NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears are excited about the addition of Rod Marinelli, the Lions speak up about their past mistakes and future hopes, and the Packers have wrapped up a trying offseason for Aaron Kampman. Just because it's the offseason doesn't mean there isn't news coming out of the NFC North.


  • Early in the offseason, coach Lovie Smith called the addition of Rod Marinelli as defensive line coach/assistant head coach the Bears' biggest move in free agency. At the end of OTAs, Smith still felt strongly that his old friend will have a huge impact on a defense that has underachieved for two straight seasons.

    "I talk a lot about Rod being one of our most important free agents that we've gotten in the off-season, and I think that held true," Smith said. "He has done a super job with the line. I have seen improvement in all of our linemen, (defensive ends) Adewale (Ogunleye), Alex (Brown), Mark Anderson, Israel Idonije, and all of our inside players."

  • Not all of the national attention that Jay Cutler's trade to the Bears has attracted has been positive, but that's OK with him.

    "It's fine," Cutler said. "Anytime a player goes to a different team, there's a lot to take in. There's an adjustment, not only in this city and with teammates, but a playbook. There are a lot of questions out there and throughout the year hopefully a lot of them get answered in my favor."

    Cutler doesn't seem to mind some of the doubters and detractors, and he said none of it affects how he handles the situation.

    "Whether or not it's positive or negative, I'm going to come out here and do everything possible in my power to help this team win," he said. "Some of it gets backs to me and some of it doesn't."

  • Coach Lovie Smith believes the Bears have made enough improvements in the offseason to become contenders, even if they don't bring in a veteran wide receiver to bolster an inexperienced group.

    "We feel real good," Smith said. "We think we're a strong football team without adding anyone. You always like to improve on every position, but right now we feel like we can win with this group."

  • Barring the late addition of an established wide receiver, Devin Hester will be the Bears' go-to guy this season, a situation that the coaching staff is comfortable with — at least publicly.

    "Devin Hester, I don't really feel like I have to answer a lot of questions about his growth as a wide receiver," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a legitimate No. 1 receiver, I think, and I think we'll all see that this coming season. I like the progress he has made throughout."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we've got one. I think we've got one in Devin (Hester), and I think Earl (Bennett) is going to be dangerous on the back side as well." — QB Jay Cutler, when asked if the Bears need a No. 1 receiver.


  • Addressing his dismissal of Matt Millen for the first time, William Clay Ford Sr. said: "He didn't really have much experience as far as being a general manager goes. He knows the game obviously. Knew talent. Maybe he was a little precipitous about some of his judgments. I'm second-guessing him. But it didn't work out, and he understood completely. There was no bitterness or rancor on his part. He said, ‘No, I can (see) why you're doing it, and I don't blame you.' "

  • Asked if he supported Millen for too long, Ford said: "Well, maybe. But I think circumstances, timing, were important. You don't want to jump ship after two games or one game or anything like that. When the fans were really getting fed up, you think, ‘OK, time to make a move.' Thought about it, obviously. But the timing just worked out the way it did."

  • What did Ford see in Lewand and Mayhew? "I like their judgment," he said. "I liked the thought processes they were going through to reach their conclusions. They don't get an idea and then jump off a cliff. It's all very well thought out, and it's not just thought out for the day. They think about it for a long time, weigh all the other possibilities and then make their decision. It's not a snap judgment on anybody's part, and I think that's important. Very important."

  • What about Rod Marinelli? "Rod's a great guy. He's a wonderful coach. I liked him. I don't want to say anything against him. I'm not sure he was quite ready to be a head coach. Lord knows he had enough experience and had been around a lot of successful guys. But when it doesn't work out, it's easy to point fingers, and I'm sure not going to blame Rod for anything. We're all in it together."

  • Ford said he would never order his coach to play a player, including Stafford. "No," Ford said. "I do not — contrary to public opinion — interfere with the football side of it. I mean, if so-and-so plays lousy, I'll said I think he's a bum." He laughed. "But no," he continued, "I've never said, ‘Play this guy or play that guy or don't play him.' These guys know more about the game than I do by 10 miles. I'm not going to try to second-guess them."

