NFL Nation: Julian Peterson

Aaron from Chicago wants to know why the Seattle Seahawks keep acquiring personnel from his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield was the latest addition to the "Minnesota West" roster in Seattle.

"Ever since we controversially signed Steve Hutchinson from them," Aaron writes, "it has seemed as though the Seahawks go out of their way to snatch whatever Vikings they can to stick it to us. It started with them signing Nate Burleson, then Sidney Rice and Heath Farwell, Darell Bevell and Tarvaris Jackson (for whatever reason). They even outbid us for T.J. Houshmanzadeh a few years back. They signed Ryan Longwell at the end of this past season. Obviously, it has continued with Percy Harvin and now Winfield."

Sando: It's a remarkable pattern, but there's likely no revenge factor. The people running the Seahawks during the Hutchinson controversy are long gone from the organization. They were involved in adding Burleson and Houshmandzadeh, but they had nothing to do with the Seahawks' more recent deals for Rice, Farwell, Bevell, Jackson, Harvin or Winfield.

Bevell's hiring as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator stands out as a factor behind the team's decisions to sign Rice and trade for Harvin.

John Schneider's presence as the Seahawks' general manager since 2010 provides a strong link to the NFC North in general. Schneider, after spending much of his career with the Green Bay Packers, played a role in Seattle adding former NFC North players such as Breno Giacomini, Will Blackmon, Cliff Avril, Steven Hauschka, Brett Swain, Frank Omiyale and others. Also, Schneider and Bevell were together in Green Bay. However, Seattle has added many more players without ties to the Vikings or the NFC North.

For a while, the Detroit Lions signed or otherwise acquired a long list of players with Seahawks ties. There were some connections between the organizations -- former Lions coach Rod Marinelli and former Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell shared a history with Tampa Bay, for instance -- but some of the overlap defied explanation.

Tyler Polumbus, Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Etric Pruitt and Mike Williams were among the players to play for both organizations.

NFC North free-agency breakdown

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
3:33
PM ET
» NFC: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC North team:

Chicago Bears
  1. Assemble a starting offensive line: As we've noted many times, the Bears have held off any public discussion about their five linemen pending the results of free agency. Well, we're here. It's time for the dominoes to start falling. The first will be whether center Olin Kreutz re-signs. It's generally expected, but nothing is guaranteed. Then, the Bears need to decide whether to pursue any starting-caliber guards or tackles. You would think they'll seek at least one new starter. Will they raid the Atlanta Falcons' glut of linemen? Might they take a flyer on Robert Gallery? We'll know soon enough.
  2. Establish a strongside linebacker: The position has largely been held by Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach over the past two years, but both have expiring contracts. It makes sense to re-sign at least one given the lack of offseason work for a presumptive new starter, and Roach is the younger of the two. If the Bears have another player on the roster they've targeted for this job, it's not readily apparent. While they're at it, the Bears should seek depth at defensive tackle following the release of Tommie Harris. They did draft Stephen Paea, but the Bears might pursue Seattle Seahawks free agent Brandon Mebane as well.
  3. Sift through receivers: From a media perspective, at least, there has been more offseason talk than ever suggesting the Bears will/should/might/ pursue a free-agent receiver. This year's class is deep, from Sidney Rice to Santonio Holmes to Randy Moss, and a number of other veterans could be available via trade. Coach Lovie Smith has said he wouldn't mind a receiver bigger than his current trio of sub 6-footers, and Devin Hester has lobbied publicly to sign Santana Moss. I think the increased discussion is largely a product of lockout boredom, but it wouldn't hurt the Bears to add depth so that Hester can be used more efficiently.
Top five free agents: Center Olin Kreutz, safety Danieal Manning, punter Brad Maynard, linebacker Nick Roach, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.

Detroit Lions
  1. Sign a starting cornerback: The Lions' top cornerbacks under contract are Alphonso Smith and Nate Vasher. Chris Houston, who started 15 games last season, is a free agent, so it's possible the Lions will bring Houston back. Or they could seek an outside upgrade, be it Nnamdi Asomugha or Ike Taylor or Johnathan Joseph. Lions Fever would spike if they can land Asomugha, but they would have to use most of their salary-cap space to do it. For several reasons, the odds are against it.
  2. Sort out the linebacker position: DeAndre Levy is the only linebacker assured a 2011 starting job, but even Levy can't be totally sure if he will play outside or in the middle. That answer will come only after the Lions sift through the available free agents. They could pursue one with a background in the middle, perhaps Stephen Tulloch. Or they could seek an outside linebacker to replace the released Julian Peterson. One of their outside positions is likely to be decided by a training camp competition among incumbents.
  3. Evaluate right tackles: Early indications have been that Gosder Cherilus has made progress from microfracture surgery on his knee. If there is any question, however, the Lions might want to bolster their depth. Corey Hilliard did a decent job as Cherilus' replacement late last season. But keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford healthy is at a premium this season. Do the Lions want to face the possibility of opening the year with a backup plan at right tackle?
Top five free agents: Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, cornerback Chris Houston, linebacker Landon Johnson, quarterback Drew Stanton, safety John Wendling.

Green Bay Packers
  1. Stay the course: It's been well-documented that general manager Ted Thompson hasn't participated much in free agency over the past few years, and it's hard to imagine him changing tack dramatically this summer. Thompson's most important decisions will be deciding which of his pending free agents to re-sign and which ones he should allow to depart.
  2. Re-sign place-kicker Mason Crosby: Thompson gave Crosby a second-round tender in February in the event Crosby wound up as a restricted free agent. That move suggested Crosby is in the Packers' future plans and makes re-signing him one of the first orders of business now that he is an unrestricted free agent. Crosby has had some difficulties over the years, but kicking in Green Bay is difficult given the weather and he has made some important adjustments. Concerns about his kickoffs should be minimized by the NFL's decision to move them up 5 yards.
  3. Think twice: The Packers appear set to let defensive end Cullen Jenkins depart. They can do so knowing they have a number of intriguing young players to compete for that job, from Mike Neal to C.J. Wilson to Jarius Wynn. But another player the Packers might lose, Daryn Colledge, doesn't have an obvious replacement. Would the Packers shift T.J. Lang from backup tackle to guard? Would first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, their projected left tackle of the future, get a crash course on step down? It's something to think about and, given the lack of an offseason, might spur further discussion about re-signing Colledge.
Top five free agents: Guard Daryn Colledge, place-kicker Mason Crosby, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, receiver James Jones, running backs John Kuhn/Brandon Jackson.

