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There are two things the Detroit Lions desperately need as the franchise tries to win its first playoff game in more than 20 years: Defensive linemen and offensive linemen.

Though it is somewhat likely the Lions will go with one of those positions in the first round of this spring's NFL draft in Chicago, where they go has varied.

In his latest mock draft, Todd McShay has looked squarely at the offensive line Insider and taken the most versatile lineman out there: Florida State's Cameron Erving.

Erving would make perfect sense for Detroit because of how he plays. He's someone who will grade out as one of the best centers in the draft should the Lions -- or any team -- choose to use him there. Prior to this season, though, he was an offensive tackle for the Seminoles and did well enough there to start on a national championship team. His size, at 6-foot-5, 313 pounds, could move him to any position on the line if need be, including guard if the Lions feel comfortable with their tackle and center situations.

"When I made the switch, a lot of people asked me how I felt about it in terms of the NFL. That wasn’t on my mind," Erving said of the position switch last week at the NFL combine. "I mean, I’ve always been the type of person that does what’s best for the team. When I moved from defense (after freshman season) that was what was best for the team. And that’s how I did.

"As far as moving from tackle to center, it’s what the team needed at the time. So I did it."

Erving started his career as a defensive tackle at Florida State before moving over to offensive tackle in 2012. The other potential option here is if the Lions were to draft Erving -- or another tackle -- in the first round, this could potentially help the franchise move current left tackle Riley Reiff inside to guard.

General manager Martin Mayhew is all about versatility -- especially in this draft -- and Erving would present the most versatile player possible on the offensive line in the Class of 2015.
As Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox evaluate Jay Cutler to determine whether to bring him back for the 2015 season, ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden thinks it’s time the club gives another signal-caller an opportunity.

Asked on ESPN "Mike & Mike" on Thursday what would go into the final decision regarding Cutler, Gruden said, “I think John Fox is going to look at the body of work. They’re going to see that he didn’t get it done really with Lovie Smith or Marc Trestman, and now I’m the next head coach. I think you need to give some other people an opportunity to play. I think some of these quarterbacks get too many chances. There are good enough players out there that deserve a chance to be the quarterback of the Chicago Bears.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJay Cutler got a $126.7 million extension from the Bears in January 2014, but the team is still exploring its options at quarterback.
In six seasons with the Bears, Cutler produced a regular-season record of 44-38 and has thrown 129 touchdown passes to go with 93 interceptions for a passer rating of 84.3.

The new regime’s intense evaluation of Cutler stems from his seven-year, $126.7 million extension signed last January. Cutler’s $15.5 million base salary for 2015 is already fully guaranteed, but if the quarterback remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year (March 12), he’s guaranteed another $10 million of his 2016 salary.

“I know he has talent,” Gruden said. “But I don’t think he warrants that salary for sure. I think Chicago needs to look at getting a different leader under center.”

It’s clear the new regime has at least explored that possibility. The club met recently at the NFL combine in Indianapolis with former backup Josh McCown for breakfast in a restaurant inside the team’s hotel.

"[The] meeting went really well. [I] enjoyed spending time with them," McCown told ESPN.

McCown played for Fox in Carolina (2008-09) and spent three seasons with the Bears (2011-13) before signing a two-year deal to join former coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers released McCown on Feb. 11.

McCown played a significant role in Chicago, helping the club to implement a new offense under Trestman and former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, and was often described by former Bears general manager Phil Emery as "a glue guy" in the locker room.

McCown played eight games during his last season in Chicago (2013), winning three games in five starts while filling in for an injured Cutler. McCown performed well enough to stir debate about whether he should be the full-time starter over Cutler.

“Two years ago, the Bears were on the brink of going to the playoffs because of Josh McCown’s play,” Gruden said. “Josh McCown played great for Marc Trestman. He fit that system. He understood it. He looked like he was in rhythm. He won a lot of games just two years ago for the Bears. He’s available. You can bring Josh McCown back. Jake Locker, possibly. There are some quarterbacks out there that need a new place to go. We were in Super Bowl XXXVII with Brad Johnson, I think he was on his third team. Rich Gannon was on his fifth team. Steve Young never started until he was 30 years old. We live in a day where everything has to happen right now, or let’s get him out of here. Some of these guys are going to prove to you that they can play. They just need a new setting.”

