NFC North Tour: The Battlegrounds

We take our weekly spin through the NFC North to catch up on the week that was and look ahead to this week's key battles. For the Packers, that's the punting showdown between Chris Bryan and Tim Masthay. Plus, a look at how the division's rookies are doing.

Green Bay Packers

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Chris Bryan vs. Tim Masthay for punter. The pro neophytes' first true taste of kicking in Lambeau Field, before nearly 50,000 people to boot at Saturday night's intrasquad scrimmage, didn't create even a smidgen of separation in their evenly matched competition. Both had a long boot of 62 yards. Out of the five punts for each, the left-footed Bryan came out slightly ahead with an average of 50.4 yards, to the right-footed Masthay's 47.0. Coach Mike McCarthy has said he's willing to take the whole preseason to settle a position that has been a sore spot the last two seasons. The next big test for Bryan and Masthay, who also are trading holds for kicker Mason Crosby, will be the exhibition opener against the Cleveland Browns on Saturday.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Brandon Chillar vs. Brad Jones for starting ROLB — A back injury sustained by Jones on the first day of camp resulted in a notable lineup adjustment of 2009 rookie standout Clay Matthews' going from right-side linebacker to Jones' left-side spot and the insertion of Chillar as the right-side starter. When Jones returned from the injury Aug. 5, he was relegated to backing up Chillar. Depending on the severity of a hamstring injury Matthews suffered in Saturday's scrimmage, which put Jones back on the left side, Jones could be on the outside looking in for a staring job. ... Brandon Underwood vs. Pat Lee for nickel back — Until veteran Al Harris returns from reconstructive knee surgery, which isn't a given for Week 1 of the season, the Packers are dependent on their young backups to fill the critical No. 3 cornerback job with regular nickel Tramon Williams' starting opposite Charles Woodson. Underwood and Lee had respectable performances in the scrimmage. Underwood, who is ahead of Lee on the depth chart, intercepted a pass from third-string quarterback Graham Harrell and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Sam Shields. Count quarterback Aaron Rodgers among the many who are convinced Shields, an undrafted rookie out of Miami, is destined to make the opening-day roster. "I was asking (receiver Donald Driver), 'How does a guy like that not get drafted with that kind of speed and athleticism?'" Rodgers said after watching from the sideline as Shields broke on an underthrown pass by No. 2 QB Matt Flynn, picked it off and jetted 99 yards the other way for a touchdown in the intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Lambeau Field. The biggest play of the 66-minute glorified practice before a crowd of more than 47,000 capped an impressive opening week of training camp for Shields. He is blessed with 4.2 speed and has become a quick study with the nuances of playing cornerback after being moved there from receiver just last year for his final college season. The one and perhaps only drawback for Shields thus far is not being sure-handed — numerous drops make him a shaky candidate as a punt returner.

ROOKIE REPORT: T Bryan Bulaga (first round) is No. 2 on the depth chart at left tackle but has been getting plenty of first-team reps there during two-a-days when veteran Chad Clifton is limited to one practice. ... DE Mike Neal (second round) has distinguished himself early in camp as a workhorse, bouncing between both end spots and also sliding inside to his natural tackle spot with the No. 2 group. He brings a powerful influence to the field. ... S Morgan Burnett (third round) is a safe bet to be the opening-day starter. Atari Bigby, the incumbent at strong safety, likely will miss the entire preseason after undergoing surgery Aug. 6 on his previously repaired left ankle. ... RB James Starks (sixth round) remains on the PUP list because of a hamstring injury he suffered in the preseason. ... RB Quinn Porter (undrafted) exhibited flashes in the opening week of camp of being a shifty runner with some explosiveness. The 24-year-old out of tiny Stillman College broke away for an 80-yard touchdown run in a kill-the-clock segment in practice Aug. 6.

Chicago Bears

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The battle for the strong-side linebacker job is on again.

Last year Pisa Tinoisamoa won the job from Nick Roach in training camp but missed most of the season with knee injuries. Roach played very well in Tinoisamoa's absence and came to cam No. 1 on the depth chart. He hasn't done anything to disappoint, but Tinoisamoa got all the first-team snaps Wednesday night and played well.

"It's good competition," coach Lovie Smith said. "Nick Roach has played good football for us, played a lot of (linebacker) positions. Pisa has done the same. They battled throughout in training camp last year, and the same thing is happening right now. (Wednesday) night we gave Pisa some reps with the ones. Both guys we feel like are starters in the league."

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Second-year player Lance Louis has been challenging incumbent Roberto Garza at right guard, but the left guard spot is also up for grabs. Josh Beekman was the leading contender at left guard, but Garza has been taking first-team snaps there with Louis taking snaps at right guard with the ones.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Guard Lance Louis, last year's seventh-round pick, did not set foot on the field during the 2009 regular season, but he's getting a long look during training camp, even taking some snaps with the first team.

According to offensive line coach Mike Tice, only Olin Kreutz at center and Chris Williams at left tackle are assured starting jobs, so there is more opportunity than usual for young players like Louis.

