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Friday, June 21, 2013
Eight in the box: Secondary status check

By Kevin Seifert

» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC North team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Chicago Bears: No team in this division is set up quite as well as the Bears, who have a pair of returning Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings along with two safeties in Major Wright and Chris Conte who started all but one game together last season. Veteran Kelvin Hayden won the nickelback job last season from the since-departed D.J. Moore, and the Bears also have a number of credible backups at safety, Craig Steltz among them. The Bears also want to find out about 2012 third-round draft pick Brandon Hardin, who missed last season because of a neck injury.

Detroit Lions: General manager Martin Mayhew worked harder than he ever has to address this annual problem spot. He committed $25 million over five years to re-sign his best cornerback, Chris Houston. He targeted and signed free-agent safety Glover Quin, used the No. 36 overall pick to draft cornerback Darius Slay and gave safety Louis Delmas an incentive-laden contract that will pay out based on availability. If 2012 third-round pick Bill Bentley can make it back from a shoulder injury, the Lions will have good depth at cornerback. Regardless, on paper their secondary is as well situated as it has been at any point in Mayhew's tenure.

Green Bay Packers: For the first time since 2005, the Packers will open a season without Charles Woodson manning a starting position. As usual, general manager Ted Thompson has a pile of young players competing to fill in the gaps. Tramon Williams is certain to start at one cornerback spot, while Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House fight to start on the other side and to form a depth chart for nickel and dime defenses. Morgan Burnett will be one of the Packers' starting safeties, but the other could be M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian or even Sean Richardson if he recovers from a neck injury. The Packers are, by definition, in transition, but there are plenty of options for life after Woodson.

Minnesota Vikings: It will be a while before we know if the team can successfully navigate the departure of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield. Although Winfield is nearing the end of his career, he had a great season in 2012 and played a key role when he handled slot receivers inside. The Vikings have some highly drafted young players at cornerback, most notably 2013 first-rounder Xavier Rhodes, but it's not yet clear how it will all shake out. Former second-round pick Chris Cook (2010) is a starter if he stays healthy, and 2012 third-round pick Josh Robinson is the leading candidate to take over Winfield's nickel spot. Safety Harrison Smith will be a leader, but are the Vikings really going to go through another year with Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford rotating at the other safety position?