Around the NFC North

The Bears' offensive line is getting a makeover, the Lions were apparently impressed with Matthew Stafford, and the Packers are searching for consistency on the offensive line. Get those stories and more notes from around the NFC North.


A couple hours after the Bears locked up their franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler, they brought in future Hall of Fame left tackle Orlando Pace to protect him.

The deal with Pace is for $15 million over three years with the 33-year-old, seven-time Pro Bowler scheduled to earn $6.1 million in the first year of the deal and $11 million in the first two. The Ravens had also made an offer to Pace that was for more money, according to an NFL source, but Baltimore wanted him to move to right tackle.

The 6-foot-7, 325-pound Pace will remain at left tackle with the Bears, with last year's first-round pick, Chris Williams, moving to right tackle.

Pace, a 12-year veteran, was recently cut by the Rams to clear $6 million in salary cap space. Although he has battled injuries in recent seasons, Pace was still considered the most proficient member of the Rams' offensive line last season, and the consensus among NFL scouts is that he's still got plenty of gas in the tank.

The Bears' offensive line will look drastically different next season from top to bottom. They lost last year's starting right tackle, John Tait, to retirement. And last year's starting left tackle, John St. Clair, signed with the Browns as an unrestricted free agent.

But last month, the Bears signed unrestricted free agent offensive lineman Frank Omiyale away from the Panthers, and they also added offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer shortly after he was cut by the Browns.
Before the start of free agency, the Bears were expected to address shortcomings on the offensive line, but that is no longer an urgent need. Wide receiver now is the team's weakest area, but they won't have a first-round pick to address that, having sent it to Denver for Cutler.

The Bears won't pick until the middle of the second round (No. 49 overall) in the April 25 draft. While their own third-round selection (No. 84 overall) also goes to the Broncos, the Bears have a compensatory, third-round pick (No. 99) for losing Bernard Berrian in free agency last year. The Bears also have a fourth-rounder, two No. 5s, a 6 and two No. 7s.


  • DRE Alex Brown led the Bears in sacks last season with an embarrassingly low total of six.

    New assistant head coach/defensive line Rod Marinelli isn't fixated on numbers, but he believes the Bears' defensive linemen are capable of more.

    "You want to max out every man," Marinelli said. "I think that's the most important. Whatever a man has, you want to take him to the limit and get as much as you can get from each guy."

    Brown has had six sacks in three different seasons and had a career-high seven in 2007. DLE Adewale Ogunleye had just five sacks last season but had nine in ‘07, 10 in ‘05 and 15 back in ‘03 with the Dolphins. DE Mark Anderson had 12 as a rookie in 2006, but just five the following seasons and only one last year. DT Tommie Harris had five sacks last season but eight a year earlier.

    "It's important that we get to the passer," Marinelli said, "but that we also get pressure, get hits on the quarterback, make him throw the ball early, and it's important that we do it on every down. The sacks may come, but the hits, the pressures and it all works together in the system. It's about the system working. I like the group. It's a veteran group with some young talent. It's really a nice mixture."

  • Before free agency started, the Bears said they were confident heading into the off-season with Craig Steltz, last year's fourth round pick, as the starting free safety.

    But then they signed veteran free agents Josh Bullocks and Glenn Earl. Steltz is still in the mix, but he says he'll miss the presence of Mike Brown, who was not offered a contract by the Bears after nine years of quarterbacking their secondary, when healthy.

    "I learned how to be a professional in a different league," Steltz said. "I had an opportunity to learn from Mike; the way he performed, and all the little things he did that made him a great player."

  • The Bears could be just a footnote in their two preseason road games, considering they'll be facing the Bills and controversial free-agent wide receiver Terrell Owens in the preseason opener, and the Broncos, who are expected to be without malcontent quarterback Jay Cutler.

    The Denver game will be nationally televised at 7 p.m., Aug. 30, on Sunday Night Football (NBC-TV). While specific dates and start times for the other preseason games won't be announced until next month, the Bills game will be the week of Aug. 13-16.

    The Bears' home preseason games are against the Giants (the week of Aug. 20-23) and the Browns (the week of Sept. 3-6) in the preseason finale.

