Around the NFC North

Jay Cutler is learning to deal with the negative aspects of the job, Dominic Raiola feels he has put the negative vibes with the Detroit fans behind him, and the Packers could be ready for a mid-round rookie to start on their offensive line. Get those notes and quotes and more in the weekend look around the division.


  • 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."


  • Center Dominic Raiola signed a four-year extension worth $20 million with $9 million guaranteed, committing himself to the Lions through 2013. He said he never considered playing out the last year of his contract and testing free agency, even though the Lions are 31-97 since they drafted him in 2001. "There's so much I put into this," Raiola said. "I think it'd be like quitting. This place is worse now than when I came in. I definitely want to be a part of when this thing is turned around."

  • Raiola has had run-ins with Lions fans. He was fined last year for flipping them the bird during a game. But he said Detroit is home now, even though he is from Honolulu. "I've seen pretty much every other sports franchise win in this city, and there's nothing more that I want for the city than to see this team win," Raiola said. "This city's special to me. It's hard times right now, and I've been through a lot with the fans. I think that's just because I've been here for so long. I'm excited to try to change that view on the Lions."

  • The Lions signed tight end Dan Gronkowski, a seventh-round pick, to a three-year deal. They have signed quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick, too. "So we've got the bookends," president Tom Lewand said.

  • Will the Lions have a sponsor's logo on their jerseys during training camp? "I'm not projecting anything," Lewand said. "I think we'll continue to look at all the options that make sense for us and understand that the practice jersey is an important co-branding opportunity. If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right - with the right partner and in the right way. We've been doing a lot of work on it already, and we'll continue doing a lot of work this summer."

  • Coach Jim Schwartz changed the conditioning regimen after he was hired in January because he wants a bigger, stronger team. The Lions emphasized free weights, going back to the roots of Olympic power lifting. The result? Schwartz said team upper body strength had increased almost 21 percent, not including rookies or players who didn't go through the full program. "That's significant," Schwartz said. "Consider the starting point. These are professional athletes. These are world-class athletes. For them to increase 20 persent said something, No. 1 about the program, No. 2 about their work ethic and how they embrace the program." Schwartz said team lower body explosiveness increased 14 percent.

  • Ricky Sandoval, the Lions' director of security, died July 2 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He had turned 49 two days before. Sandoval was a beloved figure behind the scenes at team headquarters in Allen Park. After he received his diagnosis in May 2006, he learned the average survival rate for his type of cancer was six months. He fought off the disease for more than three years, while he and his wife, Gael, raised awareness of the disease and money to fight it.


  • T.J. Lang won't enter training camp — and possibly the 2009 season — as a starter, but the Packers' decision-makers view the rookie from Eastern Michigan as starter material.

    Lang, a fourth-round draft pick, was signed to a four-year contract July 7. The deal reportedly includes a signing bonus of $502,500. Lang's base salaries are $310,000 this year; $395,000 in 2010; $480,000 in 2011; and $565,000 in 2012.

    Getting Lang under contract leaves the Packers with three of their eight draft picks to sign in the coming weeks: the first-round duo of nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews and fifth-round fullback Quinn Johnson.

    The 6-foot-4, 316-pound Lang left some positive first impressions on the coaching staff during the spring organized team activities and concluding June minicamp. He lined up as the No. 2 right tackle, behind projected starter Allen Barbre, and also worked some at right guard.

    "I think Lang has really made some big steps since he's been here," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "He seems very natural at playing either tackle or guard, and that's something we've had a number of players be able to come in here and do that at the offensive-line position.

    "Athletically, there's days I thought he was a tackle, (and) there's days I think he's a guard. So, that tells you about where his flexibility is physically. (I'm) very happy with him."

    Barbre, who has zero starts in two years as a pro, isn't a shoo-in to replace longtime starter Mark Tauscher at right tackle. Tauscher remains a free agent after undergoing ACL knee surgery in January and probably won't be re-signed by Green Bay.

    That sets up what could be a competitive battle in training camp between Barbre, Lang and Breno Giacomini, who didn't practice in the offseason because of ankle surgery.

  • The on-again, off-again felony drug possession trial for Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly is on the Houston court docket for July 17.

    The trial has been postponed a few times since Jolly was arrested in Houston in July 2008. He was charged with possession of at least 200 grams of codeine.

    Jolly, who faces a minimum of two years in prison if convicted, could be suspended by the NFL.

  • Players report for training camp July 31 in Green Bay. The first workout at the team's newly renovated outdoor practice facility near Lambeau Field will be Aug. 1.

  • The unofficial start to the franchise's preseason will occur July 18, when the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame holds its annual induction banquet at Lambeau. Running back Dorsey Levens and receiver Antonio Freeman are this year's inductees.

    The annual Packers shareholders meeting for the publicly owned team will be July 30 at Lambeau.

  • 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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