NFC North news, notes and quotes

The addition of Julius Peppers is helping the Bears offensive line as well. In Detroit, top pick Ndamukong Suh held for four days, but he has impressed since signing with the Lions. In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers was as sharp as they come in his first preseason outing of the year. Go deep inside the NFC North competition with in-depth reports from each city.


Defensive right end Julius Peppers has spent a good portion of training camp taking young left tackle Chris Williams to school; not just by beating him with a variety of pass-rush moves but by teaching him how to become a better NFL player.

But Peppers doesn't want any accolades for Williams' improvement.

"I can see that he's getting better, but I'm not taking the credit for it," Peppers said. "He's being coached by a great coach (Mike Tice), and I think that's helping him get better. We're competing against each other hard every day, so I owe him, (too). Not only is he getting better, but I'm getting better going against him."

How does a five-time Pro Bowl player benefit from working against a youngster with five NFL starts at left tackle?

"Just having to bring it every day in every drill because I know he's a great player himself," Peppers said. You compete against good tackles in practice and you get better."

  • When it comes to offensive coordinator Mike Martz evaluating quarterback Jay Cutler, even something as inconsequential as a preseason opener is more important than anything that occurred last year.

    Cutler threw a league-worst 26 interceptions in 2007, along with 27 TDs, but that's ancient history to Martz.

    "I haven't discussed at all anything about last year with Jay," Martz said. Really, it just has no bearing on anything today. We don't talk about it. We don't think about it. It's never really crossed my mind."

    Except when he's asked about it, and Cutler's struggles in the red zone, which has been often.

    "I feel like I know what Jay is and who he is to where I'm not concerned about (last year) at all. If you ever watch our red zone stuff out here, he's just been lights out. I'm very pleased with his ability in the red zone. I don't worry about that with him at all."

  • Even though he hasn't had a kickoff- or punt-return touchdown in two years, Devin Hester's presence on the field in those situations still creates a buzz.

    Now that he's a full-time receiver, Hester is limited to returning only punts, and coach Lovie Smith doesn't like to court disaster by using him in that role in the preseason. Hester got just 1 opportunity last year and took it back for 54 yards.

    "If I'm back there, they just want me to fair catch," Hester said. "I don't know what the plan is for this preseason, but I always try to sneak one or two in."

  • The Bears will be back at Olivet Nazarene University for a 10th training camp next year but after that, the future is hazy.

    "We've got a long-standing relationship here with the people of Olivet Nazarene, and it's been very, very good, from the president on down," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "Right now, this is our summer home, and we've been very happy with the accommodations, with the fields and with the hospitality."

    After next year the Bears will have to decide whether to remain at ONU or consider other sites, such as Romeoville's Lewis University, which has been mentioned frequently as a possible destination. In the past few years several NFL teams have opted to hold training camp at their own practice facility, but Angelo said that's not for the Bears.

    "Right now this works best for us," he said. "It's really been a great relationship. A lot of teams are having their training camps on site. Ours is a little bit different in terms of the design of our facility, of the logistics."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Oh, all of them know how to hold." — Bears DE Julius Peppers, when asked if young OLT Chris Williams was learning how to hold like an NFL offensive lineman.


  • S Danieal Manning was held out of the preseason opener because of a nagging hamstring injury.

  • S Craig Steltz, who started at strong safety in place of injured Danieal Manning, suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return.

  • S Major Wright got to play extra snaps with the first team after the ankle injury to Craig Steltz, but the rookie suffered an injury to his left index finger just before halftime and did not return, although the injury isn't considered serious.

  • OG Lance Louis started at right guard and has been practicing with the first team for more than a week.

  • OG Roberto Garza has moved from right guard to left guard, to make room for Lance Louis. Garza replaces Josh Beekman, who has dropped to second team.

  • RB Harvey Unga (hamstring), the seventh-round supplemental draft pick, was placed on injured reserve.


    Pretty good exchange between rookie DT Ndamukong Suh and coach Jim Schwartz on the topic of Suh's four-day holdout at the start of camp.

    Said Suh: "In my opinion, I haven't missed anything."

    Said Schwartz, with a wry smile: "The player's perspective is a lot different than the coach's perspective. He missed some stuff. He caught up pretty quick. When he looks back 20 years from now is he going to look back and say, ‘I missed those four days,' — probably not. But every bit of work you can get as a young player is important. Every bit of this atmosphere is important."

    That said, though, Suh has disappointed nobody thus far. Though he didn't get a tackle in the exhibition opener, he was a force, drawing double-teams on several of his 11 plays. "His arrow's been trending up the whole time," Schwartz said. "Every practice he gets more comfortable with the schemes and his technique is better."

  • CB Dre Bly brought some serious intensity to an afternoon practice session last week. He got into a pretty good scuffle with receiver Eric Fowler. Bly delivered several slaps to Fowler's head before they were pulled apart.

