Offseason Needs: Around the North

We take a trip around the NFC North to detail the major offseason needs for the Packers and their division rivals. Leading off: Green Bay's weak link -- kick returner.

Green Bay Packers

1. Kick returner: This was the weak link of the Super Bowl champions, who rolled through four players on kickoffs with subpar results. The Packers last had a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2000. What's more, Tramon Williams wasn't dynamic on punt returns and is too valuable as a top cornerback to pull double duty.

2. Defensive end: The team could have a big void in the starting lineup if effective pass rusher Cullen Jenkins leaves as a prospective free agent. Aging Ryan Pickett is the other starting end. So, the Packers, for now, are banking on talented Mike Neal, a second-round draft pick last year, and possibly Justin Harrell, the disappointing first-round choice in 2007, to return from season-ending injuries.

3. Offensive tackle: Green Bay identified a successor to left tackle Chad Clifton when it took Bryan Bulaga in the first round last year. Bulaga, though, settled in at right tackle after replacing an injured Mark Tauscher early in the season. Clifton probably is good for one more season, but the Packers must zero in on having their right tackle of the future once the time comes to move Bulaga to his natural spot.

4. Running back: The late-season emergence of rookie James Starks, who rushed for 315 yards in the playoffs, sets up an intriguing battle with incumbent Ryan Grant for the starting role entering next season. The unknown is whether Grant, 28, will be back to his old form as a productive runner after suffering a season-ending ankle injury on opening day. Also, dependable backup Brandon Jackson is a prospective free agent.

Chicago Bears

1. Offensive line: Center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza can't go on forever. There is some youth, but left guard Chris Williams and right tackle J'Marcus Webb are already starting, and no one else is proven. Left tackle Frank Omiyale showed improvement over the course of the season, but there is still room for improvement.

2. Defensive tackle: Anthony Adams is unrestricted and Tommie Harris hasn't played well enough to earn another roster bonus due in March, but the Bears have already paid him the majority of his bonus money so he's got a chance to be back. Marcus Harrison has been a career underachiever, but solid, blue-collar worker Matt Toeaina was given a contract extension.

3. Wide receiver: There is some big-play ability here, especially with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester, and Earl Bennett is a solid and reliable possession guy, but there is a crying need for a big, physical player who can win jump balls.

4. Running back: A young backup for Matt Forte is needed. Chester Taylor, 31, got old in a hurry, and there would be a big drop-off to Garrett Wolfe and Kahlil Bell.

Detroit Lions

1. Outside linebacker: It was one of two units that was never stabilized last season. The Lions used six different starters. They also used five different starters at middle linebacker because of Levy's lingering injuries.

2. Cornerback: The Lions have put a priority on re-signing Houston. They also have a stable of corners who have, for varying reasons, never quite lived up to their potential. Alphonso Smith will be given every opportunity to win a starting spot. Others like Aaron Berry, Brandon McDonald, Tye Hill and Prince Miller are also in the mix.

3. Wide receiver: The cupboard gets bare in a hurry after Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. Bryant Johnson, who has one year and $3 million left on his contract, was frustratingly unproductive this season. His three receptions in the finale probably weren't enough to change the Lions' thinking on this. Former third-round pick Derrick Williams was also a bust.

4. Offensive linemen: Do not be surprised if the Lions use their 13th overall pick to take an offensive lineman. Early projections show the best available player at the spot might be an offensive lineman. And even though the Lions will return their line intact, players like LT Jeff Backus and C Dominic Raiola are approaching the end of their career.

Minnesota Vikings

1. Quarterback: Brett Favre is gone and although Joe Webb finished the season as the starter, the original plan was for him to be moved to wide receiver in the NFL. This spot will be the primary focus during the offseason.

2. Safety: Madieu Williams hasn't lived up to expectations since signing a big free-agent contract in 2008. Husain Abdullah beat out 2008 second-round pick Tyrell Johnson and 2009 seventh-round pick Jamarca Sanford for the other starting job last season. There could be a definite move to upgrade here.

3. Cornerback: Antoine Winfield isn't getting any younger and Cedric Griffin has torn the ACL in both knees the past two years. Asher Allen, a third-round pick in 2009, saw plenty of time last season and 2010 second-round pick Chris Cook battled injuries as a rookie. The Vikings have some depth here but found you can never have enough.

4. Wide receiver: Sidney Rice's potential departure as a free agent and the chance that Bernard Berrian will be released, means the Vikings could be in the market for help at this spot. Percy Harvin is best suited to play the slot, so getting some assistance on the outside might become a priority.

5. Center: John Sullivan was the starter for a second consecutive year and was backed up by Jon Cooper, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma in 2009. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Vikings attempt to get bigger at this spot.


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