MINNEAPOLIS -- Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for this week's Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can submit them at any point during the week on Twitter, using the hashtag #VikingsMail.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. We'll get right into it with the 'A' topic: Peterson's future in Minnesota. My sense of it has been that Peterson will play somewhere else next year -- I think there's a feeling in some corners of the organization (and possibly in Peterson's mind) that it's time to move on -- but that said, here are the reasons the Vikings could decide to bring Peterson back: They'd be getting a running back who's fresh (if his suspension is upheld, he'll have been tackled a total of 21 times this year), and they know better than anybody what Peterson can do when he's out to prove something (see: 2012). Coaches and players support him, and if emotions cool over time, Peterson could return to be a force both on and off the field. The hangup in all that, though, could be his contract. I can't see the Vikings paying a 30-year-old running back $13 million in 2015, and if Peterson is going to play for less money, he might be more inclined to do it elsewhere. We'll see, though. It'll unquestionably be the top storyline of the offseason.

@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings didn't blitz Aaron Rodgers much the last time they faced him, and there's an inherent danger in bringing extra pressure after him; Rodgers has the fifth-best QBR in the league against the blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and while the Vikings' double-A gap blitz works well in part because it doesn't expose major holes in coverage, Rodgers could find room to work on quick throws over the middle. Even if the Vikings don't use it much on Sunday, though, we'll undoubtedly see the look; they like to put Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway on either side of the center, even though they'll often drop one or both players into coverage and rarely send more than five rushers. It can confuse protection schemes, and open up space for edge rushers if teams adjust their protection to block down on inside rushers.

@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings contend it can; they feel like Teddy Bridgewater throws the deep ball well enough to succeed in the NFL, and they say he hits downfield throws in practice. There are a few things that need to be fixed, though. First, the Vikings need to protect Bridgewater better; he won't have time to work downfield if he's evading pass-rushers within a couple seconds. They also need their receivers to do a better job of gaining separation, and lastly, Bridgewater's downfield accuracy needs to improve. He's still learning to trust himself on deep throws, and there have been too many times where he's not giving himself a split-second to set his feet and put the ball where it needs to be. The Vikings, though, wouldn't have put Bridgewater in Norv Turner's offense if they didn't think he could consistently hit throws of 15 yards or longer, and they're counting on him figuring it out in time.

@GoesslingESPN: I'll close by answering these two together, since they hit similar themes. As for the position upgrade, the obvious answer is that better play from the quarterback and left tackle spots would help the Vikings the most. But I don't think that's what you're getting at, since the Vikings plan to solve those problems with development (in Bridgewater's case) or a return to a previous level of play (in Matt Kalil's case). In terms of where the Vikings could realistically upgrade their personnel to help the roster, I'd probably say safety or left guard. If the Vikings had a really good safety next to Harrison Smith, they could be even more flexible on defense, and could conceivably stay in base packages more often. That's a big part of what helped turn Seattle's defense into a dominant unit, and the Vikings would like to be able to do that with their safeties, as well. And as much criticism as Kalil has taken this year, Charlie Johnson has been a major concern in pass protection, as well. David Yankey isn't strong enough yet to play in the NFL, but he could push Johnson for time next year.

As for the position that will look the most different on defense next year, I'd also suggest linebacker; the Vikings need to find a long-term answer in the middle, and Chad Greenway's future is in some doubt. Greenway's had a rebound year this season, in my opinion, but he'll be 32 next year and is due to count $8.8 million against the cap. He's certainly a candidate for another contract restructuring, but the Vikings might be inclined to see if Gerald Hodges is the future answer at weakside linebacker. My guess is Greenway plays one more season in Minnesota on a reduced deal, but even if he's back, the linebacker group could have a different look.

That'll do it for this week. Thanks for the great questions, everyone. Enjoy your Saturday, and we'll talk to you from TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Dom Capers' defensive system can be boiled down to a basic principal, it's this: Blitz as often as necessary to disrupt the rhythm and timing of an opponent's offense.

So it should come as no surprise that since he came to Green Bay as defensive coordinator in 2009, the Green Bay Packers have ranked as one of the NFL's most frequent blitz teams (see accompanying chart).

