NFC North Tour: RB Breakdown

In the second part of our NFC North personnel preview, we examine the division's running backs. We lead off in Green Bay, where Ryan Grant returns after 1,200-yard seasons in 2008 and 2009.

Green Bay Packers

Starters — RB Ryan Grant, FB John Kuhn. Backups — RB James Starks, RB Alex Green, FB Quinn Johnson.

A lot of question marks hang over the halfback position. Thankfully for the Packers, their pass-centric offense isn't predicated on having 100-yard rushers each game. When head coach Mike McCarthy will be in position to lean some on the running game, his stated approach is to have Grant and Starks share the load so as to not wear down one player by the end of the season. Problem is, Grant, 28, doesn't seem to have regained the second gear into which he regularly shifted before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the opener last year, and Starks still is an unknown of sorts without a full pro season under his belt despite being a godsend as the starter in the Super Bowl run. Green, a third-round draft pick this year, is a load and has big-play ability but hasn't fully grasped the offense with the offseason wiped away by the lockout. That leaves the Packers in a quandary for having a reliable third-down back, which Brandon Jackson filled well before leaving in free agency. The versatile and hard-nosed Kuhn may be the only fullback retained. Third-year bulldozer Johnson is firmly on the bubble because of ridiculous depth at other positions on offense. His status on the team was not clear as the Packers mulled their final roster decisions.

Chicago Bears

Starter: Matt Forte. Backups: Marion Barber, Kahlil Bell.

Forte is the Marshall Faulk in the current edition of Mike Martz's offense, although no one is putting him in the same category yet as the Hall of Famer. But Forte has the versatility to run inside and outside, and he tied for the team lead last season with 51 receptions while establishing a career-best 4.5 yards per carry. In six career regular-season games against the Packers, he's rushed for 363 yards (3.6 average) with one touchdown, plus caught 22 passes for a 7.2-yard average. Chester Taylor was a huge disappointment last season and was released on Saturday. Barber clearly outplayed Taylor in the preseason and looks fresher, quicker and stronger. He should be the short-yardage specialist and provide Forte down time when needed. Bell has become a versatile backup by improving his pass-catching ability. He has enough size to run inside and enough speed to have ripped off a 72-yard run the first time he touched the ball as a pro in 2009.

Detroit Lions

Starter — Jahvid Best. Backups — Maurice Morris, Jerome Harrison, Aaron Brown, Stefan Logan.

Best showed big-play capability in his rookie year, but turf toe injuries on both feet curtailed his production. His durability came into question again this preseason after he suffered a concussion against the Browns. The Lions can ill-afford to be without Best for any length of time. He carried 25 for 88 yards in two games against Green Bay last season. Their attempts at bolstering the run game were thwarted by the season-ending injury to rookie second-round pick Mikel Leshoure. The Lions were hoping Harrison might be able to regain the bounce he showed in Cleveland in 2009, but he was not productive in the preseason. Morris, in his 11th year, remains the best inside runner on the roster. Logan is the team's kick return specialist, but as he did last season, he will play some at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan likes to use him on reverses or as a decoy on fake reverses. The Lions have opted to play mostly one-back sets. Jerome Felton, the one true fullback last season, was released. When the Lions do use two backs, they will deploy tight end Will Heller as the blocking back.

Minnesota Vikings

Starter — Adrian Peterson. Backups — RB Toby Gerhart, Lorenzo Booker.

Peterson remains the most important piece of this offense and is sure to be featured by new coordinator Bill Musgrave. Peterson had 283 carries in 15 games last season and rushed for 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns. That was enough to earn him his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl in as many seasons but Peterson figures to put together a bigger season in 2011. Part of the reason is because it's expected Peterson will be a bigger part of the passing game. His career-high reception total is 43 (set in 2009) and he should approach or surpass that number. In eight career regular-season games, Peterson has rushed for 807 yards with a 4.9-yard average and five touchdowns. Gerhart seemed to get more confident as his rookie season progressed last year and he should be the first guy off the bench when Peterson needs a breather. Gerhart seems far more confident in himself and his abilities entering this season. Booker could contribute on offense but might end up mainly returning kickoffs.

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