Bears Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
4:45
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Coach Marc Trestman watched as Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin held court in front of a JUGS machine with receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson along with tight end Martellus Bennett. For Trestman, the moment seemed a perfect one to pull out his iPhone to snap a shot. Instead, the coach was forced to handle his daily news conference duties with the media. “I was just getting ready to go take a picture with my iPhone, but I missed out,” Trestman joked. “That’s a nice picture. That man was a heck of a player and knows a lot of football. So I’m glad they had a chance to spend some time together.” The opportunity to snap a picture remained for Trestman after fulfilling his media obligation as Irvin and the Bears players remained grouped together talking shop. But if Trestman pulled out his phone to take a picture, “You guys would be taking pictures of me taking the picture,” the coach joked.
  • Cornerback Tim Jennings (groin) took part during individual drills, but the staff continues to hold him out of full-team work. Rookie Kyle Fuller worked in Jennings’ place with the starters, while Kelvin Hayden kicked inside to nickel. Isaiah Frey worked as the extra defender in dime packages. Other non-participants included safeties Chris Conte (shoulder) and Craig Steltz (groin), guard Kyle Long (viral infection) and receiver Terrence Toliver (toe). Jeffery (foot) returned to the practice field after being held out on Monday.
  • Trestman spent several minutes after practice working with backup quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen, putting the duo through rope-ladder drills. Holding the ball, the quarterbacks simulated their drops through the ladder. It appears the coach is working to improve the quarterbacks’ footwork.
  • Out since the start of camp after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason, Conte spent several minutes before the start of Wednesday’s practice catching balls from a JUGS machine. Conte started camp on the active physically unable to perform list, but the expectation is he’ll be cleared to practice soon. Regardless of when Conte returns, he’s been all but declared out of the preseason opener Aug. 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles by Trestman. Conte needs to return soon, though, as competition at the safety position remains heated with several players vying for two openings.
  • The Bears signed receiver Dale Moss to a one-year contract on Tuesday, and on Wednesday he made one of the most eye-popping plays of the day. Coming over the middle in heavy traffic, Moss made a leaping grab as linebacker DeDe Lattimore laid a bone-jarring lick. Moss managed to hang onto the ball, and even threw out a first-down hand gesture on the way back to the huddle.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Athletic trainers carted off backup Chicago Bears guard Eben Britton after the veteran suffered a left hamstring injury during a one-on-one drill against defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff.

Britton said the injury isn’t serious, that he’s “fine,” and club officials expect the veteran to be on a day-to-day timeframe for recovery.

Britton sustained the injury battling Ratliff during a pass-rushing drill in which the defensive tackle appeared to win. As Ratliff rushed past Britton, the veteran grabbed his left hamstring. After spending a few plays watching the drill, Britton walked over to the athletic trainers’ station to be checked.

Minutes later, the athletic trainers carted off Britton.

A sixth-year veteran, Britton played in 13 games for the Bears last season, starting in four of those as a sixth eligible lineman. Britton’s production last season prompted the Bears to sign him in April to a one-year contract.

Prior to joining the Bears, Britton started 30 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2009-12, making 23 starts at right tackle and seven more at left guard.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – There are certain relationships within an NFL team that cannot be compromised.

At the top of that list are these two: general manager-coach and coach-quarterback.

The Green Bay Packers have quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed through 2019. On Wednesday they locked up general manager Ted Thompson with a multi-year contract extension.

[+] EnlargeTed Thompson, Mike McCarthy
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPackers GM Ted Thompson (left) and head coach Mike McCarthy have an 88-50-1 overall record, including playoffs, since McCarthy's hiring in 2006.
Next up should be the man connected to both of them: coach Mike McCarthy, whose current contract runs through the 2015 season. That was not lost on Thompson, who called it "a big priority" to get McCarthy's deal extended.

"It's been the plan the whole time," Thompson said Wednesday shortly after his extension was announced. "The way the organization is set up – obviously, I'm not giving any trade secrets away – it's the way it's always been done here: The general manager kind of gets put away and then you do the head coach."

