NFC North: NFL Roster Analysis 2012

Green Bay Packers cut-down analysis

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
12:23
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Most significant move: For weeks, outsiders have called for the Packers to make a trade or look outside of the organization for a backup quarterback. General manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy put all of their faith in Graham Harrell as the backup to Aaron Rodgers. They even raised the stakes by cutting seventh-round choice B.J. Coleman, leaving the Packers with only two quarterbacks on the roster. Harrell doesn’t have a strong arm, but he has been in the system. He finished the preseason with a strong showing. Rodgers has been able to stay healthy, only relying on former backup Matt Flynn to fill in for him for two starts. Many felt the Packers needed to make a move for a Colt McCoy or another veteran who would fit in the West Coast offense. It’s a gamble, but one the Packers were willing to make

Onward and upward: You have to figure the Packers go for offensive line help. They only kept two backups, veteran Evan Dietrich-Smith and Don Barclay. Derek Sherrod went on the physically unable to perform list so he’s unavailable until mid-season. The Packers are solid for starters with Marshall Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga at tackle, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton at guard and Jeff Saturday at center. It’s not surprising the Packers cut most of the backups they brought to camp. Many were undrafted players from the past couple of years. It was a little surprising they released Andrew Datko, but they could be trying to get the seventh-round choice on the practice squad. The Packers figure to bring some of the released linemen to the practice squad.

What's next: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers ended up with six rookie draft choices and two undrafted rookies, safety Sean Richardson and rookie linebacker Deszman Moses, among the 26 defensive players on the roster. Caper’s mission is getting those eight young players to contribute to a defense that was one of the worst in football last season. The Packers have to feel good about the depth along the defensive line. C.J. Wilson moved into a starting role at defensive end and is backed up by veteran Phillip Merling and second-round choice Jerel Worthy. They also have fourth-round pick Alex Daniels. That’s so much better than a couple years ago when they had to take a veteran or two off the street to fill in at end. Capers has two rookies starting at linebacker, D.J. Smith on the inside and Nick Perry on the outside. Draft choices Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian offer plenty of skills for the secondary but they aren’t being asked to start, yet.

Minnesota Vikings cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
11:28
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Most significant move: Following the lead of other teams around the NFL, the Vikings decided to go young at quarterback. The plan all along was to have Christian Ponder as the starter, but the surprise was letting veteran backup Sage Rosenfels go, leaving Joe Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the roster. Webb is making the transition from wide receiver to quarterback. Thompson is only 23 and hasn’t thrown a pass in the regular season. Webb has three starts and 152 pass attempts during his NFL career. The Bears and Colts found out last year it can be tough to go young at quarterback. The Bears lost Jay Cutler and their season was over. The Colts were without Peyton Manning and the season was lost with Curtis Painter.

Onward and upward: Starting wide receiver Jerome Simpson went on the three-game suspension list, so Leslie Frazier has to make sure he doesn’t have to look for receiver help during his absence. Veteran possession receiver Michael Jenkins was retained after a contract reduction and should fill the void. Keeping Devin Aromashodu gives Ponder a solid option in the slot. Percy Harvin is the team’s No. 1 receiver, but is sure to draw double coverage. The concern is what happens if there is an injury. Jarius Wright, the team’s fourth-round pick, is raw. Stephen Burton, a seventh-round pick from last year, is the fifth option.

What's next: Protecting Ponder is the key to the season. Right guard Geoff Schwartz has fought off a lot of injuries during camp. The backup corps of Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger and Patrick Brown isn’t the most distinguished. The significant improvement is having rookie Matt Kalil at left tackle and moving Charlie Johnson from left tackle to left guard. John Sullivan, a journeyman, needs to have a career year to make it all work. The Vikings also need a big year from right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Detroit Lions cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
10:32
PM ET
Click here for the complete list of Detroit Lions roster moves.

Most significant move: The Lions showed their commitment to fixing the secondary by keeping four new cornerbacks -- Kevin Barnes, Jacob Lacey and draft choices Bill Bentley and Jonte Green. They left themselves thin at safety, though. The Lions retained five safeties from last year -- Louis Delmas, Amari Spievey, Erik Coleman, John Wendling and Ricardo Silva -- but not adding a new safety is a little surprising considering the knee problems Delmas has dealt with. At corner, though, the Lions have a nice mixture of veterans and youth. Lacey is at least a solid third corner, Barnes came over from the Redskins in a trade, and Chris Houston is a solid starter. The Lions released Alphonso Smith, Justin Miller and Ross Weaver, who fell behind in the cornerback race.

Onward and upward: Defensive end Everette Brown and defensive tackle Andre Fluellen had decent camps and could be picked up by other teams. Brown was particularly solid as a pass-rusher during the preseason. Still, it was going to be hard for Brown to crack the top four at defensive end with Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young ahead of him. Brown’s only hope was beating out fourth-round choice Ronnell Young, but the Lions wisely made a commitment to their draft board by keeping seven draft choices.

What next: The Lions need to start thinking about locking up some of their defensive starters. Avril, Corey Williams, Justin Durant, DeAndre Levy, Houston and Delmas are unrestricted free agents. Spievey is a restricted free agent. That won’t be easy. The Lions have less than $2.5 million of cap room, so they might be able to get only one deal done. They can’t do a long-term deal with Avril because they come to an agreement by July 15. Franchise players have to settle for the one-year deal after that date. The Lions may have to put the franchise tag on Delmas after the season and then get a long-term deal done with Avril in February.

Chicago Bears cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
8:56
PM ET
Most significant move: The most significant move of the final cut-down, and the entire offseason, is how aggressive the Bears were in trying to upgrade special teams. In free agency, they signed Eric Weems to help Devin Hester with returns. They kept undrafted safety Jeremy Jones to help on special teams, then traded fullback Tyler Clutts to Houston to acquire cornerback Sherrick McManis. They also kept linebacker Patrick Trahan to help out on special teams. Figuring the team will have a better offense, the Bears wanted to shore up special teams to keep their offense in good field position.

Onward and upward: With only three draft choices making the 53-man roster -- third-round pick Brandon Hardin ended up on injured reserve -- the Bears need to see if they can slide released draft choices Isaiah Frey (sixth round) or Greg McCoy (seventh round) to the practice squad. The Bears may only keep one on the practice squad because both are cornerbacks. They also hope to get undrafted tackle James Brown through waivers to get him on the practice squad. The Bears kept the predicted eight offensive linemen on the active roster, so they need a tackle (Brown, A.J. Greene or Cory Brandon) and an inside prospect to fill out the practice squad.

What’s next: The Bears aren’t standing pat. They ended up adding 16 new players to the roster and are in the process of signing defensive tackle Amobi Okoye as a backup. It wouldn’t be surprising if they look at Antonio Dixon, a defensive tackle released by the Philadelphia Eagles. A decision still has to be made on a punter. Adam Podlesh suffered a hip flexor injury, so the Bears kept undrafted punter Ryan Quigley on the active roster. It’s not out of the question for them to look for another punter who was released.

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