Keys to Training Camp: NFC North
Posted 7/24 by Jason Wood, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
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Location: Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, IL)
Dates: July 24 - August 17
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
- Who said you can't go home again? - Ron Turner, the Bears former
offensive coordinator, was hired this offseason as
the Bears offensive
coordinator. After a stint at a collegiate head coach, Turner is back in the
Windy City ready to implement a more balanced, ball-control offense. Last
year the team attempted to implement a version of Dick Vermeil's spread attack,
but had neither the coaches nor personnel (nor weather conditions) to make
it work. Turner believes in a heavy dose of running coupled with downfield
passing off play action.
- Assessing Rex Grossman' health - There were recent reports that Rex
Grossman's recovery from a season-ending knee injury last year has been behind
schedule. The team can ill afford to have Grossman sidelined for a chunk of
training camp. Grossman needs the snaps, particularly as the team implements
a new offensive system under OC Ron Turner.
- What is Thomas Jones' role? - The Bears didn't use a top 5 draft
choice on RB Cedric Benson to have him idle on the sidelines. Benson is a
prototypical workhorse back and ideal fit for Turner's offense. But Thomas
Jones is not without talent, particularly as a receiver and change-of-pace
option. How does the team plan to utilize Jones, who was signed last year
to be the team's primary ball-carrier?
- Who lines up alongside Muhsin Muhammad? - The Bears signed Muhsin
Muhammad (who led the league in receiving yards and TDs last year), but the
WR2 role will be decided in camp between Bobby Wade, Justin Gage, Bernard
Berrian and rookie Mark Bradley.
- Does Fred Miller solidify the offensive line? - The Bears signed
Fred Miller from the Titans and will play him at left tackle, which allows
last year's free agent coup John Tait to move to his more natural position
of right tackle. With both tackle positions solidified, and Olin Kreutz a
rock in the middle, the Bears should have the makings of a solidly improved
- (IDP) The battle for strongside linebacker - Joe Odom, Marcus Reese
and LeVar Woods will battle for the strongside spot. Whoever wins the job
will benefit from having Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs on the field, that's
Location: Detroit Lions Training Facility (Allen Park, MI)
Dates: July 24 - August 10
Open to the public? - NO
- Are there enough passes to go around? - The Lions have used three
consecutive Top 10 overall selections on wide receivers. Already having Charles
Rogers and Roy Williams in the fold, the team simply couldn't pass up Mike
Williams, the USC standout, when he dropped to them in April. But with three
potential WR1s on the roster, plus a new TE in Marcus Pollard, are there enough
passes to go around? Which of the three will start? One imagines Roy Williams
is a mortal lock, but does Williams have a chance to unseat Rogers?
- How long until we see Jeff Garcia? - The Lions didn't sign Jeff
Garcia as a mentor to Harrington, nor does Garcia view himself as a backup.
There's no question that Joey Harrington is on a short leash and must be impressive
in training camp in order to hold onto the starting job. Garcia went to three
Pro Bowls playing in this system under HC Mariucci in San Francisco, so he's
a proven commodity (albeit a bit older at this point). History tells us Harrington
is probably on borrowed time, but he has training camp to quiet the whispers.
- And the right tackle is? - Victor Riley, Kelly Butler and possibly
Kyle Kosier will battle for the starting right tackle spot in what is otherwise
a solid offensive line.
- Will Eddie Drummond be in camp, on time, ready to return kicks? -
Return man extraordinaire Eddie Drummond (a Drew Rosenhaus client) was unhappy
with the team's one-year tender but he and his agent insist that will not
keep him from being in camp on time. Drummond, who will team with R.W. McQuarters
this year, should provide the Lions with the most dangerous return tandem
in the NFC.
- (IDP) Is Boss Bailey ready to play? - Boss Bailey missed the 2004
season with a knee injury and the team is relying on him to finally emerge
as the playmaker of the LB corps. Various reports have suggested Bailey might
not be ready for the start of training camp. Although the Lions have depth
at the position, no one else on the roster is thought to have his combination
of athleticism and intensity.
- (IDP) Where does R.W. McQuarters fit in? - With the addition of
free agent Kenoy Kennedy, the Lions starting secondary is complete; Kennedy
and Terrence Holt at safety with Dre Bly and Fernando Bryant at corner. But
Holt is an unproven commodity and Fernando Bryant was a disappointment in
his first year with the Lions; which is what makes the McQuarters signing
so valuable. He has experience at corner and safety and will likely play the
nickel back role and be available for spot starting duties at either free
safety or corner.
