Monday, August 2, 2010

NFC North Training Camp preview

NFC North

The Black and Blue Division appears to be back folks...who, what, where, and why of Training Camp's looked at here...
The NFC North will be as physical and tough as ever

 This Division had 2 play-off teams in 2009 (Vikings and Packers) and the other two (Lions and Bears) made strides to improve in the off-season

Stop me if you have heard this before...QB Brett Favre may play one more year...QB Brett Favre may retire...we may have seen the last of the future Hall-Of-Famer...but we may see one more year of the gunslinger...

THIS JUST IN Brett Favre has reportedly informed the Vikings that he will not be returning for the 2010 season...now are you like me and still anticipate more to come as we get closer to the end of Training Camp?  Brett says he is done but I will believe that when the entire 2010 season has played out and there really is no #4

Favre is still recovering from ankle surgery...one school of thought is that he really is recovering and will wait to see what the ankle feels like...another school of thought is that #4 is using an excuse to not have to participate in the vigorous nature of Training Camp...either way we are all left playing the annual Brett Favre - will he/won't he?!?!...again just want to mention that Favre says he is done...but his word on the subject on Aug 1 may be different than his word on the retirement subject come Aug 31

As annoying as Favre is every off-season we still do need to pay attention as if he does return for one more year then the Vikings are once again a very real contender...a certain play-off team with Favre at the helm...

Sidney Rice TD
Minny was 9-0 at home last year with the Dome providing perfect weather for Favre to throw to WR's Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian...This Training Camp Rice and Harvin both have injury concerns, and if it really is Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels at QB this Vikes team could be in for a real turn for the worse this Training Camp...no chance to repeat the 2009 success without Favre...IMO no chance at the play-offs sans Favre

The running game has the amazing All Day Adrian Peterson who was a TD machine in '09, but did have his lowest yards per game average (4.4 yards per carry and 18 TD's is pretty damn good though)...seems like the continuing story of All Day is that Peterson is a Top 3 talent who does put the ball on the ground far too often...Vikes will take a look in Training Camp at rookie 2nd rounder RB Toby Gerhart (Stanford) to pair with All-Day...these two plus TE Visanthe Shiancoe will be asked to continue to carry the day at the Goal line regardless of who the QB is

On Defense this unit was outstanding in '09...#1 sack team and #2 vs the rush...Training Camp will be a chance for rookie Everson Griffin (4th round USC) plus Brian Robison, and Ray Edwards, to show that they can play along the D-Line with veterans like Pat Williams and Kevin Williams (no relation) plus of course mad-man/sack-maniac Jared Allen

CB Chris Cook
At the LB position E.J. Henderson is returning from injury for the 2nd straight Training Camp...rookies Nate Triplett (5th round Minnesota) and Ryan D'Imperio (7th round Rutgers) plus a guy like young Jasper Brinkley will all get a look at LB

The Secondary welcomes rookie CB Chris Cook (2nd round Virginia)...at 6'2" Cook will be given the opportunity to cover some of the bigger WR's in this Division...Vikes were in the bottom half of the NFL vs the pass in '09...other young Defensive Backs like Asher Allen, Husain Abdullah, and Safety Tyrell Johnson will all get a chance in Training Camp to earn increased playing time on this unit

On Special Teams Rys Lloyd is in as the new Kick Off guy...he is pretty good at booming kicks into, and through the End Zone for Touchbacks

Green Bay
The future is bright in Cheesehead land...this team has been very young for a few years, and with double-digit wins in 2 of the last 3 years this team seems to be on the verge of being a perennial contender in the tough NFC North

QB Aaron Rodgers has been very good since taking over for Brett Favre...2 years as a starter has seen him throw 58 TD's vs only 20 INT's...the cupboard is bare IMO if Rodgers does go down due to injury...backup QB's Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell have 9 NFL completions and 0 TD's between them

To protect Rodgers better in 2010 will be a main issue in Training Camp for the offense...this unit struggled last year with injuries and inconsistencies...QB Rogers was sacked 50 times (YIKES) not to mention the numerous times he was dropped after he got the throw off...looks like everyone is entering Training Camp healthy, plus the additions of rookies Bryan Bulaga (1st round out of Iowa - stud) and Marshall Newhouse (TCU 5th round)

TE Jermichael Finley
The WR unit has several young players who are already very good and using Training Camp to improve...guys like Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones...plus TE Jermichael Finley looks to continue his development...he could be really good

The Defense is a Top 5 unit...no unit was better vs the run, and no unit was better at Interceptions than the 2009 Green Bay Packers defense...the majority of the 2010 draft was spent on offensive players, but GB did add 2nd round draft pick DT Mike Neal (Purdue) to the mix...2nd year up-and-comer LB Clay Matthews will be using Training Camp to continue his development as he has the to be a beast on this D going forward

In the Secondary CB's Pat Lee and Will Blackmon, plus 2nd year player Brandon Underwood will look to use Training Camp to show that they can be combined with veteran CB's Charles Woodson (NFL Defensive player of the year in '09) and Al Harris to add depth to this impressive unit

The Special Teams unit may have issues...Training Camp will be an audition for the likes of Tim Masthay and rookie Chris Bryan at Punter...neither has ever made a punt in this League...the Kick Returner position should also be an open audition