Perhaps that also includes Cutler.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Whatever you thought of A.J. Hawk's nine years with the Green Bay Packers, remember this: It was never his fault that general manager Ted Thompson picked him fifth overall in the 2006 draft.

Hawk made only one Pro Bowl, and even then he wasn't voted in. He went as an alternate in 2010 -- the season the Packers won the Super Bowl.

Maybe the Packers would have been better off with Vernon Davis, the tight end whom Thompson bypassed in order to pick Hawk. Davis remains with the San Francisco 49ers, who picked him right after Hawk came off the board, and he has been voted to a pair of Pro Bowls.

But even at No. 5, there are no guarantees. None of the three players picked in that spot in the three drafts that followed -- Levi Brown (2007), Darren McFadden (2008) and Mark Sanchez (2009) -- was ever voted to the Pro Bowl. Same thing with the player taken at No. 5 the year before Hawk -- Cadillac Williams.

[+] EnlargeAJ Hawk
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh"I try to look at it like, 'Hey, man, I was lucky enough to get nine years there and win a ring,'" A.J. Hawk said. "I wish we would've won more rings, but I wish them the best."
Imagine how Hawk's Packers career, which ended Wednesday when he was released, would be viewed if he would have been picked, say, at No. 30, where Thompson will select this year.

Or in the second round. Or the third round.

You'd be putting him in the Packers Hall of Fame.

He might end up there anyway because, if nothing else, he was a durable, long-lasting player who did whatever the coaches asked. He epitomized what the Packers want in one of their guys. In his nine years, he played in 142 of a possible 144 games and ended his career as the team's all-time leading tackler.

Thompson called Hawk "a consummate Packer" in the statement that announced his release.

If the NFL Players Association wanted an example for players to follow upon their release, they should distribute this 30-minute video Hawk released on Wednesday. In it, he described how the Packers notified him that he would be released -- he was on a charity cruise when they told him last week, and they said they would wait until he returned before they announced it.

"That just goes to show you the type of guys they are, the kind of organization they run," Hawk said in the video. "They were looking out for me even throughout this, and how I would feel. They don't need to do that."

He added: "They stayed awesome throughout this whole process. They've been super classy like they have my whole nine years there."

Yes, at the end, Hawk's deficiencies were obvious. Maybe it was because of his bum ankle, which required surgery after the season to remove bone spurs, even though he refused to concede that it impacted his play.

Whatever lateral movement he had as a young player, and even that was limited, was gone. All you had to do was watch him try to cover Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph on the opening play of the Nov. 23 game at Minnesota. Rudolph caught a pass 2 yards from the line of scrimmage and ran away from Hawk for a 23-yard gain.

It was no coincidence that Hawk's playing time began to diminish the following week against the New England Patriots. By season's end, the only time defensive coordinator Dom Capers used Hawk was in the base 3-4 defense. In some games, such as the Dec. 8 Monday nighter against the Atlanta Falcons, that meant Hawk played just eight of 67 defensive snaps. Over the final six games of the season, including the playoffs, Hawk's highest snap total was 32 of 68 plays in the Dec. 14 loss at the Buffalo Bills.

Yet he never complained -- not during the season and not now.

"I try to look at it like, 'Hey, man, I was lucky enough to get nine years there and win a ring,'" Hawk said. "I wish we would've won more rings, but I wish them the best. No ill will towards anybody there, honestly, players, coaches, front office. I'm not leaving there bitter at all."
This seemed inevitable for months now, from the moment Reggie Bush injured his ankle during the fifth week of the season and Theo Riddick darted through the Minnesota defense on the opening drive the following week.

Riddick
Even when the Lions drafted Riddick in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, his skills were similar enough to Bush's -- then the Lions' top offseason free-agent acquisition -- that it seemed like the team signed its present and drafted its future, all in the same two-month span.

It turns out that's exactly what happened, as the Lions cut Bush on Wednesday after two years with the team and with two years left on his four-year contract.

But Bush's fate with the Lions was sealed as much by his inability to stay on the field -- he played 11 games in 2014 and has had only two seasons in which he played all 16 games -- as it was Riddick's emergence in the backfield.

The questions continued to come throughout the season, especially as Riddick played well in Bush's absence. Bush still had the occasional explosiveness. Riddick was the more consistent presence as a receiving back, which essentially became the role for Bush and Riddick in the Detroit offense.

