Around the NFC North
Fifth-round draft pick Josh Moore, a 5-foot-11, 188-pound cornerback agreed to a four-year contract on Tuesday.
Moore will be competing for a backup spot behind starters Charles Tillman and Zackary Bowman, along with returning corners Corey Graham, Woodny Turenne and D.J. Moore plus street free agent Tim Jennings, a former starter with the Colts. Turenne was an undrafted free agent last year, while Moore was a fourth-round pick in 2009.
Moore is considered a good cover corner, but red flags were raised when he bench-pressed 225 pounds just two times at the Scouting Combine.
"He's willing, but he needs to be a more physical tackler," Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. "He's very aware of that situation, what he needs to do in that area. This is a man's league. You're going against 28- and 29-year olds; you're going against men, so you better be strong. He knows that and he can get better. Does he have to be the strongest guy on the team? No, but he's got to be stronger for his position."
In his three years at Kansas State, Moore played in all 37 games and started each of the final 24 over his last two seasons. He had career totals of 175 tackles, six interceptions, 34 passes defended, two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Last season he was honorable mention All-Big 12 when he defended 13 passes and was second on the team with 64 tackles.
Moore realizes his lack of strength is a weakness that has to be corrected if he's to approach the same kind of success in the NFL.
"Right after the draft, I came in knowing my strength was one of the biggest problems I had," he said at rookie minicamp. "I feel that I have the athletic ability and I have the size. So strength was one of the biggest question marks on me. Since I did those two reps at the combine, I put that behind me, and I'll be moving forward from here. Hopefully this summer I can work on getting stronger with the Bears staff and they'll make me a better football player."
The Lions plan to give quarterback Matthew Stafford more freedom at the line of scrimmage this fall. It's not because he couldn't handle it as a rookie and they feel he has picked up the playbook now. It's because they feel his supporting cast matches his abilities now.
"We sort of held Matt back last year," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Matt was a lot further along than we were offensively. There were things he could do that we didn't have other pieces around him to be able to do."
Stafford has new weapons like wide receiver Nate Burleson, tight end Tony Scheffler and running back Jahvid Best. He is past the knee and shoulder injuries he suffered last season, throwing the ball with full authority again. And he has been impressive during organized team activities.
Take one practice. Stafford pumped-faked to wide receiver Calvin Johnson, whom defenses smothered last season. The coverage shifted to Johnson. Stafford fired a rocket over the middle to Burleson, whom the Lions signed to make defenses pay for paying so much attention to Johnson. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had a huge smile on his face afterward.
"They were trying to zone us off, which creates small pockets," Burleson said. "Most defenses, they kind of bank on the fact that a lot of quarterbacks are scared to attack those small pockets. I'm probably thinking that Linehan was smiling because we have a quarterback that can fit anything into any small pocket."
Earlier that day, Stafford fired a pass through three defenders to tight end Will Heller, who dropped the ball apparently because he was surprised it got to him. Burleson said Stafford had noticed all the defenders' helmets were turned, and knowing they weren't looking at him, it was safe to take a shot.
"That's strength, confidence and also a little bit of moxie," Burleson said. "You've got to be cocky to make that throw, and I love it."
Stafford wasn't the popular pick when the Lions drafted him No. 1 overall last year. Fans chanted for linebacker Aaron Curry.
But Stafford has started to win over the city, especially after he threw the game-winning touchdown with no time left Nov. 22 against Cleveland one play after suffering an AC joint separation. And he has won over the locker room.
"Anytime a rookie comes in, particularly a guy that was drafted No. 1 overall and that's paid that kind of contract, there's going to be suspicion," Schwartz said. "There's going to be people in the locker room and fans and people in the media that are going to take a wait-and-see approach with it, and then after you go through it and they get more comfortable, then that dynamic is out the window.
"It's no longer about proving yourself. It's about improving."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Content to still be a starter, Ryan Pickett has been singing different tunes this offseason about where he plays on the field.
Pickett, a long-tenured nose tackle, touted his lot with the Packers and the position when they re-signed the unrestricted free agent to a four-year, $28 million deal in March after initially placing the franchise tag on him.
"I love the (team's) 3-4 (scheme). I love playing the nose," Pickett said. "This defense, I think I was built for it. I always wanted to do it, and I got my opportunity to do it. It's just a blessing that I've been able to do it."
Time will tell whether Pickett harbors similar sentiments about playing defensive end. After showing some reluctance last year when the change was first broached but never carried out, Pickett is accepting of the move to the outside, which came to light when organized team activities started May 17.
The Packers debuted a new-look defensive line with Pickett and incumbent right end Cullen Jenkins flanking nose tackle B.J. Raji, the team's top draft pick in 2009, who is back at his best position after playing mostly end last season.
"We're in Year 2 of our defense (with the 3-4)," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We've had a chance to go back and evaluate our schemes and concepts that we used last year, how we can better utilize our players, moving some players around to give us some flexibility to make sure we have those options throughout the course of a 16-game season. And, that's definitely one of them, trying to get Ryan more on the field."
The notable switch for the 6-foot-2, 340-pound Pickett protects the Packers in the short term because incumbent starting left end Johnny Jolly faces a possible league suspension for violating its substance-abuse policy. Jolly, who remains unsigned as a restricted free agent, has a scheduled court date May 21 regarding a felony drug possession charge stemming from 2008.
"I think it just says a lot about him as a person and his flexibility as a player," McCarthy said of Pickett. "I think with Ryan being down in the trenches, sometimes people lose sight — he has exceptional foot quickness, and he definitely has the ability to get out there and play a five-technique."
The Packers also will be able to better utilize the athleticism and pass-rush skills of the 6-2, 337-puond Raji. The plan is to keep him on the field a lot, pairing him with Jenkins as the down linemen in the nickel package.
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