NFC North news, notes and quotes

Mike Tice had praise for Bears center Olin Kreutz, running back Kevin Smith is working his way back from a knee injury for the Lions, and Al Harris could be challenged to be ready for the start of Packers training camp. Get those stories and many more notes and quotes from the Vikings' NFC North rivals.


Olin Kreutz has been the Bears' starting center since 1999, his second NFL season since being drafted in the third round out of Washington.

But only recently did he return to the practice field after missing most of the offseason practices as he recovers from Achilles tendon surgery. New offensive line coach Mike Tice was glad to see him on the field with the first team in Wednesday's final OTA.

"He's such a leader," Tice said. "He's got a great understanding and awareness of the defense and things they are trying to do. He's very confident in his calls. Confidence just oozes out of his pores."

  • Lovie Smith practically bristled when he was asked, at the end of OTAs, if he had a team that could compete for the playoffs.

    "As far as ‘compete,' that's not our goal, to (just) compete," Smith said. "We have the same goal we have every year, and that's win the Super Bowl, win the world championship. It's early on, and you need to get in pads, but I just like the look of this team. I think you'll get that from most of our veterans. We know what a good football team looks like, and this is a good football team."

    The Bears are 23-25 over the past three seasons, missing the playoffs each year.

  • QB Jay Cutler is learning a new offense this off-season, just as he did last year, his first with the Bears.

    A year ago, Cutler picked up Ron Turner's offense pretty easily, but he's had to work a little harder to get a handle on Mike Martz's scheme.

    "Last year's system I was familiar with that because some of the stuff I had done in the past," he said. "This year is completely new to myself as well as a lot of guys on the team, so it took a little bit more studying, a little bit more hard work mentally for us to come out here and be prepared. I think Mike did a great job of getting everyone ready in meetings of doing enough walkthroughs out here so that everyone feels comfortable."

  • When the Bears re-acquired safety Chris Harris in a trade with the Panthers for LB Jamar Williams, it didn't create nearly as much press as their free-agent pickups of Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna in free agency. But the Bears hope Harris will upgrade a safety tandem that disappointed last season. Harris started for the Bears as a rookie, after they drafted him in the sixth round in 2005. But he was deemed expendable during training camp in 2007, mainly because of the addition of Adam Archuleta, who was a major bust.

    "Chris Harris coming back, (he) was exactly what I remember," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's moved right into that role. Chris will have more of a leadership role, too. He's a vocal guy. You have another coach on the field."

  • Since he was drafted in the second round in 2003, Charles Tillman has been the Bears' starting left corner, often working against the opponents' No. 1 wide receiver. But throughout this offseason, Tillman has been the right corner the majority of the time with Zack Bowman moving to left corner after starting on the right side last season and leading the Bears with six interceptions, almost half the team total of 13.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You see a guy on video, but when you see him up close and personal, in person, he's a 300-pound man who moves like a defensive back. That's what you're dealing with." — Bears coach Lovie Smith on DE Julius Peppers


    Running back Kevin Smith took a few reps in team drills at the mandatory minicamp.

    "I only did about maybe six, seven plays," Smith told reporters of his first team work since tearing an ACL in December. "My first play I dropped the ball, I was so nervous. The next play I caught the ball and tripped and fell and got up. So it's just a progression, but I'm feeling good."

    Smith hailed surgeon James Andrews, calling him the "Jay-Z" of the sports medicine world. The Lions hope Smith will be ready for training camp.

    "We're inching him back in," coach Jim Schwartz said. "He took a few team drills. We'll want to see how he reacts to doing that and then increase it a little bit more."

  • The Lions will open training camp to fans again this year.

    "We're still finalizing the details, but we expect it to work very similar to the way it did last year, where we got a lot of open access," president Tom Lewand said. "We want people out here. We want interaction with the team and the players. We really liked the way it worked last year, and I would expect something similar this year, but we'll have an announcement coming up before it opens."

    The first practice of camp will be July 31. Lewand said the Lions also likely will hold an open practice at Ford Field again, Aug. 7.

