Around the NFC North

In Chicago, Marty Booker's status on the depth chart is confusing. In Detroit, a dead-last defense can only hope to get better. In Green Bay, a more aggressive defensive approach has at least one player talking big. See what players and coaches around the NFC North had to say on those topics.


When Marty Booker was traded from the Bears to the Miami Dolphins hours before the second preseason game in 2004, he was the undisputed go-to guy in the passing game. In each of the three previous seasons, he had led the Bears in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

But Booker, who was signed in the off-season as a free agent after becoming a salary-cap casualty in Miami, returns to the Bears as something of a mystery man. No one can say for sure how he'll fit into a passing game in transition. He could be the No. 1 receiver again, or he could be lost in the shuffle.

"I'm still trying to find that out," Booker said. "Right now we're just out there practicing, trying to get a feel for one another and get a little chemistry going in this offense."

Fourteen players caught passes in the preseason opener, but Booker wasn't one of them. He dropped his only opportunity, a short sideline route.

"We need to see a little more from Marty," a member of the Bears' brain trust said anonymously as the team prepared for Saturday night's second preseason game.

Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake agrees, but he's got a pretty good idea of what he has in Booker.

"We need him to show up, like everybody," Drake said. "He had some opportunities to catch one or two (vs. the Chiefs), and it didn't happen. Each and every guy is continuing to audition, and this is an important game (in Seattle on Saturday against the Seahawks) for all of them. But we know Marty. He's a veteran guy. He's had some good practices here this week, and I'm looking forward to him having a good game."

Booker has not had much of an impact so far, but coaches are well aware of his abilities. His 509 career receptions are 47 more than the next three Bears combined.

"He gives us leadership, ability, and he's a guy who's been there before, a guy that the younger guys can look up to because he's been through the wars," Drake said. "I'm extremely happy that he's here. He shows that he still has a great deal of play-making ability. Still, right now, he's in the process of grasping the whole offense like the majority of the guys are."

For the second straight week, Booker and Brandon Lloyd and listed as co-starters at one wide receiver position on the Bears' depth chart, while Devin Hester and Rashied Davis are both listed at the other starting wideout spot.

The entire position was blurred coming into training camp, but Drake said it could be a lot more clear after Saturday's game.

"It's coming into focus," he said. "After this game, we ought to be able to start honing in a little bit."

Booker hopes it comes full circle for him, and he almost feels as if he'd never left. He kept his home in the area even after he was traded, so coming back was an easy transition..

"It's just like I was on a vacation for a little bit," he said. "I didn't forget how to get here (to Olivet Nazarene University). I didn't forget how to get to Halas Hall. It's not like I forgot how to get to the stadium or anything like that. Nothing was lost. Everything was still fresh in my mind."

That includes the way the trade — Booker and a third-round draft choice for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye — went down, which was a little awkward.

"I remember everything about it," the 32-year-old Booker said. "How could you forget anything like that? It was a shock. Lovie (Smith) and (G.M. Jerry) Angelo come into my hotel room to tell me what was going on. I never would have expected it right before a preseason game like that. It was just a sour moment at that point, and then the next thing you know, I was on a plane headed to Miami, trying to adjust down there. It was tough at first, but you just have to roll with it."


The Detroit Lions' defense ranked last in the NFL last season. Last in average yards allowed. Last in average points allowed.

The Lions allowed 56 points at Philadelphia, the most points they had allowed since 1968. They allowed 51 points at San Diego, giving up 50 points twice in a season for the first time in their history.

But they expect to be much better this season. They have nowhere to go but up, and they have made significant changes in their team approach and personnel.

The Lions' emphasis on running the ball this season isn't just about balance for balance's sake or opening up the field for wide receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. It's about controlling the ball and the clock.

Mike Martz knew the Lions' weakness on defense last season, but he didn't protect it. He helped expose it. He threw the ball anyway. That was a big reason he was fired.

The Lions will be committed to running the ball this season, even if they are not a juggernaut. A run for no gain still keeps the clock moving.

