NFC North Notes
Mike Martz By Scout.com
Date: Feb 20, 2006
The Chicago Bears finally got another new defensive backs coach, the Lions are hoping Mike Martz can rejuvenate their offense and the Packers are switching philosophies on the offensive line. Get those stories and more notes from the VikingsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ divisional rivals.
Steven Wilks is the newest name in the ever-changing position of Bears defensive backs coach.
While turnover at the position has been frequent, it has also been a springboard to promotions for WilksÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ predecessors.
Wilks was announced as the successor to Perry Fewell, who was hired on Jan. 20, 2005 but left after one season to become the Buffalo BillsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ defensive coordinator under former Bears coach Dick Jauron. Before Fewell, Vance Bedford was the BearsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ defensive backs coach, but he also left after just one season to become defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.
Before hiring Wilks, the Bears struck out with Michigan defensive backs coach Ron English, who accepted the position but then backed out when he was given a promotion to defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor.
Wilks, who was the defensive backs coach last season at the University of Washington, beat out former Pro Bowl cornerback Gill Byrd. Bears coach Lovie Smith had also expressed interest in hiring Colts defensive assistant Leslie Frazier, a member of the BearsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 1985 Super Bowl team. But Frazier was promoted and given a raise to remain with Indianapolis.
Wilks is an 11-year college coaching veteran who spent the past two seasons under Ty Willingham (at Notre Dame in 2004 and Washington last year).
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m real excited about the opportunity,Ã¢â‚¬Â Wilks said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not just the chance to coach in the NFL, but the opportunity to be able to be a part of the Bears organization and most importantly work with Lovie Smith and the defensive coaches. When you watch from a coachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s perspective, you see a well-disciplined football team. The guys play hard. You can really tell they love the game and they play with a lot of passion. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve always emphasized and talked about as a coach.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Wilks inherits a secondary that features two Pro Bowlers, cornerback Nate Vasher and strong safety Mike Brown, and he believes the group will benefit from his enthusiasm.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m very vocal and very passionate,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think the guys feed off that emotion. Defensive backs are the last line of defense and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to play with a level of intensity every play.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Wilks also has experience as a head coach and defensive coordinator in college. He was the defensive backs coach at Bowling Green in 2003, the co-defensive coordinator at East Tennessee State in 2002, defensive backs coach at Appalachian State in 2001 and Illinois State in 2000. He was the head coach at Savannah State in 1999 after serving as the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defensive coordinator from 1997-98 and the defensive coordinator at Johnson C. Smith College from 1995-96.
The North Carolina native was a defensive back at Appalachian State from 1987-91. He went to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks in 1992 and played for the Charlotte Rage of the Arena Football League in 1993 as a defensive back and wide receiver.
Considering that veteran Doug Brien began the year by converting just 1-of-4 field goal attempts before he was cut, the Bears did a good job of salvaging that aspect of their special teams, or rather Robbie Gould did.
The undrafted rookie from Penn State beat out five veterans during a Tuesday tryout and then converted 21 of 27 attempts over the final 13 games of the season. Gould isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t entrenched, but he has a leg up on any competition the Bears bring in during the off-season, even if an experienced veteran comes available.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We felt good about RobbieÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s performance, particularly when you consider he was an undrafted free agent,Ã¢â‚¬Â Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He showed leg strength and exceptional poise for a rookie. Our stadium was rated the toughest to kick in from 2003-2005 in the league.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a given that experience is necessarily the answer. We will look to create competition at the position, but to say itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be a veteran player, at this point I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t.Ã¢â‚¬Â
On Tuesday of Super Bowl week, Antwaan Randle El said he hoped the Steelers would put something special in for him. On Sunday night after the SteelersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ victory he confessed.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was already in,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said of the trick play that resulted in his 43-yard TD pass to Hines Ward. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say anything.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Randle El, who grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, also couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say too much about all the talk heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been hearing about him coming home to the Bears, since heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be an unrestricted free agent on March 3. It seems everyone in the Chicago area was talking about it, though.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I know a lot of people are asking me if IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m coming to the Bears,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not my focus now. I have an opportunity when the seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s over with. Having them in Chicago talk about it and all the things they hear on the radio, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s flattering in a way.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They do care a lot about me. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve heard and talked to a lot of people, a lot of family members, a lot of friends, just about the buzz in the city right now. but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neither here nor there right now.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Marcedes Lewis, a big tight end out of UCLA, showed good receiving and blocking skills and Jay Cutler, a quarterback from Vanderbilt, showed exceptional arm strength and accuracy.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Mike Martz says he hopes eventually to be a head coach again in the NFL, but the Lions apparently donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to worry that he will be looking for the first bus out of town after the 2006 season.
Martz, who recently his duties this week as the LionsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ new offensive coordinator, said that was one of the topics he discussed with coach Rod Marinelli and team president Matt Millen before taking the job.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I did not come here with the thought that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to coach one year and then go be a head coach,Ã¢â‚¬Â Martz said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not why IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m here. If I was going to do that - and I talked to coach Marinelli about that and Matt the same thing - then why would I take this job? You know what I mean?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why not just sit out a year and then try to do that? No, I came here because I want to be here and not just for a year.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Martz coached in St. Louis the past seven seasons, including the last six as the RamsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ head coach. He missed much of the 2005 season with a heart ailment and was fired by the Rams, despite being cleared medically to return to work.
