NFC North news, notes and quotes

Jay Cutler is receiving praise and putting in an impressive showing in his first practices with the Bears. Matthew Stafford is getting grief for his record-breaking rookie contract from his Detroit teammates. And Aaron Rodgers is enjoying a balance between quarterback student and the celebrity life. It's a quarterback-intensive version of NFC North news, notes and quotes.

CHICAGO BEARS

Judging by the way Jay Cutler's passes traveled from his right hand to his intended receivers, almost as if connected by a clothesline, the Bears' new quarterback is already getting in sync with his targets, but that's just part of his role as the new field general.

"A quarterback's got to be a coach on the field," Cutler said after his first OTA practice Wednesday (May 20) at Halas Hall. "And you've got to get the best out of every single player. It's a delicate process. I can yell at some guys, and you can lightly push other guys. It's a tiptoe act. I've got to feel out the guys and kind of see what their pressure points are and how much you can push them, and that's going to come in time. I've tried to do as much on the field and hang out off the field with these offensive guys and just get a feel for what makes them tick."

The on-the-field stuff doesn't figure to be a concern. Of Cutler's first 40 or so passes, only one ball hit the ground, and that was a drop by Rashied Davis, his only one of the day. Most of the routes were being run against air, but even on throws to the far sideline or 50 yards downfield, receivers rarely had to break stride, and they never had to wait very long for the ball.

"His arm strength is incredible," Devin Hester said. "The first couple days (during voluntary workouts) everybody's eyes were wide open and saying, ‘Wow.' We're getting used to it."

Even on the deep balls, Cutler doesn't need to put much air under his throws to get them there, like the one he flipped 60 yards in the air to Hester behind the secondary in seven-on-seven drills.

"He's got a lot of velocity on it, and there's not a lot of trajectory," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "The ball gets there in a hurry. Just his arm strength, I've never been around anything like that before, and he's shown very good accuracy the little bit I've been around him."

That's the idea, and that's why the Bears gave up their own starting quarterback, Kyle Orton, two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder to get Cutler. Bears receivers have already learned that his passes arrive with plenty of giddy-up on them.

"It takes a little time to adjust," Turner said. "They know they better get their head around and get their hands up because that ball's going to be there. Receivers want that, coaches want that, everybody wants that."

And they all expect Cutler to provide it, which is fine with him. The 26-year-old has been making the rounds of the city's hot sports spots and maintaining a busy social schedule, so he's aware of the great expectations that arrived with him from Denver.

"I knew coming into it," he said. "Anytime a team wants to make a trade like that and give up what they gave up, it's going to be a lot of pressure, a lot of high expectations, and I welcome it. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a good challenge. I've got a lot of time to work with the guys and get ready for Game 1."

Leading the Bears to a victory in that one would shoot Cutler's popularity through the roof. The opener is a Sunday night against the Packers in Green Bay.

NOTES

  • Before ever throwing a pass for the Bears, Jay Cutler has already achieved rock-star status among the thousands of faithful who attended the team's fan convention Sunday at Soldier Field.

    Cutler's No. 6 jersey already rivals Brian Urlacher's No. 54 and Devin Hester's No. 23 in popularity. The ovation he received upon his introduction drowned out the receptions for any other Bear.

    Just imagine the celebrity Cutler will enjoy if he lives up to the hype. That might be impossible, although his acquisition has energized the offseason like none in recent memory.

    "The energy level has been unbelievable," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said, "and not just with the fans, but internally, with the staff, the coaches and the players. It's just a new energy level. I hear it from the fans now. Even as the Bulls were going through their great playoff run, the Blackhawks still are, but fans still want to talk about the Bears and what this season holds for them."

    The fanatics attending the Bears' annual love fest are nearly always pumped up over the prospects for the coming season, but ever since Bears general manager Jerry Angelo swung the trade for the Pro Bowl quarterback, optimism has kicked into overdrive.

    "Without question," Angelo said. "Everybody has hope about the upcoming year — not that we didn't have hope regardless of if Jay were here or not. But just bringing in a player of his caliber at his position speaks for itself."

  • Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips spent about 10 minutes talking with new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith last week before he visited with Bears players, and Phillips came away feeling positive about the chance of extending the league's labor peace.

    "He's a high-energy guy," Phillips said. "He seems like he's real detailed and is going to have a thoroughly thought-out plan. What I like is that he gets the fact that we've had 15 years of labor peace, and the goal is to have 15 more years. So I think that's a positive first step."

  • It's a whole new ball game for the Bears offensively because of quarterback Jay Cutler, who has impressed offensive coordinator Ron Turner on and off the field.

