Camp analysis: NFC North quarterbacks
Starter - Jay Cutler. Backups - Jason Campbell, Josh McCown, Matt Blanchard.
The Bears were averaging 26.8 points per game with Cutler running the show in 2011. But in the six games after he suffered a season-ending thumb injury, they averaged 13.8 points. Prior to last season, the durable Cutler had missed just one game because of injury in his first five years in the league. He has more than enough arm strength to make all the throws, and he can elude the rush and run for positive yardage. His accuracy occasionally suffers because of inconsistent mechanics, but the Bears are a playoff team with him on the field. He has yet to post great numbers in Chicago, but he's had to work with a mediocre supporting cast the past three years. The talent around him is better this year. Jason Campbell is big, physical, athletic and by far the best backup the Bears have had in coach Lovie Smith's tenure. Campbell has 70 NFL starts and has put up numbers similar to Cutler's. When he got a chance to start the final two games last season, No. 3 Josh McCown played better than backup Caleb Hanie, even though he was signed off the street a few weeks earlier. He's also a big, athletic veteran with 33 NFL starts.
Starter - Matthew Stafford. Backups - Shaun Hill, Kellen Moore, R.J. Archer.
The only question remaining about Stafford is what he can do for an encore after throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns last season. For starters, he can be better on third downs and be more efficient and productive in the red zone. Hill returns to provide a capable veteran backup. The question is whether the Lions will carry three quarterbacks on the roster. Both Moore and Archer are a step back from Drew Stanton, who has moved on to Indianapolis. Moore's lack of arm strength was glaring at minicamp, which is why they brought back Arena League vet Archer. It is possible they would stash one of the two on the practice squad.
Green Bay Packers
Starter - Aaron Rodgers. Backups - Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman.
The ultracompetitive Rodgers is challenging himself to be better than how he performed in 2011, which statistically was the most efficient season by a quarterback in NFL history. Rodgers' record-setting passer rating of 122.5 included 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions, the latter of which the reigning first-time league MVP is motivated to cut to almost next to nothing. Anything would seem possible for the 28-year-old to achieve as he goes into just his fifth season as a starter and on the verge of breaking the bank – he has three years left on a six-year contract extension signed during the 2008 season, but his $8 million salary this season is a bargain for the Packers. Team management is banking on Rodgers' getting through another season unscathed. After letting the emerging Matt Flynn flee in free agency to Seattle for a starting opportunity, Green Bay hasn't been inclined to give Rodgers a veteran backup. That leaves Harrell and Coleman, who have zero snaps of meaningful NFL playing experience. Harrell, who learned behind Rodgers and Flynn the previous two years, is a stronger player with increased velocity on his throws and more attuned with the scheme. Coleman, a seventh-round draft pick this year out of Tennessee-Chattanooga, has potential to follow in the progressive footsteps of Flynn but will need time to hone his passing skills.
Starter - Christian Ponder. Backups - Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels.
Ponder has talked a good game so far. He's talked about learning from his mistakes. He's talked about being patient and not running from the pocket, throwing across his body, forcing balls into shrinking holes and doing all the other things that rookies are often known for. But in 11 games and 10 starts a year ago, he often made the same mistakes after talking about how he needed to learn from them. He had an excuse a year ago. The NFL lockout and the failed Donovan McNabb experiment cost him the preparation needed to have any chance of success as a rookie. He's now had an offseason, and the Vikings have surrounded him with better talent. If he fails now, the team's future is bleak. The coaches also would have to consider starting Webb, whose size, electric running style and strong arm make him the most intriguing player on the roster. The experience and composure that Rosenfels, a 12-year veteran, brings gives the Vikings an enviable situation should their top two quarterbacks go down.
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