NFL Nation: Tyrell Johnson

Detroit Lions cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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Most significant move: There were no surprises for the Detroit Lions and, really, there were few big decisions. We noted earlier that the team decided to preserve a roster spot for No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore, so the most significant move they did make was placing rookie tight end Michael Williams on injured reserve. The Lions had substantial plans for Williams this season as the third tight end in the jumbo package that lineman Riley Reiff filled last season. They also hoped to develop his receiving skills as veterans Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler enter contract years. Williams had surgery last week to repair a hand injury, and though coach Jim Schwartz said the team had no long-term injuries, Williams is in fact lost for the season. (NFL teams can't start placing players on short-term injured reserve until next week.) As a result, rookie Joseph Fauria -- a much better receiver but less of a blocker than Williams -- is on the 53-man roster with Pettigrew and Scheffler.

The dominoes: The Lions apparently chose veteran Michael Spurlock as their kick returner, necessitating the release of rookie Steven Miller, who could return on the practice squad. Spurlock is also a receiver, and for the now he is one of six on the roster, presumably because of Ryan Broyles' sore knees. The release of veteran Matt Willis means Kris Durham is the sixth receiver. You wonder if the Lions would change directions soon in that regard. The Lions sifted through their big group of veteran defensive backups by tapping Rashean Mathis as a swing cornerback/safety and Rocky McIntosh as a backup linebacker while releasing the rest. John Wendling and Don Carey are the backup safeties for now.

What's next: According to multiple reports, the Lions will place running back Montell Owens on short-term injured reserve. That can't happen until next week, so for now he is part of the 53-man roster. He must miss at least six weeks of the regular season. You would think the Lions will bring back a number of the players they cut Saturday for their practice squad, and it's worth remembering that they are No. 5 in priority for NFL waiver claims. Sunday could be a busy day.

List of players cut: WR: Corey Fuller, Matt Willis. RB: Steven Miller, Shaun Chapas. OL: Rodney Austin, Kevin Haslam, Darren Keyton, Jake Scott. DL: Andre Fluellen, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Sadler-McQueen. LB: Brandon Hepburn, Jon Morgan (waived/injured) Chris White. CB: Ron Bartell, Chris Greenwood. S: Amari Spievey, Tyrell Johnson, Martavius Neloms (waived/injured) P: Blake Clingan.

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

Leading Questions: NFC North

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
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With the offseason in full swing, let's take a look at one major question facing each NFC North team as it begins preparations for the 2012 season:

CHICAGO BEARS

In last year's version of Leading Questions, we wondered when the Bears would address the depth behind their aging defensive stars. That issue is still on the table, but of greater 2012 importance is this: How will the Bears manage their transition to new offensive coordinator Mike Tice?

Tice will retain much of the terminology and some of the philosophy from former coordinator Mike Martz. But Tice has his own spin on the "three-digit offense," and the Bears will need to realign behind a power running game and a passing approach that emphasizes downfield throws.

Tight end and receiver are two positions the Bears need to focus on this offseason, either by developing their existing players like Kellen Davis and/or acquiring a legitimate downfield threat. New general manager Phil Emery should have more than $20 million in cap space to work with, and the free-agent market should be deep with receivers.

But to make Tice's offense work, Emery will also need to ensure the return of free-agent tailback Matt Forte and find him a reliable backup as well.

DETROIT LIONS

In a tight salary-cap situation, can the Lions keep their nucleus together and add where needed?

Years of high draft positioning made the Lions a talented team but also one facing a cap crunch in 2012. Preliminary cap reconciliation leaves the Lions with $122 million in cap commitments, about $2 million above the estimated $120 million cap. And that total doesn't include three defensive starters who are pending free agents: defensive end Cliff Avril, middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

The Lions will need to find ways to shave from that total, whether it's borrowing from future caps -- a tool now available in the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) -- or reducing the cap figures in existing contracts.

As we've discussed, receiver Calvin Johnson should be the first target for a cap-reducing contract extension. He's projected to account for about $22 million against the cap in the final year of his rookie deal. Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch are estimated to account for nearly half of the Lions' total cap allotment.

What does all this mean? We are all figuring out the NFL's new salary-cap rules together, but it's clear the Lions must make some difficult short-term decisions and weigh them against long-term prosperity.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

What can the Packers do to improve a pass defense that gave up more passing yards than any team in NFL history?

The easiest answer is to address the pass rush, which weakened in 2011 when the Packers couldn't find a suitable replacement for departed free agent Cullen Jenkins. The rush could come from the defensive end position, where the Packers have waited two years for the highly touted Mike Neal to make an impact, or through acquiring a pass-rushing outside linebacker.

