Around the NFC North

The Bears added another veteran quarterback in case Jay Cutler goes down. The Lions have already taken a hit on their defensive line. And the Packers offense, while scoring all kinds of points, does have one major concern. Get those stories and many more notes in a tour around the NFC North.


CHICAGO BEARS
In 15 NFL seasons, quarterback Todd Collins owns only 20 regular-season starts, just seven of them since opening 13 contests as the starter for the Buffalo Bills in the 1997 campaign.

But that's still 20 more starts than the three other quarterbacks that were on the Chicago Bears' roster — Caleb Hanie, Matt Gutierrez, and rookie Dan LeFevour — own in their combined careers (Guiterrez was cut on Monday). And a principal reason why the Bears signed the 38-year-old Collins to a one-year contract to contend for the No. 2 role behind starter Jay Cutler.

"We simply had to have (some insurance)," said one Bears assistant.

The club had twice attempted, and failed, to lure Trent Green out of retirement. Collins had ignored overtures from the Bears because the previous offers didn't include any guaranteed money. Unlike Green, Collins, who was released in the offseason, has never played for Bears' first-year offensive coordinator Mike Martz. But like Green, he is familiar with the Martz-designed offense, and should not struggle with the learning curve.

Cutler has been notably durable in his career, but the Bears were uncomfortable still with the depth behind him. Plus, Hanie, in whom the coaches have expressed solid support, is currently battling a right shoulder sprain. A sixth-round draft choice this year, LeFevour has struggled in camp and the preseason.

The Bears carried only two quarterbacks in 2009, and may do so again this year, and so there is a chance Collins won't even make the regular-season roster. But for now, he provides the staff some peace of mind, insurance against Hanie's injury lingering into the season, and a veteran presence.

Plus, the Bears have not been to the playoffs since their Super Bowl XLI trip in 2006, and there is pressure on coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo to win this season.

In stints with three different teams, most recently Washington, Collins has completed 381 of 674 passes, for 4,479 yards, with 22 touchdown passes, 19 interceptions, and a passer rating of 76.0. His one-year contract is worth about $ 1 million, with about $100,000 of that guaranteed.

He appeared in three games in 2009, with only 23 attempts, and has not started a game since 2007.

NOTES

  • All of the Bears' top five safeties have missed time during training camp and/or the preseason, including rookie Major Wright (finger), Craig Steltz (ankle) and Josh Bullocks (quad), who did not play Saturday night.

    All are expected back for the regular-season opener, if they're still on the roster, and Wright practiced last week but was not cleared for contact. Bullocks missed the first three preseason games.

    "We've been in this situation before," said coach Lovie Smith, who has made a total of 40 lineup changes at free and strong safety in the previous six seasons. "It seems like the secondary in general there are a lot of injuries. They run a lot, it's a physical football game, too. "We just look at it as an opportunity to see some more guys. We came in with a lot of guys that we like at the safety position and we've needed every one. This week we may have to work different combinations, but during the course of the season you have to work those combinations."

    Chris Harris started at free safety Saturday night with Danieal Manning at strong safety, same as last week. Manning led the Bears with 7 tackles, and he forced a fumble in the red zone that killed a Cardinals drive seven yards short of the end zone. Harris' missed tackle on Tim Hightower just past the line of scrimmage allowed the Arizona running back to make a 29-yard run in the third quarter.

  • Julius Peppers' pass-rush prowess is common knowledge. He's hit double figures in sacks in six of his eight NFL seasons.

    But Peppers demonstrated his dominance against the run in last week's game when he had 2 huge tackles near the line of scrimmage with the Raiders inside the Bears' five-yard line.

    "He's about as complete of a defensive end as you'll see," coach Lovie Smith said. "A 300-pound man with DB-type speed, plays with leverage, plays the run, plays the pass, all situations. We have a lot of things in store as far as what we're going to do with him this year. He plays as hard as anyone, pursues ... should I stop? We could keep going for a while.

    "He's a scholarship player that we're going to keep around here for a while."

