|NFC North Preseason Capsules|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 22 July 2013 14:24|
GREEN BAY PACKERS (11-5)
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: Overcame 2-3 start to win NFC North, making playoffs for fourth straight season. Pack beat Vikings in playoffs, then fell at San Francisco. Green Bay was unable to find enough balance in offense as running game stagnated, ranking 20th, and defense allowed too many big plays.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RBs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, DE Datone Jones, all rookies.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Greg Jennings, S Charles Woodson, LB Desmond Bishop.
CAMP NEEDS: Packers can't afford to have NFL's highest-paid player knocked around like tackling dummy, as Aaron Rodgers was last season. He was sacked league-high 51 times, so Pack hoping retooled offensive line will provide better protection. Coach Mike McCarthy made switch as OT Bryan Bulaga and OG Josh Sitton moved from right side to left, while OG T.J. Lang and OT Marshall Newhouse went other way in April so new line would be up to speed at training camp. Packers also need to find No. 1 running back, a spot Lacy will challenge for. Defense has some big-time playmakers who need to return to those roles, from LB Clay Matthews to NT B.J. Raji to CB Tramon Williams.
EXPECTATIONS: Packers look to win division again and go deep in playoffs, and Rodgers' aerial show is capable of taking them there. But even in pass-happy NFL of 2013, this team will need to get more production on ground and be solid on defense down stretch.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 26
LAST YEAR: Blew by most external expectations with seven-win improvement and spot in playoffs, buoyed by MVP Adrian Peterson's super-human comeback from ACL knee reconstruction that left him 9 yards short of NFL's all-time single-season rushing record.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Greg Jennings, LB Desmond Bishop, rookie WR Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie CB Xavier Rhodes, rookie DT Sharrif Floyd.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Percy Harvin, CB Antoine Winfield, P Chris Kluwe.
CAMP NEEDS: Christian Ponder must continue to make strides in decision making, accuracy and confidence in pocket, as much as QB can do that in practice and exhibition games. Jennings has to stay healthy to make impact Vikings are counting on. Bishop needs to quickly learn new defense and settle in one of spots next to LB leader Chad Greenway. Rhodes, one of three first-round picks, must help fill void left by Winfield's departure. Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson have to do same.
EXPECTATIONS: With Peterson in his post-surgical prime and Ponder adding ex-Packer Jennings and the rookie Patterson to cadre of receivers, Vikings are in position to make deeper push through postseason. Missing playoffs would be considered disappointment, particularly with head coach Leslie Frazier only under contract through 2014, and despite Ponder's unproven status and holes created by jettisoning of Harvin and Winfield.
CHICAGO BEARS (10-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: Bears missed out on playoffs for fifth time in six years following another late collapse, leading to coach Lovie Smith's firing.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LT Jermon Bushrod, TE Martellus Bennett, G Matt Slauson, rookie G Kyle Long, LB James Anderson, LB D.J. Williams.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Brian Urlacher, DE Israel Idonije, LB Nick Roach.
CAMP NEEDS: Time to adjust. New coach Marc Trestman is installing new offense, and there is no shortage of new faces on both sides of ball. Developing leadership with Urlacher gone.
EXPECTATIONS: Relationship between Jay Cutler and Trestman will be worth watching. Bears QB has offense-minded head coach, versatile pass-catching tight end and revamped offensive line after that unit ranked among league's worst. He doesn't have excuses and might be running out of time given his expiring contract. Even with no Urlacher, core players such as DE Julius Peppers, LB Lance Briggs and CB Charles Tillman are in their 30s. Also, can Devin Hester rediscover his electrifying form on returns?
DETROIT LIONS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 25
LAST YEAR: Closed awful season by losing eight straight after climbing to .500 midway through year, failing miserably in attempt to be in two straight postseasons for first time since 1993-95.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Reggie Bush, S Glover Quinn, S Chris Hope, DE Jason Jones, DE Israel Idonije, rookie DE Ezekiel ``Ziggy'' Ansah, rookie CB Darius Slay, K David Akers, RB Montell Owens, DT C.J. Mosley, OG Leroy Harris, OG Jake Scott.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: 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, WR Titus Young,
CAMP NEEDS: Desperately need rebuilt offensive line to develop chemistry with two new starting tackles and new right guard. 2012 first-rounder Riley Reiff will likely start at LT, while Corey Hilliard or Jason Fox is RT and job at RG is up for grabs, with Harris, Scott and Rodney Austin among candidates.
EXPECTATIONS: If new-look offensive line jells, QB Matthew Stafford will have time to throw to WR Calvin Johnson and Bush will have room to run, making offense tough to stop. Defense has lots of newcomers and that will only be good thing if Ansah, No. 5 overall draft pick, and other pass rushers can create pressure to help shaky secondary. Fifth-year coach Jim Schwartz is on hot seat.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org