NFC North news, notes and quotes

Jay Cutler is trying to smooth over comments about Devin Hester as they build a relationship. Some of the shine is rubbing off Detroit golden boy Matthew Stafford after his latest performance. That isn't the case with the Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who is playing at an extremely high level. Get those stories and many more notes from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.


Wide receiver Devin Hester has been anointed as the Bears' No. 1 receiver, but he and quarterback Jay Cutler are still going through a learning process that has sometimes been awkward on and off the field.

Hester said he was offended when he first read Cutler's comments about the quarterback's interception in the preseason opener. The pass intended for Hester was thrown into coverage and picked off by the Bills' Leodis McKelvin.

After the game, Cutler said: "Devin's more of a go-get-it guy. He's really not a back-shoulder, jump-up-and-get-it (guy). So you learn from it. We made some mistakes."

Cutler told Hester he didn't mean the comment as a criticism, although that's the way it appeared to some, including Hester, at least initially.

"I was (offended) when I read it, but then he said he didn't say it," Hester said of Cutler. "You can't go with what the papers say. You've got to go to the source and see what really happened, and he told me he didn't say none of that.

"What Jay told me, he said that he didn't mean I wasn't a go-up-and-get-a-jump-ball-type guy, but I was one of those guys you've got to throw it out there and then go get it."

Cutler threw six passes to Hester, who had two catches for 22 yards. To some, it seemed Cutler was shifting the blame for the interception to Hester, but that's not the way the wide receiver is taking it.

"It wasn't no criticism or anything like that," Hester said. "He was saying, ‘You are not a 6-foot-8 receiver. You can't go up and get everything. But we know you are the type of receiver if we throw it out there, you'll go get it.' "

Hester said his relationship with Cutler is fine and will get even better as they became more familiar working with each other.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said there was room for improvement from Cutler and Hester on the interception.

"(Cutler) got a little bit of pressure, so he slid up in the pocket," Turner said. "Once his rhythm is off, (now) he's got to forget about it, come off (the primary receiver) and take his check-down. He'll learn that with more reps, and it'll be there."

Replays showed that running back Garrett Wolfe was wide open underneath. Turner said Hester ran a good route, but that in some situations, he needs to be more like a defensive back

"I think he misjudged it a little bit," Turner said. "If he can't make the play, he'll go up and break that up, which I've seen him do a bunch of times. He just kind of mistimed it and thought it was coming (right) to him."

In the second preseason game, Hester appeared to again misjudge a deep pass from a scrambling Cutler, who overthrew the wide-open wideout who stopped running when Cutler broke from the pocket and then couldn't catch up to the pass.


  • The expectation was that quarterback Jay Cutler would make the Bears' disrespected wide receiver corps better just by his presence and strong arm. But according to wide receiver Rashied Davis, that's not the only thing that has lit a fire under the pass catchers.

    "I think (what has) made the receiving corps better is everyone assumes that we're the weak link," Davis said. "So we've focused and pushed hard because we're not going to be the weak link."

  • The Bears are deep enough at linebacker that they could cut one or two who wind up playing for another team.

    Seven-year veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer would rather not leave, but he's fighting for playing time. Pisa Tinoisamoa, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams have been listed as tri-starters at strong-side linebacker, the position where Hillenmeyer started the previous 4 1/2 years until midway through last season when a thumb injury allowed Roach to take his spot. Now Hillenmeyer is the backup to Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker.
    "I want to be in Chicago, I don't want there to be any doubt about that," Hillenmeyer said. "But the better you play, the more likely that you're assuring yourself that you're going to be (playing) somewhere. None of the linebackers on our team are in any danger of not (playing) somewhere. I don't want to (leave). I've got a life here, I love it here, but in the NFL, there's such a small window, you've got to do what you can to maximize your time in it."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Lot of fun. It's (just) a preseason game, (but) obviously there's going to be a little bit of drama wrapped around it." — QB Jay Cutler was asked what his return to Denver will be like Sunday night for the Bears' third preseason game.


    It was the day before the Lions' second exhibition.

    To that point, rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, could do no wrong. He had been praised even after he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in the exhibition opener, because he shrugged it off and bounced back with a touchdown drive.

    Coach Jim Schwartz was asked about his criteria for when Stafford will play. He has said Stafford will play only when he is both ready and the best quarterback.

    Considering what he had shown through three weeks of training camp and one exhibition, wasn't he ready? Wasn't it now simply a question of whether he was the best quarterback?

