NFC North Tour: Cornering Market

With injury concerns at the position, Minnesota brings in five top cornerbacks. In Chicago, the Bears think they've upgraded their backfield by signing Chester Taylor to pair with Matt Forte. In Detroit, the Lions probably will pick a defensive tackle in first round.

Minnesota Vikings

There have been no solid indications of which way the Vikings might be leaning with the 30th pick of this month's NFL draft, but it was interesting that Minnesota had at least five cornerbacks in for a visit this week.

The Vikings like to bring in almost all of their draft-eligible prospects at the same time for visits.

Among the corners believed to be at Winter Park were Indiana (Pa.) product Akwasi Owusu-Ansah; Wake Forest's Brandon Ghee; Vanderbilt's Myron Lewis; South Florida's Jerome Murphy; and Florida State's Patrick Robinson.

It would make sense the Vikings would be intrigued by this deep corner class given that Antoine Winfield battled a broken foot for much of last season and Cedric Griffin tore his ACL on the opening kickoff of the NFC title game. Griffin might not be ready for the start of the season.

The Vikings like Asher Allen, a third-round pick last year, and they re-signed Benny Sapp, who has proven capable as an emergency starter and is the regular nickel back. But there is no question the Vikings could stand to add depth.

Winfield will be entering his 12th season and even if he returns healthy there is going to come a time when he might need to be shifted into the nickel role or even consider a move to safety.

Although it wasn't known if he was on the Vikings' invite list, one cornerback who might make sense with the 30th pick is Rutgers' Devin McCourty.

McCourty appears to be a good fit for the Vikings' base Tampa-2 defense and also is an outstanding special teams player. His talents in the latter area is something on which the Vikings put a premium and would mean he could be active as a rookie even if he doesn't play a ton at corner.

Quick hits

— The loss of Chester Taylor in free agency has left the Vikings looking to add depth at running back and they have decided to get creative in their quest to do so.

Darius Reynaud, a wide receiver for his first two NFL seasons, has been shifted to running back. Reynaud is actually returning to familiar territory. As a senior at Hanville High School in Boutte, La., Reynaud rushed for 1,889 yards on 236 carries and 37 touchdowns as his team went 15-0 and won the state title. Reynaud remained a threat running and catching the ball during his three seasons at West Virginia.

"That's really where he was coming out (of high school)," Vikings coach Brad Childress said during a recent radio interview. "I think it was him and the young man from the Bears (Matt Forte). He and Darius Reynaud were a couple of the best running backs coming out of high school down in Louisiana. They were 1-2 in yardage.

"He's got the physical skills and abilities. It remains to be seen (whether he can) pick up the scheme, take a good look at the runs and be a good pass protector. But he sure has the physical skills and abilities to be able to do it."

— Vikings quarterback Brett Favre hasn't decided if he will return for a 20th NFL season, but if he does he's going to have a new nickname in the locker room. Gramps. The 40-year-old quarterback has another reason to feel ancient by NFL standards. That's because his 21-year-old daughter, Brittany, recently give birth to a 7-pound, 7-ounce boy named Parker Brett. An NFL spokesman said the league checked but was unable to confirm that Favre would be the first active player to be a grandfather.

— Childress said during a recent radio interview that he continues to wait for Favre to make a decision on his future but as of right now it remains unclear what the quarterback will do."I still don't (know), one way or the other," Childress said. "I don't know if he's even thought about it or contemplated it. I (talked) with him briefly last week and I'm sure we'll narrow it down as we get a little bit further."

— The Vikings brought about 30 draft-eligible players to Winter Park this week but there was only one known quarterback. That was R.J. Archer of William & Mary. Archer spent only one season as a starting quarterback in college and was converted from wide receiver to quarterback after his sophomore season. He was named second-team all conference last season after throwing for 2,778 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Chicago Bears

Chester Taylor
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Images
The running back position was a major disappointment for the Bears last season, but they're confident they've significantly upgraded with the addition of one of the league's best backups, Chester Taylor.

