NFC North inside slant

The trade of Erasmus James highlights the Vikings' 2005 draft disaster. Also within the North, position battles begin in Chicago and Marinelli likes the Lions' speed

If the Minnesota Vikings' 2005 draft didn't already qualify as a complete bust, it certainly does now.

The team traded oft-injured defensive end Erasmus James to the Washington Redskins this week for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2009 draft. That means only backup offensive tackle Marcus Johnson remains from the seven players the Vikings selected three years ago.

The Vikings stand to get that pick if James plays in a game for the Redskins. But considering James has battled knee problems for the past two seasons — he had three surgeries on his left knee in a 13-month period and recently failed a physical — there is no guarantee that is going to happen.

James was taken with the No. 18 overall selection in the 2005 draft out of Wisconsin and was one of two first-round picks the Vikings had that year. The other, the seventh selection that was obtained from Oakland in the trade for receiver Randy Moss, landed the Vikings speedy receiver Troy Williamson.

While James proved incapable of staying healthy during his three seasons in Minnesota, Williamson simply proved he couldn't be relied upon to catch the football. Not a good thing when a team is counting on you to be a deep threat.

Williamson was dealt to Jacksonville at the beginning of free agency for a sixth-round pick. The Vikings used that pick on another receiver, Jaymar Johnson, who played his college football at Division I-AA Jackson State. This all might help explain why the Vikings' brain trust has a much different structure than it did for that 2005 draft.

Johnson, by the way, was taken in the second round that year.

A list of the other players no longer wearing purple include third-round safety Dustin Fox, fourth-round running back Ciatrick Fason, sixth-round defensive tackle C.J. Mosley and seventh-round cornerback Adrian Ward.

Chicago Bears: Battles begin

No significant or final depth-chart decisions were expected to be made during the three-day minicamp at Halas Hall the final weekend in May, but competition officially began at several positions.

The marquee matchups are at quarterback, between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton; and at running back, between Cedric Benson and rookie Matt Forte. But the left guard spot is up for grabs, the wide receiver position is unsettled and there are several contenders at safety.

For now, left tackle is being manned by veteran John St. Clair, but rookie Chris Williams is expected to win the job.

Because of Benson's arrest the first weekend in May for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest, more attention has been paid to the impending battle between him and Forte. The Tulane standout was impressing coaches at the rookie minicamp the same weekend Benson was, according to him and some observers, being mistreated by officers on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas. Both players say they're looking forward to competing.

"I'm just here to create competition," Forte said after the rookie minicamp. "We're a team, so it's not like we're one against another person. I'm just trying to make everybody better as well as myself."

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo went into the draft adamant about creating more competition for Benson.

"Until somebody proves that they're the guy," Angelo said, "we have to make sure that we create as much competition at that position. I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team."

Benson has yet to live up to his draft status as the fourth overall pick from 2005, and he might have to perform better than he ever has in his first three seasons in order to keep his job. Last week, during the first batch of organized team activities, Benson looked better than expected following last season's fractured ankle and appeared quicker after having dropped 10 pounds, the result of a healthier diet.

"Nobody wants to be given anything," he said of the battle for featured role in the run game. "It makes it more fun and more exciting when you've got a challenge going. I'm just going to be me and make plays."

Detroit Lions: Need for speed

In his third year with the Lions, coach Rod Marinelli feels he finally has the type of team he wants — a fast team.

It's about foot speed. But it's more than that. It's about playing fast. It's knowing what to do so well that you don't have to think. You just do it.

"We've added speed," Marinelli said after a recent OTA practice. "When you know what you're doing, it's faster. It's condensed, concise and precise for you. If you can simplify just a little bit, guys know what they're doing, and now their ability to execute really goes up. Now they start playing with speed and confidence, and they're faster when you know what to do.

"Those things are key. And you've got to have speed. You've got to bring it in. Sometimes, you can have speed and you can slow it down by cramming them too much. Right now, I think we're a fast team, and now we've just got to play fast."

One place the speed shows up is in the secondary. The Lions added Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson, all of whom played the Tampa Two system in Tampa Bay, as well as Leigh Bodden.

"You can see it in our secondary right now," Marinelli said. "We're fast. They have been (making plays). We have some good ball skills. Tall, lean. It's a very lean team overall. The secondary is very rangy, and they cover a lot of territory right now. And it helps we brought some guys in that have played in the system and they understand."

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