General manager Ted Thompson has been reluctant in recent years to utilize veteran free agency, and the truth is that few teams allow a legitimate pass-rusher to depart without compensation. But the situation was serious enough in 2011 that Thompson will at least need to consider every avenue available for a substantial and fast-acting solution. The Packers had 29 sacks in 2011, tied for the third-worst total in the NFL.

Parallel to that issue, however, Thompson will also have to monitor a situation at safety that contributed to the Packers' defensive problems in 2011. Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins will find out in March whether he can continue his career or if he must retire because of a serious neck injury. The Packers missed his leadership and instincts in center field and would need to acquire a long-term replacement if he retires.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The development of quarterback Christian Ponder will dominate many of the Vikings' offseason headlines, but there is an equally important question hovering over the team: How fast can it upgrade its historically poor pass defense?

Vikings opponents finished the season with a 107.6 passer rating, the third-highest figure in NFL history. Their eight interceptions tied for the league's lowest total in 2011 and only one player among the back seven who started the majority of games in 2011 -- linebacker Chad Greenway -- is assured a starting job in 2012.

It's difficult to replace six starters in one offseason, but the Vikings have already begun their defensive overhaul by hiring new defensive coordinator Alan Williams, bringing back Brendan Daly as their defensive line coach and making former coordinator, Fred Pagac, their primary linebackers coach.

The personnel situation is most dire in the secondary, where two of the Vikings' primary safeties -- Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson -- are free agents. Talented cornerback Chris Cook, suspended for the final 10 games of the season following a domestic-violence incident, remains in limbo. Cook's trial date is tentatively scheduled for March 5. The future of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield must be addressed as well; Winfield turns 35 in June.

Wrap-up: Falcons 24, Vikings 14

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
4:30
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A few thoughts on another loss for the NFC North's last-place team:

What it means: Down 17-0 at halftime, the Minnesota Vikings made it interesting but ultimately absorbed their ninth loss of the season. It's the franchise's first 2-9 start since 1962.

HarvinWatch: With tailback Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain, receiver/running back Percy Harvin was the team's lone remaining offensive playmaker. And Harvin made two huge plays to give the Vikings a chance in this game, hauling in a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-13 in the fourth quarter and also returning a kickoff 104 yards to the Atlanta Falcons' 3-yard line with six minutes, 28 seconds remaining. Harvin caught eight passes for 95 yards and, including special teams, accounted for 200 all-purpose yards.

Late-game questions here: The final seven minutes in this game will be hotly debated among Vikings fans. Here are the primary questions: Even without Peterson, were the Vikings justified in using Harvin on two consecutive inside running plays on the goal line after his kickoff return? Should coach Leslie Frazier have challenged Harvin's second run, in which he appeared to have crossed the plane on second effort? Down by 10 points, should the Vikings have taken an easy field goal rather than go for a touchdown on fourth down? And should they have given the ball to tailback Toby Gerhart, who hasn't been much of an effective short-yardage runner in his career?

Opinion here: My quick reaction to those questions goes as following. I'm fine with using Harvin. He was the Vikings' best player Sunday. Frazier would have had nothing to lose by challenging the ruling on third down. I would have taken a field goal, but either way you need a field goal and a touchdown to force overtime. But handing the ball to Gerhart on fourth down, especially with a quarterback in Christian Ponder who excels at plays that give him a pass-run option on the outside, was the least defensible of the decisions we saw from Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Injury report: Already playing without safety Husain Abdullah and cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, the Vikings lost safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) and cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) during the game. I thought their defense played well considering they had Benny Sapp, on the street two weeks ago, playing at one cornerback spot and rookie Mistral Raymond at safety. The Vikings also lost long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a back injury. Defensive end Jared Allen did a flawless job as Loefller's replacement and even made a special teams tackle after his first snap.

What's next: The Vikings will host the Denver Broncos next Sunday at the Metrodome. Remember, the game has been moved from CBS to FOX. As of last week, the team had more than 5,000 tickets to sell to avoid a local television blackout.
Updating our earlier post, we now know that Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook won't play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Arrested early Saturday morning and jailed without bond, it's not even clear that he'll be released from jail before kickoff. Even if he is, however, the Vikings have formally ruled him out of the game.

We've already discussed how that will impact their depth chart for Sunday's game. It's likely that dime back Asher Allen will start at cornerback, with punt returner Marcus Sherels serving as the dime back. Starting cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) and starting safety Jamarca Sanford (concussion) are doubtful for the game and not expected to play.

The Packers had a pretty sizeable matchup advantage even before Cook's arrest. So the bigger question now is what this incident means for the future of the Vikings' top draft choice in 2010. Two knee surgeries derailed Cook's rookie season, and he's now been arrested twice in the past eight months. (He was ultimately acquitted of brandishing a firearm last spring.)