But there's much more that goes into it than just turning linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks loose.

Some of Capers' best defenses in Green Bay have been those that have blitzed the least (see 2009 and 2010).

"I'd say we're probably normally [blitzing at] around 38 to 40 percent of the time," Capers said.

But with worst defense he fielded, the 2011 unit that ranked last in the league, he blitzed the most.

"We couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback that year," Capers said.

That trend is hardly universal.

Take this season, for example. One of the best defensive performances came in Week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings. In the Packers' 42-10 victory, Capers blitzed on 47.2 percent of the Vikings’ dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information (which defines a blitz as sending five or more pass-rushers at the quarterback). Only three other times this season has Capers blitzed at a higher rate -- at Miami in Week 6 (53.1 percent), against Carolina in Week 7 (50 percent) and against the New York Jets in Week 2 (47.3 percent). All were victories

Then there was 19-7 loss against the Detroit Lions in Week 2, when the defense allowed just 10 points. Capers blitzed a season-low 12.8 percent of the time.

This season, the Packers' defense ranks just 25th in yards, but second in takeaways (22), tied for eighth in Total QBR (50.4) and 11th in sack percentage (7.0).

Here is a look at the Capers' philosophy through the eyes of some of his coaches and players:

Offensive coordinator Tom Clements

Before they were on the same side, Clements coached against Capers. One game stands out: Dec. 8, 2002 in Pittsburgh. Clements was the Steelers' quarterbacks coach, and Capers was the Houston Texans head coach.

"That was a weird game," Clements said. "Our defense held them to about a total of 60 yards. We had about 400 yards, and they beat us by three touchdowns."

[+] EnlargeDom Capers
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Dom Capers has made his mark by adapting his calls to each opponent.
Actually, the numbers were these: The Steelers had 422 yards and the Texans had 47. Houston's defense scored three times, two interception returns and a recovered fumble return, in a 24-6 upset.

Which goes to show that when preparing for a Capers' defense, anything is possible.

"Multiple looks, multiple pressures," Clements said. "It requires a lot of film study by the coaches and the players, because you never know what you’re going to get."

Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac

Trgovac, the Panthers defensive coordinator from 2003-2008, knows what it's like to call plays.

He says it's an oversimplification to simply call Capers a blitzer.

"Just to call 100 blitzes, when you start getting in that rhythm of the game, that's actually the easiest part of the game to call," Trgovac said. "The hard part is trying to pick the blitzes based on what you're seeing in the game. You have something set in your mind early and have to adjust from there."

Trgovac says he often finds Capers alone in his office or a film room calling a mock game to try to anticipate those situations.

"He puts in the hours that's required to have knowledge to make a play call," Trgovac said.

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt

Whitt, who like Trgovac has been with Capers since 2009 in Green Bay, also says it's unfair to label their defense as just a blitzing scheme.

"I wouldn't say that," Whitt said. "I would say it's a week-to-week deal, but we're going to try to do anything we can to win that week. If we have to bring five or six guys, we will."

But then Whitt pointed to one of the biggest defensive plays in last Sunday's win against the Eagles, Julius Peppers' 52-yard interception return for a touchdown. Capers rushed only three players -- defensive linemen Datone Jones, Josh Boyd and Mike Neal -- and dropped Peppers, Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk into coverage.

"It's whatever's needed," Whitt said.

Outside linebacker Peppers

The 13-year NFL veteran has never been used like this. In his eight seasons in Carolina and four in Chicago, he more or less had one job: put his hand on the ground and rush the quarterback as a defensive end.

"They wanted me to rush for the majority of the time," Pepper said. "Every now and then there was a fire-zone call where I was dropping, but primarily I was rushing."

Perhaps said that's why Eagles coach Chip Kelly said they weren't expecting Peppers to drop into coverage. He said it was "a great call" by Capers.

"I don't think it's anything new," said Peppers, who leads the Packers with 5.0 sacks and is tied for second on the team with two interceptions. "He's been doing that since he's been here as far as I'm concerned."
BRISTOL, Conn. -- The Detroit Lions have appeared fairly healthy all week leading into their game Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Now, though, there is going to be at least one question mark at Gillette Stadium.

