NFC North Tour: The Battlegrounds

We take our weekly spin through the NFC North to look ahead to this week's key battles. For the Packers, that's the punting showdown between Chris Bryan and Tim Masthay.

Green Bay Packers

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Tim Masthay vs. Chris Bryan for punter — The separation between the young challengers that general manager Ted Thompson and the coaches need to see to render a decision hasn't happened through three weeks of training camp and two preseason games. Masthay and Bryan stayed in competitive step with one another with decent, if not solid, kicks of 43 and 39 yards, respectively, in their only punts in the game Saturday at the Seattle Seahawks. Neither punt yielded return yardage — Masthay's resulted in a fair catch, and the return on Bryan's was covered quickly by the speedy Sam Shields. Bryan had the holding duties after Masthay did so in the first preseason game, and kicker Mason Crosby wasn't fazed as he went 3-for-3 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals, including a late conversion from 51 yards. The pressure on the unflappable punters will be turned up Thursday, when the Packers host the Indianapolis Colts on national TV.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Daryn Colledge vs. Bryan Bulaga for starting LG spot — The ongoing duel between seasoned starting incumbent Colledge and robust rookie Bulaga continues to be nip and tuck. Colledge for the second straight game was the starter Saturday, but he moved aside for Bulaga in the second offensive series before the majority of the starters took the rest of the night off. Bulaga, the team's first-round draft pick, took over for Chad Clifton at left tackle and later went back to guard when Colledge was pulled from the game in the second half. Colledge didn't help his cause with a false-start penalty. ... Brandon Chillar vs. Brad Jones for starting ROLB — Availability is critical for head coach Mike McCarthy in meting out playing time. Given Jones' inability to be always available for a second straight preseason — he missed Saturday's game because of a shoulder injury — Chillar rates the edge to emerge as the opening-day starter. Chillar had extensive playing time against the Seahawks with the Packers considerably thin at linebacker.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: RB Brandon Jackson — It has taken four years, but the Packers are convinced they have the total package with Jackson, a second-round draft pick in 2007 who has been plagued by injury and inconsistency in the past. Jackson feels rejuvenated this preseason because of better training and eating habits, and the byproduct has been healthy contributions on the field. Jackson had 11 carries for 80 yards in Saturday's 27-24 comeback victory over the Seahawks, including a decisive 12-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Jackson, who is entrenched as the No. 2 back behind Ryan Grant, had to return to the game after undrafted rookie Quinn Porter left with an ankle injury earlier in the final quarter. A nifty 26-yard run by Jackson, in which he turned a potential loss on a run to the right by bouncing it back to the other side, set up his game-winning dash to the end zone. "He's a complete football player, and if we had to play all three downs with him, I wouldn't even blink," head coach Mike McCarthy said. Jackson also is penciled in as the No. 1 returner on kickoffs.

Chicago Bears

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Deciding how many running backs to keep on the final roster may be one of the most difficult decisions Bears coaches have to make this year. Garrett Wolfe and Kahlil Bell have shown they will produce when given the chance. But, since Chester Taylor was brought in to complement and compete with starter Matt Forte, playing time behind them might be scarce. So the tough question is: Do the Bears need both Wolfe and Bell? Last season they kept four running backs, but one was fullback Jason McKie, and they're likely to keep one fullback again this year. "It kind of depends on the flavor of what we really need and what we really want," running backs coach Tim Spencer said. "Kahlil is a stronger inside runner. But Garrett, we can get him on the flank, and we can do a few more things." Bell doesn't possess great speed, but his 72-yard run last year on his first carry in the NFL was the longest of the season for the Bears and the longest by a rookie in franchise history. Wolfe has unique speed and quickness, which is imperative for a 5-foot-7, 185-pound player in the NFL. He also brings the added dimension of being a standout special-teams player, where he had eight solo tackles last season, fifth best on the team, even though he played just eight games before a lacerated kidney ended his season.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa continue fighting it out for the starting job at strong-side linebacker, although Tinoisamoa had more reps with the first team during the final week of training camp practices. "They're both playing well," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said, "they're coming after it." ... Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije continue to get reps at left end with the first team, but Anderson appears to have an edge in that race because he's clearly the better pass rusher, and that's what the Bears are looking for since they're trying to generate an effective pass rush using only the down linemen.

Detroit Lions

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: It's really the battle of the entire training camp and it looks like it's going to go right down to the wire. Privately, the Lions' coaching staff is hoping that Gosder Cherilus, a former first-round pick, responds to the competition and seizes the starting right tackle position. It's his third season, and a make-or-break season for talented but maddeningly inconsistent 6-7, 325-pound man child. But Cherilus continues to shuttle in and out with 12-year veteran Jon Jansen. Cherilus started the first exhibition game at Pittsburgh, but Jansen got most of the reps with the first-team offense this week in practice and started at Denver. Another variable has popped into the mix — Corey Hilliard (6-6, 300), a fourth-year tackle out of Oklahoma State, has had a great camp and put himself onto the depth chart. There is an outside chance that if Jansen doesn't win the starting job, he might be waived — the feeling being that Hilliard and rookie Jason Fox would be better suited to the back-up roles than a vet like Jansen.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Schwartz is giving one of the extra receivers (or extra running backs) a chance to make the team as a kick returner, but it's not going too well. In the first game, Derrick Williams and running back Aaron Brown split the duties; never stood out. In Denver, rookie Tim Toone took all the kicks. He was a little better, averaging 21 yards on two kickoff returns and 8.3 yards on three punt returns, but he doesn't have breakaway speed. Veteran Dennis Northcutt will get his chance next week. ... The pecking order at running back is more clear — 1. Jahvid Best, 2. Kevin Smith, 3. Maurice Morris. DeDe Dorsey was productive against the Broncos' second defensive unit (62 yards total offense) and might have inched past Brown. ... The top three receivers are pretty much in place — Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Bryant Johnson. Derrick Williams, Brian Clark and Tim Toone haven't shown all that much to this point, and frankly, Eric Fowler, second-year out of Grand Valley State, has outplayed all three.

Minnesota Vikings

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Lito Sheppard vs. Asher Allen for starting job at RCB — These two appear to be trying to win a job that could be open at the start of the season as Cedric Griffin continues to recover from an ACL injury suffered in the NFC title game last season. Allen was scheduled to start last Sunday's preseason game at San Francisco and then rotated series with Sheppard. That competition figures to continue Saturday as the Vikings play host to Seattle in their preseason home opener.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Tyrell Johnson is trying to hold off Jamarca Sanford for the starting strong safety job and it appears that will be the case. Nonetheless, Sanford continues to get some reps with the first team. ... Albert Young and Toby Gerhart appear to be dueling for the job as the second-team running back. Young's edge is that he is more advanced in protections and receiving at this point. Ryan Moats, Ian Johnson and Darius Reynaud also are battling for roster spots. ... With Jaymar Johnson being waived injured and Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice sidelined, Logan Payne has emerged as a real candidate to make the final roster. Veteran Greg Lewis appears to be a lock to stick at this point. Rookie Ray Small is pushing for a job in part because he can return punts. Small was an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State and continues to learn on the job. ... Veteran Ryan Cook is battling for one of the backup jobs on the offensive line and has been used at multiple positions. Jon Cooper appears a lock to be the backup center and rookie Chris DeGeare figures to backup at both guard spots. That means Cook's battle could be to stick around as the backup at both tackle positions. Other tackles on the roster include Patrick Brown, Chris Clark, Bill Noethlich and Drew Radovich.

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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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