Green Bay Packers
Under Center: Barring a last-minute change of heart, Aaron Rodgers is the Packers' starting quarterback. He had an impressive first day of training camp Monday, exhibiting the arm strength, athleticism and knowledge of the offense that have the coaches excited.
Rookie Report: The Packers' first pick, receiver Jordy Nelson, looks like he could be a weapon. It's dangerous to make too much out of the first day of practice, but Nelson is smooth and has a knack for getting open. He could be a terror in the return game, where he returned three punts in five chances for touchdowns last season at Kansas State. The other second-round picks are struggling after one day. Quarterback Brian Brohm has problems throwing a spiral, and Pat Lee got beat several times in coverage.
Camp Surprises: The fan reaction – or lack thereof – over Brett Favre's absence. While leaflets were distributed for BringBackBrett.net and BringBackBrettFavre.com, there is curiously little chatter or anger among the railbirds about the iconic quarterback's exclusion from training camp.
Under Center: Despite all the controversy and speculation that Brett Favre could end up a Viking, those with better knowledge of the overall dynamics of the situation, including Favre himself, put the chance somewhere between slim and anorexic. That leaves the Vikings still counting on Tarvaris Jackson to take that next step they claim is common in third-year quarterbacks. With solid playmakers finally around him, Jackson will just have to manage the game, but that would include getting better at recognizing defenses. If Jackson should falter early, it’s possible the Vikings could call 15-year veteran Gus Frerotte into starting duty since the expectations are big in Minnesota and the coaching staff might not have much tolerance for regression in Jackson’s game.
Rookie Report: None of the rookies are expected to make big contributions in 2008. That’s mostly a testament to the roster building the team has gone through the past few years and partly due to the Vikings trading away a first- and two third-round picks to acquire Jared Allen. That left a second-round safety in Tyrell Johnson that the team is high on, but there is little chance that he will break into a starting role this year with free-agent acquisition Madieu Williams and Pro Bowl veteran Darren Sharper in front of him. After that, the draft picks are a collection of fifth- and sixth-rounders that will be groomed for the future.
Camp Surprises: The biggest surprise of camp has been that defensive end Ray Edwards, a starter last year until he was suspended for the final four games, started training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a back injury that kept him out of minicamp, as well. While the Vikings continue to downplay the severity of the injury, Edwards’ return will be something to monitor in preseason games. Everything else is going about how observers expected, with Allen infusing energy and urgency into the team and providing some of the best non-Favre-related quotes of camp.
Under Center: Jon Kitna is entrenched as the starting quarterback, and expect Detroit to take advantage of the 35-year-old's still-apt scrambling skills. With a new zone blocking offense – and in effort to keep him alive – the Lions will be rolling Kitna out frequently, including several variations of the bootleg. Kitna has looked sharp in practice running the plays, including one stanza in which he laser-guided a throw on the run to receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson soared over a Lions' defensive back to snag the pass.
Rookie Report: RB Kevin Smith is still slightly behind veteran Tatum Bell, but he'll have plenty of opportunities to supplant him as camp progresses. First-round OT Gosder Cherilus is also battling to start, but is still behind RT George Foster. DE Cliff Avril has improved every day of camp, displaying great speed and should come in on situational downs.
Camp Surprises: Kitna's reserves, Dan Orlvosky and Drew Stanton, have struggled in the camp's opening days. Neither has been impressive, missing open targets, tossing interceptions – Orlovsky was already picked by new CB Leigh Bodden, who returned it 60 yards for a touchdown – and otherwise showing signs of rust. Because of Kitna's age and penchant for being sacked (114 times in the last two years), this is a concern. Compared to last year's camp, Detroit's team looks leaner, faster and quicker to the ball. Rod Marinelli criticized the team in 2007 for being out of shape, and that message has translated into an impressive group in 2008. Most of the media at Allen Park believe it's the open competition for so many positions (RB, WR, NT, and CB to name a few).
Under Center: The neverending search for a quarterack in the Windy City continues, as Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton battle for the starting spot in Bourbonnais. Neither of them has been particularly impressive, although Grossman has made fewer mistakes so far and authored more big plays in the passing game – he's always been a great player in practice. Orton seems to be putting a lot of pressure on himself because the job is there for the taking, but he's thrown a fair share of interceptions and keeps misfiring on deep balls.
Rookie Report: While first-round pick Chris Williams signed his contract about two hours before the first workout, he's been out of action the last few days because of a stiff back and is running the risk of not being in the starting lineup come Week 1. Offensively, both Matt Forte and Earl Bennett have been impressive so far at the tailback and receiver positions, respectively. On the other side of the ball, Marcus Harrison certainly looks like a Lovie Smith-type nose tackle and could work his way into the D-line rotation right away.
Camp Surprises: The offensive line is in really bad shape once again, with Williams not getting very much work, former All-Pro center Olin Kreutz currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, and neither Terrence Metcalf nor Josh Beekman stepping up at left guard. Moving John Tait from left tackle over to right tackle is an improvement from Fred Miller a year ago, but a left side of Metcalf at guard and John St. Clair at tackle – both are career backups in this league – could be disastrous. Especially since the skill positions are lacking at every spot except tight end.
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