Coach Leslie Frazier will have to make a short-term discipline decision about Cook, regardless of the outcome of this proceeding, and the NFL could also weight in with a fine or suspension. Stay tuned.

NFC North Friday injury report

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
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Getting inside the NFC North Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: All players are probable for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers except for offensive lineman Gabe Carimi (knee) and defensive lineman Matt Toeaina (knee). Still, receiver Earl Bennett (chest) seems unlikely to play. Safety Major Wright (hip) might give way to veteran Chris Harris in the starting lineup.

Detroit Lions: The Lions officially ruled out running back Jahvid Best (concussion) for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, to no one's surprise. The good news: Linebacker Justin Durant and tight end Tony Scheffler, both of who whom have been dealing with concussions, are listed as probable. Durant has missed the past three games.

Green Bay Packers: Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett was added to the injury list Friday because of a concussion and is questionable for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Packers coach Mike McCarthy indicated that Pickett should be cleared for the game, which would be a quick recovery. Cornerback Sam Shields is doubtful because of a concussion and isn't expected to play.

Minnesota Vikings: It looks like the Vikings will be missing two of their four starting defensive backs for Sunday's game. Cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) and safety Jamarca Sanford (concussion) are both listed as doubtful. So is center John Sullivan (concussion). Chris Cook would continue starting for Winfield. Tyrell Johnson would start for Sanford and Joe Berger for Sullivan.

NFC North Stock Watch

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
1:10
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Donovan McNabb, Minnesota Vikings quarterback: We've noted many times that McNabb deserves only partial blame for the Vikings' woes this season. The lockout, an imbalanced roster and some uninspired work from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave have all contributed. Regardless, you have to wonder if McNabb has made the final start of his NFL career. Coach Leslie Frazier officially is still mulling his starter for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers, but it doesn't usually bode well for an incumbent when the coach doesn't immediately express support. If Christian Ponder assumes the job and stays healthy for the remainder of the season, what options would McNabb have in 2012? He would have been benched in consecutive years by two different organizations. I'm not sure if another team would offer him its starting job. Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated reported McNabb will strongly consider retirement if that scenario plays out.

2. Perspective on postgame handshakes: I promise this will be my final comment on Sunday's postgame fracas at Ford Field. I've been surprised at how many people think this incident has been overblown. Rarely, if ever, in the modern history of the NFL has one head coach been restrained from going after another, regardless of provocation. To find even a similar example, the Pro Football Hall of Fame went back to a Chicago Bears-Los Angeles Rams game -- in 1947. After the game, a dirty affair from another era that featured five ejections and 16 penalties, a Bears player chased Rams coach Bob Snyder into the locker room and sparked a brawl. And this list of coaching confrontations, compiled by Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, hardly compares to what we saw Sunday. What exactly was Schwartz going to do Sunday if he reached Harbaugh? Were they going to fight right there on the field? When something so out of the ordinary occurs relative to history, it is by definition a significant event.

3. Vikings pass defense: The Vikings have gotten decent push from defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison this season, but they were largely stymied Sunday night by a Chicago Bears offense that held back extra blockers in pass protection. Robbed of the protection usually afforded by Allen and Robison, the Vikings' secondary was revealed as an undermanned group that doesn't have an anchor as long as veteran is Antoine Winfield (neck) sidelined. The Vikings rank No. 24 overall in NFL pass defense. They continue to run a rotation at safety between Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford, and cornerback Cedric Griffin is gamely fighting through his second return from an ACL tear in as many seasons. All secondaries are better when they have a pass rush, but the Vikings' is a real liability if Allen and Robison can't get consistent pressure.

RISING

[+] EnlargeJames Jones
Zuma Press/Icon SMIJames Jones celebrates his 35-yard touchdown catch against the Rams with the fans.
1. James Jones, Packers receiver: Jones wasn't happy with his playing time early in the season. But after agreeing to sit tight and wait his turn, Jones has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Packers' last three games. In fact, three of his last seven receptions have gone for touchdowns. Over that stretch, Jones has pulled himself even with the slew of receivers the Packers have behind Greg Jennings. Jordy Nelson has 20 receptions this season. Jones has 15. Donald Driver has 12 and Randall Cobb has nine.

2. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears quarterback: We'll get to this in more detail later Tuesday, but Cutler has put together his best two games of the season over the past two weeks. He's completed 71 percent of his passes over that stretch with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He's even made a believer of Total Quarterback Rating, which gave him a season-high 91.4 score after Sunday's victory over the Vikings. It's interesting that Cutler has a better sense for what the Bears offense can do, and not do, than coordinator Mike Martz.

