Comparing the North: Defensive lines

What kind of shape is each of the NFC North teams in when it comes to its defensive line? We look at the players gained, lost and moving around on the defensive line for each of the teams.

CHICAGO BEARS

Starters - LE Julius Peppers, LT Tommie Harris, NT Anthony Adams, RE Mark Anderson. Backups - E/T Israel Idonije, T Marcus Harrison, T Jarron Gilbert, E Corey Wootton, T Matt Toeaina, E Henry Melton.

Peppers, who cost the Bears $42 million in guaranteed money, is expected to make everyone on the roster better. He has 81 sacks in eight seasons, including 25 in the past two, giving the team an immediate upgrade in a deficient area. But the departure of last year's starting defensive ends, Alex Brown (cut) and Adewale Ogunleye (free agent), leave a hole to fill at the end opposite Peppers. Occasional pass-rush pressure comes from Anderson, who will probably share time with Idonije at whichever end position Peppers doesn't man. Harrison is expected to push for the starting job at nose tackle, next to 3-technique tackle Harris. But Harrison will have to play much better than he did last year to take the job from Adams, who the Bears try every year to replace, but who ultimately plays better than his challengers. It remains to be seen whether the Bears will use Peppers exclusively at one end spot or move him back and forth to take advantage of matchups. Anderson has not been a consistent threat since getting 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006, and Idonije has been a solid backup but never a full-time starter. The Bears will continue to hope for a return to Pro Bowl form of Harris, but they've been waiting for about three years now.

DETROIT LIONS

Starters - DE Cliff Avril, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Corey Williams, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Backups — DE Jared DeVries, DE Jason Hunter, DE Turk McBride, DE Willie Young, DE Chima Ihekwoaba, DT Sammie Hill, DT Landon Cohen, DT Andre Fluellen, DT Joe Cohen, DT Leger Douzable, DT Robert Callaway.

The front four won't look anything like it did a year ago, and that's a good thing. The addition of three new starters in Vanden Bosch, Suh and Williams finally should give the defensive line the personnel to, as Vanden Bosch puts it, "throw fastballs the whole game." The big free-agent signing will start on the right side, and Avril, who appeared to make big strides this offseason, will try to win the No. 1 job at left end. Suh, Williams and run stuffer Sammie Hill figure to be the heavy rotation inside, though the coaching staff will try to move Suh around in different situations. The battle for backup jobs could be intense. DeVries is back from a torn Achilles, while Hunter, McBride and Young, the raw rookie, all will be vying for roster spots. Fluellen might have a slight edge over Cohen — they're both holdovers from the previous regime — for a final spot inside based on his ability to also play on the edge.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Starters — LDE Ryan Pickett, NT B.J. Raji, RDE Cullen Jenkins. Backups — DE Justin Harrell, DE Mike Neal, DE Jarius Wynn, DE C.J. Wilson, DE Ronald Talley, NT Anthony Toribio, NT Aleric Mullins.

Not having Johnny Jolly on the field to open camp won't be new for the Packers, who were without him throughout the offseason. Still, the July 16 announcement from the league office that Jolly had been suspended for at least this season because of a violation of the substance-abuse policy means Green Bay will have to make do without a productive starter for the long haul. Pickett, exclusively a nose tackle his first nine years in the league, was moved to Jolly's spot at left end in the 3-4 alignment. That allows Raji, the team's top draft pick last year, to finally assume a full-time role at his natural spot on the inside after his rookie season was hindered by a camp holdout and an ankle injury. Jenkins is a high-motor mainstay at right end. The wild card is Harrell, the oft-injured 2007 first-round draft pick who is healthy again after missing the 2009 season because of recurring back problems. With Jolly's uncertain future probably on their minds, the Packers took Neal from Purdue in the second round of the draft, and he will be counted on to bolster a lackluster pass rush, along with possibly Wilson, a seventh-round choice.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Starters — LDE Ray Edwards, RDE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams, NT Pat Williams. Backups — DT Fred Evans, DE Everson Griffen, DT Letroy Guion, DT Tremaine Johnson, DT Jimmy Kennedy, DE Jayme Mitchell, DE Mike Montgomery, DE Brian Robison.

Allen has given the Vikings the dynamic pass rusher they needed so badly when they made a blockbuster trade with Kansas City in 2008 to get him. Allen has been among the NFL leaders in sacks in each of his two seasons with the Vikings, recording 14.5 in both 2008 and ‘09. Edwards emerged as a threat last season, finishing second on the Vikings with 8.5 sacks and then adding an NFL-leading four more in two playoff games. That should have resulted in a big pay day for Edwards but he was a restricted free agent (instead of unrestricted) under the terms of the final year of the collective bargaining agreement. That meant Edwards will play this year on a one-year tender that will pay him $2.5 million. Edwards expressed his dissatisfaction with his contract situation by staying away from the Vikings entire offseason program. Minnesota officials made plans in case Edwards bolts after 2010 by drafting Griffen with a fourth-round pick. Griffen had some issues while at Southern Cal but the Vikings like his talent and he could be the long-term solution at left end. Robison, also entering the last year of his contract, would like a bigger role but has pretty much been a situational player so far in his career. Nonetheless, the Vikings value him because he can play end and move inside in nickel packages. The Williams Wall appears as if it again will be able to play the entire season while their StarCaps case remains tied up in the court system. The two are a primary reason the Vikings run defense is so good. Kennedy, Evans and Guion return to provide depth at the tackle spots. Montgomery was signed as a free agent from Green Bay and could push Mitchell off this roster.


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