NFC North news, notes and quotes

The Bears have a new director of player personnel in place, the Lions are adding to their receiver corps in a number of different ways, and the Packer have two undrafted rookies that have caught their eye. Get a gob of storylines, notes and quotes from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.


CHICAGO BEARS

Tim Ruskell, who was announced last Friday as the Bears' director of player personnel will, in essence, handle the jobs that Bobby DePaul and Greg Gabriel did previously.

DePaul was the Bears' director of pro personnel until Feb. 15 when he was relieved of those duties. On Tuesday, director of college scouting Gabriel was told he would not be rehired for the 2010 season. Both were hired by Bears general manager Jerry Angelo on June 19, 2001, shortly after he became the team's general manager.

Now those duties have been merged into one job, Ruskell's.

"We will not have a director of college (scouting) or a director of pro (personnel)," Angelo said. "So Tim will oversee all matters in personnel."

Ruskell, 53, does not see the dual role as daunting.

"I don't think it's that big of a deal," he said. "As the general manager (for the previous five years with the Seattle Seahawks) and as the assistant G.M. in Atlanta (2004), that is kind of what I did. I was in both areas, whereas, prior to my director of player personnel job in Tampa (2001-03), I was just on the college side. So I have been ingrained in both for the last 10, 12 years, so it just feels natural to me to be involved in both."

Ruskell has been involved in NFL personnel, and friends with Angelo, for 23 years. Their association began with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when Angelo was the Bucs' director of player personnel (1987-2000), while Ruskell was a regional scout (1987-91) and then director of college scouting (1992-2000). He succeeded Angelo as the Bucs' director of player personnel when Angelo took the Bears' job as general manager in May of 2001.

"Tim and I have had a long-standing relationship starting back at Tampa," Angelo said. "He brings a plethora of knowledge. He's worked at every level: scout, director and general manager. So he's done a lot of things that will be a great asset to the club."

Although he wasn't asked, Angelo refuted any notion that Ruskell's hiring was based on their friendship.

"This is about making us a better organization," Angelo said. "I would never have brought anybody in here just to bring somebody in. I think he'll be a great fit."

Ruskell said his assimilation into the organization would be eased by his familiarity with many of his co-workers, including head coach Lovie Smith, who was the Bucs' linebackers coach from 1996-2000.

"I think I know just about every one of the scouts," Ruskell said. "I've got to get to know the pro (personnel) guys a little bit better. But having that relationship already established and having worked with some of those guys, I just think it tears down a lot of the barriers you have to fight through and get right to the matters at hand."

The Bears' college scouts and assistant pro personnel director Kevin Turks and pro scout Denard Wilson will all report to Ruskell, who in turns reports to Angelo in a more streamlined line of communication.

"He's done all those jobs," Angelo said of Ruskell's experience on the pro and college side of personnel. "It's easy in some regards because there's less communication and it makes it easier in terms of a chain of command."
NOTES

  • It's a whole new ballgame for sixth-round pick Dan LeFevour, the record-setting quarterback from Central Michigan and Benet Academy.

    He's learning a new offense with the Bears and relearning how to take the snap from under center, which he hadn't done since his high school days. It's not an overnight process, which new offensive coordinator Mike Martz fully understands.

    "Whatever you did in the past has no bearing on today," he said after last weekend's rookie minicamp. "They've got to learn a whole new way of offense, a different way of looking at things. Everything is different, no matter what your background or how successful. He's come here obviously with a completely open mind, which is terrific. So he's very, very easy to coach. He's like a sponge. He's trying his best if he doesn't do it right. He's a long ways away."

    Operating out of the shotgun at CMU, LeFevour became the only player in NCAA history to throw for more than 12,000 yards and run for more than 2,500. Now he's adapting to a different situation.

    "It's a lot to pick up," he said. "It's a lot to learn, but it's exciting and it's a great opportunity for me. I'm looking forward to the challenge and every day just hoping to get a little bit better."

  • Jay Cutler has never missed an NFL game because of injury, but that doesn't mean the Bears aren't a little apprehensive about the possibility of playing without him.

    Backup Caleb Hanie is in his third year in the system, but he has thrown just seven NFL passes. Brett Basanez, last year's No. 3, has thrown 11 NFL passes, all in his rookie season of 2006 with the Panthers. So offensive coordinator Mike Martz was asked if the Bears need an experienced veteran backup behind Cutler.

    "It makes you a little nervous doesn't it?" Martz said. "I think Caleb is going to be a real good player, but you really don't know."

    Kurt Warner lacked NFL experience when he put up huge numbers in Martz's offense with the Rams, but there was a difference.

