NFL Nation: Jarron Gilbert

Wrapping up the 2011 draft

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
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Cleaning out my notebook with the 2011 NFL draft in the books:

The Chicago Bears love their safeties. Cal's Chris Conte is the ninth they've drafted since general manager Jerry Angelo took over in 2002.

(Extra credit if you can name all nine. They're at the bottom of this post.)

The Bears have given most of the players on that list a chance to start, and there's no reason to think they have a different plan for Conte. The Bears are targeting 2010 third-rounder Major Wright as a starting safety, and it's only fair to note that his presumed 2011 partner -- veteran Chris Harris -- is entering the final year of his contract. Is Conte the long-term replacement for Harris?

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said the Bears "spent a lot of time" scouting Conte and noted that his conversion from cornerback means he has some cover skills. Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke received a strong recommendation from Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, and Angelo said it's "very, very hard to find free safeties." Call me crazy, but I'm thinking we'll see Conte on the field sooner rather than later.

[+] EnlargeBarry Sanders
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIFormer Lions running back Barry Sanders said via Twitter that he might visit Detroit's training camp this offseason.
It was nice to see Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders announce the Detroit Lions' choice of Boise State receiver Titus Young in the second round. Sanders hasn't taken much of a public profile in recent years, so it was interesting to follow his draft thoughts via Twitter (@BarrySanders). I noticed this tweet in particular:
"Very impressed with what the team has done over the past few drafts.... I might even stop by training camp to see the guys this year..."

The Lions have a distinguished history that predates that disastrous Matt Millen era that many modern-day fans associate them with. The endorsement of one of their best-ever players shouldn't be taken lightly.

Only a few minutes after drafting Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure, Lions coach Jim Schwartz was already facing the question: How will he dole out playing time between Leshoure and incumbent Jahvid Best?

Schwartz said he won't use a "Randy Ratio," the Minnesota Vikings' ill-fated attempt to ration throws to receiver Randy Moss in 2002. (Current Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was in the same position with the Vikings at the time.) Schwartz said there was "definitely a possibility" of using both in the same backfield, but made clear that the approach could "change from week to week."

Schwartz: "It might change due to injuries and player availability. It might change based on opponent. I think there's a lot of different things that happen in our division. We see a 4-3 team like the Chicago Bears. We see a 3-4 team like the Green Bay Packers. That's a different style of running back. [You] play 3-4 teams that are two-gapping, that are holding on -- you need a big back who can run through some arm tackles. You want to get guys matched up on different teams, you need guys who can match up and beat linebackers and people that want to play man and trick coverage up for a certain player."

A few years ago, we celebrated when the Bears drafted the "pool guy." Defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert had made waves during the pre-draft process by jumping out of a pool and posting the video on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gilbert couldn't play and was waived last summer.

The Green Bay Packers drafted their own pool guy, Arizona defensive end/linebacker Ricky Elmore, but there is reason to believe he has a better future than Gilbert.

True, Elmore has posted videos of him both jumping out of a pool and into a truck on YouTube. But it's also worth noting that Elmore actually had more production last season than his more-famous teammate, defensive end/linebacker Brooks Reed.

Elmore finished last season with 11 sacks and a total of 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Reed had six sacks and 10 tackles behind the line. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, I'm eager to see if Elmore's athleticism and college production can translate in the Packers' 3-4 scheme.

Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder is expected to be the starter sooner than later, if not immediately. Assuming that's the case, it's quite possible the Vikings will look for other ways to get Joe Webb onto the field -- possibly in a way that reflects the New York Jets' use of Brad Smith. In either event, it's likely the Vikings will need a veteran backup.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave endorsed that suggestion, saying over the weekend that it "balances out a position." There continue to be reports, most recently from NFL.com, that the Vikings' most likely target is Washington's Donovan McNabb. If Ponder is going to take over at some point in 2011, that wouldn't make much sense to me.

But what do I know?

The Vikings might be the only NFC North team looking to add to its quarterback depth chart. Angelo strongly indicated that rookie Nathan Enderle will be the Bears' No. 3 quarterback behind Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie. The Packers seem set with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell. And Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has said he plans no changes from the trio of Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton.