3. Desmond Bishop, Packers linebacker: Tackles are an unofficial statistic, but I usually prefer to use the set based on review from each team's coaches. Based on that film review, Bishop had a stunning 20 tackles in Sunday's victory over the St. Louis Rams. That unofficially gives Bishop a team-high 72 tackles through six games. He also has three sacks and a forced fumble. Consider that at this time last season, Bishop was only two games into his replacement of injured starter Nick Barnett. He has now blossomed into a key ingredient of a championship defense.

Final Word: NFC North

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Bears enter the opener with little depth behind starting running back Matt Forte.
All Forte: After so much summer discussion about his contract, his strengths and his weaknesses, it appears Matt Forte will be the Chicago Bears' second-most important offensive player Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons and beyond. (Quarterback Jay Cutler is obviously No. 1.) Backup tailback Marion Barber didn't practice this week because of a calf injury, and the Bears' only reserve help could be little-used Kahlil Bell. Barber's primary role this season was likely to take some pounding away from Forte in goal-line and short-yardage situations, which has never been a strength of Forte's anyway. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Forte has managed only five touchdowns on 57 goal-to-go carries since the start of the 2009 season. Against a team like the Falcons, the Bears can't afford too many red-zone breakdowns. They'll either need Forte to convert or they'll have to take to the air. For what it's worth, Cutler has thrown more red-zone interceptions (13) than any other NFL quarterback over the past three seasons.

Unknown quantity: We didn't learn much this summer about the Bears' defense, which has moving parts at several positions and didn't make much of an impact on preseason games one way or the other. The Falcons are a power running team that made a big offseason splash to trade up in the draft for big-play receiver Julio Jones. If they're on task, that's a tough combination to defend. We still don't know who, other than Julius Peppers, can provide a pass rush for the Bears and we're awaiting a safety transition involving newcomer Brandon Meriweather. The Bears will have their hands full defensively, but keep in mind that the Falcons haven't come to Chicago and won a game since the 1983 season opener.

HotHotHot: Sunday's updated weather forecast for Tampa calls for a high of 91 degrees with 77 percent humidity at Raymond James Stadium. As we discussed during the week, it's been a hot summer in the upper midwest. I'm not sure the Detroit Lions practiced in anything quite like they're going to experience Sunday, but all NFL players should be in condition to play a hot-weather game in Week 1. To me, it's the less-expected hot weather you might experience in October or even November that can catch you off guard. The Lions will need to stay on top of their hydration to avoid cramping and the like, but I'm not sure this issue will impact the outcome of the game.

Matchup of young stars: This game will feature two of the top three quarterbacks in the 2009 draft, the Lions' Matthew Stafford and the Buccaneers' Josh Freeman. It also will put on display the Lions' good fortune in having the No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 draft rather than No. 3. The Lions chose defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, leaving the Bucs to take defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. As it turns out, McCoy has been a pretty good player. But Suh is ready to break out as one of the NFL's best. Suh and nose tackle Corey Williams will look to stuff Bucs tailback LeGarrette Blount, who gashed them for 61 yards on seven carries on runs up the middle in the teams' 2010 matchup.

Slow starts: Many observers have the Minnesota Vikings pegged to limp out of the gate this season, noting their offensive scheme transition, along with the presence of a new quarterback (Donovan McNabb) and left tackle (Charlie Johnson). But as it turns out, the Vikings on Sunday will face the NFL's most notorious slow starters over the past seven seasons. The San Diego Chargers have a combined 30-26 record during the first half of those seasons and a 46-10 record in the second half. For whatever reason, the Vikings are getting the Chargers at the proverbial right time. For what it's worth, the preseason showed us that if the Vikings struggle early in 2011, it will be because of their shaky personnel situation on defense. Their starting lineup Sunday will include three new defensive linemen, one untested linebacker (Erin Henderson) and a rotation at strong safety between Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson. On the other hand, their offense appeared relatively cohesive both in camp and in the preseason.

Minnesota Vikings cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
6:46
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Check here for a complete list of the Minnesota Vikings' roster moves.

Surprise move: Either the Vikings have confidence in a number of unproven offensive linemen or they have their sights on some veteran acquisitions later this weekend. They released guard/tackles Chris DeGeare and Ryan Cook, both of whom saw substantial action at right guard during the injury rehabilitation of starter Anthony Herrera. This version of their 53-man roster features three centers and a total of 10 offensive linemen. The group includes two rookies (DeMarcus Love and Brandon Fusco) and one first-year player in Patrick Brown. The Vikings' arrangement here remains under construction, as far as I’m concerned.

