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Saturday, July 25, 2009
Weekend mailbag

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The weekend mailbag returns with a vengeance, leading off with Angry Tom's latest missive. AT contacted me through traditional means of the mailbag, but remember you can also get your message across via our piping-hot Facebook page and our steadily-humming Twitter feed.

Speaking of which, I want to thank those of you who have responded to our expansion efforts on Facebook and Twitter. I'm getting more efficient with both applications and fully plan to continue communicating through them during the season. So tell you friends! The more people we have, the better and more vigorous our discussions will be.

Now, on with it.

The aforementioned Angry Tom writes: I have read before in your blog that your general assessment of the BEARS defense is "aging." I am thinking the Vikings are not quite as young as you think.

Kevin Seifert: It's a fair point Tom, and one that produced some interesting results when I looked into it. At the outset, however, I should say that I consider aging to be not only a numeric figure but also a less specific depiction of wearing down over time. (We all know there are plenty of 50-year-olds in the general population who are in far better physical condition than a lot of 30 year-olds.)

With that said, I've compiled the average Opening Day ages for Chicago and Minnesota's projected defensive starters. You'll find the Bears are about a half-year younger than the Vikings, on average. Both teams have nine projected starters under the age of 30. Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams (36) is the oldest and Bears safety Craig Steltz (23) is the youngest. (Corey Graham, who could beat out Steltz, is one year older at 24.)

I'll have a few more comments below the chart:

Minnesota Vikings

Defensive end Jared Allen: 27
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams: 29
Defensive tackle Pat Williams: 36
Defensive end Ray Edwards: 24
Linebacker Chad Greenway: 26
Linebacker E.J. Henderson: 29
Linebacker Ben Leber: 30
Cornerback Antoine Winfield: 32
Safety Tyrell Johnson: 24
Safety Madieu Williams: 27
Cornerback Cedric Griffin: 26

Avg. age: 28.2
Under 30: Nine of 11

Chicago Bears

Defensive end Alex Brown: 30
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris: 26
Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek: 26
Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye: 32
Linebacker Lance Briggs: 28
Linebacker Brian Urlacher: 31
Linebacker Piso Tinoisamoa: 28
Cornerback Charles Tillman: 28
Safety Craig Steltz: 23
Safety Kevin Payne: 25
Cornerback Nate Vasher: 27

Avg. age: 27.6
Under 30: Nine of 11

Two of the Bears' oldest starters, Ogunleye and Urlacher, have slipped in recent years. Ogunleye's sack total dropped to five last season and the Bears tellingly made no move to extend his contract, which expires after this season. Urlacher, meanwhile, has now gone consecutive years without making the Pro Bowl. And while defensive tackle Tommie Harris is 26, his creaky knees forced the Bears to ration his repetitions last season as if he were a much older player.

That's a nutshell illustration of the Bears as an aging defense: Key players whose performance has descended from their previously elite levels.

The Vikings have some age at key positions as well, most notably with Williams and Winfield. But it's only fair to point out both players made the Pro Bowl last season. They are aged but to this point haven't played that way. Minnesota officials have some long-term planning ahead of them in eventually replacing Williams and Winfield, but they have every reason to expect elite performances from both in 2009.


Via Twitter, AMSERV writes that Brett Favre missing part of Minnesota's training camp isn't as big of a deal as everyone thinks. Tons of players -- rooks thru vets -- hold out til after training camp starts.

Kevin Seifert: A late arrival isn't unprecedented, but it's typically accompanied by angst, distraction and a mad effort to catch up from a physical and mental standpoint. Green Bay tailback Ryan Grant, for example, held out for the first week of training camp and promptly developed a sore hamstring that bothered him for much of the season.

A late arrival would give Favre even less time to develop a rapport with his teammates and, particularly, his new stable of receivers. I know Favre overcame that obstacle last year with the New York Jets, but it's far from preferable.


Ben of Iowa City writes: Just wanted to know why you have consistently left Breno Giacomini out of the competition at RT for the Packers. He will be squarely in the mix.

Kevin Seifert: I'm not so sure about that. Giacomini missed much of the offseason program because of an ankle injury. He's running a distant third to Allen Barbre and T.J. Lang, and the No. 3 tackle doesn't usually get much opportunity to compete for a starting job. Barring injury, there is a high likelihood that either Barbre or Lang will be the starter.


Lion-O of Atlanta writes: Will Matt Stafford be able to sit and adjust to the league as say an Aaron Rodgers or will he be pushed out to the field because of the money Detroit is paying him?

Kevin Seifert: I don't think he'll get the three years Rodgers did, but if the Lions' new regime is true to its word, Stafford won't play until he's ready. There's no doubt that $41.7 million in guarantees will be burning a hole in his pocket, but that's an investment in the long-run. If I had to guess, I'd stay Stafford won't open the 2009 season as the starter but he will in 2010.


Susan of Glendale, Ariz., writes: I'm a huge Viking fan who struggles to get good info on the team living down here in the desert for the past 4 years! I've been looking for a status update on E.J. Henderson and haven't found a thing. Do you know how he's doing and will he be back in camp?

Kevin Seifert: Henderson's status has been the topic of a steady stream of offseason questions, but the reality is that he's been healthy since the end of last season. In fact, coach Brad Childress said Henderson could have played in the postseason had the Vikings not decided to place him on injured reserve. So to my knowledge, Henderson is 100 percent and ready for the start of training camp.


Jim of Des Moines writes: I was wondering if you could let us know how the recovery of Nick Barnett is going.

Kevin Seifert: Earlier this month, Barnett joked he is "93.758" percent healed from last season's torn anterior cruciate ligament. Most people believe he will be ready to start the regular season, but it's possible he'll open training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. That's a decision the Packers will make toward the end of next week.


Via Facebook, Eddie writes: My number one Bears question mark continues to be the secondary. Can you give me a very brief overview of how you see it playing out? It just seems like there are conflicting reports of who has the upper hand everywhere I look. I know that Tillman is going to start at the one corner, and I am guessing Payne wil
l start at safety. What do you envision after that?

Kevin Seifert: I would agree that Tillman and Payne will be two of the starters. The fact that coaches moved Graham to safety means it's more likely than not that Vasher will re-claim his starting cornerback job. That would leave Graham and Steltz to battle it out for the other safety position. If Steltz wins, Graham could end up as the nickel back. But if I had to predict a winner, I'd say it will be Graham.