  • Rookie DE Willie Young is showing every day why the Lions drafted him and why it was in the seventh round. He's imposing physically and occasionally makes eye-popping athletic plays. He had five tackles against Pittsburgh. Other times, he appears tentative and lost. "Willie is playing and practicing suspiciously like a rookie right now," Schwartz said.

  • Don't try telling rookie DT Ndamukong Suh that preseason games are just exhibitions. "I don't consider it an exhibition," he said. "It's live bullets."

  • Schwartz on trimming the roster: "It's going to be tough to cut this football team, for sure. But that's good news. Not for the players, maybe, but it's good news for the organization and for the direction of this team."

  • Running back Aaron Brown has legitimate NFL speed and has shown game-breaking potential. But he's fighting for his professional life because of his inability to grasp some of the intricacies of playing his position. His wounds, he said, were self-inflicted. "The difference between last year and this year, man, it's just unbelievable how much more mature I am and how much more serious I've been," he said. "Just my whole mindset now is, I am not taking no for an answer. Everything is clicking. I look at a play and I'm like a sponge. I am so much more confident that I can play fast now. I am not out there thinking. It's all innate and that's a really good feeling."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "As a team, if we want to get past the hump we've been behind the last couple of years, we've got to eliminate the dumb penalties that take us out of big plays and the turnovers. We can't drive the ball all the way down the field and turn the ball over. Everybody in this locker room, we have to hold each other accountable and get that right." — Center Dominic Raiola after the Lions were penalized 11 times for 88 yards vs. Pittsburgh.


  • WR Nate Burleson hasn't been fielding punts much in camp and he didn't do it at all in the first exhibition game. WR Derrick Williams and WR Tim Toone handled it. But Burleson is a weapon back there the Lions are keeping in storage. Said Schwartz: "I have a 100 percent trust in him. He's a play-maker back there. A lot of it will depend on game situation and the opponent but he's going to return punts at some time this year, whether it's the opening game, the last game or at some point in between."

  • Veteran Dre Bly is going to be the Lions' nickel back but it doesn't look like he's going to unseat either Jonathan Wade or Chris Houston for the starting cornerback spot. Said Bly: "My preference is to be on the field. Whenever I am on the field I make things happen. That's just the way it's been. I understand it's a different situation for me now, where I am in my career. I'm for the team; any way I can help the team. But I just want to be on the field. If I start, play in the slot or whatever. As long as I'm on the field I am happy."

  • The Lions are glad to be playing two teams in the pre-season (Pittsburgh and Buffalo who play a 3-4 defense. The Lions, a 4-3 team, play have their regular schedule against 3-4 defenses — worked against a 3-4 defensive look for the first time Thursday, which will help in preparation for the exhibition opener Saturday in Pittsburgh and for half their regular season schedule — twice against Green Bay, as well as against the Eagles, Redskins, Jets, Bills, Cowboys and Patriots.

  • Twice last week defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham barked at starting cornerback Chris Houston and pulled him off the field. Despite the tough-love approach, nobody is really upset or worried about Houston's play. "If you watch about 80 of our guys, they're laboring right now," Schwartz said. "Everybody has lost their legs. The pass rushers don't look as fresh, the receivers aren't as crisp. That's training camp. They will get their legs back."

  • Undrafted rookie S Randy Phillips, who has been starting in place of the injured Louis Delmas, continues to impress. He stalled a scoring drive with a well-timed blitz and tackle-for-loss Saturday.


    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said it's no secret why he finished a blistering 12 of 13 for 159 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown lob to Greg Jennings on a double move, in the Packers' 27-24 loss to the visiting Cleveland Browns in a preseason opener Saturday.

    "We've got a lot of weapons," Rodgers said. "When you can throw the ball to the kind of guys we can throw it to, it's going to be just on me to be accurate. (Saturday) I think Mike (McCarthy, the team's head coach and play caller for the offense) allowed me to get in a good flow. We're always talking about rhythm on offense, and the play calling I really felt like got us into a good rhythm."

    Rodgers and the starting group were on the field for the first four series and a total of 20 plays, the latter of which was McCarthy's plan before the game.

    Rodgers completed his first 10 passes for 146 yards to seven different receivers.

    "I thought Aaron was sharp," McCarthy said. "He managed the huddle very well, saw a lot of pressure and made the appropriate checks. He took advantage of the one-on-one opportunities."

  • Incumbent starter Daryn College and rookie Bryan Bulaga, the team's first-round draft pick, worked in a rotation at left guard in the No. 1 offense's first four possessions. They alternated series, each getting two cracks, in a big battle that was hatched just a week into training camp.

    "It is what it is for right now," Colledge said. "Obviously, I would like to be in there for all of the reps, but that's not the situation. Bryan's doing a good job, he's a talented player, and they're going to give him an opportunity to compete and show what he has."