    "He played in (NFL) Europe, and we looked at all his Europe stuff, so we kind of had a feel for him under pressure with blitzes and things like that," Martz said. "I think Caleb will be all right. (A veteran) just kind of gives you that insurance and pads it a little bit. I think from that aspect it would make us all feel a little bit easier with a veteran, but you just never know."

  • Fourth-round pick Corey Wootton had 10 sacks as a junior at Northwestern before tearing up his knee, but he said the most important lessons he learned from defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli last weekend were still about rushing the passer.

    "He's all about pass rush, and that's something we didn't stress as much in college," Wootton said. "But here in the NFL, you get paid because you can rush the passer. So that's all we've been working on just pass rush and learning about flipping your hips, hand quickness, all these drills, so it was a great weekend."

  • Without pads or full contact, it's difficult to evaluate linemen at this point in the off-season, but 6-foot-8, 338-pound seventh-round offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb has already made an impression.

    "He's big, and he's a big athlete," coach Lovie Smith said. "That's what we're able to see. He can move. He's a knee-bender and has great size. He's anxious. He's been picking up things fairly well. You can't get too high or too low on these type of practices. But what you don't want to see, as far as a lineman, is a big, stiff guy that can't move. You definitely won't say that about him. He's a big athlete."


    DETROIT LIONS

    The Lions claimed wide receiver Marko Mitchell off waivers. The 6-foot-4, 218-pounder caught only four passes for 32 yards in 10 regular-season games last year, but he caught 11 passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns in the Redskins' final three preseason games. The Redskins drafted him in the seventh round last year out of Nevada, where caught 53 passes for 1,129 yards and eight touchdowns in 2007, then 61 passes for 1,141 yards and 10 TDs in ‘08. "He's big, and he's fast," coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's got really good size, and we're trying to corner the market on Nevada-Reno wide receivers."

    The Lions also signed Nevada product Nate Burleson as a free agent.

  • The Lions signed wide receiver Mike Moore, an undrafted free agent who played at Georgia with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Moore said he drew interest from other teams but wanted to play with his former teammate. "You want to go to a team that has a great quarterback," Moore said.

    "For me, there's nobody better than Stafford, as far as a young guy up and coming right now. ... I experienced it firsthand, so I really knew what kind of guy he was. He's always prepared. He's the ultimate competitor, and that's the type of guy I want to play for."

    With Stafford during the 2008 season, Moore caught 29 passes for 451 yards. Without him during the ‘09 season, he caught 25 for 249. He was probably at his most productive when he was with Matt," Schwartz said. "He's got really good hands. He's smooth. He's got some strength. Maybe not a blazer, but a Southeast Conference receiver that's been productive."

  • The Lions brought in three quarterbacks for tryouts during rookie orientation: Louisiana Tech's Taylor Bennett, New Mexico's Donovan Porterie and Eastern Michigan's Andy Schmitt.

    But the Lions might not carry a fourth QB in training camp unless they have an injury. "I'm not sure if we'll go with four," Schwartz said. "These guys all did some pretty good things, and we'll keep it open. I don't think there's anybody that was here that if a situation arose during training camp or something like that that we would hesitate to call them." The Lions want to give the snaps to starter Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick last year; backup Shaun Hill, whom they acquired from the 49ers; and Drew Stanton, a second-round pick in 2007 who is considered a developmental QB.

    "It's just hard to get four quarterbacks a lot of work in camp," Schwartz said. "When you're rolling through, it's one thing if you have a veteran that's not practicing very much. But Drew Stanton's still a young player. Shaun's coming in to a new team. Matt's still a young player. That fourth quarterback's generally throwing drills and stuff like that, and from where we are as a team, we'll probably use that roster spot."

  • Right tackle Gosder Cherilus had arthroscopic surgery to clean out debris from his right knee in mid-April after tweaking the knee during offseason conditioning. He played through injuries to both knees, an ankle and a shoulder last season.

    "It's been there for a while, but at the end of the day, we got it taken care of, and hopefully soon ... I'll be back before you know it," Cherilus said.

  • Miami (Fla.) safety Randy Phillips stood on the sidelines during rookie orientation, wearing a No. 39 jersey with his name on the back. But he has not signed a contract — at least not yet — because he is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum.

    "He's with us right now," Schwartz said. "I think I'll just leave it at that. He's with us right now, and he's not able to practice right now, so we'll just see where that goes."

  • As the Lions wrapped up rookie orientation, the players did a little running. Schwartz said they had to learn the level of conditioning needed to compete in the NFL. One exception might be defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick in the draft. "I think I'm in pretty good shape," Suh said. "They gave us a little test of what the conditioning test will be like. I don't find it too hard to my eyes. ... You can go back and ask our strength coach at Nebraska. I don't miss runs. I don't miss times. So I'm that type of guy that if I'm down, I'm going to push myself through."


