NFC North Training Camp Preview
Football is back. Most rookies and veterans are reporting to training camps today and fans can see their favorite teams, and players back on the gridiron in the heat of the summer preparing for a season that will hopefully end in a Super Bowl title.
In the NFC North, the division has four teams that could easily be playoff teams, and it may be the tougest division in all of football. The Green Bay Packers won the division last year, and the Minnesota Vikings made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Green Bay and Minnesota played each other in the Wild Card, but the Packers moved on before eventually losing to San Franciso in the divisional playoffs. But now, with the 2013 season looming, every team has a 0-0 record, and is tied, ready to make a playoff run.
To get you prepped for your team's training camp, and let's take a look at what each NFC North team did in the offseason, with key additions, departures, and a brief season outlook.
After making the playoffs in 2011, the Detroit Lions took a step back and finished 4-12 in 2012 despited a stellar season from wide receiver Calvin Johnson, as he racked up 1,964 yards.
Departures: DE Cliff Avril, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE Lawrence Jackson, LB Justin Durant, OT Jeff Backus, OT Gosder Cherilus, OG Stephen Peterman, K Jason Hanson, and WR Titus Young.
Additions: RB Reggie Bush, S Glover Quinn, S Chris Hope, DE Jason Jones, DE Israel Idonije, DE (rookie) Ezekiel Ansah, CB (rookie) Darius Slay, K David Akers, RB Montell Owens, DT C.J. Mosley, OG Leroy Harris, OG Jake Scott.
The Lions lose two big defensive linemnan, Avril and Vanden Bosch, but revamp a secondary that is key in a division that has to try to stop Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, and Christian Ponder. The Lions allowed 341.1 yards per game, and 27.3 points per game. Next, The retirement of Backus will put a lot pressure on the offensive line, and second-year player Riley Reiff, who should start at LT. Meanwhile, on offense, the Lions signed quarterback Matt Stafford to a megadeal, and get a versatile running back in Reggie Bush. Bush can help the team in the running and passing game.
The Chicago Bears were once 7-1 in 2012, but then fell apart, and injuries plagued their team. The Bears missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, and hired a new coach, Marc Trestman. Trestman is an offensive coach, rather than the defensive-minded Lovie Smith. The Bears finished 10-6, just missing the playoffs in 2012.
Departures: LB Brian Urlacher, DE Israel Idonije, and LB Nick Roach.
Additions: LT Jermon Bushrod, TE Martellus Bennett, G Matt Stauson, G (rookie) Kyle Long, LB James Anderson, and LB D.J. Williams.
The Bears biggest task will be replacing the defensive presence and leadership of Brian Urlacher on defense, but the Bears did solid job of finding weapons for Jay Cutler and an offensive line to protect Cutler. Bennett at tight end should help Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery get open, but the additions of Bushrod, Stauson and Long should help provide stability for Cutler as well.
A year ago, the Minnesota Vikings exceeded expectations, and MVP Adrian Peterson was a big reason why. Peterson fell nine yards short of the single-season rushing record, but the progression of Christan Ponder impressed the Vikings organization and fans. Minnesota was 10-6 a year ago.
Departures: WR Percy Harvin, CB Antoine Winfield, and P Chris Kluwe.
Additions: QB Matt Cassel, WR Greg Jennings, LB Desmond Bishop, WR (rookie) Cordarrelle Patterson, CB (rookie) Xavier Rhodes, and DT (rookie) Shariff Floyd.
The Vikings seem poised, and went out in the offseason to bolster Ponder's offensive weapons, adding Jennings from Green Bay and drafting Patterson. But if Ponder struggles, the Vikings have a back-up plan now after adding Matt Cassel. On defense, the Vikings lost their leader, Winfield, and will rely on a younger secondary with second-year safety Harrison Smith, (104 tackles, one sack and three interceptions in his rookie year). At cornerback, fourth year player Chris Cook along with rookie Xavier Rhodes will look to provide stability against the division's top passers - Rodgers, Cutler and Stafford.
Green Bay Packers
Two years removed from winning the Super Bowl and bringing the Vince Lombardi Trophy home, the Packers have fell short for two years in the divisional playoffs. Hopefully, the Packers have a short memory and have forgotten their 45-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers (they play in Week 1), and are ready to get back to the playoffs and make another run at the Super Bowl.
Departures: WR Greg Jennings, S Charles Woodson, C Jeff Saturday, and LB Desmond Bishop.
Additions: RBs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin (rookies), and DE (rookie) Datone Jones.
The Packers didn't make many moves, but built through the draft, General Manager Ted Thompson's strength. Green Bay's focus was on the draft, but also on the re-signings of Aaron Rodgers, and Clay Matthews, both of whom are locked up for the future. The running back position has to be the most exciting for Packers fans, as Rodgers finally has weapons in the backfield that can take pressure off the passing game. DuJuan Harris showed promise last year, rushing for 257 yards and four touchdowns (including playoffs), and draft picks Lacy and Franklin, who should see lots of playing time. Meanwhile, on the offensive line, transitions to new sides during training camp will be key. Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton were moved to the left side, and T.J. Lang and Marshall Newhouse went to right side. Lastly, the defense has to get better. B.J. Raji is playing in a contract year, while Nick Perry returns to play opposite Matthews. In the secondary, cornerbacks Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, and Davon House return along with safety Morgan Burnett. The Packers defense will have to work hard during August to avoid another defensive letdown last January vs. the 49ers when Colin Kaepernick passed for 263 yards, and rushed for a another 181 yards.
Now, enjoy football again with training camps open and remember Week 1 is only six weeks away.