Running back Reggie Bush, who has practiced on a limited basis all week with that lingering ankle injury, is officially questionable .

If Bush doesn't play, Detroit will once again go with heavy usage for Joique Bell along with increased work for Theo Riddick. It would probably be a similar plan to last Sunday against Arizona, when Bell rushed for 85 yards.

Only two players are completely out for Detroit: right guard Larry Warford and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Jason Jones, who told Detroit reporters on Friday his personal absence was dealing with his sick child in Tennessee, returned to practice Friday and is probable. Golden Tate appeared on the injury report for the first time this week -- limited in practice with a hip injury. He is probable for Sunday, though.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – JC Tretter's leg whip of Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole cost him $16,537, the largest known fine for a Green Bay Packers player this season.

It happened in the fourth quarter on Sunday, when Tretter finished the game at left tackle after the Packers pulled several starters in the blowout victory.

The NFL announced the fine on Friday.

Tretter said his leg whip was not intentional and planned to appeal the fine. On the play, Tretter's assignment was to cut block on the backside of a pass play to the right. He was penalized on the play.

"I grabbed [Cole] right after the final kneel down to tell him it was totally accidentally," Tretter said Friday. “I didn’t know my leg was even up that high.”

The fine was more than half of Tretter’s weekly salary, which is $29,117.65 before taxes.

The only other Packers players known to have been fined this season were tight end Andrew Quarless ($8,268) for his role in a Week 2 scuffle against the New York Jets, and outside linebacker Julius Peppers (amount unknown) for wearing unauthorized shoes.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will head into Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers with four of their starters listed as questionable, but most of the players in question -- Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Matt Kalil and Sharrif Floyd -- seemed optimistic they would play Sunday.

Of the four, Floyd would seem like the biggest unknown. The defensive tackle did not practice Friday after banging knees with another player during Wednesday's practice. He said a MRI showed no damage to his knee, but the fact he did not participate on Thursday or Friday -- and had crutches next to his locker both of those days -- leaves his status in some doubt.

"It's in Coach [Mike Zimmer]'s hands," Floyd said. "I'll go as he goes."

Kalil got a day off on Friday, with what Zimmer called a "minor aggravation" to his knee. Zimmer said Kalil has been dealing with the issue for a while, and gave him a day to rest it on Friday. The left tackle said he's planning to play Sunday.

Jennings and Wright also seem likely to play; Jennings hurt his ribs on Sunday and Wright strained his hamstring, but both receivers practiced in full on Sunday.

Running back Matt Asiata, however, won't play on Sunday after sustaining a concussion last week. That could mean a larger role for Ben Tate, whom the Vikings claimed off waivers from Cleveland on Wednesday.

"He's catching on quick," Zimmer said. "He's got some explosiveness hitting the hole. Obviously he's a big-bodied guy. He's done a good job in protection so far, so we'll see how it goes."

How they match up: Bucs at Bears

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
2:00
PM ET

CHICAGO BEARS (4-6) vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-8)

Noon CT Sunday at Soldier Field on FOX
 
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Running backs haven't hit holes efficiently. Sometimes, the blocking just isn't there for them. And yet other times, their decisions have been rough.

There are many, many reasons to explain why the Detroit Lions' running game has been extremely inefficient this season. Here's another -- and one that might change Sunday when they face New England: The Lions haven't had their three top backs -- Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick -- all healthy for an entire game at the same time since the third week of the season against Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeJoique Bell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJoique Bell's performance against the Cardinals -- 14 carries for 85 yards -- gives hope that Detroit's running game may be about to turn a corner.
Yes, Detroit's run game was in bad shape even before that, but the Lions posted their second-highest yards per carry number of the season in Week 2 against Carolina (3.9 yards), had their highest rushing total in Week 3 against Green Bay (115 yards) and put together their only multi-touchdown rushing game of the season in Week 1 against the New York Giants (2).

Since then, Bell, Bush and Riddick have each missed all or parts of games due to injury. The Lions haven't rushed for a touchdown since Week 7 against New Orleans. They rushed for 98 yards Sunday against Arizona -- the first time the Lions have come close to 100 yards since Week 6 against Minnesota.