    "His arm strength is rare," Turner said after Wednesday's first OTA practice." You don't see that very often, and also his ability to come in and learn. It's really everything: his demeanor around the guys, the way he's been accepted, the way he's handled himself. He's coming in and saying, ‘I'm just one of the guys,' yet he's also showed great leadership, so he's making the transition very well."

  • While the negotiations between the NFLPA and the league's owners have already been categorized as contentious, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips doesn't see it that way.

    "I don't look at it as contentious," Phillips said. "The reality is there's two more years left of football. So that's a long time. And the goal of both sides is ‘Let's find some middle ground.' Let's make the league as a whole — with international opportunities, digital-media opportunities, and technology — hopefully we can grow the business even more, so there's plenty for everyone to go around, and we can avoid any kind of work stoppage, which is not on anybody's mind right now at all."

  • Through the first 50 minutes of the Bears' first OTA practice Wednesday, with quarterback Jay Cutler throwing several dozen passes, the football hit the ground just one time, when Rashied Davis dropped an accurate pass on an intermediate route.

    Most of the routes Cutler threw were with receivers working against air, but toward the end of the first session, wide receivers were working one-on-one against cornerbacks, and Cutler was flawless. His passes were different than backup quarterbacks Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez, with all but the deep balls arriving on a line and in a hurry. The other noticeable aspect of Cutler's passes is that the ball is fired nose down on many of the intermediate routes, which is possible only because of the velocity with which they're thrown.

    The majority of Cutler's reps were with Devin Hester and Earl Bennett at wide receiver, and for now, those two are expected to be the Bears' starters.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm excited. The past three or four years they've been known for their defense. Defense has kind of carried them through the wins. But offense is one of the pieces, and we just have to keep doing what they did last year, and we're going to get better and I'm just going to be a piece of the puzzle." — Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.


    DETROIT LIONS

    What's the best line Matthew Stafford has heard since the rookies joined the veterans for the Lions' offseason workouts?

    "A guy couldn't catch me coming out of a bootleg, and he said, ‘Sorry, I was just picking up all the money falling out of your pockets,' " Stafford said. "I just laughed."

    The guy was defensive end Eric Hicks.

    "The vets always give the new guy, especially the first-round picks — especially the first pick — a lot of trouble," Hicks said. "It was just all in good fun."

    Hey, what do you expect?

    Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the draft. He signed a six-year contract worth up to $78 million.

    As coach Jim Schwartz said: "Comes with the territory. Everybody knows — the people in the locker room know, the people in Detroit. No matter where he goes, he's going to have that.

    "What's good about it, he takes it good-naturedly. He knows it's part of this business. It's part of the locker-room chemistry. And if you don't embrace it, you're going to have a hard time being a quarterback in this league."

    Stafford is off to a good start.

    While the veterans were going through organized team activities without the rookies, the Lions sent Stafford practice scripts and video. Stafford studied hard.

    And when the rookies arrived, Stafford said he didn't gulp when under center the first time. Some of the things the Lions are doing on offense are similar to what Stafford did at Georgia.

    "I feel pretty prepared, and I feel like they're doing a great job of spending extra time with me and trying to catch me up to speed as much as possible," Stafford said. "As long as I understand the play, then the concepts are pretty familiar to me."

    Schwartz said the Lions have even had to hold back Stafford a little bit because he has wanted to do too much.

    "I think you saw a couple passes he would rather have had back, but then you saw a couple that made the defense pay," Schwartz said. "He can do those kind of things.

    "It's going to just be the accumulation of reps and making those throws a million different times and learning the ones that he can make and the ones that he shouldn't."

    All while watching out for money-grubbing veterans, of course.

    "It gave me some extra incentive to chase him on the bootleg," Hicks said. "I figured some hundreds might fall out of his pocket."

    NOTES

  • The Lions visited with free-agent cornerback Rod Hood but nothing appears imminent. "I think he was still in the exploratory range, looking around, checking his options out," Schwartz said. "We're going to look at everybody. We're at that point — I keep saying the same things — there's no spot that we feel great about that we go in right now saying, ‘We're 100 percent set.' So anybody that comes available, we're going to do our due diligence."

  • Though Schwartz said the Lions are still considering adding a veteran quarterback, it won't be Michael Vick, who has been released from prison and is trying to revive his NFL career. Asked about Vick, Schwartz said: "Nah, I think we're pretty happy with where our quarterbacks are right now."

