NFC North news, notes and quotes

Bears receivers are adjusting to the velocity on Jay Cutler's passes, the Lions are trying to live up to the success of other sports teams in Detroit, and Packers safety Nick Collins is dealing with the loss of his father. Those stories and many more notes and quotes from the Vikings' divisional rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

Bears wide receivers and tight ends have all mentioned that Jay Cutler's fastball has a lot more zip on it than what they're accustomed to, but none of them believe it will be a difficult adjustment.

They might, however, spend more time catching "passes" out of the Jugs machine to prepare them for Cutler's bullets.

"I think they'll get out here and get in on it, no question about it," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said, "and they'll turn it up a couple notches, too, if they're smart."

Turner finally has a franchise quarterback directing his West Coast offense. With that comes more pressure to design a high-powered attack, but that's OK with Turner.

"I don't know if there is (more pressure), but if there is I'll take it," Turner said. "I'll take a player like this anytime. I've been around some really good quarterbacks, and the last couple we've had I think were really good players, but I've never been around an arm like this."

But just because the Bears have a quarterback capable of launching long-range missiles with precision doesn't mean they won't continue to, as coach Lovie Smith is fond of saying, "get off the bus running the ball."

Even Cutler realizes that.

"We're going to run the ball," he said. "I think I've learned the hard way you have to run the ball, and you have to stop the run to get anywhere in this league and to make the playoffs and make a push for the Super Bowl. So that's not going to change.

"Especially here in December, with the wind and the weather, you're going to have to be able to grind out those four- and five-yard runs and get yourself into manageable positions. We're going to do that, but with the offensive weapons we've got, and with Ron calling them, I think we're going to have some fun out there too."

NOTES

  • When tight end Greg Olsen was asked about his spectacular one-handed catch during the Bears' first OTA practice, all he could do was criticize himself for dropping a fastball from Jay Cutler earlier in the day.

    "There is really no excuse," Olsen said. "Once you get adjusted, it's really all the same pretty much. You just have to get your eyes around that much faster and just expect it."

    After an impressive rookie season in which he caught 39 passes for 391 yards, Olsen was second on the Bears last season with 54 catches and 574 receiving yards. He led the team with five TD catches. The 6-5, 255-pounder was anticipating another increase in production this season even before the Bears acquired Cutler.

    "I was poised to have a good season in the first place," Olsen said, "but now with the addition of him, I know he feels comfortable with tight ends and utilizing them. I'm expecting to do good things and have a good year."

  • Cornerback Zack Bowman was switched to safety earlier in the offseason, but he was back at corner as the Bears' OTAs kicked off, starting at on the left side in place of Charles Tillman, who is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

    Nate Vasher was the starter on the right side, but he will have to prove he deserves to remain there after two disappointing and injury-riddled seasons. He could be pushed by rookie fourth-rounder D.J. Moore.

    "I'm coming out every day and working," Vasher said. "We'll just see what happens."

  • QB Jay Cutler's arrival has been heralded as the second coming or, more accurately in Chicago, the first coming of a franchise quarterback. But Cutler has been careful not to overstep his bounds in the early going. He was quick to answer when asked if the Bears were his team.

    "No," he said. "Not yet. This is a defensive kind of run team with Brian (Urlacher) and Lance (Briggs) and some of those guys and Olin (Kreutz) offensively. That's going to come in time. You can't rush things like that. You've got to kind of take things in stride and get guys to trust you and have confidence in you, and hopefully by Game 1 they're all behind me."

  • The Bears' eighth straight summer training camp at Bourbonnais' Olivet Nazarene University begins with a 3 p.m. practice on Friday, July 31. Camp concludes following an 11 a.m. practice on Aug. 21.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "The locker room is full of great guys, and they've welcomed me with open arms, so it's been nice." --Bears new QB Jay Cutler.


    DETROIT LIONS

    When Lions coach Jim Schwartz attended a Red Wings playoff game recently, something struck him as he sat in the upper reaches of Joe Louis Arena. At about eye level were the Wings' 11 Stanley Cup banners.

    "To see all those banners and know the consistency that you have to play with to do that year in and year out, that's what we all aspire to," Schwartz said. "You don't aspire to seeing one lonely banner hanging up and then a lot of flags and stuff like that."

    Well, one lonely banner would be a start for the Lions. They have never appeared in the Super Bowl. They have won four NFL titles, but only one playoff game since the 1957 championship.