Minnesota Vikings
  1. Address receivers: Are the Vikings about to bid farewell to receiver Sidney Rice, a 24-year-old who is one year removed from an 83-catch Pro Bowl season? There is nothing they can do to stop it at this point, and Rice seems intent on at least testing his value on the open market. The Vikings spent most of last season searching for a suitable replacement when Rice was injured, and that job will intensify this summer. They have added an additional pass-catching threat in rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph. But if they lose Rice, the Vikings must either sign or trade for an established veteran to join Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian (if he makes the team).
  2. Find a kicker: The Vikings made no known effort before the lockout to re-sign veteran Ryan Longwell, who has converted 43 of 46 kicks over the past two seasons. It's possible they'll make their move now. But they did not draft a kicker, and if Longwell signs elsewhere, the Vikings will have to scour the always-murky free-agent market. I'm guessing they already have a plan on this issue, but we haven't smoked it out yet.
  3. Establish QB depth: We all know that rookie Christian Ponder eventually will assume the starting job. But are the Vikings comfortable with Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar as their only alternatives should Ponder need some development time? I'm not sure about that. I also wonder if making Webb the No. 2 quarterback would limit his opportunities to contribute in other ways, perhaps as a receiver or a kick returner. For that reason, it would make sense for the Vikings to seek a quarterback with more experience to pair with Ponder.
Top five free agents: Defensive end Ray Edwards, linebacker Ben Leber, place-kicker Ryan Longwell, receiver Sidney Rice, nose tackle Pat Williams.
The NFL draft is long over and all we have to look forward to now is free agency, though we don't know when or how it will come or exactly what it will look like.

But if there is a 2011 season, it will have to be preceded by some sort of free-agency period, one last window for teams to fine-tune their rosters with what they couldn't get in the draft.

We’ll spare you most of the boring details of the labor negotiations, but we do have to point out that the rules for a potential free-agency period aren’t set. They could be determined if a new labor agreement is reached and that probably would include some tweaks to past rules. It has long been assumed that if the lockout is lifted before an agreement that free agency rules will be the same as they were in 2010. But word has started to trickle out in the past few days that might not be the case.

At this point, we only can look at hypothetical situations -- all you can do is dream and you might as well dream big. With that in mind, let’s take a look at one free-agency dream scenario for each NFC South franchise.

Atlanta Falcons -- This is the easiest call in the division because you can see it coming like a slow-moving storm or Arthur Blank strolling to the sideline late in a game. Let’s go ahead and make Atlanta’s dream move signing Minnesota defensive end Ray Edwards.

Some of our coming moves are pie-in-the-sky scenarios that probably won’t happen, but this one has serious potential. Edwards has five seasons in the league, which could make him a restricted or unrestricted free agent, depending on the rules of free agency. If at all possible, I think the Falcons will pursue a player who had eight sacks in 14 games last season and 8.5 the season before that.

Edwards is just hitting his prime and sure looks like the one missing link between the Falcons being a team that exits the playoffs early and one that can challenge for the Super Bowl. Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff already put most of their chips on the table when they traded up on draft night to get wide receiver Julio Jones. He’s the explosive player they wanted on offense.

Edwards can be the explosive guy on defense. Carolina’s Charles Johnson, a probable restricted free agent, and Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins could be fall-back options. But the Falcons already have shown strong signs this offseason they’re not interested in falling back.

Carolina Panthers -- Let’s imagine for a moment that Carolina owner Jerry Richardson opens his free-agent checkbook for the first time in several years to bring in cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who has been playing with Cincinnati and is another five-year player.

If Joseph is a free agent, this move would make all sorts of sense. He's a local product, from just over the border in Rock Hill, S.C. He also has nine interceptions the past two seasons. Carolina has Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble, but their futures are very uncertain.

Richardson has had some success in the past bringing local products home -- Stephen Davis, Kevin Donnalley, Ricky Proehl -- and Carolina has invested a lot in its young defensive line and has a good group of linebackers. Joseph could solidify the secondary and new coach Ron Rivera suddenly could have a nice defense. By the way, I know there’s speculation about defensive tackle Tommie Harris ending up with the Panthers because of his Chicago ties to Rivera. That could happen. But I don’t view Harris as a dream scenario. I view him as a guy with questions about his knees, who could be a decent pickup if he can stay healthy.

New Orleans Saints -- This one’s tough because the Saints have a bunch of young and talented, but totally unproven players at outside linebacker. Plus, veteran outside linebacker Scott Shanle can become an unrestricted free agent. The list of players at outside linebacker who definitely will be unrestricted is pretty thin. You could take a veteran such as Detroit’s Julian Peterson and gamble that he’ll regain some of his early-career magic the way some other veterans have with the Saints in recent years. The Saints have shown willingness to gamble on injured guys in the past and Carolina’s Thomas Davis has huge upside.

But Peterson’s no long-term solution and Davis is a total unknown because he’s had two major knee injuries. In a best-case scenario, the Saints will re-sign Shanle. Then, they’ll go after Buffalo’s Paul Posluszny. He’s a four-year player and could end up being restricted. But hey, we can dream.

Put Posluszny with Shanle and Jonathan Vilma and the Saints would be better off at linebacker than they were in 2009, when Shanle and Vilma were joined by Scott Fujita.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- The Bucs spending big money in free agency? Well, they haven’t done it in some time unless you count Derrick Ward, and that didn’t work out. But there’s one sure-fire move that could excite a fan base that wasn’t buying tickets during a 10-6 season in 2010 and put this team over the top: sign cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

Asomugha’s the one true gem we know will be in this free-agent class and his price tag is going to be astronomical. But if there is a salary cap, the Bucs will have more room under it than any team in the league. The Bucs showed a willingness to spend big money once before, offering more to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth than the Redskins did before Haynesworth went to Washington. There are strong rumors Asomugha will end up in the NFC East, but Tampa Bay can use the lack of a state income tax in Florida, a great natural-grass field, the weather, a team on the rise and coach Raheem Morris (a former defensive backs coach) as selling points.