  • Running back Chester Taylor has backed up Jamal Lewis with the Baltimore Ravens and Adrian Peterson with the Minnesota Vikings so his role behind Matt Forte isn't foreign.

    "I know how to work with another back," he said. "You have to have depth in the backfield because it's going to be a long season."

    Taylor had just eight carries for 11 yards in the first two preseason games. But he picked up 34 yards on his first carry Saturday night with a nifty cutback move at the line of scrimmage and a couple jukes in the open field.

    In his only season as a full-time starter, Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards and caught 42 passes in 2006 with the Vikings.

  • Rookie Dan LeFevour finished Saturday's game at quarterback after taking over for Jay Cutler following the first possession of the second half, and the sixth-round pick from Central Michigan completed 10 of 12 passes for 100 yards, a 3-yard TD pass to Juaquin Iglesias and a passer rating of 129.2.

    Even with No. 2 quarterback Caleb Hanie out with a shoulder injury, Matt Gutierrez did not see any playing time for the second straight week, nor did Todd Collins.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's every day with the things he does, his speed off the ball and his reactions. Every day I'll watch film on and I'll be like, ‘God, how does he do that? A guy that size?' " — Bears LB Brian Urlacher on DE Julius Peppers


    DETROIT LIONS

    The Lions placed veteran DE Jared DeVries on the injured reserve list after he had arthroscopic knee surgery last week. DeVries missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. At age 34 and after 11 seasons, his career may be over.

    The Lions had already taken a precaution against losing DeVries by trading a 2011 sixth-round pick to Seattle for Lawrence Jackson. But Jackson has yet to get on the field because of a lingering hamstring injury.

    Said coach Jim Schwartz: "He had a hamstring injury that we knew about. He got it on the first day of training camp for (Seattle) and he was just getting back to practice for them but he still wasn't at full speed. They probably do the same thing we do with guys coming back - they go through individual drills and some other things, and his conditioning level was so down. He hadn't done anything from a conditioning standpoint. So we've made a big point to try to get him into good condition so that when his hamstring is feeling good and he can go full speed that something else doesn't break down."

  • DT Ndamukong Suh has been as advertised throughout camp, but he had his most productive game Saturday against the Browns. He had two tackles, one for a loss, and he batted down a pass. He also almost tore quarterback Jake Delhomme's head off, throwing him down by the facemask. "You don't want to do anything to curb his aggressiveness," coach Jim Schwartz said with a wry smile. "But, seriously, there are things are different here than in college. He can't do that here."

  • Kyle Vanden Bosch: "I will never be regarded as the best defensive end in the league. But that people know me as one of the hardest working players in the league, that's something I take great pride in. But I know with that comes a lot of responsibility. I can't have an off day. I can't show up and take a day off. I have to be on all the time, but like I said, I take pride in that."

  • Louis Delmas hadn't been on a football field in a while because of lingering groin injury and he couldn't wait to hit somebody Saturday - only, he didn't mean for it to be three young kids who were standing in the reception line during pre-game introductions. "To be honest with you, I think I knocked those three kinds out of their misery," he said. "I felt bad, but they'll be all right." The kids popped right up and were fine.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "A really freakishly high-jumping catch. That was pretty special." — Matthew Stafford talking a 20-yard touchdown catch he threw to Calvin Johnson against the Broncos.

    NOTES

  • How good has QB Matthew Stafford been? He has completed 34 of 46 passes for 332 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He has led the offense to scores in 10 of his 14 drives. He has been sacked once.

  • RB Jahvid Best has all but wrapped up the starting spot. He's easily beaten out incumbent Kevin Smith, who is coming back from knee surgery. Best only played one series on Saturday because of tightness in his legs. His body of work - a 51-yard run and a 10-yard reception that set up the first touchdown.

  • K Jason Hanson (knee) went through his normal pre-game regimen on Saturday and looked strong. He had arthroscopic surgery on his plant leg on Aug. 3. He is expected to kick in the final preseason game Thursday.

  • The Lions continue to alternate Gosder Cherilus and Jon Jansen at right tackle. It appears, though, that Cherilus is getting closer to winning the job.