South Florida safety Mistral Raymond, drafted by the Vikings with the No. 170 overall pick, has endured an incredible three years. As Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune explains, a group vowing retaliation for a shooting mis-identified Raymond's childhood home in Florida and burned it down using Molotov cocktails. No family members were killed, but one of Raymond's sisters was shot four times and airlifted to a trauma center for emergency surgery.

Then, last month, another sister was murdered. Raymond said over the weekend that he hoped his selection in the draft provided a joyful outlet for his family.

"Just having my family here with me, having them see my name come across the screen and seeing the excitement that it brought them, I think it was a relief for all of us," he said. "It helped me realize what type of position that the Lord has put me in. He has blessed me to be an outlet for my family. For them to have excitement no matter what at any given time of the day. It's just a great feeling for me personally, and I'm very grateful to be in the position I'm in."

And finally, your trivia answer: Bobby Gray (2002), Todd Johnson (2003), Chris Harris (2005), Danieal Manning (2006), Kevin Payne (2007), Craig Steltz (2008), Al Afalava (2009), Major Wright (2010), Chris Conte (2011).

Jets at Steelers inactives

January, 23, 2011
1/23/11
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PITTSBURGH -- Here are the inactives for Sunday night's AFC Championship Game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field:

New York Jets
Pittsburgh Steelers

Jets scratch Brad Smith; Hernandez to play

January, 16, 2011
1/16/11
3:47
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New York Jets have scratched Brad Smith for Sunday's playoff game against the New England Patriots.

Smith was the Jets' top kickoff returner, bringing back two for touchdowns in the regular season. He also is a potent weapon in the run game as an option quarterback in their Wildcat-style offense.

Newsworthy for the Patriots is that tight end Aaron Hernandez is active after missing the last two regular-season games with a hip injury.

Here are the rest of Sunday's scratches:

New York Jets

New England Patriots

Gholston, McKnight among Jets inactives

January, 8, 2011
1/08/11
7:06
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Most notable among the scratches for Saturday night's wild-card playoff game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium are Colts right tackle Ryan Diem and linebacker Clint Session.

The biggest' names for the Jets (but not earth-shaking surprises) are running back Joe McKnight and defensive end Vernon Gholston.

New York Jets
Indianapolis Colts

Jets at Steelers inactives

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
3:14
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PITTSBURGH -- The lineup scratches from Sunday's high-profile matchup between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field:

New York Jets
Pittsburgh Steelers

Jets at Browns inactives

November, 14, 2010
11/14/10
11:53
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CLEVELAND -- Here are the inactives for Sunday's game between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns:

New York Jets
Cleveland Browns
Some NFC North teams will continue tweaking their rosters over the next 24 hours, but for the most part, what you see is what you're going to get for Week 1 games. In that vein, let's take a look at some random but interesting (to me) trends we're seeing. Some of the observations are mine, and I've given credit to those who came up with the others:

  1. Of the 53 players on the Bears' roster, only 23 of them were drafted by the team over the past seven years. Seven drafts should form the foundation of any team, but for the Bears it represents only 43 percent of the roster. (Source: Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune)
  2. The Bears did bring back 2009 draft pick Juaquin Iglesias to the practice squad. The same could not be said for defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert.
  3. The Green Bay Packers have more fullbacks (three) than tailbacks (two) on their roster. I can only assume that John Kuhn, Korey Hall and Quinn Johnson will participate heavily in special teams. The Packers had hoped to bring back Kregg Lumpkin on their practice squad to serve as a quasi-No. 3 runner, but Lumpkin was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  4. [+] EnlargeDelmas
    Andrew Weber/US PresswireSafety Louis Delmas is the only Lions defensive back who was on the roster last season.

