NFC North News, Notes and Quotes

The Bears are hoping that turning to a familiar face will help shore up their offensive line, the Lions could be in for some more pain against the Packers, but the Packers are hoping to get their running back in gear for the weekend. Get those stories and many more from the Vikings' divisional rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

Especially because they're facing a massive and athletic defensive front on the road against the Panthers Sunday, the Bears were in need of dependable offensive line insurance.

So they turned to a familiar face.

Thirteen-year veteran offensive tackle Fred Miller signed a one-year contract Wednesday for $781,000, the prorated portion, 16/17ths, of the veteran minimum, including a $40,000 signing bonus.

To clear room on the 53-man roster, the Bears waived rookie offensive tackle Kirk Barton, a seventh-round draft pick (247th overall) out of Ohio State, who was the only backup last week behind starters John St. Clair and John Tait.

"To get another veteran offensive lineman into the mix is good," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "It's an easy transition for him as far as knowing what we do."

The 6-foot-7, 315-pound Miller played in 186 NFL games with 164 starts, including 46 with the Bears over the previous three seasons before he was waived in the off-season. His re-signing underscores the Bears' lack of depth at the offensive tackle spot. First-round pick Chris Williams, a projected starter at left tackle on draft day, is not expected back on the field until at least mid-season after undergoing back surgery in early August for a herniated disc.

The Bears' offensive line played well in the Week One upset of the Colts, but they were dangerously thin at the position, especially considering that left tackle John St. Clair is 31 and right tackle John Tait is 33. Tait was limited during Wednesday's practice but is expected to start on Sunday.

Miller remained in the Chicago area after he was let go but has not played any football, although he worked out for the Bucs in Tampa and also had interest from the Baltimore Ravens. He might be a couple weeks away from being in football shape, and the Bears hope he doesn't have to play against the Panthers, but he won't have to struggle with the mental part of learning the Bears' offense.

"It was like he didn't miss a beat mentally," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "Obviously he has to get reps and do all that and get back in football condition, but mentally he's got a good feel for what we're doing. (Offensive line coach) Harry (Hiestand) is talking to him about plays and adjustments, protections and runs, and he knows exactly what he's talking about."

Miller chose the Bears because of his familiarity with the personnel and to avoid uprooting his family. He had been helping coach his sons Grant and Evan in Pop Warner football, as he weighed his offers to return to the playing field.

"You miss it to an extent," Miller said. "I had a lot of time to spend with my family, with my kids and coach their football teams and things of that nature. I'm going to miss that, and that was really a tough decision for me. I thought about it until the last minute. I was like, ‘Do I really want to come back out and play and miss my kids growing up and playing football? Or do I want to come out and play?
"I figured I can be a little selfish one more year, and then I have the rest of my life to go out and spend time with them."

Although the Bears and Miller parted ways on Feb. 18, they remained on good terms.

"No animosity at all," Miller said. "I know this is a business. They've got to do what they think is best for the team, and I have to do things that I think are best for me, and you just kind of leave it at that. When I was waived, coach Smith gave me a call. I said, ‘I have all the respect for you, and I totally understand. I know this is football and that's a part of it and I wish you guys the best of luck,' and we parted ways."

Now they're back together, but it may take some time before Miller is comfortable playing in a game.

"I haven't really done a whole lot football-wise and don't know what type of football shape I'm in," he said, "so we're just going to take it day-by-day and see how it goes."

Miller struggled last season, along with the entire offensive line, but he says he's much healthier now after undergoing ankle surgery in the off-season.

"I was probably playing at about 40 or 50 percent," he said. "Once I had my surgery, taking out the bone spurs and the cartilage that was floating around, it's back to 90 percent. It's never going to be at 100 percent, anymore, but right now it feels pretty good."

Miller said he doesn't regret playing through the injury, even though his performance was diminished.

"As a football player you don't want to stop playing," he said. "I wanted to play no matter what, and if I needed to take (time) off then, I would do that. But until then I would play. That's just my mentality. That's how I play. So I played."