    The Bears' regular-season opener will also be nationally televised on NBC's Sunday Night Football, Sept. 13 against the Packers at Lambeau Field. The remainder of the regular-season schedule will be announced in mid-April.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Normally you see a very big jump between the two. Guys like Matt Forte, this time last year he was walking around in a college lettermen's jacket." — Bears coach Lovie Smith, noting the biggest improvement in players is from their rookie year to their second season. Forte still rushed for 1,238 yards and caught 63 passes for 477 yards as a rookie in 2008.


    If Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford was as impressive as advertised in his private workout for the Lions, he increased the odds he will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

    Beforehand, the Lions said they would put more stock in the private workout than Georgia's pro day. They controlled the parameters of the private workout, whereas Georgia's pro day was scripted.

    The Lions reportedly gave Stafford a playbook three weeks before the private workout, then tested him on it in the classroom and on the field. Stafford threw to Georgia receivers.

    "You can put him in some situations and all of a sudden sort of throw some curveball, so to speak, at him - see how he reacts, see how he handles that, see how he interacts with the other guys," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said before the workout. "Those are all things that you're probably going to see in a workout that you really couldn't see anywhere else."

    The Falcons went through the same process last year before drafting Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan third overall. At BC's pro day, coach Mike Smith was more interested in Ryan's interpersonal skills.

    "When I'm at a pro day, I like to see how a player interacts with the surroundings and not necessarily watch the specific throws," Smith said. "You want to see how he interacts with his teammates, interacts with the coaches."

    During the private workout, the Falcons picked apart Ryan's football knowledge and ability.

    "We had a private workout and also had a private meeting," Smith said. "I think the thing that you try to do in those situations is, you want to get him up on the board and evaluate his football knowledge and throw things at him."

    Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave quizzed Ryan.

    "They tried to give him as much as they could and tried to see how he would adjust on the run," Smith said. "I think it's important that you see how guys handle different situations up on the board."


  • During his first team meeting, new Lions coach Jim Schwartz showed the players a picture he used to have in the defensive meeting room at Tennessee, where he was the defensive coordinator the past eight seasons. It was of the 100-meter final at the 2004 Athens Olympics, in which four hundredths of a second separated gold from no medal at all. "It had nothing to do with talent," Schwartz said. "It was all about technique. It was all about preparation and that perfect performance. There is a little bit of that in the NFL."

  • Schwartz has said the Lions won't draft anyone first overall unless they are completely comfortable with him. But considering all the variables at quarterback, how can they be completely comfortable with a QB? General manager Martin Mayhew acknowledges the draft is an inexact science, and quarterback is particularly risky. "You just can't ever tell what's in here or what's here," Mayhew said, tapping his heart, then his head. "You don't know until you know. We're going to feel completely comfortable with everything we know about. But until the lights come on opening day, whenever that is, and he steps on the field somewhere, you don't know."

  • Schwartz's old boss, Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, was asked if there was any way to gauge how a quarterback prospect would deal with the day-to-day pressure of leading an NFL team. "I think there is," Fisher said. "You can go in the evaluation process and find out how he responded on the practice field over the last couple years. I will tell you this: If anybody's going to thoroughly exhaust all possibilities and uncover each and every stone, it's going to be coach Schwartz. There will not be any surprises."

  • How difficult will it be to reach a deal with the No. 1 pick, considering the rule changes related to the last year of the salary cap under the current collective bargaining agreement? Mayhew said the agent will receive recommendations from the NFL Players' Association, and the Lions will talk to the NFL management council. "The big thing is going to be marrying up what those entities say about how the deal should be structured and coming to an agreement on structure," Mayhew said. "I think once you get an agreement on structure, then the money will fall into place."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "That No. 1 pick, man, that's always the scary one. Isn't it? Isn't everybody always trying to trade out of that deal, from what I hear? Aren't those guys always trying to move back? They want to be where I'm at, kind of?" — Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris, whose Buccaneers hold the No. 19 pick, asked if he would be enthusiastic about taking a quarterback at No. 1.


    The free-agent signing of hulking Duke Preston on March 30 could open a door of possibilities for the Packers' unsettled offensive line.
    Preston, who played his first four years in the league with the Buffalo Bills, signed a two-year deal worth $2 million with no signing bonus.
    The 6-foot-5, 311-pound Preston projects to be a backup in the interior of the line. Yet, his impressive size and starting experience with the Bills won't be discounted when the competition for front-line jobs begins with offseason practices in May and June and picks up in earnest with training camp in the late summer.