The future of Aqib Talib is unsure because of off-field problems. Sign Asomugha and the Bucs have a corner more talented than Talib who doesn’t come with the headaches. Put him out there with veteran Ronde Barber, who still plays at a high level, and younger players such as E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis. If the pass-rushers taken in the draft (Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers) work out, Tampa Bay’s corners suddenly could be dominant.

Remember, it’s all hypothetical. But wouldn’t the NFC South be a better and more exciting place if these dream scenarios actually came true?

A few thoughts after using the widely circulated draft-value chart to evaluate the 18 trades involving only 2011 choices during the recently completed NFL draft:
  • Some teams use their own charts reflecting different values for the selections. The trades themselves define actual values, of course. The chart serves only as a point of reference.
  • The Cleveland Browns' big trade with the Atlanta Falcons does not appear here because it also included 2012 considerations.
  • Once the Browns moved down from No. 6 to No. 27, the value chart says they paid a 120-point premium to move back up to No. 21 in a deal with Kansas City. That was the largest gross discrepancy among qualifying trades. What does 120 points represent? The chart values the 95th overall selection, three spots from the bottom of the third round, as worth that much.
  • The chart says Jacksonville overpaid by 110 points in moving up from the 16th to 10th choice to select Blaine Gabbert. The difference is inconsequential if Gabbert becomes a good quarterback. And history says the Jaguars fared OK in sending the 16th and 49th picks to the Redskins for No. 10. In 2000, the New York Jets sent the 16th and 48th picks to San Francisco for the 12th pick (used for Julian Peterson). The Jaguars gained an additional two spots in the first round for essentially the same price.
  • The value chart is arguably outdated, particularly near the top of the draft, but most of the trades line up pretty evenly. In some cases, teams are willing to pay a premium for a shot at landing players they consider worth the additional price.

The chart breaks out the trades, with point valuations in parenthesis. For example, the Browns sent the 27th and 70th picks, valued at 920 points, to Kansas City for the 21st pick, valued at 800 points. The 120-point differential shows up in the right column.

NEW ORLEANS -- The truncated NFL owners meeting still allowed for a 90-minute coaches breakfast Tuesday morning, one that gave us an opportunity to assemble reams of information for future blog posts. I plan to sift through it over the coming days and weeks, and we'll start with what I thought was the most interesting part of the 20 minutes I sat with Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

Many of you have noted the Lions' depth deficiency at outside linebacker and wondered if the team would be tempted to move middle linebacker DeAndre Levy to that position, especially if the Lions draft or sign a starting-quality middle linebacker later this spring or summer. Levy has told Detroit-area reporters that he wouldn't fight the change, which would return him to the position he played at Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Levy
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMiddle linebacker DeAndre Levy could end up moving to the outside if the Lions don't add upgrades at the position.
When asked Tuesday, Schwartz noted how comfortable he is with Levy calling defensive signals and getting players lined up. But notably, he wouldn't rule out the possibility of a position change.

"Part of our criteria for linebackers is we like multidimensional players," Schwartz said. "And that means the ability to play inside and outside. That means the ability to play pass and run, all those things. One of the reasons we drafted him is that he is a multidimensional player. He's a little bit like [quarterback] Matt Stafford. We just need to keep him on the field. When he's played and he's been healthy, he's done very, very well for us. He could move around a lot of different places."

The Lions have released 2010 starter Julian Peterson, and Zack Follett's neck injury makes him a wild-card at best to resume his role as a starter in 2011. The Lions have two reserves who could figure into the equation, Ashlee Palmer and Bobby Carpenter, but a big-picture look at their roster still suggests outside linebacker is a top offseason priority.

Moving an established middle linebacker might not be your first choice, but it might be the Lions' best option depending on how the draft plays out.

"We're very happy with him inside," Schwartz said. "One of his strengths is his ability to control the defense. It's something we were very pleased with when he was a rookie [in 2009]. ... It's very rare that a rookie can do the things that he did. ... [Then] he was very, very impressive in our offseason program, just in getting us set, what our checks were, all those different things. He's a very, very good communicator. So there is also a value to having him in the middle of your defense."

Schwartz said he didn't talk to Levy about changing positions before the lockout started, but added: "I don't need permission."

If all things are equal, my guess is the Lions don't want to move Levy. The middle linebacker is the quarterback of a 4-3 defense, and Schwartz has been talking about him playing this position since the day of the 2009 draft. Chances are, Levy isn't going anywhere. But if multiple breakdowns occur elsewhere, the Lions can be comforted knowing they have this option.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
12:00
PM ET
» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Chicago Bears

It's no secret that the Bears patched together a serviceable offensive line last season, one born of trial, error and desperation. But with an entire offseason to prepare, they will need a better Week 1 plan. The Bears need help across the line, and you could make an argument for any of the five positions as their top need. Center Olin Kreutz could relieve the situation by re-signing when the free-agent market opens, but otherwise the Bears don't have a single position with an established starter. It's not clear where incumbents Frank Omiyale, Chris Williams, Roberto Garza or J'Marcus Webb will play in 2011. Meanwhile, the release of defensive tackle Tommie Harris highlighted the Bears' need for an upgraded interior pass rush. The Bears would benefit from a pass-rushing defensive tackle as well as some depth behind defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.

Detroit Lions

The Lions have only two experienced cornerbacks under contract, Nate Vasher and Alphonso Smith. They offered 2010 starter Chris Houston a contract tender, but he is likely to be made an unrestricted free agent when the market opens. The Lions would like him to return but the situation's uncertain. In either event, cornerback is the Lions' top need this offseason. Running a close second is outside linebacker after the Lions released one starter, Julian Peterson, and issued a qualifying tender for another, Zack Follett, whose 2010 neck injury could preclude his return. There has been some discussion about moving middle linebacker DeAndre Levy to the outside, but that probably would still leave the Lions in search of two new starters. Finally, the Lions want more production from their No. 3 receiver after Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams combined for 21 receptions last season. Good depth at tight end mitigates the urgency of this need, but the Lions are one injury away from a shortage at receiver.

