NFC North Breakdown


Apr 24, 2006
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Posted Aug 26, 2008

Kyle Orton looked solid as the Bears’ new starting quarterback and Aaron Rodgers finally showed his potential in his latest outing. The Lions, meanwhile, are still looking to figure out their puzzle at linebacker. Get news, notes and quotes from the Vikings divisional rivals.


Coach Lovie Smith named Kyle Orton his starting quarterback to give Orton a few weeks to prepare for the regular-season opener, and he responded with a strong effort against San Francisco on Thursday. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 147 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He finished with a 126.3 passer rating.

Meanwhile, Grossman turned in his second consecutive lackluster performance, completing 1 of 4 passes for six yards. Granted, Grossman was hampered by poor offensive line play in the second preseason game, but he managed just 74 yards while hitting 9 of 15 passes and finished with a 44.9 passer rating as he failed to lead the offense past midfield in five possessions. Considering the line issues could linger well into the regular season, Smith needed to see more out of Grossman in Seattle to keep the competition open.

Orton finished 5-for-9 for 43 yards against the Seahawks, but was impressive in the two-minute offense, completing 5 of 7 passes — including four to wide receiver Brandon Lloyd for 37 yards.

Now that the Bears know who will be starting against the Colts, they have to address their pass-protection issues to give Orton a chance to succeed.

Left tackle Chris Williams’ rookie season is in jeopardy following back surgery. Instead of moving John Tait back to the left side, the Bears have thus far kept him at his more natural right tackle spot, where he swapped to after Williams was selected in the first round of last April’s draft.

Journeyman John St. Clair has been inserted at left tackle, where six of his 39 career starts have come. St. Clair played next to inexperienced second-year man Josh Beekman against Seattle and San Francisco with starting left guard Terrence Metcalf sidelined following a knee scope.

Metcalf is hoping to play in the final preseason game, giving Beekman a chance to win the starting job for the Colts game. It’s a crash-course for Beekman, who spent most of the offseason backing up center Olin Kreutz.

The Bears don’t know what they have along the offensive line or at quarterback, but the quarterback decision figures to be popular among Bears fans, who gave Orton a rousing welcome at the team’s Friday night practice at Soldier Field on Aug. 1 while Grossman was greeted by a mixture of cheers and boos.

When Orton takes the field against the Colts, he will be making just his fourth regular-season start since 2005, when he started 15 games as a rookie. Orton started the final three games last season after not seeing a single snap through the first 13 games.

Following a 20-13 loss at Minnesota in which he threw an interception, Orton completed 21 of 42 passes (50 percent) for 294 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in leading victories at home against Green Bay and New Orleans to close out the season.


At the conclusion of training camp 2008, coach Lovie Smith said most of the questions about Devin Hester’s ability to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL had been answered.

“Coming into camp we talked about him as a returner that a lot of people thought could play receiver,” Smith said. “Now, I think it’s safe to say that he’s a receiver. He’s doing all the things that we’ve asked him to do. I still make the same statement: I think he can be a one- or two-type receiver in the league. He’s dangerous when he has his hands on the football, and we’re excited about getting his hands on the ball in a lot of different ways.”

Hester had just one catch for minus-2 yards in the third preseason game against San Francisco.

Defensive tackle Tommie Harris has high expectations for this season, but the defense will have to stay healthier than last season for the Bears to live up to them.

“Why would I come to work if I didn’t expect (to be dominant)?” Harris said. “I don’t expect us to be at the bottom like we were last year. So we have a new year, a new slate, and let’s see the outcome.”

The Bears finished 28th in yards allowed last season, when Harris played hurt much of the year and fellow defensive tackles Dusty Dvoracek, Anthony Adams and Darwin Walker missed a total of 24 games because of injuries. The 2007 defense allowed 93 more points than the 2006 edition.

“I think it speaks for itself, the injuries,” Harris said. “If this unit is healthy, how far we can go? I think the sky’s the limit.”

RB Kevin Jones busted a 34-yard run on his first carry of the preseason last Thursday and looked like he could provide the depth the Bears were hoping for when they signed him in the offseason.

OG Josh Beekman has started all three preseason games at left guard in the absence of Terrence Metcalf (knee).

