Around the NFC North

Receiver is still the big question in Chicago, the fans are getting sympathy from the owner in Detroit, and one player is left wondering when his payout will come in Green Bay. Plus, we look at the offseason standouts, the lineup questions and rookie impressions from each of the Vikings' divisional rivals.


Do the Bears need an upgrade at wide receiver or don't they?

That question has been debated since the end of the 2008 season, in which Devin Hester led the team's wide receivers with 51 catches, 665 yards and three touchdowns — modest totals, all.

And, with ineffective veterans Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd not returning, this year's roster is even less impressive and more inexperienced. After Hester and Rashied Davis, who is ideally a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver, the remainder of the wide receivers on the Bears' roster have a combined total of 11 catches in the NFL; none last season.

The Bears boast an impressive 1-2 punch at tight end in Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, and running back Matt Forte proved to be an excellent option out of the backfield last season, but the WR corps could be one of the NFL's weakest.

OFFSEASON STANDOUT: LB Jamar Williams was passed on the depth chart last season by Nick Roach, who wound up starting nine games after winning the job from veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer. Williams, who was considered the logical replacement on the weak side when Lance Briggs' contract negotiations clouded his future in 2006 and ‘07, has rededicated himself this offseason. Williams could still be the odd man out this year, since the Bears added Pisa Tinoisamoa, but the fourth-year player from Arizona State could make the competition interesting.

LINEUP WATCH: The offensive line figures to have new starters at three positions, with Orlando Pace replacing departed John St. Clair at left tackle, Chris Williams stepping in for retired John Tait at right tackle and unrestricted free agent Frank Omiyale penciled in at left guard ahead of Josh Beekman, who started all 16 games there last year in his sophomore season.

ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: The Bears knew WR Johnny Knox had 4.3 speed, but he has displayed a sure-handedness that comes as a bonus. Knox is making the jump from D-II Abilene Christian, and at 6 feet and 185 pounds, he is not a physical presence, but he looked like a big play waiting to happen in offseason workouts.

INJURY WATCH: RB Matt Forte sat out the final two weeks of OTAs with a hamstring injury, MLB Brian Urlacher was sidelined for several practices with a groin injury, SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer is still not fully recovered from hernia surgery and CB Charles Tillman (shoulder surgery) was limited throughout OTAs, but all are expected to be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Same for DT Tommie Harris, who was on light duty throughout the offseason to reduce wear and tear on his left knee.

CONTRACT TO WATCH: The contracts of DEs Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson are up after this season, but the Bears might not be rushing to get them re-signed unless they see big improvements from 2008. Ogunleye, who is 31, had just five sacks last season and has had 20 1/2 over the past three seasons. Anderson, who had 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006, had just five in ‘07 and one last year.


Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr. made his first extensive public comments since firing president Matt Millen in September, giving some insight on a number of subjects, such as the NFL's first 0-16 season.

"I feel so sorry for the fans in Detroit," Ford said. "I mean, I give them full marks for being loyal and showing up. We didn't perform the way we should have performed or the way we could have performed. I really have felt worse for them than I did for myself. I thought it was horrible."

Ford said he and Millen recently had settled a dispute over the balance of Millen's contract and that they remained friends.

He said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had called him to offer help and he explored some of his suggestions. But he said he liked what he had in Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, whom he promoted to president and general manager, respectively, and hiring coach Jim Schwartz was solely his decision.

"If Jim Schwartz doesn't work out, you can blame me 100%," Ford said. "I just have confidence in him."

The failure of quarterback Joey Harrington, the No. 3 overall pick in 2002, did not scare Ford from drafting Matthew Stafford first overall this year.

"No, because everything's different, including our front office personnel here, and the research they did on him before we drafted him," Ford said. "The head coach is different. The whole thing's just a new setup."

OFFSEASON STANDOUT: QB Daunte Culpepper has lost more than 30 pounds since last season, when he came out of semiretirement and jumped right into the Lions' starting lineup. He said he is 100% entering training camp for the first time since 2004, when he put up one of the best passer ratings in NFL history for Minnesota.

LINEUP WATCH: Culpepper still will have to hold off Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, who has impressed with his strong arm and quick command of the offense. Other battles to watch include right tackle, where veteran Jon Jansen could push 2008 first-round pick Gosder Cherilus, and safety, where the Lions have three recent second-round picks.

ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: Safety Louis Delmas, the first pick of the second round, has stood out from the first day of rookie minicamp, when he told Stafford he would be the first to pick him off. Coach Jim Schwartz said Delmas has mastered the complexities of NFL defense as quickly as any rookie he has seen in the secondary.

INJURY WATCH: Veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson did not do anything on the field in the offseason, recovering from a knee scope he had in February. Schwartz said Jackson was a little behind schedule, but Jackson said he is expected to be ready physically for the season opener.

CONTRACT TO WATCH: Stafford is already signed, and the Lions do not have any looming contract squabbles. They can focus on signing tight end Brandon Pettigrew, the No. 20 overall pick.


Now that receiver Greg Jennings has been handsomely rewarded by the organization, Nick Collins is left to wonder whether a hefty bump in pay will be coming his way.

As Jennings savored the three-year contract extension that could be worth as much as $30 million he received during the team's June 22-24 minicamp, Collins had his doubts about what the future holds for him. The Pro Bowl safety, who skipped most of the offseason workouts before showing up for the mandatory minicamp, left the door open for staging a holdout at the start of training camp to protest the absence of a new deal from the Packers.

"We'll see," said Collins, when asked whether he would be in attendance for the first day of camp practices Aug. 1. "I'm not saying I'm not going to be here. Put it that way."

Collins is one of 10 veteran Packers whose contracts will expire after the coming season. The fifth-year pro is seeking a lucrative extension on the heels of a breakout 2008 season.

While Collins applauded Jennings for striking it rich, he can't be sure that Packers general manager Ted Thompson has him next on the growing list of in-house players who have been taken care of during Thompson's five-year tenure.

"They do a pretty good job with that," Collins said. "At the same time, who knows? You can't depend on them to make a move."

Jennings was Thompson's top priority for meting out a contract extension this offseason. Jennings, a second-round draft pick in 2006, supplanted Donald Driver as the Packers' top receiver last season, when Jennings had career highs of 80 catches and 1,292 receiving yards with nine touchdowns.

Jennings, who received more than $16 million in guaranteed money, becomes the second-highest-paid player on the team, behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Jennings was due to draw a base salary of only $535,000 this year.

Signed through 2012, the relatively short length of the new deal could bring Jennings, 25, a bigger windfall should free agency beckon then.

"That's the beauty of it," Jennings said. "That was definitely the game plan — to make it a situation where I could have another opportunity to go to the table and redo a deal."

OFFSEASON STANDOUT: RB Ryan Grant is determined to make amends for a 2008 season he deemed "inconsistent," never mind the 1,203 rushing yards he churned out. Grant had few explosive runs because of a hamstring injury he suffered early in training camp last year. His outlook for breaking off long gains again, as he did the second half of the 2007 season, is buoyed by his participation in the Packers' offseason program for the first time in his three years with the club.

LINEUP WATCH: The Packers will open training camp Aug. 1 with two and possibly three starting spots on the offensive line up for grabs. Allen Barbre and former starting guard Jason Spitz are the front-runners at right tackle and center, respectively. Tony Moll is a sleeper to step in at left tackle after nine-year starter Chad Clifton didn't practice the entire offseason because of chronically bad knees.

ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: NT B.J. Raji, the No. 9 overall selection in the draft, is on schedule to open the season as a starter but not at his natural position. Raji spent a considerable amount of time in offseason workouts lining up at left end in the new 3-4 defensive scheme, giving the Packers a massive run-stuffing tandem with incumbent starter Ryan Pickett remaining on the inside. Raji will spell Pickett at nose in certain situations.

INJURY WATCH: ILB Nick Barnett expects to be eased back onto the field at the outset of training camp, nine months removed from sustaining a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee. Barnett will have to make the most of the limited work since he'll be playing catch-up with teammates in their learning curve with the 3-4. The six-year starter is being counted on to team with A.J. Hawk as playmakers in the middle.

CONTRACT TO WATCH: FS Nick Collins didn't provide definitive word at the recent minicamp on whether he will be a good soldier and report for the start of training camp, even if his desire for a contract extension isn't fulfilled. After skipping all but a few days of the offseason program to ostensibly protest the team's unwillingness to broker a new deal, Collins' unhappiness could fester after WR Greg Jennings landed a three-year extension for upward of $30 million.

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