All indications are the working environment on the football side of the offices at Lambeau Field is as harmonious as ever. Whatever competitive clashes they might have had in the past, the relationship between McCarthy and Rodgers appears strong. As for the GM and the coach, Thompson says it like this: "We anticipate each other's thoughts often, which might drive both of us crazy sometimes, but I think it's working well and has worked well. Obviously, we see things pretty close."

Anyone who doesn't believe the coach and GM must be of like mind was not around Lambeau Field in 2005, when Thompson and then-coach Mike Sherman barely spoke. Thompson, who was brought in after then-Packers president Bob Harlan stripped Sherman of the GM job, tried in vain to work closely the head coach he inherited. In fact, Sherman could have survived the 4-12 season had he been more receptive to Thompson's arrival rather than shutting him out, according to several members of the organization at the time.

Thompson made it clear when he completed an exhaustive coaching search to hire McCarthy in 2006 that he never intends to go through that again.

At the Packers' annual shareholders meeting in 2013, Thompson told the assembled crowd: "I thank God every day that he's the Green Bay Packers’ head coach."

Together, McCarthy and Thompson have an 88-50-1 overall record, including playoffs.

"I think when two people work together for as long as Mike and I have, I think you develop certain understandings of each other," Thompson said Wednesday. "There are certain things you can communicate that are unsaid as opposed to originally when you probably need to spell everything out."
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears announced Wednesday that Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long has been cleared to return to practice, after starting training camp on the non-football injury list due to a viral infection.

Long
The club plans to spend the next few days putting Long through conditioning work, and the expectation is he’ll join teammates Saturday when the Bears conduct a night practice at Soldier Field.

“We’re just going to continue to condition him,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s got to get his legs back underneath him. I think by Saturday night you’ll see him in pads. We’ll work him into individual [drills] in pads on Saturday night. That would be the hope and we’ll take it from [there]. If we feel he’s got his feet underneath him and his pads are where they should be, we’ll see where Saturday night goes. That would be the plan, but we’re going to take one day at a time.”

Long declined to speak with reporters Wednesday, as he walked off the field at the conclusion of practice.

Long met with a physician on Monday, and the club held him out of practice again on Wednesday. After the workout Wednesday, Long was still listed on the team’s non-football injury list.

In all, Long has been held out of all five training camp practices. During the period of inactivity, Long has “done minimal things” to stay in shape, Trestman said.

“He hasn’t put pads on for quite some time, and hasn’t played football for quite some time, even through the OTAs and now the time away of the first five days of practices,” Trestman said. “We’ve been here six or seven days learning and doing those kinds of things, and he’s been away some of that time. That all goes into the mix and we’re trying to do the right thing. We’ll do what the trainers and doctors tell us to do. He’ll be back in meetings and he’ll get back on his feet and we’ll get him going.”

 
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Vikings will be back on the practice field on Wednesday afternoon, following a day off on Tuesday, and coach Mike Zimmer said the team would likely adjust its practice plan to provide more snaps for players who need the extra work. At the quarterback position, that likely means the Vikings will pare down the snaps for one of their three passers, as offensive coordinator Norv Turner said on Wednesday morning.

"You can't work three [quarterbacks] for a long time, so the reps will get divided up differently," Turner said.

Based on what we've seen so far, it seems likely Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater will continue to get more work than Christian Ponder, as the Vikings try to settle on a starting quarterback to begin the season. Turner said on Wednesday preseason games will factor "heavily" into the final decision, but added he doesn't need to see full-contact situations to see how well Bridgewater handles pressure.

"He doesn’t look at the line; he feels it," Turner said. "He keeps his eyes up the field, makes throws with people around him and throws in real tight quarters where he doesn’t have real much room to work. That’s not a big concern. I think that’s one of the best things he does right now.”