WR Rashied Davis caught four passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns in the third preseason game, vaulting himself into the thick of the wideout competition, which remains unclear, with five players in the running for significant playing time.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I was just completed disappointed with the entire effort. We’re a better defense than that. I thought after last week we would get that swagger back and come out strong. Every indication I got this week said that we would do that, but we didn’t get it done. We’ll go back, make the corrections and try to go from there.” — Coach Lovie Smith on the play of his defense in the 37-30 loss to San Francisco on Thursday.


Coach Rod Marinelli wanted to sign free agent Takeo Spikes to play strong-side linebacker. Spikes visited Detroit, the Lions put an offer on the table and Spikes signed with San Francisco.

So now what? The Lions have been trying to upgrade linebacker for months. They tried to trade for Jonathan Vilma, but the Jets traded him to the Saints instead. They kicked the tires on free agents Al Wilson and Dan Morgan, but didn’t sign them. They targeted Jerod Mayo in the draft, but New England nabbed him first and they settled for Jordon Dizon.

Now the Lions have some decisions to make. Ernie Sims is established on the weak side. But who is going to play the middle? And will anyone move from the middle to the strong side?

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said the Lions have no plans to move over any of their middle linebackers; Paris Lenon, Buster Davis or rookie Jordon Dizon. At least not yet.

“We haven’t even talked about that,” Barry said. “Now, three weeks is a lot of time. Things could happen.”

The Lions must cut their roster to 53 players Aug. 30 and open the regular season Sept. 7 at Atlanta. “The likelihood of us keeping three middle linebackers is low,” Barry said. “So I don’t think we’ll be stacked there when it comes to cutting time.

“However many linebackers we keep — six or seven — those will be the best six or seven linebackers. And the three guys that start will be the three best linebackers that we have on this team.”

The Lions have Alex Lewis, Leon Joe and Darnell Bing on the strong side, with Sims, Anthony Cannon, Gilbert Gardner and Tyrone Pruitt on the weak side.

The ideal scenario: Dizon wins the middle linebacker job, and Lenon moves to the strong side. When the Lions were looking at middle linebackers in the off-season, it was with the idea of moving Lenon.

The Lions think Lenon could switch to the strong side easily. The problem is that the middle linebacker position is so demanding and Dizon is so inexperienced.

Barry was asked why the Lions don’t move Davis or Dizon to the strong side now, so one of them can get as many reps as possible at the position.

“There’s some people that dual-train their linebackers,” Barry said. “I’m not from that school. If a kid has a thousand reps in training camp, I want him to get a thousand reps at one position.”

Perhaps the Lions want to give Dizon every opportunity to learn middle linebacker and win the job, at least eventually. It’s also easier to go from the middle to the outside than the other way around.


Quarterback Drew Stanton has a sprained right thumb and likely will be in a cast for four weeks. Stanton, a second-round pick, suffered a knee injury three days into training camp last year and spent his rookie season on injured reserve. Now he will miss the rest of this preseason — an important time in his development — and the start of the regular season. “I think it was really important for me to get a chance to get out there and kind of run the offense a little bit and see how things evolved right in front of my eyes,” Stanton said.

With Drew Stanton sidelined, the Lions signed quarterback Drew Henson to help them get through the last exhibition and perhaps to provide insurance on the practice squad. Henson, a two-sport star from suburban Detroit, played quarterback at Michigan, third base for the New York Yankees and quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. He also knows Lions quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler, who played and coached for the Wolverines. But he has been out of the NFL since Minnesota cut him last August. He worked out for Jacksonville last October but the Jaguars didn’t sign him.

Quarterback Jon Kitna doesn’t think he and wide receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson need to knock off any more rust in the Lions’ exhibition finale. “I don’t think there’s any rust,” Kitna said with a laugh. “I think that we’ve proven that there’s no rust. I don’t think we need more reps.” Kitna is 18-for-21 for 280 yards and two touchdowns — with no sacks, no interceptions and a passer rating of 150.5. Williams has five catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Johnson has nine for 170 and a TD. “We have some pretty good receivers,” Kitna said. “When we get protection, those receivers are not going to lose very often. I think we’ve proven that over the past couple years.”

The Lions drafted Gosder Cherilus in the first round this year to play right tackle, and he might be the starting right tackle before long. But he has taken some reps at left tackle over the past week. Cherilus played left tackle as a senior at Boston College. The Lions want him to be ready to play there in the NFL just in case. “Position flexibility is critical in this league,” coach Rod Marinelli said. “If somebody goes down, somebody’s got to be able to adjust.”