SERIES HISTORY: 5th meeting. Tied 2-2, including a 29-21 Panthers victory at Soldier Field in a divisional round playoff game after the 2005 season. Less than two months earlier, the Bears won 13-3, getting eight sacks and two interceptions against Jake Delhomme.

NOTES

  • Only the Ravens and Falcons ran the ball more in Week One than the Bears, who pounded it on the ground 39 times for 183 yards in the 29-13 victory over the Colts. That was exactly 100 more yards than they averaged in 2007.

    "We go into the game trying to run the football," coach Lovie Smith said. "We have to be able to establish the run for us to be successful. We were able to do that. The offensive line did a super job of blocking, giving our running backs, especially Matt Forte (123 yards on 23 carries), an opportunity to do his thing."

    The Bears' rushed for 47 more yards vs. the Colts than they did against any of their 16 opponents last season, and they only ran more than 34 times in a game once in 2007, when they were last in the NFL with a 3.1-yard average and 30th in total rushing yards.

    "We really ran the football at them," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "Any time we do that, control the clock and make key plays in the passing game, we're going to be right there."

  • Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye was named NFC defensive player of the week for his performance in the 29-13 upset of the Colts.
    Ogunleye had three tackles for loss, including one for a safety, and another on a fourth-and-one play that helped set up the Bears' clinching touchdown. He also had three other tackles and a quarterback hurry.

    "What I want to do is continue what I did last year," said Ogunleye, who led the Bears' linemen with 70 tackles last season and had a team-best nine sacks, six forced fumbles and three recovered fumbles. "Every game, I want to try to make a big play. It's the same recipe I had last year."

  • Former Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who is now back with the Panthers after being waived by the Bears in the off-season, was quoted in Sports Illustrated during the preseason as saying "Chicago is where wide receivers go to die."

    With the Bears traveling to Carolina this weekend to renew acquaintances with Muhammad, he was asked about the quote and typically spun it to absolve himself of all blame while at the same time tooting his own horn.

    "I wasn't the originator of that comment," Muhammad said. "It actually was made when I signed in Chicago (before the 2005 season). Someone questioned why I went to Chicago because of that comment. I tried to discredit it as much as I could when I was in Chicago. I gave it all I could. That's my nature; I'm going to play as hard as I can and do the best I can.

    "Obviously my career (with the Bears) wasn't as good as it was the nine years I was (in Carolina), and then some other players who were there left and had better careers when they left than when they played there. That's what we talked about, me and Peter King. That comment became the headline of the article. So be it."

    Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, who was probably thrown under the bus by Muhammad as much as anyone, was asked his reaction when he first heard the quote.

    "I didn't have one," Orton said.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 123 - Number of rushing yards by rookie Matt Forte in his NFL debut. That's more than the 115 that Walter Payton got in his first NFL game

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think teams definitely look at him as a young quarterback. His second start of his second go-round. They'll look at him like that most of the year. We assume we'll get blitzed
    each week. That seems to be the ‘in' thing to do against the Chicago Bears, and hopefully we'll be ready for it when they do." — Bears coach Lovie Smith on QB Kyle Orton.


    DETROIT LIONS

    First you watched the Lions lose their season opener Sunday at Atlanta, 34-21. Then you watched Green Bay beat Minnesota on "Monday Night Football," 24-19.

    And then, if you were a Lions fan, you said, "Uh-oh."

    The way the Lions' defense played at Atlanta and the Packers' offense played against Minnesota, it looks like it will be a long day for the Lions unless they get some of their problems sorted out.

    In his first NFL start, rookie Matt Ryan torched the Lions. He threw a 62-yard touchdown pass on his first career attempt and finished 9-for-13 for 161 yards.

    In his first NFL start, Aaron Rodgers torched the Vikings. He threw a touchdown pass and ran for another, and he finished 18-for-22 for 178 yards. Had a 68-yard scoring strike not been called back because of an illegal lineman downfield, his numbers would have been even more impressive.

