Around the NFC North

The Bears could have a roster battle between a recent free-agent signee and a recent draft pick, the Lions are wondering if there is a spot last year's second-round pick, and the Packers are playing a waiting game when it comes to tackle Mark Tauscher. Go around the NFC North for some of the latest personnel battles and other issues.


The Bears' signing of unrestricted free agent tight end Michael Gaines could present last year's fifth-round pick, Kellen Davis, with an uphill battle for a roster spot this year. Gaines, who was also courted by the Jets, signed a one-year deal with a base pay of $620,000, the veteran minimum, although he could earn as much as $1.25 million with incentives.

"The Bears had a plan for me. You can't beat that when people have a goal and a plan mapped out for you at your position. If you put both (the Bears and Jets) together and looked at them on paper, the Jets made sense. But like I said, the Bears had a plan for me and there was just something about Chicago."

The 6-foot-7, 262-pound Davis played in all 16 games last season as the No. 3 tight end but did not catch a pass and was a marginal contributor on special teams. With Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark doing most, if not all, of the pass-catching at the tight end position, the Bears want their No. 3 tight end to be a powerful blocker.

"I never thought I'd be playing for Chicago because of the situation they have," said Gaines said, a Central Florida product. "But this is a privilege that they see me in so many different ways."

At 6-feet-4 and 277 pounds, blocking is Gaines' forte. And the 29-year-old also had 23 receptions last season for the Lions, along with a career-high 260 receiving yards. With the Panthers, Gaines even played some fullback, serving as a lead blocker on running plays.

"It's an unreal moment for me right now, just because of who the Bears are, what the organization is and the winning tradition," Gaines said. "It feels good in that aspect."

In a career that began as a seventh-round draft pick (232nd overall) in 2004 with the Panthers, he has 79 receptions for 810 yards and five touchdowns. After three years in Carolina, Gaines spent 2007 with the Bills before joining the Lions.


  • Anticipating that Marcus Freeman might enter the draft after his junior season, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo scouted the Ohio State linebacker in 2007 and came away impressed.

    "He's very athletic," Angelo said. "I was thinking he was going to come out as a junior, and I thought he would have been a second- or third-round pick."

    Freeman stayed in school but battled an ankle injury for much of his senior season, which caused his production to slip. His tackle total dropped from 109 to 84.

    "He didn't play as well this year," Angelo said. "But he went down to the Senior Bowl probably as healthy as he'd been all year and did a pretty good job there."

    Freeman didn't enjoy waiting until the fifth round to be drafted, but he's glad he wound up with the Bears.

    "Being a competitor, you're disappointed because you want to go as high as you can," the 6-foot-1, 239-pound Freeman said during the Bears' weekend rookie minicamp. "But looking at the situation and being here in Chicago, it couldn't be much better. I'm in a great situation with a 4-3 defense and guys in front of me that are extremely talented. I can learn a lot."

    Even though Freeman's lack of size probably makes him a better fit at weak-side linebacker, his best chance at playing time this season is on the strong side, where Nick Roach won the starting job from Hunter Hillenmeyer last year but isn't entrenched as the starter.

  • Fifth-round WR Johnny Knox may have a greater adjustment to the NFL, considering he comes from Division-II Abilene Christian, but he doesn't have to look beyond teammate Danieal Manning for an example of someone who made the transition.

    Manning was the Bears' second-round pick out of Abilene in 2006, and he started 29 games in his first two seasons in the NFL.

    "Danieal's a legend over at ACU," Knox said. "He helped D-II players out a lot."

    Manning's role was reduced somewhat last season when he spent most of his time as the Bears' nickel back but, after replacing Devin Hester on kickoff returns, he went on to lead the NFL with a 29.7-yard average.

  • Third-round pick Jarron Gilbert is already well known to YouTube viewers for his stunt of jumping completely out of the shallow end of a pool onto the deck.

    After being told last summer that former Rams and Bears safety Adam Archuleta accomplished the feat, Gilbert tried it and was successful on his first attempt. Then he decided to record the event for posterity and it has received thousands of hits since then.

    "I had no idea (it would be so popular)," he said. "I really put it up so my mom and some of my teammates (could see it). But I had no idea people were going to get their hands on it the way they did."

  • Vanderbilt CB D.J. Moore was projected as a second-round pick in many mock drafts, but he lasted until late in the fourth round, which made for a long wait for the 5-foot-9, 192-pounder.

    "It was long (Saturday night), but I thought it was fine," he said. "I thought when I woke up in the morning (Sunday), it wasn't going to be a long day, and that I'll probably get picked early. Early third round is what I was feeling. But the next day WAS long."


    In April, Lions linebacker Jordon Dizon was asked about his experience on draft day. He responded with an anecdote about being on the golf course when he got the call.

    "I was in shock," Dizon said. "I was in awe. It was early. It was really early. I didn't expect it to be that early."

    A lot of people didn't expect it to be that early. The Lions drafted Dizon in the second round last year.

    They were looking for a middle linebacker to fit their Tampa-2 defense. Their first choice, Jerod Mayo, was off the board when they picked in the first round. A couple of other options were gone when they were on the clock in the second round. So they took Dizon, a speedy, undersized tackling machine.

    Dizon struggled to earn the coaches' trust and crack the lineup last year, and when the Lions changed coaching staffs, his future seemed in serious doubt. Coach Jim Schwartz ditched the Tampa-2 and said he wanted bigger, stronger players. He moved Dizon to the outside, where the Lions have Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims.

