NFC North Tour: Secondary

The 53-man rosters are set for Week 1. Let's continue examining, by position, how the four NFC North teams stack up against each other heading into 2011. Next up, the defensive secondary.

Chicago Bears

Starters - LCB Tim Jennings, RCB Charles Tillman, FS Major Wright, SS Chris Harris. Backups -- CB D.J. Moore, CB Zack Bowman, S Craig Steltz, S Chris Conte, CB Corey Graham, S Brandon Meriweather.

Tillman has been one of the starters for each of his eight seasons and, while he's not a shut-down type, he matches up well with big, physical wide receivers and is a tough and willing participant in run support. Jennings is undersized but feisty, and his toughness more than compensates for his lack of size. There is some depth with Moore, who was a pleasant surprise at nickel last season, picking off four passes after barely touching the field as a rookie in '09. But having him and Jennings on the field at the same time makes the Bears susceptible to opponents with big wide receivers.

The promotion of Wright allows Harris to move back to his more natural position at strong safety, although he picked off five passes playing free last season. Harris is known as a big hitter and Wright has enough range and ball skills that he was considered for a starting spot last season before injuries slowed his development. Bowman began last season as the starter on the left side after a break-out season in '09, and he has much better size than Jennings or Moore, but he fell from favor last season because of a lack of physical play. Steltz has been around long enough to prove that he's a physical player and reliable backup but not an ideal starter. Conte is a project considering he played just one season at safety in college. Graham is a special teams whiz who has played corner and safety but isn't much of a ball athlete.

Detroit Lions

Starters - CB Chris Houston, CB Eric Wright, FS Louis Delmas, SS Amari Spievey, NCB, Brandon McDonald. Backups - CB Alphonso Smith, FS John Wendling, SS Erik Coleman, CB Aaron Berry, CB Prince Miller.

The Lions are banking that Wright has a bounce-back year similar to what Houston delivered last year. Houston was as close to a shutdown corner as the team has had in years. Wright is coming off a disastrous season in Cleveland, but he had a strong preseason. Delmas is also looking to bounce back from a down season. He played through a groin injury last year and didn't come near the production of his rookie season. Spievey, a converted corner who won the strong safety spot by default last season, has been by far the most improved player in camp. Coleman was expected to start but Spievey has refused to give up the spot. He's still vulnerable on deep routes but he has been superb in short areas and in run support.

Coleman will be prominent in the rotation. He was also one of the leading tacklers on special teams. The depth at cornerback is still a work in progress. Smith, who led the team with five interceptions, hasn't practiced because of a broken foot. He won't be ready to start the season. In his place, both Berry and McDonald have played well. Wendling was a Pro-Bowl alternate on special teams last season.

Green Bay Packers

Starters -- LCB Charles Woodson, SS Morgan Burnett, FS Nick Collins, RCB Tramon Williams. Backups -- CB Sam Shields, CB/S Jarrett Bush, CB Davon House, CB Pat Lee, S Charlie Peprah.

The shutdown trio of the seemingly ageless Woodson (34), Williams and Shields may be unmatched in the league. The playmaking skills of Williams, a Pro Bowl choice last season, and Shields, who excelled as an undrafted rookie, on the boundary enabled Capers to go nickel about 70 percent of the time and give Woodson the rover role of lining up in the slot and elsewhere to cover when needed and create mischief on the blitz. House returned from a nagging hamstring injury the latter part of the preseason and has too much upside as a fourth-round draft pick this year to not try as the dime back, along with veteran Bush. Gordy, a first-year player who was on the roster late last season, also did some good things in the preseason to warrant consideration for a roster reprieve. Collins has been voted to the Pro Bowl the last three years and should be better with Burnett back in the fold after the then-rookie missed all but four games last season because of a knee injury. Burnett is healthy and playing with tenacity. Peprah, a six-year veteran, was an adequate replacement for Burnett last season and is valuable to keep in a backup role. Former draft picks Lee (second round, 2008) and Underwood (third, '09) were on the bubble, along with Levine, a first-year player whose strong camp start was derailed by a concussion.

Minnesota Vikings

Starters -- LCB Antoine Winfield, RCB Cedric Griffin, FS Husain Abdullah, SS Jamarca Sanford. Backups -- CB Chris Cook, CB Asher Allen, CB Brandon Burton, CB Marcus Sherels, FS Mistral Raymond, S Tyrell Johnson.

Griffin has undergone reconstructive surgery on both his knees in the past two seasons to repair torn ACLs but it looks as if he will be able to play in the opener. The issue is that the Vikings don't have much depth at corner. Winfield, Griffin and Cook will be used in the nickel, but if any of those three go down there could be a significant drop off. And that's assuming Cook rebounds after he torn the meniscus in both knees last season. Allen has battled a toe injury in camp and Burton, a fifth-round pick, remains raw. Sherels has value because he can return punts and play in the slot in the nickel. Sanford and Johnson have been battling for the strong safety job but neither one pulled clear during training camp. Raymond, a sixth-round pick, eventually could work himself into the mix.


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