NFC North news, notes and quotes

Mike Martz laughed off concerns about his relationship with Jay Cutler. The Lions are nearing the end of their offseason program and have most of their playbook installed. In Green Bay, Brady Poppinga succeeds Aaron Kampman at linebacker and, unlike Kampman, is excited about the position he's playing. Get all kinds of news, notes and quotes from the Vikings' division rivals.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is amused at all the questions he gets regarding his relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler.

Both have been described as strong-willed, stubborn and opinionated. But anyone expecting a destructive clash of personalities has so far been disappointed.

"That tickles me," Martz said when asked recently how he and his quarterback were getting along. "I love this ‘Jay Watch' kind of thing. But it's crazy, because he's everything you want as a coach. He's all about winning and about perfection. He wants to be a great player, and he wants to be on a great team. For me, there's no problem. I don't know what the issues have been in the past. I don't really care what they are. We connected right away, and I think the world of him, both as a player and as a man. I'm very pleased with him."

For now, it's all good in Martz's world, as he continues the installation of his offense, which includes throwing the ball to specific areas rather than to specific players. That's new to Cutler, but he's caught on quickly.

"He hasn't done that before," Martz said. "I guess normally it's an adjustment, (but) if it was for him, it didn't take him very long because he's done it right away. That ball comes out of (his hand) long before the receiver comes out of the cut. That's kind of who he is, a guy who can get rid of the ball that quick and see things as well as he does."

It doesn't take long to notice that the Bears' new offense will involve more movement before the snap of the ball. At times during OTA practices, the only players not moving in 11-on-11 segments are Cutler and his offensive linemen, as three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back all shift before the snap on some plays.

Asked about his overall offensive philosophy, Martz referenced one of the winningest coaches in college football history.

"You're trying to make the defense defend the entire field," Martz said. "The old Florida State coach Bobby Bowden did a clinic I went to. And (even when) he was backed up on the 2-yard line, the name of the clinic was: ‘One of us is fixin' to score, and it ain't you.' I kind of like that."

This will not be an offense that methodically grinds out yardage a little bit at a time.

"Get there early," Martz advises Bears fans. "Don't miss the first play. We'll play fast, and we'll attack as much as we can. We just want to take control of the game, and when you're a good team and when you're playing well, you can do those things.

"We don't want to slow the game down. We want to speed it up. So it's opposite of what a lot of people like to do, and (we) just attack. We want to be in an attack mode no matter what."

It's not that the Bears' offense is ready to challenge the potency of Martz's St. Louis Rams offense, "The Greatest Show on Turf." It isn't, and Martz knows that.

"We're getting better," he said. "That's all we ask, that they don't make the same mistake twice and that we get better every practice. We're not where we need to be, obviously, and we're still making mistakes that we're (eventually) not going to make. But I like their progress; love their effort. I think it's terrific, so I'm very pleased with it so far."


  • Martz doesn't see the point in rehashing the 2009 season with Cutler, who threw a league-high 26 interceptions, along with 27 TD passes.

    "We're not running last year's offense, so it doesn't make much difference to me what they did last year," Martz said. "I could care less. It has no bearing because whatever he's done in the past has no bearing on today for me. It's a clean slate."

    Martz preferred to start at Square One with Cutler.

    "It started with him how he stands underneath the center, how his hands are, the cadence, like he was a high school quarterback," Martz said. "I've always believed that's what you do. That's how you start, and he's still a very young quarterback. Whatever happened in the past, no matter how good he played, I don't care. It has no bearing on anything today."

  • Third-round draft pick Major Wright, a 5-11, 206-pound safety out of Florida was the Bears' top pick this year, but he has a long way to go before he challenges for a starting job.

    Chris Harris and Danieal Manning lined up with the starters at free and strong safety, respectively, during minicamp, but the Bears believe Harris can eventually compete for a starting job, possibly as soon as this season.

    "Major Wright was one of the players we liked from the start," coach Lovie Smith said, referring to predraft evaluations. "We spent a lot of time with him. (Defensive backs coach) Jon Hoke went down and worked him out within the last week or so (leading up to the draft). At the combine, every time we had a chance to evaluate him as a player, we liked what we came back with. Smith called Wright a "high-character guy," and said, "He's going to bring a lot of energy to our defense. He's a big hitter and has good skills as far as coverages are concerned. We're going to put him at free safety and see what he can do."

  • Bears chief contract negotiator Cliff Stein set a May 28 goal for signing all five of the team's draft picks, and he made it barely under the wire, when third-round pick Major Wright, the team's top pick this year, signed a four-year contract last Friday.

    With Wright's signing, the Bears are the first NFL team to have all their draft picks signed for the fifth consecutive year and are the first team in league history to have all of their draft picks signed prior to the end of May.

    They didn't have selections in the first and second round.