  5. By reaching an injury settlement with Will Blackmon and releasing Jason Chery, the Packers left themselves with no obvious kick returners. If that's their biggest problem, I'm not too worried about it. But in the short term, it looks like Jordy Nelson or possibly Brandon Jackson could fill the role. *Update: Coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that Tramon Williams and Greg Jennings are options at punt returner.
  6. The Detroit Lions have turned over their entire secondary with the exception of safety Louis Delmas. Every other defensive back is new to the team this year. (Source: Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.)
  7. To put a bow on a couple of trades: The Minnesota Vikings received a 2011 fifth-round pick and a conditional 2012 seventh-round draft pick from the New York Giants in return for quarterback Sage Rosenfels and kick returner Darius Reynaud. Meanwhile, the Lions and Denver Broncos exchanged undisclosed draft 2011 picks to complete the Alphonso Smith-Dan Gronkowski trade.
  8. In announcing their waiver claim of former Green Bay tight end/linebacker Spencer Havner, the Lions listed him as a linebacker. That makes perfect sense considering the Lions' strong depth at tight end and thin situation at linebacker.
  9. The Lions currently have five players listed as cornerbacks on their roster: Smith, Chris Houston, Jonathan Wade, Aaron Berry and Amari Spievey. But Spievey has been working at safety the past few weeks, and Berry is a rookie who missed much of training camp because of a hamstring pull. Your guess is as good as mine right now about who will fill the nickel and dime roles.
  10. The Vikings are in a similar situation. They have three cornerbacks on their active roster, and even if they bring someone in over the next day or so, it's hard to imagine him participating Thursday night at New Orleans. You figure Antoine Winfield, Lito Sheppard and Asher Allen will make up the nickel package. But who will the Vikings play if they need a sixth defensive back? At this point, it will have to be one of their backup safeties.

Chicago Bears cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a full list of Chicago's roster moves.

Biggest surprise: There were no earth-shattering moments Saturday for the Bears. But it was sobering to see them give up on three members of their 2009 draft class, including defensive end Jarron Gilbert, receiver Juaquin Iglesias and safety Al Afalava. Defensive lineman Henry Melton squeezed onto the roster, and the class did produce two 2010 starters: Receiver Johnny Knox and right guard Lance Louis. Meanwhile, guard Josh Beekman was put out of his misery. The Bears have been trying to replace Beekman for two years and finally released him. Finally, the Bears kept four tailbacks -- Matt Forte, Chester Taylor, Kahlil Bell and Garrett Wolfe. Forte and Taylor are expected to get all of the offensive snaps, but Bell and Wolfe have special teams value.

No-brainers: There was plenty of excitement when the Bears drafted quarterback Dan LeFevour, an Illinois native, but it was apparent early in training camp that he wasn't destined to make the roster. The Bears devoted all of their offensive reps to starter Jay Cutler and then-backup Caleb Hanie. Todd Collins has taken over at No. 2 because of Hanie's shoulder injury, and there was no way the Bears were going to release Hanie and keep LeFevour. You wonder if he won't end up back on their practice squad.

What's next: The Bears are going to have to get their special teams re-situated after releasing Tim Shaw, who led the team with 30 special teams tackles last year. It appears Shaw was released to make room for linebacker Brian Iwuh, who the team believes is more suited for its defensive scheme.

Catching up on some reported moves

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
3:17
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We're planning posts on each NFC North team's cuts once they are official. Announcements could come at any point Saturday afternoon or evening, but for now let's round up some of the bigger names who are already reported to be on the way off their respective rosters.
Earlier Thursday, we looked at four established NFC North players who reside on the proverbial roster bubble. Now, let's take a broader look at some key questions our teams face in determining the final composition of their rosters.

Will the Bears wipe out a good bit of their 2009 draft? Defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert, receiver Juaquin Iglesias and defensive lineman Henry Melton were the Bears' top three picks of that draft. They've all been invisible this summer and certainly haven't done anything to earn roster spots. Whether one is reserved for them is another question.

Can the Bears find room for special-teams stud Tim Shaw? He had 30 tackles on special teams last season but isn't much of a factor on defense. But he would qualify as a specialist, and there isn't always room for one on a 53-man roster. Do the Bears feel comfortable using him at linebacker, especially considering preseason injuries to Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach? Uncertain.

How many running backs will the Detroit Lions keep? We know that Jahvid Best is the starter, and veteran Kevin Smith would be the likely No. 2 if he were completely healthy. But does Smith's offseason knee surgery make the Lions nervous? And if so, do they keep five backs behind Best -- Smith, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, DeDe Dorsey and fullback Jerome Felton -- or does one get released?

