We're Black and Blue All Over:
Something is different about the Chicago Bears this season, and it's not just their potential for an explosive offense. As Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune writes, coach Lovie Smith is physically rejuvenated, having dropped 29 pounds over the past 12 months. Healthy and calm as always, Smith is in position to be among the longest-tenured coaches in Bears history.
Smith said he is "on a health kick like I've never been on in my life." Pompei notes there are no signs of the physical stress and mental fatigue that punctuated the final years of former coach Mike Ditka's reign in Chicago. If he makes it through the 2014 season, Smith will tie Ditka as the second-longest tenured coach in Bears history after George Halas.
Pompei: "If Ditka was starting to burn out in his ninth season, Smith has reignited his fire. Smith has continued to work well with people around him, both newcomers and holdovers. There are no external signs that he has been on the job too long. In fact, he has the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader. He doesn't drink alcohol, coffee or pop but seems impervious to the stress and fatigue that eats up NFL coaches. Smith rolls with it, and being a flat-liner has its benefits. He could live longer than he otherwise might have, both as coach of the Bears and as a human being, as a result."
I've always thought one of Smith's most admirable qualities is his consistently calm demeanor, both on the sideline and on the practice field. I know some fans are frustrated by what they consider a lack of fire, but I really think players appreciate that he offers a consistent daily approach.
Continuing around the NFC North:
Bears defensive tackle Amobi Okoye received $600,000 on his way out of Tampa Bay a few days ago, according to my NFC South colleague Pat Yasinskas.
The Bears have not discussed a new contract for quarterback Jay Cutler, whose deal expires after the 2013 season, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
Injuries are a factor now for the Bears, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is predicting a 10-6 season for the Green Bay Packers. McGinn: "In analyzing this team, there are a few too many weaknesses without readily discernible solutions."
The Packers are comfortable with a thin group of seven offensive linemen on their 53-man roster, writes Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers acknowledged this might be his final season with receiver Greg Jennings, who is a pending free agent. Via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com, Rodgers said: "I think you have to think about whether or not there's room for all of us. If there's not, obviously you wish Greg the best. He's a great guy and will be a great friend."
Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press gets to know new Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams, who once blew up mailboxes with firecrackers.
Vikings middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley is a riddle, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune.
The Detroit Lions got under the NFL salary cap by restructuring the contract of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The crew at Mlive.com debates whether the Lions' secondary is ready to step up this season.
Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "The Lions don't even try to disguise their intent anymore. Would Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan like to develop a running game? Well, sure. But virtually every move the Lions make, every offensive player general manager Martin Mayhew adds, is done with the goal of maximizing [Calvin] Johnson's ability to affect a game."
Check here for season predictions on the Lions from the Detroit Free Press.