"I just think it's a great opportunity to go in there and mix it up with the ones and get the feel of that faster pace," Louis said. "I think it's a great experience."

Tice has been impressed by Louis' ability to jump in and compete with seasoned veterans, and the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder from San Diego State said he's trying to keep it all in perspective.

"I try not to make it more than what it is," Louis said. "It's just a game, and I've been playing it all my life, so it's just another opportunity."

ROOKIE REPORT: S Major Wright missed most of the past week with a groin injury but is close to running full speed and should be back this week. He's still a contender for playing time in a crowded house with no standouts. ... DE Corey Wootton has struggled to make much of an impact at a crowded position but has flashed some pass-rush ability ... CB Joshua Moore has made some nice plays on the ball working with the second team.

Detroit Lions

Ndamukong Suh
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: With Louis Delmas out, both safety spots are open. It appears, though, that six-year veteran C.C. Brown is winning one of those spots. Undrafted rookie Randy Phillips had a good week and moved temporarily ahead of Marvin White and Jonathan Hefney at Delmas' spot. Ko Simpson, who was expected to be in the mix, hasn't practiced yet coming off knee surgery.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Ndamukong Suh is going to start at defensive tackle, barring injury. But second-year tackle Sammie Hill is pushing for playing time. He's a strong, 330 pounds and has vastly improved his technique.

Gosder Cherilus has moved ahead of Jon Jansen at the right tackle spot.

It appears coach Jim Schwartz is comfortable splitting the running back spot between Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith. Neither is an every-play back.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Lots of candidates here but DE Kyle Vanden Bosch has made a huge impact on and off the field. His hustle and intensity have been infectious. He's giving the defensive unit a much-needed edge. Players like Suh, Hill and Cliff Avril are clearly benefitting from his leadership.

ROOKIE REPORT: RB Jahvid Best is as advertised — lightning fast. He has terrific balance and doesn't lose ground or much speed when he moves laterally. He also catches the ball extremely well. OT Jason Fox, a four-year starter at Miami, has impressed the coaches early. CB Aaron Berry was having a solid camp until he pulled a hamstring on Friday. TE Richard Dickson probably won't make the squad but he is solid player who could perhaps stay on the practice squad.

Minnesota Vikings

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Tyrell Johnson vs. Jamarca Sanford for starting strong safety — The coaches have downplayed this competition and indicated Johnson remains the starter. Nonetheless, Sanford continues to get first-team reps at strong safety and is getting every opportunity to make a positive impression.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Albert Young was expected to compete for the No. 3 running back job with Ryan Moats, Ian Johnson and Darius Reynaud. However, Young has been impressive enough that he has leapfrogged rookie Toby Gerhart for the No. 2 job behind Adrian Peterson. . ... Lito Sheppard got the majority of the snaps with the first team at right corner last week in large part because Benny Sapp was sidelined due to post-dehydration symptoms. This meant Asher Allen was used with the first team in the nickel defense. Sapp was able to return on Saturday after a seven-day absence. This should mean Sapp and Allen also can get more time at right corner as the Vikings try to figure out who should start with Cedric Griffin out. ... Veteran wide receiver Greg Lewis has been impressive and has gotten plenty of opportunities with Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin missing. But the job for the fifth and potentially six wide receiver spots appears to be wide open. Logan Payne, who played at the University of Minnesota, has been impressive. Rookie Ray Small, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, also is pushing for a job that second-year player Jaymar Johnson is hoping to hold onto.

ROOKIE REPORT: CB Chris Cook, the first of the Vikings' two second-round picks, has flashed in several practices, including getting three interceptions in the Aug. 1 session. Cook, the Vikings' biggest corner at 6-2, 212 pounds, is working at the left corner spot behind Antoine Winfield. ... RB Toby Gerhart, who also was taken in the second round, appears to have plenty to learn at this point. Gerhart was expected to win the job as Adrian Peterson's primary backup but he has yet to assert himself on the field and appears a bit overwhelmed. ... DE Everson Griffen (fourth round) is not only behind Ray Edwards at left end but also Brian Robison, who is used as a situational player. The Vikings haven't been in pads much so it's hard to get a good read on the linemen. ... Chris DeGeare (fifth round) has been getting some work with the first team at left and right guard. DeGeare looks like a lock to make the roster and could back up at both guard positions.. ... LB Nate Triplett (fifth round) probably will have to make the team based on his abilities on special teams. That isn't going to be an easy task. Triplett could end up on the practice squad. ... QB Joe Webb (sixth round) clearly has a long ways to go before he's considered a real option as a quarterback in the NFL. Webb has a big arm but his accuracy is questionable his head appears to be swimming at times. Not surprising for a rookie. ...TE Mickey Shuler (seventh round) will battle for a roster spot but it's going to be difficult with Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Jeff Dugan and Garrett Mills all on the roster. Shuler could beat out Mills but that might not be enough to make the 53-man. ... FB Ryan D'Imperio is almost certainly headed to the practice squad. A fullback at Rutgers, D'Imperio is raw and needs plenty of coaching.

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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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