If they keep an extra back, could the Lions take a roster spot from the quarterback position? That's not out of the question. The Lions have established Shaun Hill as the long-term backup to starter Matthew Stafford. So is there any reason to keep Drew Stanton on the roster?

Will the Green Bay Packers keep five tight ends? We mentioned the possibility of veteran Donald Lee meeting the end of the line. It's also possible that Tom Crabtree could be sneaked onto the practice squad. But you could make an argument that all five tight ends are among the Packers' top 53 players. General manager Ted Thompson has made odd numerical choices before; last year he kept three fullbacks for what is mostly a one-back offense.

Will both players who entered 2009 competing for the right tackle job be cut? It's very possible that Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini have played their way off the team. This year's backup tackles are more likely to be Bryan Bulaga and T.J. Lang.

How will the Minnesota Vikings establish more depth at cornerback? Right now, their starters are Antoine Winfield and either Lito Sheppard or Asher Allen. The nonstarter in that group is the likely nickelback, but beyond him the Vikings have no viable candidates for depth. A waiver claim or trade would seem a near-certainty.

How many receivers can the Vikings keep? Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin are locks. You would think Greg Lewis makes the team, along with Greg Camarillo. Will Javon Walker make the Week 1 roster as a No. 5 receiver? Or would the Vikings be wary of guaranteeing his 2010 salary? Signing him back as early as Week 2 would allow them to pay him on a weekly basis.

Earlier: Final-week position battles and players on the bubble.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- I realize we've been a little light on Chicago-related posts this week, so I made sure to start my NFC coaches breakfast at the table of Bears coach Lovie Smith. We spent part of the time trying to pin him down on the positions of a number of new and incumbent players, and I also asked him how he planned to utilize Greg Olsen in a scheme that has usually ignored tight ends.

I'll get to Olsen a bit later. Olsen has already gotten plenty of attention for the uncertainty surrounding his 2010 role, but there are other players and position groups that -- for me, at least -- carry similar questions.

[+] EnlargeFrank Omiyale
AP Photo/Paul SancyaFrank Omiyale appears to be a solid candidate to start at right tackle in 2010.
One of the primary areas is at offensive line, where Smith would name only three starters: Left tackle Chris Williams, center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza. I left Wednesday's breakfast feeling strongly that Frank Omiyale will be moved to right tackle, while a number of young players will battle for the left guard position.

Officially, Smith said the Bears still have multiple options and that he's going to "let it all play out." But when we asked about Omiyale, he said: "Right now, if he ends up being our right tackle, it's a good thing. But going into it, we're not going to say he is for sure the right tackle."

When pressed, Smith admitted he hasn't told Omiyale his plans and implied he didn't want to speak publicly about it before he does.

You might think this is an awful lot of discussion about a right tackle, but I think everyone who watched the Bears last season knows they'll need significantly better play on their offensive line to make Mike Martz's offense work this season. Omiyale was a disaster at left guard in 2009, and he was a right tackle at Carolina before signing with the Bears.

While I'm pretty confident Omiyale will play right tackle, I think even Smith doesn't know where new defensive end Julius Peppers is going to end up -- right end or left end. Elite pass-rushers typically line up on the right side, capitalizing on a right-handed quarterback's blind side, but Peppers has played more frequently on the left in his career and Smith sounded intrigued by the possibility of playing a match-up game based on weekly opponents.

"We could just lock him in to the left and let him go against the right tackle," Smith said. "And he's had some success there, and that's good. But to answer your question, we're going to let him play both. He's done both, and we'll try to find ways to get him 1-on-1, which is important for us. ... He doesn't really have a preference. I've seen him be dominant from both sides. It's a lot of options that he's given us right now."

Most defensive linemen need more positional certainty, but Peppers has proved he can play both sides at an elite level. The only trick is having someone to play left end if Peppers is on the right side. Current right end Alex Brown hasn't done that in his career, but Smith also made a point about his excitement level for veteran Mark Anderson. He also said the Bears plan to install Israel Idonije as full-time defensive end rather than use him as a swing end/tackle.

"I'd like to see [Idonije] lock in and be more of a defensive end and see exactly how good he can become," Smith said.

