NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears are missing at least one starter in their offseason conditioning program. The Lions have looked into signing some players with questionable backgrounds and cited former Viking WR Cris Carter as a prime example. The Packers are stuck in wait-and-see mode as Al Harris recovers. Those are only some of the stories and notes addressed as we go around the NFC North.


CHICAGO BEARS

Restricted free agent safety Danieal Manning is not participating in the Bears' off-season program, which began Monday, March 29, because he's upset at receiving the lowest tender offer ($1.176 million) from the team.

Manning has more starts at safety (38) than anyone since Lovie Smith took over as head coach in 2004 and maybe he deserves a higher offer. He's also got as good a chance of anyone on the roster to wind up as one of the starters at safety because he's the most physically gifted. He's also one of the better kickoff returners in the NFL, and that alone should make him valuable to the Bears, who place a premium on special teams.

But Manning has a much better chance of getting the multi-year contract he believes he deserves if he is in the building. The Bears' have a history of not negotiating with players who are absent, even though the off-season program is technically "voluntary."

And there doesn't appear to be a burgeoning market for Manning's services. A team signing him away from the Bears would only have to compensate them with a third-round pick, but there is no known interest in Manning from around the NFL.

Earlier in the offseason there was speculation that Manning would get a long shot at strong safety, even though 37 of his 38 starts have been at free safety. The fifth-year veteran has the toughness and the willingness to support against the run, but he has not been the most consistent tackler in the past, whiffing occasionally, even though he was in the right position. Manning also served as the Bears' nickel back for much of the 2009 season.

  • There has been talk that tight end Greg Olsen's days as the Bears' starter are limited because of the nature of Mike Martz's offense. But head coach Lovie Smith indicated recently that Olsen will remain a major player in the offense, but he will have to improve his blocking.

    "He's faster than most tight ends out there," Smith said of Olsen. "He can block the way most other tight ends can, but in the passing game he is a step ahead. He can be successful in this offense — not can, will. He will be successful in this offense. He's a competitor. He's going to find a way. His role has increased as far as us going to him every year. I don't see that changing."

  • The Bears open their preseason schedule with a road game at San Diego against the Chargers the second weekend in August (12-15).
    Their next two preseason games are at home, against the Raiders (Aug. 19-22) and then the Cardinals (Aug. 26-29). The preseason concludes in Cleveland against the Browns (Sept. 2-5). Specific dates and times for all preseason games, along with the regular-season schedule, will be announced later this month.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know Mike as well as anyone. I worked with him. Mad Mike? I don't know about any of that. I just know he has as good an offensive mind as anyone out there. I'm excited about getting a chance to work with him." — Bears coach Lovie Smith on new offensive coordinator "Mad" Mike Martz.


    DETROIT LIONS

    After losing an NFL-record 30 games over two years, the Lions have looked everywhere in an attempt to upgrade their talent level. They have not been afraid to explore players who have had character issues.

    The Lions looked into trading for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, whom the Chargers eventually shipped to the Jets. They're looking into signing cornerback Adam (Pacman) Jones, an unrestricted free agent attempting a comeback, and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, a restricted free agent from the Saints. All of those players have had off-field issues.

    Coach Jim Schwartz pointed out that people mature and that Academy Awards have been won telling the stories of "somebody being high, going all the way down to the bottom and then getting back again." One example he cited was wide receiver Cris Carter, who had addiction problems early in his NFL career with the Eagles but overcame them with the Vikings. Carter has been a Hall of Fame finalist.

    "Should you not have been interested in Cris Carter when he went to Minnesota?" Schwartz said. "Well, he proved that you should have been. There's been a million of them."

    But the Lions have taken a practical approach in these situations, trying to weigh risk and reward.

    "We haven't just taken a blanket, ‘Hey, look, we're not messing with that at all,' or, ‘We're ignoring that, and we're signing them strictly on football,' " Schwartz said. "There's obviously a balance to it."

    Everyone has been involved, all the way up to owner William Clay Ford and vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. Mayhew said they definitely had talked to the Fords about Jones and his workout.

    "Those are football decisions, and Jim and Martin are going to make them," Ford Jr. said. "I'm not going to comment, because it's all hypothetical now. I think you have to take it on a case by case."

    Ford Jr. said Mayhew and Schwartz run all personnel decisions by ownership, as a courtesy. He said Mayhew, Schwartz and Sheldon White, the vice president of pro personnel, "will know those people and their character far better than I will."

