NFC North weekend mailbag

I asked. You responded. Me appreciate.

I got to as many of your questions and comments as time and space would allow. Some have been put aside for future posts. Remember, you can keep the interaction flowing through the mailbag portal, Facebook or Twitter. On a clear night, I might also hear you via short-wave radio.

Let’s get to it:

Dan of Bloomington, Ind., writes: The Lions obviously need running back help due to Kevin Smith's injury and general lack of production last year, whether that was shoulder-related or not. LaDainian Tomlinson thinks he's done in San Diego and probably still thinks he has starting talent. Any chance he could end up in Detroit next year, since I doubt many other teams could give him the playing time he'll want? Outside of the draft is there any reasonable talent out there they could look at in free agency or through a trade? There just seem to be too many holes to fill to use a pick on another RB at this point.

Kevin Seifert: The question is whether Tomlinson deserves the playing time he wants. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged 3.57 yards per carry. He’ll be 31 when training camp begins and already has 2,880 carries over his career. Just because Detroit has a need at running back doesn’t mean Tomlinson is the right player to fill it.

My own amateur opinion: Tomlinson should be careful about putting himself in a position where he might not deliver. The Chargers know him better than anyone else. If they don’t think he can be their No. 1 back any longer, that’s a pretty significant warning sign.

To me, the best situation for Tomlinson is a team with an established starter. In that scenario, he would serve as a backup that gets 6-10 carries per game and also play on third downs. Don’t forget, Tomlinson has averaged almost 60 catches per season in San Diego. He could make a huge impact in that kind of controlled scenario.

In fact, if we’re going to limit this conversation to the NFC North, here’s a pretty interesting possibility: Tomlinson signs with Minnesota and takes over the role vacated by Chester Taylor. And where might Taylor vacate to? Why not Detroit, where he grew up? Like Tomlinson, Taylor is 31. But he has much less mileage on his body -- nearly 1,800 less carries, in fact -- and would be an ideal insurance short-term answer for the Lions as Smith rehabilitates his knee and shoulder injuries.

I don’t necessarily think a free agent signing would absolve the Lions from drafting a running back. You don’t need to spend a first- or second-round pick at that position to get immediate productivity, and often mid-round running backs can help you on special teams as well.

Could we see a Taylor-to-Detroit scenario coupled with a Tomlinson-to-Minnesota union? It’s awfully NFC North-centric, but it makes sense on a number of levels.

Via the comments section, natesweet72 writes: Do you think there is any chance that the Bears would get rid of their turf and go for one of the new synthetic turf systems? It seems like it would benefit the offense and the defense as well. I can recall quite a few plays on that torn-up sod where the players’ legs just slid right out. No traction at all. What do you think?

Kevin Seifert: First things first: The Bears’ opponents face the same conditions. In theory, at least, the Bears should be more accustomed to the dirt and therefore gain some level of advantage.

But I, for one, don’t think that advantage translates into a net gain for the Bears. The annual deterioration of the grass at Soldier Field limits their performance, especially on offense, and could be a pretty big deal for new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s scheme.

I don’t really have a stake in this, but I would strongly be in favor of replacing the grass at Soldier Field with the latest generation of infill surfaces. Green Bay has a grass-turf combination, but the multiple uses of Soldier Field probably makes a fully artificial surface the best way to go.

Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune has reported it would take about $1.5 million to pay for the switch, money that ostensibly would come from the Chicago Park District. But it would pay for itself in the long run by eliminating the need to re-sod the field during the season at $200,000 a pop.

Such transformations can happen in a matter of weeks, so there is no rush to get this done now. But I’ll be surprised and a bit disappointed if it isn’t discussed in a substantive way this offseason.

Derek of Black River Falls, Wis., writes: Hey Kevin, enjoyed reading your blog all year. Would like to hear your opinion on who should the Green Bay Packers should draft with their first round pick? With so much talent we got from the first round last year with B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, I feel that our pick is very critical to the success in the 2010-2011 campaign. So much talk has gone into that our cornerbacks are old and need replacements but our offensive line is just terrible. Is there going to be a franchise tackle left when the Packers pick?

Kevin Seifert: Thanks, Derek, and I like your inclusion of “2011” as part of your description of next season. Optimism! Anyway, it’s awfully early to start lining up candidates for the Packers’ No. 23 overall pick. But I like what Mel Kiper had in his Mock Draft 2.0 this week: Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Elite left tackles are hard to find, and next week’s scouting combine will give us a better idea of whether Bulaga deserves to be in that category. If he is a true blue-chip player, it’s doubtful he’ll last until the No. 23 overall pick.

In the long-term, I agree that launching a succession plan at both tackle positions should be the highest of priorities for the Packers. We’ll continue this discussion below.

Paul of Cologne, Germany, writes: As a Packers fan, the off-season for me is all about fixing our O-line problems. Not only for the coming season, but for the future in general. And yet I have to think a lot about our secondary. In games like Arizona, Pittsburgh and of course the Vikings, we were buried by the so called “elite” quarterbacks.

Isn't getting the secondary fixed as important as giving Aaron Rodgers more time in the pocket? What's the point in rolling over the majority of teams in the regular season, when we can only win in the playoffs by outscoring our opponents?

Kevin Seifert: I’m happy we can juxtapose this question with the one above it, if for no other reason than to show that reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of a debate. I agree on this level: The Packers need to improve their pass defense from last season. There’s no shame in giving up yards to the likes of Kurt Warner, Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre. But a good defense should at least slow them down or force enough turnovers to end some drives.

And it’s true that the Packers have two cornerbacks, Charles Woodson and Al Harris, who are at least in the second half of their careers. But I think the Packers have more options to improve their personnel from within at this position than at offensive line.

First, Woodson might be 33, but last year proved he is still at the very top of his game. Harris, 35, is rehabilitating from a serious knee injury, but the Packers already have a credible replacement for him in Tramon Williams. They should get Will Blackmon and Pat Lee back from injuries in time for training camp, and 2009 draft pick Brandon Underwood will have a year of experience under his belt.

This doesn’t minimize the need to continue upgrading depth in the secondary, but if I were making a priority list based on the Packers’ existing assets, I would put offensive tackle ahead of cornerback.