Riddick, who has only 29 career carries and no rush longer than 9 yards, will never be mistaken for a between-the-tackles back, but neither was Bush. When it comes to receiving, though, Riddick had the superior season, even with fewer repetitions. Riddick had 34 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns, many of those plays coming in big spots.

He had the game-winning touchdown against Miami. He had a massive one-handed catch on the final drive against Atlanta, as well as a touchdown reception. Not coincidentally, Riddick had his most receptions (eight) and targets (12) against Atlanta, a game in which Bush was sidelined.

Riddick was productive when he played but was often behind Bush when he was healthy -- relegating Riddick to becoming the two-minute back because of his work out of the backfield.

Now his role could greatly expand in 2015, or at least he'll be the first player to have a shot at taking the snaps vacated by Bush's release.

"It depends on what we want to do, but he's capable of carrying it more than what we gave it to him," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said last week. "But he’s also, you can also see his numbers of out of the backfield, catching the ball. Things of that nature, they jump out at you.

"So he's got a unique skill there, but he's also a good ball carrier, so we'll see how that goes."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Any football department run by a general manager as meticulous as the Minnesota Vikings' Rick Spielman -- who rates draft prospects down to the thousandth of a point -- is going to have a fairly high view of information gathering.

Before Spielman hired Mike Zimmer in January 2014, he studied 13 different backgrounds for potential head coaches. The GM routinely charts in-game decisions, and went through a litany of scenarios with Zimmer before his first games as a head coach last fall. Spielman, Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner crisscrossed the country last spring, interviewing passers who could be the Vikings' next QB of the future. If the Vikings' front office is ever going to be accused of falling short in any one area, preparedness will not be it.

There's a difference between accumulating data and using it to shape a significant number of decisions, however. And in a league that probably still ranks among the least data-dependent of the four major U.S. sports, the Vikings ranked among the 12 teams listed as analytics "skeptics" in ESPN's Great Analytics Rankings, which attempted to measure how heavily all 122 North American major pro teams use analytics. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote, the Vikings don't have a full-time employee devoted to analytics, and it's unclear how much the team relies on data findings in its decisions. Coach Mike Zimmer leaned on the traditional side of fourth-down decisions, going for it just three times before the fourth quarter in 2014.

The Vikings made their skepticism about Pro Football Focus clear last season, particularly when the name of left tackle Matt Kalil came up, but that stemmed more from a belief that outside sources don't have all the information to thoroughly evaluate the team than it did from an inherent aversion to new schools of thought. When I covered the team for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, I talked with Spielman about his approach to analytics, and the methods the Vikings use to evaluate draft picks. Essentially, the team takes all of its combine data, in-house ratings and psychological evaluations of players and feeds them into a giant database, looking for precedents. If the Vikings can find a player with similar attributes who has since been successful in the NFL, they might be more willing to consider a prospect whose measurables would otherwise invite skepticism. But for Spielman and Zimmer, the tape still takes precedent.

When I've talked with Spielman about the Vikings' analytics use, he hasn't seemed particularly interested in standing out, so he's likely happy the team is lumped with more than one-third of the league in one of the middle quartiles of our survey. The Vikings certainly use analytics as a tool, but to say they have a deep reliance on them would probably be stretching it.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The staffer walked around the locker room daily after practices and walkthroughs. He’d go to each player and quickly click on a sensor.

Sometimes, he’d grab the heart monitors from the shirts of Detroit Lions players.

Every scan had a purpose, information gathering used to try and help the Lions win games Sundays as they searched for some sort of edge over the rest of the teams in the league. Every team in the NFL -- and every player in the league -- has radio frequency technology in their shoulder pads and around stadiums on game day to measure various movements.

[+] EnlargeTom Lewand
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiTeam president Tom Lewand and the Lions utilize analytical technology as a valuable piece of supplemental data.
 The Lions are believed to be the only team in the league to use the radio-based technology daily. The team, using a system installed by Zebra Technologies, had sensors sewn into practice jerseys to be able to track information even during non-padded practices as part of their analytic analysis. This goes along with a heart rate monitor the Lions players wear on Zephyr undershirts specifically equipped with a snap-on sensors to measure other performance levels.

“At first it’s weird, but once you’re out there at practice, your mind is on everything else,” receiver Ryan Broyles said last season. “When you’re out there and you’ve got pads on and all that stuff, it’s not really that big of a deal. But it tracks a lot of stuff.

