NFC North: Larry Asante

You could make an argument that all four NFC teams are approaching the 2010 with a significant need at safety.
  • Chicago manned the two positions with Danieal Manning and Al Afalava for most of 2009. I’m not sure you could consider either a player a slam-dunk starter in 2010.
  • Detroit has one fixture in Louis Delmas, but a half-dozen players rotated through the other position with no obvious up-and-comer on the roster.
  • Green Bay has two clear starters in Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, but both players’ contracts expire in a few months. You would assume both will return, but stranger things have happened.
  • Minnesota saw some progress from Tyrell Johnson at the end of the season, but neither he nor Madieu Williams had the kind of regular season the Vikings were hoping for.

So where should our teams look? On Thursday, we noted Nebraska’s Larry Asante for his apparently strong work during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala. Via Twitter, @cgoldberg13 suggests an alternative: Former Florida State safety Myron Rolle, who was out of football last year while studying at Oxford University as part of his Rhodes Scholarship.

If you have an Insider subscription, you can read Todd McShay’s evaluation of Rolle here. Among other things, McShay wrote that teams want to know how serious Rolle is about playing football.

Over on, Tony Pauline wrote that Rolle was one of the most surprising players this week during Senior Bowl practices.

Pauline added: “Rolle certainly did not look like someone who has not played football in over a year. He never embarrassed himself on the field. In fact by weeks end he was making plays and playing at a higher level than many of his teammates.”

At Florida State, Rolle was known more for his physicality than his coverage skills. At 223 pounds, he would be a pretty big safety in the NFL. As the draft evaluation process continues, I’ll be interested to see if he projects as a full-time safety or a hybrid
As the Senior Bowl practices build up to Saturday’s game, I figured we could have some fun and try matching one participant with each NFC North team. I did my best to consider where each team is drafting, but this is mostly about filling needs -- and enjoying ourselves in the dark days of the early NFL offseason.

Remember, our friends at Scouts Inc. are putting together a daily blog of practice evaluation over on our draft page. Here goes nothing:

Chicago Bears
Player: Nebraska safety Larry Asante
Comment: Safety might be the Bears’ top need, and we all know they don’t have a pick in either the first or second rounds of the 2010 draft. So it’s worth noting that Asante has impressed Todd McShay and Co. with his across-the-board skills. He might not be an elite cover safety, but you don’t have to be in a Cover-2 scheme like the Bears’.

Detroit Lions
Player: Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount
Comment: I know I’ve advocated the Lions focus on improving both of their lines, but that doesn’t mean they should ignore a pretty significant need at running back. Kevin Smith’s torn anterior cruciate ligament makes him a question mark for next season. We all know Blount has some serious character issues, but the Lions’ coaching staff is getting an up-close look at him as one of their players this week on the North squad. If nothing else, the Lions should leave Mobile, Ala., with a good idea of whether his reputation is valid. If they are comfortable with him, he could be a draft value. If they’re not, the Lions are also getting long looks at offensive linemen like Idaho’s Mike Iupati. Here is McShay’s running evaluation of Blount, available to Insider subscribers.

Green Bay Packers
Player: UMass offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse
Ducasse comes from a smaller program, but he fits the profile of many lineman the Packers have drafted: Players who could potentially develop into a tackle or guard depending on need. The draft’s best offensive linemen aren’t at the Senior Bowl, but Ducasse is scouts have paid attention to during practices. Here is McShay’s evaluation.

Minnesota Vikings
Player: Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike
Comment: The Vikings need to identify a long-term answer at quarterback, whether or not Brett Favre returns in 2010. The top arms don’t attend the Senior Bowl, but Pike is a mid-round draft pick with the size (6-foot-6) and arm strength to develop into an NFL starter. Here is what McShay thinks of him. Pike’s biggest obstacle is transitioning from a spread offense to more of a pro style.