The Lions need flexibility all down the line with their backups. Jonathan Scott is also training at both tackles. The Lions have been looking for someone who can back up at center and guard — and ideally tackle, too. They signed veteran center Andy McCollum, who can also play guard, and tackle Damion Cook, who can play all three positions. “The biggest problem right now is finding out — who’s going to be those guys, who’s going to be that third flop tackle that can go left and right, because you’re always working those numbers all the time,” offensive coordinator Jim Colletto said.

Free agent center LeCharles Bentley visited the Lions, but no signing appears imminent. “Just brought him in to see where he’s at,” president Matt Millen said. “The next step would be to take a physical.”

Safety Daniel Bullocks (knee), tight end Dan Campbell (elbow) and wide receiver Shaun McDonald (knee) came off the physically unable to perform list. Bullocks hadn’t practiced in almost a year after suffering a torn ACL in the third exhibition last year. “At first, I had a little butterflies,” Bullocks said. “I’m just excited to get back out here and work with my team. I’m tired of watching from the sideline. Now it’s time to come back out here and play.”

Don’t tell Buster Davis he’s too short to play middle linebacker. “It’s an ignorant statement,” said Davis, who is 5-foot-9, the shortest player on the Lions’ roster, “because if we judge people by how big they are or how they ran in the combine or whatever the case may be, this NFL wouldn’t be what it is today. It’s really about guys who want to play the game of football no matter what the situation is, and I’m one of those guys.”

Security escorted a fan out of practice after he got into a verbal altercation with wide receiver Roy Williams. It was the first such incident since the Lions started opening training camp to the general public again last year. Mike Lazzara, 42, of Novi, Mich., repeatedly shouted to Williams about taking plays off. Williams walked over to the fence and suggested they switch jobs, then walked off. Williams said: “I would have climbed over the fence and climbed up in the stands if I had a problem. I didn’t have a problem with the dude. I like to interact with the fans. He had a little problem with me. I had no problem with him. I just wanted to hear his opinion. So it wasn’t a big deal to me. I’m sorry the guy got kicked out. But he did that, not me.”

The Lions had a couple of crowds in camp slightly over the announced capacity — more than 1,500 for their controlled scrimmage, more than 700 for one practice. They also had more than 500 for their first practice. For the most part, though, crowds were smaller. “I’d love to see this whole thing filled like we did that one Saturday,” Marinelli said. “Hopefully we’ll get that done someday.”

DT Shaun Cody, fighting to hold onto a job, showed up in the third exhibition against Cleveland and played well.

WR Devale Ellis, who seemed to have a hold on the fifth wide receiver and punt returner roles in camp, is now on the bubble.

OT Gosder Cherilus, the Lions’ first-round pick, continues to work as a backup at both tackle spots.

K Dave Rayner filled in well for K Jason Hanson against Cleveland, kicking field goals of 30, 38, 47 and 26 yards.

TE Dan Campbell has not played because of elbow and hamstring injuries, but the Lions hope he will be ready for the regular season.

CB Brian Kelly, an 11-year veteran of the Tampa Two system, has been rested often in camp and did not play against Cleveland. He had a cyst on the back of a knee drained, but mostly the Lions are just taking care of him.

QB Dan Orlovsky will enter the regular season as Jon Kitna’s primary backup. He had been battling Drew Stanton for the role, but Stanton will be out through the first two games of the regular season with a bruised thumb.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “If Randy Moss catches a ball on me, that’s expected. But I’ll tell you what: He’s going to have to work damn hard to catch it on me.” — Linebacker Buster Davis, on playing the middle at 5-foot-9.


Aaron Rodgers needed less than a week to right himself and the starting offense.

After enduring an abomination against San Francisco in his return to his native Northern California on Aug. 16, Rodgers experienced a 180-degree turnaround in helping the Packers score their first preseason victory, 27-24 at Denver on Aug. 22.

“The game just flowed a little bit, whereas (the previous week) maybe I was pressing a little bit much because I really wanted to play well,” Rodgers said.

He bounced back from a horrid 6-for-19, 58-yard, four-sack performance in the first half against the 49ers by completing 18 of 22 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown in playing a series into the third quarter Friday. Rodgers, who was sacked only once, also scored on a 1-yard sneak before checking out for the night.

He led the Packers to points in four of five possessions.