    Mayhew said the Lions have unusual insight into Jones and Hargrove. Schwartz was the Titans' defensive coordinator when Jones played for them in 2005-06. One of Mayhew's old teammates is former NFL star cornerback Deion Sanders, who has been working with Jones. Mayhew is also friends with Hargrove's agent, Phil Williams, who once represented him.

    "In both those guys' case, we have a little bit of history with both those guys," Mayhew said. "So we have a little bit more information I think than some other people might have."

    Mayhew said he would not be rushed into anything. Despite a report at profootballtalk.com that the Lions had agreed to terms with Jones, the Lions are taking their time.

    "It was like, ‘Huh?' " said Ray Savage, Jones' agent. "We have a couple trips scheduled to a couple teams. I talked to Martin, and I talked to the Detroit Lions, and there is interest. They're kind of dragging their feet a little bit. I'm trying to get them a little bit more information so they can make this thing happen. But we've not talked numbers or anything yet."

    Knowledge goes both ways. Though Schwartz has firsthand knowledge of the talent that made Jones the No. 6 overall pick in ‘05, he also knows about Jones' off-field problems. Jones was suspended for the 2007 season and part of the ‘08 season. He did not play in ‘09.

    "There's something to be said for ‘clean slate,' but he obviously doesn't have one, you know?" Schwartz said. "He's at a little different point in his career (with) everything that's gone on. There's going to be more scrutiny with him. I mean, if he gets a parking ticket, it's going to be news. And he needs to understand that, and I'm sure he does. And the team needs to understand that.

    "Clean slate sounds good and probably should be the case, but he's probably not in that category."

  • Don't get him wrong. GM Martin Mayhew has been extremely active since taking over in September 2008, but only out of necessity.

    "Ideally," Mayhew said, "we'll be good enough where we'll just draft. We'll make an occasional acquisition by trade or whatever, an occasional waiver claim. But in an ideal world, we'll be good enough to where we'll draft, and those sixth-, seventh-rounds guys will have a hard time making our team. That's what we're trying to get to. So this isn't ... The way we're doing things this year and last year in terms of waiver claims and stuff like that, that's not how I see this thing going or how I want it to be over the long term." Mayhew he hopes the Lions won't have to show up on anyone's doorstep with bottles of wine and millions of dollars in the future, as they did with free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson this year. "I think we'll be less active in free agency, especially won't be doing deals at midnight," Mayhew said. "We'll be awake, but we won't be doing any deals. I think we want to get to the point where we feel good enough about our talent and good enough about our football team where we don't have to be taking as much risk."

  • With the NFL draft less than a month away, the Lions started putting up their board last week. First, Mayhew goes over the bottom of the board with the personnel and scouting departments. Then coaches join them, and they go from the top down, position by position, defense first. Some teams set their board before the combine, then adjust it as the draft approaches. The Lions are among those who like to wait.

    "We set it later, because there's always new information coming in, and we can make that adjustment at the end," Mayhew said. "And once the board is up, the board is up."

  • Shortly before the draft April 22-24, the brass will mock draft.

    "All our scouts and personnel department, we'll go through and talk about each team's needs, and we'll do that several times a couple days leading up to the draft," Mayhew said. "We'll at least go through our second-round pick, and then we'll come back the next day prior to the draft and do it again as more information comes in."

    How good were the Lions last year? "Pretty good last year," Mayhew said.

    Who surprised them?

    "A couple guys fell further than we thought they would fall," Mayhew said, "but we were pretty on-target in terms of our guys that we got."

  • Mayhew's first major move after taking over as GM was trading wide receiver Roy Williams and a seventh-round pick to the Cowboys for first-, third- and sixth-round picks. Mayhew turned those picks into tight end Brandon Pettigrew, wide receiver Derrick Williams and running back Aaron Brown. While the jury is still out on Williams and Brown, Pettigrew has the potential to be a star. Meanwhile, Williams received a new contract with the Cowboys, who paid him a $9.5 million roster bonus recently even though he has struggled badly since the trade. He has only 57 catches for 794 yards and eight touchdowns in 25 games.

    "My biggest disappointment is not being able to help the team," Williams told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. "I felt like I didn't do anything last year. I dropped balls and whatnot. I didn't think my name would be on top of the drop list ever in my life. It was a humbling experience. It showed me I better get my life together."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope we're at a point one day that we say, ‘No matter who we pick, they're not going to start.' When you're a really good team, you generally don't need immediate help in the draft." — Lions coach Jim Schwartz


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Mike McCarthy likes the depth the Packers have at cornerback. The caveat for the head coach is, those players need to be healthy, which is a big if with the 2010 season five months away.

