Identifying weak links easy
Identifying weak links easy
Changes won’t help Lions, Vikings catch Packers, Bears
By BOB MCGINN of the Journal Sentinel staff
Friday, September 6, 2002
Green Bay — Tampa Bay has left its brethren from the old five- team NFC Central Division but the new four-team NFC North Division promises the same gulf between top and bottom that existed last year.
Defending champion Chicago and Green Bay, which made a typical number of changes from 2001, should battle for the North title once again.
Minnesota and Detroit, which performed radical surgery on their rosters and starting lineups, don’t figure as contenders.
“This is a two-team division, clearly,” said a personnel director for an AFC team. “The Bears are good, but they haven’t been able to beat Green Bay. Green Bay has that going for them.”
Last year, the Packers defeated the Bears twice and finished at 12- 4, their third-best record since 1966. Still, it wasn’t enough to overhaul the Bears, who started 6-1 and wound up at 13-3. The Buccaneers were third at 9-7, followed by the Vikings (5-11) and the Lions (2-14).
“I think the Packers probably win that division pretty easily,” an NFC personnel director said. “Everybody thinks Chicago but I don’t think Chicago has the firepower to win that division.
“Green Bay will win 12 or 13 games, Chicago will win nine or 10. The Vikings have enough talent to win some games but I look for them to be sub-.500. The Lions might be 1-15, if they’re lucky.”
Befitting their rebuilding status, the Lions (12) and Vikings (nine) combined for 21 new starters. In the final seven years of the NFC Central, no two teams combined for more than 15 new starters from one season to the next. Minnesota also changed both kickers.
By comparison, the Packers have six new starters and the Bears just three.
Although Lions President Matt Millen ripped his lineup apart, his curious rebuilding effort left the team as the oldest in the division for the second straight year.
The average age of the Lions’ 53-man roster (27.26 years) makes them the oldest team, followed by Chicago and Green Bay at 26.52 and Minnesota at 26.43. Detroit has 16 players at least 30 years of age, double the number of the Bears.
Still, the Lions have 18 new faces on their roster from last season, only four more than Chicago and Green Bay. Compare that to Minnesota, where new coach Mike Tice assembled a roster in which 27 of the 53 players weren’t on the Vikings’ 53 or reserve lists at any time last year. An amazing 14 of the 23 players on the Vikings’ defense are new.
“It’s incredible,” the NFC scout said, referring to Minnesota’s 51% turnover rate. “That whole team is in disarray.”
All four teams kept eight rookies. In addition, Minnesota kept three players designated as being in their first year, followed by Green Bay and Detroit with one and Chicago with none.
NFC North teams drafted 31 players and cut only three. The highest- drafted player to be cut was guard Ed Ta’amu, the Vikings’ fourth- round pick.
Here is a list of the starting lineup changes:
Chicago (3): Left tackle Bernard Robertson for Blake Brockermeyer, right cornerback Jerry Azumah for Walt Harris and strong safety Mike Green for Tony Parrish.
Detroit (12): Wide receiver Az Hakim for six players, wide receiver Bill Schroeder for Johnnie Morton, center Dominic Raiola for Eric Beverly, right guard Ray Brown for Brenden Stai, right tackle Kerlin Blaise for Matt Joyce, tight end Mikhael Ricks for David Sloan, quarterback Mike McMahon for Charlie Batch, defensive end James Hall for Tracy Scroggins, strong linebacker Brian Williams for Allen Aldridge, left cornerback Eric Davis for Terry Fair, strong safety Corey Harris for Ron Rice and Lamar Campbell, and free safety Brian Walker for Kurt Schulz.
Green Bay (6): Wide receiver Donald Driver for Schroeder, wide receiver Terry Glenn for Antonio Freeman, defensive end Joe Johnson for John Thierry, defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt for Santana Dotson, middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson for Bernardo Harris and strong safety Antuan Edwards for LeRoy Butler.
Minnesota (9): Wide receiver D’Wayne Bates for Cris Carter, left tackle Lewis Kelly for Brad Badger, defensive end Kenny Mixon for Stalin Colinet, strong linebacker Patrick Chukwurah for Lemanski Hall, middle linebacker Greg Biekert for Kailee Wong, weak linebacker Henry Crockett for Ed McDaniel, left cornerback Corey Chavous for Dale Carter, strong safety Willie Offord for Robert Griffith and free safety Ronnie Bradford for Orlando Thomas.
NFC NORTH ROSTERS
GREEN BAY PACKERS
WR — Terry Glenn, Donald Driver, Javon Walker, Robert Ferguson, Karsten Bailey.
TE — Bubba Franks, David Martin, Tyrone Davis.
T — Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton, Earl Dotson, Kevin Barry.
G — Mike Wahle, Marco Rivera, Bill Ferrario.
