NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears released Alex Brown and are on a search to find his replacement within the roster. The Lions are weighing their options (they are heavy ones) with the second pick in the draft. And the Packers are placing confidence in an underachieving running back. Take a trip around the NFC North and see what the Vikings' rivals are talking about.


Coach Lovie Smith said it was difficult to release defensive end Alex Brown last week, but he's confident that players like Israel Idonije and Mark Anderson will fill the void.

"It was really hard to have to let a player like Alex Brown go, but it's a new year, and we're going in a different direction," Smith said in his first public comments about Brown, a 16-game starter in six of the last seven seasons. "That allows us an opportunity to release a player like Alex because of what we feel about what ‘Izzy' can do, and not only Israel Idonije but also Mark Anderson.

"Every day I've been the head coach for the Bears, I've seen Israel Idonije there. (He's done) everything we've asked him to do. We've asked him to sacrifice for the football team so much."

Idonije returned last week from his third trip to Africa, where he donated thousands of pair of athletic shoes and brought along a medical team of five doctors and six nurses to treat patients in Nigeria. He jumped right from that into the Bears' off-season program, where the competition with Anderson to replace Brown has begun.

Throughout his Bears career, Idonije has bounced back and forth between end and tackle, gaining weight when he played inside and cutting pounds when he played end. This year he'll play between 260 and 265 pounds. He's weighed as much as 305 in the past. The one constant for Idonije is that he always has to earn a spot on the roster, and this year isn't any different, even with Brown gone.

"For me, the situation hasn't changed," Idonije said. "I have to come into camp in great shape, and I have to be ready to play and compete, like every year. Every year I've been here there's been serious competition on the D-line. I'm excited about the opportunity to play end. That's the goal (for me), to come in and be able to rush off that end, whatever side they ask, and just get after the quarterback."


  • There are some notable absentees from the voluntary offseason program — restricted free agents Danieal Manning and Jamar Williams — but Smith is satisfied with the overall attendance.

    "We would like to have everybody here, every day to get a chance to work together as a team, but it's never like that," Smith said. "We have over 90 percent of our players here, maybe even about 95 percent. That's a great number. But we would like to have 100 percent, and hopefully in time we may be able to get that."

    Manning, a contender for a starting safety spot, is unhappy with his low tender offer of $1.176. Williams, who received the same offer, is expected in soon.

  • Eight-year veteran FB Jason McKie was cut earlier in the offseason, leaving a void, although that position isn't vital in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz's offense. The only two fullbacks currently on the roster are first-year players Eddie Williams and Will Ta'ufo'ou, who spent most of their time last season on practice squads.


    Recent events make it seem even more likely the Lions will take a defensive tackle No. 2 overall in the NFL draft April 22 — Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.

    Still, you can't rule out offensive tackle — Oklahoma State's Russell Okung or Oklahoma's Trent Williams.

    The draft started to take shape when the Rams released quarterback Marc Bulger and the Redskins acquired quarterback Donovan McNabb. That means the Rams need a QB, and most expect them to take Oklahoma's Sam Bradford first overall. The Redskins don't need a QB anymore, making it seem less likely they would be willing to trade up to No. 2 to get one.

    Meanwhile, the Lions solidified their left guard spot by acquiring Rob Sims. That means they likely won't move Jeff Backus to left guard, which they likely would do if they draft a left tackle.

    Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove also signed his offer sheet with the Saints. He had visited the Lions, who strongly considered signing him to an offer sheet.

    All of this seems to add up to Suh or McCoy. It looks like both will be on the board when the Lions pick, the Lions won't be able to trade down and they will pick one of them.

    The Lions need a difference-maker in the middle of a defense that has ranked last in the NFL the past three years. Suh is the kind of smart, multidimensional, productive player coach Jim Schwartz covets. Some think McCoy is even better — more athletic and a superior penetrator.

    "Both guys are big, they're fast, have high character, and both are productive at a high level of competition," Schwartz said last month at the NFL annual meeting. "There's a lot to like with both of them."

    But there's a lot to like about drafting a left tackle, too.

    The Lions were pleased with Backus' performance last season. Schwartz said Backus deserved votes for the Pro Bowl. But Backus is 32, and general manager Martin Mayhew has said he will draft not just for this season, but for future seasons.

    Okung has not generated the buzz Suh and McCoy have. But teams generally are more comfortable paying a premium for a left tackle than they are for a defensive tackle. And at the NFL annual meeting, Mayhew said Okung was a "tremendous talent" and it was "very possible" he has been underrated by the media.

    Then he added this when asked if Okung clearly was the best left tackle in the draft: "I think big-picture, overall, taking everything into account, there are probably two guys that are the best two out there." Mayhew declined to elaborate.