The former Viking was added in free agency to complement and compete with Matt Forte, whose production plummeted last season after an encouraging rookie campaign that may have worn him down with 379 touches. Coach Lovie Smith said still considers Forte the starter, though he'll have to prove he deserves top billing.

Forte's average per carry dropped from 3.9 as a rookie to 3.6 last year. He seemed to be a step slow and not as quick as he was in 2008, but he didn't get much help from the offensive line. Despite a sophomore slump, Forte still caught 57 passes last season for 471 yards. But he needed 258 carries to gain 929 yards. Not counting runs of 61, 53 and 37 yards against the Lions, Forte did not have a run of longer than 16 yards last season.

Taylor is 30 but has low miles since he's only been the featured runner in one of his eight NFL seasons.

"When you haven't been the guy who's taken every snap, that has to help you," Smith said. "That's the case with Chester. He doesn't have the wear and tear you would think."

However, Taylor's yards per carry have dropped in each of the past two seasons, from a career-best 5.4 in 2007, to 4.0 in '08 and down to 3.7 last season, when the Vikings had difficulties run blocking.

Like Forte, Taylor is a versatile back, combining inside and outside run skills with good hands and blocking ability. Taylor has caught more than 40 passes in four of the past five seasons.

The question everyone wants to know is: How will carries be divided between Forte and Taylor? Performance is likely to decide that, with the hot hand getting most of the touches, but it could be the work gets divided evenly.

"Chester Taylor was a real good fit as well and we just brought (him) in because we wanted to bring in another quality back," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "It's nothing to do with any pecking order. The players always determine that as well as the coaches."

Quick hits

Smith said it was difficult to release defensive end Alex Brown last week, but he's confident that players like Israel Idonije and Mark Anderson will fill the void.

"It was really hard to have to let a player like Alex Brown go, but it's a new year, and we're going in a different direction," Smith said in his first public comments about Brown, a 16-game starter in six of the last seven seasons. "That allows us an opportunity to release a player like Alex because of what we feel about what 'Izzy' can do, and not only Israel Idonije but also Mark Anderson.

"Every day I've been the head coach for the Bears, I've seen Israel Idonije there. (He's done) everything we've asked him to do. We've asked him to sacrifice for the football team so much."

Idonije returned last week from his third trip to Africa, where he donated thousands of pair of athletic shoes and brought along a medical team of five doctors and six nurses to treat patients in Nigeria. He jumped right from that into the Bears' off-season program, where the competition with Anderson to replace Brown has begun.

Throughout his Bears career, Idonije has bounced back and forth between end and tackle, gaining weight when he played inside and cutting pounds when he played end. This year he'll play between 260 and 265 pounds. He's weighed as much as 305 in the past.

— The Bears got younger last season with 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams and 27-year-old Frank Omiyale moving into the starting lineup, but they didn't get much better. This year, with Williams entrenched at left tackle, where 34-year-old Orlando Pace struggled last season, the group should do a better job of protecting Jay Cutler and opening holes for the running game.

Omiyale will be at right tackle or left guard, depending on who the Bears are able to add to the roster in free agency and the draft.

Williams started the first 11 games at right tackle then moved to the left side, where he is expected to remain for many years.

"To have Chris Williams finish up the season (at left tackle) was big," Smith said. "We drafted him to be our left tackle. He finished off the season strong."

— The Bears still haven't decided which end prize free-agent acquisition Julius Peppers will line up at or whether he will move back and forth, meaning Idonije and Anderson, who are competing for playing time at the other end spot, would also play both sides.

Detroit Lions

Ndamukong Suh
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Recent events make it seem even more likely the Lions will take a defensive tackle No. 2 overall in the NFL draft April 22 — Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.

Still, you can't rule out offensive tackle — Oklahoma State's Russell Okung or Oklahoma's Trent Williams.

The draft started to take shape when the Rams released quarterback Marc Bulger and the Redskins acquired quarterback Donovan McNabb. That means the Rams need a QB, and most expect them to take Oklahoma's Sam Bradford first overall. The Redskins don't need a QB anymore, making it seem less likely they would be willing to trade up to No. 2 to get one.