As for the reserves among their defensive linemen, Smith said he projects Henry Melton as a defensive end and Jarron Gilbert as a defensive tackle.

More in a bit.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
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NFC Recent History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Recent history.

Chicago Bears

The Bears have been unable to add fresh blood to their pass rush, striking out on defensive end Dan Bazuin in 2007 and getting nothing so far from defensive end/tackle Jarron Gilbert (2009). That void, along with a lack of first- or second-round picks this year, left the Bears no choice but to pursue free agent Julius Peppers. The Bears have also drafted seven defensive backs over the past three years, and only one of them -- cornerback Zack Bowman -- figures as a lock to contribute in 2010. Those failures have left the Bears still looking to fill perhaps both safety positions this offseason. That's one position where you can find a starter in the later rounds, and it almost assuredly will be a focus for the Bears next month.

Detroit Lions

About the only position the Lions have placed on the backburner is quarterback, thanks to their decision to draft Matthew Stafford last year. Although Stafford hasn't yet proved he is the Lions' long-term answer, the money he received as the No. 1 pick all but guarantees he will be their starter for the next few years at least. Otherwise, well-known recent failures have left the Lions scrambling to fortify nearly every other position. Given the frequency with which they have drafted first-round receivers, they never should have needed to sign free agents Bryant Johnson and Nate Burleson in successive years. The failure of defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Andre Fluellen and Ikaika Alama-Francis to provide impact has necessitated a 2010 overhaul that should continue with a defensive tackle coming with the No. 2 overall pick of the draft.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers' biggest problem is that several years of above-average drafting has left them with a lineup of restricted free agents who have established themselves as starters and are ready for their second contracts. In this draft, the Packers shouldn't need to focus on safety, thanks to incumbents Nick Collins and Atari Bigby. They are in pretty good shape at receiver with former draft choices Jordy Nelson and James Jones backing up Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Tight end Jermichael Finley's emergence makes his position a secondary priority. Injuries to former second-round pick Pat Lee has made cornerback a priority, and the inability to draft a successor at left tackle forced the Packers to re-sign Chad Clifton last week.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings head into the 2010 draft with quarterback at the top of their need list in part because they haven't been able to develop former second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson into a long-term starter. They also parted ways with second-day draft picks Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty. But beyond that position, however, focused drafting has left the Vikings able to draft the best available player with most of their picks this year. Although he is still developing, former second-round pick Tyrell Johnson is a starter. The same goes for former sixth-round pick John Sullivan at center and former second-round pick Phil Loadholt at right tackle.
For the past month, NFL teams have evaluated and graded every player on their roster. They've determined whom they want to keep and who can leave. Their priority lists are stacked for offseason acquisitions. As they head to the scouting combine this week, they have a clear picture of their perceived strengths and weaknesses.

I'm all about improving a team through the draft, but I've never understood why some fans and media members put more faith in the nebulous form of a future draft pick over a player who has spent a year or more in the team's program. If everyone is doing their jobs well, those players should be in better position to help out than a rookie just out of college.

In that spirit, let's take a look at one player on each NFC North team who -- with reasonable development -- could help alleviate some pressure to acquire upgrades at his position. (Hat tip to Aaron of Kansas City, Mo., for suggesting the idea as part of last week's mailbag request.)

[+] EnlargeJarron Gilbert
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJarron Gilbert has an opportunity to fill a void on the Bears' defensive line.
Chicago Bears

Player:
Defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert
Status: Entering second year. Turns 24 in September.
2009 performance: One tackle in four games.
2010 hopes: 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.

Detroit Lions

Brown
Player: Running back Aaron Brown
Status: Entering second year. Turns 25 in October.
2009 performance: A total of 1,166 all-purpose yards, mostly via kickoff returns.
2010 hopes: 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.

Green Bay Packers

[+] EnlargeBlackmon
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWill Blackmon is a veteran in the Green Bay secondary.
Player:
Defensive back Will Blackmon
Status: Entering fifth year. Restricted free agent. Turns 26 in October.
2009 performance: Played three games before tearing anterior cruciate ligament in left knee Oct. 5 at Minnesota.
2010 hopes: 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.