  • QB Drew Stanton looks better than he did earlier in the off-season. "He didn't start off very strong, but the thing I've been pleased with him is that, when he has had a bad day, he's come back the next time with a better day," Schwartz said. "Even though he's had a couple bumps in the road, his general graph has been trending up."

  • Defensive tackle Grady Jackson has been around the building just about every day despite a serious personal issue. His brother, Javorris Jackson, allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend, Courtney Solomon, and then shot himself in an apparent attempted suicide May 3. "His spirits are good," Schwarz said of Grady Jackson. "It's a tough situation. Nobody wants to go through something like that. He's had a lot of support in the locker room. We've given him his time to be able to take care of things that are more important than on the football field right now."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know. We're not that good of friends." — Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, on whether he thinks Jets QB Mark Sanchez's abs were airbrushed for a recent photo shoot.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Going to school this spring has been to Aaron Rodgers' liking.

    In the midst of Year 2 as the Packers' man under center, Rodgers has found a happy balance between engrossing himself on weekdays in the quarterback school popularized by head coach Mike McCarthy and being in the social limelight on weekends.

    Rodgers has put himself out there for paparazzi to photograph him out on the strip in Las Vegas, as well as jet-setting to the Kentucky Derby and other hot spots across the country.

    The brief getaways haven't infringed on Rodgers' preparations for the upcoming football season, however.

    He has been an astute pupil in the position classroom at Lambeau Field since quarterback school began March 16, coinciding with the start of the Packers' offseason program.

    After performing better than many expected in his first NFL season as a starter in 2008, Rodgers earned the trust of McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements to have a greater voice in the game plan.

    "Tom has given me an opportunity to help out, to insert my own thoughts and words and ideas and things I think about in those meetings," Rodgers told Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV when he played in Packers free-agent right tackle Mark Tauscher's charity golf outing May 13.

    Rodgers and backups Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm have spent numerous hours with Clements the last two months. They have watched video of every play executed by the Packers offense in games last season, pored over the offensive installations for this offseason, studied defensive fronts and coverages, and given input on plays they want to keep in the playbook and those they would like McCarthy to throw out.

    While acknowledging that he and McCarthy butted heads on occasion last season, when the Packers floundered to a 6-10 record, Rodgers said their alliance is rock solid this year.

    "The biggest growth this offseason has been with Mike and I's relationship," Rodgers said. "We were already close, but I feel like there's even more of a trust between the two of us. He sees how hard I work and how bad I want to win, and I see how hard he works."

    NOTES

  • The Packers had almost a full squad on hand for their offseason workout program when the rookies returned to Green Bay on May 17 after a two-week break.

    So far, the only regimented work in a team setting has been the rookie orientation camp, which was held May 1-3.

    This year's squad will be on display for the first time with the start of voluntary organized team activities May 26. Physicals will be administered that day. The Packers then have 12 practice dates until June 18.

    The mandatory minicamp will be June 22-24.

  • Of this year's batch of newcomers, offensive tackle Jamon Meredith might have been the most humbled when he first set foot in the team's locker room at Lambeau Field before the rookie camp.

    "It's kind of overwhelming when you first walk in here because you think of all of the tradition," Meredith said. "This may not be necessarily the (same) locker room that the greats were in (at the renovated stadium), but just being around the atmosphere — you know that the Reggie Whites and all of those people like that played here, and I'm in the same category as a Packer. It's just a great feeling, man."

    Meredith, a fifth-round draft pick out of South Carolina, is expected to back up veteran left tackle Chad Clifton.

  • Cornerback Charles Woodson and receiver Jordy Nelson were selected for this year's honors from the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.


    Woodson, who had a co-NFC-high seven interceptions, was tabbed the team's Most Valuable Player in 2008.

    Nelson, who had 33 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns, was named Rookie of the Year.

    Woodson and Nelson will receive the awards at the annual Packers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet on July 18 at Lambeau Field.

    This year's hall of fame inductees are receiver Antonio Freeman and running back Dorsey Levens.

  • The Packers will hold their Family Night intrasquad scrimmage the night of Aug. 8 at Lambeau Field, a week after the opening of training camp.

    Tickets will go on sale June 6. The club raised the ticket price by $2 — the first increase in five years — to $10.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'd sure be excited to be part of the Packers-Vikings game (on Monday night, Oct. 5) with Brett Favre at quarterback against the Packers. That would be an unbelievable sight." — Former NFL head coach and Packers receivers coach Jon Gruden, who was hired as an analyst for ESPN's "Monday Night Football" on May 18 and weighed in on the possibility of the Minnesota Vikings signing the retired Favre.


  • Viking Update Top Stories