Camp Battles and Rookie Watch

OL Derek Sherrod (Jeff Hanisch/Getty)

Starting in Green Bay, we take our weekly spin through the NFC North to catch up on what's happening and take a peek at what lies ahead with the Packers and their rivals.

Green Bay Packers

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Frank Zombo vs. Erik Walden vs. Brad Jones at right outside linebacker. This is one of possibly only two starting spots Green Bay needs to fill on defense before the season starts. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers isn't in a rush to peg the guy who will start opposite the dynamic Clay Matthews, so he's giving all three contenders ample opportunity to make their best case for the job by alternating them as the starter every three days. Zombo, who had the most starts (nine) among the trio last season, appears to be the early front-runner based on him being No. 1 in the rotation lineup. Capers has said it could be a rotation during the season based on matchups.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Derek Sherrod vs. T.J. Lang at left guard. Sherrod, the team's first-round draft pick this year, has endured growing pains a week into camp at a position predominantly foreign to the natural left tackle. Further slip-ups by Sherrod with the preseason games about to start would have the coaches' giving strong consideration to going with Lang, a third-year player with starting experience inside. Sherrod, however, had a strong practice on Monday night, winning all three matchups in one-on-ones. ... Ryan Grant vs. James Starks at halfback. Head coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged going with a two-back system is his preference to start the season. Still, a strong performance by the young Starks at the outset of camp can't be overlooked and could wind up costing Grant, who is trying to bounce back from ankle surgery nearly a year ago, touches on the field. ... Morgan Burnett vs. Charlie Peprah at strong safety. Peprah held the starting job all but the first four weeks of last season and then the first few days of camp this year until Burnett was cleared for full action less than a year after suffering a torn ACL. All signs point to Burnett, who made an impact in those first four games as rookie, to staying put as the starter barring another setback.

ROOKIE REPORT: OL Derek Sherrod (first round) has been up and down as the starter at left guard a week into training camp and isn't a shoo-in to stay there. Sherrod has taken reps at his natural spot of left tackle in spelling veteran starter Chad Clifton. ... WR Randall Cobb (second round) has been one of the early stars of camp, being relentless in running routes over the middle and exhibiting sure hands. He's the No. 1 choice on punt returns, so a roster spot is all but locked up. ... RB Alex Green (third) has a tough nut to crack for playing time in the backfield behind Ryan Grant, James Starks and the versatile John Kuhn, but he could get a shot to contribute on game day as the top kickoff returner. ... CB Davon House (fourth) dropped out of practice Aug. 5 with a hamstring injury and is out indefinitely. ... DE Lawrence Guy (seventh) suffered a concussion in practice Aug. 3 and returned to practice on Monday. Guy faces long odds for a roster spot. ... CB Brandian Ross (undrafted) made a name for himself by stepping in front of wideout James Jones and picking off a pass from Aaron Rodgers that turned into a 24-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the Family Night practice Saturday.

Detroit Lions

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: There are essentially eight receivers in camp fighting for possibly one spot. Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and return specialist Stefan Logan are safe. Derrick Williams presently appears to be ahead of Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall. Second-year Tim Toone has also been impressive.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: There is a lot of competition for the cornerback spots. Although Chris Houston would have to have a poor camp to lose his job, Aaron Berry, Eric Wright, Alphonso Smith (injured), Prince Miller, Maurice Leggett, Brandon McDonald, Nathan Vasher and Paul Pratt, plus undrafted rookie Jamal Robinson are all getting reps.

