NFC North news, notes and quotes

A Bears linebacker is having a solid offseason and making a case for more playing time, the Lions are talking (misguided?) guarantees again, and the Packers are still without a starting right tackle. Get news, notes and quotes from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.

CHICAGO BEARS

A couple years ago, linebacker Jamar Williams appeared to be on the fast track to a starting job, especially when the Bears' contract talks with Lance Briggs became contentious.

After being drafted in the fourth round in 2006 out of Arizona State, Williams played in all 16 games the following season and started once. When Briggs suffered a hamstring injury just before halftime against the Cowboys in ‘07, Williams stepped in and made a career-best 12 tackles.

But last season, Williams seemed to regress. He was passed on the depth chart by Northwestern's Nick Roach, who replaced Hunter Hillenmeyer as the starting strong-side linebacker while Williams was relegated to special teams, where he finished as the Bears' second-leading tackler.

"It's tough for anybody when somebody moves in front of you," Williams said. "But at the same time, I trust the coaches' decisions, and Nick did a great job filling in there. This year, hopefully I can get in at a position where I can compete for the third starting job, but whatever happens, I just want to go out here and work my hardest to make sure this team gets to the Super Bowl. That's No. 1 to me."

If the offseason is a good indication, Williams may be back as a contender for a starting job, or at least as the top backup. He has been arguably the Bears' most impressive player in the offseason.

"You can see the athlete that he is," general manager Jerry Angelo said on the team's web site. "It's his awareness and confidence levels that stand out."

Angelo added that last year's decision to move Roach past Williams was a difficult one.

"To me, it was a photo finish," Angelo said. "We've always liked Jamar. I think he's a three-down player. He's bright, he's athletic, he's fast and he's tough. There's nothing not to like about him. What we're seeing now is what we saw when he was in college and what we drafted."

Williams has made coaches take notice of his play on an almost daily basis during OTA practices.

"He had three picks in five days," defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Babich said. "He's made some big plays. He's really progressed. This is his fourth year in the system, so we expect Jamar to do those type things."

But Williams might have an even tougher time getting on the field with the defense this season. Not only will he be competing with Roach and Hillenmeyer for the job on the strong side, but the Bears have added standout veteran Pisa Tinoisamoa, who led the Rams in tackles in four of his six seasons in St. Louis.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's making it something where you're just constantly doing it on an every-day basis. And he makes you want to do it. He makes you want to come through these doors and be the best at what you do." — Bears DT Tommie Harris on what makes new defensive line coach/assistant head coach Rod Marinelli such an effective teacher.

NOTES

Wednesday afternoon the Bears became the first team in the league to sign all their draft picks, inking their top two selections, third-rounders Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias, to four-year deals, completing their draft class of nine.

It helped that the Bears didn't have a first- or second-round pick, but it's impressive that nearly one-third of the league's 30 signed draft picks (out of 256) are Bears. They were also the first team to sign all their draft picks in 2006.

MEDICAL WATCH: DT Tommie Harris (knee) only did minimal individual work, LB Hunter Hillenmeyer (sports hernia) was limited to running on the sideline, RB Matt Forte (hamstring) also did not practice.

Veteran safeties Glenn Earl and Josh Bullocks, nickel back Danieal Manning and LBs Nick Roach and Joey LaRocque did not practice because of unspecified minor ailments. But all players are scheduled to be cleared for full participation before the start of training camp, July 31.


DETROIT LIONS

The Lions have talked a better game than they've played in recent years. Remember former quarterback Jon Kitna's repeated talk of winning 10 games while the Lions remained mired in one of the NFL's worst losing stretches? Remember former wide receiver Roy Williams guaranteeing a victory at Chicago, only to see the Lions get blown out?

It hasn't stopped now that the Lions are coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season. At best, it is a display of defiant pride and confidence that things will change. At worst, it is unwise and unwarranted gab that will only make the Lions more of a laughingstock.

Running back Kevin Smith is at the center of the storm this time. In his blog at smith34.com, he wrote: "I won't make a prediction about how many games we're going to win, but I will say this: We will definitely make the playoffs this season."