Against the Cardinals, Bell looked like the decisive runner the Lions have needed this season and his 85 yards were the most by any one Detroit running back in a game this season.

“The overall numbers weren't huge, but I think our running game looked a lot better this last week and that's obviously encouraging,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “And so, if we can keep getting those big plays and getting a little bit more consistency, that's going to help us.”

The big plays and the consistency have been the biggest issues for Detroit this season with the offense as a whole and the running game. Bell has 14 runs of 10-plus yards this season with four of them coming Sunday against Arizona. Bush has two of those plays -- but none since Week 4, the last week he was fully healthy for an entire game.

George Winn, who is the team's fourth back and only used in case of injury has two 10-plus yard runs, both against the Bills when Bell was out. Riddick, who is more of a receiver out of the backfield, has yet to have a run of 10 or more yards this season.

Of the four, Bell has been the back that has been the most consistent and the closest to being able to have a big running game -- especially since Bush and Riddick are used in a receiving role as well. The way Bell ran Sunday, though, gives Detroit some confidence it might have found something with its rushing.

With Bell handling the majority of the work, the Lions posted a season-high 5.2 yards per rush, the first time this year they have eclipsed Jim Caldwell's desire of four yards per rush in a game.

“You have a guy that's capable, who can break tackles and sometimes, that has to be done,” Caldwell said. “We attribute it to the fact that he practiced extremely well for a number of weeks and you could see it coming that he's going to have a big game.

“I think his big games are yet to come. When I think you look at the running game, our average is up where we want them, they're above it and we want to continue that. We want to run it even better.”
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When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: Fox

The records scrub away some of the shine for Sunday's matchup at Soldier Field between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears, but the storylines involved remain interesting for what should be a competitive contest.

First off, there's the obvious with Lovie Smith coming to town to coach against his former team, which is led by former Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown. But even with the Bucs owning a 2-8 record, they're just two games out of first place in the NFC South.

The Bears, meanwhile, are looking to win back-to-back contests for the first time this season since Weeks 2 and 3.

Remember, the Bears fired Smith after a 2012 season in which he led the team to a 10-6 record. The club hasn't recorded a double-digit win season since, and doesn't appear to be on the way to doing it this year, either.

Bears reporter Michael C. Wright takes a look at the matchup with Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinkas:

Wright: Pat, the Buccaneers are coming off a big road win at Washington, and I've long thought they were a much more talented team than the record indicated. Obviously, it's probably too late to save the season. But how's the atmosphere out there coming off this win, and what's the next step for the Bucs?

Yasinkas: The atmosphere is a lot better than you would expect from a 2-8 team. That's mainly due to the fact the Bucs are only two games behind Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFC South. And, you're right, this is a talented team. If the Bucs can put that talent together down the stretch, they could end up being a playoff team. It may sound crazy, but they're not far off the pace in the NFC South.

I thought last year's strong finish by Chicago would carry over into this season. But it hasn't. What's gone wrong for the Bears?

Wright: Where do I start? I think people put too much faith in the offense, expecting it to perform at the same level or better than it did in 2013. But what folks don't understand is the Bears sort of caught teams by surprise last season because opponents didn't know exactly what to expect out of a Marc Trestman offense. Opponents adjusted in 2014 to what the Bears put on film in 2013, and they've had trouble coming up with a sufficient counterpunch. On the other side of the ball, the Bears revamped the front four, but haven't received the production commensurate with the investment. The Bears miscalculated what the staff would be able to get out of the linebacking corps, which has struggled, not to mention the secondary.

Surely, there's quite a bit of disappointment about Tampa Bay's record, especially when considering how the Bucs have squandered fourth-quarter leads five times this season. Why haven't the Bucs been able to hold leads, and overall, what's the thought out there regarding the job done so far by former Bears coach Lovie Smith?

