NFC North News and Notes: Jul. 17

Can the Lions develop Matthew Stafford and still get Daunte Culpepper ready at the very same time? Will Green Bay's Ryan Grant be healthier in 2009 than he was in '08? Are the Vikings prepared for life without the Williams Wall? Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at

Detroit Lions

Develop Stafford:
This season is not as important as the long-term health of the Lions' quarterback of the future, and brass seems to understand that.

The Lions have gone 31-97 over the past eight years and hit rock bottom last year with the NFL's first 0-16 season. They used the No. 1 pick in the draft on quarterback Matthew Stafford.

General manager Martin Mayhew has acknowledged that highly-drafted quarterbacks tend to fail when they are rushed into bad situations. Coach Jim Schwartz has said repeatedly that Stafford will not play until he is both ready and the best quarterback.

With veteran Daunte Culpepper apparently rejuvenated, having lost more than 30 pounds in a fight for his own future, the Lions should be able to have patience with Stafford.

But they don't want to hold him back either, and they need to get him as many reps as possible in training camp. Stafford has said he is eager to compete and ideally would like to start Week 1.

No. 1-overall picks Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning took poundings as rookies, but the experience helped them later. The Lions need to figure out what's best for Stafford and, thus, move the franchise forward.

Shore up the secondary: The Lions thought they had shored up their secondary heading into training camp last year. They had acquired cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Brian Kelly and safeties Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson.

But the secondary produced only one interception all season, as the Lions defense ranked last in points and yards allowed for the second straight season.

Bodden, the man who made that lone pick, is gone, along with Kelly and Smith. The Lions overhauled the secondary again, acquiring cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry and Eric King and drafting safety Louis Delmas.

Will Buchanon play the role of Bodden, the player who was supposed to be up-and-coming but ends up down-and-out? Will Henry play the role of Kelly, the aging veteran on his last legs? Will King play the role of Pearson, the special-teams ace unready to start? Or will things turn out the way the Lions envisioned this time?

Delmas was impressive after joining the offseason program and needs a lot of reps so he can be prepared to start.

Repair the offensive and defensive lines: Mayhew and Schwartz talked about building from the inside out and wanting a bigger, stronger team. They have added size, but sizeable holes remain.

On the offensive line, the biggest question mark is at left guard. The man atop the depth chart is Daniel Loper, who spent the past four years as a backup in Tennessee, where Schwartz was defensive coordinator. He never started a regular-season game.

The defensive line needs work, though there is talent in second-year defensive end Cliff Avril, and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham's love of blitzing should take off some of the pressure.

The Lions signed veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson, but he didn't participate in organized team activities or minicamps because of a knee problem. They still could sign free agent defensive end Kevin Carter.

Green Bay Packers

Happy campers are needed:
The biggest storyline at Packers training camp will be the transformation of the defense from the team's traditional 4-3 front to a 3-4.

To expedite the learning curve, it's critical everyone is on the same page. That might not be easy, considering Pro Bowl players Aaron Kampman and Nick Collins were far from peachy in the offseason.

Kampman apparently has reservations about his new role in the defense, as he moves from end to outside linebacker. The normally affable Kampman refused to speak publicly about the matter for a while, then offered little when he did open up.

How willing and well the prolific pass rusher adjusts to playing with his hand off the ground and dropping into coverage could spell whether the 3-4 will be effective for Green Bay.

Meanwhile, Collins has a lot of catching up to do in the scheme after skipping the majority of offseason workouts. Entering the final year of his contract, Collins would like a lucrative extension on the heels of a breakout 2008 season. A holdout isn't out of the question to open camp.

The Packers don't seem compelled to satisfy Collins and have a capable replacement with 3-4 experience, free-agent signee Anthony Smith -- formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers -- to plug in should Collins balk some more.

Get a healthy Grant back up to speed: Although Ryan Grant was only the fourth player in club lore to rush for 1,200 yards, the production last season didn't meet the approval of the featured back.

A preseason hamstring injury affected him the first half of the season, and he finished with a subpar average of 3.9 yards per carry. Grant clearly wasn't the breakaway threat that came to the forefront the second half of the 2007 season, when he averaged 5.1 yards a rush.

He is injury-free this year and has vowed to make amends by rediscovering his burst and breaking tackles in the second level.

Grant can expect to get plenty of opportunities, since the coaches want to run the football at least 30 times a game.

Winning mindset starts with the QB: Unlike last summer, Aaron Rodgers won't be confronted by a circus atmosphere when he arrives for camp. The specter of a return by a retired Brett Favre belongs to the NFC North rivals in Minnesota this year.

While Rodgers had been anointed the starting quarterback even before Favre tried to talk his way back onto the team, Favre's penchant for winning -- and often doing so in the clutch -- in Green Bay didn't rub off on his young successor. An otherwise successful debut season under center -- 4,038 passing yards, 28 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions -- was dampened by the crux of the Packers' 6-10 record.

Green Bay went 0-7 in games decided by four or fewer points. Six of those close losses came in a 1-7 stretch late in the season.

Favre won't be forgotten by many Packers fans until Rodgers starts to deliver at crunch time.

Minnesota Vikings

Closure on Favre situation:
The New York Jets released Brett Favre from their reserve/retired list in late April. Since that time, speculation has given way to confirmation that Favre wants to end his second shot at retirement and play for the Vikings.

But Favre has yet to make a decision on whether the surgically repaired biceps in his throwing arm will enable him to play in 2009. It remains to be seen when Favre is going to give the Vikings an answer, although both the quarterback and coach Brad Childress have indicated a decision needed to be made by the time training camp opened on July 31.

According to a recent report, Favre recently told Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and athletic trainer Eric Sugarman that he might not make a decision until just before camp. Bevell was in Hattiesburg, Miss., to watch Favre throw, and Sugarman made a second trip to Mississippi to check on the veteran's arm.

It long has been assumed that Favre is going to be wearing purple for at least one season, but for everyone's sake this situations needs to be resolved as soon as possible. This is especially true for quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, who will battle for the job if Favre does not return.

Resolve Winfield's contract situation: Veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, coming off one of the best seasons of his 10-year career, is entering the final season of his contact and wants a new deal sooner rather than later.

Although there appeared to be good dialogue early in the offseason between the Vikings and Winfield's agent, things broke down this spring and Winfield was unhappy enough that he stayed away from offseason practices.

Winfield, who turned 32 in June, isn't young for a cornerback but remains an anchor of the Vikings defense. The Vikings let center Matt Birk and safety Darren Sharper walk after playing out their contracts last season, but it's likely they will continue to try to work on an extension with Winfield.

Both sides might need to reach some type of compromise that could see Winfield end up with substantial guaranteed money for what would amount to a short-term deal.

Prepare backup defensive tackles: The Vikings don't know if and when Pro Bowl defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams might end up being suspended for four games for violating the league's anti-doping policy. Right now, the case continues to make its way through the legal system, and there is a chance the Williamses could emerge victorious.

If that doesn't happen, the Vikings could be looking at a stretch with Fred Evans starting at nose tackle and Letroy Guion at the three technique. That means those two are likely to get additional training-camp reps with the first unit just in case.

The work will be especially crucial for Guion, who saw little time last season as a rookie after being selected in the fifth round out of Florida State. Evans got valuable time late last season after Pat Williams suffered a broken shoulder blade.

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