Bridgewater hit 53.5 percent of his throws under pressure last season at Louisville, and was the best of any quarterback in this year's draft class under pressure, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His quick release has helped him get the ball out in tight situations, and he's done a nice job of stepping up in the pocket as it closes.

The Vikings will work heavily on playbook installation again in practice on Wednesday, and while Turner said the current collective bargaining agreement -- which affords teams more meeting and walk-through time instead of lengthy practice sessions -- actually makes it easier to teach quarterbacks what to do. There's less time, however, to teach them exactly how to do it.

"You have to make the most of the work you get on the field, like we did on Monday night," Turner said. "I think from a quarterback position, getting them up to speed in terms of what to do, this system is outstanding for that. You don't get as many team reps, so when we're throwing routes against air, we're throwing balls to their backs, we're working with the tight ends, we've got to mentally create a game environment for them, so you're simulating the reps they would get if they were practicing in the morning."

Lions Camp Report: Day 2

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
8:50
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • One of the players making a big early impression in a position of competition is wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. Tucked in a tight battle with Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller for receiving spots behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Ogletree has spent time with the top unit both days as the No. 3 receiver. This comes on top of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi singling him out during the spring as someone who impressed him. Ogletree has speed as well as the ability to make catches both over the middle and the sideline. Johnson, meanwhile, called Ogletree “smooth” when discussing him Tuesday.
  • An interesting thing occurred during individual periods Tuesday. Instead of working on their own, the Lions split their tight ends up between the offensive line and with the pass-catching receivers and running backs catching passes. So Brandon Pettigrew, for instance, was working with the line blocking while Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron were catching passes. This, Pettigrew said, was different than how the Lions operated under former coach Jim Schwartz.“We rotate and go down there during periods,” Pettigrew said. “We have five guys here, why not split it up and have some guys down there and some guys down here.” Pettigrew sees this as not only helping his blocking fundamentals, but an aid to Ebron and Fauria as well.
  • It’s early, but the kicking situation is going to be something to watch. Detroit hasn’t done many pressure field-goal situations over the first two days, but the Lions did have both Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio attempt a 49-yard field goal under pressure in the final moments of practice. It did not end well and went counter to their supposed strengths. Freese had the distance but missed wide left. Tavecchio was right on line -- but about a yard or so short. It’s only one day, but this is going to be a major thing to pay attention to throughout the next few weeks.
  • It would appear the Lions are going to give both Corey Hilliard and LaAdrian Waddle an equal shot at right tackle. Hilliard worked with the first team during the first practice Monday and Waddle received the first-team snaps Tuesday. We’ll have more on the offensive line Wednesday, but this appears to be the one true spot up for grabs on what is otherwise a fairly strong front five.
  • The Lions have managed to have fairly short practices the first two days, wrapping up in well under two hours. Some of it might come from the team still practicing without pads, but Lions safety Glover Quin explained the reason for the shorter practices is kind of simple: The team has plays they want to run through and things they need to accomplish. If they limit mistakes and run through the plays at a good pace, they finish quicker. It’s a long way from the marathon practices of the past, although practices should get longer once the team goes into pads.
  • Ownership made its first public appearance at camp Tuesday as Martha Ford, the wife of the late William Clay Ford Sr., attended practice. Ford gained controlling interest in the team after her husband’s death in the offseason. Also visiting practice Tuesday were some of Michigan State’s football coaches, although head coach Mark Dantonio was not spotted, as he was in Chicago for Big Ten media days.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Though he’s never really asked for it, all Calvin Johnson has really needed is some help.

Help would take some of the intense focus of defenses off of him and potentially give him more single-coverage matchups than he has seen to date in his career. Now in his eighth season, he is hoping the Detroit Lions have managed to give him that.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson and Calvin Johnson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAn increase in offensive weapons around him might allow Calvin Johnson to see more single-coverage situations.
By signing Golden Tate in free agency and drafting Eric Ebron, there are now more things for defenses to be concerned about -- perhaps alleviating other concerns and forming an offense with Johnson as a focal point of it instead of the focal point.

