NFC North Tour: Around the Camps

NFC North Tour: Around the Camps

Entering the third preseason game of the summer, cornerback is the biggest battle for the Packers. We turn to the experts for the battle of the week, player of the week and rookie report for Green Bay and its division foes.

Green Bay Packers

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Three weeks into the preseason, the sweepstakes for a starting spot at cornerback was up for grabs. Second-round draft pick Casey Hayward was the latest contender to get a shot, responding with a fumble recovery and a pass breakup in Green Bay's 35-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns last week. Hayward started opposite Tramon Williams in the new-look base defense, which features veteran cornerback Charles Woodson at safety, after emerging prospect Davon House suffered a dislocated shoulder. Jarrett Bush, however, was stationed at that position for Sunday's practice. The team is hopeful House will be ready for the start of the season. If so, the starting job presumably will be his, but Hayward, Bush and former nickel back Sam Shields remain in the running.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Inside linebacker D.J. Smith. Just as he did in a three-game stint as a starting replacement as a rookie last season, Smith capably filled in right off the bat for injured Desmond Bishop in the game against the Browns. Smith, who compensates for his small stature (5-11, 239 pounds) with a tenacious approach, had six tackles and a quarterback hit as he lined up beside A.J. Hawk. "Having a guy like him step in is going to be great for us," Hawk said. "Desmond did everything. The good thing is D.J. does, too. Hopefully, there's not a drop, and I think we're all really confident there won't be." Bishop, the team's top tackler last season, had surgery Friday for a torn hamstring that might keep him out the entire season.

ROOKIE REPORT: Defensive end Jerel Worthy (second round) may not have a starting job when the season opens Sept. 9. Worthy has been playing behind C.J. Wilson on the right side, but is getting significant playing time in a nickel tandem with nose tackle B.J. Raji. ... Safety Jerron McMillian (fourth) helped his cause for trying to land a role as an extra defensive back in nickel and dime situations. The hard-hitting McMillian had two big stops on runs by ex-Packer Brandon Jackson in last week's game. McMillian finally got a look with the first-team defense in place of M.D. Jennings on Sunday. ... Tackle Andrew Datko (seventh) has overcome a rough start in camp. He had a solid performance in extended playing time as the No. 2 left tackle against the Browns. ... Wider receiver Jarrett Boykin (undrafted) leads the team in the preseason games with eight catches for 84 yards.

Chicago Bears

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: For now, veteran strong safety Craig Steltz is paired with rookie free safety Brandon Hardin on the second team. But based on Steltz's training camp performance, it's difficult to argue that he shouldn't be pushing Major Wright for the starting job. "Craig's always involved in the mix," defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said of the fifth-year player from LSU. In the final week of training camp practices, the 6-1, 210-pound Steltz has a two-interception day and stood out in a rare defensive back vs. running back, one-on-one pass rush drill, where he flashed interesting blitz ability. "You can't get anybody any more solid," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "You can count on the guy. He's going to be in position, he knows what to do, and he's really an excellent tackler and has good ball skills."

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Defensive end Israel Idonije's versatility often goes unnoticed, except by the coaching staff. But everyone noticed Idonije Saturday night against the Redskins, when he had 2.5 sacks in the first quarter, including a forced fumble. "You just want to be better than the first game," Idonije said. "Personally, I felt I did that. As a team, we definitely took a step in the right direction." Early in his career, the 6-6, 275-pound Nigerian from Canada was moved back and forth between tackle and end, one year being asked to bulk up to 300 and the next asked to slim down to 270. Because he can play both, the Bears are working Idonije in at tackle in nickel situations in order to get rookie defensive and Shea McClellin and other pass rushers into the game on obvious passing downs.

ROOKIE REPORT: For the second straight week, second-round wide receiver Alshon Jeffery led the Bears in receiving yards. He had three catches for 62 yards Saturday night. ... Tight end Evan Rodriguez had three catches for 49 yards. ... Cornerbacks Isaiah Frey (sixth round) and Greg McCoy (seventh round) and safety Brandon Hardin (third round) all struggled in the preseason opener. None appeared ready for prime time. "They didn't play as physical as they would have liked to and didn't make as many plays," defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. They were disappointed in the way they played." In Game Two, Hardin suffered a serious neck injury that forced him to be removed on a back board. The young corners were exposed again, along with the entire third-team defense, by Redskins rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins (18 of 23 for 264 yards, 154.1 passer rating).