“It tracks how fast you go, how much force you put in the ground, the distance you cover and the heart rate monitor shows how high your heart rate is or your intensity is.”

The Lions deem this information valuable as supplemental data. The technology helped with measuring a player’s true recovery from injury. In at least one instance last season, a player thought he was ready to return but the data collected by the franchise and then measured to the recovering player had him sit out one more week.

The Zephyr tracker and the Zebra technology have combined to give Detroit a still-emerging picture of how deep analytics could go. Team president Tom Lewand told ESPN.com last season the Lions had their system specifically developed and installed in their Allen Park, Michigan practice facility. This included sensors -- essentially looking like ordinary poles -- around the outskirts of the practice field to help measure various levels of output and distance.

“It gives you a good sense of how much work is being done by the players, how much physical exertion and some other things,” Lewand said. “Without getting too much into the detail of it, it certainly can measure a lot of the physical activity and physical load not just from a distance and miles run, but actually how much exertion there is, what heart rates are, those kinds of things.”

Lewand often declined to give specifics of the system -- one he said was the only one of its kind in the NFL -- during an interview with ESPN.com. Players throughout the season said the coaching staff used the information to taper practices based off the data.

The franchise installed the system on a minimal basis in 2013 and used it extensively for the first time last season. The Lions are tweaking it constantly to find new uses for it. One use came in using the technology to help give information about free agents the team worked out weekly.

Lewand said Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been “a huge part of developing it and customizing” the technology based on what his coaching staff wants to see since being hired in January, 2014. As for exactly what that data is -- Lewand and the Lions declined to delve into specifics. In addition to the system, the Lions had senior coaching assistant Gunther Cunningham dive heavily into analytics and Pro Football Focus last season -- something broken down well by The MMQB.

As far as games go -- and this is something he said could be implemented league-wide eventually -- the system they have can overlay routes run onto game film to measure exact distances covered. It can tell how close a receiver was running to a defensive back and how fast they are in comparison to each other. It can tell how fast a defensive lineman moves off the ball.

All of this information could end up working their way into coaching information and even television broadcasts. This has already shown up when broadcasts show how far a player ran when breaking down certain plays.

That, though, is just the beginning of what can be done.

“I think you’ll see those statistics start coming out as part of the growth of that particular industry,” Lewand said. “As far as the possibilities internally, there are a lot. We’re using some now.

“We’re exploring some other ones actively, and I’m sure there are other ones that our imaginations haven’t gotten to yet.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The media portion of the NFL combine has ended, and while the actual event continues through Monday, here are some quick-hit impressions following four days in Indianapolis.

1. The defensive tackles in this draft really respect and study Ndamukong Suh. That was brought up over and over again throughout interviews with defensive linemen, including Texas tackle Malcom Brown, who Mel Kiper Jr. has predicted to the Lions in the first round. Florida State’s Eddie Goldman, another tackle target, said he started watching Suh when Suh was a freshman at Nebraska. Considering one of these tackles could end up replacing Suh if he leaves during free agency, that’s critical they would know what they are getting into.

2. This could be another good receiver draft. It’s unlikely the Lions are going to take a receiver in the first round – and probably not the second round, either – but there seems to be some depth to this class. Considering the team’s options behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, that’s a pretty important thing to note for the middle rounds. He doesn’t have the stats of the rest of the guys in his class, but Darren Waller could be an intriguing pick for the Lions or someone else in the mid-to-late rounds. He is 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds. He will be a developmental project in the league, but his 4.46 40-yard dash time should catch the eyes of some teams.

3. The Lions are expecting even more from Ezekiel Ansah. General manager Martin Mayhew praised Ansah again after two seasons where he continued to exceed expectations. Over the past two seasons, Ansah ranks in the top 25 of defensive linemen in sacks (15.5) and continues to grow. The improvement has been vast and Mayhew said he’s still working on his pass-rush skills. “He’s still got more improving he can do,” Mayhew said. “This is a really big offseason for him, I think, as far as coming back and building on what he’s started building.”

4. There were a ton of prospects in Indianapolis, but a couple stood out to me at least in the media room. Quinten Rollins from Miami (Ohio) is not going to be as experienced as almost any other cornerback taken in the draft, but he could end up being worth it. He made the conversion from playing point guard for Miami (Ohio) to cornerback and became the MAC player of the year. He has a lot of room to grow and has great size. If the Lions truly plan on drafting a corner to maybe learn for a year behind Rashean Mathis, he could be a smart selection. Also, guard Laken Tomlinson made an immediate impression in front of the media.