The defense was on the field far too much last season, and coach Rod Marinelli illustrated that for his players recently.

"He did a chart, how many plays we were out there," defensive end Dewayne White said. "We were out there playing 18 games in a 16-game schedule."

It's the defense's job to get off the field, too, of course. The Lions forced a lot of turnovers last season, at least in the first half of the season, but struggled on third down.

They allowed opponents to complete 70.1 percent of their passes, by far the worst in the league. Their tackling was terrible at times.

The Lions aggressively addressed their secondary in the off-season, adding Tampa Two-style veterans Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson, plus Leigh Bodden. They have better ball and cover skills now. They should be able to play more man and press coverage.

"Our secondary's really drastically improved," Marinelli said.

The front seven is still a big question mark. The linebackers need to make more plays. The line needs to get more consistent pressure on the quarterback. The Lions need young players like Shaun Cody, Ikaika Alama-Francis and Cliff Avril to develop and make an impact.

But there are some solid signs.

"I'm so excited about the defense the secondary, the linebackers, everybody knowing the defense better, knowing where to be," White said. "We just right now need to keep building chemistry and keep learning."

When Marinelli says the run fits are good, that means the system is working. And he said they were good after the exhibition opener against the New York Giants.

The Lions added players who know the system, and most of the others have had two years in the system now. It shows.

"So far they're playing the system, and when you play the system and you understand it, you really play fast," Marinelli said. "Everything's just about doing things exactly right. I think it's coming along."


Never one to exhibit restraint in saying what's on his mind, linebacker Nick Barnett said in training camp last week that he and his defensive teammates can be A-1 material in the NFL this year.

"It's too early to tell, it is preseason, and I'm not going to make super assumptions," Barnett said. "But, I have all of the confidence in all of these guys in here, and I think we can be the best defense."

Barnett's lofty prediction has been piqued by a combination of having last year's 11th-rated defense nearly intact (Green Bay lost only one starter, tackle Corey Williams) and an ambitious game plan rolled out by coordinator Bob Sanders.

A protege of former Miami Dolphins and Packers defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who wasn't keen on gambling up front, Sanders has stepped out of character in his third year leading the defense. The Packers are blitzing with greater frequency and doing so in a variety of ways.

"We're trying to not leave any stones unturned," Sanders said. "All of the different options that we have, either we've got ‘em and if we don't, we don't. We just want to be ready to go and have our guys have enough tools to make sure that we can handle all of the situations that we have."

Sanders wouldn't disclose how many pressure packages are in the playbook, but acknowledged, "Every variation that we think we might need we're working on."

One wrinkle that is opening eyes across the league is a 2-4-5 formation, employed by the Packers just a few times in their first two preseason games. Ends Aaron Kampman and Michael Montgomery, as the only down linemen, flank a gaping hole in the middle of the defensive line that winds up being filled by a blitzing quartet of linebackers by the snap of the football.

The free-agent signing of Brandon Chillar, formerly of St. Louis, gives Sanders the liberty to put four starting-caliber linebackers on the field at the same time. Cincinnati's Carson Palmer and San Francisco's J.T. O'Sullivan were under duress in the face of the uncommon package last week. Green Bay shut out both teams for seven series with its entire starting unit on the field.

"We are definitely blitzing more," Barnett said. "We haven't blitzed as much as we probably will during the regular season. But, we are running around and flying around and sending guys and moving guys around, which is a far improvement as far as the blitz game goes from last year."

The need to stoke pressure on the quarterback comes after the Packers produced all but 4 + of their 36 sacks last season from the defensive line. No one in the secondary had a sack. Green Bay's ability to get to the quarterback dropped off markedly by the end of last season, when it managed only eight sacks in the final seven games, including two postseason outings.

Veterans such as cornerback Charles Woodson are receptive to having a more active role in creeping up to the line and chasing the football in the offensive backfield.

"You've just got to get to the quarterback," Woodson said.

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