NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears made efforts to protect their big offseason investment with smaller investments in front of him. The Lions, after making personnel changes, need to make attitude adjustments as well, says their new head coach. And at least one Packer believes the new 3-4 defense will be executed well early on. Get in-depth news, notes and quotes on the Vikings' NFC North rivals.


Having failed for decades to draft or develop a franchise quarterback, the Bears went out and traded for one, getting the Broncos' disgruntled Pro Bowler Jay Cutler.

They gave up their own presumptive starter, Kyle Orton, two first-round picks and a third-rounder, but the Bears firmly believe they have cleared the toughest hurdle in their race to get back to being Super Bowl contenders. On paper and past performance, Cutler appears to be a huge step up from Bears quarterbacks of the previous 50 or so years. He is athletic enough to buy time in the pocket and has the superior arm strength required to complete passes that are ill advised for most NFL quarterbacks.

Realizing that Cutler could be the player who puts them over the top, the Bears took great pains to provide him with the protection that he was accustomed to in Denver. They signed future Hall of Fame left tackle Orlando Pace after he was cut by the Rams. Pace is past his prime but still considered a quality player and a major improvement over last year's 16-game starter, journeyman John St. Clair. The Bears also added unrestricted free agent Frank Omiyale, who is expected to replace Josh Beekman as the starter at left guard. Omiyale can also play tackle, although Chris Williams, the Bears' 2008 first-round pick, has been slotted in at right tackle, replacing John Tait, who retired after last season. Depth, which has been a problem area in recent years, was improved with the addition of Kevin Shaffer, a long-time starter for the Browns.

As yet, the Bears have not done anything to give Cutler the caliber of wide receivers he enjoyed with the Broncos. They drafted Juaquin Iglesias in the third round and Johnny Knox in the fifth, but they are counting on Devin Hester to become their go-to guy, even though he is still learning the position. An even bigger leap of faith is counting on Earl Bennett to start opposite Hester. Bennett was a third-round pick in 2008, but he failed to catch a single pass as a rookie.

On defense, the Bears scooped up another cap casualty from St. Louis, when they grabbed linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who is expected to start on the strong side. If nothing else, they added depth to the defensive line with draft picks Jarron Gilbert (third round) and Henry Melton (fourth round).

Biggest move: Cutler's acquisition could wind up being one of the Bears' biggest moves ever. If it doesn't pay immediate and long-term dividends, it will be one of the worst ever. There are still some concerns about Cutler, given his acrimonious departure from Denver, but he has shown a willingness to do everything it takes to be a success in Chicago.

Key loss: The Bears really didn't lose anyone they needed, but if 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams can't cut it as the No. 1 offensive right tackle, they will miss John Tait, who retired after 10 solid years as a starter at both tackle spots with the Chiefs and Bears.

Needs addressing: The Bears still lack a proven No. 1 wide receiver. They say they have one in Devin Hester, but he has just 71 NFL receptions in two seasons at the position, and he is the most experienced wideout on the team.


  • 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."


    Before the Lions wrapped up their offseason program with a mandatory minicamp in late June, coach Jim Schwartz made a point in a team meeting.

    "Patience is no longer a virtue," Schwartz said. "Indoctrination is over."

    The Lions have made major changes since suffering the NFL's first 0-16 season.

    They replaced Rod Marinelli with Schwartz, and Schwartz installed a new staff, a new philosophy and new systems on both sides of the ball.

    They overhauled the roster and used every avenue to do it, from signing free agents, to making trades, to drafting quarterback Matthew Stafford first overall, to making several waiver claims.

    From the start of the offseason conditioning program in March to the end of organized team activities in June, Schwartz was more concerned with teaching and learning than performance and evaluation.

    But by the final minicamp, he felt the players were in shape and knew what they needed to know to execute.

    "We need to get past it now," Schwartz said. "We need to start seeing results on the field."

    The Lions haven't had results on the field in a long time. They haven't made the playoffs since 1999. They haven't had a winning season since 2000. They are 31-97 since 2001.

    It might be tougher for the Lions to have the usual offseason optimism. But apparently there has been enough turnover that belief is starting to rebuild in the organization.

    Owner William Clay Ford Sr. gave a rare interview after a minicamp practice and said he liked what he saw.

    "The thing I liked really was the player's attitude," Ford said. "I mean, they're going at it like, you know, we can win, which is great.

