NFC North notebook: Assessing personnel

Matt Blanchard (Reid Compton/USA Today)

The Bears are using a helmet camera to assess a quarterback, the Lions' ‘Kickalicious' gets to work, and the Packers are making changes on their offensive line.

BEARS USING CAMERA FOR QB EVAL

Chicago Bears quarterback Matt Blanchard had little chance to impress coaches last season or during an April minicamp, so he did what he could to make the most of his chance to throw at the team's rookie camp that ended Sunday.

That included wearing a camera on his helmet.

To get a better idea how Blanchard understands the offense, the Bears had him wear a unique helmet camera so they could see where he looks at the defense and when during the sequence of running plays.

"We really haven't spent any time evaluating what we would get out of it or what we have gotten out of it," coach Marc Trestman said. "It was fun to do it. I peeked at it, but I really didn't study it. We'll see what unfolds this week and what we think we can do with it or move it around — could we put it on the top of the helmet as opposed to the side of a helmet?

"It's kind of fun. It's not a major part of our focus."

Blanchard was just hoping the play repetitions he had can be helpful when the team starts organized team activities this week, followed by a mandatory minicamp.

"With being the third or fourth quarterback, you don't get many reps," said Blanchard, an undrafted former Division III quarterback who also took part in last year's rookie camp.

"An opportunity to come out here, I was ecstatic that they told me I was going to do this rookie minicamp so I can get the reps.

"It just gets me ready for OTAs moving forward."

Doing his best at the rookie camp was critical because he wanted to show Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh there is no need for general manager Phil Emery to pursue a free agent veteran as a third-stringer.

"I am a lot more confident," Blanchard said. "I have had a chance to work with Jay (Cutler) and Josh (McCown) and Coach Cavanaugh and Coach Trestman so I have had a month and a half now to learn the playbook and digest it.

"I didn't get many reps in the first minicamp so now I was glad I was able to put it on the field with all of the stuff I was able to learn."

The Bears had talked about drafting a developmental QB behind Cutler and McCown. They had Josh Campbell as backup last year and McCown was brought back as a third QB after Cutler suffered a concussion.

However, they had only five picks before trading down in Round 4 to get an extra pick for Round 7.

"Going into the draft, it was more of a question: Would we accumulate enough (draft) picks to go in that direction?" GM Phil Emery said of a backup QB. "With five picks and the number of players that we wanted to add at the positions we wanted to add them, I don't know how practical that was."

Yet they did not pursue another undrafted free agent QB, and for rookie camp brought in only former St. Xavier QB Jimmy Coy to help with throws.

The team signed Blanchard out of Wisconsin-Whitewater after last year's rookie camp when Lovie Smith was head coach. Blanchard completed 9 of 16 for 94 yards with an interception and 47.4 passer rating.

They cut Blanchard and put him on the practice squad after training camp. Then they cut him again in December, but he re-signed with the team in January.

"He's articulate in the verbiage of our offense," Trestman said. "He has picked it up very quickly. Again, the reps have really helped him. He's got very good fundamentals.

"He needs to improve like every quarterback does and he has a good base, like I said. The ball easily comes out of his hand as you can see, when he's over the top on his throws it's a very natural throwing motion and he doesn't have to squeeze the ball hard or he doesn't have to what I would say work the ball, it comes off his hand very easily and very naturally and he's got some mobility."

‘KICKALICIOUS' TRYING TO ADJUST TO NFL

The scouting report on Havard Rugland is certainly an odd one.

"He's good at kicking the ball into cars that are driving down the road … boats and stuff like that," Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "But I don't think you get any more points for doing that. We've got to kick it between the goalposts."

Rugland's story is unlike that of any other player at rookie minicamp. The Norwegian kicker became an Internet sensation after producing video footage of all sorts of quirky trick shots.

Rugland back-heels the ball nonchalantly into a trash can and kicks it to somebody on a boat on a lake. In one goofy stunt, he lines up for what looks like a chip-shot field goal — only he's not trying to split the uprights. Instead, his kick sails gently through a basketball hoop.

"I kept hitting the rim, and I wanted it to go straight in," Rugland said. "That's a lot of work."

Now Rugland faces the more mundane challenge of mastering the fundamentals as an NFL kicker. The Lions signed him last month and are giving him a chance to make the team.

"I'm really serious about it. I'm doing my best to get better every day," he said. "I think there's a lot of people wanting a spot on an NFL team, so you have to perform good. They wouldn't sign me if they didn't see something, like talent or potential."

Rugland's first name is pronounced HO-var, although he was given the nickname ‘Kickalicious' by a cousin. A longtime soccer player, he says he knows the basics of American football, but not all the rules.