Yasinkas: The Bucs have had their share of disappointing losses. They've blown five fourth-quarter leads and the reasons for that are collapses by the defense and an inability by the offense to protect a lead. That has been very disappointing and you can make a strong case that the Bucs should have a much better record than they do. Fans aren't very pleased with what Lovie Smith has done so far. He has been stubborn, sticking to a Tampa 2 defense that may be antiquated and an offense that's conservative. But the Washington game was a good example of what "Lovie Ball" can be when it works properly. Smith's record isn't very good, but he's not on the hot seat. Ownership believes he can show some promise down the stretch and turn things around with another offseason.

There has been a lot of talk about Jay Cutler's future in Chicago. Does he have one?

Wright: Boy, that's a good question that I'm not sure I can answer at this point. Obviously with the contract, Cutler is sort of handcuffed to the team for the next couple of seasons. But if Cutler doesn't improve down the stretch, I could see the Bears looking for ways to cut ties (a trade perhaps?). The Bears gave Cutler a $126.7 million contract, and he certainly hasn't produced at the level you'd expect a player making that type of money. So if the arrow isn't pointing up for Cutler at the conclusion of the season, it certainly wouldn't surprise me if the Bears entered 2015 with an open competition at the position or looked to trade him in the offseason.

Speaking of quarterbacks, when Josh McCown left Chicago to sign with the Buccaneers, it seemed like an ideal match, especially when considering how he performed in 2013 as the fill-in for Cutler. Can you give me a rundown as to why has McCown struggled this season?

Yasinkas: McCown admitted recently that he was pressing too much in the first three games. He was trying to make something happen out of nothing and that led to some mistakes. But McCown got five games to sit back and watch while he dealt with a thumb injury. In the past two games, he has been much more efficient. The Washington game was similar to what he did in Chicago last year. If he can continue to do that the rest of the season, the Bucs will be very happy.

I know it's only Year 2, but this league doesn't have much patience anymore. Is Marc Trestman on the hot seat?

Wright: Similar to Cutler's situation, I think it all depends on how the team performs down the stretch. At this point, I don't think general manager Phil Emery is inclined to fire Trestman in part because of the investment in Cutler. Prior to Trestman's arrival, Cutler had played for three different offensive coordinators in three different systems over four seasons. So for Emery, gaining some level of stability for Cutler was important, which is what the GM believed he did in bringing aboard Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Remember, the Bears signed Cutler to a seven-year contract, and Emery doesn't want his quarterback playing in yet another system for another coach. So unless the Bears totally nose dive over the last six games, Trestman's job is safe. Certainly, there will be scapegoats let go at the conclusion of the season regardless of what happens. But I don't think Trestman is on the hot seat. He'll get another season unless things go totally awry.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The last time Clay Matthews was coming off a groin injury, the Green Bay Packers linebacker returned an interception 40 yards against the Chicago Bears before veering out of bounds.

That was in Week 4, one game after he dropped out of the loss at the Detroit Lions late in the fourth quarter.

Matthews
Matthews went back on the injury report this week with the same ailment, but thinks it's better this week than it was going into that Bears game.

How much better?

"I might go 50 yards and not 40," Matthews said.

Matthews was listed as a limited participant in practice on Thursday.

"I think we’re just being more cautious than anything," Matthews said. "I was able to go out there against Chicago, cautiously, of course. I feel like the progression I'm making this week as opposed to maybe Week 3 and 4 is ahead of where I was."

Perhaps more of an issue is the status of outside linebacker Nick Perry, who has a shoulder injury and did not practice for the second straight day, leaving his status in question for Sunday's road game against the Minnesota Vikings. Perry has started the past two games at Matthews' old outside linebacker position while Matthews has moved inside on early downs.

"Nick Perry is definitely important," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Just that whole group, you talk about Nick and Mike Neal and Julius [Peppers], their ability to move around and play the elephant position has been very important. That was a big part of our change, and definitely fits with the movement of Clay."

However, Matthews said he doesn't think his role would change if Perry can't play Sunday.

"I think it's more of a 'next man up' type of mentality around here," Matthews said. "I'm sure [Jayrone] Elliott will have more opportunities as well as Mike and J.P. As we have seen in weeks prior, I rush off the edge and play in the middle, so wherever they need me, I will be there."