“Golden is going to get a lot of one-on-one coverages, man,” Johnson said Tuesday. “All those weapons that we have, those one-on-ones, they go full-circle and I might get some more myself.”

That might be a bit of wishful thinking by Johnson, who often treats double coverages as other receivers would treat single coverage. There’s a reason he is widely considered the best receiver in the game and one of the best all-time.

Despite all the attention and coverage, Johnson has four straight 1,000-yard seasons, has caught more than 10 touchdown passes in a season four times in his career and has caught at least 67 passes in every season other than his rookie one.

Johnson has done that even when teams have focused almost all of their energy on him and even when it became obvious how lacking the Lions were offensively in 2013 without him. During the two games Johnson was out of the lineup the Lions scored less than two touchdowns in each game, both losses.

So he sees Ebron, Tate, last season’s running backs -- Joique Bell and Reggie Bush -- and sees a lot of options other than him. That should also give Johnson more flexibility as he said the coaches asked him to learn every receiving position on the field, not just the two spots on the outside.

“They are going to make a lot of plays for us this year, a lot of explosive plays for us and get the ball down the field and increase our scoring chances,” Johnson said. “So yes, I’m going to be out there and make big plays but those guys are going to help us out a ton.”

Johnson hopes that help will help him reach the one place he hasn’t been often. For all the statistics he has and for all the accolades he has received, he has been to the playoffs only once in his career and, like the rest of the Lions, has zero playoff wins.

So even if the new weapons means a decrease in individual stats, he would be OK with that.

“Shoot, we should get more wins,” Johnson said. “That’s really all that counts. If we get more wins, I’m happy either way.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He has been praised by teammates all spring long and even into the first few practices of training camp as someone who could end up with a larger role on the Detroit Lions, but Theo Riddick is having none of it.

The running back, while not exactly ignoring the increased attention his game is receiving, doesn’t appear to actually be buying into it at all.

Riddick
“I haven’t really proven anything,” Riddick said. “Those are just words.”

They are, but when those words are coming from defensive players, established players on offense, and even from one of the men who will be making a decision on how much Riddick will play, there is some validity to it.

Add in what he has done on the field so far -- appearing explosive during his repetitions and trusting his first cut and going with it -- and the attention on him begins to make some sense.

As a rookie, Riddick was often anxious about what was going to happen. He was, in effect, still learning everything as he received some repetitions -- nine carries for 25 yards -- but not enough to make a real difference. Instead, he ended up as a valuable special teams contributor as both a blocker on kick returns and someone who could make plays on coverage units.

“Before coming here, there are a few guys that jump out at you on film,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I was watching special teams and every single time on the unit he’s on, he shows up.

“He’s got intensity, he hustles, he’s got desire, toughness, all of those things, and he’s a very, very capable runner. Also, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. [Riddick is] very tough to handle in one-on-one situations, so he had a great spring and we anticipate this fall he’s going to perform equally as well, so we’re excited about that.”

That was Riddick’s goal from the outset. He wanted to be more than a special teams contributor, though, so when the new coaching staff came in there was a chance for an offensive role. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi likes using multiple backs out of the backfield and places an emphasis on running backs who can run precise routes and catch the ball.

In Riddick, they have someone who can slide in behind Reggie Bush to do that. Riddick won’t supplant Bush or Joique Bell in Detroit’s offensive scheme this season, but he should be able to find himself a role.

“Coming out of the backfield I’m very versatile and I think I put pressure on defenses, but at the same time I haven’t proven anything yet,” Riddick said. “I’m just excited to come out this year and hopefully play well.”

So far, he has.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After three days of training camp practices, the Green Bay Packers took Tuesday off.

Crosby
It's a small sample size, but before they get back on the field Wednesday morning at 8:20 local time, here's a look at what we've learned about them so far. After breaking down the offense and the defense, here’s a look at special teams:

Status quo: It's status quo among the three specialists -- kicker Mason Crosby, punter Tim Masthay and long-snapper Brett Goode. There's no in-house competition at those positions. Crosby, who was under the microscope at this time last season after coming off a sub-standard 2012 season, appears to be in a similar groove to last season, when he made a career-best 89.2 percent of his field goals. In the only field goal period of camp so far, he made 7-of-8 kicks, including a pair of 50-yarders.

