Around the NFC North

The Bears are still adding players to their defense, the Lions' quarterback battle is heating up and the Packers continue to make the transition to their new defense. See what the coaches and players at the Vikings' divisional rivals had to say about those topics.

CHICAGO BEARS

Proving that they haven't forgotten about their defense, the Bears signed standout free-agent linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa on May 29, just hours after signing versatile backup lineman Israel Idonije to a two-year contract extension through 2011.

Those moves won't have the same impact as the addition of quarterback Jay Cutler and left tackle Orlando Pace did, but they have helped solidify the Bears' front seven.

Tinoisamoa, a starter in each of his six seasons with the Rams, and their leading tackler in four of those seasons, signed a one-year deal and immediately become the favorite to win the starting job at strong-side linebacker.

The 6-1, 225-pound Tinoisamoa joins a unit that already includes Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, who have been voted to nine Pro Bowls between them. Midway through last season, Nick Roach won the starting job on the strong side from Hunter Hillenmeyer, who is still recovering from offseason hernia surgery. Roach is currently listed as the starter, and Tinoisamoa has not been promised anything more than an opportunity to compete for the job, but he is expected to win the competition.

He's undersized for an NFL linebacker, but that isn't considered a drawback in a defense that values speed and quickness more than size. Tinoisamoa led the Rams with a career-best 104 tackles last season and also had a personal-best 3.0 sacks.

His presence should give the Bears excellent depth and some spirited competition at training camp. Other than the three projected starters, plus Roach and Hillenmeyer, the Bears also have fourth-year player Jamar Williams, who is having an excellent offseason, and 2008 seventh-round pick Joey LaRocque. Williams and LaRocque both were productive on special teams last season. In addition, the Bears also used a fifth-round pick this year on Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, but they might not keep more than seven linebackers.

The 27-year-old Tinoisamoa attracted attention from the Patriots, Bills and Eagles, but the Bears became a clear favorite after the Patriots signed former Lions linebacker Paris Lenon.

Idonije has shown tremendous versatility playing inside and outside on the Bears' defensive line and contributing on special teams, where he has blocked four kicks and blown up numerous would-be tacklers on return teams.

This season, Idonije is being asked to slim down and focus on defensive end after getting most of his 2008 snaps at tackle, when he played at close to 300 pounds. He's nearing his 2009 target weight of 270 and hoping to improve upon last season's career-best 3.5 sacks.

The Bears haven't completely ignored the offense since the draft. They signed former Lions tight end Michael Gaines to a one-year contract on May 11, and he has the inside track on the No. 3 tight end spot, which requires a physical presence as a blocker in the run game. Gaines should see plenty of action, since the Bears' top two tight ends, Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, are used more as receivers, especially Olsen, who has been a favorite target of Cutler during 11-on-11 work in OTA practices.


DETROIT LIONS

The arms race between veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper and No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford will begin during the Lions' last minicamp June 22-24.

To be sure, it will be only the beginning.

"The arms race, it won't just be that minicamp," coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's going to be all of training camp. That's what that competition is at quarterback."

But talk of an arms race started with Schwartz himself, and it is significant that he already has defined the starting line.

The Lions have been active since the draft, from signing a couple of solid NFL veterans who grew up in Detroit and played at Michigan — linebacker Larry Foote and offensive tackle Jon Jansen — to claiming multiple players off waivers.

But the biggest story has been Stafford's development. He has been impressive since joining the veterans in organized team activities, and the Lions seem to alternate between showing their excitement and trying to contain it.

In an interview with SI.com, Schwartz raved about Stafford: "So far, whatever the opposite of buyer's remorse is, that's what we have. We knew he had the terrific NFL arm. But we've found out his release is just textbook classic."

But the day that quote appeared on the Internet, Schwartz clammed up. If the Lions had buyer's remorse, then that would mean Stafford had not lived up to expectations. The opposite of buyer's remorse, then, would be that he had exceeded expectations.