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    The Packers bracketed the rookie orientation camp, held April 30-May 2, by adding 14 undrafted rookies to their roster.

    A few of them have the team's attention, including cornerback Sam Shields and quarterback Noah Shepard.

    The speedy Shields already is being propped up as a viable kick returner.

    "That's someone that jumped out at everybody," head coach Mike McCarthy said of seeing Shields' work on returns during the rookie camp. "He has exceptional speed, and he looked very natural as far as catching the ball as you move forward and really attacking the landmark."

    What made Shields' positive first impression remarkable is he wasn't a return man in college at Miami. He was a receiver his first three years, then was converted to cornerback for his senior season.

    The 5-11, 184-pound Shields excelled on special teams as a gunner with the Hurricanes. Blessed with 4.3 speed in the 40 — he said his fastest time is 4.19 — Shields provided a glimpse of his potential as a return specialist when he ran back a reverse 84 yards on the game-opening kickoff of the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin in late December.

    "Just reading what hole to run through and just run fast," Shields said of the qualities needed to be a good return guy.

    Shepard, meanwhile, has appealing attributes as a quarterback that could earn him a long look from the Packers, if not a roster spot when the season opens.

    "I think he's a good athlete," said McCarthy, a quarterbacks guru. "He has power in his body, has fast twitch in his body. I'm looking forward to working with him."

    Shepard set numerous passing records as a four-year starter at South Dakota and, at 6-2 and 223 pounds, was doubly lethal in pulling the football down.

    For the strong-armed Shepard to merit consideration in a battle with holdover practice-squad player Chris Pizzotti for the possible No. 3 QB spot with the team, he will have to improve his throwing accuracy, which was spotty in college.

    The Packers carried only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last season: Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn.

    The other undrafted players Green Bay signed were running back Quinn Porter; receivers Shawn Gore, Jeff Moturi and Chastin West; offensive tackle Chris Campbell; guard Nick McDonald; nose tackle Aleric Mullins; safety Anthony Levine; and linebackers Alex Joseph, Tim Knicky, John Russell and Frank Zombo.

    Mullins, Levine and Gore, a native of Toronto, were signed after they were among 28 players who participated in the rookie camp on a tryout basis.

    NOTES

  • Derrick Frost and Jeremy Kapinos, who couldn't cut it as the team's punters the previous two seasons, are long forgotten in Green Bay judging by comments head coach Mike McCarthy made during the recent rookie orientation camp.

    McCarthy's initial impressions of the two prospective replacements on the roster — first-year Tim Masthay and Australian rookie Chris Bryan — were favorable.

    "I like the talent level," McCarthy said. "I think we definitely have crossed that hurdle is the way I view the punting position. There's definitely more talent with these two guys than there has been in the past, and that's definitely a big step in the right direction."

    The direction McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum want from their two young combatants is higher.

    "What's been stressed is hang time," Masthay said.

    While Masthay may have a leg up in having some prior NFL experience when he spent time with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted rookie last offseason, the 28-year-old Bryan, who kicks left-footed, caught McCarthy's eye by the end of the rookie camp.

  • With organized team activities around the corner, beginning May 17, McCarthy hinted that Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris would be making an appearance in Green Bay before too long.

    Harris is in the midst of an extensive rehab program for his surgically repaired left knee near his home in South Florida.

    "The communication has been very good between our trainers and the group he's working with in Florida, and I anticipate Al will be in town here in the near future," McCarthy said.

    Harris is five months removed from having the surgery after he tore the ACL and MCL in the knee in a game Nov. 22 against the San Francisco 49ers. McCarthy speculated earlier this spring that Harris, 35, might not be ready by the start of the season.

    "We need to get an evaluation on him medically first," McCarthy said.

  • The Packers have moved first-year player Khalil Jones from receiver to safety.

    The 6-1, 212-pound Jones, whom Green Bay signed to the practice squad as an undrafted rookie from Miami late in the 2009 season, last played safety in high school.

    "It's going full circle right now," Jones said. "I'm still learning (the techniques for the position), so it's a little jittery sometimes ... but once I get it, yeah, it's going to be fun, very fun."

  • Receiver Greg Jennings took a turn at acting this offseason.

    Jennings made a cameo appearance in an episode of the CBS police drama series "Criminal Minds," which aired May 5. Jennings was cast as a lab technician and had a few speaking lines in one scene.

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was highly visible wearing a fedora and suit at the Kentucky Derby on May 1, is weighing an offer to make a cameo on the CBS soap opera "The Young and the Restless."

  • Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews were named the team's Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year, respectively, for the 2009 season by the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. They will be honored at the hall of fame induction banquet July 17.

  • The rookies will report back to Green Bay on May 16 for the start of the OTAs, which will run through June 17. The mandatory minicamp will be June 21-23.


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