    So where does that leave Dizon? Well, the Lions might have a use for him yet.

    Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said he was impressed with Dizon during offseason workouts. He even said he confused him with Peterson on film because of how well Dizon runs.

    Cunningham said that by adding some bigger linebackers, the Lions might be able to get away with Dizon, who has added 10 pounds to get to 230. The new scheme also might free Dizon to use his instincts more.

    "I heard he made a statement that he probably got drafted too high," said Cunningham, who worked for the Chiefs last year. "I said, ‘Well, we had you in the top of the third round, and the Lions took you in the second. So does that mean we were stupid, too?' I think he needed to know that he's pretty good."

    Dizon did need it.

    "For me to have confidence in myself is one thing," Dizon said. "But for a coach to have confidence in you is a whole other thing. It shows that they trust me, and that the biggest thing between a player and a coach. When a coach trusts a player, I can trust him. It works both ways, and it just works out better when it's like that."


  • Tight end has been an important position in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's system, and the Lions took tight end Brandon Pettigrew 20th overall.

    "You want that production in the passing game," Linehan said. "It starts with the blocking, though. That's why Pettigrew was such a unique fit and profile for the position because he's a blocker and a receiver, and to be an every-down tight end in this league, you have to have some special physical qualities as well. With that said, obviously the spot the player's drafted, we've got big plans for the young man."

  • Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has brought his pressure packages to Detroit.

    "Julian Peterson will be rushing the passer," Cunningham said. "He probably will do it as a down lineman. But I have a scheme where there's only three linemen, three linebackers and five DBs. We call it quarter, and a lot of coaches don't let you get it on the field. They'll go hurry-up because you can blitz and do so many things out of that scheme, and Ernie (Sims) and Julian are a really big part of that."

  • Cunningham doesn't mind taking it easy on 36-year-old defensive tackles.

    "If we have veteran players, we need to make sure we manage them," Cunningham said. "Grady Jackson's part of the management program. Working for Al Davis, I learned that a long time ago. He used to say, ‘Gun, I need six plays out of the guy.' I'd say, ‘Six plays?' He'd go, ‘Six good ones in one game will do. Take care of him.' I think coaches, they want players to go hard every day. But when you have players that are in their 30s, you've got to be careful and you've got to know how to do that."


    Despite what doctors apparently have been telling him, unsigned right tackle Mark Tauscher is aiming to return to the field during training camp in August.

    The question is, if Tauscher is indeed healthy by then, will he be with a team?

    "There's no doubt that I'll have a job somewhere next (season)," Tauscher said May 13 at his charity golf outing in Sheboygan Falls, Wis.

    Tauscher, however, doesn't know whether he will be re-signed by the Packers, for whom he has been a starter since his rookie season in 2000.

    General manager Ted Thompson has made it clear that he won't consider bringing back Tauscher until the team has assurances that Tauscher is fully recovered from ACL knee surgery he underwent in January.

    Team president Mark Murphy told the Green Bay Press-Gazette at the start of the Packers Tailgate Tour on May 11 that doctors informed Tauscher that he could need until mid-October before he plays again.

    Tauscher is confident he is ahead of schedule with his rehab work and reported no swelling in the left knee, which has been surgically repaired twice in his pro tenure.

    Although Tauscher is a free agent, he has been treated as still being a Packer this offseason. He spent the first few months of his rehab program at the team's Lambeau Field facilities. His nameplate hasn't been removed from his locker-room cubicle. He remains on the team roster.

    Without Tauscher, the Packers have a bevy of young candidates to take over at right tackle: Tony Moll, Breno Giacomini, Allen Barbre and drafted rookie T.J. Lang.


  • Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre's quarterback heir in Green Bay, chimed in about the recent hullabaloo generated by the apparent courtship of the retired Favre by the Minnesota Vikings.

    While playing in free-agent Packers right tackle Mark Tauscher's charity golf outing May 13, Rodgers was asked by ESPN radio in Milwaukee how would it feel to see Favre in an archrival Vikings uniform wearing his familiar No. 4.

    "It would be different," Rodgers said. "It would be a different feeling to look across the field and see him wearing — I'm assuming (Vikings backup QB) John David Booty would give him No. 4 — a purple 4 jersey, for sure."

  • Rodgers acknowledged in the radio interview that this offseason for him has been low-key, in sharp contrast to the commotion he endured last year. After he was anointed Green Bay's starting quarterback following Favre's retirement, Rodgers was caught in the middle of a soap opera that played out early in training camp when Favre unretired before the Packers traded him to the New York Jets.

    "Last summer kind of put me on the map, more than maybe I expected," Rodgers said of the resulting notoriety. "I'm a little more recognizable, even when I leave Green Bay, go to San Diego (his offseason home) or travel to the places that I've traveled, which is fun."

  • Linebacker Brady Poppinga told reporters during the Packers Tailgate Tour, a four-day excursion by bus through Wisconsin for a few players and team officials, that he was happy the team traded up to take Southern California linebacker Clay Matthews with the second of two first-round draft picks last month.

    The selection didn't bode well for Poppinga's hold on a starting spot. Matthews is expected to start at right outside linebacker, ahead of Poppinga, in the Packers' new 3-4 scheme.

    Poppinga isn't balking, however, saying he is being trained in offseason workouts at outside linebacker on both the right side and the left side, where Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman was moved.

  • Organized team activities will be May 26 to June 18, followed by the minicamp June 22-24.

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