Green Bay Packers

The Super Bowl XLV champions will get an internal boost at several positions from the 15 players who finished last season on injured reserve. As a result, this roster doesn't have many obvious shortcomings. But at the top of a short list is outside linebacker, where the Packers rotated three players opposite Clay Matthews last season. The Packers also must continue crafting their succession plan for longtime offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Last year's No. 1 pick, Bryan Bulaga, replaced Tauscher in Week 5. Bulaga could stay at right tackle, or he could ultimately take over for Clifton. In either case, the Packers eventually will need further reinforcements. The same is true at receiver, where veteran Donald Driver is 36 and No. 3/4 receiver James Jones could sign elsewhere as a free agent. Jordy Nelson remains under contract, but Driver's age and Jones' uncertain status make receiver a secondary area of need for the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings

As we've been discussing for months, the Vikings need to acquire at least one and perhaps two new quarterbacks. Their dream scenario is to draft one who is ready to start right away, but that might be difficult if they stay in the No. 12 overall slot. Short of that eventuality, the Vikings might be forced to draft a future starter and sign or trade for a short-term answer. The Vikings are also looking to replace two starters on their defensive line, left end Ray Edwards and nose tackle Pat Williams, and could have three starting positions in their secondary up for grabs. Only cornerback Antoine Winfield seems guaranteed of a starting spot. The receiver position could need an overhaul if they lose Sidney Rice to free agency and Bernard Berrian is ultimately released, as has been speculated.
Now more than ever, it makes sense to identify the NFC North players who will be most involved in resolving the NFL's looming labor dispute. Below you'll see each team's union representatives, based on the most recent list published by the NFL Players Association.

Chicago Bears
Rep:
Place-kicker Robbie Gould
Co-alternates: Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and receiver Rashied Davis
Comment: Hillenmeyer was released earlier this week and might retire, but he is expected to remain active in union activities regardless.

Detroit Lions
Rep:
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch
Co-alternates: Place-kicker Jason Hanson and linebacker Julian Peterson
Comment: Vanden Bosch took over this year for offensive lineman Jon Jansen, who was released. Peterson is expected to be released this spring.

Green Bay Packers
Rep:
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Co-alternates: Cornerback Charles Woodson and receiver Donald Driver
Comment: Rodgers took over the lead role during the 2010 season. Woodson recently released a statement supporting Wisconsin public workers in their ongoing dispute with the state.

Minnesota Vikings
Rep:
Left guard Steve Hutchinson
Co-alternates: Defensive end Jared Allen and linebacker Ben Leber
Comment: Hutchinson predicted last summer the NFL would lock out its players. Leber is unsigned for 2011.

AFC East Week 9 decisive moment

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
1:00
PM ET
» NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


When reporters in Baltimore headed for the M&T Bank Stadium elevators to interview the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, we assumed the rest of the AFC East had lost.

With limited cell reception in the concrete bowels of the stadium, we couldn't get updates. So we asked the Dolphins about their missed opportunity to gain ground in the standings because, you know, both the New York Jets and New England Patriots had lost. The players, who'd seen the out-of-town scoreboard, didn't correct us. They thought the Jets had lost, too.

Only when we returned to the press box did we learn the Jets somehow came back from 10 points down in the final four minutes to beat the Detroit Lions in overtime.

Several critical plays helped the Jets complete their startling rally. But the one that stood out most to me while watching a replay of the game was the senseless late hit Lions linebacker Julian Peterson delivered to usher the Jets into field-goal range and send the game into overtime.

With no timeouts, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez threw left to LaDainian Tomlinson for a 13-yard gain with 40 second left in regulation. Tomlinson was trotting to a stop well out of bounds. Peterson leveled him.

The 15-yard penalty advanced the ball from the Detroit's 43-yard line to the 28-yard line. Nick Folk eventually kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired. Then he made a 30-yarder in sudden death to give New York the AFC East's only victory of Week 9.

Wrap-up: Jets 23, Lions 20 (OT)

November, 7, 2010
11/07/10
7:55
PM ET
Hitting a few points on a wild game at Ford Field:

What it means: Late Sunday afternoon, it appeared the Detroit Lions were poised to leapfrog the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North standings. They held a 20-10 lead fourth-quarter lead over the New York Jets amid a raucous Ford Field crowd, while the Vikings trailed the Arizona Cardinals 24-10. Alas, at the end of the day, the Lions were 2-6 and the Vikings were 3-5 after a crazy turnaround befitting the Lions' recent history.

StaffordWatch: Quarterback Matthew Stafford did not return after re-injuring his right shoulder in the fourth quarter. Coach Jim Schwartz said the Lions are "going to take a pretty serious look at it," prompting questions about whether Stafford will be shut down for a period longer than the five games he got the last time. I have no questions about Stafford's toughness, but I think it's fair for all of us to wonder why his body has been so brittle in the first 1 1/2 seasons of his career.

Numbskull play: Of all the crazy things that happened in the fourth quarter and overtime, the one I can't get over is linebacker Julian Peterson's blatant and inexcusable hit out of bounds against LaDainian Tomlinson with about 40 seconds remaining. The mistake in essence put the Jets in range for the game-tying field goal. The Lions use a number of young players who might have made that mistake, but it was stunning for it to be a veteran like Peterson who apparently had no idea where he was on the field.

Suh kick: The novelty of having defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh attempt an extra point after a Jason Hanson injury quickly gave way to some serious questions. Why is Suh, not punter Nick Harris, the backup kicker? Why wouldn't you go for two points in that situation? Schwartz said "we have a lot of confidence" in Suh but admitted he was put in a difficult situation. "He went out there without any warm-ups," Schwartz said, "where a kicker that's not playing a position generally has time to take his time. Probably should have called a timeout, given him time to get ready." Had the Lions made the kick or a two-point conversion, the Jets would have been playing for a touchdown instead of a field goal at the end of regulation.

What's next: The Lions play at the Buffalo Bills next Sunday.

