Training Camp Battlegrounds

Starting in Green Bay, we examine this week's top training camp battles in the NFC North and examine the rookies' impact through two preseason games. Leading off is the Packers' battle at outside linebacker, which continues even after Frank Zombo's injury.

Green Bay Packers

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Erik Walden vs. Brad Jones at right outside linebacker. Three weeks of training camp and two preseason games presumably haven't been enough to sort out who starts opposite Clay Matthews, though Frank Zombo is out of the running with a broken scapula. Walden had the starting nod in Friday's victory over the Arizona Cardinals, but Zombo also worked with the first-string defense for most of the first half as a replacement for the injured Matthews on the left side. Walden's miscues have jumped out in the two games — he followed giving up a long completion to Cleveland tight end Benjamin Watson in the opener by struggling against the run Friday. It's uncertain whether Jones, last year's opening-day starter at the spot, will make the start in the next exhibition outing after he had been part of a practice rotation with Zombo and Walden early in camp.


Ryan Grant vs. James Starks at halfback. Grant, the five-year veteran who hadn't played in nearly a year because of a ruptured ankle he sustained in the 2010 season opener, is healthy and has been running hard since the outset of camp. Starks, on the other hand, is quickly building an injury history in just his second pro season — he hasn't been on the field since suffering an ankle sprain in the Aug. 13 preseason opener, after being out most of last season with a hamstring injury.

Josh Gordy vs. Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee at fourth cornerback. Gordy, a first-year player out of Central Michigan, moved ahead of the ineffective veteran tandem of Bush and Lee in Friday's game as the first cornerback to play behind the big three of Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. Gordy had an interception and a sack in the preseason opener, then played most of the second game alternating between both sides. Lee, a second-round draft pick in 2008, finished the game with the third-string defense and could be on his way out.

Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor and D.J. Williams as the tight ends behind Jermichael Finley. In the end, the Packers might keep five tight ends, though with a roster spot to be used on Zombo, who won't be in the lineup for the next several weeks, keeping five could be tough. Taylor continues to work with all the No. 1 special teams units. His dropped pass at Monday's practice might be the first of camp. An unsuspecting Williams had a pass from Matt Flynn hit him right in the helmet, though that was running a scout-team offense so Williams maybe gets some slack. Crabtree is having a strong camp and Quarless has a ton of potential.

ROOKIE REPORT: OL Derek Sherrod (first round) lost out to veteran T.J. Lang for the starter's opening at left guard. Sherrod rotated in for two series at left guard in the first half Friday, when Lang made the start, and the rookie allowed one sack. Sherrod was then relegated to playing his natural spot of left tackle in the second half. ... WR Randall Cobb (second) suffered a pair of bruised knees on a kickoff return in the third quarter Friday and didn't return to the game. Cobb didn't have a catch on offense, after he led the Packers with three receptions for 60 yards in the preseason opener. ... RB Alex Green (third) made his preseason debut Friday after missing the first game because of a thigh injury. Green replaced starter Ryan Grant in the second quarter and made an impact before halftime with a 25-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass, followed two plays later by a 2-yard touchdown run. Green had six carries for eight yards. ... CB Davon House (fourth) did not return to practice on Monday, as he had hoped, after being out since suffering a hamstring injury Aug. 5. House will have some catching up to do to overtake surging Josh Gordy for the No. 4 cornerback spot on the depth chart. ... TEs D.J. Williams (fifth) and Ryan Taylor (seventh) went catch-less in Friday's game. Both players seem destined to make the 53-man roster. ... OG Caleb Schlauderaff (sixth) worked exclusively at right guard as Josh Sitton's backup in Friday's game. ... LB D.J. Smith (sixth) appears to be a roster lock as a backup to starters A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop on the inside and a special-teams contributor. ... LB Ricky Elmore (sixth) is in jeopardy of perhaps being the only player from the team's draft class to be cut. He has struggled in his conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker. ... DE Lawrence Guy (seventh) didn't play Friday after having a setback with a concussion he sustained early in camp. Getting him back on the field is paramount for a defensive line thinned by injuries.