5. It sounds like the Lions are still trying to figure out the exact role for tight ends. Mayhew explained that the three tight ends Detroit has are pretty diverse but the second year of the offense should focus that. Don’t expect to see Brandon Pettigrew revert to a pass-catching tight end, though, because of Tate, Johnson, Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria and the running backs. The amount of targets just won’t be there.

6. At least from the way Mayhew talked during the combine, he is expecting big things out of the offense and coordinator Joe Lombardi in 2015. A multitude of factors – injuries, inexperience in the new offense, offensive line struggles – hampered the offense. With another offseason to work and theoretical roster upgrades, some of those problems from 2014 should not be issues in 2015.
INDIANAPOLIS – Some people see the number 32 when they look at Tramon Williams.

His agent sees a different number: 140.

Yes, the Green Bay Packers cornerback will turn 32 on March 16, and that's antediluvian to general manager Ted Thompson, who had only two players older than 31 on the roster last season.

Williams
But this is what Williams' agent, Rodney Williams (no relation), hopes the Packers see: Since he first made the Packers' roster in 2007, Tramon Williams has played in 140 out of a possible 141 games (including playoffs).

"Everybody looks at that number 32, and it's based strictly on whether you're going to start breaking down and missing games," Rodney Williams said at the NFL scouting combine. "You're talking about a guy who's played in 140 out of 141 games, so if there's any player on that team that's going to show up every day, it's Tramon Williams, so I think that's going to be the exception to that age number that some people are putting out."

At this point, Williams doesn't know what the Packers are thinking. The agent said he did not know whether the Packers want his client back and if they do, at what price?

While Thompson said earlier this week that "it's no secret that we try to keep and maintain our own guys as much as possible," they haven't begun any talks with Williams.

According to several people at the combine with knowledge of how the Packers are operating, Thompson and vice president of player finance Russ Ball have been focused on re-signing their top two free agents, receiver Randall Cobb and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.

With the NFL's legal free-agent tampering period to begin in two weeks, everything that isn't related to Cobb and Bulaga appears to be on hold.

"We'll talk at some point and we'll get a better feel then," Rodney Williams said. "He's OK either way. It's a good time to be in either situation."

Rodney Williams keeps going back to that durability, which is an attribute NFL coaches, especially Mike McCarthy, love.

The only game Tramon Williams missed in his career came in 2011, and he probably should have missed the whole season. He wrecked his shoulder so badly in the season opener that he had nerve damage that lasted all season. Instead, he came back two weeks later and finished the season.

The lasting image of Williams is the 35-yard touchdown pass that Seattle Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse caught on him in overtime to win the NFC Championship Game, but he had an otherwise productive season. He tied for the team lead with three regular-season interceptions. He was a part of a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL in passing yards allowed and, of course, he played more snaps (1,134 or 93.1 percent of the plays) than anyone on the Packers' defense.

Williams made $7.5 million last season, which was the final year of four-year, $33 million contract extension he signed late in the 2010 season.

"It's a tough proposition for those guys because if you looked at age alone and saw 32, he'd probably be gone," Rodney Williams said. "But if you look at his productivity and see where's he's at, that's something they have to take a look at."
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace met Wednesday with the media at the NFL combine, and several other interview sessions commenced Friday involving general managers and head coaches around the league. Here’s what we’ve learned about the Bears:

Inside linebackers on radar: Multiple sources indicate the Bears are looking to add inside linebackers in free agency. Interestingly, the current roster features some intriguing possibilities at the position in Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene and the recently re-signed DeDe Lattimore, along with pending veteran free agent Lance Briggs. The team’s interest level in re-signing Briggs is unclear. Briggs earned $4.75 million in base salary in 2014, and likely won’t be able to command such a lucrative salary in free agency.

The Bears will meet with reps for New York Jets free agent inside linebacker David Harris this week at the combine, according to a source. Harris has generated 100-plus tackles in each of the last three seasons and hasn’t missed a game since 2008.