No-brainers: Undrafted tight end Allen Reisner was one of the big surprises of camp. He not only pushed veteran Jeff Dugan off the roster but also forced the Vikings to keep four tight ends on their roster. I wondered whether the Vikings would release safety Tyrell Johnson, who has struggled to maintain his starting job in the face of a modest challenge from Jamarca Sanford. In the end, the Vikings didn’t have enough in-house experience to make that move. But watch out down the road for rookie Mistral Raymond, who forced his way onto the initial 53-man roster and is clearly respected by coaches.

What’s next: You would think the Vikings would be on the lookout for two areas in particular: Linebackers and running backs. The decision to release veteran Heath Farwell left them with five linebackers, only two of whom have starting experience. The current backups are special-teams ace Kenny Onatolu and undrafted rookie Larry Dean. With new starter Erin Henderson still establishing himself, you wonder if that is enough depth. Meanwhile, the Vikings kept only three tailbacks (and no fullbacks). Both of Adrian Peterson's backups, Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker, were dealing with injuries as recently as last week. Depth is definitely an issue and could be addressed in the next 24-48 hours.

Vikings: Friday practice report

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
9:43
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MANKATO, Minn. -- A week into CampTour'11, I finally saw a full-pads practice with a team's entire roster available. So, on the final day of my time at Minnesota State University, Mankato, let's resurrect our traditional practice report.

Be aware that my formal Camp Confidential for the Minnesota Vikings will post Sunday. I'll then resume our NFC North tour on Monday in Bourbonnais, Ill., training camp home of the Chicago Bears.
  • The Vikings had a spirited and live 9-on-7 run drill, meaning players were tackling to the ground. Coach Leslie Frazier used tailback Adrian Peterson for three plays, a rarity in Peterson's camp career. But Frazier never blinked. "It's OK," he said. "We'll have to watch things. We won't do it too often. But it's part of what we do for a living, is tackling. It's hitting. It's running. It's football."
  • Peterson made two outstanding catches, one a pass down the hashmarks from quarterback Joe Webb in 7-on-7s and one a back-shoulder grab from Donovan McNabb in team work. "That's something he wants to do," Frazier said. "He wants to be a better receiver. He wants to stay in on third downs. He doesn't want to come off the field. In order to do that, you've got to do what he did today. You've got to catch the football. He's working to get better at that."
  • Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder mostly worked with the second team for the second consecutive day. It was a rough one. Ponder threw two interceptions during 7-on-7 drills and struggled with his downfield accuracy throughout the practice. Frazier called it "being a rookie in the National Football League" and Ponder said: "Today was kind of a step back, but these are the days you learn the most from."
  • McNabb once again opened team drills with a successful deep pass down the sideline, this time to receiver Michael Jenkins, who beat cornerback Chris Cook for an 80-yard touchdown.
  • After a rough debut Thursday, left tackle Charlie Johnson seemed to get his feet underneath him a bit Friday.
  • The Vikings rotated three veteran safeties among their two positions: Tyrell Johnson, Jamarca Sanford and Husain Abdullah.
  • Again, I'll have more practice observations and many other thoughts in this weekend's Camp Confidential. I've had a fruitful few days here and look forward to sprinkling some further thoughts into future blog posts.
Thursday afternoon marked the opening of the NFL's official waiver season, when teams can formally release players and begin adjusting their salary cap structure. We've already discussed the Chicago Bears' now-official decision to release tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, and now we'll hit some other NFC North-related personnel moves in quick-hitting fashion.

Item: The Green Bay Packers have informed linebacker Brady Poppinga and defensive tackle Justin Harrell they will be released, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
Comment: Poppinga was coming off a serious knee injury. Harrell now qualifies as the biggest bust of general manager Ted Thompson's tenure. Drafted with a history of injuries, Harrell couldn't stay on the field for the Packers.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings released safety Madieu Williams.
Comment: Williams was due $5.4 million in 2011, a high price for a player who might not have made the team. He was originally signed on the advice of now-coach Leslie Frazier, but a 2008 neck injury seemed to rob him of some aggressiveness as a tackler. I'm not sure if his replacement is on the roster yet, but Tyrell Johnson might get a chance.

Item: The Detroit Lions will release linebacker Jordon Dizon.
Comment: Dizon was a vestige of Rod Marinelli's Tampa-2 defense and too small to fit into the Lions' current scheme.