Final Word: NFC West

September, 17, 2010
9/17/10
3:40
PM ET
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeChris Long
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesThe timing and venue may be right for Chris Long to have a breakout game.
Long time coming. Chris Long's development into a solid -- and potentially better than solid -- defensive lineman has been a process. We didn't see much from Long during his early days as a rookie in camp two years ago. For a while, Long seemed to struggle living up to expectations. Things began to change last season, when Long had more sacks (5) than Terrell Suggs, Julian Peterson, Shawne Merriman, Albert Haynesworth, Richard Seymour or Aaron Kampman. Long had clearly made strides, becoming a potential pass-rush sleeper for 2010. Long asserted himself more during training camp this summer. The Cardinals had trouble blocking Long in Week 1. I'm expecting Long to break through with a sack or two against the Oakland Raiders in Week 2. The Raiders have had issues on their offensive line. Long has downplayed his first game in Oakland, where his father began a Hall of Fame career, but the timing seems right for Long to find the quarterback.

Derek Anderson in perspective. The Arizona Cardinals' trip to Atlanta marks homecomings for coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett. The challenge is clear. Arizona finds itself on the wrong end of another team's home opener for the second week in a row, this time against a better opponent. Quarterback Derek Anderson probably needs to show more consistent accuracy for the Cardinals to defeat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. The rest of us could also use a little more accuracy at times. For as erratic as Anderson appeared when throwing eight consecutive incomplete passes in Week 1, his 85.1 passer rating for the game was better than eight of the 17 regular-season and postseason ratings posted by a certain now-retired Cardinals quarterback last season. Kurt Warner posted nine ratings between 100.8 and 154.1 last season. His ratings in the remaining eight games ranged between 44.9 and 79.2. Anderson might never play like Warner when Warner was hot. He could potentially be more consistent from game to game. At the very least, we shouldn't measure him against the very best Warner offered without giving at least some consideration to those other eight games.

The Jeremy Bates Show. Alex Gibbs' abrupt departure as the Seattle Seahawks' offensive line coach one week before the season left me thinking the team's offensive line might suffer an implosion reminiscent of 2009, particularly with rookie left tackle Russell Okung sidelined by injury. That might still happen, but it seems less likely after Bates, the Seahawks' offensive coordinator, put together such a successful plan against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. Protection issues weren't an overriding problem. As much as the Seahawks respected and valued Gibbs, they've shrugged off his departure as if they weren't counting on him to be around that long anyway. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck keeps crediting Bates by name when answering questions about the offense. In retrospect, Bates was the most important hire coach Pete Carroll made for his offensive staff. The early results appear promising. Bates, a coaching grinder known to sleep in the office, presumably will have a good plan for Denver, his former employer (the Broncos wanted to keep Bates after firing Mike Shanahan, but it wasn't an ideal fit for Bates once the team hired Josh McDaniels).

Sam Bradford's first career victory. The Rams believe in Bradford, and they should. He's shown the starting job isn't too big for him. Now the Rams need to win a game with him. The Raiders aren't a particularly good team. They couldn't stop Vince Young from completing 76.5 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and a 142.8 rating. Like Young, Bradford benefits from having a top running back on his side. Steven Jackson is hungry. Coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams lamented missed opportunities following their 17-13 defeat against Arizona in the opener. Losing to the Raiders would count as another one.

Breaker-breaker one-Nine(r). The 49ers' communication problems are getting lots of attention, as they should. Any team should be able to communicate plays from its coordinator to the quarterback without inducing panic. Let's not lose sight of the fact that San Francisco lost its opener because the team didn't block, tackle, throw, catch and cover well enough. I'm expecting better from the 49ers against the Super Bowl champions on Monday night. Largely the same 49ers team led the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts on the road in the fourth quarter last season. Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis are cashing fatter checks after signing long-term extensions during the offseason. Safety Dashon Goldson wants one, too. Alex Smith is playing for his career this season. Time for those guys to produce.

Feeling the Detroit Lions' pain

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
11:08
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JohnsonAP Photo/Greg TrottCalvin Johnson's apparent game-winning touchdown was overruled, sending the Detroit Lions to another heart-breaking defeat.
Sympathy is a dirty word in the NFL. It's rarely given and never sought out. The system gives everyone a fair chance to build and compete, via the draft and with rules ostensibly applied with equanimity. So I don't feel bad for the Detroit Lions, nor do I think they want me or anyone else to.

What I do sense, however, is the overwhelming crush of what a steep hurdle the Lions face -- in both real and karmic terms --- to close a 53-year gap since their last championship. Consider me a Lions newbie if you wish, but it was difficult to sit at Soldier Field for three hours Sunday and not say, "These guys are absolutely cursed."

Consider the journey the Lions traveled from late in the second quarter, when they led the Chicago Bears 14-3, through the rest of the afternoon. Their franchise quarterback departed with a right shoulder injury that could sideline him for a month or more. Their lead dripped away like some kind of water torture until it was finally gone with 92 seconds remaining in the game. They appeared to have regained it a minute later, only to be denied by a call that quickly became the NFL's most-discussed play of Week 1.

When I arrived in the Lions' postgame locker room, I saw some knowing looks mixed with shock and some anger. Publicly, the Lions said the right things about putting the events behind them and moving on to Week 2. But as a friend of mine likes to say, people are human. No one in that locker room missed the departing whoosh of eight months' worth of optimism. In a matter of hours, it had dissipated.

"You're the Detroit Lions," said linebacker Julian Peterson. "You never get breaks."

[+] EnlargeStafford
AP Photo/Jim PrischingQuarterback Matthew Stafford's shoulder injury will keep him sidelined for at least one week.
No one is owed a single break, but it sure helps to get one once in a while. And the truth is many of us considered the Lions' Week 1 schedule a break of sorts. You looked at the Bears' circumstances -- a winless preseason, an offense in transition and a defense with more than its share of age and injuries -- and figured the Lions had a decent chance for a tone-setting upset/victory that would symbolically remove them from doormat status in this division.

You probably did the same. Trust me, you were not alone. To use a Lions/Bears analogy, safety Louis Delmas viewed Chicago as wounded prey.