Detroit Lions

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Halfway through the exhibition season a leader is emerging in the punting battle. Second-year player Ryan Donahue has been taking first reps at punting and holding for kicker Jason Hanson for most of the last two weeks. And, on the field, he has outperformed veteran Ben Graham. Donahue had a 45.3 average and a 43.3 net on a rainy night in Baltimore Friday, including a 54-yard bomb that he dropped inside the 2. Graham, who has been hampered by some bad coverage, averaged 45 yards with a 31.7-yard net on his three kicks. Donahue clearly has the more powerful leg. He needs to show he can be consistent and make the directional kicks, which are Graham's specialty. So far, he's done that.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: You could rename this category the Calvin Johnson player of the week award because he could win it every week. He has had a sensational camp - Nate Burleson is among those who claim he's looked bigger and faster than ever before - with a five-catch, 111-yard performance against the Ravens that included a leaping 18-yard touchdown. He did that in four offensive series. "Listen now," Ravens' 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis said of Johnson, "you are talking about a person who probably should be running track, but he chose football. He is a mismatch problem for a lot of people. The bottom line is you've got to play him and make him earn his check. Today he earned his money."

ROOKIE REPORT: Running back Stephfon Green (undrafted), got his first action of the preseason and responded with a 76-yard touchdown run in the final minute. He had 92 yards in six carries. ... Offensive tackle Riley Reiff got to play a series at right tackle with the first-team offense. The Lions scored on that series, though Reiff was slow to pick up an outside blitzer, which caused quarterback Matthew Stafford to take a hit. Reiff was otherwise solid. ... Linebacker Travis Lewis suffered a quadriceps injury early in the game and did not return. His status is unknown. ... Linebacker Carmen Messina (undrafted) had an interception in the fourth quarter that stopped a potential game-tying drive. ... Receiver Ryan Broyles (second) saw his first action of the preseason. He caught two passes for 26 yards. ... Undrafted quarterback Kellen Moore fared a little better in his second game, but he still didn't move the offense. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 96 yards. His one scoring drive, 59 yards in 12 plays, resulted in a 31-yard field goal by rookie Derek Dimke.

Minnesota Vikings

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: It's over. As expected, Harrison Smith, the 29th overall draft pick, will start at free safety as a rookie. Yes, it's always possible that he will hit a slump or give some other reason for the coaches to backtrack. But Smith has outplayed veteran Jamarca Sanford, who's hard-working and determined but lacks the size, speed and instincts of a first-round draft pick. After backing up Sanford in the preseason opener, Smith was given the start in the second preseason game. He responded with an active game that included a pass breakup on a third-down blitz. After the game, coach Leslie Frazier all but anointed the kid from Notre Dame the starter for the regular season. "I didn't see anything with the naked eye that tells me any different," Frazier said.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Not even quarterback Christian Ponder, who posted a 135.4 passer rating in a 36-14 preseason win over the Bills, could overshadow linebacker Audie Cole on this week. The rookie seventh-round draft pick became an instant sensation among fans and media when he returned two interceptions for touchdowns of 20 and 30 yards on back-to-back plays - just 13 seconds apart - in the waning moments of that win over the Bills. Cole showed off his best skills on those two plays. When Bills quarterback Tyler Thigpen tried to throw the ball over his head, the 6-5 Cole leaped high to snag the ball. Seconds later, Cole jumped a route and picked off quarterback Brad Smith. Asked how many pick-sixes he has in his life, Cole smiled and said, "Counting tonight? Two."

ROOKIE REPORT: Free safety Harrison Smith, the 29th overall pick, has worked his way into the starting lineup and will not surrender the position. He has star potential, especially with the pass rush that he'll be playing behind. ... Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick, continues to draw no attention whatsoever. And that's exactly what you're looking for in a franchise left tackle. ... Cornerback Josh Robinson, a third-round pick, has put the hamstring injury he suffered on Day 1 of camp behind him. He looked fast and confident in his preseason debut on Friday night. ... Kicker Blair Walsh, a fifth-rounder, missed his first long field-goal attempt, a 49-yarder, at the Metrodome. But he bounced back by making 5 of 6 attempts, including a 47-yarder.

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