  • DE Willie Young continues to make his case for a roster spot. He sealed the win at Denver with a sack-fumble and he set up the Lions' winning score Saturday with another sack-fumble, this time crunching rookie Colt McCoy.

  • Tough Cut I: Best is the starter and by all accounts, Kevin Smith will be No. 2 at running back. Jerome Felton will be the fullback. That leaves veteran Maurice Morris, DeDe Dorsey and second-year speedster Aaron Brown fighting for two spots. Morris has been the third back most of camp and right now and Brown (50 yards total offense, two touchdowns Saturday) is ahead of Dorsey.

  • Tough Cut II: Veteran Dennis Northcutt may be the odd man out at wide receiver. Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Bryant Johnson are the top three. Brian Clark, valuable on special teams, looks like the fourth. Northcutt, rookie Tim Toone, Derrick Williams, Eric Fowler and Mike Moore are all on the bubble should the Lions decide to keep five receivers.

  • The Lions waived S Dave Roach injured (calf) and signed S John Wendling.

  • The Lions also signed defensive tackle Jaron Baston, OT Tyler Polumbus (on waivers from Denver), OT Cliff Louis and OG Noah Franklin last week.


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    While the Packers' passing game has been off-the-charts healthy this preseason, the offense has a major flaw to remedy before the start of the season.

    "The ball's been on the ground a little bit too much," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin lamented. "We haven't had a game yet where we haven't had a giveaway. That's a concern."

    Another lights-out performance by Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps in the Packers' 59-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 26 was blemished by fumbles from running backs Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.

    "I definitely think so," Rodgers responded, when asked afterward whether he has concerns about the ballhandling issues that have cropped up in the exhibition games. "Those guys got a tongue lashing at halftime. It's uncharacteristic for both of those guys."

    Thanks to Rodgers, the Packers overcame those ills to build a 28-17 halftime lead before their starters departed. Rodgers completed 21 of 29 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns.

    Through three games, Rodgers is 41-of-53 (77.4 percent) for 470 yards and league highs of six touchdowns and a 141.2 passer rating without an interception.

    "When we get into a rhythm like we have this preseason on offense, we're going to be tough to stop," Rodgers said. "It's fun."

    Conversely, Grant has two fumbles in three games, though his miscue against the Colts was recovered by center Scott Wells.

    Grant incidentally will enter the regular season with a career-high streak of 291 carries without a fumble — the longest active streak among NFL backs.

    His only fumble in 2009 came on a pass play in a Week 2 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Grant's last fumble by rush was Dec. 28, 2008, against the Detroit Lions.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy, who has little tolerance for fumbles, took Grant and Jackson out of the game after their first-half blunders last week. Jackson turned the ball over inside the Colts' 10-yard line.

    "We have to eliminate that from our play," McCarthy said. "It's kind of gone on a little too much. We've talked about it in practices and so far in the preseason. We train it every day, and we need to get rid of that."
    Jackson was beside himself for a while following his turnover. He didn't have a lost fumble his first three years in the league.

    "All I feel like is it's a steppingstone. It's just getting me better, hopefully," Jackson said. "You've got to learn through trial and error. But, after that, you'll probably never see that again."

    The Packers will need Grant and Jackson to be sure-handed with the football because they could be the only two halfbacks on the 53-man roster at the start of the season.

    Injuries have diminished the chances for others to make the team, particularly rookie James Starks.

    The sixth-round draft pick out of Buffalo has been out since the opening of training camp because of a pulled hamstring. Starks could wind up on injured reserve.

    Undrafted rookie Quinn Porter, an early standout in camp, suffered ankle and knee injuries the last two games, dimming his prospects for surviving the final roster cut.

    Fullback John Kuhn has the flexibility to play halfback, so the Packers can afford to stick with Grant and Jackson and free up a roster spot at another position.