  • Defensive end Jared DeVries left practice one morning at minicamp after learning his high school football coach was shot and killed in Iowa. "We got him off the practice field right when that last period was beginning to inform him of that and to let him start to deal with that," coach Jim Schwartz said. "That's a tragedy."

    A gunman shot Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas in the school's weight room about 8 o'clock that morning. DeVries returned to the field in the afternoon and said in a statement: "Aside from my own father and mother, no one had a more profound impact on my life than Coach Thomas. He truly was like a second father to me and to the hundreds of players from our community he coached over the years."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want it. I can promise you that." — Owner Bill Ford Sr., on his often-questioned desire for a championship.


  • Aaron Kampman went through an offseason that, on the surface, appeared trying for the Pro Bowl defensive end as he made the conversion to outside linebacker in the team's new 3-4 defensive scheme.

    The offseason ended on a more difficult note for Kampman on a personal level. He was informed by head coach Mike McCarthy shortly before the Packers' final minicamp practice June 24 that Kampman's legendary high school football coach, Ed Thomas, was killed earlier that morning.

    Thomas, who won nearly 300 games in 37 years of coaching at Aplington-Parkersburg (Iowa) High School and had four players go on to the NFL, was shot to death while supervising a workout in the school's weight room. He was 58.

    The gunman was identified as 24-year-old Mark Becker, a former player of Thomas. He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

    Kampman participated in the Packers' modified practice after learning of the horrific news, then issued a statement about the death of Thomas, the 2005 NFL High School Football Coach of the Year:

    "Coach Thomas was very special to me and many other young men from the Aplington-Parkersburg communities. His legacy for many will be associated with his tremendous success as a football coach. However, I believe his greatest legacy comes not in how many football games he won or lost but in the fact that he was a committed follower of Jesus Christ. He lived his life trying to exemplify this faith and convey those values to those under his influence. His faith in Christ pervaded everything he did and that is why in the midst of the heartache we all feel there is comfort in knowing he is with his Savior."

  • Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't allot himself much downtime in the five weeks between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp Aug. 1. Rodgers planned to return to his native California to work out for a few days on his own, then as of early July will "go through about 3 1/2 weeks of pretty intense training" in San Diego with the likes of the San Diego Chargers' Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Kellen Winslow Jr. and Charles Tillman of the rival Chicago Bears.

    "It's a full-time job, so you've got to keep yourself in shape," Rodgers said.

    The second-year starter acknowledged he wants to shed a couple pounds before training camp. He is listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds.

  • McCarthy cut what was scheduled to be five practices in the minicamp to essentially three.

    One practice was eliminated on the first day as the players went on a team-building bowling outing. The final practice was condensed to just a jog-through for about an hour.

    The minicamp was a review of the nine installations made in the preceding organized team activities.

    "We really got a lot of work done in the OTAs," McCarthy said. "Our participation was outstanding, so, really, our minicamp was about corrections.

    "(The final day of minicamp) was about putting a final stamp on the teaching process of the offseason program because now when we get back here (for training camp), it's not about what to do and who goes where. It's how fast we are doing it, the conformity that you need on all three phases."

  • The Packers have half of their eight draft picks this year under contract.

    They signed offensive tackle Jamon Meredith, a fifth-round selection out of South Carolina, on June 25. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    Previously signed were defensive end Jarius Wynn and cornerback Brandon Underwood, both sixth-rounders, and linebacker Brad Jones, a seventh-rounder.

    Still to be signed are the first-round duo of nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews, fourth-round offensive tackle T.J. Lang and fifth-round fullback Quinn Johnson.

  • The Packers pared their roster by two players during the June 22-24 minicamp with the release of receiver Lorne Sam and guard Nevin McCaskill, both first-year players.

    Sam was plagued with an abdominal injury in recent weeks.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "There will be no problem, as far as holding out on my end. I'm a rookie, but from what I've been told, holdouts are not necessarily a good thing. Especially a rookie coming in, you can't afford to miss a week or two of training camp, especially when you're trying to find a way to get on the field." — Nose tackle B.J. Raji, the team's first of two first-round draft picks, on planning to be signed to a contract by the start of training camp Aug. 1.

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