Martz was the RamsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ offensive coordinator under Dick Vermeil in the 1999 season when they won the Super Bowl and coached them to four playoff appearances in the next six years. He admits, however, that the circumstances of his final season were not what he would have wanted.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yeah, I feel like I have unfinished business, I really do,Ã¢â‚¬Â Martz said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think eventually, I hope the opportunity (to be a head coach) comes up. If it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t, then it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m fine with that. But I do look forward to it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Fortunately for the Lions, he says he is in no rush, however, and he says heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s excited about being an offensive coordinator again.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the fun and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the attraction of it, to be honest with you,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In the last few years being the head coach I got into so many different things that theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not fun. This is why you coach - this is what is fun for me and I think thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the challenge and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the excitement that I have about being in this position.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even met all of his players yet but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s already settled on one player as an off-season priority - defensive end Kalimba Edwards
Edwards, a second-round draft pick in 2002, is considered an excellent athlete but has not produced up to expectations, in part because of injury problems.
Because of his athletic ability, Henderson has labeled him Ã¢â‚¬Å“our No. 1 priority.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have too many guys in this league that rush the passer like him,Ã¢â‚¬Â Henderson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been fortunate enough to be around a few of them ... weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to find a way to keep him. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to put him in a situation where he stays healthy and when he rushes the passer and gets up the field, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what he does.Ã¢â‚¬Â
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The tradition of the PackersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ offensive linemen gathering for a meaty dinner on Thursday nights during the season will be getting a lot less extravagant.
New offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski fired the first salvo of the off-season by issuing a mandate to many of his linemen that excess weight wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be tolerated. A somewhat radical switch from a gap to a zone-blocking scheme is predicated on having relatively lean, agile blockers up front.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m looking for a real athletic guy. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not going to have fat guys here,Ã¢â‚¬Â Jagodzinski said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think that it helps a player being overweight. I think it hurts him, especially when a guy gets a lower-body injury, to come back because the more weight heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got, the more pressure is going to be on his lower body. That weight that hangs over a belt, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve never felt that helps anybody. It might help you at the buffet, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not going to help you playing the offensive line here.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Top targets for trimming the fat are backup tackle Kevin Barry, right guard Will Whitticker and bookend tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.
Barry, an unrestricted free agent, came under fire by the previous coaching regime for letting his weight get out of control. Jagodzinski said he has spoken to Barry, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s listed at 332 pounds, telling him, Ã¢â‚¬Å“That deal going up to 360, you might as well stop doing that right now because thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not going to help you.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Jagodzinski would be ecstatic if Barry can get down to 315 if heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s re-signed.
Whitticker, likewise, has considerable poundage to shed after playing at upwards of 340 as a rookie last season.
As for the tackles, Jagodzinski acknowledged that the 330-pound Clifton on the left side and even the 315-pound Tauscher on the right side would do well to lay off a second plate.
Jagodzinski had only one starting lineman tip the scale at more than 300 pounds when he was the line coach with Atlanta last season. The Falcons were active with the zone-blocking scheme 100 percent of the time and led the league in rushing for the second straight year.
Jagodzinski said he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t anticipate going full bore with zone blocking in Green Bay this year. He plans to blend in some of the gap schemes that were standard in the PackersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ mostly effective running game the last few years.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They were (No. 3) in the league here (in 2003) running the gap schemes, and they were pretty darned good at it,Ã¢â‚¬Â Jagodzinski said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It comes down to personnel. So, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll do both.Ã¢â‚¬Â
New line coach Joe Philbin, who aided predecessor Larry Beightol the previous three years, is a proponent of zone blocking. He estimated the offense incorporated it 30 to 40 percent of the time on the front side of runs and 75 to 80 percent on the back side last season.
Green Bay has sent nine players to NFL Europe this year: quarterback Brian Wrobel, punter Ryan Dutton, wide receivers Chad Lucas and Vince Butler, tight end Tory Humphrey, offensive guard Pete Traynor, defensive tackle Jerome Nichols and cornerbacks Therrian Fontenot and Jerron Wishom.
Lucas, Humphrey, Fontenot and Wishom had stints on the 53-man roster last season.
NFL Europe teams have started training camp in Tampa, Fla. The season kicks off March 18.
The Packers are open to hosting a hockey game again at Lambeau Field after more than 40,000 fans weathered frigid conditions to watch the inaugural Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic on Feb. 11. Wisconsin beat Ohio State 4-2 in the college game.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll certainly look at it again if (Wisconsin is) happy and everyone in the stands seems happy,Ã¢â‚¬Â said John Jones, the PackersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ executive vice president/chief operating officer. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Packers listen to the fans. So, if this is something people want to see again in the future, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll definitely pay attention to that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The club, though, is opposed to having Wisconsin play a football game or hosting a big-time act for a summer concert at the stadium because it wants to preserve the field for the NFL season.