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NFC North training-camp reports

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NFC North training-camp reports
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NFC North training-camp reports

CHICAGO BEARS

Site: Olivet Nazarene University, Boubonnais, Ill.

Report date: July 25 (rookies and veterans).

Key veteran arrivals: RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, LB Blake Costanzo, CB Kelvin Hayden, OLB Geno Hayes, WR Brandon Marshall, OG Chilo Rachal, WR Devin Thomas, WR-RS Eric Weems, CB Jonathan Wilhite.

Key veteran departures: DT Anthony Adams, RB Marion Barber, CB Zack Bowman, CB Corey Graham, S Brandon Meriweather, DT Amobi Okoye, OL Frank Omiyale.

Juiciest story lines: Bears decision makers have expressed confidence in the offensive line, but training camp and the preseason could test their belief in the group. QB Jay Cutler has acknowledged that the O-line has work to do, and while the Bears made upgrades at the skill positions in the offseason, Cutler is right to have concerns about his protection. No team has allowed more sacks than the Bears (140) over the past three seasons. … There is also the matter of RB Matt Forté’s contract situation. He had yet to sign the franchise tender as of this writing, and will be under no obligation to report to camp if he remains unsigned as it gets underway.

Burning questions: Will the offense click with first-time coordinator Mike Tice calling plays? … Will J’Marcus Webb earn the starting job at left tackle or be demoted in favor of Chris Williams? … Is TE Kellen Davis up to the task of having greater demands placed on him as a receiver? … Will Gabe Carimi report at full strength and show no lingering issues with his surgically repaired knee? … Will first-round pick DE Shea McClellin prove to be an instant-impact pass-rusher? … Will CB Tim Jennings and S Major Wright hold off challengers and earn starting jobs?

Fearless prediction: The Bears and Forté will not agree to a long-term contract by the July 16 deadline for tagged players to signed multi-year deals, but Forté will sign his franchise tender on July 26 — the first day of camp — and report to the team on time.

Fantasy nugget: Whether he starts in Week One or has to wait his turn to break into the starting lineup, rookie Alshon Jeffery has a good chance to finish the season as the most productive Bears wide receiver not named Brandon Marshall. Jeffery, who is slated to share time at flanker with Devin Hester, has the potential to be a force in the red zone and could be worthy of a waiver addition by midseason if the Bears decide to break him in slowly.

 

DETROIT LIONS

Site: Detroit Lions Training Facility, Allen Park, Mich.

Report dates: July 23 (rookies), July 26 (veterans).

Key veteran arrivals: DE-OLB Everette Brown, WR Jarett Dillard, Jacob Lacey.

Key veteran departures: OLB Bobby Carpenter, QB Drew Stanton, CB Eric Wright.

Juiciest story lines: The Lions established themselves as legitimate playoff threats in 2011. The question is, are they capable of an encore — or even something bigger? Detroit’s high-powered passing game is its biggest strength. QB Matthew Stafford has rare arm strength, and WR Calvin Johnson can make double-coverage look like single-coverage. If Johnson and Stafford keeping playing at a high level, and if the running game improves, the Lions’ offense will be very tough to stop. And if the defense continues to make big plays and performs more soundly, the Lions could be major forces. What becomes of these young Lions bears close watch in 2012.

Burning questions: Can Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure stay healthy and give the Lions a solid one-two punch in the backfield? … Will the most promising members of Detroit’s 2011 draft class (DT Nick Fairley, WR Titus Young, Leshoure) mature after each had offseason incidents that landed them in the headlines for the wrong reasons? … Can DT Ndamukong Suh bounce back after a disappointing 2011 season? … Will the Lions’ defense show greater resistance against the run and pass after faltering to defend both at times a season ago? … Who will emerge as a starter opposite Chris Houston at cornerback?

Fearless prediction: These talent-laden Lions figure to be a popular sleeper pick in the NFC North, and they certainly are capable of making a surprise run to the top of the division. However, that’s easier said than done. Detroit, even off a 10-win season, needs to keep growing to keep up in the division and conference. The Lions’ passing game is something to behold, but their defense really struggled to get stops against top competition late last season, and that could again be a problem. The NFC is loaded, and skilled-but-flawed Detroit, over a full season, needs to become more consistent to be major threats.

Fantasy nugget: Young merits a flier as a No. 4 or No. 5 wide receiver. He played to rave reviews in the latter stages of offseason workouts and figures to get his share of favorable matchups with Calvin Johnson drawing a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Young, who caught six TDs as a rookie, has a lot of potential, and he very well could end up as the second-highest scorer among Lions wideouts.

