Battle of the North: Quarterbacks

It's often referred to as the most important position in football, and the quarterback position in the NFC North will have a very different look with only Aaron Rodgers assured of maintaining his starting status. In the first in our series, we get the analysis from beat writers in each NFC North city on each position.

CHICAGO BEARS

Starter — Jay Cutler. Backups — Caleb Hanie, Brett Basanez.

Cutler gives the Bears something they haven't had in ... a very long time. He is already a Pro Bowler, something foreign to a franchise that has produced exactly one Pro Bowl appearance by a quarterback in the previous 44 years. Cutler has more than enough arm to throw any pass in the playbook, is mobile enough to escape the rush and buy time in the pocket, and he's just 26. But there are questions about his leadership, maturity and character after a messy situation that resulted in his trade from Denver. So far, Cutler has been a model teammate, although there are some concerns about his reputation as a party guy. Hanie impressed the Bears with his mobility and athleticism last preseason and has had a full year in the system, but he has yet to prove that he can get the job done as a starter. Basanez spent two seasons as a little-used backup with the Panthers, and he lacks size and a strong arm, but he put up some prodigious numbers as a four-year starter at Northwestern.


DETROIT LIONS

Starter — Daunte Culpepper. Backups — Matthew Stafford, Drew Stanton.

Culpepper is expected to enter camp as the starter, but Stafford could make a strong push as the preseason wears on. Culpepper should be much better than he was when he came out of semiretirement and joined the Lions midseason last year. He has lost more than 30 pounds. He knows the offense, which is run by his old offensive coordinator from Minnesota, Scott Linehan. He has every motivation to earn another contract. But Stafford was impressive after joining the offseason program. Not only were his physical skills as advertised, with his strong arm apparent, but he showed a quick grasp of the offense. Stanton is clearly in the No. 3 spot and needs to show he still belongs there.


GREEN BAY PACKERS

Starter — Aaron Rodgers. Backups — Matt Flynn, Brian Brohm.

The start of season No. 2 for Rodgers as a starter will be a lot less burdensome than a year ago, when he still had to look over his shoulder for the possibility of a return by Brett Favre out of retirement before the Packers ended an acrimonious start to training camp by trading their legend to the New York Jets. Rodgers comes back this year with a lot of confidence after he exceeded the expectations of many in leading a top-10 offense. He put up big numbers with more than 4,000 passing yards and 28 touchdowns and limited mistakes by completing 63.6 percent of his passes with just 13 interceptions. Rodgers has the physical tools and acumen to be as productive, if not more, this season. Perhaps the only knock on him is not having the Favre-esque track record of pulling out wins late in games — the Packers were 0-7 in games decided by four or fewer points last season. The pecking order on the depth chart remains the same, unless Brohm does a complete 180 in the preseason with his accuracy and numbers to wrest the No. 2 job that he frittered away as a second-round draft pick last year. Flynn, a seventh-round choice in 2008, makes up for an adequate arm with headiness and leadership.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Starter — Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels. Backup — John David Booty.

Despite the fact that many have considered it a foregone conclusion Brett Favre will end his retirement to play for the Vikings, that hasn't happened. Until then, Favre's name doesn't even appear on the above depth chart. If Favre does return, he obviously will be the starter and will be stepping into a West Coast system with which he is extremely familiar. But if Favre surprises everyone and decides to remain retired, Jackson and Rosenfels will battle for the starting job. That was the expectation in February when the Vikings acquired Rosenfels from Houston for a fourth-round pick. However, that all changed when the New York Jets released Favre from their reserve/retired list in late April. Favre's potential arrival could mean the Vikings will keep Rosenfels and Booty as their two backups and trade or release Jackson. Jackson is entering the final season of his contract and has had an up-and-down stint in Minnesota since being a second-round pick out of Alabama State in 2006. Jackson began last season as the starter, was benched after two losses but then won the job back late in the year after Gus Frerotte suffered a back injury. Rosenfels has been careful and measured with his words since the Favre talk began this spring, but there is little doubt he will be extremely disappointed if he doesn't get a chance to win the job. In fact, this was going to be the first time in his nine-year career that he got a legitimate shot to compete for the starting spot.


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