    Colledge continued at left guard for the final two series of the first half, alongside Bulaga at left tackle. Bulaga, who was penciled in to be a backup left tackle, remains veteran Chad Clifton's top understudy at the spot.

    "It's going to take a little while to get comfortable at guard," Bulaga said. "I just moved there (Aug. 9). It's going to take more snaps, more reps to really get feeling good out there.

    "I thought, overall, I did some good things but made some mistakes."

  • Featured back Ryan Grant wasn't so much concerned about his unsteady health as he was his critical blunder earlier in Saturday's game.
    Grant fumbled the football on a run on the Packers' first play from scrimmage. Browns nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin came off a block by center Scott Wells to make the strip with his right hand, and cornerback Sheldon Brown made the recovery and returned it 11 yards to the Green Bay 13-yard line.

    Cleveland took advantage of the short field to score a second straight touchdown to increase its lead to 14-0 only 6 1/2 minutes into play.

    "I've just got to do a better job of ball security with that," said Grant, who will enter the regular season with a career-best streak of 291 carries without a fumble, the longest active streak in the NFL.

    "That's not a trait of mine," Grant added. "I take that very serious, that's the number one priority, and I think that sets the tone as a backfield. So, that's unacceptable. But, we'll clean it up."

    Grant left the game after back-to-back runs to start Green Bay's next series. He said he had "his bell rung a little bit" when he was sandwiched by linebacker Chris Gocong and Brown on a cut into the middle at the line of scrimmage.

    Grant stumbled as he got to his feet but did walk off under his own power. A concussion was initially ruled out after the medical staff performed a battery of alertness tests with Grant on and off the field.

  • Undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields, one of the early camp standouts, did himself no favors in trying to make the team by muffing a punt late in the first half Saturday.

    The speedy Shields has dropped the football on several return chances in camp. The blunder in the game occurred when he called for a fair catch, then ran up to get under a short kick. The Browns recovered the football at the Green Bay 30 but promptly turned it back over three plays later on an interception by cornerback Brandon Underwood in the end zone.

    "Just a lack of focus," Shields said. "Just keeping my eyes on the ball like I keep working on in practice. I guess I was worrying about what was around me instead of catching the ball."

    The Packers desperately need Will Blackmon back on the field to provide sure-handed stability on returns. Blackmon has missed most of camp so far because of lingering soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. He is optimistic about playing in the season opener Sept. 12 at the Philadelphia Eagles.

  • The Packers placed cornerback Josh Bell on injured reserve and signed first-year linebacker Maurice Simpkins on Aug. 10.

    Bell, a third-year player, suffered a right foot injury in the team's Aug. 7 scrimmage.

    The 6-foot, 236-pound Simpkins was a standout in the Indoor Football League earlier this year with the Green Bay Blizzard.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was not happy with the way we started the game, and that was communicated to our football team. And, they're not happy with the way we started the game. It's an experience that we need to make sure we learn from. You don't start football games that way. It doesn't matter who you're playing, where you're playing, especially at Lambeau Field." — Head coach Mike McCarthy on the Packers' mistake-laden start to their 27-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns in a preseason opener Saturday.


  • RB Ryan Grant, who fumbled on the Packers' first play from scrimmage, left Saturday's preseason opener two plays into the next series after taking a hard hit from Cleveland Browns linebacker Chris Gocong and cornerback Sheldon Brown on a run play. Initial tests indicated Grant didn't sustain a concussion, but the Packers held him out as a precaution.

  • TE Tom Crabtree aggravated a hand injury late in the first half while blocking on a bungled punt return and didn't return to action. X-rays done during the game on the hand were inconclusive, so a scan was scheduled Sunday.

  • WR Donald Driver opened the game in his customary starting spot and had three catches for 19 yards. Driver was questionable to play after a calf injury that may have stemmed from offseason surgery on both of his knees flared up during the first week of training camp.

  • LB Clay Matthews is expected to be sidelined another week, which will keep him out of the second preseason game Saturday at the Seattle Seahawks, because of a left hamstring injury he aggravated in the team's Aug. 7 scrimmage. Brady Poppinga started in Matthews' place at the left outside spot Saturday.

  • S Will Blackmon has been sidelined most of camp by soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. Blackmon, the team's preferred kick returner, is confident he will be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener at the Philadelphia Eagles.

  • CB Al Harris continues to do rehab work away from practice as he aims to play in the season opener, nine months after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left knee. Harris is on the PUP list.

  • S Atari Bigby, like Harris a returning starter on PUP, will miss the entire preseason after having a cleanup procedure done on his surgically repaired left ankle Aug. 6. Rookie Morgan Burnett has replaced Bigby in the starting lineup and figures to stay there when the season starts.

  • RB James Starks could be running out of time to make the season-opening roster. The sixth-round draft pick, who hasn't played since 2008 after he had shoulder surgery before his final college season at Buffalo, is on PUP with a hamstring injury.

  • Viking Update Top Stories