NFC North Tour: Around Camps

Jay Cutler (AP)

In Chicago, quarterback Jay Cutler has taken a beating as he learns Mike Martz's offense. In Detroit, the defensive line is terrific but the linebackers and secondary have performed poorly. In Minnesota, Brett Favre is just one of the changes on offense.

Chicago Bears

In just more than five quarters of preseason action, quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked 10 times.

He's also been picked off twice, both in Saturday night's third straight preseason loss, in which the first-team offense failed to score at home against Arizona despite playing into the third quarter.

"We have a lot to improve on," center Olin Kreutz said. "We're nowhere near where we want to be."

The first-team offense played through the first possession of the second half, and the lack of production after halftime actually got worse. On the starters' last possession, Cutler was sacked for the fourth time. He avoided another potential sack when he scrambled for a 12-yard gain in the second quarter. In the Bears' previous game, while playing just the first half, Cutler was sacked five times.

On Saturday night, Cutler did not appear comfortable in the pocket, and he might be experiencing trust issues behind an offensive line that looks to be a long way from jelling.

"We had some protection issues last game," Cutler said. "There might have still been some little effects from that, just trusting the guys up there. We had a miscue on the first play, and from that point on it was just up and down."

After one second-half possession, the Bears made the wise decision to remove Cutler from the game rather than subject him to continued punishment and lack of success, along with the rest of the offensive starters.

"We're not playing good enough football, it's as simple as that," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We never got any consistency, and Jay was under too much pressure."

That's been the case the entire preseason, as a reworked offensive line struggles in protection. Cutler's night ended with a passer rating of 31.0 thanks to two interceptions. He completed 10-of-20 passes for 129 yards.

"That's not how we planned it," Smith said of the offensive ineptitude. "We had opportunities early on."

Extra points

— 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 on the Chicago Bears' roster — Caleb Hanie, Matt Gutierrez, and rookie Dan LeFevour — own in their combined careers. 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)," one Bears assistant said of the move.

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 with the depth behind him. Plus, Hanie, in whom the coaches have expressed solid support, is battling a right shoulder sprain. A sixth-round draft choice this year, LeFevour has struggled in camp and the preseason.

— 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).

All are expected back for the regular-season opener, if they're 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 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."

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 two huge tackles near the line of scrimmage with the Raiders inside the Bears' 5-yard line.

"He's about as complete of a defensive end as you'll see," 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."

Detroit Lions

The offense appears more than ready to start the regular season; the defense — not so much.

The Lions expended quite a bit of their resources in the offseason revamping the defensive line and with good results. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and defensive tackle Corey Williams were signed, Tackle Ndamukong Suh was taken with the second overall pick and they joined holdover end Cliff Avril to form a legitimate NFL-quality line.

And it has been strong through three exhibition games — putting steady pressure on quarterbacks and plugging running lanes.

But one unit doesn't a complete defense make. And the Lions' back seven remains as wobbly and vulnerable as ever. Teams are finding it easy to neutralize the aggression of the front four with screen passes and short routes and pick apart the linebackers and defensive backs.


Ndamukong Suh chases Jake Delhomme.
AP Images
Injuries aren't helping. Starting middle linebacker DeAndre Levy, after missing most of training camp with a back injury, pulled a groin muscle on the first play of the third exhibition game Saturday against Cleveland.

In the first exhibition game, backup middle linebacker Jordon Dizon was lost for the season with a knee injury.

With the long-term status of Levy unknown at this point, the Lions are down to special teams ace Vinny Ciurciu as their starting middle linebacker, and another special teams player Isaiah Ekejiuba as his backup.

The only known quantity at linebacker is aging weak-side 'backer Julian Peterson (32). Zach Follett, who at this time last season was trying to fight his way off the practice squad, is a first-year starter on the strong side.

The backups there are veterans Landon Johnson and Ashlee Palmer.

In the secondary, the Lions are holding their breath that safety Louis Delmas' groin holds up. He injured it in June and played for the first time on Saturday. He was on the field for 21 plays and said he felt no ill-effects.

The Lions would not be able to overcome losing Delmas for an extended length of time. The other starting safety, C.C. Brown, was out Saturday with a forearm injury. He is expected to be ready to start the regular season.

