NFC North Notes: First Round

QB Christian Ponder (Darron Cummings/Getty)

The Sports Xchange looks at the potential dominance of Detroit's defensive line, where Sherrod fits in Green Bay's O-line and the thought process behind Minnesota's pick of Ponder.

Detroit Lions

How do you like the defensive tackle rotation of Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Sammie Hill and Nick Fairley?

That's how the Lions will line up next year - though not necessarily in that order - after taking Fairley, the SEC defensive player of the year for national-champion Auburn, with the 13th overall pick Thursday.

"The philosophy here was, we drafted to our strength," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We won our last four games last season and I think you could have a quiz show to name our cornerbacks in those games. But we won because we were very good up front.

"He's an impact player at an impact position."


DT Nick Fairley
Chris Trotman/Getty

Schwartz doesn't see any problem rotating three defensive tackles.

"We play around 130 defensive tackle snaps a game," he said. "You rotate three guys at 45 snaps a person and you are going to be really fresh. We can keep rolling in waves and waves.

"I thought Suh played too much last year. Not that he wore down but it was too many snaps. You are taking on 700 pounds of man every time you take on a double team."

Mayhew agreed.

"I don't think you can have too many pass rushers, defensive tackles, defensive ends," he said. "We all saw late in the year the impact our pass rush had. It allowed us to win games."

Early on, Fairley was being touted as a top-three pick. But there were lingering questions about his attitude and work ethic, and when four quarterbacks were taken in the top 12, Fairley was available.

"I don't really know why he fell, I am just really glad he did," Mayhew said.

Still on the board were defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn, as well as defensive back Prince Amukamara. Both Bowers and Quinn had health issues and Amukamara slipped to the Giants at No. 19.

"Suffice it to say, we had Nick rated higher than those other players," Schwartz said.

Mayhew said he was worried that Minnesota would take Fairley at 12 and was prepared to trade down if that happened. But neither Mayhew nor Schwartz had any worries about Fairley's character.

"He's a defensive lineman," Schwartz cracked. "Those things might fall into bonus categories when you are talking about defensive linemen being grumpy and mean. Those are good things."

The Lions brought Fairley in last week.

"He was outstanding," Mayhew said. "He will do great with us. I played with his defensive line coach (at Washington) - Tracy Rocker - and spoke very highly of the young man. I spent a lot of time with him here in our building. He's a good player and a good person. He will fit in well here."

Several scouts and coaches in evaluating Fairley said he would need to be in an environment with strong coaches and veteran leaders. The Lions feel like they can provide that with position coach Kris Kocurek, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and veterans like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Turk McBride and Lawrence Jackson.

"I am a hard worker," Fairley said in a short telephone interview Thursday. "I am willing to come in, work my tail off and earn everything I get."

He said he wasn't bitter or bothered by slipping to 13.

"You never know what's going to happen on draft day," he said. "For Detroit to pick me, I mean, it's a blessing. I can't wait to get to town and get this thing started."

Green Bay Packers

General manager Ted Thompson said late Thursday night he felt comfortable having the Packers end the first round of this year's draft and, thus, serve as the NFL's lead-in to the ballyhooed royal wedding in England a few hours later.

Somewhere - presumably far, far away from Westminster Abbey - Aaron Rodgers had to be feeling like a pampered prince.

The league's rising star, not three months after leading Green Bay to victory in Super Bowl XLV and earning game MVP honors to boot, stands to be well protected for the next several years. With no glaring need to address, Thompson, for a change, held his ground with the No. 32 pick and selected Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod.


T Derek Sherrod
Rogelio V. Solis/AP

"You like to keep him safe. You certainly do," Thompson said of Rodgers, who overcame two concussions sustained in the regular season to engineer the Packers' stunning championship run in the postseason as the NFC's No. 6 seed.

The addition of Sherrod comes one year and one week after Thompson gladly took Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga at No. 23 on the opening night of the draft.

Green Bay last picked offensive tackles in Round 1 two straight years in the midst of its back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 1996 (John Michels) and '97 (Ross Verba). Michels' impact was brief because of recurring knee problems, and Verba didn't last much longer in Titletown.

This Packers regime, led by Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, is hopeful of getting significant mileage out of Bulaga and Sherrod as likely bookend tackles.

"Whoever lines up there, we've been fortunate, we've had a lot of good offensive linemen here in the past," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "But, we never take it lightly. I don't know that we ever sit around and think that we've got no worries. It doesn't matter who's lining up. We'll see how it goes. The blitz and the protecting of the quarterback, I don't know that anybody ever sleeps too comfortably about that."

