NFC North Tour: The Bold Bears

Chicago might not be finished even after signing Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor. Plus, a look at Detroit's draft options and Adrian Peterson's chronic fumbling problem.

The pressure moves to the coaching staff after the Bears moved swiftly on the first day of free agency to bolster both sides of the ball.

The big headline was grabbing defensive end Julius Peppers, the marquee name in the free agent crop. The lack of a consistent pass rush attributed to the Bears' all-around struggles in defending the pass last season.

General manager Jerry Angelo also signed running back Chester Taylor away from division-rival Minnesota. Taylor said he wasn't promised the starting job, but the Bears have a much more formidable tandem along with Matt Forte'. Taylor, an excellent blocker and receiver, is considered one of the league's better third-down backs.

"I'm excited," Taylor said. "It's a great opportunity to get out here and showcase my skills and try to help the team get back to the Super Bowl. We've played (the Bears) ever since I've been in Minnesota and they always gave us problems. I just think it's [a team] on the rise."

To close out the first day of free agency, the team added Brandon Manumaleuna, a blocking tight end who played for offensive coordinator Mike Martz in St. Louis.

Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have identified safety, specifically free safety, as a position the Bears want to upgrade in the offseason.

"After we came out of our (postseason) meetings, that was one position that we felt, at worst, we wanted to create more competition," Angelo said. "Not having a first- or second-round pick, it's hard to determine what's going to be there in the third round. But this is a pretty good draft for the secondary."

Last year, five players started games at free safety for the Bears. Kevin Payne started the opener, Danieal Manning took over for the next 10 games, rookie Al Afalava moved from strong safety to free safety for three games, and Josh Bullocks and Craig Steltz each started a game down the stretch. No one distinguished himself.

"We need to improve our safety position, period," Smith said. "As far as competition, maybe (it means) adding a couple guys. We haven't been pleased with the production we've gotten. We had one interception from the safety position (in 2009). That was one of the reasons I feel like our takeaways were down. We need to get more competition and just improvement in general."

The improvement could come via free agency or the draft.

"Hopefully, maybe we will be able to use (a draft pick) a little bit earlier (on a safety). But right now there is free agency, and there are some possibilities there also."

There are some talented safeties who will hit the market, starting with the Saints' Darren Sharper, who tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions last year, proving that his age (34) is just a number.

The Bears passed on Sharper last year, when he was also a free agent. The Steelers' Ryan Clark is another quality player who would help at free safety, where the Bears appear to have a greater need than at strong safety.

"If there's the right person, we're going to take a look," Angelo said. "Obviously if you determine that as a position you want to upgrade, we'll look at both markets and we'll just see what free agency looks like. Obviously it's much more restrictive than what it has been in past years, so it's going to be a little bit harder to predict, but we're certainly looking."

Most of the Bears' safeties seem to fit the common description of a strong safety, solid and physical in run support but not exceptional ball athletes or very adept in coverage. But the free-safety types are the ones in demand in the current NFL, mostly because of the increased popularity of the passing game.

"Everybody's looking for a more athletic safety," Angelo said. "With what the offenses are doing in terms of spreading teams out, people are starting to look for more the athletic safeties.

"In the last few years you're starting to see those players go higher in the draft, but that position has evolved in personnel people's minds and in what (they) look for. It's becoming a more and more difficult position to find and to play."

Lions: Who's No. 2?

So which defensive tackle will the Lions take with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft -- Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy?

Not so fast.

"Let's not just stop at defensive tackle," coach Jim Schwartz said.

"By no means is it down to those two guys," general manager Martin Mayhew said.

The Lions very well could take Suh or McCoy, especially if the Rams take Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford No. 1 overall and the Lions stay at No. 2.

But the Lions are wary of paying so much money for a rookie defensive tackle and are considering other options, such as Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung and trading down.

"The opportunity to move back is very attractive to us," Mayhew said.

The Lions spent a lot of time at the NFL Scouting Combine with Suh and McCoy, meeting with both players multiple times. They went over Xs and Os with each player.

"Obviously I think our scheme was a little bit different at Nebraska from what the NFL's asking me to do," Suh said. "But I think I'm a player that can adjust to things and definitely get used to playing and getting off the ball."

