Chicago Bears: Harrison Smith

NFC North training camp battles

July, 2, 2012
AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:


Left tackle: J'Marcus Webb versus Chris Williams

It's a bit disconcerting to stage a competition at such an important position, especially when you consider how difficult it is to find a good left tackle at the NFL level.

Williams, a first-round draft pick in 2008, hasn't manned the position since early in the 2010 season. Left tackles who are moved away mid-career usually aren't brought back. He has also started games at right tackle and left guard in his career, making him a candidate to be a swing backup if Webb wins the job.

Webb was one of the Bears' few options last season at left tackle. But after absorbing 15 accepted penalties and allowing 12 sacks, based on tracking from Pro Football Focus, it's clear Webb did not establish himself as a long-term answer.

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice was the Bears' offensive line coach when Williams moved to left guard. Tice also installed Webb as his left tackle last season, so it's reasonable to guess Webb would get the benefit of the doubt. The Bears will cross their fingers and hope one of the two emerges as a competent option.


Cornerback: Aaron Berry versus Jacob Lacey

Lions training camp will include a number of competitive storylines, from whether rookie offensive lineman Riley Reiff can win a starting job (somewhere) to whether safety Amari Spievey can hold on to his role. But the most significant battle could be between Berry and Lacey for the chance to replace Eric Wright as a starting cornerback.

Berry was the Lions' Week 1 nickel back in each of the past two seasons, and it would be a natural progression for him to take over as a starter. Lacey started 27 games for the Indianapolis Colts over the past three seasons, but it's worth reiterating that the Colts did not issue him a qualifying tender as a restricted free agent. That decision wasn't exactly an endorsement of his career to this point.

For the moment, at least, Berry's recent arrest for suspicion of drunken driving hasn't threatened his roster spot. The bigger issue has been his inability to stay on the field, having missed 15 games in 2010-11 and five last season because of injury.

Given the number of three- and four-receiver sets the Lions likely will face in the NFC North this season, both Berry and Lacey should see plenty of action. But the Lions surely would like Berry to feed off the competition and solidify himself as a permanent starter.


No. 3 receiver: James Jones versus Randall Cobb versus Donald Driver

The winner of this competition might be reflected in playing time rather than actual starts, and that, of course, is assuming Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson receive the most snaps among the Packers' deep and talented group of receivers.

Driver started 15 games last season even though he played fewer snaps than Jennings and Nelson. Cobb's expected development adds another element to the question of who will play most often among this trio.

Some of the answer will depend upon matchups and scheme, but ultimately the most reliable playmaker will emerge and receive the most playing time.


Safety: Multiple players and positions

Given the miserable performance of their pass defense in 2011, it's safe to assume the Vikings will have a new starter at one safety position, and possibly both, in 2012. Veterans Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond worked with the first team during most spring practices, but Sanford has proved a liability in pass coverage in the past, and a number of other players should get long looks during training camp.

That list is headed by first-round draft pick Harrison Smith, who eventually will be a starter, even if it isn't in Week 1. Fellow rookie Robert Blanton, who is making the transition from cornerback, is another candidate.

The Vikings also will have competition at right guard between second-year player Brandon Fusco and veteran newcomer Geoff Schwartz, but it's likely more fans will follow the progress of the safety positions.

Todd McShay mock 5.0: NFC North

April, 12, 2012
ESPN analyst Todd McShay's fifth mock draft Insider of the year contemplates multiple scenarios for each pick in the first round, and so it takes a little more time to digest than usual. Its Insider status prevents me from bringing you every scenario in the NFC North, but I can pass along what McShay considers ideal for each team.

3. Minnesota Vikings
A trade that nets an additional first-round pick but also keeps the Vikings in the top 10 of the 2012 first round.
Seifert comment: I think the Vikings would make a deal for something less than that bounty, perhaps an additional second- and third-round pick in addition to their partner's No. 1 pick. There is a cost to be considered for falling outside of the so-called blue-(chip) zone of the first round, but the Vikings' across-the-board needs might well make it worth their while.

19. Chicago Bears
South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore
Seifert comment: Gilmore wouldn't be in position to play right away on a team that has Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden under contract. But he would be a start in a necessary replenishment of depth behind the Bears' 30-something defensive stars.

23. Detroit Lions
Alabama defensive end/outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw
Seifert comment: In this mock, Gilmore and fellow cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama are both off the board. Pass-rushers are a premium asset, and we know that the Lions won't look elsewhere merely because their defensive line is already well-stocked.

28. Green Bay Packers
Clemson defensive end Andre Branch
Seifert comment: Branch could play outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. Most mockers seem to think the Packers will draft the best available defensive end/linebacker at this spot, and in this exercise USC defensive end Nick Perry is off the board. You also wonder if Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith is a possibility here.