    At that time, the Lions had confirmed visits to team headquarters by Okung, McCoy and Suh, in that order, by posting stories on their Web site after the visits. Mayhew was asked: They wouldn't do that and then, say, draft Trent Williams, would they?

    "You never know what we might do," Mayhew said. "That's one of the smart things about it."

    Williams visited the Lions on April 6. They posted a story on their Web site.


  • Cornerback Phillip Buchanon didn't have much to say when he played for the Lions. He often declined to speak to reporters. But he had a lot to say to Pro Football Weekly after signing with the Redskins. He was critical of coach Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and secondary coach Tim Walton. "Coach Schwartz, he's doing certain things, and it just didn't click. You can say that," Buchanon told PFW. "It was more of a player-to-coach (problem), and the vibe just wasn't good. Actually, it wasn't good since May and June, going into the season. (The relationship) was all messed up."

    Buchanon was benched multiple times and eventually cut, but he said the film doesn't lie.

    "Being in Detroit, people can say what they want to say. I didn't have any problems," Buchanon told PFW. "If you look at the film and really judge it, I don't feel like I played badly like people said. You really have to evaluate the film."

  • Former wide receiver Charles Rogers owes the Lions $6.1 million because of his 2005 drug suspension, a judge ruled in Detroit. The Lions sued Rogers last year for failing to comply with a 2008 ruling by an arbitrator that he had to repay part of his rookie signing bonus because his suspension put him in default of his contract.

  • Count safety Louis Delmas among those who want the Lions to sign cornerback/returner Adam (Pacman) Jones. He said he was not surprised the Lions had shown interest in Jones despite Jones' off-field problems. "Not at all, you know, because this organization needs a change," Delmas said. "We need everything we can get to change this organization around as far as getting wins around here. Anybody that can come in here and help this organization out and help us win is for the better, so I'm all for it."


    Perhaps it was a bluff on head coach Mike McCarthy's part, so as not to tip the Packers' hand on what they're really thinking for the upcoming draft.

    Yet, the praise McCarthy recently heaped on underachieving running back Brandon Jackson can't be easily dismissed.

    McCarthy went so far as to mention Jackson and Pro Football Hall of Fame back Marcus Allen in the same sentence while talking with reporters at the NFL owners' meetings in Orlando, Fla., in late March.

    The comparison McCarthy made had to do with Jackson's dirty work as the third-down back in the Packers' 37-36 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 20 last season.

    "His blitz pickup was as good as I've seen since Marcus Allen in the early ‘90s," said McCarthy, an assistant coach when Allen ended his prolific pro career with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1993 to ‘97.

    "His confidence and everything from that game, I thought he took a big step, and I'm hoping he can maintain that or take it further as we move on," McCarthy added about Jackson.

    Injuries and inconsistency have kept Jackson from fulfilling the high expectations that came with being a second-round pick (No. 63 overall) in the 2007 draft out of Nebraska.

    Jackson doesn't have the explosiveness and breakaway speed to be counted on for a full-time role — he has only 626 rushing yards in three seasons and averaged a paltry 3 yards per carry last year — but the Packers don't need him to carry the load. They have Ryan Grant as their proficient featured back.

    Provided Jackson can stay healthy, which is a big if since he's played no more than 13 games in a season, he can ably fill the pivotal third-down role with his improved blocking and pass-catching skills.

    With Jackson prone to injury, however, the Packers may be eyeing the first couple rounds of the draft to take out an insurance policy with one of the top young backs. Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Cal's Jahvid Best are the cream of a thin draft crop at running back this year.


  • Cornerback/return specialist Will Blackmon, who is on the comeback trail this year after suffering a season-ending torn ACL in Week 4 last season, is predicting big things for the Packers in 2010.

    Blackmon recently wrote this in a Twitter post: "My motto for the year is, ‘This is titletown so act like it!' See yall in dallas."

    Titletown is the nickname adopted by the city of Green Bay, thanks to the Packers' unprecedented 12 NFL titles. Dallas Cowboys Stadium will be the site of Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011.

  • April 15 is more than just Tax Day this year. The Packers still have five restricted free agents who are unsigned and, thus, open to receiving offers from other teams until April 15.

    Offensive lineman Jason Spitz was removed from the extensive list after signing a one-year tender for $1.76 million to remain with Green Bay. Spitz, who was the opening-day starter at center, missed most of the 2009 season because of a back injury.

    That leaves incumbent starters Daryn Colledge (left guard), Johnny Jolly (defensive end) and Atari Bigby (strong safety), nickel back Tramon Williams and fullback John Kuhn as the unsigned restricted free agents. Of that group, only Kuhn has been participating in the team's offseason workout program since he signed an injury waiver with the club.

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