    The Lions, coming off the first 0-16 season in NFL history, are the only losers in Detroit sports. Every other pro team has won or played for a championship in recent history (and Michigan State just made the NCAA men's basketball title game at the Lions' home, Ford Field).

    The Tigers went to the World Series in 2006.

    The Pistons' streak of six straight Eastern Conference finals just snapped. They won the NBA title in ‘04 and went back to the finals in ‘05.

    Then there are the Wings. They have won more NHL championships than any other American franchise — four since 1997. They will win yet another if they beat the Penguins in this year's Stanley Cup finals.

    "I think the thing you take most away is that consistency of high standard of excellence," Schwartz said. "You can't help but be impressed."

    The Wings like to call Detroit "Hockeytown." But as much as Detroiters have a passion for hockey, they might have an even greater passion for football. If the Lions ever win the Super Bowl, after all their years of futility, the city would explode in celebration.

    Schwartz heard all about it at the Wings game. He was not anonymous.

    "I thought I'd dress in jeans and a T-shirt and if I didn't wear my Lions pullover that I'd be OK, but obviously not," said Schwartz, who bought a Wings T-shirt. "But that's cool. ...

    "People are very enthusiastic. You can't help but be this time of year. It's like, ‘Coach, we're behind you, we love you, whatever.' I say, ‘Look, make sure you're saying that six months from now.' "

    NOTES

  • The Lions did not sign cornerback Rod Hood, who visited Detroit as part of his free-agent tour. Hood signed with the Browns after also visiting the Bengals, Bears and Rams. Coach Jim Schwartz hadn't made Hood sound like a real possibility, though. After Hood's visit, Schwartz said: "I think he was still in the exploratory range, looking around, checking his options out. 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% set.' So anybody that comes available, we're going to do our due diligence."

  • Linebacker Paris Lenon, whom the Lions elected not to bring back as a free agent, went to the Patriots. "Paris is excited to finally be a part of a winning organization and eager to contribute in whatever way coach (Bill) Belichick and his staff see fit," Lenon's agent, Jon Persch, told the Boston Globe. "Now, quite simply, he's eager to go to work." Lenon follows cornerbacks Fernando Bryant and Leigh Bodden. The Lions released Bryant last year, Bodden this year. Both signed with the Patriots afterward. Bryant was cut last year but ended up with another excellent organization, the Super Bowl champion Steelers.

  • The Lions claimed cornerback Tra Battle off waivers from the Cowboys. Battle played one game for San Diego and five for Dallas last year as a rookie.

    They then got defensive end Brian Johnson on waivers from the Chiefs. He played nine games in 2008, his rookie season. Johnston is the seventh player the Lions have been awarded on waivers this offseason. That includes wide receiver Will Franklin, who was claimed from Kansas City and subsequently released.

  • Schwartz mentioned safety Louis Delmas, the first pick in the second round this year, when asked for his first impressions of the rookies practicing with the veterans. "First impressions are important," Schwartz said. "Some guys are able to assimilate pretty quickly. I think it was the first day, Delmas was out there and was telling his corner, expect some route, and the communication was good right away. It's good to see that. But again, I don't want to read too much into what they're doing in three days."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Nothing. I'm just getting out here trying to gain reps, as many as I can get. I don't care who it's with. I'm trying to learn the offense, and all that stuff will come with time." — QB Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft, on what he reads into splitting second-team reps with Drew Stanton behind Daunte Culpepper.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    No one could blame Nick Collins for not being anywhere close to Green Bay for the start of the Packers' organized team activities.

    Amid recent scuttlebutt that the Pro Bowl safety had missed most of the team's offseason workout program since mid-March as a way to protest not getting a new contract, Collins buried his father May 23 — three days before teammates reported for the OTAs.

    "What he's going through, no one would be here," fellow safety Atari Bigby said after the team's second OTA practice May 28. "If anybody else was in his situation, they'd be home, too. He needs to be with his family. It's something that he needs to deal with."

    Collins cited family issues as the crux of his prolonged absence in the offseason when he was part of a Packers goodwill bus tour through Wisconsin in early May. He didn't elaborate at the time on what the issues were that compelled him to stay put at his home in Gainesville, Fla., and not participate in the voluntary offseason program.