    Lions coach Rod Marinelli compared Rodgers to his predecessor, Brett Favre. Marinelli faced Favre for years, dating back to his days in Tampa Bay, when the Buccaneers were in the NFC Central with the Packers.

    Asked if it was weird to see a Green Bay offense without Favre, Marinelli said: "It is. Seeing him there forever. But this guy, it looks like him a little bit. He gets the ball out quick. He's got real good movement. He really does. He can run well. ... You look at his performance. He went in there against a very talented football team in Minnesota and did a nice job."

    The Falcons became the third team in history to reach 300 rushing yards against the Lions as they piled up a team-record 318 - 321 before the knee-downs at the end. Running back Michael Turner rushed for a career-best 220.

    The Packers rushed for 139 yards against the Vikings, not nearly as big a total, but impressive nonetheless when you consider the Vikings ranked No. 1 in rush defense last season. Ryan Grant rushed for 92 yards on 12 carries, despite a sore hamstring.

    Other scary sights:

  • Will Blackmon returning a punt 76 yards for a touchdown. The Lions have had trouble with their coverage units.

  • Left end Aaron Kampman recording another sack. Kampman has had two sacks in each of his past two games against Detroit. He has five in his past five games against Detroit. The Lions still are playing George Foster ahead of first-round pick Gosder Cherilus at right tackle, and Foster allowed a sack at Atlanta when John Abraham blew past him with an inside move.

    "The first thing that jumps out on tape is that he never stops," Foster said of Kampman. "Anytime you're dealing with a guy like that, talented or not, you've got your hands full. In his case, he's very talented and doesn't give up. So you've got to be on your P's and Q's all the way around. He's going to present a challenge, and I'm up for it."

    We'll see if the Lions are up for it overall.

    SERIES HISTORY: 156th meeting. Packers lead series, 84-64-7. The Packers have won five straight in the series. They have won 17 straight at home, including the playoffs. At least, for the Lions' sake, this game is at Ford Field.

    NOTES

  • Center Dominic Raiola thinks the Lions might have been overconfident heading into their season-opening 34-21 loss at Atlanta.

    "I hope this loss humbled this locker room," said Raiola, a team captain. "I think we maybe got ahead of ourselves too early too fast. ... I think maybe everybody thought that because of the moves in the off-season and because of the change in this locker room, it's just going to work like that. It doesn't work like that."

  • Twice in the first half of last season, the Lions bounced back from a bad road loss with a home victory. They lost at Philadelphia, 56-21, then beat Chicago at home. They lost at Washington, 34-3, then beat Tampa Bay at home to kick off a three-game winning streak. They finished the first half 6-2. But they went 1-7 in the second half.

  • Sunday's game could become the first regular-season game at Ford Field not to sell out since the Lions moved there in 2002. Raiola understands the fans' frustration after the Atlanta loss. "It's happened in the past, so how are people supposed to believe that it was a bad game?" Raiola said. "The only way to do that is go back out next Sunday. How can we just lip-service that it was a bad game? You can't. You've just got to prove it. We've got to deal with this. We brought this upon ourselves. We've got to deal with it."

  • Left tackle Jeff Backus isn't too worried about the loss at Atlanta. "We have a good group in here, and we all realize this is a team sport and a team game and it's going to take everybody in here to win ballgames," he said. "I don't think anybody expected to be down 21 so early in the game. We were stuck with that situation. When things aren't going right, you just have to fight and battle your way out of it. We weren't able to get it done. ... I just take this one week at a time. It's a first game. We didn't play well. There's a lot of things we need to improve."

  • Wide receiver Roy Williams wants the Lions to throw more often. "I love to run the ball, but there's nobody in this world that can stop our four-wide package, and it wasn't in," Williams said. "We get in two-minute late in the second (quarter) and we go down in score. That's what we're supposed to be in."