Suh played a two-gap system at Nebraska. McCoy played a one-gap system at Oklahoma more like what the Lions play. Some analysts rank McCoy ahead of Suh because they consider him a better penetrator.

"We played two different defenses, in my opinion," Suh said. "More or less, he had the freedom to penetrate. Me, I was more or less in the scheme of reading and playing through my man and then getting to the ball and disengaging. If I were to be in that same scheme as him or vice versa, I think it would be total opposites as it is right now."

Suh was more productive than McCoy was in college. Suh had 12 sacks, 24 tackles for a loss and 85 tackles last season. McCoy had 14.5 sacks, 33 tackles for a loss and 72 tackles in his entire three-year career at Oklahoma. He had six sacks, 15 1/2 tackles for a loss and 34 tackles last season.

But McCoy made his case. Why did Suh have more tackles? McCoy said his job was to disrupt plays, while Suh could allow plays to come to him. Why did Suh have more sacks?

"I mean, the Texas game was great," McCoy said, referring to Suh's 4.5-sack effort last season. "That helped. The guy had, like, five sacks in one game. That helps. Up until then, the sack number, we were pretty much neck-and-neck. But, I don't know, he wanted to win a Big 12 championship, so he went out there and dominated."

McCoy thinks he's well-suited for the Lions' system.

"They're an attack defense, get-up-the-field, penetrate, disrupt-type defense," McCoy said. "That's how we played at Oklahoma. That's how I play. So I think I fit in well there."

Asked to compare Suh and McCoy to Albert Haynesworth, who dominated for Schwartz in Tennessee, Schwartz said it was hard to compare someone coming out of college to "the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league." But in a sense, the Lions must do just that.

Haynesworth signed a seven-year, $100 million deal with the Redskins last year that included $41 million guaranteed. As the No. 1 overall pick, Stafford received a six-year deal worth a maximum of $78 million with $41.7 million guaranteed. Last year's No. 2 overall pick, Rams offensive tackle Jason Smith, received a five-year deal worth a maximum $61 million with $33 million guaranteed.

In other words, if the Lions draft Suh or McCoy, they will pay him like a Haynesworth before he has ever played an NFL game. That's a big reason why the Lions have let it be known they're interested in a trade.

Mayhew has said it would be tough, that any trade partner would be after a "specific player." But that's why their chances are better if the Rams pass on Bradford. Perhaps a team like the Redskins would want to trade up from No. 4, where the Lions could take Okung.

"We're comfortable staying there and drafting," Mayhew said. "We're comfortable moving back."

Vikings: Reviewing the fumbles

The Vikings are conducting an offseason study of Adrian Peterson's fumbling problems. This comes after the Pro Bowl running back finished the season by fumbling twice in the Vikings' overtime loss to New Orleans in the NFC title game.

He also had a botched handoff exchange with Brett Favre deep in Saints territory late in the first half that resulted in a costly turnover. The quarterback was charged with the fumble but Peterson took responsibility.

While Brad Childress indicated the study remains in its early stages, the Vikings coach made it clear he isn't about to tell Peterson to make massive changes in his approach.

"I know there has been a lot said," Childress told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "I'm not going to discourage (Peterson) from running the ball with the style that he runs the ball with.

"I'm not attempting to take his spirit or take his heart or any of those things. ... He's a good enough athlete and we're good enough coaches that we'll look at it and we'll do what we can to rectify it. Usually when he sets his mind to something he's pretty good at taking care of that business."

This is definitely business that Peterson needs to take care of in his quest to become of the NFL's top running backs of all time.

Peterson led the league in rushing in 2008 and this past season ran for 1,383 yards with 18 touchdowns. But fumbles remained a major issue for him. In three regular seasons, he has rushed for 4,484 yards in three regular seasons but has fumbled 20 times and lost 13.

Childress said he planned to talk to Giants coach Tom Coughlin at the combine about Peterson's fumbles. Coughlin was the guy who helped New York running back Tiki Barber overcome his fumbling issues by carrying the ball high and tight.

Childress, though, said that Vikings running backs coach Eric Bieniemy will be the key figure in working with Peterson.

"In my mind he's as good of running backs coach as there is in the National Football League," Childress said. "I feel like he's the best. Hands down, bar none. That would be the guy who will end up implementing it whatever it is we decide needs to be implemented. It may be nothing, it may just be a mental process."

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