Camp analysis: NFC North defensive lines
Starters - LDE Israel Idonije, 3T Henry Melton, NT Stephen Paea, RDE Julius Peppers. Backups - E Shea McClellin, T Matt Toeaina, T John McCargo, E Corey Wootton, T Jordan Miller, E Chauncey Davis, E Thaddeus Gibson, T Demario Pressley, E Cheta Ozougwu, T Nate Collins, T Ronnie Cameron.
Peppers remains one of the league's top players, but he needs more help in pressuring the quarterback. The Bears hope that comes from first-round pick McClellin, who had 16.5 sacks in his final two seasons at Boise State. Incumbent left end Idonije was re-signed for one year, and he is solid vs. the run, but had just five sacks in 2011. Melton flashed some pass-rush potential at the 3-technique, but he needs to show up on a more consistent basis. Paea contributed as part of the rotation inside as a rookie last season, even though he was hindered by a balky knee injury. He is expected to take a big step this season and become a starter. For now, Toeaina is a better run stuffer, although he's limited as an athlete. McCargo is expected to contribute in the rotation at both tackle spots. Wootton has only flashed pass-rush potential and needs to make a move this year if he wants to remain part of the program.
Starters - LE Cliff Avril, LT Ndamukong Suh, RT Corey Williams, RE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Backups - LE Lawrence Jackson, DT Nick Fairley, DT Sammie Hill, DT Andre Fluellen, RE Willie Young, DE Everette Brown, DE Ronnell Lewis, DE Eddie McClam, DE Ugo Chinasa, DT Michael Cosgrove.
The only serious question here is whether Avril will miss any time. He has said that he wouldn't turn his nose up at the $10.6 million tender; the question is whether he will hold out for a while before signing. The eight-man rotation appears set, though Brown will have a chance at cracking it, especially if Avril holds out. Rookie Lewis will make his mark on special teams this season. Veteran Fluellen, a key backup at both tackle and end, could be on the bubble this season.
Green Bay Packers
Starters - LDE Ryan Pickett, RDE Jerel Worthy, NT B.J. Raji. Backups - DE Anthony Hargrove, DE Mike Neal, DE C.J. Wilson, DE Phillip Merling, DT Daniel Muir, DE Jarius Wynn, DT Mike Daniels, DE Lawrence Guy, DT Johnny Jones.
The position has the most depth through offseason acquisitions this year - and for good reason. As it stands, the Packers will open the season Sept. 9 with league suspensions of eight and four games being served by Hargrove and Neal, respectively. Commissioner Roger Goodell recently upheld the suspension for Hargrove, who was punished for his alleged involvement in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal after the Packers signed the eighth-year veteran to a modest one-year, $825,000 contract. They took similar low-risk flyers on Muir and Merling, who never panned out as a second-round draft pick with the Miami Dolphins, to give the line reinforcements. Further additions came early in the draft with Worthy in the second round and Daniels in the fourth round. Worthy, a powerful and quick player at Michigan State, will have a significant role from the outset, being paired with Raji as the pass-rushing nickel linemen. By doing so, the intent is to get Raji back playing at a superb level after his production waned last season (three sacks). Pickett, the graybeard of the bunch at 32, remains serviceable on early downs, when Wilson also could have a role with Hargrove and Neal away. Daniels has playing potential as a rookie, but no one knows for sure after he missed the offseason workouts to complete his recovery from January shoulder surgery.
Starters - LE Brian Robison, NT Letroy Guion, DT Kevin Williams, RE Jared Allen. Backups - DE Everson Griffen, NT Fred Evans, DL Christian Ballard, DE Nick Reed, DE D'Aundre Reed, DT Tydreke Powell, DE Ernest Owusu, DE Eric Latimore, DE Anthony Jacobs, DE Trevor Guyton, DE Jeff Charleston, DT Chase Baker.
The ends are the strength of the team. The tackles are a question mark. Robison and Allen combined for 30 sacks a year ago. With 22 sacks, Allen set the franchise record and came within a sack of breaking the NFL mark. Robison replaced Ray Edwards and proved he can be an every-down player. He had a career-high eight sacks and played the run well. Guion is a more natural under tackle, but he's also the second-best tackle behind the aging Williams. So the Vikings moved Guion from under tackle to nose tackle. He'll be undersized, but he's quick and will be an upgrade over Remi Ayodele, who lasted just one year before being released. Williams turns 32 in training camp and often shows his many miles. But if he can stave off nagging knee and foot injuries, he could turn back the clock to a time when he was a dominant All-Pro. Griffen is one of the best young players on the team. He'd be a starter if his position wasn't defensive end, but the Vikings will look to get him on the field more as a fourth linebacker when they go to their 3-4 look. Ballard, a second-year player, also is intriguing because he can play both tackle positions as well as left end. He's a tackle in an end's body.
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