Here's the full injury report:
  • TE Brandon Bostick (hip, did not practice)
  • CB Jarrett Bush (groin, did not practice)
  • LB Elliott (hamstring, limited participation)
  • G T.J. Lang (ankle, limited participation)
  • LB Matthews (groin, limited participation)
  • LB Perry (shoulder, did not practice)
  • G Josh Sitton (toe, limited participation)
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Stopping Aaron Rodgers is one of the great challenges in football. And in the view of Minnesota Vikings secondary coach Jerry Gray, it falls on so many more than just the defensive backs.

"Your offense has got to play just as well as their offense. Your defense has to play as well as their defense," Gray said. "And then, you can't turn the ball over. And hopefully you get some turnovers, and then you get the upper hand. You can't give them the upper hand, because they've got a good quarterback."

The Minnesota Vikings' best defense against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday might be an offense that can hold the ball and take a lead, keeping Rodgers on the sideline, minimizing the role of running back Eddie Lacy and allowing pass rushers to come after Rodgers when he is on the field. But that's a tall task for an offense that's 22nd in the league in time of possession, and even the most recent team to beat the Packers -- the New Orleans Saints -- did so with the help of two deflected interceptions, as Gray admits.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Bill HaberGreen Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers likes to take shots on deep passes, and he's been cashing in all season.
In reality, Rodgers will put a unique degree of stress on the Vikings' defense on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium, and as the Vikings try to recover from giving up 468 yards against the Chicago Bears last week, Gray has a simple directive for his young secondary as they face the top-rated quarterback in the league: Don't give up anything cheap.

That, too, is easier said than done. Rodgers has been the league's best deep passer this season, completing 14 of his 27 throws that traveled at least 20 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, those throws have covered 652 yards. Eight have gone for touchdowns, none have been intercepted and Rodgers' 24.15-yard average on such throws is the best in the league by nearly six yards.

The 66-yard shot he hit to Jordy Nelson on Oct. 2 put the Packers ahead 14-0, and while Rodgers only attempted two more deep balls the rest of the night, "one is too many," safety Harrison Smith said.

On the deep ball to Nelson, Rodgers faked a handoff to Lacy while Nelson cleared Captain Munnerlyn in zone coverage, stemming to a corner route before breaking back inside on Smith, catching a 55-yard throw from Rodgers and jogging into the end zone.

"That's the thing that any safety has to understand: You've got to respect him, especially when they put guys close to the core, and they're trying to protect all the edges," Gray said. "It's a two-man route, and they run it every week. If you bite on a '7' [corner] route, he runs a post. You stem on the post, he runs a '7.' He's got the option of both worlds."

Rodgers has only tried six passes of 20 yards or more when the Packers have trailed by at least seven points this season; he's taken 17 when Green Bay is ahead. It goes back to Gray's belief that beating Rodgers is a total team effort, but if Green Bay gets ahead on Sunday, the Vikings have to be ready for Rodgers to let it fly.

"If he can go down and beat you with a 15-play drive going 80 yards, that's one thing," Gray said. "But 80 yards on one play, that's no good in the NFL."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – One major college football head coaching job is open at Florida. Another, at Michigan, could be open in a few weeks depending what happens with Brady Hoke.

And in Allen Park, Michigan, there is a guy who would fit in as a potential candidate for both.

[+] EnlargeTeryl Austin
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDetroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin spent one season as defensive coordinator at Florida, in Urban Meyer's final season as head coach in 2010.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin – who was a secondary coach with the Wolverines from 1999-2002 and was defensive coordinator with the Gators in 2010 – runs the top-ranked defense in the NFL.

So it made sense Thursday that he was asked about the job that's open at Florida.

“I’m thinking about this game right here. I haven’t even thought about it,” Austin said. “I hate it for all the guys who are down there; there’s a whole bunch of families that people who lost their jobs.”

The 49-year-old Austin would not say whether or not he wants to be a head coach down the road as he tries to focus on Detroit’s game Sunday against New England.

With the way the Lions are playing, though, there’s a possibility both Austin and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will be brought up as potential NFL or college head coach candidates as soon as this offseason.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, once himself in a position to move from a coordinator to a head coach, said he would support his coaches in pursuit for other jobs as long as it doesn’t affect the jobs they currently have.