The Lions need a kicker after Jason Hanson's retirement. They signed Rugland and David Akers a couple days apart in April, and now they want to see how quickly the 28-year-old Rugland can adjust to an NFL kicker's routine. Whether he's working on the timing of the snap and hold or just getting used to wearing a helmet, this is still a fairly new experience for him.

Rugland had a tryout with the New York Jets in December, and since then he's worked with former NFL kicker Michael Husted. When the Lions brought him in for a workout, he impressed them enough that they were willing to sign him.

As for Rugland's trickery on video, Schwartz is skeptical. But he realizes Rugland has talent.

"You just wonder, how many times did he have to kick it to the trash can before he made it? No matter how much everybody thinks — those basketball shots, they might sit there for three days trying to make one," Schwartz said. "You could tell on that video he had leg strength and he could control the football, and those were important things. After he worked out here, we had a feel for his leg strength on kickoffs and his accuracy, and we liked what we saw, and we thought we could work with him."

Rugland says the basketball hoop shot may have taken 40 tries to get right. It remains to be seen whether his skills will translate to an NFL career. He said this week was the first time he'd worn a football helmet.

"From soccer, your head pretty often follows the football," he said. "I'm trying to keep my head down, so it almost helps me out a little bit."

What's his longest field goal? He was a bit hesitant to answer that question.

"It doesn't feel like it counts when you don't have the snap and hold and don't have the NFL football," Rugland said. "The longest I've done here is 58 or 59."

If he can make kicks from that distance in games, he could be an asset for the Lions — and his unusual journey has earned him plenty of attention worldwide. Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud is from Norway, and now Rugland is trying to follow his footsteps to the NFL in unlikely fashion.

"I've got a lot of support from back home," Rugland said. "They don't know very much about American football, but it's actually growing, the interest, so it's really positive."

PACKERS ADJUSTING THEIR OL

The Green Bay Packers' decision to shuffle their offensive line was based on the need to protect the team's most important asset in quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

After doing postseason evaluations of schemes and players and ranking each player on the roster, coach Mike McCarthy and his staff determined that Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton were the team's best offensive linemen.

McCarthy said their ranking led the coaches to having the best blockers protecting the blind side of Rodgers. Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million extension last month that made him the NFL's highest-paid player.

McCarthy said Sunday after the conclusion of the rookie camp that he and his staff put a lot of thought into the move, but that the idea behind it isn't very complex.

"How you utilize your personnel is a constant conversation, and it's no different this year," McCarthy said. "Frankly, we felt Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton were our two most accomplished offensive linemen, and just going back to the old-school theory of how you structure your offensive line, we wanted to put those guys on the left side."

When organized team activity practices kick off May 21, Bulaga will line up at left tackle, Sitton at left guard and former left guard T.J. Lang at right guard.

At right tackle will be former left tackle Marshall Newhouse, who'll compete with Don Barclay who started the final six games at right tackle last season, and 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod, who hasn't played since breaking his leg at Kansas City on Dec. 18, 2011.

The Packers also selected a pair of offensive linemen last month in the draft, adding Colorado's David Bakhtiari and Cornell's J.C. Tretter in the fourth round.

In the one rookie camp practice open to reporters, Bakhtiari lined up at left tackle and Tretter at right tackle, although McCarthy said they moved around during subsequent practices.

McCarthy said Sunday that he likes the competition the shift creates at right tackle, as Newhouse, Barclay, Sherrod or the rookies could win the starting spot.

"Everybody involved on the right side has some history there. Marshall's played the right side, T.J.'s played the right side, Barclay's played the right side, so we're just trying to make as much competition as possible," McCarthy said.

"We feel with Bryan and Josh, we've solved the left side and those guys have some history together, so there's a number of different things that went into it."

The reshuffling of the line comes after Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times last season and the Packers' running game ranked 20th in the league in rushing per game (106.4) and 22nd in yards per attempt (3.9).

Bulaga, the team's 2010 first-round pick who took over at right tackle during his rookie season, played 587 snaps last season before suffering a hip injury that ended his season on Nov. 4.

Sitton went to his first Pro Bowl as an injury replacement last season. McCarthy said he watched Sitton closely as he played left guard during the Pro Bowl.

Barclay was a pleasant surprise as an undrafted rookie free agent when called upon to fill in for Bulaga after Lang struggled at right tackle.

Barclay was inconsistent and was better as a run-blocker than pass-blocking.

At the NFL meetings in Arizona in March, McCarthy had said that he wanted to see improvement from the left side of the line, but the coach said Sunday that he hadn't made up his mind about shuffling the line at that point.

"I hadn't made a final decision yet. But one thing was clear: We needed to be more productive as an offense," McCarthy said. "When you don't win the Super Bowl, you hear about all the negative things that you are on offense. The reality is, we were fifth in the league in scoring (and) No. 1 the year before. So, why? You look at the run game, you look at the players you have.


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