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The NFC North has major offensive line issues

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) and Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop (55) during the first half of the NFL NFC Championship football game in Chicago, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Much of the focus in the NFC North this preseason is how the Bears’ offensive line could be in major trouble after allowing nine sacks in their preseason debut. But look around – the rest of the division isn’t much better.

Minnesota Vikings
Forget the Bears – the Vikings are the current owners of the worst offensive line in the division, if not the entire league. Once a major strength, Minnesota’s O-line has fallen on hard times over the last couple of seasons. It was major liability last season and somehow it got much worse. Things started off on a bad note when Bryant McKinnie gained so much unhealthy weight during the lockout that the Vikings actually decided to release him just days before camp. Now they have a left tackle in Charlie Johnson who has been manhandled thus far and would probably be better suited to play inside at guard. Speaking of guard, Steve Hutchinson is a shell of his former self and rookie Chris DeGeare will start on the right side because of Anthony Herrera’s injury issues. In the middle, John Sullivan lacks power and remains one of the least productive centers in the league. Good luck this year, Adrian Peterson.

Chicago Bears
Anyone who saw the Bills rack up nine sacks on the Bears last week is well aware of Chicago’s offensive line issues. The good news is that the Bears got Frank Omiyale out of the starting lineup. The bad news is that J’Marcus Webb will be counted on to protect Jay Cutler’s blindside after struggling as a rookie at right tackle last season. At the other tackle position, the Bears had to draft Gabe Carimi in the first round this year after moving Chris Williams (a 2008 first round selection) to left guard. If the team had better options, Williams would probably have been cut already. The most reliable member of Chicago’s O-line is Roberto Garza, but he’s now playing out of position at center after Olin Kreutz signed with the Saints. Mike Tice is a solid offensive line coach but he has his work cut out for him this season. The unit actually started to gel mid-way through the 2010 season but if Chicago’s first preseason game was any indication, it could be a long season for Cutler and Co. The Bears better hope Webb and Carimi develop fast.

Detroit Lions
GM Martin Mayhew deserves plenty of kudos for the way he has slowly rebuilt the Lions’ roster over the last few years. But it would have been more comforting to Detroit fans had he paid more attention to the O-line this offseason. The Lions return five starters from a year ago but they’re not in as good of shape as one would think. Left tackle Jeff Backus has a partially torn pectoral muscle and will likely miss plenty of practice time as he rehabs the injury. At the other tackle position, Gosder Cherilus is coming off microfracture surgery and while he is practicing, the Lions are taking it slow with the former first rounder. Inside, the Lions are actually in decent shape assuming Stephen Peterman’s foot has healed. Rob Sims was a huge pickup from the Seahawks last season and has solidified what has been a big problem area for the Lions over the years. At center, Dominic Railoa is aging and undersized, but the team could do worse. The biggest problem areas are at the tackle positions, which doesn’t bode well for quarterback Matthew Stafford’s health.

Green Bay Packers
This is the lone exception in the division. Once a major concern thanks in large part to injuries, the Packers’ O-line is now a top-5 unit. Losing Daryn Colledge (Cardinals) hurt, but GM Ted Thompson found a gem in Derek Sherrod, who fell into Green Bay’s laps at the bottom of the first round. Josh Sitton continues to be one of the most underrated right guards in the league and RT Bryan Bulaga looks like he could make major strides in his second year. Barring injuries to the starters, Aaron Rodgers won’t have to worry about eating turf like he did in 2009.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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