Jay Cutler-friendly staff: At least on the surface, it appears that the new staff is Cutler-friendly it its hiring of offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

According to multiple sources, Cutler started to grow close to Gase after spending considerable time with the former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator at the wedding of former Bears quarterbacks coach Shane Day, a disciple of former Bears coordinator Mike Martz. Cutler has wanted to work with Gase for a long time. Interestingly, Martz tried to bring aboard Gase back in 2010 as the quarterbacks coach, but the Denver Broncos wouldn’t allow him out of his contract, which led to the hiring of Day.

It goes even deeper than that, though.

Back in 2012, Cutler wanted former Bears coach Lovie Smith to hire Loggains, but he wasn’t allowed out of his contract with the Tennessee Titans. Cutler and Loggains have a close personal relationship, according to sources, and both the quarterback and coach have wanted to work with one another for quite some time.

So while Fox and Pace have been noncommittal regarding Cutler, the club’s recent hires indicate the team ultimately wants to make things work with the quarterback.

Amari Cooper high on Mike Groh: The Alabama receiver complimented Bears assistant coach Groh for his attention to detail, according to this piece by ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson.

“He’s really diligent in the way he wants to teach us,” said Cooper, projected as a first-round pick. He’ll go out and watch a lot of film on other guys, NFL wide receivers, and come back and try to teach it to us so we can be the best we can be.”

Groh worked with Cooper at Alabama from 2011-12 as the team’s receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed and heard at the NFL combine on Friday:

Don’t blame Slocum: If you want to blame former Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum for the botched onside kick recovery in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks, you should know this: According to a person familiar with Slocum’s instructions on the sideline, one of the last things he told his hands team before the play was this: "If your name isn't Jordy Nelson or Micah Hyde, don't try to field the ball." Of course, we all know that Brandon Bostick, who was released earlier this week, tried to catch it and failed, allowing the Seahawks to recover. Two weeks later Slocum, whose special teams units were problematic all season and allowed the Seahawks to run a fake field goal for a touchdown, was fired.

Zimmer on Bostick: After the Minnesota Vikings claimed Bostick off waivers, coach Mike Zimmer told reporters who cover his team that Bostick will add depth and competition at the tight end position. And then Zimmer joked, "We'll try not to put him on the onside kick team."

Meet the linebackers: A day after coach Mike McCarthy more or less said inside linebacker is the Packers' greatest need this offseason, two of the top inside linebackers in the draft -- Missississppi State's Benardrick McKinney and Miami's Denzel Perryman -- both confirmed they have formal interviews scheduled with the Packers during the combine. The Packers began their overhaul at the position by releasing veteran Brad Jones on Friday.

Big things for Janis: For those fans who wondered why receiver Jeff Janis couldn't get on the field much last year as a rookie, know this: McCarthy still has high hopes for the former seventh-round pick who spent most of last season on the inactive list. Janis was active for only three games and played just 15 snaps on offense. He caught two passes for 16 yards. "I thought probably after Thanksgiving, I thought Jeff really picked it up," McCarthy said. "He was more comfortable, and so I look for him to take a step. He's got to play with extension. That's the one thing he has to do a better job of, but you can see it on the scout team, and at the end of the year he was running some really good routes. Really good routes."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Last spring, when Adrian Peterson was still stung by the Minnesota Vikings' decision to fire Leslie Frazier and still unsure about his future with the team, he traveled to the Twin Cities for some rehab work following groin surgery. Peterson got to meet the Minnesota Vikings' new head coach, Mike Zimmer, and something about the coach quickly won him over.

"I have a thing about me, that I'm able to look people in the eyes and kind of get a feel for them," Peterson said. "He just came off as an honest person. Before then, all I was hearing was good things about him. But just looking at him, having that eye contact with him, I could see the fire in him. I could see the rugged [personality] in him as well, but also someone who's considerate as well. In the time I've been around him, that's pretty much how he is."

[+] EnlargeZimmer/Peterson
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiAdrian Peterson has misgivings about returning to Minnesota following his suspension last season, but Mike Zimmer, left, has the running back's respect.
At this point, with Peterson still harboring concerns about returning to Minnesota following his suspension last season, Zimmer might be the man with the best shot to fix it.

The coach is prohibited from participating in meetings with players before the start of the Vikings' offseason workout program on April 20, and unless U.S. District Court Judge David Doty orders the NFL to reinstate Peterson sooner, the running back can't rejoin the league until at least April 15 anyway. But if Peterson is unsure who he can trust, and uneasy about whether people will be honest with him, Zimmer's words at least have the potential to cut through that.