Asked if Stafford had exceeded expectations, Schwartz gave a careful response that really didn't answer the question: "My expectations are high, not only for him but for just about every player. So it's hard to exceed my expectations."

It's hard. That doesn't mean Stafford hasn't. In a recent practice, he made several impressive throws, including one through tight coverage over the middle to receiver Keary Colbert.

"That's the sign of a young, great quarterback," Colbert said. "It was a small window. He has a lot of confidence in himself and in his arm to make that throw, and he showed it. He put it in there where only I could get it."

Schwartz also spoke highly of Stafford's release.

"It's one thing to have a strong arm," said Schwartz, who was Tennessee's defensive coordinator the past eight years. "Most NFL quarterbacks have a strong arm.

"But being a defensive coordinator, being a defensive coach my whole career, the guys who are hardest to play are the guys with the quick release. What happens is, you can't break on the ball.

"You can make it look like you're fitting it into spots because you cut the reaction time of the defense."

The Lions want to be careful to handle Stafford correctly. They know the Lions have hyped hotshots at quarterback in the past, rushed them and watched them fail.

Though Schwartz said the coaches would "really turn the microscope on" during minicamp, he reiterated that Stafford will start only when he's ready and the best quarterback.

"He needs to pass both of those," Schwartz said. "It doesn't matter if he's ready if he's not the best, and it doesn't matter if he's the best if he's not ready."


GREEN BAY PACKERS


The Packers are in the midst of 12 practice days in four weeks of organized team activities, which end June 18.

By the time players reconvene for the mandatory minicamp June 22-24, the groundwork of the new 3-4 scheme for the defense will have been laid and rehearsed.

"I really like the way our players have picked up the system defensively," head coach Mike McCarthy said.

McCarthy overhauled not only the defense but most of his defensive staff, bringing aboard 3-4 guru and former NFL head coach Dom Capers as coordinator.

"I like the coaching that is going on," McCarthy said. "The offseason program and OTAs is as much about scheme development, but it's also about making sure your practice environment is in tune. I think the defense is off to a very good start."

The Packers bolstered the defense, which was anemic against the run and struggled to rush the passer last season, by taking highly regarded Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji with the No. 9 pick in the first round of the April draft.

Raji is starting out as the understudy to veteran Ryan Pickett as the anchor of the line but is versatile and athletic enough to get playing time at end, too.

While Raji has been happy to do his part in moving around on the line, there appears to be some dissension in the ranks with a couple key players on defense.

Safety Nick Collins, a year removed from a breakout season that landed him a spot in the Pro Bowl for the first time, has been absent for the majority of the offseason program. He has a year left on his rookie contract and would like a lucrative extension, which the Packers have yet to broach with him.

With Collins away, a lot of on-field attention has been heaped on Aaron Kampman. The Pro Bowl defensive end has been moved to outside linebacker, and the transition has been perceived from the outside to be an unsettling one because the normally outgoing Kampman has had little to say about the matter.

"I'm learning it," Kampman said. "I'm not saying I don't like it. I'm just saying I'm learning it."

Kampman, an eighth-year veteran in a contract year, is being groomed for the multifaceted role by former All-Pro linebacker Kevin Greene, who flourished in the 3-4 scheme and is in his first year as an NFL assistant coach.

As much as Kampman doesn't seem to be too thrilled by the change in position, the coaches have rallied around him and say he is a good fit for linebacker.

"I think he attacked the new defense just like you think Aaron would," McCarthy said. "He spent a lot of individual time with Kevin Greene over the last three months. You could see he has a complete understanding so far of the installs that we have put in there, and I think when you do reach that point as a player, regardless of what position, it gives you the ability to play faster.

"I think he has done a very nice job. It's always nice to see someone add a little more variety to their game. He has always been an excellent pass rusher, an excellent player against the run and has done a good job in the coverage. I think he'll only improve."

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