Burning issues around the North

Who were the offseason standouts and the top rookies, and what are the major injury and contract situations? We have the answers for the Packers and their NFC North rivals.

Green Bay Packers

Offseason standout: RB Ryan Grant is determined to make amends for a 2008 season he deemed "inconsistent," never mind the 1,203 rushing yards he churned out. Grant had few explosive runs because of a hamstring injury he suffered early in training camp last year. His outlook for breaking off long gains again, as he did the second half of the 2007 season, is buoyed by his participation in the Packers' offseason program for the first time in his three years with the club.

Lineup watch: The Packers will open training camp Aug. 1 with two and possibly three starting spots on the offensive line up for grabs. Allen Barbre and former starting guard Jason Spitz are the front-runners at right tackle and center, respectively. Tony Moll is a sleeper to step in at left tackle after nine-year starter Chad Clifton didn't practice the entire offseason because of chronically bad knees.

Rookie impressions: NT B.J. Raji, the No. 9 overall selection in the draft, is on schedule to open the season as a starter but not at his natural position. Raji spent a considerable amount of time in offseason workouts lining up at left end in the new 3-4 defensive scheme, giving the Packers a massive run-stuffing tandem with incumbent starter Ryan Pickett remaining on the inside. Raji will spell Pickett at nose in certain situations.

Injury watch: ILB Nick Barnett expects to be eased back onto the field at the outset of training camp, nine months removed from sustaining a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee. Barnett will have to make the most of the limited work since he'll be playing catch-up with teammates in their learning curve with the 3-4. The six-year starter is being counted on to team with A.J. Hawk as playmakers in the middle. Other key players who sat out offseason workouts but are expected to be ready for training camp are three starters: defensive end Cullen Jenkins (ankle), safety Atari Bigby (ankle) and left tackle Chad Clifton (knees).

Contract to watch: FS Nick Collins didn't provide definitive word at the recent minicamp on whether he will be a good soldier and report for the start of training camp, even if his desire for a contract extension isn't fulfilled. After skipping all but a few days of the offseason program to ostensibly protest the team's unwillingness to broker a new deal, Collins' unhappiness could fester after WR Greg Jennings landed a three-year extension for upward of $30 million.

Chicago Bears

Offseason standout: LB Jamar Williams was passed on the depth chart last season by Nick Roach, who wound up starting nine games after winning the job from veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer. Williams, who was considered the logical replacement on the weak side when Lance Briggs' contract negotiations clouded his future in 2006 and '07, has rededicated himself this offseason. Williams could still be the odd man out this year, since the Bears added Pisa Tinoisamoa, but the fourth-year player from Arizona State could make the competition interesting.

Lineup watch: The offensive line figures to have new starters at three positions, with Orlando Pace replacing departed John St. Clair at left tackle, Chris Williams stepping in for retired John Tait at right tackle and unrestricted free agent Frank Omiyale penciled in at left guard ahead of Josh Beekman, who started all 16 games there last year in his sophomore season.

Rookie impressions: The Bears knew WR Johnny Knox had 4.3 speed, but he has displayed a sure-handedness that comes as a bonus. Knox is making the jump from Division II Abilene Christian, and at 6 feet and 185 pounds, he is not a physical presence, but he looked like a big play waiting to happen in offseason workouts.

Injury watch: RB Matt Forte sat out the final two weeks of OTAs with a hamstring injury, MLB Brian Urlacher was sidelined for several practices with a groin injury, SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer is not fully recovered from hernia surgery and CB Charles Tillman (shoulder surgery) was limited throughout OTAs, but all are expected to be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Same for DT Tommie Harris, who was on light duty throughout the offseason to reduce wear and tear on his left knee.

Contract to watch: The contracts of DEs Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson are up after this season, but the Bears might not be rushing to get them re-signed unless they see big improvements from 2008. Ogunleye, who is 31, had just five sacks last season and has had 20 1/2 over the past three seasons. Anderson, who had 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006, had just five in '07 and one last year.

Detroit Lions

Offseason standout: QB Daunte Culpepper has lost more than 30 pounds since last season, when he came out of semiretirement and jumped right into the Lions' starting lineup. He said he is 100 percent entering training camp for the first time since 2004, when he put up one of the best passer ratings in NFL history for Minnesota.

Lineup watch: Culpepper still will have to hold off Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, who has impressed with his strong arm and quick command of the offense. Other battles to watch include right tackle, where veteran Jon Jansen could push 2008 first-round pick Gosder Cherilus, and safety, where the Lions have three recent second-round picks.

Rookie impressions: Safety Louis Delmas, the first pick of the second round, has stood out from the first day of rookie minicamp, when he told Stafford he would be the first to pick him off. Coach Jim Schwartz said Delmas has mastered the complexities of NFL defense as quickly as any rookie he has seen in the secondary.

Injury watch: Veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson did not do anything on the field in the offseason, recovering from a knee scope he had in February. Schwartz said Jackson was a little behind schedule, but Jackson said he is expected to be ready physically for the season opener.

Contract to watch: Stafford is signed, and the Lions do not have any looming contract squabbles. They can focus on signing tight end Brandon Pettigrew, the No. 20 overall pick.

Minnesota Vikings

Offseason standout: WR Jaymar Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2008 who spent the season on the practice squad, has added about 17 pounds to his 6-foot frame and looks far more prepared for the NFL this season. Johnson will be in a tough competition for a roster spot but considering the confidence he displayed during offseason workouts it appears he is prepared to take the next step.

Lineup watch: DE Brian Robison served as a backup to Pro Bowl right end Jared Allen last season and also showed his versatility by moving inside on certain passing downs. Robison, who is 6-3, 267 pounds, has been working hard this offseason and appears ready to compete with left end Ray Edwards for a starting spot. The key would be how Robison holds up against the run but there seems to be a confidence he could handle that aspect of things.

Rookie impressions: The Vikings selected WR Percy Harvin with their first-round pick despite questions about his character. The fact he reportedly tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine did not help matters. But once Harvin participated in offseason practices it became clear why the Vikings were willing to take the risk. Harvin already appears to be one of the best athletes on the Vikings and the fact he could end up being used on punt and kickoff returns makes him that much more valuable.

Injury watch: CB Charles Gordon suffered a gruesome season-ending injury to his ankle and leg last November while attempting to return a punt against Green Bay. Gordon continues to rehab the injury and is not back on the field yet. When he does get back, he will attempt to compete for a job in the Vikings' nickel defense. Gordon was being used in that role before getting hurt.

Contract to watch: CB Antoine Winfield did not take part in any OTA sessions and also missed the mandatory minicamp, although in the latter case coach Brad Childress said it was because Winfield was attending a funeral. Nonetheless, it's clear Winfield is not happy that contract talks broke down on a new deal in May and as he enters the last season of his current deal the veteran wants to get something done. It's too early to say whether Winfield would stay away from training camp but that possibility can't be dismissed.

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