  • Safety Louis Delmas is sitting out the mandatory minicamp with a minor groin injury. He should be fine for training camp. "It's nothing that requires any attention or anything that's going to be long term," Schwartz said. "The last thing we wanted was to set him back and to make it a nagging thing in training camp."

  • The Lions gave safety Randy Phillips a tryout at the minicamp. They had planned to sign Phillips as an undrafted free agent after the draft, and he attended their rookie minicamp, even wearing a jersey with a number and his name on the back. But he didn't pass his physical because of a shoulder injury.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You hear about how explosive Best is, and then you see him catch a ball in the flat, stick his foot in the ground and get up the field like a Mustang. He's just extremely explosive." — WR Nate Burleson, to the Detroit News about rookie RB Jahvid Best.


    Although the Packers had a full 11-man unit of players who were held out of all or most offseason work for injury rehab, the only one who isn't expected to be cleared for Day 1 of the preseason is cornerback Al Harris.

    "I think Al is going to be definitely challenged to make it at the beginning of training camp," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm sure Al may tell you something differently, but that's kind of my assessment of the information I've been given (from the medical staff).

    "It's a serious injury, and we're going to be smart with him and give him the time that he needs."

    The 35-year-old Harris will be eight months removed from Nov. 30 surgery on his severely torn left knee when the players report for camp July 30. Tramon Williams will fill the starting void opposite Charles Woodson until Harris gets back on the field, which may not be the start of the season.

    Other key players coming back from injuries and/or surgeries who should be ready for the first camp practice July 31 are receiver Donald Driver, linebacker Nick Barnett, defensive end Ryan Pickett, offensive lineman Jason Spitz and safety/returner Will Blackmon.

  • Woodson spent the majority of the offseason working out on his own, and that included dabbling in boxing classes with Packers safety Nick Collins in Florida.

    The strenuous upper-body movements greatly benefited Woodson, who will be 34 in October and is coming off his best season as a pro in which he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

    "I feel even better coming in this year than last year," Woodson said.

    Boxing proved to be a tonic for an ailing right shoulder that affected Woodson late last season, and he's already at his preferred playing weight of 200 pounds.

  • In other cornerback news, second-year Brandon Underwood remains under investigation by the Sauk County (Wis.) district attorney's office for allegations of sexual assault made against Underwood by two women in the early morning June 5 at a vacation resort in Wisconsin Dells.

  • Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the heels of his first Pro Bowl appearance in just his second season as a starter, plans to stay sharp in the five weeks before the Packers reconvene for training camp by working out with a group of players from throughout the league in San Diego.

    Getting away from Green Bay is a welcome respite for Rodgers, a California native.

    "I need the beach," he said with a big smile. "I need a little break as far as that goes."

  • As it looks, the Packers will carry just three quarterbacks into training camp: Rodgers, Matt Flynn and newcomer Graham Harrell.

    The team released undrafted rookie Noah Shepard June 18, paving the way for Harrell to contend for a backup job if Green Bay decides to keep three QBs on the season roster after having only Rodgers and Flynn last season.
    McCarthy said the club considered Harrell, the former Texas Tech standout who went to the Canadian Football League for a season last year, to be "further ahead" than Shepard.

  • Besides Shepard, the Packers cut cornerback Trevor Ford, safety Khalil Jones and undrafted rookie linebacker Tim Knicky.

    Ford played in three games for Green Bay last season. Jones was on the Packers practice squad as a receiver late in the season, then moved to defense in the offseason.

  • The 2010 draft class signings began June 23 for the Packers, who meted out four-year contracts to the last three of their seven picks: offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse (fifth round), running back James Starks (sixth) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (seventh).

    That leaves Green Bay with 79 players under contract. With four draft picks left to sign — offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (first round), defensive end Mike Neal (second), safety Morgan Burnett (third) and tight end Andrew Quarless (fifth) — the Packers will have to cut three players before training camp opens to comply with the 80-player limit.

  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will attend the annual Packers shareholders meeting, which will be July 29 at Lambeau Field.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not interested in winning 11 games. We're here to win the next world championship, and that's our focus." — Head coach Mike McCarthy, as the Packers, who finished 11-5 last season, ended their offseason work June 22.

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