Starters — LCB Charles Tillman, RCB Nathan Vasher, FS Mike Brown, SS Brandon McGowan. Backups — CB Trumaine McBride, S-CB Danieal Manning, CB Ricky Manning Jr., CB Corey Graham, S Craig Steltz, S Kevin Payne.
The Bears found out how valuable Vasher was when the pass defense suffered when he was out 12 games last season because of a torn groin muscle. When Vasher and Tillman are healthy, the Bears have one of the better CB tandems around. Safety is crowded but unsettled because of the lengthy injury history of Brown, but if he can remain on the field, he and McGowan, who got nine starts last season, should be the starters. Danieal Manning has been a starter in each of his first two NFL seasons but could be the odd man out. He could also wind up as a key nickel or dime guy. Ricky Manning has been a valuable nickel CB, although he could become a salary-cap casualty after seventh-rounder McBride played impressively as a fill-in last season and Graham also impressed when forced into the lineup because of injuries. Payne showed promise before suffering a broken arm last season, and this year's fourth-rounder, Steltz, appears to have starter potential.
Starters — RCB Leigh Bodden, SS Dwight Smith, FS Gerald Alexander, LCB Brian Kelly. Backups — S Kalvin Pearson, S Daniel Bullocks, CB Keith Smith, CB Stanley Wilson, CB Travis Fisher, CB LaMarcus Hicks, CB Ramzee Robinson, CB Dovonte Edwards, CB Stephen Howell, S Greg Blue.
The Lions overhauled their secondary this offseason. They could have four new starters potentially, if Pearson or Bullocks, who missed last season with a torn ACL, beats out Alexander. Dwight Smith, Kelly and Pearson all played in Tampa Bay and have knowledge of the Tampa-2, which the Lions hope will help immediately and also rub off on the others. The Lions still have high hopes for Keith Smith and Wilson. Fisher enters as the starting nickel back, but Pearson will compete there as well.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Starters — LCB Charles Woodson, RCB Al Harris, FS Nick Collins, SS Atari Bigby. Backups — CB Tramon Williams, CB Will Blackmon, CB Pat Lee, CB Jarrett Bush, CB Joe Porter, CB Condrew Allen, Kyle Ward, S Aaron Rouse, S Charlie Peprah, S Tyrone Culver.
Harris, 33, and Woodson, 31, are among the graybeards on one of the league's youngest squads, so their stock as elite bump-and-run corners is in jeopardy of plummeting. Harris showed signs of being in decline when he was overmatched by Plaxico Burress in the NFC Championship Game. Woodson still is heady enough to be in position to make the occasional big play and will have to resist the urge to return punts to preserve himself for the long haul. Williams, a surprise first-year situational player last season, continues to progress in press coverage and has the inside track for the nickel spot over injury-plagued Blackmon and second-round pick Lee. Collins' hold on the starting job at free safety is safe for now. Yet, his inability to make an impact in 2007 (zero interceptions and forced fumbles) coupled with a promising fill-in job by Rouse for a spell last season make for a battle throughout camp. The hard-hitting Bigby flourished as a first-year starter. Depth at the safety spots could be bolstered by Bush, who took some reps in the offseason after not cutting it as a nickel back last season.
Starters — RCB Cedric Griffin, LCB Antoine Winfield, FS Madieu Williams, SS Darren Sharper. Backups — S Husain Abdullah, S Michael Boulware, S Eric Frampton, CB Charles Gordon, S Tyrell Johnson, CB Dee McCann, CB Marcus McCauley, CB Benny Sapp, CB Brandon Sumrall, CB Marcus Walker.
Williams left the Bengals to sign a free-agent deal that will call for him to take over the spot formerly held by Dwight Smith. Smith was released after the season; the Vikings feel Williams, a former cornerback, will be a better fit for the defense, in part because he is so good in coverage and can be moved into the slot if necessary. This could free up Sharper to freelance more often and give him a chance to collect more interceptions. Sharper had four picks last season and has eight in the past two years after getting nine in his first season with the Vikings in 2005. Winfield battled injuries much of 2007 and ended up missing a career-high six games. Winfield said he is healthy and he is expected to team with third-year player Griffin, who will be expected to show improvement in his second season as a full-time starter. Gordon, McCauley and Sapp will battle for the nickel role. Gordon ended last season with that job and will be the favorite to open 2008 going against opposing slot receivers. When McCauley plays the nickel, the Vikings must move Winfield inside. Johnson was the Vikings' top pick in this year's draft (second round) and at 6-feet, 207 pounds can provide a physical presence. Johnson is likely to be the top backup option at safety. Veteran Boulware will contribute on special teams.
Comparing the North: Defensive Backs
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