But after those two, the Lions are using two rookies — undrafted Randy Phillips, who has been a pleasant surprise, and third-round pick Amari Spievey, who was converted from cornerback last week.

Extra points

— 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 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.

— 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."

— 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.

— 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.

Minnesota Vikings

Coach Brad Childress isn't kidding when he describes his offense as being in flux.

Quarterback Brett Favre arrived on Aug. 17 after deciding he would play a 20th NFL season. Last week, the Vikings signed wide receiver Javon Walker and traded with Miami for receiver Greg Camarillo after learning that hip surgery would keep Sidney Rice sidelined for at least the first half of the season.

Then there was the return of wide receiver Percy Harvin for the Vikings' 24-13 victory over Seattle in a preseason game on Saturday. Harvin had taken part in only six practices since training camp started in large part because of his struggles with migraine headaches.


Brett Favre gets hit during the Seattle game.
AP Images
Finally, there is the matter of an offensive line that has been missing center John Sullivan for almost all of camp because of a calf injury. There are real questions if Sullivan will be ready for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener at New Orleans and on Saturday the Vikings started right guard Anthony Herrera at center and put rookie Chris DeGeare at guard.

Given all of the upheaval, it's not a complete surprise that Childress is considering playing the members of the first-team offense for a few series in the Vikings' exhibition finale on Thursday night against Denver at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome.

Ordinarily, the starters get rested for that game — and given that the Vikings open the season a week later at New Orleans that time off might help — but Childress has to be concerned with building continuity with an offense that finished second in scoring in the NFL last season.

"There's moving parts, there are parts that are still being added," Childress said when asked about his offense. "Whether it's the quarterback just getting here a couple of weeks ago, whether it's Camarillo just getting here or Percy coming back or that offensive line playing all together. It's still in flux. There's still a lot of work to do."

And not much time to do it.

Favre, who will turn 41 on Oct. 10 and swears this will be his last NFL season, is well aware of that fact. He was in for only four plays on Aug. 22 at San Francisco in his preseason debut, but did get seven full series against the Seahawks.

This included a 16-play drive in which he led to the Seattle 2-yard line. Unfortunately, for the Vikings the drive stalled and running back Adrian Peterson was stopped on fourth down.

"I needed it," Favre said of the extended work. "It was good work. I held up fairly well. I was tired and sweating, but really I felt like I was in the middle of the season. Making some of the reads and throws. I felt overall it was good work."

Favre said he would have no trouble with getting some more work against the Broncos.

"I'm never going to turn down playing," he said. "As tired as I was, I felt like I needed some more work and will lobby for that again this week. But I also know I have to be smart because it's a little bit different situation this year. We play Thursday and we play the following Thursday (in New Orleans). There's not a four-day window when we can relax. There's not a lot of time to get ready but there's not a lot of time to recover."

Extra points

— Brett Favre's thrice-operated-on left ankle continues to get treatment. According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Favre got "an injection of lubricant" in his left ankle following the Vikings' win on Saturday night.

Favre had scar tissue and bone spurs removed from the ankle in late May and he said earlier this month that another bone spur was discovered to have formed between that surgery and his follow-up appointment about a month ago.

"It's catching up with me, all this stuff,'' said Favre, who turns 41 in October.

— Harvin missed much of training camp because of problems with migraines and even collapsed on the practice field one day after experiencing the debilitating headaches. But Harvin played against the Seahawks after seeing more doctors and seems encouraged he has made progress in coming closer to resolving the issue. "We have a great plan," Harvin said after catching two passes for 30 yards. "We're all feeling confident. I know we've said that a couple of times now. But I think this time we found what the main cause was."

— NT Pat Williams is looking forward to playing the Saints in the regular-season opener after the Vikings lost at New Orleans in the NFC title game last season. "It's real personal," he said. "Basically, I dislike the Saints. I dislike losing and I live there. So, I dislike everything about Louisiana."

— CB Asher Allen, a third-round pick in 2009 from Georgia, likely will win the job as the nickel back now that Benny Sapp has been traded to the Miami Dolphins.

— CB Chris Cook played well on the right side against Seattle and could have put himself in position to be the starter on Sept. 9 in New Orleans. Lito Sheppard started the first game of the preseason and Allen started the second. But Cook has played well all of camp and continues to look comfortable. Sheppard, meanwhile, has rarely flashed all through the preseason.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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