C — Frank Winters, Mike Flanagan.
QB — Brett Favre, Doug Pederson, Craig Nall.
RB — Ahman Green, Rondell Mealey, Tony Fisher.
FB — William Henderson, Najeh Davenport.
DE — Joe Johnson, Vonnie Holliday, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Aaron Kampman, Jamal Reynolds.
DT — Cletidus Hunt, Gilbert Brown, Billy Lyon, Rod Walker, Steve Warren.
OLB — Nate Wayne, Na’il Diggs, Paris Lenon, Marcus Wilkins.
MLB — Hardy Nickerson, Torrance Marshall.
CB — Mike McKenzie, Tyrone Williams, Tod McBride, Bhawoh Jue, Darrien Gordon.
S — Darren Sharper, Antuan Edwards, Marques Anderson, Matt Bowen.
K — Ryan Longwell.
P — Josh Bidwell.
LS — Rob Davis.
Reserve / Injured — S Scott Frost, RB Herbert Goodman, WR Windrell Hayes, LB Adrian Hollingshed, T Kevin Jordan.
Reserve / Non-Football Injured / NFL Europe — G Ed Kehl.
Practice squad — T Darnell Alford, C Andy Eby, S Todd Franz, WR Devin Lewis, TE-FB Bill Seymour.
WR — Marty Booker, Dez White, Marcus Robinson, David Terrell, Jamin Elliott, Ahmad Merritt.
TE — Fred Baxter, John Davis, Dustin Lyman.
T — James “Big Cat” Williams, Bernard Robertson, Marc Colombo.
G — Rex Tucker, Chris Villarrial, Mike Gandy, Terrence Metcalf.
C — Olin Kreutz, Kevin Dogins.
QB — Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Henry Burris.
RB — Anthony Thomas, Leon Johnson, Rabih Abdullah, Adrian Peterson.
FB — Stanley Pritchett.
DE — Phillip Daniels, Bryan Robinson, Keith McKenzie, Alex Brown.
DT — Ted Washington, Keith Traylor, Christian Peter, Alfonso Boone.
OLB — Rosevelt Colvin, Warrick Holdman, Mike Caldwell, Bryan Knight.
MLB — Brian Urlacher, Bobbie Howard.
CB — R.W. McQuarters, Jerry Azumah, Reggie Austin, Todd McMillon, Roosevelt Williams.
S — Mike Brown, Mike Green, Bobby Gray, Larry Whigham.
K — Paul Edinger.
P — Brad Maynard.
LS — Patrick Mannelly.
Reserve / Suspended — FB Daimon Shelton (first three games).
Reserve / Physically Unable to Perform — DE Roshaun Matthews, S Damon Moore.
Reserve / Non-Football Injured — RB Maurice Hicks.
Practice squad — CB Travis Coleman, DT Curry Dawson, FB Tyree Foreman, TE John Gilmore, WR Edell Shepherd.
WR — Randy Moss, D’Wayne Bates, Derrick Alexander, Chris Walsh, Cedric James, Kelly Campbell, Nick Davis.
TE — Byron Chamberlain, Hunter Goodwin.
H-back — Jim Kleinsasser, Harold Morrow, Matt Cercone.
T — Chris Liwienski, Everett Lindsay, Adam Haayer.
G — David Dixon, Corbin Lacina, Mike Malano.
C — Matt Birk, Cory Withrow.
QB — Daunte Culpepper, Todd Bouman, Shaun Hill.
RB — Michael Bennett, Moe Williams, Doug Chapman, James Wofford.
DE — Kenny Mixon, Lance Johnstone, Lorenzo Bromell, Chuck Wiley.
DT — Chris Hovan, Fred Robbins, Talance Sawyer, Darius Holland.
OLB — Henri Crockett, Patrick Chukwurah, Raonall Smith, Nick Rogers, Antonio Wilson.
MLB — Greg Biekert, Jim Nelson.
CB — Corey Chavous, Eric Kelly, Tyrone Carter, Brian Williams.
S — Ronnie Bradford, Willie Offord, Jack Brewer, Brian Russell.
K — Doug Brien.
P — Kyle Richardson.
LS — Brody Liddiard.
Reserve / Injured — WR Kenny Clark, DT Winfield Garnett, DE Willie Howard.
Reserve / Unsigned — T Bryant McKinnie.
Reserve / Commissioner’s Exemption — T Lewis Kelly.
Practice squad — RB Jeremy Allen, T Chad Beasley, CB James Rooths, CB Carey Scott, G Ed Ta’amu.
WR — Az-Zahir Hakim, Bill Schroeder, Scotty Anderson, Larry Foster, Desmond Howard, Eddie Drummond.
TE — Mikhael Ricks, John Owens, Matt Murphy.
T — Jeff Backus, Kerlin Blaise, Matt Joyce, Stockar McDougle.
