have some decisions to make. Ernie Sims is established on the weak side. But who is going to play the middle? And will anyone move from the middle to the strong side?

    Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said the Lions have no plans to move over any of their middle linebackers; Paris Lenon, Buster Davis or rookie Jordon Dizon. At least not yet.

    "We haven't even talked about that," Barry said. "Now, three weeks is a lot of time. Things could happen."

    The Lions must cut their roster to 53 players Aug. 30 and open the regular season Sept. 7 at Atlanta. "The likelihood of us keeping three middle linebackers is low," Barry said. "So I don't think we'll be stacked there when it comes to cutting time.

    "However many linebackers we keep — six or seven — those will be the best six or seven linebackers. And the three guys that start will be the three best linebackers that we have on this team."

    The Lions have Alex Lewis, Leon Joe and Darnell Bing on the strong side, with Sims, Anthony Cannon, Gilbert Gardner and Tyrone Pruitt on the weak side.

    The ideal scenario: Dizon wins the middle linebacker job, and Lenon moves to the strong side. When the Lions were looking at middle linebackers in the off-season, it was with the idea of moving Lenon.

    The Lions think Lenon could switch to the strong side easily. The problem is that the middle linebacker position is so demanding and Dizon is so inexperienced.

    Barry was asked why the Lions don't move Davis or Dizon to the strong side now, so one of them can get as many reps as possible at the position.

    "There's some people that dual-train their linebackers," Barry said. "I'm not from that school. If a kid has a thousand reps in training camp, I want him to get a thousand reps at one position."

    Perhaps the Lions want to give Dizon every opportunity to learn middle linebacker and win the job, at least eventually. It's also easier to go from the middle to the outside than the other way around.


  • The Lions drafted Gosder Cherilus in the first round this year to play right tackle, and he might be the starting right tackle before long. But he has taken some reps at left tackle over the past week. Cherilus played left tackle as a senior at Boston College. The Lions want him to be ready to play there in the NFL just in case. "Position flexibility is critical in this league," coach Rod Marinelli said. "If somebody goes down, somebody's got to be able to adjust."

  • The Lions need flexibility all down the line with their backups. Jonathan Scott is also training at both tackles. The Lions have been looking for someone who can back up at center and guard and ideally tackle, too. They signed veteran center Andy McCollum, who can also play guard, and tackle Damion Cook, who can play all three positions. "The biggest problem right now is finding out who's going to be those guys, who's going to be that third flop tackle that can go left and right, because you're always working those numbers all the time," offensive coordinator Jim Colletto said.

  • Free agent center LeCharles Bentley visited the Lions, but no signing appears imminent. "Just brought him in to see where he's at," president Matt Millen said. "The next step would be to take a physical."

  • Safety Daniel Bullocks (knee), tight end Dan Campbell (elbow) and wide receiver Shaun McDonald (knee) came off the physically unable to perform list. Bullocks hadn't practiced in almost a year after suffering a torn ACL in the third exhibition last year. "At first, I had a little butterflies," Bullocks said. "I'm just excited to get back out here and work with my team. I'm tired of watching from the sideline. Now it's time to come back out here and play."

  • Don't tell Buster Davis he's too short to play middle linebacker. "It's an ignorant statement," said Davis, who is 5-foot-9, the shortest player on the Lions' roster, "because if we judge people by how big they are or how they ran in the combine or whatever the case may be, this NFL wouldn't be what it is today. It's really about guys who want to play the game of football no matter what the situation is, and I'm one of those guys."

  • Security escorted a fan out of practice after he got into a verbal altercation with wide receiver Roy Williams. It was the first such incident since the Lions started opening training camp to the general public again last year. Mike Lazzara, 42, of Novi, Mich., repeatedly shouted to Williams about taking plays off. Williams walked over to the fence and suggested they switch jobs, then walked off. Williams said: "I would have climbed over the fence and climbed up in the stands if I had a problem. I didn't have a problem with the dude. I like to interact with the fans. He had a little problem with me. I had no problem with him. I just wanted to hear his opinion. So it wasn't a big deal to me. I'm sorry the guy got kicked out. But he did that, not me."

  • The Lions had a couple of crowds in camp slightly over the announced capacity more than 1,500 for their controlled scrimmage, more than 700 for one practice. They also had more than 500 for their first practice. For the most part, though, crowds were smaller. "I'd love to see this whole thing filled like we did that one Saturday," Marinelli said. "Hopefully we'll get that done someday."

  • DE Cliff Avril has been working hard on his first two steps. He hits full speed by his third step, but he needs to get off the ball better.

  • DT Chuck Darby got a veteran rest one day in practice. Some think he will be able to handle only about 15-20 snaps in the regular season, but the Lions' coaches think he'll be able to handle more.

  • QB Drew Stanton looks much more confident in practice now that he has an exhibition under his belt.

  • S Gerald Alexander has been quiet in camp and might be in danger of losing his starting job if Daniel Bullocks can return to form coming off a torn ACL.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "If Randy Moss catches a ball on me, that's expected. But I'll tell you what: He's going to have to work damn hard to catch it on me." LB Buster Davis, on playing the middle at 5-foot-9.


    The Packers enter the most critical juncture of the preseason with serious concerns about what's been unfolding with their offensive line, particularly in the interior.