Chicago Bears

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kellen Davis, last year's No. 3 tight end, and unrestricted free-agent pickup Matt Spaeth are fighting for superiority at a position that was given a facelift in the offseason. Starter Greg Olsen, above average as a pass catcher but not the kind of blocker Mike Martz prefers in his offense, was traded to the Panthers for a third-round draft choice. Brandon Manumaleuna, at one time an excellent blocker, was waived when he failed his physical because of lingering knee problems. Desmond Clark, all but forgotten last season, his 12th in the NFL, was brought back as insurance, but has already been hampered by nagging injuries. That leaves the pair of 6-foot-7 veterans to battle it out. At 267 pounds, Davis is seven pounds heavier than Spaeth but both would look right at home on an NBA team given their almost lanky appearance. Neither caught a pass in the preseason opener, but that's not why either of them is on the field. They're blockers first, although both have enough athleticism to become adequate receivers.

OTHER BATTLE FRONT: This one was a media creation and an overreaction to backup QB Caleb Hanie not getting any practice reps last Monday after a disappointing performance in the preseason opener. When rookie Nathan Enderle took all of Hanie's reps, there was speculation that Hanie would be demoted. False alarm. Hanie was back in his customary spot the rest of the week and had by far his best practices of camp later in the week. He was much quicker and more decisive with his reads, driving the ball with authority and displaying a crispness that was previously lacking. Twice in the span of a few plays in 11-on-11 Thursday night, Hanie launched perfect strikes way downfield to Johnny Knox and Kris Adams for what would have been long touchdowns. "I think everything's finally catching up — feet and brain and everything," Hanie said. "I'm just trying not to overthink things and just go out and throw the ball. I'm going to miss some reads, but as long as I'm decisive in everything, that's all that matters. We can fix all the other stuff."

ROOKIE REPORT: First-round pick Gabe Carimi is the starting right tackle and continues to impress with his run blocking, which is ahead of his pass blocking as the Bears expected, but they're happy with his work ethic and appears entrenched. ... Second-round defensive tackle Stephen Paea is getting second-team reps, mostly at the 3-technique, but he's also gotten a look at nose tackle with starter Anthony Adams having missed more than a week. ... Third-round safety Chris Conte is playing and practicing well enough to have locked down a backup spot and, with the Bears' history of turnover at that position, he is likely to see some game action. ... Fifth-round QB Nathan Enderle, who normally is relegated to the third team, took all the second-team reps last Monday, a schedule the Bears will keep for the remainder of the preseason. ... Sixth-round linebacker J.T. Thomas got some first-team reps early, before re-signed free agent Nick Roach was allowed to practice, and Thomas, who normally works with the twos, saw some first-team reps last week after Lance Briggs was injured.

Detroit Lions

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: There was talk early in camp that veteran OLB Bobby Carpenter might be on the bubble. The Lions carry either six or seven linebackers, depending on what they need for special teams. Starters Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are locks, as are special teams ace Isaiah Ekejiuba and outside linebacker Ashlee Palmer. The Lions drafted Syracuse linebacker Doug Hogue in the fifth round, projecting him to be a mainstay on the coverage units. But Carpenter has burst whatever bubble he might have been on. He showed up to camp in excellent shape and playing faster than the Lions had seen him. He hasn't been as tentative as he was last year when he struggled to learn the system. As a result, he's been pushing Durant for a starting position rather than fighting to hold a roster spot.

Carpenter is strong against the run but Durant is much faster and more comfortable covering in space.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: — RB Jerome Harrison seems to have inched ahead of Mike Bell and Aaron Brown for the No. 2 running back spot. RB Maurice Morris, who is expected to have the cast removed from his broken right hand this week, will get involved in that competition shortly. Harrison averaged 4.5 yards (27 yards on six carries), Bell 3.0 (33 on 11) and Brown 1.8 (11 on 6).