9 straight losing seasons in the Motor City...in those 9 years the avg record for the Lions is 4-12, and the last 2 seasons Detroit has stunk to the tune of a 2-30 record...we can see that there is a lot of work to do in Detroit's Training Camp

rookie RB Jahvid Best
I loved what the Lions was able to accomplish in the 2010 NFL draft...on Offense RB Jahvid Best (1st round out of California) will use Training Camp to show that he is the guy to carry the mail for Detroit...he is a big-play guy who can develop with young QB Matt Stafford to provide sparks to an Offense that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in every category...3rd year RB Kevin Jones took a step back last year so he will be using Training Camp to get back on track...could provide a nice duo for the Ford Field faithful

Veteran's WR Nate Burleson and TE Tony Scheffler joined the team as free agents in the off-season...4th year WR Calvin Johnson took a step back last year, but this guy is a stud-in-the-making at WR...it is likely that the teams overall struggle on Offense played a part in his #'s, but expect big plays and big things from Calvin Johnson

The 2009 Detroit Lions Defense was the NFL's worst...unfortunately for long time suffering Lions fans that makes 2007,2008,2009 as the NFL's worst Defense...in are the likes of free agent veterans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Corey Williams, LB Landon Johnson to try to contribute to this sorry unit...plus the return on veteran Jared DeVries from injury...young players like Andre Fluellen, Jason Hunter, Cliff Avril, and Landon Cohen join rookie Ndamukong Suh (#2 overall from Nebraska) as guys playing on the Defensive Line trying to improve the Lions pass-rush...

Ndamukong Suh sack
If you don't already know Suh you certainly will...Training Camp is our first chance to see him vs pro-competition as in College it was more like man vs boy where Suh was concerned...I believe this guy is a Stud and will be a terror in Motown for years to come

The Secondary needs much work too...veteran DB Dante Wesley joins newcomers Jonathan Wade and Chris Houston, plus rookie Amari Spievey (3rd round Iowa) to try to add to this unit...at Safety 2nd year man Louis Delmas looks like he will be a stud on this unit...

On Special Teams the Lions P Nick Harris and K Jason Hanson will be the kickers for the millionth straight year...Training Camp will provide an open audition for Kick Returners

Detroit is about to take positive strides forward...the Packers are on the verge of being a Super Bowl contender...the Vikings get all the attention due to the Brett Favre annual retirement watch...not a lot of attention left in this Division to give to the Bears...but for me this is a team of interest

On Offense this team really struggled in 2009...one of the worst running games in the NFL...a passing game that saw new QB Jay Cutler throw 27 TD's (very nice) but 26 INT's (yikes)

But this unit just got VERY interesting with the naming of Mike Martz as Offensive Coordinator...Martz once led the Greatest Show On Turf in St Louis...recent unsuccessful stints as Offensive Coordinator in Detroit and San Francisco have lowered his stock...Chicago does not exactly offer the same easy-going climate as the dome in St Louis, the dome in Detroit, or sunny San Francisco so the choice of Martz for Chicago is very interesting...

Jay Cutler and Mike Martz
Martz and Cutler are both looking to get back on the map as being amongst the best at what they do...they will need each other big time...let's see in Training Camp the new strategy to get WR's Devin Hester and 2nd year guy Johnny Knox more involved...WR's Devin Aromashodu and Earl Bennett will also get a chance in Training Camp to show Martz that they can be utilized on this unit...we know Martz also wants to involve his RB's Matt Forté and free agent RB Chester Taylor in the passing game...

Speaking of Forté and Taylor they will have the running game in their hands...Forté did suffer from the Sophomore Slump as his carries, yards, yards per carry, TD's all took a step back in 2009...the addition of free agent Chester Taylor should help bring more stability to the position

Forté, Taylor, and the Offensive Line will have to improve on short-yard situations for the Bears...in 2009 Chicago really struggled in situations which called for a high level of physicality on the line-of-scrimmage...Martz will need to add his schemes and strategies to improve the O-Line

On Defense the 2009 Bears were unrecognizable...middle-of-the-pack vs the pass, and lower third of the NFL vs the run...not the vaunted Bears D that units of the past have been...the writing was likely on the wall in week 1 as they lost the middle of the D in LB Brian Urlacher (Training Camp will tell the story of Urlacher...is he back at 100%?!?!)

Julius Peppers
The D-Line improves greatly with the addition of free agent Julius Peppers...6 of his 8 NFL seasons have produced at least 10.5 sacks - he should work well with DT's Tommie Harris and rookie Corey Wootton (4th round Northwestern) to improve the Bears D-Line...

Of course Urlacher's return is the #1 priority for the LB group, but Training Camp also gives new Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli (Head Coach of the 2008 0-16 Detroit Lions...he was a fellow coach with Lovie Smith for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the Tony Dungy era in TB) a chance to further develop LB's Pisa Tinoisamoa, and find ways to use the outstanding Lance Briggs

Marinelli will also need to improve the Secondary during Training Camp...the continued development of 3rd year man Zackary Bowman, plus Safety's Josh Bullocks and rookie Major Wright (3rd round Florida) will be key...Chris Harris is back and he will have fellow DB's Charles Tillman, Danieal Manning, Corey Graham, Zack Bowman, and Tim Jennings (free agent from the Colts) competing in Training Camp for playing time

Special Teams is a strength on this team...between guys like Hester, Knox, Manning there is a lot of talent here

The other 3 NFC Divisions will follow soon...to check out the AFC previews scroll down, or use the Blog Archive to the right... craig.ballard@hotmail.com