"I told the defense that if we had any chance of beating these guys, it would be right now," Delmas said. "It's the first game of the season. Everybody there was just now getting used to one another." It was "overwhelming," he added, "to go out there for four quarters the way we did and come out on the short end of the stick."

Don't take it from just me or even Delmas. I think Lions fans produce some of the best fan blogs in the NFL, and I was struck by the emotions of DrewLions over at Pride of Detroit. Here's an excerpt from a Sunday evening post:
As I sit here staring at a blank page, I feel as if I scarcely have the heart to start writing. Today's game has rocked me to my core as a Lions fan. When Stafford went down, I honestly got nauseous. No lie. ... I watched all the hope and optimism that I've carried since the end of the 2009 season come crashing down as hard as Julius Peppers on Stafford's shoulder. All the cheering and excitement came to an abrupt halt and the vision of Shaun Hill warming up after halftime chilled me to the bone. ...

A few weeks back, I playfully commented in someone's fanpost about a nightmare scenario with Stafford going down for the year. Now I was staring at that scenario in week one. In my mind, there was no worse situation. This was it. The season is lost. My optimism was completely drained from my body. Right or wrong, that is the way I felt. My mind started to reel at the thought of all of the lost progress losing Stafford would mean. I came unraveled.

A part of me simply wants to fall to my knees with arms reaching to the sky, screaming "Why? Why? WHY!?!?" What in the hell have we done to deserve such cruelty and suffering?

Never has a [loss] felt so empty or a season felt so lost so early. One play has changed the course of our entire season.

It might seem that way, but the Lions can still have the kind of season they want -- one that, by the end of the year, suggests they have unquestionably moved closer to playoff caliber -- if they can regroup quickly. It will start with Hill, a nine-year veteran with a 10-6 career record as a starter. At the very least, the Lions should draw some comfort from the fact that Stafford's replacement will neither panic nor run out of the back of the end zone.

"In the locker room," Hill said, "you could see [disappointment] in everyone's eyes. But I kind of got the sense that people's shoulders were back and their heads were up. That's a positive thing, for sure. That's all you can ask for. We've got to re-group and put this behind us."

You hear similar statements in every losing locker room in the NFL. But can the 2010 Lions put such a devastating turn of events behind them? Or are they doomed to 15 games of expecting the worst?

Add that to the list of difficult tasks piled up on the desk of coach Jim Schwartz, who if he didn't know before, knows now what he's gotten himself into. The best thing that can be said about Sunday's game is that it revealed the Lions finally have a strength -- their defensive line -- to build off of. New defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch produced a paradigm performance in his first regular-season game with the Lions, collecting 10 solo tackles and harassing Bears quarterback Jay Cutler throughout the afternoon.

Schwartz personally recruited Vanden Bosch during free agency and will lean heavily on him to provide steady leadership in this early rough patch. Vanden Bosch was one of the last Lions players to leave the locker room Sunday. I don't really know him yet, but I would say he looked angry more than shell-shocked.

"We're going to win some of those and we're going to lose some of those," he said. "I like the way we as a team battled. We had a lot of adverse situations. We had guys play with a lot of intensity and attitude. The things that I saw from this team today will serve us well. We'll win some games this year."

That attitude provides some hope for the rest of the season. There's no reason to feel bad for the Lions. But if you didn't understand before, you probably do now. Man, oh, man. This is going to be hard.

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
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(We're sprucing up our day-after-game posts here on the NFC North blog, but the structure remains the same.)

After the Chicago Bears' 19-14 victory Sunday against the Detroit Lions, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertThe Chicago Bears take their turn in the examination room after beating Detroit.

  1. I wasn't a big fan of linebacker Lance Briggs' post-game manifesto against the "critics," but I did agree with one of his statements: Linebacker Brian Urlacher was all over the field in his first regular-season game since dislocating his wrist in the 2009 season opener. Urlacher finished with eight solo tackles, including a sack and three others behind the line of scrimmage, and showed some of his old sideline-to-sideline speed. The play that really stood out came in the first quarter, when he chased Lions tailback Jahvid Best to the sideline and dove over a pile of players to take him down for a two-yard loss. It's a long season. But so far, so good for Urlacher.
  2. It's been interesting to watch the evolution of the Bears' safety position. Transition was expected, but not necessarily in the manner it played out Sunday. While Danieal Manning played the entire game at strong safety, Chris Harris split time with rookie Major Wright at free safety. Harris had a poor preseason, and his history with the organization and coach Lovie Smith might have earned him the respect of getting the Week 1 start. But when a team's top draft choice starts rotating with a veteran, you figure it's just a matter of time before you have a new starter. "The plan was to rotate both," Smith said. "Major had been doing some good things. We feel good about all three of our safeties. Major has a lot of range."
  3. As the Bears lined up for what would be their winning touchdown play, Lions safety Louis Delmas originally thought the ball was coming his way. The Lions were playing a straight man-to-man defense, Delmas said, and he was assigned to tight end Greg Olsen. "He's an excellent receiver," Delmas said. "But I think they saw a matchup they liked better." Indeed, credit goes to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for spotting tailback Matt Forte lined up wide against Lions linebacker Julian Peterson. Forte is going to win that matchup every time, and Cutler put just enough air under the ball for Forte to collect a 28-yard scoring strike.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Why isn't Forte a better goal-line runner? As we noted Sunday, Forte had one of the worst goal-to-go ratio of carries to touchdowns in the NFL last season. In the fourth quarter against the Lions, he got three cracks from the 1-yard line and was stopped for no gain on all three. Is this a power issue? An offensive line issue? Poor use of personnel? Playcalling? A combination? One way to find out is to use backup Chester Taylor in those situations and see if the result is any different.

Two early mistakes from Bears

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
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CHICAGO -- Two Chicago Bears mistakes have conspired to leave them trailing the Detroit Lions 7-3 after the first quarter here at Soldier Field.

The first was receiver Devin Aromashodu's drop of what should have been a 38-yard touchdown pass on the Bears' opening possession. The Bears later settled for a 20-yard field goal.

The second was Jay Cutler's ill-advised pass to receiver Johnny Knox on their second possession. Knox was surrounded by three defenders. Linebacker Julian Peterson tipped the ball to safety C.C. Brown, who tipped the ball to rookie cornerback Aaron Berry for the interception. The Lions took over at the Bears' 42-yard line and eventually capitalized on Jahvid Best's 7-yard touchdown run.