Item: The Bears lost out on two free agents they have been reported to have interest in, receiver Brad Smith and offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod.
Comment:
They're too busy getting straight at tight end to worry about all that.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
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: Draft Philosophy.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo has emerged from what amounted to a two-year draft hiatus following the high-profile trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and late defensive end Gaines Adams. It will be interesting to see if any philosophical shifts are detectable in what will be the Bears' first draft since Angelo overhauled his front office. Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel departed, his position was dissolved and Tim Ruskell was hired to oversee the college and pro scouting departments. To this point, there has been a general sense that Angelo -- a onetime scouting director himself -- has been drawn to individual players he likes more than he has been guided by a larger plan to build a balanced team. Case in point: He has drafted 18 defensive backs and 11 offensive linemen over his tenure. Six of those 11 offensive linemen were taken in the seventh round, part of the reason the Bears are short-handed at the position this offseason.

Detroit Lions

If the Lions have proved anything under general manager Martin Mayhew, it's that they value every last drop of the draft. In some instances, Mayhew has gone to great lengths to secure an extra pick, no matter what round it is in. On at least two occasions, he has traded a player recently signed as a street free agent or claimed on waivers for a seventh-round draft pick. In several cases, Mayhew has included those picks in trades for other players. This spring, he and the Lions appealed a relatively mild NFL tampering discipline, hired a prominent attorney and achieved the slightest reduction in the penalty: A seventh-round pick lost in 2012 rather than 2011. Some teams consider seventh-round picks to be throwaways or places to grab a player otherwise destined for college free agency to avoid a bidding war on signing bonuses. Under Mayhew, the Lions use them as a daily commodity.

Green Bay Packers

Generally speaking, more is better for the Packers. It's been well-chronicled that Packers general manager Ted Thompson built his championship team almost exclusively through the draft, and that approach requires volume to gather enough depth and maximize the chances for hitting big on players. Thompson famously traded back into the 2009 first round to select linebacker Clay Matthews, but a betting man realizes it's far more likely that he will trade back in any given year to accumulate more picks. Thompson rarely pursues the hot name or flashy personalities or even flashy players. Case in point: Choosing nose tackle B.J. Raji over receiver Michael Crabtree in 2009. But there is no arguing with the Packers' approach under Thompson, which has built layers of quality -- if not elite -- depth at multiple positions across the board.

Minnesota Vikings

Every team insists that talent trumps need in the draft, but under vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, the Vikings have drafted for need more often than you might think. Consider 2010. The Vikings entered the draft knowing their depth was thin behind injured cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They also had lost backup tailback Chester Taylor via free agency. Their first two picks? Cornerback Chris Cook and running back Toby Gerhart. In 2009, they wanted to replace right tackle Ryan Cook. The answer was Phil Loadholt, their second-round pick. In 2008, the Vikings traded up to draft safety Tyrell Johnson because they knew starter Darren Sharper was entering his final season. There's a difference between taking what the draft gives you and maneuvering to make sure it gives you what you want. The Vikings lean toward the latter under Spielman.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
12:00
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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: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Chicago Bears

Best choice: My initial thought was to nominate receiver Johnny Knox, a fifth-round pick two years ago out of Division-II Abilene Christian. Knox has 96 receptions in two seasons and is as close to a No. 1 receiver as the Bears have. But the 2006 decision to draft kick returner Devin Hester in the second round was inspired. Hester has changed the game and has become one of the best returners in the history of football. He has also made steady improvement as a receiver after converting from cornerback. Hester it is.

Worst choice: The Bears made Central Michigan defensive end Dan Bazuin a second-round pick in 2007. He was taken No. 62 overall but never played a regular-season down for the team. A left knee injury ended his rookie season and a second operation on the knee led to his release in the summer of 2008. I'm not sure if the Bears could have projected the knee problems, but bidding farewell to a second-round pick after one year is problematic.

On the bubble: Chris Williams, drafted as the left tackle of the future in 2008, missed almost half of his rookie season because of a back injury and has started at three different positions in the ensuing two years. As of today, the Bears aren't saying where he will play in 2011. The position changes could merit credit for flexibility, or they could be grounds for criticism because the Bears haven't been able to lock him down at left tackle as they have hoped.

Detroit Lions

Best choice: If you had the option between a pass-rushing, playmaking defensive tackle and a freakishly skilled receiver, which would you take? I would go with the former, which is why I'm making defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh my top Lions choice over the past five years. Receiver Calvin Johnson is an elite player, but to me, Suh plays a more important position. I realize Suh wasn't exactly a surprise pick at No. 2 overall in 2010, but it's rare that a player taken at that spot lives up to the hype so quickly.

Worst choice: This discussion is limited to the past five years, so we can't nominate receiver Mike Williams (2005). Many of the Lions' now-discarded draft picks were selected with former coach Rod Marinelli's Tampa 2 defensive scheme in mind, so it's not surprising they would no longer be around. There is no smoking gun in this time period, so I'll go with receiver Derrick Williams, a third-round pick in 2009 who has failed as both a No. 3 receiver and a kick returner.

