The running back position was a major disappointment for the Bears last season, but they're confident they've significantly upgraded with the addition of one of the league's best backups, Chester Taylor.
The former Viking was added in free agency to complement and compete with Matt Forte, whose production plummeted last season after an encouraging rookie campaign that may have worn him down with 379 touches. Coach Lovie Smith said he still considers Forte the starter, though he'll have to prove he deserves top billing.
Forte's average per carry dropped from 3.9 as a rookie to 3.6 last year. He seemed to be a step slow and not as quick as he was in 2008, but he didn't get much help from the offensive line. Despite a sophomore slump, Forte still caught 57 passes last season for 471 yards. But he needed 258 carries to gain 929 yards. Not counting runs of 61, 53 and 37 yards against the Lions, Forte did not have a run of longer than 16 yards last season.
Taylor is 30 but has low miles since he's only been the featured runner in one of his eight NFL seasons.
"When you haven't been the guy who's taken every snap, that has to help you," Smith said. "That's the case with Chester. He doesn't have the wear and tear you would think."
However, Taylor's yards per carry have dropped in each of the past two seasons, from a career-best 5.4 in 2007, to 4.0 in ‘08 and down to 3.7 last season, when the Vikings also had difficulties run blocking.
Like Forte, Taylor is a versatile back, combining inside and outside run skills with good hands and blocking ability. Taylor has caught more than 40 passes in four of the past five seasons.
The question everyone wants to know is: How will carries be divided between Forte and Taylor? Performance is likely to decide that, with the hot hand getting most of the touches, but it could be the work gets divided evenly.
"Chester Taylor was a real good fit as well and we just brought (him) in because we wanted to bring in another quality back," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "It's nothing to do with any pecking order. The players always determine that as well as the coaches."
Omiyale will be at right tackle or left guard, depending on who the Bears are able to add to the roster in free agency and the draft.
Williams started the first 11 games at right tackle then moved to the left side, where he is expected to remain for many years.
"To have Chris Williams finish up the season (at left tackle) was big," coach Lovie Smith said. "We drafted him to be our left tackle. He finished off the season strong."
"You have to keep your options open," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "(At the) beginning of April, I think it would be an injustice to say we're just going to do this right now. That'll all answer itself. We haven't worked with (Peppers) on the football field yet. Next week we go to a different phase of our off-season program, where we get a chance to work with some of the players on the field a little bit."
Jeff Backus has started every game for the Lions at left tackle since 2001. Dominic Raiola has started almost every game for them at center since ‘02. But between those two mainstays, there has been constant turmoil.
Fourteen different left guards.
"I hope to be No. 15, and that's the end of it," the newest left guard, Rob Sims, told Detroit reporters after the Lions acquired him from the Seahawks.
The Lions hope so, too.
Last season was particularly difficult. Daniel Loper and Manny Ramirez rotated from game to game — and sometimes within games. The Lions even gave veteran right tackle Jon Jansen a start at left guard, even though Jansen had never played the position before.
At the NFL scouting combine in February, coach Jim Schwartz said: "We had a little bit of a revolving door — not a little bit, a lot of a revolving door — at left guard last year. We need to settle that down this offseason. We need to find a starter, and we need to get continuity."
The Lions explored their options in free agency, but they were few. They brought in the Texans' Chester Pitts for a visit but did not sign him. Pitts is recovering from knee surgery.
"I think we're still shopping in that market, and we're still looking," general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL owners' meetings in March. "It's another position, kind of like running back, we're looking at what's available out there, and we have several opportunities to improve — draft, trade and that kind of thing. Late in free agency, there may be some guys out there."
Mayhew declined to comment then on possible interest in Sims, a restricted free agent who was reportedly on the trading block. But Sims certainly seemed to fit the Lions' profile in terms of age (26) and size (6-foot-3, 312 pounds).
Finally, the Lions swung a deal with the Seahawks, sending a fifth-round pick and defensive end Robert Henderson to Seattle for Sims and a seventh-rounder. Sims signed his tender, a one-year contract worth $1.176 million. He said he had no talks about a long-term deal with the Lions but wants to earn one.
"I would like to be here long-term," Sims told Detroit reporters. "I hope this isn't just one year and out."
The Lions don't want to move on to No. 16, either
GREEN BAY PACKERS
No matter what team they play — the NFL should be releasing the 2010 regular-season schedule within the week — expect the Packers to come out swinging at the start of the season.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady isn't the only NFL player who has been sparring with padded gloves this offseason. Packers tight end Jermichael Finley took up boxing as a conditioning diversion and has attracted disciples in teammates such as linebackers Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar.
The physical demands of stepping into the ring and trading punches with another has left the players feeling KO'd at times.
"I promise you, boxing is a different story," Finley told Packers.com. "It's an intense workout. I was dying out there."
Finley began training with pro boxer Brian Vera in Austin, Texas, where Finley played college football for Texas.
After a breakthrough second pro season in which he had 55 catches for 676 yards and five touchdowns in 2009, Finley continues to supplement boxing with the football workouts in the Packers' offseason program this spring.
"I think we got a chance that we may have an All-Pro type," head coach Mike McCarthy said.
Barnett and Chillar, meanwhile, have been accompanying Finley to a Green Bay gym for boxing workouts a few nights a week.
"It's a whole different type of shape you've got to get into," Barnett told Packers.com. "Boxing shape and football shape are two different things, and to have your arms up throwing punches, it's very draining.
"It's very good for us linebackers, though, because we do a lot of ... not punching, but punching in the essence of pushing guys off of us."
Offensive lineman Jason Spitz signed his one-year tender for $1.76 million in early April, allowing him to report to Green Bay and take part in the team's offseason workout program that has been running since March 15.
Spitz, a fifth-year veteran who has started at all three interior spots, is healthy again after undergoing surgery in November for a season-ending back injury he sustained in practice after only four games.
Since veteran Scott Wells played well after taking over for Spitz at center, it's likely Spitz will compete with incumbent Daryn Colledge for the starting gig at left guard.
Colledge is one of five Green Bay restricted free agents who remain unsigned. He has been working out at his offseason home in Boise, Idaho.
Havner signed his one-year tender for $470,000 as an exclusive-rights free agent.
Havner was arrested after the accident for suspicion of drunken driving.
The Nevada County (Calif.) district attorney's office didn't find sufficient evidence to charge Havner and referred the case back to California Highway Patrol.
The Packers are hopeful Havner will be ready to participate in organized team activities, which start in late May.