Minnesota Vikings

Player:
Cornerback Asher Allen
Status: Entering second year. Turned 22 in January.
2009 performance: 27 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble in 10 games.
Allen
2010 hopes: 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.

NFC North draft rewind

December, 23, 2009
12/23/09
3:00
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NFC Draft Rewind: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft class lists: Chicago | Detroit | Green Bay | Minnesota

Examining the draft classes of each division team:

Chicago Bears

Knox
Hit: Receiver Johnny Knox (No. 5a) ranks fourth among NFL rookies in catches (45), eighth in yards (527) and fourth in touchdowns (5). That is premium production for any fifth-round pick, especially a near-complete unknown out of Abilene Christian. Knox also has averaged 28.9 yards per kickoff return, including a 102-yard touchdown.

Miss: Rookie receivers don’t always contribute immediately, but it’s a major disappointment that Juaquin Iglesias (No. 3b) hasn’t so much as appeared in a game for a team that sorely lacks receiver depth. Iglesias fell behind Knox and Devin Aromashodu during spring drills and hasn’t been in uniform for a game this season.

Needs patience: Defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert (No. 3a) is a tremendous athlete who has spent the season learning the pro game from line guru Rod Marinelli. Stuck behind Tommie Harris and Israel Idonije on the depth chart, Gilbert has played in only two games. But he has high athletic upside.

Detroit Lions

Delmas
Co-hits: Safety Louis Delmas (No. 2) and linebacker DeAndre Levy (No. 3a) have demonstrated athleticism, powerful hitting and playmaking ability. Both should be fixtures in future starting lineups.

As advertised: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (No. 1) has a powerful arm and excellent football instincts. Questions about his accuracy (53.3 percent) haven’t dissipated, but his competitive zeal and willingness to play in pain have solidified him as a cornerstone of the franchise.

Needs patience: Running back Aaron Brown (No. 6) is a bona fide playmaker when he has the ball in the open field. The Lions have been hesitant to expand his role because of repeated mental mistakes, but they hope Brown will minimize those as he develops.

Green Bay Packers

Matthews
Hit: Linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 1b) opened the season as a backup, but has put on a late run for defensive rookie of the year honors. He has 10 sacks in 11 starts, making good on general manager Ted Thompson’s decision to trade back into the first round to draft him.

Sleeper: Linebacker Brad Jones (No. 7) was the 218th player selected in the draft and slated for a deep reserve role, at best. But since taking over for the injured Aaron Kampman, Jones has more than held his own with three sacks.

Patience: The Packers haven’t gotten the kind of big plays they hoped for from defensive lineman B.J. Raji (No. 1a), who has spent the season adjusting to the 3-4 scheme while nursing an ankle injury. But he’s shown enough flashes to indicate he could be a dominant force on the line.

Minnesota Vikings

Harvin
Hit: For most of the season, receiver Percy Harvin (No. 1) has been a leading rookie of the year candidate. His open-field running has added a new dimension to the Vikings’ offense, and he’s also been the NFL’s most dangerous kickoff returner. Only migraine headaches have slowed him down.

As advertised: The Vikings had a need for a right tackle and waited patiently until Phil Loadholt (No. 2) fell to them at No. 54 overall. They had every intention of inserting him immediately into the starting lineup, and Loadholt has been a fixture from the first day of minicamp.

Needs patience: Cornerback Asher Allen (No. 3) displayed aggressive instincts during the preseason and in his relatively few appearances in the regular season. He’s spent the season as the Vikings’ No. 5 cornerback but projects as a regular contributor in the future.

Time to see these NFC North faces

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
1:33
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And down the stretch they come. Faster than you can say "Black and Blue," we’re heading into the final three weeks of the 2009 regular season. We have one team qualified for the playoffs (Minnesota), another on the doorstep (Green Bay) and two who have been eliminated (Chicago and Detroit).

As we move into this period of diverse goals and different directions, I think we can all agree there are some players we’d like to see more of before closing the book on 2009. My choices are below, but by all means, feel free to add to this list in the comments section.

I kept in mind that the Vikings and Packers must have winning foremost on their agenda, while the Bears and Lions have a bit more flexibility.