Jason Hanson is looking as strong as ever, though so is his competition. Hanson booted field goals of 25 and 49 yards. Dave Rayner, though, booted a 48-yarder which ended up being the game-winner. Both are kicking the ball easily to the back of the end zone, but Hanson is better at the high, lob kicks when the Lions want to force a return to bury the opposition inside the 20.

— WR Derrick Williams, after a fast start, is slipping. He dropped a couple of passes in the opener, dropped some more during the week and then dropped another against the Browns. It appears that both Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall are ahead of him right now.

ROOKIE REPORT: DT Nick Fairley was on the practice field last week, the first time he's been out there since surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. He had the cast removed last week and was in a walking boot. "Now that he's got the cast off he can walk around and get some (mental reps)," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We can't have a guy on crutches that can't walk around out there. But he's done a good job in our meetings and in the weight room doing what he can do. When he's healthy, he'll be ready." Said Fairley, "Right now I'm taking it day by day. I'm in the treatment room, trying to get back as fast as I can. I'm staying in the film room. Those guys are behind me 100 percent. They just tell me to get back as fast as I can." ... WR Titus Young returned to practice on Sunday after missing all but one day of training camp with a left hamstring injury. He took part in seven-on-seven drills and it scheduled to do the full practice on Monday. "This was a big step for him," Schwartz said. "Hopefully we've put (the injury) in the rearview mirror now."

Minnesota Vikings

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford continue to compete for the starting job start at strong safety. Johnson got the start on Saturday at Seattle after Sanford started the previous week at Tennessee. It appears Sanford might have the lead in this battle but it's likely a long way from being over.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: The wide receiver competition exists at the No. 5 spot, with Bernard Berrian, Michael Jenkins, Percy Harvin and Greg Camarillo appearing pretty much set at the top four spots. Among those competing are Devin Aromashodu, Jaymar Johnson, Emmanuel Arceneaux and Juaquin Iglesias. .... RG Anthony Herrera has returned from the PUP but the competition behind him is interesting. Chris DeGeare had been the right guard in Herrera's absence but is now playing more at right tackle. This leaves Ryan Cook and Scott Kooistra behind Herrera, with Cook possibly having the best chance to push Herrera for the job.

ROOKIE REPORT: QB Christian Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the draft, continues to have his ups and downs. He has been splitting second- and third-team reps with Joe Webb. He worked with the second team on Saturday at Seattle and completed 6-of-12 passes for 63 yards. He also ran three times for 15 yards. ... TE Kyle Rudolph (second round) has displayed good hands at times but his blocking is a work in progress. Rudolph led the Vikings with three receptions for 22 yards against Seattle. ... DL Christian Ballard (fourth round) has been consistently impressive and could find himself playing inside in the nickel defense. Ballard (6-4, 283 pounds) has looked good in one-on-one drills. ... CB Brandon Burton (fifth round) appears to be learning on the job. The coaching staff was pleased with what they saw of him in the preseason opener at Tennessee. ... DeMarcus Love, the first of the Vikings' four sixth-round picks, is working as the third-team left tackle ... Mistral Raymond (sixth round) made his preseason debut on Saturday at Seattle and is going to get a long look from the coaching staff. Getting Raymond in the sixth round appears to be a very good deal. ... C Brandon Fusco is getting third-team work behind John Sullivan and Jon Cooper. ... LB Ross Homan is working at outside linebacker with the second unit. ...Seventh-round DE D'Aundre Reed appears as if he has the talent to make a bid for a roster spot. Reed is 6-4, 260 pounds so he certainly has the build to be successful. ... Seventh-round wide receiver Stephen Burton has struggled with dropped passes in camp and could be among the first cuts. ... TE Allen Reisner, an undrafted free agent from Iowa, has impressed in training camp by catching everything thrown his way. He appears to be a real candidate to make the roster. ... CB Devon Torrence, an undrafted free agent from Ohio State, has impressed in camp with various flash plays and appears to be ahead of Brandon Burton as far as his development.

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