    News of the death of Collins' father, Willie, came to light last week. The 56-year-old succumbed to terminal cancer May 16, and the funeral was held a week later.

    Collins is entering the final year of his rookie contract and coming off a breakthrough season, in which he tied teammate Charles Woodson for the NFC lead with seven interceptions.

    The fifth-year player said during the bus 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," Collins 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."

    Head coach Mike McCarthy on May 28 didn't directly address the absence of Collins for the start of OTAs. There's no indication whether Collins will report in the remaining three weeks of those voluntary sessions or for the mandatory minicamp June 22-24.

    NOTES

  • While receiver Greg Jennings is getting antsy for a hefty pay raise, he was the good soldier and reported for the start of organized team activities, which began May 26 and are spread out over four weeks.

    Jennings is considered Green Bay's top priority among several players' entering the final year of their contracts for an extension, but nothing has come to pass with talks between the two sides off and on the last three months.

    "I think they're talking," said Jennings, referring to agent Eugene Par
    ker and the club. "I have no idea where we are. I honestly don't talk to my agent about it that much.

    "I can't control what (the Packers) do. I trust what my agent is doing. I can't speak for the organization side of it. I don't know what they're doing; I don't know what their mindset is."

    Jennings, 25, has emerged as one of the top young wideouts in the league. He led the Packers in 2008 with 80 receptions for 1,292 yards and nine touchdowns.

    He acknowledged that the longer the contract talks drag out, the more susceptible he could be to allowing the matter to turn into a distraction.

    "Have I thought about it? Yes, because in the past (with the team), other guys have gotten taken care of," Jennings said. "But, I can't worry about it. I can't let that become a hindrance because it will only affect the way I play."

    Jennings was evasive when asked whether the absence of a new contract would persuade him to skip the mandatory minicamp June 22-24 or the start of training camp Aug. 1.

    "I'm playing football," Jennings said. "I'm here, OTAs, we're rolling, I'm having fun."

  • Three veterans were absent for the start of OTAs: receiver Donald Driver, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins, whose father recently died in Florida after a long battle with cancer.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy refused to discuss the "where and why" of the players' absences for the voluntary practices.

    "I know the fans respect that we don't do business in the media for personal or whatever the nature of their reasons are," McCarthy said.

    He wouldn't say whether he expected any or all of the missing players back at some point in the OTAs, which go for three more weeks. "Time will answer that," McCarthy said.

  • The Packers were further depleted on the field for the first few OTA sessions with six notable players still going through rehab work after undergoing surgeries in the offseason or last season: linebacker Nick Barnett (knee), left tackle Chad Clifton (knees), defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins (pectoral/ankle), safety Atari Bigby (ankle), center Scott Wells (shoulder) and offensive tackle Breno Giacomini (ankle).

    All of them likely will be held out of drills until training camp.

    What's more, rookie linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones were felled by minor hamstring and groin injuries, respectively, in the first week of OTAs.

    Matthews, a first-round draft pick, suffered the injury on the first practice day May 27.

    "Chasing after the quarterback. What else?" said a grinning Matthews, who thrived on rushing the passer last season at USC.

    Matthews, who didn't practice May 28, said his status was day-to-day.

  • Promising young cornerback Tramon Williams signed a one-year contract as an exclusive-rights free agent May 28. Financial terms weren't available.

    Williams, a third-year player, was the team's primary nickel back last season and also started seven games in the base defense.

  • Three rookies weren't present for the onset of OTAs because of school or military obligations: cornerback Brandon Underwood, a sixth-round pick from Cincinnati; and the undrafted duo of running back Tyrell Sutton (Northwestern) and tight end Travis Dekker (Air Force).

    Dekker is on the team's reserve/military list.

  • Although he's a free agent and the prospects are dim that he'll be re-signed, the name of veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher is on the team roster for the OTAs.

    Tauscher, who has been a starter with the Packers since his rookie season in 2000, is recovering from major knee surgery in January and isn't expected to be ready to return to the field until training camp at the earliest.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's a great young man. He's going to be a great player, I'm telling you. It's exciting to have him around. He's definitely farther ahead than I ever was my rookie year." — Packers veteran Ryan Pickett on fellow nose tackle B.J. Raji, whom Green Bay selected with the No. 9 overall pick in the draft this year. Pickett was a first-round draft choice of the St. Louis Rams in 2001.


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