    Preston started 20 games for the Bills, including 11 last season as an injury replacement at center. He also can play both guard spots and right tackle.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy cited Preston's athleticism, and the newcomer's large frame would mesh with McCarthy's desire to incorporate more power-oriented plays in the team's zone-blocking scheme.

    McCarthy has said this offseason that he wants to establish continuity on the line after advocating cross-training at multiple positions for a number of linemen the last couple years.

    Consequently, the preference is to keep Daryn Colledge at left guard, alongside veteran left tackle Chad Clifton, and possibly have young prospect Josh Sitton take over at right guard. Sitton and Colledge, both of whom were tackles in college, also could be in the mix to start at right tackle if the Packers don't re-sign veteran Mark Tauscher, an unrestricted free agent who won't be ready until training camp at the earliest because of January knee surgery.

    "The good thing is we have a lot of depth, some young guys that can play more than one position. That's going to make for some good battles," center Scott Wells said.

    Wells' hold on his starting job is tenuous because the Packers are giving incumbent right guard Jason Spitz a shot to contend for the position in the middle.

    Wells was beset by a back injury last season, and he's in recovery mode early in the offseason.

    "Until I'm told otherwise, I'm expecting to play," Wells said of the starting spot. "Jason's a good player, he's a great guard, and he can play center as well. So, whatever they decide to do ..."

    Depending on what happens at center and also at right tackle, a starting job could open at guard for Preston to nab.


  • Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly is in the clear to participate in the Packers' offseason activities.

    His drug possession trial in Houston was postponed twice in late March and pushed back to start June 26.

    The Packers complete their offseason program, which includes voluntary organized team activities in late May and early June, with a mandatory minicamp June 23-25.

    Jolly, a starter, was arrested last July in Houston for possession of codeine. He was indicted in October on the felony charge.

  • Receiver Greg Jennings recently reiterated that he isn't being consumed by his contract status with the team.

    After emerging last season as Green Bay's top wideout, Jennings is entering the final year of his rookie contract as a second-round draft pick in 2006. He is considered the top priority among several players who will be in their contract year for the organization to reward with an extension before next year.

    "In my heart of hearts, honestly, I feel like I'm going to be a Green Bay Packer for my career," Jennings told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "That's me. And I don't want to say (the Packers) feel the same way and then they do something different, but I'm pretty sure they feel the same way. So, I should be here."

  • New strength and conditioning coordinator Dave Redding is given to descriptive analogies when he talks football and weight training.

    "This is an abusive sport," Redding said. "Because of the number of bodies out there flying around, 22 bodies flying around, there's not a sport like it in the world. There's more participants, there's more collisions, there's more pile-ups, more bodies."

    In other words, it's like being in "a car wreck," Redding added pointedly.

    So, Redding and his staff have the players on a nine-week workout program intended to keep them out of harm's way on the highway, er, football field.

    "Building up muscle mass and building up strength and endurance and work capacity and workloads, hopefully we can prevent them from that car wreck taking over and winning the battle, so to speak," Redding said.

  • The Packers will get a sneak peek at two of their regular-season opponents on the 2009 schedule in preseason action.

    Matchups against the Cleveland Browns and the reigning NFC champion Arizona Cardinals are part of the four-game exhibition slate. The Packers will later meet the Browns and the Cardinals on the road.

    Green Bay's first two preseason games will be at Lambeau Field - against the Browns on a to-be-determined date in an Aug. 13-17 window and the Buffalo Bills (Aug. 20-24).

    The Packers will end the preseason at the Cardinals (Aug. 27-31) and at the Tennessee Titans (Sept. 3-4).

    Green Bay will play the Titans in its final exhibition game for the eighth straight year.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not interested in (lifting) numbers. I want them to be the same guy on the first play of the first game (as) on the last play of the last game, to make the block, the tackle, the catch, the throw, the kick to win you know what. That's what we're all here for - to get a ring. That's all that matters." — First-year Packers strength and conditioning coordinator Dave Redding on the football-specific training regimen he has the players on the next several weeks.

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