    "He's played one preseason game," Schwartz said. "He's played a few snaps. We have a long way to go to decide if anybody's ready or not."

    Schwartz soon seemed prophetic. Stafford started the second exhibition, a 27-10 loss at Cleveland, and promptly threw an interception on his first pass attempt deep in Detroit territory.

    Stafford was off-target after that throw as well. He missed multiple receivers and finished 5-for-13 for 34 yards with a 14.6 rating.

    Veteran Daunte Culpepper didn't lead the Lions to a score, either. But he looked good in comparison: 10-for-16 for 86 yards.

    Stafford has a long way to go. But apparently so does the quarterback competition.

    Schwartz said he had not mapped out who would start the third exhibition, and — at least before he saw what happened against the Browns — he dropped a hint that the competition could go all the way into the fourth exhibition.

    "You guys don't know how I'm going to approach that fourth preseason game," Schwartz said.

    Schwartz used to be the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, and he said the Titans typically played their starters about a full half.

    "The thought process there was, if they played a half of football in the third preseason game and then had a cup of coffee in the fourth, that was 17 days since they had really had any real action when they went for the opener," Schwartz said. "So don't be surprised if you see a little different philosophy than maybe you're used to in the fourth preseason game."

    The Lions' fourth exhibition is Sept. 3 at Buffalo. A reporter noted the Lions lost quarterback Jeff Garcia to a broken leg four years ago in the fourth exhibition at Buffalo. He could have noted the Lions lost running back James Stewart to a shoulder injury six years ago in the fourth exhibition at Buffalo, too.

    "Should I change my plans because something happened to somebody else?" Schwartz said.


  • Tight end Carson Butler and defensive end Dewayne White fought each other before the Lions' exhibition at Cleveland — in pregame warm-ups.

    "Yeah, I didn't know if that was a good sign or a bad sign," said coach Jim Schwartz, who has been in the NFL since 1993. "I've never seen that before." White, in his seventh NFL season, said he had never seen that before, either. "Yeah, it did surprise me," White said. "I thought we were just going to go a little bit, and the next thing you know, we're on the ground, tussling."

    White declined to say what started it, and Butler did not speak to reporters. But Butler and White scuffled for a bit. Then Butler, a long shot to make the team, threw down White, a starter for the Lions the past two seasons. White said the two might not be finished. "We might go at it," White said. "I'm not saying that we are. But it's going to be bad blood between us, yeah."

  • Schwartz said the Lions put safety Daniel Bullocks on the waived/injured list because his knee problem simply did not improve. "It just kept staying the same," Schwartz said. "We needed to get moving on it. It was a situation where it looked like he wasn't going to be able to get on the field for us, so we had to make that move." Bullocks reverted to injured reserve after he cleared waivers. Schwartz declined to comment on whether Bullocks needs another surgery on the knee, after having his ACL repaired two years ago. Asked if the Lions would keep Bullocks on injured reserve or release him with an injury settlement, Schwartz said: "I don't know. We'll have to see how the next couple weeks develops. Because of the way the waiver thing worked and everything else, we still have that option."

  • Schwartz invited former Lions coach Rick Forzano to speak to the team after practice one day. They share a connection: Bill Belichick. Forzano coached with Belichick's father at the U.S. Naval Academy. Billy — as Forzano still calls Belichick today — helped him break down film at age 10. Forzano gave Belichick his second NFL job: coaching tight ends and assisting with special teams for the Lions in 1976. Schwartz broke into the NFL as a scout in Cleveland from 1993-95, when Belichick was the Browns' coach. "We just kind of snicker about things about Billy," said Forzano, 80, now a manufacturer's rep in the Detroit area. "He wants things his way."

  • The Lions are trying a lot of combinations on the defensive line, trying to find the right ones. "I think a lot of coaches come in and they go, ‘We'll we're going to play this, and this is us,' " defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "You look around the field, and they don't have the players that can play that system. ... We're trying to fix this thing the right way by looking at our players. What can they do? We have a lot of coverage in, we have a lot of blitzes in and we have a good portion of the front in. But we need to find out what fits them best. What can they do, and what can they give us a chance to win with?"

  • Cunningham noticed something encouraging about a week and a half ago. Quarterback Drew Stanton had started kidding around with him. It was so remarkable, Cunningham told linebackers coach Matt Burke. "I said, ‘You know, Drew Stanton's getting better,' " Cunningham said. To Cunningham, the banter is a sign of comfort and confidence. It is to Stanton, too.