Camp Confidential: Detroit Lions

August, 7, 2010
8/07/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 29

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- If the measure of a good team is roster stability, then, well, we know where the Detroit Lions stand. General manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz spent most of their first year together operating like an expansion franchise, using their roster to sift through dozens of nomadic no-names and aging veterans while effecting a near-weekly rotation at a half-dozen positions -- left guard, defensive end, cornerback and safety chief among them.

So as they reported to training camp this summer, the Lions were hoping to slow that train and accelerate the installation of permanent building blocks in their lineup. Schwartz remains realistic about the job ahead of him but is certain the Lions are pointing in the right direction.

"Hope isn't a strategy," Schwartz said. "You need good players. I think what we proved last year is that we weren't ready to accept sub-par performance. We were willing to make changes and things like that. I think that was an important statement to make. In a perfect world, all of our positions would be solidified and you would feel good about it every week. Probably 32 NFL teams are going to be dissatisfied with a couple positions ... but I think the sign of a good team is having less spots that you look at and say, wow, what are they going to do there?"

After a few days at Lions training camp, it was evident the Lions are not there yet. But they're closer than they were last year, having upgraded at receiver, running back, tight end, left guard and along the entire defensive line. Questions remain at linebacker and in the secondary, but the Lions are working methodically to narrow that gap.

"We have a big sense of urgency," Schwartz said. "I don't want to say we've been patient. We just haven't deviated from our plan and we haven't gone too much for immediate gratification."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Lions are counting on Matthew Stafford to make progress from his rookie season.
1. Can Matthew Stafford make the jump the Lions need? Stafford's rookie season wasn't unusual for a highly drafted quarterback. Playing on a bad team, he threw 20 interceptions in 10 games. Injuries cost him six starts. But after surrounding him with receiver Nate Burleson, tight end Tony Scheffler and running back Jahvid Best, the Lions are expecting a much more positive second-year experience.

Stafford spent the early part of the offseason studying the causes of each interception, concluding that the majority of them were "trying to make a play when it wasn't there," he said. He added: "A lot of them were on third-and-long. I've got to be better on third-and-long to trust our backs, to throw a checkdown and let him run and go get it. I have to know that the best teams in this league are 35 percent [conversion rate] on third-and-long. Not everybody's making it every time. The goal this year is to stay out of those as much as possible."

The potential is there. Stafford has spent the entire offseason working with receivers, putting a special emphasis on developing chemistry with Calvin Johnson. He has taken every first-team snap in practice and has a set of skill players that can rival other NFC North offenses.

"We have a lot of weapons this year," he said. "It's up to us to get some rhythm and get it going."

2. Can an overhauled defensive line compensate for uncertainty at linebacker and safety? I like to compare the Lions' defense to an episode of "Hoarders." When Mayhew and Schwartz opened the front door, they found a mass of junk. So they picked one corner, the defensive line, and starting digging their way out.

As training camp opened, the Lions had NFL-caliber starters at right end (Kyle Vanden Bosch) and nose tackle (Corey Williams), along with a potential superstar in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. But remember, the Lions are the only team since the 1970 merger to finish with the NFL's worst defense in three consecutive years. In order to move up significantly in those standings, they'll need their line to be so good that it overshadows inexperience at linebacker and another year of patchwork in the secondary.

"If this defense is going to be good, it's going to be on us up front, and we're just going to have to wreak havoc," Vanden Bosch said. "We're going to have to bring energy to every practice and we're just going to have to keep on pushing each other and make improvements."

As we discussed earlier this week, it's schematically possible for an elite pass rush and strong run-stoppers to reduce the strain placed on other positions. Based on how the rest of the Lions' defense is shaping up, they'll need nothing less.

[+] EnlargeLouis Delmas
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesLouis Delmas has noticed a change in attitude with this year's team.
3. Can the Lions expunge what safety Louis Delmas referred to as a "ho-hum attitude?" If you're keeping track, the Lions have lost 28 of their past 30 games and 37 of their past 40. You often hear about new attitudes in training camp, so take this for what it's worth. After jettisoning a number of veteran players this offseason, Delmas said that now "everyone wants to be here and they want to learn." He added: "That's something I don't think we had last year. Guys were just here. The coaches are motivating us to go out there and get better. We've got a great attitude."

As for low expectations among national observers, Stafford said: "I don't think anyone here believes that. They play the games for a reason. The season hasn't started yet. Everybody is 0-0. Come the first Sunday, it's go out there and prove it and see what we can do."

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Tight end Brandon Pettigrew tore an anterior cruciate ligament on Thanksgiving Day 2009. A little more than eight months later, Pettigrew was back on the field doing much more than at least I would have expected. He's practicing at least once per day and participating in some contact drills, even while wearing a brace on his knee.