    "I think our board looks good on paper, if you look at all the names up there, but you've got three corners coming off of major knee (injuries), two of the three coming off major knee surgeries," McCarthy said.

    At the center of the uncertainty quotient is Al Harris, a 12-year NFL veteran and two-time Pro Bowl selection.

    McCarthy, going off the input from the team's medical staff, isn't so sure that Harris will be ready for the start of the season. Harris suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in a game Nov. 22 and underwent season-ending surgery eight days later.

    Harris has been doing rehab work at a facility in his native South Florida the past two months. After being optimistic at the outset of his recovery that he could be back on the field in six months, Harris, 35, recently suggested the knee isn't close to being fully healed.

    While documenting his rehab in a video journal on the National Football Post Web site, Harris said the knee was at "50 percent" as he struggled to complete an agility drill.

    Harris has been able to do straight-line running and some cutting drills.

    "Proof is coming soon," Harris said.

    How soon is up in the air.

    McCarthy hasn't ruled out Harris not being in uniform opening day, but the coach is hopeful of having his trusted starter from the get-go to pair with Charles Woodson, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

    "I wouldn't bet against Al," McCarthy said. "It's like anything, you can't ever just put a timetable on a knee injury because they are all a little different. His was significant, just using (team doctor) Pat McKenzie's words."

    The Packers also have young cornerbacks Will Blackmon and Pat Lee coming back from serious knee injuries.

    Blackmon, the team's explosive kick returner, played in only three games last season before undergoing surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee in late October.

    Lee, a second-round draft pick in 2008, was on injured reserve all of last season after playing in only five games as rookie when he also suffered a knee injury.

    Since the position is a bit fragile, the Packers could look to take a cornerback in the high rounds of the April 22-24 draft.

    "I don't think you ever have enough corners or pass rushers, regardless of what scheme you play in," McCarthy said. "Our board (at cornerback) looks as good as it's been on paper. But, those questions (on the injured players) really will be answered in training camp."

  • Running back Ahman Green, the team's all-time leading rusher, is on call and a short drive away if the Packers want to bring him back for another season.

    In the interim, the team's only unsigned unrestricted free agent has taken on a new job during the offseason. Green has been a teaching intern at De Pere (Wis.) High School, just outside Green Bay, since February.
    Green, 33, primarily works with at-risk and special-needs students.

    "Being a teacher is an easy way to help kids, teaching them, talking to them, counseling them, doing whatever, because high-school age is a critical age in life," Green told Packers.com.

    Green has maintained a residence in the Green Bay area, although he left the Packers as a free agent to play for the Houston Texans in 2007 and ‘08 before rejoining the Packers halfway through last season.

    He would like to re-sign with Green Bay to serve as a backup to Ryan Grant, but his return apparently will hinge on whether the Packers take a quality back in the draft.

    "In the meantime, I can't wait for that. I've got to look at what I am going to do if that retirement comes sooner than later," said Green, with regard to having a teaching career as a fallback.

  • Defensive end Johnny Jolly, who remains unsigned as a restricted free agent, will be going to trial.

    The much-delayed felony drug case against Jolly picked up some steam with a May 21 date set for the start of a jury trial.

    Jolly faces a charge for possession of at least 200 grams of codeine. He was arrested in July 2008 in his hometown of Houston, where the trial will be held.

  • A nationally televised game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts at Lambeau Field on Aug. 26 highlights the Packers' preseason schedule, which was released March 31.

    Green Bay also will be at home to open the exhibition slate, facing the Cleveland Browns under president and former Packers coach Mike Holmgren in the Aug. 12-16 window.

    The Packers will play at the Seattle Seahawks (Aug. 19-23) and the Kansas City Chiefs (Sept. 2 or 3).

  • Onetime Packers general manager and coach Mike Sherman will be back in Green Bay just as the offseason workouts shift into high gear.

    Sherman, head coach at Texas A&M, will be the featured speaker at a benefit dinner for a Green Bay charity April 29, which is the eve of the Packers' rookie orientation practices.

    The Packers relieved Sherman of his GM duties following the 2004 season and hired general manager Ted Thompson for the job. Sherman then was fired as coach after Green Bay finished 4-12 in 2005.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I look for him in his responsibility to get the ball out. Throwaways are OK. When a quarterback throws the ball away in our system, that's a plus; that's a plus decision. That's the way I've always graded it." — Head coach Mike McCarthy on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was partly to blame for the league-high 50 sacks he absorbed last season.

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