On the bubble: Quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, has missed more games (19) than he's played (13) in the past two years. His three-game appearance in 2010 suggested improvement over his 20-interception rookie season, but like any player, Stafford must find a way to stay on the field or he will be a bust.

Green Bay Packers

Best choice: Trading back into the first round in 2009 to select linebacker Clay Matthews was an inspired move. And tight end Jermichael Finley, you might recall, was a low third-round pick in 2008. But in this case, I have to go with finding one of the top receivers in the game at the bottom of the second round of the 2006 draft. Greg Jennings was the No. 52 overall pick that year and not exactly a household name after his Western Michigan career. But he was productive from the moment he arrived in Green Bay and earned a well-deserved Pro Bowl berth last season.

Worst choice: Tennessee defensive lineman Justin Harrell had a history of injuries when the Packers made him the No. 16 overall pick in 2007. Not coincidentally, injuries have prevented Harrell from establishing any sort of career. He has played in 14 games over four seasons, felled by back and knee ailments, among others. Because of the value of his draft position, Harrell gets the nod over Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, who bombed after the Packers took him in the second round in 2008.

On the bubble: The Packers don't have a player who fits neatly into this category, but on a relative scale I would go with guard Daryn Colledge, a second-round pick in 2006. Colledge has started all but three games over the past five years, making several position changes along the way, but the Packers never seem willing to commit to him for the long term. That trend continued last month, when they tendered him as a prospective restricted free agent but didn't seem interested (yet) in a multiyear contract. Is this the year they find someone to take over his left guard spot?

Minnesota Vikings

Best choice: Defensive end Ray Edwards has 29.5 sacks in his five-year career, including 16.5 in the past two season, some significant numbers for a player taken in the fourth round of the 2006 draft (No. 127 overall). But it's hard to get past the value the Vikings have gotten from receiver Percy Harvin, their first pick (No. 22 overall) in 2009. They put a substantial amount of pre-draft work into his background, and he has not been responsible for any off-field issue that has been publicized. In two seasons, moreover, Harvin has 131 receptions and has been a force as a kickoff returner as well. The Vikings didn't fully grasp Harvin's migraine history, but I'm not sure if many teams did at the time.

Worst choice: Safety Tyrell Johnson, whom the Vikings targeted and traded up to the No. 43 slot in 2008 to draft, has been a disappointment and is not guaranteed a starting job in 2011. But as far as impact on the organization, it's hard to look past the decision to trade into the second round of the 2006 draft and select quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. There is no doubt Jackson had some physical skills to get excited about. But ultimately, that decision -- along with former coach Brad Childress' faith in his future development -- set back the franchise and left it in desperation mode this spring.

On the bubble: Right tackle Phil Loadholt was the No. 54 overall pick in 2009 and has started 31 of a possible 32 games since. But is that because he deserves to be an established starter in the NFL, or was he simply the Vikings' best option? There are mixed opinions about Loadholt's performance over that stretch, and it's not clear if the Vikings' new coaching staff considers him an unquestioned starter moving forward.
Webb/SmithGetty ImagesChicago's J'Marcus Webb, left, and Detroit's Alphonso Smith were pleasant surprises in 2010.
About this time last year, we compiled a list of four NFC North players who had the opportunity to alleviate some pressure to acquire upgrades at their positions -- provided they demonstrated notable offseason development. In reviewing that post, I feel better about the positions we identified than the specific players we picked out. But such is life.

This year's pending lockout presents a curveball for offseason development. If a lockout begins in early March and continues through the summer, coaches and front office executives won't have their typical opportunity to improve and observe younger players. Free agency could also be truncated and risky. Ultimately, teams might be left to rely on observations and projections based on last season's performance.

In that vein, let's pick one player per team whose 2010 emergence seemingly eliminated a 2011 offseason need.

Chicago Bears

Player: Offensive lineman J'Marcus Webb

2010 notables: The Bears made Webb a seventh-round pick last spring and, desperate for alternatives after a rough start, elevated him to the starting lineup in Week 5. Webb's ascendance coincided with the stabilization of the Bears' line, and he remained the starter for the rest of the season. How well he played as an individual is up for debate. According to ESPN's penalty database, Webb was called for 11 penalties in his 12 starts, including seven for holding.
Position status: If nothing else, Webb enters the offseason as one of the Bears' top two tackles along with Frank Omiyale. Offensive line might be the single-most needy position group on the Bears' roster, and the team could legitimately address any of its five positions in the first round of the 2011 draft. Based on how the draft plays out, the Bears could keep Webb at right tackle. Or, given his 6-foot-8 frame, they could consider moving him to left tackle and returning Omiyale to the right side. The future of 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams, who was moved from left tackle to left guard midway through last season, could also affect where Webb plays.
2011 projection: Yes, there are many moving parts here. But Webb has a couple of things going for him. One, he is a 22-year-old player who has navigated his way through 12 NFL starts and still has plenty of room to improve. Long-range planners are always infatuated by a young player with experience. Second, Webb is a favorite of Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, who personally scouted him before the draft -- and came away from Webb's workout with a chipped tooth. There is a long way to go here, and it would be wrong to assume Webb is a lock to start in 2011. But the Bears can't address all five positions in one offseason, and Webb's presence might help make their decisions easier this spring.