Returners wanted: Special teams coach Shawn Slocum is shuffling returners through the drills like it's a wide-open competition. The days of receiver Randall Cobb handling the duties appear to be over even though he's their most accomplished returner. Safety Micah Hyde, who had a punt return for a touchdown last season as a rookie against the Vikings, has gotten the first crack at the job again. But rookie receiver Jared Abbrederis and second-year receiver Myles White also have gotten looks. Running back DuJuan Harris looks like the early leader to handle kickoff returns.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After three days of training camp practices, the Green Bay Packers are taking Tuesday off.

It's a small sample size, but before they get back on the field Wednesday morning, here's a look at what we've learned about them so far.

After looking at the offensive side of the ball, it’s time to examine the defense:

Youth movement: It's clear the Packers have moved on from the days of having three, 330-plus pound defensive linemen up front. On most days, the Packers have lined up with Datone Jones, B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels on the defensive line in the base 3-4. In order, those are players who weigh 285, 337 and an even 300. If the Packers want to go a little bigger, they have used the 310-pound Josh Boyd as a base end in place of Jones. That's a far different look than what the Packers had last year with Raji, Johnny Jolly (325) and Ryan Pickett (340).

Not so predictable: Although there are schemes defensive coordinator Dom Capers has not shown (or does not want other teams to know about yet), one thing is clear: the Packers aren't going to simply play 3-4 on first down, nickel on second down and dime on third as had become their pattern at times last season. Already, we have seen linebackers like Clay Matthews line up in spots not traditionally manned by an outside linebacker. The signing of Julius Peppers has given Capers more flexibility with the rest of his outside linebackers.

Serious about Hyde: Capers and coach Mike McCarthy would not have given so many of the starter's reps at free safety to Micah Hyde if they weren't serious about giving him significant snaps at that position even after drafting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round. All signs point to Hyde playing safety in the base and perhaps even the nickel package and then moving to a slot position in the dime package, in which Clinton-Dix would then play free safety.

House
House call answered: Although there's no reason to think veteran cornerback Tramon Williams' job is in jeopardy, the Packers should feel good about the position behind him given Davon House's play, which has carried over from the offseason. The 24-year-old House appears to have improved his cover skills without sacrificing the physical presence he brings to the position at 6-1, 195.

Rookie linebackers: General manager Ted Thompson and his scouting staff always seem to find some hidden gems among the undrafted linebackers. This year looks like another strong class. Out of the group of the following players, it would not be a surprise to see one or two end up on the opening-day roster: Jake Doughty (inside linebacker), Joe Thomas (ILB), Jayrone Elliott (outside linebacker) and Adrian Hubbard (OLB).
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There were times last season where Mikel Leshoure knew he was not going to receive a chance. He had been banished to the bench even though his coaches said publicly there was a role for him somewhere on the Detroit Lions.

Leshoure
That role, it seemed, was an inactive one.

The Lions cratered to a 7-9 finish after starting the season strong, resulting in the firing of head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. In their place, the team hired Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

And one of the bigger beneficiaries of the move might be Leshoure, the former second-round pick out of Illinois.

“The new coaches just coming in here and they, knowing us, they got their own background of us and they give everybody a fresh chance, a fresh start and I feel like that’s what I needed,” Leshoure said. “I feel like it’s fair game now and I can go out there and compete.”

Leshoure still has a tough road to real playing time as the Lions have a lot invested in starting running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, but Lombardi’s New Orleans Saints-based offense could provide Leshoure with at least a fraction of the chances he received in 2012, when he had 215 carries for 798 yards and 34 receptions for 214 yards.

Then last season, he had two carries all season.