  • Victor DeGrate directly contradicts Tatum Bell's alibi in the Rudi Johnson luggage sage. Bell was caught on a surveillance camera taking Johnson's luggage out of the Lions' locker room Sept. 1, as Johnson was about to take his job as a Lions running back. Bell said it was an honest mistake. He said Victor DeGrate — a friend and former teammate who had been cut Aug. 30 - asked him to pick up his backpack and drop it off at a friend's. He said he picked up the wrong bags and didn't know what happened to their contents. But DeGrate said he never asked Bell to pick up anything. He said he didn't leave behind any backpack and does not know the woman to whom Bell took the bags. "The way I just figure, he got caught up in a jam and that was the best thing going at the time, was to say what he said," DeGrate said.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 82 - Losses since Matt Millen took over as Lions president in 2001.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We went out there and played horrible." — LB Ernie Sims, on the Lions' season-opening 34-21 loss at Atlanta.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Aaron Rodgers is finally being counted on to win ballgames with his leadership skills, huddle command, impromptu decision-making and how he throws the football.

    The Packers might need their first-year starting quarterback, however, to bail them out in the ball-rushing department Sunday at Detroit.

    With only five days to recover and reenergize the batteries following their season-opening win over Minnesota on Monday night, Green Bay goes into Week 2 with health deficiencies at running back.

    Lead dog Ryan Grant isn't close to being fully recovered from a hamstring injury that cost him practically the entire preseason. Grant started the opener, his first significant action since the NFC Championship Game in late January, but couldn't finish the game after being limited to 12 carries.

    "The trainers and coaches were yelling on the sideline, ‘Don't open it up! Don't open it up!' I didn't," said Grant, whose night was finished after he broke loose for a 57-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.

    Grant finished with 92 yards on the ground in a gritty effort.

    "He was very sore at halftime. It affected him on the long run," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's just something that we're being cautious with. It's unfortunate for him. I know he's a little frustrated with it, but he was not at full strength (Monday). I thought he did a very good job of giving us what he could."

    In turn, Grant is being held out of practice until Friday to try to preserve him for another condensed starting assignment Sunday.

    Complicating matters for the Packers in what would be a golden opportunity to make a splash with the running game - considering how Detroit last weekend was gashed for a franchise-record 318 rushing yards by Atlanta, including 220 by former San Diego backup Michael Turner - is the condition of No. 2 back Brandon Jackson.

    McCarthy revealed Wednesday that Jackson suffered a concussion in the second half of Monday's game. Jackson completed the game but was woozy the next day.

    "I would classify it as minor," McCarthy said. "Hopefully, he'll work out (Thursday) and complete the test that's in place for concussions. That was a little bit of a surprise to all of us (Wednesday) morning."

    Both Grant and Jackson had 100-yard rushing days in separate games against the Lions last season.

    The one who might have to carry the bulk of the running load Sunday, however, is undrafted rookie Kregg Lumpkin. His effectiveness as a powerful, assertive back and a dependable pass catcher in the preseason made holdovers Noah Herron and Vernand Morency expendable on the final cutdown day.

    Expressing optimism that Jackson would be able to play, along with Grant and Lumpkin, McCarthy indicated that the team wouldn't be seeking to add an emergency back for Sunday. McCarthy also has faith in turning to Lumpkin, who had an injury-plagued college career at Georgia, for extensive duty.

    "I think he could handle it all," McCarthy said. "He's done a very good job with his opportunities. You can only judge him on what he's done, and every time the young man has been given an opportunity to play, he has improved."

    As a last resort, there's always the mobile Rodgers, who has proved in the preseason and then on Monday that he's willing and able to pull the ball down and pick up yards.

    He ran for 35 yards in eight rushes against the Vikings, including a 1-yard touchdown sneak late in the fourth quarter that made the difference as the Packers hung on for a 24-19 victory.

    "It's the scramble phase," McCarthy said. "You have seen us do scrambling drills (in practice). There are coaching techniques and fundamentals involved in that as far as, ‘Are you out clean, or are you under pressure?' as far as how the receiver runs the route and reaction to the quarterback scrambling, keeping the 1-yard window. Those are all coaching components of the scrambling phase as we identify it.