Green Bay moved past the insufficient dividends brought by Michels and Verba by hitting the jackpot with 2000 draft picks Chad Clifton (second round, No. 44) and Mark Tauscher (seventh round, No. 224). Clifton on the left side and Tauscher on the right side formed one of the league's elite tackle duos the better part of a decade, keeping franchise quarterback Brett Favre and successor Rodgers out of harm's way more often than not.

Bulaga's arrival last year all but signaled the changing of the guard on the outside of the offensive line. Bulaga was propped up as the heir to Clifton, who seemingly was on his last legs because of chronic knee problems to go with his advanced age.

Clifton, though, held up for the entire 2010 season as the starter at his customary spot and earned a second Pro Bowl nod. It took a season-ending shoulder injury sustained by Tauscher in Week 4 for Bulaga to crack the lineup, and he held down the spot at right tackle the rest of the way.

While both Clifton and Tauscher are under contract for next season, the likely scenario is Clifton at age 35 gets one last hurrah at his position and the soon-to-be 34-year-old Tauscher accepts a backup role or is out the door.

The 6-5, 321-pound Sherrod, the seventh offensive tackle taken in the first round Thursday, projects to be the Packers' future left tackle and will be given an opportunity to unseat Clifton. Sherrod started at left tackle his last three years at Mississippi State.

"He plays with good balance, good base. He's hardly ever off his feet," Thompson said. "He has the ability to run block, and he's also a very good pass setter. We think he has a chance to be a complete player. And, he's played against good competition (in the SEC) for three or four years."

However, Philbin cautioned that Sherrod may not be as starter-ready for the NFL as some had forecasted before the draft. The run-heavy system in which he played in college is a far cry from the Packers' pass-heavy attack that demands an able bodyguard for Rodgers' blind side.

"We can't wait to get our hands on him," Philbin said. "But, I think he certainly shows the athletic ability to be able to compete."

As long as Clifton is fine physically for another season, the Packers should be able to let Sherrod sit back and develop for a season. Of course, that would be predicated on Bulaga remaining at right tackle, a scenario to which Philbin didn't commit.

For his part, Sherrod, whose sharp mind is underscored by a 3.54 grade-point average and business degree he earned before his senior season, already knew moments after hearing his name called as the last pick of the draft's opening night what is expected of him.

"I'm definitely looking forward to meeting Aaron Rodgers," Sherrod said. "I'm basically there to protect him. That's what I do. I go in and work hard, make sure that nobody hits the quarterback and blow the defender off the ball when it's a run play."

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings spent the months leading up to the NFL draft vetting just about every draft-eligible quarterback.

On Thursday, they decided to put their faith in Florida State's Christian Ponder, making him the 12th overall selection in the first round. There had been some thought the Vikings might take Washington's Jake Locker but he already was gone to Tennessee at No. 8.

Locker was the second of three quarterbacks to go in the top 10. Carolina had selected Cam Newton No. 1 and Blaine Gabbert fell to 10th before Jacksonville worked a trade with Washington take him.


QB Christian Ponder
G Flume/Getty

The selection of Ponder wasn't met with positive reviews from fans attending the Vikings' draft party at Winter Park. Their preference seemed to be that Minnesota would have selected Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara but the fact the Vikings went the quarterback route should have surprised no one.

"Quarterback was a huge need for us, everybody knows that," said Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel.

The hope of Spielman and new coach Leslie Frazier is that Ponder will end the succession of veteran quarterbacks the Vikings paraded through Winter Park during Brad Childress' four-plus seasons as coach.

The Vikings were impressed by Ponder at a private workout last month that was attended by Spielman, Frazier, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson.

"You rarely get a chance to take a swing at a young quarterback and we felt that it was a no-brainer to take Christian Ponder," Spielman said.

Ponder becomes only the third quarterback taken by the Vikings in the first round in their 51-year history, joining Tommy Kramer (1977) and Daunte Culpepper (1999).

Ponder had a 22-13 record as a starter in four seasons at Florida State and is known for his intelligence -- he earned his undergraduate degree in 2.5 years and obtained his master's degree before his senior season -- but also being somewhat injury prone.

Ponder said the expectations he will face won't impact him. "I've dealt with being the face of Florida State and handling the pressure there," he said.

"Obviously, it's a whole nother level in the NFL, but I don't think anyone puts as much pressure on me as I will myself. No one's expectations exceed mine."

The Vikings could attempt to sign a veteran free agent to play in front of Ponder for a season, but there also is the chance he will step in as the team's starter. Frazier said Ponder will be competing with Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar for the job, but that's a bit hard to believe.

"I want it to still be an open competition with the guys that are on our roster," Frazier said. "It will be those three. What happens with free agency? Who knows? We'll eventually get to that point. But right now it's a competition between those three and we'll line up with the best guy when we get ready to line up against the Chargers [on Sept. 11 in the regular-season opener]."


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