“I don’t really get into what happened last year,” Leshoure said. “I felt a lot of it was out of my hands. It wasn’t anything I did as far as my part as far as discipline or anything like that.

“It’s just a coach’s decision and he’s gone, so I’ll just leave it at that.”

By leaving it there, he’s hoping he can pick up where he finished in 2012 instead of languishing where he was in 2013.
He’s taken part in just four practices at training camp, but in that short sliver of time, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler shows evidence he’s poised to take a major step in Year 2 of Marc Trestman’s offense.

“It’s obvious in practice that Jay is taking more and more control by the day,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “Not that he didn’t before; he did. But with his comfort level with all the things we’re trying to get done, he’s able to solve some of his own problems on the field, even when he didn’t maybe have that answer taught to him yet. It’s really helped that Jay has studied really hard all offseason. He’s worked on technique. He’s been one of the hardest-working guys on the team this offseason.”

Cutler
In other words, Cutler isn’t resting on what the offense accomplished in 2013.

You know the numbers. The Bears set records last season in net yardage (6,109 yards), passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9) in addition to achieving a franchise-best 344 first downs while scoring the second-most points in franchise history (445).

Cutler’s 63.1 completion percentage ranked second in franchise history, as he churned out a career-best passer rating of 89.2.

Cutler has long held a reputation for surliness, and the outside perception is he’s aloof with teammates. Yet within the organization, the quarterback didn’t display such qualities, according to the coaches. Actually, he’s quite the opposite, they say.

“I didn’t know him before last year, and to be honest with you, since I’ve been around him I’ve been nothing but impressed,” quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh said. “I think he’s got a real sincere attitude about this organization, his teammates, the coaching staff and what we’re trying to get done. He believes in it.

“He does things that will never, ever get reported, and you just say, ‘Wow, that’s unselfish.' I admire that in him.”

What went largely unreported during last year’s camp was Cutler’s penchant for gathering the players late at night to go through walkthroughs of what the offense might be working on the next day.

Evidence of Cutler’s growth also manifested itself Saturday on the field after the club’s second workout of camp. Earlier that day, Cutler and tight end Martellus Bennett squandered what should have been a touchdown in the red zone when linebacker Jonathan Bostic broke up the quarterback’s pass.

As the rest of the team walked off the field after practice, Cutler walked over to an adjacent field with Bennett to talk about ways they could be more effective in the red zone. The conversation wasn’t combative, and the duo walked away smiling, having gained a better understanding of how to capitalize on the next red-zone opportunity.

“In certain situations [Bennett is] really hard to cover,” Cutler later explained. “He’s such a big guy that even some of the intermediate stuff over the middle, he’s able to bring guys and get separation. He played basketball, so he knows how to high point the ball down in the red zone. We’ve just got to keep throwing different stuff at him and incorporating him in different ways.”

Cutler hasn’t been perfect, nor has anyone else on the offense thus far at camp. But everyone recognizes the deficiencies, and Cutler seems to be taking the lead in cleaning up things.

Cutler admitted “there’s been some sloppy stuff out there,” thus far at camp, which he said “is to be expected.”

That’s part of the reason Cutler is sometimes taking repetitions with the second-team offense. The staff wants Cutler to take as many snaps as possible to strengthen his command of the offense, while also working with different personnel that might become more involved in the scheme if there’s an injury to a key contributor.

Trestman agreed with Kromer's assessment that Cutler is more of a problem-solver in Year 2 of the offense.

“It happens both in the protection game because of his acumen. He’s seein' it all. He’s also doing it within the framework of our passing game as well,” Trestman said. “He’s able to get guys in the right position, change routes quickly and get the best and most out of each and every play. That’s kind of where he is. He’s kind of fixing it at the line of scrimmage when he needs to get that done.”

Cavanaugh called Cutler “a great example” for the offense.

