Camp analysis: NFC North offensive lines
Starters - LT Chris Williams, LG Chilo Rachal, C Roberto Garza, RG Chris Spencer, RT Gabe Carimi. Backups - RT/G Lance Louis, T J'Marcus Webb, G/C Edwin Williams, G/T James Brown, G Ricky Henry, T Tyler Hendrickson, T A.J. Greene, G Nick Pieschel.
The position most in need of upgrade is left tackle, where Webb struggled last season, allowing 12 sacks. Chris Williams was originally drafted in the first round in 2009 to be the left tackle of the future, but he failed to hold that job and was then moved inside to guard, where he played to mixed reviews. He'll get a chance to reclaim his original job if he can outplay Webb in training camp. Carimi is basically a redshirt freshman who impressed enough in camp last year as a rookie to win the starting job, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. For the Bears to return to the postseason, this group has to protect Cutler better than it did the past two seasons, when it allowed 105 sacks. The only completely new addition is Rachal, but there are plenty of guys who can play inside already on the roster. In his second season at center, long-time guard Garza is expected to help solidify a shaky unit. Garza filled in admirably last year after Olin Kreutz was released, and he should be better with a year as the line leader under his belt. Spencer played mostly center before he moved over to guard last season but will face competition from Louis and Ed Williams.
Starters - LT Jeff Backus, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups - T Riley Reiff, RT Corey Hilliard, LT Jason Fox, LT Johnny Culbreath, G/C Dylan Gandy, G Jacques McClendon, C Dan Gerberry, G J.C. Oram, G Rodney Austin.
The Lions would love to see the entire starting unit remain intact for a third straight season, even though Backus is 34 and Raiola 33. But they won't be too sad if first-round draft pick Reiff breaks into the lineup. The coaching staff praised Reiff's work through OTAs and minicamp and expect him to contribute this season. His best chance at unseating a starter will be at right tackle. Cherilus has been up and down through his first three seasons, though this is the first year he's not coming off surgery. Fox was expected to challenge for a spot in the rotation at tackle, too, but his oft-injured knee flared up again at the end of minicamp. He will need to stay healthy throughout camp to make the squad.
Green Bay Packers
Starters - LT Marshall Newhouse, LG T.J. Lang, C Jeff Saturday, RG Josh Sitton, RT Bryan Bulaga. Backups - T Derek Sherrod, C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith, T Andrew Datko, G Ray Dominguez, C Sampson Genus, C Tommie Draheim, G Jaymes Brooks, G Don Barclay, G Grant Cook, T Herb Taylor, T Mike McCabe, T Shea Allard.
Thompson bid adieu in the offseason to two of the team's all-time top linemen - cutting 12-year left tackle Chad Clifton and allowing center Scott Wells to sign with the St. Louis Rams in free agency. Yet, Green Bay's previously well-regarded O-line just might be better for those departures. The Packers signed Saturday, the trusted All-Pro sidekick of Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts, to replace Wells. Saturday turned 37 in June but has been durable in the twilight of his impressive career, starting every game the last three seasons. Last season provided a glimpse at life after Clifton, when Newhouse played the majority of games for the injury-riddled veteran. Newhouse struggled on occasion, allowing a team-high nine sacks, but the coaches are confident those growing pains will do him a world of good going into this season. Protecting Rodgers' back side is Newhouse's job to lose, though Sherrod, last year's first-round draft pick, will have a shot to compete for the job after missing the offseason to recover from a late-season broken leg. Lang should be poised to build on a solid first season as the starter at left guard going into the final year of his contract. The right side of the line is as good as it gets with Sitton and Bulaga (one sack allowed in 2011) on the cusp of Pro Bowl recognition. Dietrich-Smith gives the team flexibility and starting experience in the interior. The 6-6 Datko, a seventh-round pick this year, has long-term starting potential if he can put his injury history behind him.
Starters - LT Matt Kalil, LG Charlie Johnson, C John Sullivan, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Phil Loadholt. Backups - G/C Joe Berger, LT Patrick Brown, G Chris DeGeare, G/T Geoff Schwartz, G Tyler Holmes, T Levi Horn, T DeMarcus Love, T Austin Pasztor, C Quentin Saulsberry, T Darrion Weems.
Those who've cried out for years that the Vikings' offensive line was the team's biggest weakness finally were heard this offseason. The line has been rebuilt. The team released aging starting guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera shortly after the season. They drafted Kalil fourth overall and named him an immediate starter. That moved Johnson, a stopgap starter at left tackle a year ago, to his more natural position at left guard. Johnson gave it all he had a year ago when Bryant McKinnie was released on Day 2 of training camp, but Johnson simply doesn't have the build to play left tackle at a high level. He'll be a much-needed infusion of youth at left guard. The starting right guard job will be determined following a training camp battle between Schwartz and Fusco. Schwartz, 26, missed last season with the Panthers because of a back injury. But he's healthy and comes in with 19 career starts and a tackle-like build at 6-6, 331. Fusco is an overachiever who has turned heads quickly. Despite coming from Division II Slippery Rock and having never played guard before, last year's sixth-round draft pick will either be a starter or a top interior backup. Sullivan, who once struggled against bigger nose tackles, has improved his technique and footwork and has become a leader on the line at center. Loadholt shows flashes of being a dominant right tackle but is easily the most inconsistent lineman on the team. He needs to achieve that consistency in Year 4. Brown and Love will battle for the No. 1 backup job behind Kalil. Berger is an exceptional backup at center and both guard positions. He had starts at all three spots a year ago and might actually be better than Schwartz and Fusco at right guard.
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