ROOKIE REPORT:

Running back Mikel Leshoure will miss his rookie season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon Monday, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. Leshoure was carted off the field after being tended to by trainers. Leshoure was drafted in the second round to be the complementary back to 2010 first-round pick Jahvid Best, a darting but undersized runner and polished receiver who battled turf toe and foot injuries as a rookie. At 5-feet-11, 233 pounds, he has the physical presence of an NFL power runner, the type the Lions have sought for years. He also has the confidence of an NFL power runner. When told the Lions struggled in short-yardage situations last season, he said, "That will change." ... OT Johnny Culbreath is getting more reps than he could have ever dreamed of, thanks to injuries to three of the top four OTs. He is still raw and struggling with his technique, but he is an imposing physical specimen (6-5, 322). ... LB Doug Hogue is going to have a hard time getting any run with the defense, but he looks like he could be valuable on the coverage teams. He's a much better athlete than linebacker right now. ... LB Quentin Davie, undrafted out of Northwestern, has been getting more reps at LB than Hogue. He could steal a roster spot.

Chicago Bears

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: One of the more interesting position battles in camp is at left cornerback, where Tim Jennings unseated Zack Bowman last season after three games.

On paper the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Bowman seems to have an advantage over the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Jennings, but the smaller man played with a lot of feistiness and toughness against the run last year, qualities the Bears value in their corners. It's too soon to predict a winner this year.

"That's what camp's about," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "Camp is a lot of fun in terms of that; for these men, too. If you're competitor, you love to come into those situations. When you get that type of competition, somebody is going to constantly get better, and your depth is going to get better. So we just let the men go out and work on their stuff and put it on tape. This game is still about just putting it on tape."

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Amobi Okoye never panned out in Houston, and when they switched to a 3-4 he became expendable, but he and Henry Melton should have an interesting fight for the starting job, with second-round pick Stephen Paea lurking.

ROOKIE REPORT:

ORT Gabe Carimi has been given the starting job, and he's getting schooled by Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, which should be a valuable lesson. ... DT Stephen Paea has yet to make a strong statement at either three-technique or nose, but he should be in the rotation at both spots. ... S Chris Conte has gotten a few snaps with the ones, but most of his work has come with the second team. ... QB Nathan Enderle has not impressed in limited snaps. ... LB J.T. Thomas has gotten much practice time because he plays a depth-poor position, and he has been solid, although he suffered a minor leg injury that kept him out of Saturday's practice.

Minnesota Vikings

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford are competing to start at free safety now that Madieu Williams has been released and signed with San Francisco. This should be one of the most intriguing battles in training camp. Johnson was a starter but lost that job last season after being a second-round pick in 2008. Sanford was a seventh-round pick in 2009 but has shown potential and is a very aggressive player.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Chris DeGeare is playing left guard with the first team with Anthony Herrera on the PUP list. Now that Ryan Cook has been re-signed he also should get a chance to compete for the job he held at the end of last season after Herrera suffered an ACL injury. ... Erin Henderson is the starting weak-side linebacker with Ben Leber gone but Jasper Brinkley is getting an opportunity to push him. Brinkley is considered more of a middle linebacker. ... The wide receiver competition exists at the No. 4 and 5 spots, with Bernard Berrian, Michael Jenkins and Percy Harvin pretty much set at the top three spots. Among those competing are Devin Aromashodu, Jaymar Johnson, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Juaquin Iglesias and Greg Camarillo.

ROOKIE REPORT: QB Christian Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the draft, has had his ups and downs so far but that's to be expected. Ponder did make a positive impression by taking the blame on himself and not placing it on the receiver after throwing two interceptions in seven-on-seven Friday. ... TE Kyle Rudolph (second round) has shown good hands early in camp and should be a big part of the passing game. ... DL Christian Ballard (fourth round) is working with the third-team at this point, as is CB Brandon Burton (fifth round). ... DeMarcus Love, the first of the Vikings' four sixth-round picks, is working as the third-team left tackle ... Mistral Raymond is getting work with the second team at safety. ... C Brandon Fusco appeared to be a work in progress early in camp. ... LB Ross Homan is working at outside linebacker with the second unit. ... Seventh-round DE D'Aundre Reed flashed at times early in camp and showed potential. Reed is 6-4, 260 pounds so he certainly has the build to be successful. ... Seventh-round wide receiver Stephen Burton dropped a sure touchdown pass in Saturday night's practice and has struggled in camp.


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