“He just wants to be the best he can be every day, and he wants to make the people around him better, too,” Cavanaugh said. “That’ what you want in your leader. You want a guy who can make people around him better and be an example for them and make them better.”
MANKATO, Minn. -- The test was not going to be difficult. David Yankey had taken enough U.S. history classes growing up in Roswell, Georgia, that he had little trepidation about his ability to pass an American citizenship exam. There would be a different set of emotions when he sat down to take the test this spring.

There would be pride, from having completed a journey that meant so much to his Ghanaian-born father, David, Sr. There would be a sense of community, from joining his mother and his two younger brothers as citizens of a country his family had moved to when Yankey was 8-years old. And there would be wistfulness, from imagining how happy his dad would be to see him now, a full-fledged American about to graduate from Stanford University and begin a career in the NFL.

"He loved football, and he would have loved to see that, as well," Yankey said. "But I think he would have been ecstatic to see me graduate."

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's David Yankey
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDavid Yankey, who became a U.S. citizen earlier this year, was born outside of Sydney, Australia, to a father from Ghana and a mother from Czechoslovakia.
Yankey has made it now, becoming a U.S. citizen two weeks after the Vikings selected him in the fifth round of the NFL draft and two weeks before he graduated from Stanford. He's been called a possible steal in the draft, after some projections had him going in the second or third round, and he could eventually push Charlie Johnson for the starting left guard job. He's arrived in Minnesota, as the next stop on a rich journey that took Yankey from Australia to Georgia, then to California. His dad, though, won't be there to see what comes next. David Yankey, Sr., passed away last fall, from causes that aren't completely clear. He'd had some heart issues in the past, but had gotten himself in better shape before his unexpected death last fall.

His legacy, though, includes a son who's made his family proud.

David Yankey, Jr., was born just outside of Sydney, to a father who'd followed his brothers from Ghana to Australia for work with a foresting company and a mother who'd escaped Communist rule with her family in Czechoslovakia. They met and married in Australia, and David Yankey, Jr., grew up as the oldest of three boys, in a house crackling with linguistic diversity.

Yankey never learned any of the tribal dialects his father spoke, but his parents told him he was fluent in Slovak as a toddler. "I eventually refused to speak it, for some reason," Yankey said. "I think it was just before I could have really maintained it and kept remembering it, unfortunately."

English was the language both of his parents knew, and became the common tongue of his family. But Yankey, who lived in Australia and the Deep South, somehow didn't wind up with an accent from either place.

His family moved to the United States in 2000, when his father took a job as an IT professional. "He'd always wanted to come to the States," Yankey said. "It was always kind of a dream of his, especially growing up in Africa."

And now that he's a citizen, Yankey finds himself even more at home in the U.S. He'd always rooted for Australia during the World Cup, and nervously refrained from taking a side in the Ghana-U.S. matches during the 2006 and 2010 tournaments. But this year, after he'd become a citizen, Yankey proudly supported the U.S. team during its group stage victory over Ghana last month.

Even Minnesota has a familial feel for him. He played with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson's son, Nick, at Stanford, and Jeff Davidson's May trip to the West Coast allowed him to both visit his son and work with Yankey, who couldn't attend the Vikings' organized team activities until Stanford's classes concluded in June.

Yankey said he's happy among a veteran group of linemen, who have played together under Davidson for three seasons and combined to start 157 out of a possible 160 regular-season games the past two seasons.

"Minnesota, I think, was a really awesome place for me to end up," Yankey said. "These guys, they know so much, they do the right things, they're all pros."