    NOTES

  • Rookie lineman Bryan Bulaga didn't play in the Green Bay Packers' 59-24 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 26 because of a hip flexor, an injury that proved to be costly for the team's first-round draft pick in trying to win a starting job.
    Bulaga remained out of contact drills Sunday, the team's first day of practice since the game.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy announced after practice that veteran incumbent Daryn Colledge, who battled Bulaga most of training camp, would be the starter at left guard for the Sept. 12 season opener at the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Colledge had been working ahead of Bulaga since the rookie out of Iowa was moved from being exclusively a backup at left tackle a week into camp. Colledge and Bulaga alternated series with the No. 1 offense the first two preseason games, but Colledge took all of the snaps with the first group in the first half of the last outing with Bulaga out.

    "Availability is obviously the most important aspect of your job responsibility, and Daryn Colledge has done an excellent job of that throughout his career here," McCarthy said. "Daryn's playing good football. I like what I see so far from him in the preseason."

  • The Packers could go the entire preseason without their preferred starting defense together in a game.

    Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the team's sacks leader as a rookie in 2009, thinks he is healthy enough to play in the exhibition finale Thursday at the Kansas City Chiefs but won't be cleared until he passes conditioning tests.

    Matthews had been sidelined since aggravating a left hamstring injury in the team's scrimmage Aug. 7 but took a positive step toward returning to action when he suited up for the jog-through at the beginning of practice Sunday.

    Matthews doesn't think he will be affected for being mentally ready for the start of the season if the team errs on the side of caution one more week and ensures his availability for the Sept. 12 opener at the Philadelphia Eagles.

    "I feel just from practice and some live reps I should be good to go (for the season)," Matthews said.

    Brad Jones, the Packers' other projected starting outside linebacker, also has missed most of the preseason. A shoulder injury kept Jones out of the last two games before he returned for the jog-through Sunday.

    Brandon Chillar seemingly was in line to supplant the unavailable Jones as the starter on the right side. Yet, the coaches moved Chillar back to inside linebacker before the Colts game, and the versatile Chillar is penciled in for a nickel role ahead of starter A.J. Hawk.

  • The latest position switch for Chillar presented undrafted rookie Frank Zombo a golden opportunity as the fill-in starter at right outside linebacker against the Colts.

    Zombo responded with a strong effort that probably clinched him a spot on the 53-man roster after the converted defensive end was an afterthought early in training camp after he suffered an ankle injury.

    The Central Michigan product led the Packers defense for the second straight game in tackles with nine, none bigger than a sack of and strip of the football from Peyton Manning in the third quarter. The turnover led to a Green Bay touchdown.

    Thanks to a glut of injuries at linebacker, the 6-foot-3, 254-pound Zombo played every snap on defense in the game, working at both outside spots.

    "I think Zombo's getting better," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He's just getting better because he's working at it, getting the reps. He's made a play in every game."

  • As expected, the punting battle between first-year player Tim Masthay and Australian rookie Chris Bryan will go down to the preseason finale.
    Masthay may have gotten a slight leg up in what special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum previously called "a dead heat" with a game-changing punt late in the first half of the Colts contest.

    He hit a towering, 53-yard punt with five seconds of hang time that threw rookie returner Brandon James for a loop inside the 10-yard line. James signaled for a fair catch but muffed it as he stumbled backward. The football bounced into the end zone, where Korey Hall dived on it for a touchdown that put the Packers ahead 21-17.

    Slocum wasn't ready to say one kick made Masthay, who also did kickoffs in the second half of the game, the front-runner.

    "It's about the full body of work," Slocum said. "These games are very important in terms of performance, but we've got a lot to work with in terms of determining who our punter's going to be."

    The stats through the first three games favor Masthay. He has gross and net averages of 47.6 and 40.6 yards, respectively, in five punts, while Bryan's averages are 44.0 and 40.0 in six kicks.

    Masthay picked up where he left off in the Colts game with a strong performance in Sunday's practice.

  • The 59 points against the Colts was the Packers' most prolific preseason performance since a 75-0 win over the Cedar Rapids Crush on Sept. 5, 1938, in a game played at Ironwood, Mich.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Even though it doesn't count, but just in my book I can say my first NFL pick came from a Hall of Fame quarterback." — Rookie safety Morgan Burnett, on his first-half interception of a Peyton Manning pass in the Packers' 59-24 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 26.

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