    The Lions are entering the final phase of their off-season program. They have wrapped up almost all of their organized team activities. While the coaches are in and out of the facility, taking a little time off, the players will go through two more weeks of conditioning. Then the whole crew will come back and go through a five-day training camp primer — two days of OTAs followed by a three-day mandatory minicamp.

    "We'll have five days in a row," coach Jim Schwartz said. "The minicamp, they'll be here from 6 in the morning until 6 at night, so that will give them a good feeling of what training camp's going to be like. That's probably another step that we're going to take."

    Schwartz said the Lions have installed about 80 percent of their playbook.

    "That's a good position to be in," Schwartz said. "Where you'd like to be is about 95 percent installed by the time we get to training camp. You get to training camp, you're not really installing new things. You're just sort of reemphasizing and hitting some subtle points rather than overall installation."

    Schwartz wants to install that last 15 percent between now and the end of the minicamp. The Lions already have gone over red-zone and two-minute situations, but they still have to do backed-up, four-minute and short-yardage situations. The defense also has some more blitz packages to introduce.

    "You want to sort of take it in steps and get good at something before you introduce something else," Schwartz said.

    The biggest area of progress the Lions have shown so far is at quarterback.

    Matthew Stafford was the No. 1 pick in the draft last year, but that means he didn't join the veterans until May and had to fight for the starting job, taking reps with the first-, second- and third-teams. He didn't get much of an opportunity to develop chemistry with wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who missed much of training camp.

    But now Stafford is the clear-cut starter and has been working hard with Johnson, and it shows.

    "They've been at it strong since early March," Schwartz said. "So we should be seeing stuff like that."

    This year's rookies have done well so far. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the No. 2 overall pick, has been as advertised, though it should be noted no one is in pads. Running back Jahvid Best, a first-round pick, felt his way along at first, but has picked up speed lately.

    "They've been here for over two weeks, going on the end of three weeks for them," Schwartz said of the rookies. "They're in much better condition. They've adapted quickly. They know what to do and it's not a fire drill when they're out there on the field, so they're doing a good job assimilating.

    "We've had very few people on the ground the last couple practices. The first practices with the rookies, there were a lot of guys on the ground. They just don't know how to practice in the NFL. And that's starting to settle down now."


  • Cornerback Jonathan Wade sent a text message to former Rams teammate Oshiomogho Atogwe after he became an unrestricted free agent. "I asked him if he was a Lion yet," Wade said. "I was just being funny. He wouldn't dare say anything to me."

    Atogwe grew up a Lions fan in Windsor, and he could fill the hole alongside safety Louis Delmas, a second-round pick last year. He intercepted 19 passes and forced 14 fumbles in five seasons with the Rams. "He makes the plays — not necessarily the big hits, but he will find the ball, the strips, the turnovers when you need it," Wade said. "He's very motivational. He's a great leader on and off the field. With the young secondary that we do have, I think he would be very beneficial."

    But Atogwe, who turns 29 on June 23, is coming off shoulder and hernia issues, and the Lions are mum.

    "I'm never going to say who we are or who we're not interested in, because it doesn't help us in any way at all," general manager Martin Mayhew said.

  • Highlight from OTAs: Wide receiver Calvin Johnson ran a fade route to the back left corner of the end zone, hauling in a pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford behind two defenders. "Calvin has that ability to make difficult things look easy," coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's a guy that can run 4.3-something and when he does, he doesn't look like he's moving real fast because he's so big and he's so long, he can cover so much ground. He's so graceful when he does it that it looks effortless. Matt can throw it through a wall, so it's easy for him just to flick a ball and have a lot of steam on it. He just makes it look easy. That's a good thing. I know it wouldn't look so easy if they were lesser athletes."

  • Here's a tiring drill: The linebackers take a huge tire, maybe 6-feet tall, and stand it on edge. They pair off and bat it back and forth. "It's just punching and staying in balance when you're doing it," Schwartz said. "I mean, if you don't stay in balance, that tire's pretty heavy. There's some consequences if you don't catch it the right way."

  • Detroit was abuzz about Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, who had a perfect game going with two outs in the ninth when a blown call at first base ended his bid. He retired the next batter and ended up with a one-hit, 3-0 victory over the Indians.

    "I started watching about the bottom of the fifth and even let the kids stay up late so they could see it, and my 6-year-old daughter (Maria) said, ‘But Daddy, he was out,' " Schwartz said. "If she can see it ..."

    Schwartz said he hoped he would handle a similar situation the way the Tigers did, calming down in the clubhouse after initially yelling at the umpire on the field. Asked if he could have handled it that way, Schwartz smiled and said: "Oh, God, no. I would have been thrown out, and I would have caused the Detroit Police probably a lot of problems. I wouldn't have gone easily."


    Brady Poppinga calls it a resurrection.

