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Silverman: Linebacker Keys Bears, Vikings Draft Needs In NFC North

By Steve Silverman-

(CBS) Free agency is not over in the NFL.

However, most teams are now starting to focus on the draft since most of the league's key free agents have been signed.

At the conclusion of the season, it seemed obvious that the Bears would be drafting an offensive lineman with their first pick in the draft. The offensive line has been the team's Achilles heel for years, and even though the Bears selected Gabe Carimi in 2011, they still had huge needs at that position.

But then Phil Emery went to work and brought in Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Jonathan Scott to restock the offensive line. They also signed Martellus Bennett to man the tight end position.

Bushrod and Slauson have a chance to be standout blockers. Bennett is a tight end who can block as well as catch the ball downfield.

Suddenly, the Bears had a workable offensive line and the tight end that the team had been missing in action for years.

The Bears are not going to ignore the offensive line in the draft, but they don't have to use their first-round pick on a blocker.

They should address the linebacker position. Brian Urlacher could not run at all and he is gone. Nick Roach signed with the Oakland Raiders.

The Bears added D.J. Williams (Denver Broncos) and James Anderson (Carolina Panthers), but Emery can't overestimate these signings. The Bears are weak at this position and Lance Briggs can't last forever.

Jarvis Jones of Georgia will be long gone by the time the Bears pick at No. 20, but his teammate Alec Ogletree will likely be on the board. Let Manti Te'o try and prove himself with some other team. He does not deserve a chance to be anybody's first-round pick.

The Bears have to keep an eye on their NFC North competition as the landscape has changed dramatically since the end of the season.

The Detroit Lions tried to address their needs at running back by signing Reggie Bush, but he has lacked consistency despite his explosive running style. They also made a decent signing in picking up Glover Quin (Houston Texans) to upgrade the secondary.

But the Lions must address the defensive end position in the draft. Cliff Avril was their best pass rusher and he signed with the Seattle Seahawks. The Lions parted company with Kyle Vanden Bosch and defensive tackle Corey Williams.

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was spitting mad with the performance of his defensive line. That's nothing new, because Cunningham is always angry at something. However, his wrath was well-deserved last year because the Lions defensive line got pushed around throughout the season and it was one of the key reasons the Lions went from playoff team in 2011 to 4-12 last year.

The Vikings have two first-round picks this year after trading Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks. Losing Harvin would seem to be a painful move for the Vikings, but this team is centered around Adrian Peterson, who nearly set the NFL's all-time rushing record.

The Vikings would have been in trouble if they had lost offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, whom the Bears pursued heavily. But they kept Loadholt in the fold and Peterson will be able to continue his assault of NFL defenses.

But the Vikings are going to have to address the middle linebacker position. They lost Jasper Brinkley to the Arizona Cardinals. Brinkley is one of those under-the-radar players who made a solid contribution.

The Vikings have the 23rd and 25th picks in the draft. They are not likely to find a worthy middle linebacker with those picks, so trading down and acquiring more picks is the way to go.

The Packers have behaved in their typical manner during free agency. They have done very little.

However, the Packers know how to address their needs in the draft, and this year that will mean drafting offensive linemen. The Packers were 20th in rushing last year and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked 51 times.

Since Rodgers has to look across the line at Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and Ndamukong Suh, the Packers must look at offensive line prospects if they want to keep their quarterback upright and jumpstart their running game.

Jeff Pearl
The author. (credit: Jeff Pearl)

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.

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