    "It's just more important for him to keep mind of, I say this all the time here but it is the way he is coached, to be a scrambling quarterback and not a running quarterback."

    SERIES HISTORY: 158th meeting. Packers lead series, 86-64-7. Green Bay has won the last five meetings between the division rivals, dating to the 2005 season. It's the longest string of dominance in the series since the Packers won six in a row spanning the 2000 to ‘03 seasons. Green Bay is 4-2 at Detroit's Ford Field. The NFL's longest uninterrupted series has included two postseason meetings, both won by the Packers in NFC wild-card matchups in the 1993 and ‘94 seasons.

    NOTES

  • The Packers are proud of their youthful existence.

    The organization's public relations staff took time out Wednesday to issue a news release that proclaimed, "Packers remain NFL's youngest team for third straight season."

    By poring over all of the league's opening-day rosters, the determination was made that the Packers' average age is 25.57 years, tying them with the Kansas City Chiefs for the distinction of youngest squad.

    This year's average is the same as it was for Green Bay in 2006, when it edged Tennessee (25.77) for the top spot.
    The Packers opened last season with an average age of 25.72, just ahead of Indianapolis' 25.74.

    Green Bay's 53-man roster at the start this season has only six players 30 and older - receiver Donald Driver and cornerback Al Harris are 33; offensive tackle Chad Clifton is 32; offensive tackle Mark Tauscher and cornerback Charles Woodson are 31; and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is 30.

  • Wide receiver Greg Jennings made sure quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't have a memento to commemorate a victory in his first NFL start Monday night.

    After Rodgers scored on a 1-yard sneak in the fourth quarter to all but cement the Packers' 24-19 win over Minnesota, he spiked the football in the end zone and jumped into the first row of the nearby stands for his first Lambeau Leap. As Rodgers jogged back to Green Bay's sideline, Jennings sprinted across the field with the football and handed it to Rodgers.

    "I'm kind of like the uniformed Red Batty. When they score, I just go grab the ball," said Jennings, in reference to the Packers' longtime equipment manager, who is notorious for retrieving footballs in the end-zone areas when the team's players score a monumental touchdown.

    "It's exciting," Jennings added. "(Rodgers) was going to be looking for that ball somewhere down the line. I figured I'd be the one to give it to him."

  • Rodgers established a modern-era team record in that season-opening win. His completion percentage of 81.8 (18-of-22) is the highest by a Green Bay quarterback in his first NFL start.
    The only other first-time starting QB to have a higher completion percentage in league lore since 1950 is Rob Johnson, who completed 20 of 24 passes (83 percent) for Jacksonville in 1997.

    Rodgers' single-game completion percentage is the fourth highest by any quarterback in team history. Lynn Dickey ranks first (90.5 percent in 1981) and second (87.1 in 1983), and Brett Favre, Rodgers' predecessor, is No. 3 (82.1 in 1995).

  • Cornerback/return specialist Will Blackmon was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 1 on Wednesday.
    Blackmon had a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter of Monday's game, his third special-teams score since last season and second by punt return.

    The third-year player averaged 26 yards in three punt returns and 23 yards in three kickoff returns Monday.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 4 — Games out of six previous visits to Detroit's Ford Field when the Packers scored at least 31 points. They won all of them. The other two games there against the Lions resulted in Green Bay losses, when it was held to 14 and 3 points in 2003 and ‘05, respectively.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't really get caught up in all the other things, and it's important for him not to, too. We have to answer the questions, and it's part of it. As long as he focuses on playing quarterback, there will probably be bumps in the road, but I think everything is going to be fine. The kid is a young, talented quarterback that has a lot of good football in front of him." — Packers head coach Mike McCarthy on Aaron Rodgers, who won his first NFL start Monday night against Minnesota amid intense scrutiny as the replacement for the legendary Brett Favre.

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