    A year after Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman quietly soured on his position switch to left outside linebacker in the Packers' new 3-4 system, Poppinga couldn't be more openly excited about being in position to possibly succeed Kampman.

    "For me, my goal is to be an elite, dominating pass rusher in this scheme," Poppinga said. "So, it's a matter of allowing the pass rusher inside of me to re-emerge. I had to kill him off there for a couple of years."

    Poppinga acknowledged June 2 in the midst of Green Bay's organized team activities that he was miscast his first four years in the league as an off-the-ball linebacker in the Packers' traditional 4-3 scheme, which head coach Mike McCarthy junked after the 2008 season.

    A fourth-round draft pick in 2005, Poppinga excelled as a pass rusher in college at BYU, where he primarily lined up on the edge.

    "The one we implemented here in Green Bay required that I bridled my passions, so to speak," Poppinga said of the 4-3. "So, I really had to keep things in control, in check. I really couldn't let myself go all of the time, unless I was blitzing. This (the 3-4) caters to my personality a lot more."

    The energetic Poppinga had a subdued first season in the 3-4 last year. He lost the starting job at right outside linebacker after Week 3 to rookie Clay Matthews, a first-round draft pick who flourished as a pass rusher with a team-high 10 sacks.

    Poppinga subsequently was moved to the left side to back up Kampman. Yet, another rookie, seventh-rounder Brad Jones, jumped ahead of Poppinga on the depth chart and went in as the starter for the rest of the season after Kampman suffered a knee injury in late November.

    The departure of Kampman in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars has given Poppinga a new lease on his football life. From the outset of the team's offseason workouts, defensive coordinator Dom Capers initiated a battle between Jones and Poppinga for the starting job.

    McCarthy indicated early in the OTAs, which go until June 17, that the race is too close to call as the Packers look to complement Matthews with an effective pass rusher on the opposite side.

    "Brady Poppinga is having a heck of a spring, Brad is having a heck of a spring, and also Clay Matthews is coming off a Pro Bowl season," McCarthy said. "I feel very good about those three guys right now."


  • Sensing he is close to a full recovery, Pro-Bowl cornerback Al Harris reunited with his teammates.

    Harris returned to Green Bay for the resumption of organized team activities the week of May 31, after the players had a week off. Harris is continuing his rehab from a season-ending left knee injury in late November and will stay put at the team's facilities in Green Bay after spending the previous five months at a training center near his South Florida home.

    "At this part of the year, it's best that I'm here with the guys, here to take advantage of the facilities and the expertise in the training room," Harris said.

    The 13th-year veteran skipped traveling with the team in the first round of the playoffs in January, when it lost 51-45 in overtime at the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner torched the Packers' short-handed secondary for 379 yards and five touchdowns through the air.

    "It was painful to watch," Harris said. "That fuels me when it is time to rehab, get up and go work out."

    Harris, who has been running, doesn't know when he will be cleared by Green Bay's medical staff. A return during training camp is a possibility, though head coach Mike McCarthy has suggested that Harris could miss the start of the season.

  • Tight end Spencer Havner also is on the mend this offseason, rehabbing a broken shoulder he sustained when he crashed his motorcycle in Northern California.

    McCarthy said June 2 that Havner would need at least two more weeks before he possibly is cleared to get back on the field, which would coincide with the team's minicamp June 21-23.

    The early-morning bike mishap was a wakeup call for Havner, who was arrested on DUI suspicion. The charges were later dropped.

    "I'd definitely like to move on and get back to here (playing football)," Havner said. "This is what's most important. I just need to get back to it. ... I don't want to risk something this special."

  • Cornerback Charles Woodson, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has been skipping the voluntary OTAs, which run until June 17.

    The team's other missing players have been defensive end Johnny Jolly, safety Atari Bigby and cornerback Tramon Williams, all of whom are unsigned as restricted free agents.

  • Ryan Pickett, the veteran nose tackle who was moved to end to compensate for the absence of Johnny Jolly, suffered an injury to his left shoulder during the OTA practice June 1.

    The team, in turn, held him out for at least a day, though Pickett said the injury isn't serious.

    "If it was a game, I'd be playing, no doubt. But, this is OTAs," Pickett said.

    With both Jolly and Pickett out, the Packers moved starting right end Cullen Jenkins to the left side and worked in second-year Jarius Wynn on the right side.

  • Coach Mike McCarthy hinted he would take four quarterbacks into training camp this summer. That bodes well for undrafted rookie Noah Shepard and first-year Graham Harrell to get an extended look from the team.

    The Packers signed Harrell, a former college standout at Texas Tech on May 20, after he was released by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League.

    "I was impressed with his velocity," McCarthy said. "That's something that was probably a little in question coming out of college, in my opinion. But, I thought he had a very good workout, and we felt it was a chance to give him an opportunity.

    "I think Graham is someone who has a chance to be a quarterback in the National Football League."

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