If he has a hitch in his gait, it's barely noticeable. And on at least one play this week, Pettigrew displayed enough speed to get past linebacker Julian Peterson and catch a nice seam pass from Stafford. "He's had a really good rehab and we don't want to set him back by trying to do too much too soon," Schwartz said. At this rate, it seems quite reasonable to expect Pettigrew to be ready for a significant role in the season-opening game at Soldier Field. That has to be the best-case scenario the Lions could have imagined when the injury first occurred.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Two key parts of any defensive improvement the Lions will have this season weren't on the field for any part of the five practices I watched. Delmas hasn't practiced since the spring because of a groin injury that Schwartz said has healed but impacted his conditioning. But Delmas is an "established" player who probably could get away with missing a portion of training camp after starting 15 games last season. Linebacker DeAndre Levy, however, needs every practice rep he can get while making the permanent transition from the outside to the middle. Levy reported to training camp with tightness in his back, and he was pulled from practice this week. There is no long-term concern at this point, and the Lions must hope nothing develops. At this point, there are no viable internal options to turn to. Levy's backup is veteran Vinny Ciurciu, an undersized career special-teams player.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAdditional weapons on offense should open things up for Calvin Johnson.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Burleson signed a five-year, $25 million contract in the offseason that included $11 in guaranteed money. Then, in one of the first meetings of the Lions' reconfigured receiver position, Burleson stood up to speak. "There's a lot of things that can get between players when new guys come along, especially when money's involved," he said. "So I made an announcement that I've been in the league long enough to know, as a guy who just got paid, I'm going play a lot. So my goal is to prove I'm worth more than what they paid me. I'm here for the team, not to pat myself on the back." In part because No. 1 receiver Calvin Johnson is so quiet, Burleson has taken on the leadership role of this group.
  • Johnson is hopeful that coverages will loosen on him this season, but it will require players like Burleson, making big plays to do it. Burleson doesn't think it will be a problem. "My goal is to come in and make enough plays to where Calvin will get more single coverage and Bryant [Johnson] will make plays," he said. "You hear about [Terrell Owens] and Chad [Ochocinco] in Cincinnati. I'm going to say firsthand that we will be the most-respected receiving corps after it's all said and done." Wow.
  • Suh is one serious man. During a news conference to announce his arrival to camp, a reporter asked a pretty standard first-day question for a top draft pick: "What are you going to treat yourself to after becoming a millionaire?" Most players bite and say they bought a new car, or a house for their mother or some such splurge. Suh? Here's what he said: "I'm treating myself to getting on this field and getting ready." OK then.
  • Vanden Bosch makes it a point to touch the ball on every practice play from scrimmage. Sometimes that happens at the line of scrimmage. But whether the play comes directly toward him or goes 30 yards downfield, he chases without fail. If that means sprinting 40 yards, so be it. Although the Lions didn't necessarily sign Vanden Bosch for that reason, he sets an excellent example for a historically moribund defense. "You don't get any points for that," Schwartz said. "But if I was a professional football player, I would hope that I would practice and I would play the way Kyle Vanden Bosch does. I think it is contagious for sure and I think that it's tremendous leadership. I think it makes the running backs better. The running backs are now finishing their runs deeper down the field because they don't want him catching them."
  • Right tackle Gosder Cherilus, the Lions' No. 1 draft pick in 2008, might be down to his final chance to lock down a permanent starting job. He's sharing repetitions with veteran Jon Jansen, and a decision might not come until the end of the preseason.
  • Linebacker Zack Follett is on his way to locking down the weakside linebacker job a year after he nearly cost himself his career with a poor showing in training camp. "I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off," Follett said. "This year, it's 100 percent different."
  • Poor Chris Houston. As the Lions' erstwhile No. 1 cornerback, Houston finds himself lined up against Johnson in 1-on-1 drills more often than not. That's not even fair. I saw Houston make some decent plays against other receivers, suggesting he deserves to be on the field as a starter. But few teams have a true No. 1 cornerback, and the Lions aren't one of them.
  • With Delmas injured, the same four players made up the first-team secondary during my visit: Houston and Jonathan Wade at cornerback, with C.C. Brown and Marvin White at safety. One thing I'll say is that Wade is feisty, even if he is a bit undersized. Delmas noticed the same thing. "He gave up a big play on Calvin," Delmas said. "And then he came back to us as a group and said, 'We can't do that! I can't do that!' Then he went out and didn't give up another big play. In order to be one of the best secondaries in the NFL, we have to start with that."
  • In an earlier post, I suggested that rookie receiver Tim Toone had looked sharp and ranked him no worse than No. 4 among the Lions' receivers. In the comments section, some of you suggested that second-year receiver Derrick Williams was having a better camp than I gave him credit for. All I can say is that every time I looked, Williams was dropping a pass while Toone was catching one. Regardless, there is a long way to go for both players.
  • One beneficiary of Suh's holdout was second-year defensive tackle Sammie Hill. Schwartz said Hill "has taken the biggest step that I've seen him take." Assuming those weren't just kind words for a player destined to cede his first-team status to Suh, this development offers the Lions a level of depth they didn't have last season.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
1:02
PM ET
» NFC Under-The-Radar: 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 week 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: Under the radar needs.

Chicago Bears

Chicago has addressed its defensive line, offensive backfield and tight end position this offseason. The urgency is not quite as severe at two other positions, but they nevertheless could both use an influx of talent. One is cornerback. The Bears figure to return Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman as starters, and they signed free agent Tim Jennings as a potential nickel back last week after releasing Nathan Vasher. But Jennings shouldn't be considered a lock to play in the nickel, and the Bears seemed to stop trusting Corey Graham as a cover man last season. They could use more cornerbacks. The same goes for left guard, where the Bears seem likely to vacate 2009 starter Frank Omiyale and move him to right tackle. The Bears could use some additional options at left guard so Omiyale has the green light to focus on tackle.

Detroit Lions

With DeAndre Levy set to start at middle linebacker, the Lions don't have much depth behind outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims. Peterson will be 32 when training camp begins, and the Lions will need to identify a successor soon. Like the Bears, the Lions would help themselves by adding some extra bodies to the mix at left guard. Last year's rotation didn't work. And as long as we're talking about under-the-radar needs, we might as well include a placekicker. Jason Hanson is coming off a relatively down year, having missed seven of his 28 field goals, and will turn 40 in June. This is hardly a top need for the Lions, but perhaps they could identify Hanson's eventual successor late in the draft.

Green Bay Packers

Although some might consider the situation more urgent, I believe safety is an under-the-radar need for the Packers. Earlier this month, Nick Collins signed a three-year extension. Fellow starter Atari Bigby is a restricted free agent who hasn't signed his tender, but the bottom line is the Packers can retain his services for 2010 if they want. If you have two young starters under contract, the need can't be too severe. I can't see the Packers taking a safety high in the draft. Meanwhile, given all of their recent struggles in finding a long-term answer at punter, it might not be a bad idea to look in that direction as well.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings added two new starters to their offensive line last season, center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. But coach Brad Childress noted at the owners meeting that some of his other starters, including left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Steve Hutchinson, were approaching a decade in the league. This might not be the year, but eventually they will need to identify both players' successors. In 2010, at the very least, the Vikings need someone to take over the reserve role played so well by Artis Hicks, who signed with Washington in free agency. Hicks has been the top backup at all non-center positions for most of the past four years.

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