 

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Site: St. Norbert College, Green Bay, Wis.

Report date: July 25 (rookies and veterans).

Key veteran arrivals: DE Anthony Hargrove, DE Phillip Merling, DT Daniel Muir, C Jeff Saturday.

Key veteran departures: OT Chad Clifton, FS Nick Collins, QB Matt Flynn, CB Patrick Lee, C Scott Wells.

Juiciest story lines: Reigning league MVP  Aaron Rodgers, coming off one of the best seasons ever by a pro QB, continues to warrant signficant attention as the point man for an offense that averaged a league-high 35 points per game and scored the second-most points (560) in league history last season. On the other side of the ball, a host of defenders who significantly regressed (most notably CB Tramon Williams, ILB A.J. Hawk and NT B.J. Raji) must shape up or perhaps ship out. 

Burning questions: The two hottest questions are obvious: Can the offense be any better, and can the defense, which surrendered 400-plus yards in 11 games and the most passing yards in league history, be any worse? … Packers Nation has already begun pondering whether or not top 2012 draft picks Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy will prove to be instantly worthy pass-rushers. … There are also a bunch of intriguing position battles in the offing: Randall Cobb vs. Donald Driver at wide receiver, A.J. Hawk vs. D.J. Smith at left inside linebacker, Sam Shields, Jarrett Bush, Davon House and rookie Casey Hayward battling at nickel corner and a three-way traffic jam at strong safety involving Charlie Peprah, M.D. Jennings and rookie Jerron McMillan.  

Fearless prediction: There’s no way the Packers will win 15 games again with both the Bears and Lions posing bigger threats within the division. But they will win at least 10, which it says here will be enough to allow them to go deeper into the playoffs than they did a year ago — although not necessarily all the way to the finish line.

Fantasy nugget: Because the ground game remains a second fiddle in the Packers’ rock-star offense, James Starks probably doesn’t shape up too well as a No. 1 fantasy running back this coming season. But with Starks reportedly in excellent shape after limping down last year’s stretch with ankle issues (he has lowered his already meager body fat another 2 percent), he could be a very solid No. 2 fantasy back. Starks showed what he was capable of during Green Bay’s run to the Super Bowl title in 2010, when he steamrolled for 315 yards in four playoff games. But he has had major problems staying healthy.

 

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Site: Minnesota State University, Mankato, Mankato, Minn.

Report dates: July 26 (rookies), July 26 (veterans).

Key veteran arrivals: CB Zack Bowman, TE John Carlson, WR Jerome Simpson.

Key veteran departures: NT Remi Ayodele, CB Cedric Griffin, LB E.J. Henderson, OG Anthony Herrera, TE Jim Kleinsasser, PK Ryan Longwell, TE Visanthe Shiancoe.

Juiciest story lines: Head coach Leslie Frazier is entering what might be a make-or-break year with one of the youngest teams in the NFL. QB Christian Ponder enters his second season as the unquestioned starter — but with electric fan favorite Joe Webb right on his heels to raise scrutiny about the position. Alan Williams is the new defensive coordinator on a staff that also includes a defensive-minded head coach in Frazier, former coordinator Fred Pagac and Frazier’s buddy, Mike Singletary. And now Frazier must deal with another potential distraction — Percy Harvin, who is unhappy and requested a trade during the June minicamp. He later said he would show up at training camp.

Burning questions: Will Harvin become a major distraction? ... How many victories will Frazier need to keep his job? ... How healthy will RB Adrian Peterson be at the start of camp? ... Will Ponder make the leap the team is counting on? ... Can new starters NT Letroy Guion and MLB Jasper Brinkley solidify the middle of the defense? ... What immediate impact will first-round picks OLT Matt Kalil and S Harrison Smith make? ... How many veterans — WR Michael Jenkins? Maybe even DT Kevin Williams? — are in danger of losing their jobs? ... This defense was a train wreck last season — will it get better, or are there too many cooks in the kitchen?

Fearless prediction: Even with the question of Peterson, coming off knee reconstruction, the Vikings can put together a top-10 offense in 2012 — if Ponder develops the way the coaches think he can and Harvin decides to get with the program.

Fantasy nugget: With his migraines having subsided, Harvin finally was able to put together a full, 16-game regular season and shined with career-highs across the board. An electric receiver who has the potential to break it to daylight, Harvin was a weapon as a rusher, with 345 yards and two rushing TDs. He had 54 targets in December and January. For the season, he was targeted 18 times in the red zone (with 11 catches). Harvin had six touchdowns, but they came in the final seven games of the season. He also had four games with 15 or fewer receiving yards.

 

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