Chicago Bears: Mistral Raymond

NFC North Week 4 Friday injury report

September, 28, 2012
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Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Tight end Evan Rodriguez (knee) missed practice and isn't expected to play Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Linebacker Brian Urlacher took his regular day off Friday. Receiver Earl Bennett (and) and tailback Matt Forte (ankle) were limited. The Bears will announce game statuses Saturday.

Detroit Lions: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (leg muscle/hamstring/hip) is listed as probable. He had full participation in Friday's practice and he'll start Sunday at Ford Field. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) is doubtful, but he never practiced this week and won't play. Running back Mikel Leshoure (groin) and tight end Tony Scheffler (calf) are questionable but expected to play.

Green Bay Packers: The only players who might not be available for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints are safety Sean Richardson and cornerback Davon House (shoulder). All other players, including running back James Starks (toe) are at least probable. Coach Mike McCarthy indicated that Starks is no better than No. 3 on the depth chart behind Cedric Benson and Alex Green, an indication he might not be active Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings ruled out linebacker Erin Henderson (concussion) and safety Mistral Raymond (ankle), as expected. Safety Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and defensive end D'Aundre Reed (calf) are questionable, and all other players are expected to be available. Quarterback Christian Ponder (neck) returned to full participation in practice Friday.

NFC North training camp battles

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
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AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:

CHICAGO BEARS

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.

DETROIT LIONS

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.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

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.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

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.

Final Word: NFC North

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
12:40
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 13:

Closing in: The Green Bay Packers have a great chance to clinch a playoff spot Sunday, regardless of what happens in their game at the New York Giants. (It can happen with a Packers victory, or a loss by one of the following teams: the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions or the Atlanta Falcons.) The Packers can also clinch the NFC North with a victory combined with a Lions loss to the New Orleans Saints. Even if they lose to the Giants, losses by the Lions and Bears this weekend would hand the division to the Packers. And then the real fun begins. The Packers' next goal would be to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and, possibly, a 16-0 regular season.

History: The Giants have lost three consecutive games and aren't expected to have defensive end Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee) for this game. The Packers, meanwhile, have won 17 consecutive games, including the playoffs. But optimism in New York for an upset has centered, in part, on the Giants' history in such situations. On three occasions, the Giants have snapped an opponent's winning streak of 18 or more games. They beat the New England Patriots in 2004, the Denver Broncos in 1998 and the Chicago Bears in 1934. With that said, nothing has happened lately to suggest that these Giants are in position to make it a fourth time -- other than the fact that previous incarnations of their teams have pulled it off.

Must win: Let's be blunt: If the Bears want to participate in the 2011 postseason, they'll need to beat the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field. The Chiefs have lost four consecutive games and are expected to start quarterback Tyler Palko, who has thrown six interceptions in the Chiefs' past two games. The other alternative is former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, who has spent a week with the team. The Bears are 5-1 and are averaging 31.3 points per game at home this season, their only loss coming in Week 3 to the Packers. There is a general assumption that quarterback Caleb Hanie will settle down for his second NFL start, but the Chiefs' poor perimeter run defense could help tailback Matt Forte gobble up yards outside the tackles. (The Chiefs are allowing 5.7 yards per rush outside the tackles.) No matter how it happens, the Bears can't afford a loss Sunday.

Tough to win: As we noted earlier Friday, the Lions will have their work cut out for them Sunday night in stopping the New Orleans Saints' offense, which is particularly explosive at the Superdome. To be fair, it's worth noting that the Lions have a decent opportunity to score against the Saints' risk-taking defense. The Saints are giving up the sixth-most passing yards per game in the NFL this season (253.7) and have only six interceptions, tied for the second-lowest in the league. The fractured right index finger of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has healed, and the Lions at least have the capacity to exchange blows in a shootout.

Defending Tebow: The Minnesota Vikings' beleaguered secondary will get something of a break this week against Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. The Vikings will be without four of the top five defensive backs they opened the season with, and on Sunday rookie Mistral Raymond will make his first NFL start. But the Broncos rarely throw downfield with Tebow and instead focus on their option running game. The Vikings will need to pay particular attention when Tebow is in the spread formation; the Broncos are averaging 6.5 yards per rush and have five rushing touchdowns when Tebow is in the shotgun.

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