His latest stop, so far, feels like a rewarding destination. And Yankey will carry with him the man who put him on his journey in the first place.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
11:58
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • The Vikings have a day off on Tuesday, and coach Mike Zimmer will use it to meet with his staff and decide which players need more practice snaps and which ones might get less work. It's getting harder and harder to see the team's quarterback competition as anything other than a race between Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel and Bridgewater got most of the work in the Vikings' night practice, which was heavy on playbook installation; Cassel again took the first-team snaps, while Bridgewater worked with the second team and Ponder with the third. Cassel hit 5 of his 9 passes and found a wide open Greg Jennings on a nice throw down the right sideline. Bridgewater went 12-for-13, and Ponder went 1-for-2. All three quarterbacks had a dropped pass, which means Bridgewater and Ponder technically didn't miss a receiver all night. But when the Vikings are giving Cassel the work with the starters -- and using much of their remaining time on Bridgewater -- it doesn't say much for Ponder's chances. Bridgewater hit 4 of his 12 completions to running backs, and had to be bailed out by his receivers on a couple throws, but he did a nice job stepping up in the pocket, made a solid throw to Rodney Smith on the run and again connected with Adam Thielen. He's continued to impress.
  • Blair Walsh got his first chance to kick during training camp, and made seven of his eight field goal attempts. His lone miss was from 44 yards out, and Walsh finished the session by drilling a 52-yarder.
  • First-round pick Anthony Barr showed his speed as a pass-rusher in a sack, so to speak, of Cassel during 11-on-11 work. Barr surged through the middle of the Vikings' line on a blitz, getting to Cassel as the play was blown dead (quarterbacks, of course, aren't allowed to get hit during training camp). He's mostly worked with the second team, but has had a handful of first-team snaps. He might have to get past Audie Cole for the starting strong-side linebacker job early in the season, but Barr's size and speed has the Vikings excited about what they're seeing.
  • The Vikings did their first goal-line work on Monday night, and it was easy to see why Zimmer wanted to keep Adrian Peterson out of the session. The Vikings were practicing at "thud" tempo, where defenders initiate contact without taking ballcarriers to the ground, but the drill featured some live hitting, like when Jasper Brinkley drilled Matt Asiata for a loss on the first snap of the drill and the third-string defense hammered undrafted free agent Dominique Williams.
  • The evening practice had a special guest: Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, who is in Mankato for a summit with the team's ownership group, watched the session from the top row of Blakeslee Stadium, sitting with general manager Rick Spielman.

Lions Camp Report: Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
8:30
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The most important and interesting item to come out of the first day of Lions training camp had nothing to do with anything the team did on the field. Instead, it had everything to do with Detroit's decision to table contract talks with Ndamukong Suh until after the season. The Lions said they decided to do this to make sure the focus remained solely on the season ahead, but they also took attention away from the first day of training camp with an off-the-field issue. At least for Detroit, it can avoid daily questions about it from now on.
  • Rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a bit of a rough day. He injured his thumb during the first half of practice, ending the second round pick's participation in the first training camp practice of his career. He didn't seem too bothered by it, though. “I should be out there (Tuesday),” Van Noy said. Lions coach Jim Caldwell seemed a bit less optimistic, saying “we'll see how he goes the rest of the week.” Caldwell said the team wouldn't be able to determine the extent of the injury until Tuesday.
  • The Lions' secondary had a pretty decent first day in 11-on-11 work. Both Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis broke up passes intended for receiver Golden Tate, and the secondary covered well enough on other plays in the full-team periods to force Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to have to throw dump-off passes to running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush instead. It's only one day and they are not in pads yet, but a decent sign for a Lions secondary that needs to put together a few good days early.
  • One of two Lions players who did not practice -- as expected -- was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Caldwell said Sunday he did not have a timetable for his return. Ansah spent most of Monday's practice off on the side chatting with folks. When asked about his return, he said he had no idea when he would come back. Another defensive end, Kalonji Kashama, was released by the team Monday.
  • In the battle for receivers not named Tate or Calvin Johnson, both Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree had nice catches Monday. Ogletree had an impressive catch over the middle -- although he probably would have been drilled by a defensive back had it been a real game. Durham made a nice catch running an out on the sideline as well. In what is expected to be an extremely tight battle, plays like that are going to be noticed every practice.
  • This will be worth paying attention to throughout the first week: Corey Hilliard took snaps at right tackle ahead of LaAdrian Waddle during 11-on-11 periods Monday. Hilliard is more of a veteran than Waddle and Waddle is still expected to win the job, but an interesting small side note on the first day.

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