G — Ray Brown, Tony Semple, Tyrone Hopson.
C — Dominic Raiola, Eric Beverly.
QB — Mike McMahon, Joey Harrington, Ty Detmer.
RB — James Stewart, Lamont Warren, Aveion Cason.
FB — Cory Schlesinger, Stephen Trejo.
DE — Robert Porcher, James Hall, Kalimba Edwards, Jared DeVries.
DT — Luther Elliss, Shaun Rogers, Kelvin Pritchett, Antwan Lake, Travis Kirschke.
OLB — Brian Williams, Barrett Green, Jeff Gooch, Donte’ Curry, Clint Kriewaldt.
MLB — Chris Claiborne.
CB — Todd Lyght, Eric Davis, Chris Cash, Andre Goodman, Jimmy Wyrick.
S — Brian Walker, Corey Harris, Lamar Campbell, Bracy Walker.
K — Jason Hanson.
P — John Jett.
LS — Bradford Banta.
Reserve / Injured — T Victor Rogers, RB Luke Staley, DE John Taylor.
Reserve / Physically Unable to Perform — WR Germane Crowell, DE Anthony Herron.
Practice squad — RB Rafael Cooper, S Abdual Howard, G Josh Lovelady, LB Ken Philpot, LB Josh Thornhill.
NFC NORTH WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Two personnel directors, one from an NFC team and one from an AFC team, sized up the NFC North Division Thursday. Here are excerpts of their comments:
CHICAGO: “The best thing that could happen to them is if (Chris) Chandler takes over. Then they would be a little bit better. They’re not going to be a high-scoring, high-flying team. They have good receivers but you’ve got to get them the ball.” . . . “This is a team that has very good speed on defense. They can cover. They can push the pocket. They don’t have great edge rushability but they find a way to get there through their scheme.” . . . “Everybody else in their front seven is very ordinary but everybody has to account for the middle guy (Brian Urlacher).” . . . “Bernard Robertson has to prove he can play left tackle. It looks like he can. Shorter guy, but very athletic and has very long arms.” . . . “Their biggest weapon is the running back (Anthony Thomas) but people will take him out of the game.” . . . “The Bears are good but a quarterback can cover a lot of sins.”
DETROIT: “They’re going to have a tough time winning more games than they did last year (two). They have one bright spot. (Joey) Harrington.” . . . “I think Harrington has a feel for it, there’s no doubt. But their right guard (Ray Brown) is 39 and their left tackle (Jeff Backus) hasn’t been playing very well. It’s a very marginal offensive line.” . . . “He (GM Matt Millen) tried to do what Bill Belichick did last year. But you’ve got to bring in the right old guys if you’re going to bring in old guys. Cutting Terry Fair and keeping Todd Lyght? C’mon now, even I’m smart enough not to do that.” . . . “He (Millen) signed two safeties that are old. Plus, he’s playing with two corners that are old. That’s his choice.” . . . “(Az) Hakim is way overpaid. (Bill) Schroeder can’t play.” . . . “The defensive front is the strength of the team.” . . . “How can I tell about Brian Williams? He hasn’t played in years.”
GREEN BAY: “I think they’re one of the most talented teams in the league. I think Green Bay has really improved their team speed on defense.” . . . “If he (Brett) Favre is on, they’re on. The rest of the things don’t make any difference if the one guy isn’t in the game.” . . . “They’ve got two good tackles. (Chad) Clifton is an underrated player at left tackle.” . . . “I think they’ve upgraded their receiving corps a little bit. They’re solid at running back if he (Ahman Green) doesn’t fumble.” . . . “Their weakness would be the secondary and the return game. Those two things could catch up to them.” . . . “Their pass rush is solid but not awesome. I just don’t think they’ll be able to stay with teams with big firepower. Their total defensive package won’t hold up.” . . . “Cletidus Hunt can be a load inside. Looks like he’s a good player to me.”
MINNESOTA: “A mystery team. All depends on how they adapt to the new head coach (Mike Tice). This guy can’t do it as a head coach. He’s a con guy.” . . . “Until they get that left tackle (Bryant McKinnie) in camp, no matter how many skilled players they have, it’ll be hard on the quarterback (Daunte Culpepper). They’ve gone deficient in the offensive line.” . . . “People can take Randy Moss out of the game. It really hurts them not having a quality running back.” . . . “Defensively, they’re in transition. They really don’t have a legitimate corner that can flat-out cover anybody and their pass rush is suspect.” . . . “The quarterback is reading the 40% rule on Randy Moss and so they’re reading through Moss. Everybody will double Randy. It will force a lot of balls to D’Wayne Bates and (Derrick) Alexander. It also means the line has to protect just a tad longer and I don’t think they’re very good.”
— Bob McGinn
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