"Coach Zimmer -- I love that guy, even though I only played one game for him," Peterson said on Thursday night. "Coach (Norv) Turner, Kirby (Wilson), the running backs coach, I have a lot of respect for those guys there. But it boils down to just my family and I being happy."

If Peterson decides he can't be happy in Minnesota -- and he still sounded unsure about that prospect on Thursday night -- he said he knows the Vikings won't force him to stay. Still, the team hasn't planned on cutting Peterson, and it seems unlikely they will give up without taking another shot to reconcile things at this point.

It would ultimately be Zimmer, Turner, and Wilson who Peterson deals with on a daily basis, not ownership or the front office. Perhaps Zimmer can, at the very least, convince Peterson to sign up for one year of holy terror on the field, prove to everyone what kind of player he still is and move on from there. Perhaps Peterson's concerns are too deep-seeded for that to work. But it's clear the coach earned Peterson's respect in their short time working together, and the Vikings should at least give Zimmer a chance to try.

"I would respect Adrian’s decision (if he didn't want to be here)," Zimmer said in a Pro Football Talk interview in January. "I’ll always be honest with him and up front, but I’m going to try to explain to him the reasons why I would like for him to be here. But it has to be a two-way street, and he has to get his life taken care of. But we’ll sit down and talk, and I’m a pretty good recruiter, too."

The running back said on Thursday night that he wished it only took a conversation to fix things, but "it's way deeper than that. People are saying what they need to say. In any situation, people will say whatever they need to say to heal the wounds and make things better."

There likely wouldn't be any fluff in what Peterson hears from Zimmer. It would be candid, impassioned, and direct. But Peterson found he could trust that approach from Zimmer once before. Maybe the coach can convince the running back to trust the Vikings again.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Consensus first-round pick Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper complimented Chicago Bears assistant Mike Groh's attention to detail when asked Friday to describe the impact Groh had on the wideouts' spectacular collegiate career.

Groh, the club's highly regarded wide receivers coach since 2013, worked with Cooper at Alabama when he served as the Crimson Tide's receivers coach and recruiting coordinator from 2011-2012, helping lead the program to back-to-back national championships.

"Coach Groh is a great coach," Cooper said at Lucas Oil Stadium. "He's really specific. He's really diligent in the way he wants to teach us. He'll go out and watch a lot of film on other guys, NFL wide receivers, and come back and try to teach it to us so we can be the best we can be."

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects the Oakland Raiders selecting Cooper with the No. 4 overall choice.

The Bears jettisoned the majority of the coaching staff upon the firing of Marc Trestmam, but the team reached an agreement to extend Groh's contract on Jan. 30, making him one of only two holdovers (along with outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt) from the old regime.

Under Groh, the Bears have had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons -- Alshon Jeffery (2013, 14) and Brandon Marshall (2013).
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ted Thompson helped Mike McCarthy think through his decision to give up play-calling duties, but the Green Bay Packers general manager said he did not influence his coach one way or the other.

"Most of that was his own thinking," Thompson said at the NFL scouting combine. "We had conversations. I was aware of what he was thinking and that sort of thing."

McCarthy
McCarthy
That was Thompson's answer during his combine press conference, and later in the hallway at Lucas Oil Stadium he expanded on what he meant when he said most of that was McCarthy's idea.

"We don't discuss things like that," Thompson said. "I say that, we discuss all sorts of things, but the minute details of the coaching and that sort of thing, I leave that up to Mike. I think that's a good decision on my part."

However, Thompson said McCarthy did bounce the idea off Thompson.

When McCarthy announced the change earlier this month, he said both Thompson and Packers president Mark Murphy expressed surprise when he broached the subject with them.

"He didn't come to me to be challenged, and I didn't try and challenge him," Thompson said. "We just talked it out, just like any two friends would. It's an important setup: how the team is treated, how the access to the head coach, what the different jobs of each one of the coaches is. That's a big thing to kind of work out. He worked it out, and we'll see."

Thompson seemed to think that McCarthy could one day return to play calling, saying "a lot of this stuff is not necessarily set in stone."

But listening to McCarthy talk this week, he doesn't seem to be looking back.

"I'm going to spend more time in areas I haven't spent time in," McCarthy said referring to special teams and defense. "That's the biggest change I'm going to make. And I'm not saying that just because I'm there it’s going to be 100 times better. I felt like I was really stretched this year. I felt really, really stretched."
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A deep draft class at defensive end features five players projected by ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. to be taken in the top 15 picks.