“It depends on the situation,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been in a similar situation myself early on in my career. I’m supportive of whatever we have to do in order to get a guy into position to do well if that’s his heart’s desire. But we don’t let it interfere with what we’re doing.

“Our job is to win games and that’s what we’re doing. They understand that and the guys we have, have great focus in that regard. If you’re good and you plan well, you’re going to have teams and people that have interest in people on your staff. That’s the way it should be.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery returned to the practice field inside the Walter Payton Center on Thursday, a day after the club held them out because of ankle and hamstring ailments.

Marshall and Jeffery participated in a limited capacity, but neither is expected to miss Sunday’s matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field.

Other limited participants included right tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) and guard Eben Britton (illness). In other injury news, the Bears held out cornerback Demontre Hurst (knee), defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), receiver Chris Williams (hamstring) and Darryl Sharpton (hamstring).

The Bears also held out veteran defensive end Jared Allen, but his absence wasn’t injury related.

Rookie defensive end Ego Ferguson (illness) returned to the practice field Thursday after being held out Wednesday, and receiver Josh Morgan (shoulder) participated fully Thursday after working Wednesday in a limited capacity.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- According to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown “isn’t much of a bettor.”

So don’t expect the quarterbacks to place any friendly wagers on Sunday’s matchup between the Bears and Buccaneers at Soldier Field.

“I wish him well except for this week,” Cutler said of his former backup. “We’ll go at it head to head and see what happens.”

Cutler
 Cutler experienced somewhat of resurgence last season, his first under head coach Marc Trestman, and credits his working relationship with McCown as one of the factors in his improvement. Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2 last season as the Bears finished eighth in total offense.

Filling in as the starter for five games while Cutler was injured last season, McCown threw 13 touchdown passes and only one interception. Both quarterbacks combined for five 300-yard passing performances in 2013, which tied a franchise single-season record established in 1954 and tied in 1999.

The synergy between Cutler and McCown in the meeting room resulted in both quarterbacks excelling.

“I think Josh is good for a lot of people,” Cutler explained. “I think you could pair him up with probably most of the people in this room, and he’d find a way to help make you better. He’s not going to make you worse. I know that. He’s just one of those types of people. So I know he’s doing good things for that quarterback room in Tampa, just like he did for us.”

So why did they click?

“He’s played the position at a lot of different places,” Cutler said. “So we were coming into a new system [in 2013]. He had been through a lot of new systems like I had. We helped each other learn. His journey and as many places as he’d been, he’s been through some ups and downs. So he knew what the position was about, what it took to play the position. So he could relate really well.”

Bears general manager Phil Emery and Trestman have also been complimentary of McCown’s time in Chicago, with both expressing happiness when the quarterback signed a two-year deal in free agency to join the Buccaneers.

“It’ll be fun to see the guys and all that, but at the end of the day our focus is on going up there and getting a win because we need it for our team,” McCown said. “When you’re 2-8, you need wins. So that’s my focus. But I’m looking forward to it. It’s fun. I have so much love for all those guys up there, and anytime you get to do that -- against guys you know -- it just makes it more fun because you know how they’re going to prepare, and you know they’re going to give you their best. So I’m looking forward to that.”
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It's become apparent during his second season with the Minnesota Vikings that Cordarrelle Patterson still has plenty to learn about the finer points of playing receiver. That learning process has limited his involvement in the offense when the Vikings aren't manufacturing as many touches for him as their previous coaching staff did.

Coach Mike Zimmer has said Patterson needs to be more consistent with his route-running, and pointed out how much Patterson still needs to develop when he was asked on Monday whether he was disappointed with the second-year receiver's performance.

Patterson
On Thursday, Patterson said what Zimmer wouldn't state explicitly: His second year in Minnesota hasn't lived up to expectations.

"(My numbers) been disappointing and I know I’m letting a lot of people down," Patterson said. "It’s tough. It’s very tough out here, man. It’s a struggle sometimes. Offensively, and me, just got to find that groove and just get it going."

