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Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Update: The (internal) replacements

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

As the preseason draws to a close, it's time to start updating some of our offseason threads. Let's begin with a Feb. 22 post that suggested four players whose potential development could ease depth concerns at their respective positions. As it turned out, we did a better job of identifying need positions than we did in suggesting candidates to fill them. Better luck next year, I guess.

Chicago Bears defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert


What we said then: The road couldn't be paved any more clearly for Gilbert, the Bears' top pick of the 2009 draft. Left end Adewale Ogunleye is a pending free agent and is expected to move on. Ogunleye's likely replacement, Gaines Adams, died last month. That left Gilbert and Henry Melton as the remaining internal candidates to start at left end. Good outside pass-rushers almost never become available on the free-agent market, and without a pick in the first or second round this season, it will be difficult for the Bears to draft one capable of making an immediate impact. To this point, Gilbert's greatest claim to fame is being the draft prospect who jumped out of a pool. He spent most of 2009 in an unofficial redshirt year under defensive line guru Rod Marinelli, so it's hard to know if Gilbert is capable of holding down a starting job in 2010. It's not even clear if the Bears consider him an end or a tackle. But if it's the former, Gilbert will get every opportunity to help the Bears out of this jam.


What's happened since: This year, a good outside pass rusher actually did become available via free agency, and the Bears pounced on Julius Peppers. Gilbert, meanwhile, has been nearly invisible in preseason games and could be waived this weekend.

Detroit Lions running back Aaron Brown


What we said then: Starting tailback Kevin Smith is rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while also trying to overcome two shoulder injuries that slowed him in 2009. Backup Maurice Morris is also under contract, but Morris doesn't have the kind of big-play abilities Brown displayed last season. The Lions were exasperated at times with Brown's mental errors, but perhaps an offseason of studying can help him move past those issues. He might not be an ideal every-down back, but Brown could add an explosive element to the Lions' offense if they trust him enough to put him on the field. His development could ease some of the urgency to add further depth behind Smith and Morris.


What's happened since: The Lions traded up to select Jahvid Best with the No. 30 overall pick in the draft. Best will fill the playmaker role we suggested for Brown. Can't argue with that one. But Brown has shown enough this summer to earn a spot on the Lions' roster.

Green Bay Packers defensive back Will Blackmon


What we said then: Because the Packers haven't revealed their tender offers for restricted free agents, we can't say with certainty that Blackmon will return to the Packers in 2010. But based on the typical timetable for ACL rehabilitation, Blackmon should be cleared for the start of training camp. And if he's healthy and ready, Blackmon would add experienced depth to a position ravaged by injuries at the end of last season. With Al Harris rehabilitating a similar injury on a later timetable, the Packers might have to open camp with nickelback Tramon Williams as a starter. It's always possible that a rookie could help at nickelback, but all things equal, the Packers would probably be more comfortable with veteran experience at the position. Jarrett Bush struggled in that role during some games last season, opening up an opportunity for Blackmon if he's up to it.

What's happened since: The Packers moved Blackmon to safety late in spring practice and instead gave Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee and rookie Sam Shields the opportunity we envisioned for Blackmon. It was probably a wise move; he continues to be bothered by knee soreness. It's not clear if he will make the team.

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Asher Allen


What we said then: The Vikings need Allen to become a full-time player, if not a starter, to avoid facing a sudden shortage at cornerback. Starter Cedric Griffin's status is uncertain after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the NFC Championship Game; it would be a surprise if Griffin is cleared for the beginning of training camp. The 2009 nickelback, Benny Sapp, is a pending unrestricted free agent and probably earned himself a decent contract after making seven starts in 2009. I'm guessing the Vikings don't want to overpay to bring back Sapp, especially considering Griffin will eventually return and that fellow starter, Antoine Winfield, is signed through 2013. As a rookie, Allen had a strong training camp but was buried on the depth chart when the season began. He's aggressive against the run, a decent tackler and displayed solid instincts when on the field. A natural progression would make him the nickelback in 2010, a role that would allow him to fill in for Griffin. Otherwise, the Vikings will have to shell out more money for Sapp or another free agent.

What's happened since: Injuries, attrition and solid play have put Allen in position to be the Week 1 nickel back. Griffin hasn't started practicing. Sapp was traded to Miami, and while the Vikings made cornerback Chris Cook their top draft pick, he will miss up to four weeks because of knee surgery.