Around the NFC North
The Bears on Tuesday afternoon made official what has been expected for months: director of college scouting Greg Gabriel will not be rehired. That cleared the way for general manager Jerry Angelo to hire long-time buddy Tim Ruskell as his second in command in the team's personnel department.
When Bears director of pro personnel Bobby DePaul was fired on Feb. 15, it fueled speculation that Ruskell would eventually come aboard in some capacity. He resigned his post as the Seattle Seahawks' president of football operations and general manager last December when it became clear he would not be rehired when his contract expired at the end of the season.
Ruskell has an up-and-down track record as the Seahawks' decision maker on draft day. In his first year, second-round middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and third-round outside linebacker Leroy Hill helped the Seahawks to the first and only Super Bowl berth in franchise history. But center Chris Spencer, that year's first-round pick, has been a mediocre starter. Cornerback Kelly Jennings, the Seahawks' No. 1 in 2006, has been a bust. He has one career interception.
The ‘06 and ‘07 drafts did not bring Seattle anything close to an impact player. From the ‘08 draft, first-round defensive end Lawrence Jackson has been OK, second-round tight end John Carlson has been excellent, and seventh-round running back Justin Forsett could be a steal. The ‘09 draft brought first-round linebacker Aaron Curry and second-round offensive lineman Max Unger, who were both solid starters as rookies.
Ruskell and Angelo worked together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 14 years. Angelo was the Bucs' director of player personnel from 1987-2000, during which time Ruskell was a regional scout (1987-91) and then director of college scouting (1992-2000). He then succeeded Angelo as the Bucs' director of player personnel when Angelo took the Bears' job as general manager in May of 2001.
DePaul and Gabriel were both hired by Angelo on June 19, 2001. Gabriel came to the Bears after serving as an area scout and then director of player development for the New York Giants.
In Gabriel's nine years coordinating the team's college scouting operation, the Bears drafted five players who combined for 12 Pro Bowl selections: linebacker Lance Briggs (five), defensive tackle Tommie Harris (three), return specialists Devin Hester (two) and Johnny Knox (one) and cornerback Nate Vasher (one).
Adam (Pacman) Jones is eager to return to the NFL and thinks the Lions would be a good team for him. But though the Lions have expressed some level of interest in the cornerback/returner, they don't seem eager to make a deal.
"I can't even put it in words how much I want to get back," Jones said. "I would just love to play football, period, but I think Detroit would be a great fit."
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said last month that Jones has "a skill set that would help us." But Mayhew also said he would want to meet with Jones, and still no meeting has been scheduled.
After drafting cornerback Amari Spievey in the third round, the Lions likely will wait at least until after their rookie orientation before deciding whether to look into Jones further.
If Jones gets a chance to talk to Mayhew, what would he tell him?
"My whole message is, I know about my past," Jones said. "I'm not really here to talk about my past. I've made some dumb decisions in the past, but I've grown from that. I'm focused as a person. You ain't got to worry about no phone calls at 3, 4 in the morning. I'm here to play football. That's what I really would stress to him."
The Titans drafted Jones No. 6 overall in 2005 when Lions coach Jim Schwartz was their defensive coordinator. But since breaking out as an impact player in ‘06, Jones has played only nine NFL games because of off-field issues.
The NFL suspended Jones for the 2007 season and part of the ‘08 season, which he spent with the Cowboys. Jones sat out unsigned in ‘09.
"Coach Schwartz, he told me my last year I played for him that I played like a Pro Bowl-caliber player," Jones said. "Me and Schwartz had a good relationship. I know Schwartz got faith in my ability. It's just a matter of getting me in there and I guess sitting me down and talking to him, so I'm just waiting on the opportunity."
Jones said he sent text messages to Schwartz at least once a month. He said he sent one to him after the draft.
"I texted him and just told him that I'm still available, I like what they did in the draft," Jones said. "It was just a simple text message. And he was like, ‘Thanks. Keep your head up and keep the faith.' We left it at that."
Schwartz said last month that Jones really wouldn't have a clean slate if he signed with another team, that it would be news if he got even a parking ticket. Jones said he understands that.
"It's going to be the same pressure that's on me right now," Jones said. "If I get a speeding ticket or whatever I get, it's going to be (news), with a team or without a team. That's been known. I just got to keep doing what I'm doing and make sure things like that don't happen."
Former NFL star Deion Sanders, who played with Mayhew at Florida State, has been working with Jones and has spoken to Mayhew about him. Sanders said last week he preferred the label "truth-teller" to "mentor." Jones called Sanders a father figure and said they talk on the phone almost five times a day.
"He's a straight-up person," Jones said. "He's not going to lie to you or nothing. It's been great to have him in my corner and help me look at things a lot different than I used to in the past."
Sanders pointed out that — except for an incident with his bodyguard that triggered his ‘08 suspension — Jones has been free of trouble for three years. Jones was 21 when drafted. Now he is 26 with a daughter and a fiancee who is expecting.
"I don't do the things that I used to do," Jones said. "I don't hang out with the crowd that I used to. I'm a grown man now. I have a little girl. I have a fiancee with another baby on the way. So them days are over with, the kid days. It's about my family now."
Jones has been working out with trainer Duke Rousse five days a week in New Orleans. The Lions sent vice president of pro personnel Sheldon White to watch him work out last month.
"I feel like I'm in better shape than I was when I went to Dallas," Jones said. "I wasn't in the best shape when I was in Dallas. I'm in shape like I was when I was in Tennessee, I would say, body-fit-wise. I'm back lifting weights, bench pressing, squatting, so I'm back to the basics."
Does Jones understand why teams might be afraid to give him a shot?
"Yeah, I guess, because of the media that comes with it," Jones said. "It's going to be a media thing probably for the first week. But besides that, I don't know. I know I've made some mistakes, but I'm not the only one that made some mistakes back in the league. I don't have nothing pending, no charges. I'm just praying to God that hopefully it will be sooner than later."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was a kid straight out of college. Partying was what I liked to do back then. I'm pretty much partied out now." — CB Adam (Pacman) Jones, on why he wouldn't slip back into bad habits if he signed with the Lions as a free agent.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The most intriguing player in Green Bay's 2010 draft class of seven players could turn out to be the guy who hasn't played a football game in a year and a half.
The Packers took running back James Starks in the sixth round (No. 193 overall), never mind the fifth-year senior missed his final college season at Buffalo because of a shoulder injury.
"I'm going to prove to a lot of people that I'm healthy," Starks said.
Green Bay put a lot of scouting stock in the game tapes of Starks from two years ago and received a ringing endorsement from former Buffalo coach Turner Gill, now in the same position at Kansas. Gill was the Packers' player development director and an offensive assistant in 2005.
"He speaks very highly of (Starks)," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "We got to meet with him a little bit at the combine, and we felt like it was a good pick. He's a very good pass catcher, a good runner, sort of a one-cut guy, a no-nonsense-type running back."
Starks is an uncommon rookie at 24 years old, and he stands an atypical 6 feet, 2 inches for a running back.
Running backs coach Edgar Bennett is charged with trying to get Starks to break from his upright tendencies and run lower to the ground.
Still, the Packers feel they have a late-round gem who may have fallen off the draft radar of other teams after Starks underwent surgery last August for a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Starks set Buffalo's all-time records in numerous categories, including rushing yards (3,140), before the injury felled him. He also excelled in college as a pass catcher and was a highly regarded quarterback in high school.
"A very good athlete," Bennett said.
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