Patterson caught 45 passes last season, but 29 of those were on passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats and Information. This season, with fewer plays designed around low-risk ways to get the ball in his hands, Patterson has just 28 catches on 59 targets, for 332 yards and only one receiving touchdown. Last week against Chicago, he caught two passes for 24 yards.

"It don’t matter what the defenses do,” he said. "This is my job. I need to find a way to get open."

As Zimmer pointed out this week, Patterson is only three years removed from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College; he played one year at Tennessee before heading to the NFL, and the Vikings' coaching change means he's learning his third offensive system in as many years. That is certainly a contributing factor to Patterson's sluggish development this season, and as the receiver said, it's turned 2014 into a year where "I'm not having as much fun.

"Coach Zimmer is right: I’ve been in three different offenses in three years. It’s a lot of learning," Patterson said. "At the end of the day, this is my job. This is something I need to just focus on, just this main job. And whatever Coach Zimmer says is right. Even though I probably won’t think it’s right, he’s the head coach and whatever he says goes."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – As big a problem as Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have created for opposing defenses, the Green Bay Packers' ultraproductive pair of receivers has put general manager Ted Thompson in a bit of jam, too.

With $14.25 million already committed to Nelson this season as part of a four-year, $39 million contract extension he signed in July that broke him into the top-10 in receiver money, Thompson has to figure out how to keep Cobb in the fold as well.

And the longer the fourth-year receiver goes without a contract extension, the higher the price becomes.

Cobb
Nelson
Together, Nelson and Cobb have developed into one of the top pass-catching combinations in the NFL. But in order for it to anything other than a one-year wonder, Thompson must procure a deal with Cobb, who is in the final season of his rookie contract. Thompson has the salary-cap space – $8,794,417 according to the latest figures from ESPN Stats & Information – but that's not the only factor. There are other potential free agents to sign.

"I think everyone wants Randall to be here," Nelson said. "I think any player wants to play their whole career in the same spot, but it's a business on both sides. Sometimes people think it's a one-way business, but he's going to do what's best for him and what he thinks is the best situation for him."

Cobb almost certainly won't command Nelson’s $9.75 million-per-year average, but a deal averaging in the neighborhood of $6 million to $7 million isn't out of the question. At just 24 years old, Cobb is the definition of a young, productive, homegrown player that Thompson typically keeps around.

The feeling around the league is that there's no way the Packers would let him hit free agency next March.

"It will get done," said an NFL personnel executive. "He's a Ted guy."

Although the Packers' roster contains another young, potentially productive receiver in rookie Davante Adams (who has 27 catches for 286 yards and three touchdowns through 10 games), there's little proven talent behind him.

Even if Adams develops into the receiver the Packers think he can become, he's not the same type of complement to Nelson that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has in Cobb. With Nelson dominating on the outside with 60 catches (seventh in the league) for 998 yards (third) and nine touchdowns, he has typically drawn an opponent's best cornerback with a safety also shading that way. That leaves Cobb – the prototypical slot receiver at 5-foot-10, 192-pounds and all kinds of shifty moves – to work in the middle of the field in the short and intermediate routes.

"I think that's why they go well together," Packers safety Micah Hyde said. "With Randall, he controls the inside. Don't get me wrong, Jordy can go inside, too. But Randall does a good job, and the matchups that he creates is remarkable. And then for Jordy to be outside, with a guy like A-Rod getting them the ball, it's going to be hard to stop."

After a slow start, which Cobb said was caused in part by self-imposed pressure to produce in a contract year, he has been nearly unstoppable. Beginning with his seven-catch, 113-yard, two-touchdown game in Week 4 against the Vikings, Cobb has eclipsed with the 100-yard mark four times in the last seven games. In that stretch, he ranks sixth in the NFL with 653 yards, ahead of even Nelson, who ranks seventh with 647. For the season, Cobb ranks second in the league with 10 touchdowns and only a tight end, Denver's Julius Thomas, has more (with 12).

There are other great receiving duos in the league, with Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders leading the way; and even other great combinations in the Packers' own division, with Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Nelson and Cobb are new to that list, but could remain there for years to come.

"I do feel very confident that I wouldn't want any other guys than the guys we've got," Rodgers said.

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