NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears are still looking for a young receiver to break out, the Lions think they upgraded their defense with several offseason additions, and Packers safety Nick Collins may have missed some training for reasons other than a contract dispute. Travel around the NFC North for the top stories of the past week.

CHICAGO BEARS

Maybe there's a reason the Bears haven't signed a 30-something unrestricted free agent wide receiver in order to give Jay Cutler a proven and productive target to throw his laser-like passes to this season.

Maybe last year's experiment with veteran unrestricted free agent wide receivers Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd soured the Bears on that approach. Lloyd caught 26 passes last season for 364 yards and was close to useless in the final 12 games, when he caught 11 passes for 115 yards. Booker was even less productive. He caught 14 passes for 211 yards all season, and in the final nine games had just three catches for 28 yards.

Even worse, their presence kept last year's third-round pick, Earl Bennett, buried on the depth chart, and it retarded his development. This year, because Booker and Lloyd are gone, Bennett will be fast-tracked and given a legitimate shot to start or at least contribute. Maybe, if he were given the same chance last season he might have put up better numbers than either Booker or Lloyd, but it's always safer to go with the proven commodity and most coaches tend to lean that way.

The same could be true of this year's third-round pick, Juaquin Iglesias. With a veteran on the roster, Iglesias would be the odd man out. On the current roster, he has an opportunity to get significant playing time.

"He'll have a better chance to play because he won't have those veteran guys in front of him," Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said during the team's rookie mini-camp earlier this month. "Last year, we had a luxury of having two veteran guys there and we could slow (Bennett's) progress down some. We may accelerate (Iglesias') progress a little."

If the Bears are truly convinced that Bennett and Iglesias are ready for prime time, maybe they don't need to bring in a veteran presence. But saying that the Bears had the "luxury" of having Booker and Lloyd last year is definitely giving those two more credit than they deserve.

In addition to Bennett and Iglesias, the Bears might also get some production from fifth-round pick Johnny Knox, who impressed with not only his speed but his soft hands during the rookie minicamp.

"I like him," Drake said. "We hope that this is a group that we can count on, but you don't ever know."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wasn't thinking too much about it. I guess he just passed it down to another great player." — Rookie CB D.J. Moore when told that the No. 30 he wore at the Bears' rookie minicamp formerly belonged to Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown, who remains an unrestricted free agent.


DETROIT LIONS

The Lions' defense has been horrible the past two years. Beyond horrible.

It ranked last in average yards and points allowed in both 2007 and ‘08, and last year the Lions allowed 517 points, second-most in the history of the NFL.

But the Lions have overhauled the defense this offseason, even though they used their first two draft picks on offensive players: quarterback Matthew Stafford and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The Lions have a new coaching staff, a new scheme and several new players. More than half the starters on defense might be different.

"The jury's out," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "This time of the year, you've got to be careful what you say, because it might catch you in the end. But overall, I think on defense I feel pretty good with the players we got."

The Lions' new coach, Jim Schwartz, was Tennessee's defensive coordinator the past eight years. He has ditched the Tampa Two philosophy.

Schwartz wants bigger, stronger players funneling ballcarriers into the middle, instead of smaller, quicker players funneling ballcarriers to the outside. He wants more man-to-man coverage and blitzing, less zone. He wants more versatility.

The Lions have three new cornerbacks: Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry and Eric King. They have two new linebackers: Larry Foote and Julian Peterson. They have a new defensive tackle: Grady Jackson. They could still add a new defensive end: free agent Kevin Carter.

Those are just the highlights, and that doesn't include draft picks like safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy.

"I'm pleased with what happened in the draft," said Cunningham, who raved about Delmas' performance in rookie orientation and said he was pleased with Levy's.

The Lions still have a long way to go, though — even in their evaluation of the holdovers.

"I'm still finding out the way they were coached," Cunningham said. "I think it's a process of understanding what they were asked to do, what we're asking them to do, and evaluating them athletically and in the meeting rooms. So it's a combination of a lot of things.

"You know America, when they got McDonald's hamburgers, everything became easy. Our job is supposed to be that we have the answers in 12 hours. But this is a process all the way through camp and preseason."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "For people to think you can put five rookies on a defense and stop anybody, you can do it for three quarters. But in the fourth quarter when the vet stands up and looks at you and says, ‘Well, son, now it's time for me to kick your ass,' that's what they do." — Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who played several rookies in Kansas City last year.


GREEN BAY PACKERS

If Nick Collins is thinking about going to greater lengths to protest the absence of a more lucrative contract, he sure has the Packers and their fans fooled.

On the heels of skipping most of the first part of the team's offseason program, which commenced March 16, the Pro Bowl safety hopped on a coach bus to spend four days traveling Wisconsin on the Packers Tailgate Tour. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson, linebacker Brady Poppinga and team president Mark Murphy also were on board for the May 11-14 meet-and-greet with fans across the state.

Collins insisted in talking with reporters at various stops that his earlier absence from the voluntary workouts wasn't tied to greed.

"I don't have a problem with my contract," Collins said. "The thing is I have some family issues back home that I'm taking care of. I just want to be close to my family right now."

Collins spent the latter half of March and the better part of April at his offseason home in Gainesville, Fla. His wife, Andrea, gave birth to the couple's third child April 10.

However, tending to the newborn reportedly isn't the "family issues" that have been occupying Collins' time in recent weeks. He didn't elaborate on the matter during the tailgate tour.

Collins reported to Green Bay for some of the offseason program in late April.

In turn, head coach Mike McCarthy said publicly that Collins' involvement with team activities had been preempted by a business situation, further adding to speculation that the emerging defensive leader was upset about his contract status.

Collins, a second-round draft pick in 2005, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He is coming off a breakthrough season, in which he tied teammate Charles Woodson for the NFC lead in interceptions with a career-high seven and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Collins said during the tailgate tour he feels he is deserving of a new contract from the Packers but didn't let on how much dissatisfaction he has, if any, with the organization.

"I've got other things to worry about than the contract," he said. "I've been talking to the coaches, (defensive coordinator Dom) Capers. We have an understanding. So, hopefully, everything will work out for the best."

Collins wouldn't comment on whether he will be in attendance for the voluntary organized team activities, which start May 26.

Those sessions will mark the start of the team's installation of its new 3-4 defensive scheme. So, Collins' presence would be important as Capers tries to get his unit on the same page from the get-go.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not really trying to worry about what Brett's doing right now. Hopefully, he stays retired, but if he wants to come back, that's up to him. But, hopefully, he stays in Mississippi." — Packers safety Nick Collins on the speculation that quarterback Brett Favre, a former teammate with Green Bay, will come out of retirement and sign with the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings.

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