Around the NFC North
Quarterback Jay Cutler and the other members of the Bears' offense are still learning new coordinator Mike Martz's scheme, but they're already excited about it.
"We never really know what play's going to be called," Cutler said after last weekend's high-energy, up-tempo minicamp practices. "We've got a good idea. But Mike does a great job of mixing things up and keeping the defense off balance, putting guys in matchups where they can win. It's exciting. It's always changing. It's always different."
Martz's offense puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but it also gives the quarterback a lot of opportunities for success.
"Quarterbacks have to make quick, precise decisions, and you have to be really accurate with the ball," Cutler said. "It puts a lot on the quarterback, puts a lot on the receivers. But it's going well. The guys are picking up and they're really receptive to it."
Head coach Lovie Smith has already seen positive signs from the Cutler-Martz collaboration, which is expected to jumpstart a Bears offense that has often stalled during the three non-playoff seasons since Super Bowl XLI.
"What I hope to see is exactly how it's been from Day One," Smith said. "They have mutual respect for each other. Of course being in the middle, I knew both of the guys, knew that it would be a good fit. Jay, (like) all players are looking for someone that can help their game. Mike can help Jay's game, he can help our offense, and guys see that, so Jay has taken over the offense and is learning each day with it and growing each day with it."
Cutler, Martz and the rest of the offense have a lot of time until the regular season starts, but they also have much work to do.
"We've got a lot of time, but we've got to keep putting a lot of pressure on myself and the rest of the guys to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible, (and still) be able to retain all the information throughout the year," Cutler said. "That's going to be the hard part."
Martz has a reputation as being hard on his quarterbacks, but he's better known for helping quarterbacks put up huge numbers in his pass-heavy offenses.
During a six-year span with the Rams from 1999-2004, Martz's offenses never failed to accumulate less than 4,287 passing yards in any season. The Bears haven't thrown for that many yards since 1999, when they had 4,352. Over the previous five years, the Bears have passed for an average of 3,251 yards per season, about 1,500 less per year than the 4,721 passing yards the Rams averaged under Martz.
"Everything he does is to put a quarterback in a good position to be successful," Cutler said. "He's not going to call plays, he's not going to install stuff (that doesn't work). Everything we have done, he makes sure I am comfortable with. If not, we adjust it or find some medium ground to make it work."
Could Keith Bulluck reunite with Jim Schwartz in Detroit, the way Kyle Vanden Bosch already has?
Bulluck reportedly is three weeks away from being fully recovered from his torn ACL and will begin visiting teams as a free agent. He played for Schwartz in Tennessee, as Vanden Bosch did before signing with the Lions in March, and the Lions could use him.
"I think that he's a guy, among others, that we've had our eye on," Schwartz said. "It just throws a little bit of a monkey wrench into it for him because he's coming off an ACL. But he's a quality player that's played for a long time in the NFL, and when he's available, I'm sure there will be a lot of teams that will be interested in him."
Schwartz was Tennessee's linebackers coach in 2000 when the Titans drafted Bulluck in the first round. Schwartz became the defensive coordinator the following year. Bulluck led the Titans in tackles six out of the last seven seasons he played for Schwartz.
The Lions have an opening at Bulluck's spot: outside linebacker. They're giving Zack Follett a shot in organized team activities, but Follett, a seventh-round pick last year, has never started an NFL game.
What would have to happen for the Lions to sign Bulluck?
"No. 1 would be a contract," Schwartz said. "No. 2 would be where he is physically and at what point he would be cleared for complete things."
Bulluck, 33, suffered his injury Dec. 20. As reference points, tight end Brandon Pettigrew tore an ACL on Nov. 26 and running back Kevin Smith tore one Dec. 13. Both are moving around well but are limited.
"We have a lot of guys nursing ACLs that are going through individual period, that are going out and doing some off-the-field work and things like that," Schwartz said. "None of them have been cleared for team activities. None of them are ready to go in that regard. So I have a hard time imagining a player like Keith, who's almost in the same boat as some of those guys as far as timetable with an ACL, would be a whole lot different."
Bulluck, listed at 6-3, 235 pounds, generally played on the right side in the Titans' base defense and in the middle in nickel situations.?Schwartz called him a multidimensional player who could fit in several spots.
"He's smart," Schwartz said. "He's a veteran player. I think just about any team, he could play anywhere he wanted to, whether it was a 3-4, a 4-3, outside, Will, Sam, right, left. He's got that kind of skill."
Think of the Lions' linebacking corps with a healthy Bulluck on the right side, the up-and-coming DeAndre Levy in the middle and three-time All-Pro Julian Peterson on the left side. That would look pretty good, at least for the short term.
It would be interesting to have Bulluck and Peterson on the field together. After the Lions traded for Peterson in March 2009, Schwartz said Bulluck never forgot that Schwartz had ranked Peterson ahead of him when they were coming out of college.
The 49ers drafted Peterson 16th overall in 2000. The Titans drafted Bulluck 30th overall.
"Keith never lived it down in Tennessee that I rated Julian a little bit ahead of him in the draft," Schwartz said then. "Those guys are friends. So every time Keith would make a play, he'd bring the ball over to me and say, ‘Hey, let's see Peterson do that.' Well, now we've got a chance."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Could the fabled frozen tundra rate as Super Bowl worthy?
While not a sun seeker's destination in the dead of winter, Green Bay is being mentioned as a future site for the NFL's big game now that a ban on playing it outside in a cold-weather locale has been at least temporarily lifted.
League owners voted May 25 to award Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 to the New York-New Jersey area. It will be the first Super Bowl to be staged in an outdoor venue in the northern part of the United States.
"I think for a lot of people, they're going to look at it and say, ‘Let's see how it goes,'" Packers president Mark Murphy said.
The unprecedented decision to move the Super Bowl out of warm-weather cities or those with a dome has stirred speculation about taking the big game to Green Bay and its iconic stadium, Lambeau Field. The Packers are pro football's oldest franchise, formed in 1919.
"In terms of the Packers hosting a Super Bowl, it's very intriguing," Murphy said. "But, there's a lot of logistical requirements that really need to be researched."
Green Bay and the surrounding area in northeast Wisconsin sorely lack the hotels and other facilities that would be needed to accommodate a crush of visitors for a Super Bowl.
Hurting a would-be bid even more is the unbearably cold, snowy weather common to Green Bay late in the season.
The wind-chill readings at Lambeau were minus-46 for the famed Ice Bowl league championship won by the Packers over the Dallas Cowboys on New Year's Eve in 1967 and minus-23 for the Packers' overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship on Jan. 20, 2008.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers prefers the Super Bowl be played in southern cities. He recently wrote on his Twitter account that he loves Green Bay "and our winter home-field advantage ... (but I) just like warm weather."
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