Meanwhile, the Lions solidified their left guard spot by acquiring Rob Sims. That means they likely won't move Jeff Backus to left guard, which they likely would do if they draft a left tackle.

Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove also signed his offer sheet with the Saints. He had visited the Lions, who strongly considered signing him to an offer sheet.

All of this seems to add up to Suh or McCoy. It looks like both will be on the board when the Lions pick, the Lions won't be able to trade down and they will pick one of them.

The Lions need a difference-maker in the middle of a defense that has ranked last in the NFL the past three years. Suh is the kind of smart, multidimensional, productive player coach Jim Schwartz covets. Some think McCoy is even better — more athletic and a superior penetrator.

"Both guys are big, they're fast, have high character, and both are productive at a high level of competition," Schwartz said last month at the NFL annual meeting. "There's a lot to like with both of them."

But there's a lot to like about drafting a left tackle, too.

The Lions were pleased with Backus' performance last season. Schwartz said Backus deserved votes for the Pro Bowl. But Backus is 32, and general manager Martin Mayhew has said he will draft not just for this season, but for future seasons.

Okung has not generated the buzz Suh and McCoy have. But teams generally are more comfortable paying a premium for a left tackle than they are for a defensive tackle. And at the NFL annual meeting, Mayhew said Okung was a "tremendous talent" and it was "very possible" he has been underrated by the media.

Then he added this when asked if Okung clearly was the best left tackle in the draft: "I think big-picture, overall, taking everything into account, there are probably two guys that are the best two out there." Mayhew declined to elaborate.

At that time, the Lions had confirmed visits to team headquarters by Okung, McCoy and Suh, in that order, by posting stories on their Web site after the visits. Mayhew was asked: They wouldn't do that and then, say, draft Trent Williams, would they?

"You never know what we might do," Mayhew said. "That's one of the smart things about it."

Williams visited the Lions on April 6. They posted a story on their Web site.

Quick hits

— Backus has started every game for the Lions at left tackle since 2001. Dominic Raiola has started almost every game for them at center since '02. But between those two mainstays, there has been constant turmoil.

Fourteen different left guards.

"I hope to be No. 15, and that's the end of it," the newest left guard, Rob Sims, told Detroit reporters after the Lions acquired him from the Seahawks for a fifth-round pick.

— Oklahoma offensive tackle Trent Williams became the fourth draft prospect to visit Lions headquarters and have the team announce the visit on its official Web site, following Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. "I'm looking forward to getting it over with," Williams told the site with a laugh. "Cutting all the nerves and seeing whom I'm going to play for, who is going to pick me."

— The Lions signed cornerback Dante Wesley to a two-year deal. Wesley, 30, has experience with Danny Crossman, the special teams coach who went from the Panthers to the Lions. Wesley has played eight NFL seasons — seven for the Panthers, one for the Bears — as a reserve. He has only two career starts, one each in 2002 and '03. The Lions already had signed one of Crossman's former Carolina special teamers: linebacker Landon Johnson.

— Cornerback Phillip Buchanon didn't have much to say when he played for the Lions. He often declined to speak to reporters. But he had a lot to say to Pro Football Weekly after signing with the Redskins. He was critical of Schwartz, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and secondary coach Tim Walton. "Coach Schwartz, he's doing certain things, and it just didn't click. You can say that," Buchanon told PFW. "It was more of a player-to-coach (problem), and the vibe just wasn't good. Actually, it wasn't good since May and June, going into the season. (The relationship) was all messed up."

Buchanon was benched multiple times and eventually cut, but he said the film doesn't lie.

"Being in Detroit, people can say what they want to say. I didn't have any problems," Buchanon told PFW. "If you look at the film and really judge it, I don't feel like I played badly like people said. You really have to evaluate the film."

— Former wide receiver Charles Rogers owes the Lions $6.1 million because of his 2005 drug suspension, a judge ruled in Detroit. The Lions sued Rogers last year for failing to comply with a 2008 ruling by an arbitrator that he had to repay part of his rookie signing bonus because his suspension put him in default of his contract.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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