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Keys to Training Camp: NFC North

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Chicago Bears

Location: Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, IL)
Dates: July 24 - August 17
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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 line.

  6. (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 for sure.

Detroit Lions

Location: Detroit Lions Training Facility (Allen Park, MI)
Dates: July 24 - August 10
Open to the public? - NO

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. (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.

  6. (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)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. (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.

  5. (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.

  6. (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 reach.

Minnesota Vikings

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)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 develop?

  6. 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?

  7. (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.

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