NFC North roster battles

The Bears are searching for a solution opposite Julius Peppers, the Lions will have a battle for the backup back, and the Packers are looking to solidify their offensive line. Get the key battles of the preseason, the player of the week and more for each of the Vikings' NFC North opponents.


BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Whether it's Mark Anderson or Israel Idonije or, more likely, some combination of the two playing on the opposite end from Julius Peppers in the Bears' defense, there will be opportunities.

"Both will have an opportunity to make plays because, from what I've seen early on from Julius, he's definitely how he was advertised," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "That player (opposite Peppers) needs to be able to win a one-on-one battle. Of course teams will look to Julius first ... they'll try to deal with him with the double-team. It should open up opportunities for our other guys."

And for both players there is much to prove.

Four years after he burst on the NFL scene with 12 sacks in 2006 as a fifth-round draft pick, Anderson is still trying to prove that his rookie season wasn't a fluke. But he's had just 9.5 sacks in the three seasons since then and only 4.5 the past two years.

"I know he had the great year where he had the sacks, but lately the sacks haven't come," Smith said. "But he works so hard every day in practice, and the guy opposite Julius, he'll get an opportunity to make a lot of plays."

Idonije is entering his seventh season with the Bears, almost exclusively as a backup, and he's switched positions almost that many times. The Bears have never been able to decide whether the 6-foot-6 native of Lagos, Nigeria, was an end or a tackle. They've had him bulk up to over 300 pounds when they wanted him inside, but now he's back to 270 hoping to gain some quickness to benefit his pass-rush skills.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: The offseason addition of unrestricted free agent running back Chester Taylor has given the Bears the kind of experienced, quality depth that has been lacking for years. But Matt Forte remains the main man when it comes to carrying the ball.

"Matt's our guy," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "When we run in Chester, Matt's (still) our starter. But it's hard to go through a 16-game season with one back. You've got to have a change-up guy. You've got to have somebody else in there to take some carries and some pressure off of him."

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Devin Aromashodu has been taking advantage of the Bears' defensive backs for two weeks of training camp. He was able to do the same to the Chargers in the preseason opener with four catches for 78 yards, including a seven-yard TD.

"Devin's a good football player," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's done some good things for us, so we expect him to make those types of plays. He'll have a lot of opportunities this year."

ROOKIE REPORT: Rookie safety Major Wright remains in contention for a starting spot on the strength of an impressive two weeks of training camp and a solid outing against the Chargers in the preseason opener.


BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The Lions are going to cut a good running back; that much is certain. Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith are going to get most of the work during the regular season, which leaves three running backs and three fullbacks fighting for what could be three, possible four spots.

"The best way to put that competition at running back is we're open-minded," Schwartz said. "We're not going in saying this is exactly what we're keeping."

The Lions are going to give Best every chance to be the every-down back. Smith, coming back gradually from offseason knee surgery, is a known quantity.

After that, it appears that veterans Maurice Morris and FB Jerome Felton are good best to win spots. For speedy RB Aaron Brown to beat out veteran DeDe Dorsey, he's going to have to show some flash on kickoff returns, which he has. Dorsey didn't help himself by fumbling inside the Steelers 15 on Saturday.

The Lions like fullbacks Jake Nordin and Matt Clapp, but they seem longshots to make anything but the practice squad.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Third year RT Gosder Cherilus finally pulled ahead of veteran Jon Jansen and got the start on Saturday.

  • The starting offensive line is pretty much set, assuming the Cherilus solidifies his spot. But depth is still a problem. Manny Ramirez will probably back up both guard spots. Jansen is a solid back-up at right tackle. So far, Corey Hilliard is holding off rookie Jason Fox at the other tackle spot.

  • Schwartz used Derrick Williams to return kicks and punts in the first half Saturday. Williams didn't fumble, which was his problem last year, but he fair-caught a punt inside the 5 and didn't make much of an impression. In the second half Aaron Brown ran back kicks and rookie Tim Toone punts.

  • Williams, Toone, Dennis Northcutt, Eric Fowler, Contrevious Parks and Brian Clark are fighting for the two final receiver spots. Of those, Clark and Fowler have been the most impressive.

    PLAYER OF THE WEEK: RB Jahvid Best has shown thus far everything the Lions were hoping to see. He's quick, hits the hole hard, has good vision, great balance, runs excellent pass routes and has good hands. Also, he has been a quick study in grasping the offense, particularly in terms of pass protection. He had 29 yards in six carries Saturday and impressed the coaches with his ability to pick up blitzes.

    ROOKIE REPORT: Besides Best, DT Ndamukong Suh had a strong week. He didn't record a tackle or a sack, but he occupied blockers, which made things easier for the rest of the defensive line. DE Willie Young had five tackles against the Steelers. WR Tim Toone, the reigning Mr. Irrelevant, catches everything thrown in his vicinity. Still questions about his ability to get open at this level. PK Aaron Pettrey, subbing for rehabbing Jason Hanson, missed a 42-yarder in his only try. His kickoffs, though, are deep and lofty. OT Jason Fox has been playing through some pain in his knee, though he hasn't missed a practice.


    BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Daryn Colledge vs. Bryan Bulaga for left guard — The team's decision-makers on the field and in the front office needed to see only a week of training camp to set the wheels in motion on a potential changing of the guard. Following the intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 7, would-be backup left tackle Bulaga began splitting first-team practice reps with incumbent starter Colledge. The battle between the two high draft picks — Colledge was taken in the second round (No. 47 overall) in 2006, and Bulaga went in the first round (No. 23) this year — seemingly is favoring the rookie in the aftermath of the Packers' preseason opener Saturday. Colledge, who opened the game as the starter, and Bulaga switched off the first four series, each getting two cracks with the starting line. At first blush, Bulaga had the stronger performance, especially when Colledge let down his guard in exposing No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn to a few shots late in the first half as Colledge stayed at left guard and Bulaga kicked out to left tackle to spell Chad Clifton. The powerful and technically sound Bulaga's ascension to a starting role could be in the offing when the team returns to practice Monday.

    OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Chris Bryan vs. Tim Masthay for punter — Head coach Mike McCarthy said after Saturday's game the highly scrutinized showdown between the two young combatants will last through all four preseason contests, the last of which is Sept. 2 at the Kansas City Chiefs. The left-footed Bryan and the right-footed Masthay continued to be in a dead heat as they had an identical gross average of 47.3 yards in three punts apiece on an alternate basis Saturday. Bryan was better in the all-important net category — average 41.3 yards to Masthay's 35.7 — but Masthay didn't drop the ball in having exclusive holding duties on Mason Crosby's kicks, which also will play a factor in who emerges the victor.

  • Brandon Chillar vs. Brad Jones for starting ROLB — Despite a hamstring injury sustained by Clay Matthews a week into camp and his absence for at least two weeks, the coaches are preserving the Chillar-Jones battle on the right side, rather than have one slide over to the left side to fill the big void on the left side until Matthews returns, which may not be until the start of the regular season. Jones had the starting nod Saturday, but nothing should be read into that since the Packers were vanilla on defense and didn't give the Browns a lot of blitz looks, where Chillar excels.

  • Brandon Underwood vs. Pat Lee for nickel back — Underwood took another step toward winning the job if veteran starter Al Harris isn't deemed ready for the start of the season because of reconstructive knee surgery late last year. Underwood had an easy pick of a badly underthrown ball by Browns rookie Colt McCoy in the end zone and ran it out for 35 yards. Underwood, who played at both cornerback spots, led the Packers with six tackles and also was credited two pass breakups.

    PLAYER OF THE WEEK: QB Aaron Rodgers — Rodgers made the most of the planned 20 snaps that were fulfilled on the number in the preseason kickoff Saturday. Rodgers was a near-perfect 12-of-13 throwing — the lone incompletion was on a drop by James Jones — for 159 yards and a touchdown without an interception. That translated into a dazzling passer rating of 143.3. Rodgers completed passes to seven players in starting the game 10-of-10 for 146 yards. His primary targets being wideouts Greg Jennings (three catches, 68 yards, 25-yard touchdown) and Donald Driver (three catches, 19 yards) and tight end Jermichael Finley (two catches, 30 yards). Rodgers won't need much of the preseason to prove he's on the upward swing in his third year as a starter on the heels of his prolific, Pro Bowl-earning season in 2009. What's more, Rodgers, who was sacked a league-high 50 times last season, received decent to good protection and didn't incur a sack in the four series the starters played Saturday.

    ROOKIE REPORT: OL Bryan Bulaga (first round) is a serious candidate to open the season as the starting left guard after the natural left tackle was moved inside after the first week of camp to challenge shaky incumbent Daryn Colledge. Bulaga also remains the top backup to Chad Clifton at left tackle.

  • DE Mike Neal (second round) played extensively in the preseason opener Saturday, primarily as the No. 2 right end behind Cullen Jenkins, and has impressed early in camp with his power and good instincts.

  • S Morgan Burnett (third round) had an up-and-down preseason debut Saturday in an extended stint as the starter in place of injured incumbent Atari Bigby. Burnett's playmaking skills are top notch, but he was weak on an open-field tackle of fullback Peyton Hillis on a screen pass that went for 26 yards.

  • RB James Starks (sixth round) remains on the PUP list because of a hamstring injury he suffered in the preseason. He faces an uphill climb because of the prolonged absence to win a roster spot.

  • CB Sam Shields (undrafted) continues to have trouble getting his hands around the football. He had what could have been a costly muff of a punt he had to run under after calling for a fair catch — the Packers snuffed out the Cleveland Browns' subsequent red-zone with an interception in the end zone. Shields later dropped what should have been an interception on a breakup of a high throw.

  • RB Quinn Porter (undrafted) has the inside track to the No. 3 halfback job, particularly with Starks sidelined indefinitely. Porter showed Saturday the burst that has been on occasional display early in camp, finishing with 38 yards (long of 15) in nine carries.

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