    "The past is history. Forget about that, and let's just keep our eye on the ball and what's up front, and they're doing that. That would be hard to do for some of the veterans who have been around here, but overall, I'd say it was very good."

    Biggest move: The Lions committed to a new quarterback of the future when they drafted Matthew Stafford first overall and gave him a six-year contract worth a maximum of $78 million, with $41.7 million guaranteed.

    Stafford has impressed so far with his strong arm and quick command of the offense, and the quarterback competition is expected to be hot in training camp.

    Veteran Daunte Culpepper has lost more than 30 pounds since coming out of semiretirement and joining the Lions at midseason.

    "I think that's healthy," Stafford said. "That's great for guys to get out there and compete. That's what makes teams better and players better, is guys trying to get better and beat the guy out next to them. That's what you want."

    Key loss: The Lions' secondary intercepted only one pass last season, and they released the player who picked off the pass: cornerback Leigh Bodden. Now Bodden is expected to start for, of all teams, the accomplished New England Patriots.

    But Bodden was disgruntled in Detroit and due an $8.6 million roster bonus, and the Lions have made several additions to the secondary to compensate, including free-agent cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Eric King. They also traded Jon Kitna to Dallas for Anthony Henry.

    Needs addressing: The Lions still have a lot of work to do on both lines, especially because Schwartz has talked about getting bigger and stronger and building from the inside out. The Lions have added veteran free agents like defensive tackle Grady Jackson and offensive tackle Jon Jansen, and free agent defensive end Kevin Carter remains a possibility. They drafted a big defensive tackle in Sammie Hill. But there is still plenty of room to improve, especially on the interior at guard and defensive tackle.


  • 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."


    Veteran nose tackle Ryan Pickett had a retort this spring for those who believe the Packers' defense will be in for a season of growing pains as it makes the switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 system.

    "Honestly, I think we're going to come out and execute the defense well," Pickett said. "Of course, the longer you play (in the scheme), the better you get, but I think we're going to shock people on how good we play it this year."

    With the soap opera that played out last summer with former quarterback Brett Favre long behind them, the offseason focus for the Packers was squarely on the big change in defensive philosophy.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy overhauled the coaching staff on that side of the ball, bringing in 3-4 guru Dom Capers as defensive coordinator, and the installations were made in May and June during organized team activities.

    "I think it works for us," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "As far as personnel, I think that we fit it pretty good. Teams will have a little bit of trouble preparing for us, I think."

    Still, the conversion to the new defense hasn't been smooth.

    Capers didn't have his entire projected starting lineup to work with for most of the offseason. Barnett, hard-hitting safety Atari Bigby and versatile lineman Cullen Jenkins were on the mend from season-ending injuries last year. Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins skipped the majority of the workouts, apparently to protest the absence of a contract extension.

    Meanwhile, judging by his reluctance to speak publicly, Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman had reservations about being moved to outside linebacker, where he will be standing up and dropping into coverage on occasion.

    Biggest move: The hiring of Capers as defensive coordinator. Although his name recognition came with stints as the first head coach for two expansion teams — the Carolina Panthers and the Houston Texans — Capers made his mark coordinating stingy 3-4 defenses with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Expecting the Packers to become masters of the new scheme this season is asking a lot. Capers, though, has some workable, talented pieces to revive a defense that was gashed by the run and rarely pressured the quarterback last season. Capers' biggest challenge will be to get Kampman to buy into the scheme. His pass-rushing abilities can continue to flourish, especially with mammoth first-round draft pick B.J. Raji occupying blockers in front of Kampman.

    Key loss: Although Mark Tauscher's nameplate still hung in the team's Lambeau Field locker room during the offseason workouts, the veteran right tackle is as good as gone. Tauscher, a free agent, underwent surgery for a torn ACL in January, and the Packers soured on re-signing the beloved Wisconsin native because they didn't feel he would be ready for the start of the season.
    As such, the keys to the starting job that Tauscher held since 2000 have been handed to Allen Barbre, an athletic young player who will have to fend off competition in training camp.

    Needs addressing: Firming up a replacement for Tauscher is among a few unsettled positions on the offensive line for the Packers as they head into camp.

    Former starting right guard Jason Spitz will battle incumbent Scott Wells at center. Spitz has the upper hand after taking all of the first-team reps in the offseason with Wells' recovering from shoulder surgery.

    The jury is out on how much Chad Clifton, the starter at left tackle since 2000, has left to give after dealing with knee problems in recent years.


  • 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.

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