    The return of center Scott Wells to the starting lineup after he missed the preseason opener because of a back injury gave way to a collective bevy of pass-protection breakdowns in Green Bay's 34-6 loss at San Francisco on Aug. 16. Packers quarterbacks were sacked six times, with starter Aaron Rodgers taken down on four occasions in the first half.

    "Protection wasn't very good," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "It looked like (the 49ers) had push in the pocket consistently. It's something that was a common thread through the game.

    "I thought the 49ers played with better pad level than us. I was not pleased with our pad level and our footwork throughout the game. I thought they were more physical than we were. I need to get that fixed. I did not have the team prepared, and we will get that done this week."

    With McCarthy set to play his starters into the second half in preseason game No. 3, Friday night at Denver, the Packers are no closer to being solidified with their starting guards than they were when training camp opened in late July.

    Jason Spitz, the incumbent starter at right guard, had a brutal performance in making the switch to left guard against the 49ers. He was responsible for at least two of the four sacks of Rodgers. Spitz's letdown came after McCarthy praised him last week for being the offensive line's most consistent player last season.

    Rookie Josh Sitton, who started for the second straight game at right guard, failed to hold up a block that resulted in another Rodgers sack. Wells also wasn't spared blame for a heavy dose of pressure felt by Rodgers, who was knocked down three other times.

    As the Packers inch closer to the start of the season Sept. 8, they're in the same boat they were in the previous three seasons unsettled at guard. "You've got five guys competing for three positions in there," said McCarthy, who included Wells in the mix.

    Wells presumably is secure with his job at center, where Spitz started in his absence the first preseason game. Incumbent starting left guard Daryn Colledge and Allen Barbre also are in the running for a starting job. They started camp as the combatants for the job at left guard, until the emergence of fourth-round draft pick Sitton prompted the coaches to move Spitz from right guard.

    Colledge played the entire game against the 49ers, spelling Sitton at right guard and then taking over for Chad Clifton at left tackle.

    "Ideally, you'd like to have (the starting line set) yesterday, but that's not the case," McCarthy added. "I think those questions will be answered based on how they play."

    In defense of the beleaguered interior linemen, Rodgers could have avoided a couple sacks by getting rid of the football.

    Indecisiveness was apparent in his second pro start since taking over for the departed Brett Favre. Rodgers completed only nine of 16 passes for 58 yards. He was hurt for the second straight game by drops by his receiving corps tight end Donald Lee let a would-be 7-yard touchdown fall out of his hands in the end zone following a Charles Woodson interception.

    Through two games, Rodgers is 18 of 31 passing for 175 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His passer rating is 71.3. He has been sacked a league-high six times.

    "We need to find (a) rhythm and figure out what our identity is going to be," Rodgers said after the last game. "Is it going to be spreading teams out? Is it going to be running the football? We just need to get healthy and, hopefully, have a better performance next week."


  • DT Ryan Pickett is the only projected starter on defense who has yet to appear in a preseason game. Pickett hadn't been cleared to practice after three weeks of training camp because of a lingering hamstring injury.

  • LB A.J. Hawk was sidelined for the 34-6 loss at San Francisco on Aug. 16 because of a chest injury he sustained in the preseason opener five nights earlier. Brandon Chillar started in place of Hawk at weakside linebacker.

  • WR Greg Jennings expects to play in the next preseason game, Friday at Denver, after being held out of the first two contests because of knee soreness. James Jones assumed Jennings' starting spot in the initial two games.

  • C Scott Wells made his preseason debut in the game against the 49ers after being sidelined for nearly two weeks because of a pulled muscle in his lower back. Wells played most of the first half with the starting unit.

  • DT Johnny Jolly also had his first game action of the preseason with a starting nod against the 49ers. Jolly missed the preseason opener because of hip and shoulder injuries.

  • DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has been limited in camp through the first three weeks and didn't play in the first two preseason games because of residual soreness in a knee that was surgically repaired in the spring. General manager Ted Thompson said the team isn't compelled to rush the veteran pass-rush specialist back to the field for game action.

  • WR Ruvell Martin was kept out of the game against the 49ers after suffering a mild concussion and a bruised jaw in the first preseason game. Martin was knocked out of the game on a jarring hit by Bengals safety Marvin White, who led with his helmet and was later fined $7,500 by the league. Martin returned to practice three days later.

  • CB Jarrett Bush, who was stripped of the nickel-back role late last season, could be in jeopardy of not having a roster spot by the end of camp. Bush was exploited repeatedly by the 49ers' passing attack in the most recent preseason game and exacerbated matters with a handful of penalties, including two on special teams.

  • RB DeShawn Wynn, whose inability as a rookie to stay on the field ultimately landed him on injured reserve early last season, is being dogged again by injury. He suffered a sprained ankle in the first preseason game Aug. 11 and was inactive for the next contest. The lost time has set Wynn back in his battle for Vernand Morency and Noah Herron for the No. 3 halfback spot.

  • DT Justin Harrell, the team's first-round draft pick in 2007, remains on the PUP list as he continues to do rehab work for a back injury he aggravated. Time could be running out for Harrell, who might need a second surgery, to play this season.

  • TE Evan Moore, an undrafted rookie, suffered a left knee injury in the closing moments of the game at San Francisco after he absorbed a hit from a helmet and fumbled the football.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just stunk. You can't color it and put it in any other light. We flat-out stunk, and from an offensive standpoint, there's nothing you can say. We flat-out were no good." — Right tackle Mark Tauscher, on the Packers' woeful performance in a 34-6 loss at San Francisco on Aug. 16.

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