NFC North training camp previews

There are major questions to be answered as training camps kick off across the NFC North Division this week. Among them: Can Chicago score enough points? Can Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit rebound with new coaches?

Chicago Bears

Last year's record: 11-5 (NFC North champion)

Camp opened: Wednesday

Key additions: QB Brian Griese (released/Tampa Bay); WR/CB Devin Hester (2nd round/Miami); FS Danieal Manning (2nd round/Abilene Christian); CB Ricky Manning Jr. (FA/Carolina).

Key losses: CB Jerry Azumah; S Mike Green.

Camp keys: The defense is terrific and the offense is abysmal. So the Bears, of course, concentrated on their defense during the offseason. That means they are counting heavily on quarterback Rex Grossman to finally stay healthy. If not, they can turn to Griese, who has a history of inconsistent success. Either way, they must do a better job getting the ball to last year's big addition, receiver Muhsin Muhammad. Too bad the Bears don't have a tight end. Hester's kick-return skills should give Grossman and Co. better field position. The Mannings, rookie safety Daniel and veteran cornerback Ricky, were added after last year's playoff debacle, when the secondary was shredded by Carolina's Steve Smith. Still, offense is the key. In their five regular-season losses, they scored 10 or fewer points each time.

Detroit Lions

Last year's record 5-11

Camp opened: Thursday

Key additions: WR Corey Bradford (FA/Houston); S Daniel Bullocks (2nd round/Nebraska); DT Tyoka Jackson (FA/St. Louis); QB Jon Kitna (FA/Cincinnati); QB Josh McCown (FA/Arizona); LB Ernie Sims (1st round/Florida State); OT Rex Tucker (FA/St. Louis).

Key losses: QB Joey Harrington; LB Earl Holmes; DT Dan Wilkinson.

Camp keys: Can new coach Rod Marinelli turn around a franchise that has foundered behind the personnel moves of general manager Matt Millen and the coaching of Steve Mariucci? The Lions have lost at least 10 games five straight years, so there's a lot of losing history to erase, and Millen is still pulling the strings. Marinelli is a hard-nosed sort, having coached Tampa Bay's defensive linemen, so that's quite a change from the laid-back ways of Mariucci. What camp won't be used for is to find Joey Harrington's replacement. Marinelli named Kitna his starter on the first day of camp. Former Rams head coach and offensive guru Mike Martz is the coordinator. Now, if only former first-round pick Charles Rogers can stay healthy for more than a game. Defensively, Marinelli brings the Bucs' Cover 2 scheme, and he's expecting first-round pick Sims to be his Derrick Brooks.

Green Bay Packers

Last year's record: 4-12

Camp opens: Friday

Key additions: T/G Daryn Colledge (2nd round/Boise State); LB A.J. Hawk (1st round/Ohio State); LB Abdul Hodge (3rd round/Iowa); WR Greg Jennings (2nd round/Western Michigan); SS Marquand Manuel (FA/Seattle); DT Ryan Pickett (FA/St. Louis); C/G Jason Spitz (3rd round/Louisville); CB Charles Woodson (FA/Oakland).

Key losses: C Mike Flanagan; K Ryan Longwell; WR Javon Walker.

Camp keys: The key to any sort of improvement will be the ability of new coach Mike McCarthy to bring the best out of Brett Favre. Favre threw 29 interceptions last season as a result of a horrible running game and his poor decision making while forced into a team-record number of passing attempts. Also key is the offensive line, which will include a couple of untested guards and promising but unproven Scott Wells at center. McCarthy's offensive coordinator, Jeff Jagodzinski, brought with him from Atlanta the Falcons' potent zone-blocking scheme. That scheme has been beyond effective in Atlanta and Denver, and if the line gets the knack of the nuances and Ahman Green is healthy or Samkon Gado can make the adjustment after a rough offseason, the Packers could be in business. The Packers' defense wasn't bad last year, and with the additions of Hawk and Woodson, that unit should be better. Still, the defense is on its fourth coordinator in as many years. Luckily, Bob Sanders is retaining much of what he learned under Jim Bates.

Minnesota Vikings

Last year's record: 9-7

Camp opens: Thursday for rookies, Sunday for veterans

Key additions: C/G Ryan Cook (2nd round/New Mexico); LB Chad Greenway (1st round/Iowa); CB Cedric Griffin (2nd round/Texas); G Steve Hutchinson (TFA/Seattle); LB Ben Leber (FA/San Diego); K Ryan Longwell (FA/Green Bay); QB Mike McMahon (FA/Philadelphia); FB Tony Richardson (FA/Kansas City); RB Chester Taylor (FA/Baltimore); SS Tank Williams (FA/Tennessee).

Key losses: WR Nate Burleson; QB Daunte Culpepper; CB Brian Williams.

Camp keys: New coach Brad Childress must put a dose of discipline in a team whose on-field accomplishments were lost amid the "Love Boat" scandal of last year. Childress also has to a take a perennial underachiever and turn it into a winner. He will lean on Brad Johnson, who will turn 38 on Sept. 13 and is the league's oldest quarterback. He went 7-2 as the starter last year, which gave the Vikings reason to get rid of Culpepper. Johnson must stay healthy; McMahon flopped in his chances in Detroit and Philadelphia. The additions of veterans Hutchinson, sledgehammer fullback Richardson and Taylor should help last year's 27th-ranked running game. Greenway and Griffin will be counted on to cure some of the defensive ills.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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