    "When you enjoy going to work and are comfortable around people, then you can start acting more like yourself," said Stanton, a 2007 second-round pick who struggled under former offensive coordinators Mike Martz and Jim Colletto. "I think the better that you get to know people, the more you can start to do that. That hasn't been my experience my first two years here. I didn't really know what to expect when I showed up here on a daily basis."

  • Asked how new defensive tackle Shaun Smith has been adapting to what he wants him to do, Cunningham took the question in another direction. "Yeah," Cunningham said, "he never shuts up. ... I love him. He's the kind of guy I'm used to being around. He's talkative. He's aggressive. He's grown up. He'll say things you don't want to hear sometimes, but I like that."

  • Chad Ochocinco — the star wide receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson — moonlighted as a kicker and booted an extra point for Cincinnati. But don't expect Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson to take up kicking anytime soon. "He's got a bruised thumb," Schwartz said. "We don't need a bruised toe."

  • Don't expect the Lions to go after Jamaican track star Usain Bolt, either. "Nobody ever won the hundred meters with somebody standing in their lane," Schwartz cracked. "It's hard. He's such an incredible superstar in his field. So it's hard to speculate how that would translate. I don't know that he's ever played the game of football. There's more to it than just being able to run fast."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It kind of leaves a sour taste in our mouth. It's awful." — C Dominic Raiola, on the Lions' 27-10 exhibition loss at Cleveland, in which they fell behind, 20-0, in less than 11 minutes and looked like the team that went 0-16 last year.


    Excuse Aaron Rodgers for being greedy.

    The red-hot quarterback expects and wants to be on the field for what should be the most extended playing time of the preseason when the Packers play their third of four games Friday night at the Arizona Cardinals.

    "The third game is really one you want to get your conditioning down. I'd love to play into the third quarter," said Rodgers, who was asked after the Packers' 31-21 win over the visiting Buffalo Bills on Saturday whether he needed a lot of work in the upcoming game.

    Rodgers is coming off a dazzling 8-for-9, 98-yard, two-touchdown passing performance in a little more than a quarter of action against the Bills.

    The second-year starter was nearly perfect in leading the Packers on three scoring drives (all touchdowns) in four possessions. Rodgers had a 151.6 passer rating, and his only incompletion came on a well-played breakup by cornerback Reggie Corner on a goal-line slant to receiver Donald Driver.

    Rodgers went right back to Driver on the next play, throwing a dart on the run that Driver expertly snared at the pylon for a 5-yard touchdown. That put the Packers ahead 21-0, and Rodgers had a well-deserved rest of the night off.

    "When (Rodgers) jumps out of the pocket and makes that play, that tells you something about his individual playmaking ability," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "For him to put that ball where he put it and for Donald to keep his feet inbounds, that's exciting. Those are the types of plays that win football games."

    Fast starts by the Rodgers-led No. 1 offense have helped propel the Packers to a 2-0 start in the preseason and a big shot in the arm for the season ahead after last year's edition soured with a 6-10 record.

    Rodgers has directed five touchdown drives in six series of action thus far.

    "We're doing some really good things," he said. "The key is it starts up front. In two games, I haven't been sacked, really haven't been touched. It gives you a lot of confidence as a passer."

    Rodgers has completed 13-of-19 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.

    He enters the penultimate week of preseason games third in the league with an efficiency rating of 142.5 — trailing only the San Francisco 49ers' Damon Huard (149.1) and the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning (144.0).

    CAMP CALENDAR: Camp closes Sept. 1. The final two night practices of the preseason are scheduled for Aug. 24 and 30.


  • Linebacker Brady Poppinga has gone from purportedly being on the outs with the team to likely being in the starting lineup when the Packers open the season Sept. 13 against the Chicago Bears.

    "Right now, because of all the reps he has, he's our starter," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said after Green Bay's 31-21 preseason win over the visiting Buffalo Bills on Aug. 22.

    Poppinga opened training camp three weeks earlier as a backup to converted Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman at left outside linebacker. Considering the Packers had an abundance of talented young linebackers in their new 3-4 scheme, Poppinga, a fifth-year player, was viewed as someone on the roster bubble after three shaky seasons as a starter.