Green Bay Packers
Location: Clarke Hinkle Field (DePere, WI)
Dates: July 26 - August 28
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
- Will Walker really hold out? - Javon Walker wants the Packers to
tear up his rookie contract with two seasons left and has recently said (through
his agent) that he will definitely not report to training camp without a new
deal. New Packers GM T. Thompson appears unwilling to yield to Walker's demands,
which means a protracted holdout could be in order. Which side will budge?
And what impact will Walker's absence have on the team, remembering that Brett
Favre has proven he can be productive regardless of who lines up at receiver.
- Will Bubba Franks sign his one-year transition tender? - Bubba Franks
was assigned the transition designation but has refused to sign the one-year
tender (which would give him the average salary of the 10-highest paid TEs)
and has threatened to sit out the season without a long-term extension.
- Who are Adrian Klemm, Matt O'Dwyer and Greg Ruegamer and why should I
care? - Two of them will be the Packers starting guards this year as the
cap-strapped team let stalwarts Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera leave in free
agency. None are proven commodities and team needs to get a long look at them
in training camp.
- (IDP) Is Jim Bates a difference maker? - The Packers, cap strapped,
couldn't make wholesale changes in terms of defensive personnel, so they instead
hired Jim Bates, the long-time Dolphins coordinator to turn this unit around.
Bates is the 3rd defensive coordinator in as many seasons, and brings his
own unique version of the 4-3 with him.
- (IDP) How serious is the Packers defensive line situation? - Cletidus
Hunt continues to be persona non grata and Grady Jackson (who just hired Drew
Rosenhaus) intends to hold out of training camp in hopes of securing a new
deal. The team is relatively unproven on the defensive line anyway, but losing
either of those players would put new defensive coordinator Jim Bates into
a precarious position.
- (IDP) Is Nick Collins ready to start? - Darren Sharper was the heart
and soul of the Packers defense for years but began showing his age and was
let go this offseason. Entering camp, the favorite to take over is rookie
Nick Collins, a second round pick who many draft pundits consider a major
Location: Minnesota State University (Mankato, MN)
Dates: July 29 - August 17
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge, with intra-team scrimmages the exception)
- Life after Randy - The Randy Moss era is over in Minnesota and the
team believe they are better off for it. Training camp is where the team will
start to find its new identity which includes sorting through the WR depth
chart. Nate Burleson is certain to start on one side, but rookie Troy Williamson
and free agent Travis Taylor will battle Marcus Robinson and Kelly Campbell
for the WR2 and WR3 roles.
- Life after Linehan - Vikings fans should be more concerned about
the loss of OC Scott Linehan; who crafted top tier offenses each of the last
three seasons. Steve Loney was promoted from offensive line coach as Linehan's
replacement and vows to maintain the offensive structure with a few new wrinkles
(including a re-emphasis on the running game). Loney is, at best, an unproven
commodity as a play caller.
- Is Matt Birk healthy? - Matt Birk is the team's best offensive lineman
and one of the league's best centers; but Birk had hip surgery this offseason
and is doubtful for training camp and possibly part of the regular season.
Birk has had four surgeries in the last twelve months.
- Dorsey vs. Goldberg vs. Johnson - The team needs to find a long-term
answer at left guard and will let Nat Dorsey, Adam Goldberg and rookie Marcus
Johnson battle for the spot in camp. Don't discount the versatile Johnson,
who played all three line positions in college.
- Is Michael Bennett the "guy" or will the team use a committee
approach? - Onterrio Smith's suspension for violating the league's substance
abuse policy took one RB out of the equation, but Michael Bennett still has
to contend with Mewelde Moore, Moe Williams and rookie Ciatrick Fason it would
seem. Given Bennett's injury history, will the team commit to him as the lead
back, or will the team use a committee approach in camp and see how things
- Can Jim Kleinsasser and Jermaine Wiggins co-exist? - Jim Kleinsasser
is back after missing a season-ending 2004 knee injury, but in his absence
Jermaine Wiggins emerged as one of Daunte Culpepper's favorite targets and
he was rewarded this offseason with a new multi-year contract. Wiggins is
a receiver with limited blocking ability; while Kleinsasser is a battering
ram with some receiving ability. How will their playing time be allocated?
- (IDP) Putting the defensive pieces together - The Vikings could
have as many as six new starters on defense. CB Fred Smoot is a lock to start
opposite Antoine Winfield. Rookie Erasmus James will be looked upon as a starter
at end while veteran pickup Pat Williams will join Kevin Williams in the middle.
At linebacker Napoleon Harris (acquired in the Moss trade) will start at one
LB position, and veteran (and Ted Cottrell favorite) Sam Cowart will have
first dibs at a starting spot if he's healthy enough. Darren Sharper, of Green
Bay Packers fame is expected to start at free safety.