Included in the group is charismatic University of Florida product Dante Fowler, whose positional versatility could intrigue the Chicago Bears as the team attempts to stockpile defensive ends/outside linebackers that better fit the new hybrid 3-4 defense.

Fowler recorded three sacks in the Gators’ 28-20 victory against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on January 3, giving him 14.5 sacks over his three years in Gainesville.

"I really can play anywhere," Fowler said Friday. "[Former Florida] head coach Will Muschamp’s defense was multiple; we played a 3-4 and a 4-3. My first year, my freshman year, I played a lot of defensive end. My sophomore year I did a lot. My junior year we played a lot of 3-4, so I was the Buck (linebacker). I stood up and just roamed up and things like that. I played all over the place."

Kiper Jr. predicts Fowler goes No. 13 overall to the New Orleans Saints in his latest mock draft.

The Bears, No. 7 overall, are expected to use different looks on defense in an effort to confuse opponents. Chicago’s defense became far too predictable the past two years, one of the many reasons the unit ranked near the bottom of the league.

Fowler thinks his scheme versatility is an attractive trait to interested teams during the pre-draft process.

"It can help me a lot just because I play anywhere, I can play some linebacker to D-end to edge rusher, and I can do a lot for a team. I create a lot of problems for the offense and really just stressing out coordinators," Fowler said.

"It’s an advantage. I was able to play both. I was a linebacker growing up. And I went to defensive end my sophomore year and I really liked it. I was versatile and fortunate enough to be able to play both."

Fowler, who scouts measured in Indianapolis at 6-foot-2 1/2 and 261 pounds, flashed arguably the most personality of any prospect ushered into the media room at Lucas Oil Stadium since access began on Wednesday. The versatile pass-rusher commanded the room, effortlessly answering each question with candor, charm, and sometimes humor.

"This is a dream come true," Fowler said. "I’ve wanted to do this ever since I was a little kid when I was four years old. It was like a path in front of me. I’m just happy to be here. I’m a loose person. I want teams to know that I’m a coachable guy, that I’m a team player and a fit for their team. I want to be that kind of guy that can play in this league. That I can turn a team and a defense around at the same time, just try to be that guy who can help out in the community and try be the face of that team one day."

Fowler added: "When it’s time for me to work out, I flip a switch. I just don’t like to be rude. You don’t want to be all kinds of grumpy and rude. You don’t want to be that.

"You get wrinkles from all that stuff. I’m not trying to get that."
INDIANAPOLIS – If you believe Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, he isn't spending his days or nights reliving his team's collapse against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.

After first stating the obvious, that blowing a 12-point lead in the final minutes and losing in overtime, was hard for everyone in the organization, Thompson tried to send a message.

[+] EnlargeJermaine Kearse
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuThe Packers are trying to put the bitter disappointment of the NFC title game behind them.
"We're done with that," Thompson said this week at the NFL scouting combine. "I appreciate the question, but we're not going to lie in that too much longer. We're moving on."

It was similar to the dispatch coach Mike McCarthy sent out in his season wrap-up news conference last month, when he said "the 2015 football team will not bear the burden of what happened in 2014."

On the other side of that game was Thompson's counterpart, Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who said he was preparing his concession speech during the final minutes of the NFC title game.

"It was really intense because I was preparing for what I was going to say to all the players and coaches because it looked like our season was over," Schneider said at the combine. "So I was getting myself mentally prepared for that, and things just kind of started steamrolling and there were like four minutes left in the game … just preparing for how you're going to address everybody in the organization moving forward because it would have been a devastating loss at home like that."

It turned out Schneider would have to give a similar speech two weeks later after the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots.

"When you wake up in the morning you think about it, absolutely," Schneider said. "I think it's something that will stick with us forever and keep driving us toward excellence."

And that's how McCarthy is looking at things, too.

"It never totally goes away," McCarthy said. "I still think of the '07 championship game. There's thing that remind you of plays and there's things that remind you of games. There's places, there's a picture you have of somebody that reminds you of a game.

"And I'll tell Schneider when we go to dinner Saturday that he needs to know that he's not going to wake up one day and it's gone. It doesn't happen. I think we all wake up at night. I know I wake up at night still thinking about plays all the time."

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