The playoffs? The Lions haven't made the playoffs since 2000 and haven't had a winning season since 1999. How are they going to make it now after not winning a game last season — and winning only one of their past 24 games?

"Believe it or not, we weren't that far off last year," Smith wrote. "Almost every game we could have won, we were one play or one player short. Except for Tennessee on Thanksgiving, they just came out and beat us to sleep. They manhandled us, but nobody else did."

A lot of people would argue with that. But the Lions are supporting Smith, even if they wouldn't be as bold.

"I like his enthusiasm," coach Jim Schwartz said. "I don't want to discourage enthusiasm, but the playoffs are a long way away. What's more important is what happens today, how we practice today. Those are the things that we need to take care of on a daily basis and that's been the message. We need to set goals on a shorter scale than further on down the line. We don't want to talk about Super Bowls or playoffs or those kinds of things or even the opener right now."

Defensive end Cliff Avril, a fellow third-round pick last year, blogged himself at avril92.com.

"Everyone heard what Kevin said about the Lions making the playoffs this year, and to us it just shows that Kevin has a lot of confidence," Avril wrote. "He's very outspoken, and you really need that confidence to succeed in this league.

"As for us making the playoffs, I think that is very, very possible. I'm definitely right with Kevin; we have a good enough team. Now it's all about getting out there and proving it."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I partially tore my rotator cuff on Monday Night Football against the Colts doing one of these. It's a funny way to hurt yourself, fist-pumping." — Lions coach Jim Schwartz, to the Detroit Free Press, on playing through pain as he threw out the first pitch at a Tigers game.


GREEN BAY PACKERS

Allen Barbre hasn't been looking over his shoulders when he's at his dressing stall in the locker room. Four lockers down from Barbre's is that of Mark Tauscher. The Packers have kept Tauscher's locker intact, even though the veteran right tackle is an unrestricted free agent and isn't expected to be re-signed by the team before the season.

Team management has refrained from bringing back Tauscher, a starter for Green Bay since his rookie season in 2000, because he isn't fully recovered from January surgery for a torn ACL.

"To be honest with you, I'm not really paying attention to that," Barbre said of the "Tauscher" nameplate.

With Tauscher out of sight, Barbre's focus has been on running with the No. 1 offense in the ongoing organized team activities as Tauscher's replacement at right tackle.

Barbre has the inside track to win the job but will have a host of challengers once training camp commences Aug. 1. The other candidates will include second-year Breno Giacomini, who is on the mend from ankle surgery, and T.J. Lang, a fourth-round draft pick this year.

"I'm just going out there and competing and giving my best every day, and whatever happens, happens. That's kind of how I'm looking at it," Barbre said.

Although Barbre has zero NFL starts in two seasons and had never lined up on the right side of an offensive line at any level until this offseason, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy feels the fit is perfect for the young player.

"Allen's had a very positive camp," said McCarthy, referring to the four weeks of OTAs, which end June 18. "You never try to get too excited too fast because you don't want to create unrealistic expectations. But, every day in the film sessions with the coaches, Allen Barbre has done a very good job so far. I think this is a more natural position for him."

Particularly pleasing to McCarthy is that Barbre, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007 who moves well, bulked up this offseason without compromising his athleticism. The 6-foot-4 Barbre checked in for the OTAs at 305 pounds.

"This is the highest he's ever been, and he's still extremely athletic," McCarthy said. "And, he's a tough guy. He just does a great job finishing things. We haven't put the pads on yet, but I really like what I see so far from Allen Barbre."

Meanwhile, McCarthy said incumbent starting center Scott Wells would be cleared for training camp and compete with Jason Spitz for the job. Wells had shoulder surgery early in the offseason.

Spitz, the incumbent at right guard, has been filling the lead role at center with Wells out.

"Jason looks comfortable at center," McCarthy said. "I think any time you have the opportunity to play guard first and then move to center really helps you."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're kind of rolling that way, but I look at Matt and Brian as the same. I think that's a competitive situation that will work itself out. I think they're both two young quarterbacks with bright futures." — Head coach Mike McCarthy on whether second-year players Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm would remain Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on the depth chart at quarterback, as they were last season.


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