Rodgers acknowledged that his decision-making was far better than it was at San Francisco. His inability to get rid of the football contributed to the high sack total in that previous game.

“I was just a little quicker to those decisions this week, where last week I was holding the ball too long,” Rodgers said. “I really wanted to focus on making good decisions. I don’t think I took the checkdowns as much as I should have (against the 49ers), so I just wanted to take what the defense gave me. As we watched the film, (I realized) I’ve got to get the ball out of my hand quickly. That’s one thing that (predecessor) Brett (Favre) has done incredibly well throughout his career.

“My focus this (past) week was finding those checkdowns when nothing’s open downfield. I felt like guys got out for the checkdowns, and I threw the ball and let them make the play.”

The performance was pivotal because Rodgers probably won’t play more than a series or two in the final dress rehearsal for the regular season against Tennessee on Thursday night at Lambeau Field.


Giving Aaron Rodgers a lift early in the game against the Broncos was top receiver Donald Driver.

Guilty of a dropped pass in each of the first two preseason games, Driver was back to his sure-handed self. He had two receptions for 33 yards, including snaring a 10-yard dart from Rodgers across the middle for a touchdown on a third-and-3 play to complete a game-opening, 80-yard drive.

“We need to catch the football,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “(Dropping passes is) not the norm. It’s not the tendency here. We practice every day. We started out the first two games not catching the ball the way we are capable of catching the ball, so we need to catch the ball the way we are capable of catching the ball.”

The unsettled situation behind Aaron Rodgers on the quarterback depth chart didn’t have any resolution after three preseason games.

Neither Brian Brohm nor fellow rookie Matt Flynn did anything of note to help himself in the backup race. Brohm didn’t complete any of his four passes. Flynn completed both of his throws but for only two yards.

“I need to give Brian and Matt more opportunities in the passing game (in the preseason finale) because they didn’t have many opportunities (Friday),” McCarthy said.

Flynn was at the helm of the offense when it punched in the game-winning touchdown — a 1-yard run by undrafted rookie Kregg Lumpkin — late in the fourth quarter. An interception by Tracy White put the Packers at Denver’s 10-yard line, and Lumpkin covered the distance to the end zone with four straight carries.

Brohm still had the nod as the No. 2 QB entering the game. However, the second-round draft pick’s numbers in the preseason — 12-for-30, 103 yards, interception, no touchdowns — have paled in comparison to those of seventh-rounder Flynn (19-for-29, 132 yards, touchdown, no interceptions).

With final cutdown day approaching Saturday, the Packers have a challenging call on what to do at linebacker, which has stood out in training camp as one of its deepest position groups.

Green Bay has traditionally kept six linebackers on the 53-man roster but could be swayed to keep seven and perhaps eight, depending on the availability of injured weak-side starter A.J. Hawk (chest), for the start of the season.

The top backups to the trio of Hawk, Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga are Brandon Chillar, Tracy White, Desmond Bishop and Abdul Hodge, all of whom drew praise from coach Mike McCarthy for having good camps. McCarthy also hailed Spencer Havner, a first-year player, for his preseason contributions.

“We’re going to have some very tough choices to make there,” McCarthy said. “We haven’t had anything like that the first two years, so it is the deepest it has been since I have been here.”

OL Jason Spitz made the start at center against the Broncos in Scott Wells’ absence. Spitz, the incumbent starter at right guard, might have to hold down the center spot until Wells is pronounced fully recovered from his nagging injury.

OL Daryn Colledge could wind up the opening-day starter at left guard, the role he’s manned the previous two seasons, if the conditions for C Scott Wells and/or G Josh Sitton don’t improve in the next two weeks. Jason Spitz had been moved to the starting spot at left guard when Wells played in the second preseason game at San Francisco.

OL Tony Moll replaced the injured Josh Sitton with the No. 1 unit at right guard against the Broncos and will be given consideration to start there should the medical situations for both Sitton and C Scott Wells persist. Moll logged 13 starts, primarily at right guard, the previous two years.

DT Rodney Allen was signed to fill TE Evan Moore’s spot on the roster. The 6-foot-2, 315-pound Allen is an undrafted rookie from Kansas.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We just stunk. You can’t color it and put it in any other light. We flat-out stunk, and from an offensive standpoint, there’s nothing you can say. We flat-out were no good.” — Right tackle Mark Tauscher, on the Packers’ woeful performance in a 34-6 loss at San Francisco on Aug. 16.

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