Detroit Lions

Player: Cornerback Alphonso Smith
2010 notables: Acquired in a preseason trade with the Denver Broncos, Smith made a productive if uneven debut by intercepting five passes in 12 games. A shoulder injury ended his season in December, and many fans' lasting impression might have been his embarrassing Thanksgiving Day performance against the New England Patriots. But playmaking cornerbacks are difficult to find, and Smith gives the Lions a viable option at a position of significant need.
Position status: Veterans Chris Houston and Nate Vasher are pending free agents, but the Lions have said they want Houston to return. Veteran Eric King has been informed of his release, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Tye Hill, Prince Miller and Paul Pratt are all pending free agents, although the Lions have exclusive rights on Miller and Pratt. Last season's Week 1 nickelback, Aaron Berry, spent most of the season on injured reserve.
2011 projection:
In 2010, the Lions brought back only one member of their 2009 secondary: Safety Louis Delmas. Smith's performance in 2009 should at least lessen the overhaul necessary this offseason. Like Webb, he shouldn't be a lock to start in 2011. But the Lions also shouldn't be starting from scratch, either. Smith gives the Lions a legitimate option in the event they focus their resources elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeJames Starks
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesLate-season starter James Starks gives the Packers options at running back next season.
Green Bay Packers

Player: Running back James Starks
2010 notables:
Starks' story has been well-told. After spending the first half of the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, he rushed for 73 yards in his NFL debut and amassed 315 yards in four playoff games. In part because he never fumbled, Starks earned the trust of coach Mike McCarthy, and proved to be a reliable and instinctive runner.
Position status:
The Packers are expected to get former starter Ryan Grant back from an ankle injury. Grant is scheduled to earn about $5.25 million in 2011, the final year of his most recent contract extension. Backups Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn are pending free agents. Starks leapfrogged fellow rookie Dimitri Nance, who is signed through 2013.
2011 projection:
In an era where many teams split carries among their tailbacks, Grant was the Packers' primary runner from 2007 to 2009. That was the plan for 2010 as well, before his injury. But if nothing else, Starks gives the Packers a second option and important insurance should Grant be felled by another injury. Does Starks deserve to compete with Grant for a starting job next season? That's a question the Packers' coaching staff will have to answer whenever training camp convenes. But the Packers learned the hard way last season that a two-man backfield is a requirement, not a luxury.

[+] EnlargeHusain Abdullah
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireVikings safety Husain Abdullah might have played himself into a starting role next season.
Minnesota Vikings

Player: Safety Husain Abdullah
2010 notables:
Known mostly for special teams play and fasting during training camp, Abdullah unseated Tyrell Johnson and was a surprise starter at strong safety. He missed one game because of a concussion and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. You never know how players will be viewed by a new coaching staff, but Abdullah seemed to show enough promise to merit another chance to start in 2011.
Position status:
The Vikings have long been due for changes at safety, where Johnson and Madieu Williams have performed poorly over the past three seasons. Williams could be released this offseason, opening at least one starting spot. Jamarca Sanford struggled to stay healthy last season but might be best suited as a special teams player.
2011 projection:
Would the Vikings replace both starting safeties this offseason? Or would they give Abdullah another chance while focusing on Williams' free safety spot? The latter scenario seems more likely. At this time last season, few would have expected Abdullah to be in this spot. But if last season were any indication, he had leapfrogged every other safety on the Vikings' roster. Read into that ranking what you will.

Matthews, Pickett active for Packers

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
7:14
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers will have linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (ankle) for Sunday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings. That's the headline for the pre-game inactive list for both teams.

To no surprise, right tackle Mark Tauscher is inactive, meaning rookie Bryan Bulaga will start his third consecutive game.

For the Vikings, cornerback Lito Sheppard was deactivated to make room for rookie cornerback Chris Cook, who returns after missing two weeks with a knee injury. The Vikings will start Asher Allen opposite Antoine Winfield, with Cook serving as the nickel. Newcomer Frank Walker would play in the dime if necessary.

Tyrell Johnson will start at strong safety for Husain Abdullah (concussion).

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