Aromashodu
Aromashodu
Player: Chicago receiver Devin Aromashodu
What we’ve seen so far:
An 8-catch performance Sunday against Green Bay in his first extended action of the season, including a touchdown over Packers cornerback Charles Woodson. In six other appearances, Aromashodu had two catches.
Why we should see more:
Aromashodu established a connection with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in training camp and Cutler has lobbied for him to play all season. I don’t think we’re looking at the second coming of Brandon Marshall, but at 6-2 and 201 pounds, Aromashodu offers a bigger target than the rest of the Bears receivers. A strong December showing would give us reason to believe he could contribute regularly next season, perhaps as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver.

Adams
Adams
Player: Chicago defensive end Gaines Adams
What we’ve seen so far: Nada. Nothing. El zip. In seven games this season, Adams has four tackles and no sacks.
Why we should see more: Normally, I would be fine with Chicago burying him on the depth chart. But lest you forget, the Bears gave up their 2010 second-round pick to acquire Adams from Tampa Bay. As of right now, that pick would be No. 41 overall. The Bears can’t afford to give up on him. Even if they’ve decided Adams needs an offseason to bulk up, as many believe, they should still throw him on the field and let him work on the technique he’s ostensibly learning from defensive line guru Rod Marinelli.

Gilbert
Gilbert
Player: Chicago defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert
What we’ve seen so far: Even less than Adams. Two games. No tackles. No sacks.
Why we should see more: The Bears need to play Adams, but they also need to get Gilbert some action so to hedge against Adams flaming out. The Bears’ top 2009 draft choice, Gilbert has practiced at end and tackle. If the Bears part ways with Tommie Harris this offseason, Gilbert would be a candidate to replace him as well. It would be nice to have some idea if Gilbert is miles away or just far away from making a consistent impact.

Brown
Brown
Player: Detroit running back Aaron Brown
What we’ve seen so far: Elite speed and some glimpses of big-time playmaking ability. Some of it came in the preseason, but Brown did score on a 26-yard screen pass against Cleveland last month. Not surprisingly, he has made his share of rookie decisions and earned a trip to the bench as recently as Sunday at Baltimore.
Why we should see more: If the Lions refused to play everyone who made mental mistakes, they would have trouble fielding a team. Brown is a playmaker on a team that can put only a few others in that category. With starter Kevin Smith lost for the season, I know I’d much rather see what Brown can do with extended playing time than watch veteran Maurice Morris carry the load.

Raji
Raji
Player: Green Bay defensive lineman B.J. Raji
What we’ve seen so far: Steady improvement after overcoming a holdout and a number of leg injuries. Raji remains somewhat hobbled, but like many Packers defensive players, he has been getting the hang of the team’s 3-4 scheme. In 11 games, he has 19 tackles and one sack.
Why we should see more: Veteran nose tackle Ryan Pickett has been slowed by a hamstring injury, giving the Packers a perfect opportunity to transition Raji into that role. While Pickett has been a big part of the Packers’ strong run defense this season, Raji has superior quickness and greater ability to make game-changing plays in the backfield. Oftentimes, rookie defensive linemen emerge as forces in the latter part of a season and/or in the playoffs. Raji should get his opportunity to do so.

Reynaud
Reynaud
Player: Minnesota returner/receiver Darius Reynaud
What we have seen so far: Excellent open-field running ability, both in the preseason and regular season. He’s averaged 11.2 yards on 20 punt returns and filled in nicely for Percy Harvin on kickoff returns last Sunday.
Why we should see more: Harvin’s migraine issue makes his status uncertain. Reynaud can’t match Harvin’s rare skills, but he can give the Vikings a decent alternative on both special teams and offense. I’d rather see Reynaud working in the slot than veteran Greg Lewis, who is a better outside receiver.

Taylor
Taylor
Player: Minnesota tailback Chester Taylor
What we have seen so far: His usual ability to make defenders miss on third-down receptions, along with fresh legs when he gives Adrian Peterson a breather.
Why we should see more: Many of us are expecting the Vikings to return to their roots as the playoffs approach, which means more power running and less downfield passing. It only makes sense to incorporate Taylor into the mix more often if that’s the case. The Vikings could also bust up some tendencies if they run more often with Taylor in the game rather than have him signal that a pass is on the way.

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