    Yet, early camp injuries to Jeremy Thompson (shoulder stingers) and Clay Matthews (hamstring), a first-round draft pick this year, created an open spot at right outside linebacker that Poppinga has capably filled.

    Neither Thompson nor Matthews had returned to the field by the latest preseason game.

    "Whoever comes back is going to have to beat Brady out of there," Capers said. "He's made really good progress. I like his attitude; I like the intensity he plays with. He can rush, he can drop into coverage, and he's physical against the run."

  • Desmond Bishop has arguably been the most impressive linebacker among a deep cast in the preseason to date. Yet, getting him on the field in a meaningful role is proving to be a tough task.

    Bishop has emerged as Mr. August. After producing four quarterback hits, a sack and an interception in the Aug. 15 win over the Cleveland Browns, Bishop had an interception and a fumble recovery against the Bills.

    "I felt Desmond out there," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's definitely productive. He's an explosive player. I can't say enough good things about the way he's playing so far."

    Bishop is caught in a logjam at the two inside linebacker spots. Incumbents A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett, who returned to practice Aug. 17 nine months removed from major knee surgery, are penciled in as the starters. Brandon Chillar has been working in place of Barnett and has been as effective this preseason as Bishop, who is backing up Hawk.

    Barnett was limited to individual drills his first week back. After pointing to a return to game action Aug. 28, when the Packers play at the Arizona Cardinals, Barnett hinted that he may not be cleared until the preseason finale, Sept. 3 at the Tennessee Titans.

    As loaded as the Packers are at linebacker, they're in short supply at safety.

  • Starting free safety Nick Collins left the game against the Bills with bruised ribs, an injury he sustained while colliding with Chillar on a tackle in the first quarter. Collins stayed in the game until he was taken to the locker room in the second quarter for X-rays, which were negative.

    Collins, a Pro Bowl player last season, didn't think the injury would keep him out long.

    His absence left the Packers with only three safeties the rest of the game — starter Atari Bigby and backups Anthony Smith and Jarrett Bush. Smith played after aggravating a groin injury earlier in the week.

    Held out of the game were Aaron Rouse and Charlie Peprah, who suffered hamstring and knee injuries, respectively, late in the practice week.

    "We're on a short week getting ready for Arizona, (so) maybe (we) stay from certain personnel groups when we get later in the game," McCarthy said.

  • Long-awaited decisions on who would be the starting five on the offensive line seemingly were on the horizon before the game at Arizona, when the Packers' starters are expected to play more than a half.

    Left tackle Chad Clifton and left guard Daryn Colledge have been locked into their spots since Day 1 of camp.

    McCarthy has played mix and match at center and right guard — splitting reps between incumbent Scott Wells and Jason Spitz at the former, while alternating between Josh Sitton and incumbent Spitz at the latter.

    What's more, projected starter Allen Barbre has received some competition at right tackle from Breno Giacomini.

    "I'm hopeful that the (game) film will give me that option or a strong opinion one way or the other," said McCarthy, after the Aug. 22 game, about settling on a starting line. "I'm hopeful that will happen, but I'm not making any guarantees."

  • Defensive lineman B.J. Raji, the No. 9 overall pick in the draft this year, made his preseason debut against the Bills.

    Raji said he was in for 12 plays in the first half — a span of three series — as the No. 2 left end and in a two-man tandem with Cullen Jenkins as the down linemen in nickel situations.

    "I thought he got some penetration. He had live legs," McCarthy said. "I think he's going to be an exciting young player for us. I thought it was a good start for him."

    Raji missed the first two weeks of camp as a contract holdout.

  • McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson were quick to counter comments made by oft-injured defensive end Justin Harrell on Aug. 17, when he said he feared his career could be over because of chronic back problems.

    "I don't think anybody's talking in those terms," Thompson said a day later. "That's not what our guys say on the medical end. I'm sure it's very frustrating for him."

    Harrell hasn't practiced since Aug. 6 after the injury resurfaced for the first time this year. Harrell, the team's first-round draft pick in 2007, believed he was in the clear this offseason after he endured a herniated disc in his lower back most of last year — he underwent two surgeries before the season started and then missed most of the season.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's a lot of positive information in our first two games, and I feel very good about that. But, the reality is there's things we need to correct, too. There's no reason to be striking up the band or anything like that." — Head coach Mike McCarthy, tempering his enthusiasm despite the Packers' prolific production on both sides of the ball in their 2-0 start to the preseason.

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