NFC North Rivals' Offensive Outlooks

Yesterday we reviewed the Vikings' offensive changes this offseason and their outlook heading into training camp, but how well do you know what's gone on with the other teams in the NFC North division? We take a look at the newbies and the offensive potential of the Bears, Lions and Packers.


The Bears' offensive outlook entering training camp:

All the offensive starters are back, although quarterback Rex Grossman started just once last season because of a fractured ankle.

Having Grossman healthy for an entire season would be the biggest boost for an offense that struggled all season behind rookie Kyle Orton, a fourth-round pick who wasn't even supposed to play but was forced into action after Grossman was injured in the preseason and Chad Hutchinson bombed as his replacement.

The most important offensive addition is backup quarterback Brian Griese, who has produced impressive results as a starter for most of his eight previous NFL seasons. With Grossman's extensive injury history, Griese's presence ostensibly would allow the Bears' offense to proceed smoothly should the starter go down again. The quarterback position is stronger top to bottom, since Grossman's return to health and Griese's addition push Orton -- a 15-game starter last season -- down to No. 3 on the depth chart.

Because of Thomas Jones' absence from all of the voluntary stages of the Bears' off-season program, Cedric Benson has a better chance to move past him on the depth chart. Jones is coming off a 1,335-yared season but is dissatisfied with the $5 million he will receive over the final two years of the contract he signed after the 2003 season as an unrestricted free agent who was not in great demand.

The Bears believe they need two quality running backs in offensive coordinator Ron Turner's run-first version of the West Coast offense. Although Jones would like a trade and a new contract, he is more valuable to the Bears either as a starter or the backup to Benson. Even if Jones regains his starting spot, which is currently up for grabs, Benson will see a sizable increase in his workload over 2005, when he carried the ball just 67 times.

The offensive line returns intact with only a minor tweaking. Terrence Metcalf started 13 games at right guard, but he is currently playing behind Roberto Garza, who started three times at right guard last season and four times at left guard. Whoever doesn't start will likely be the swing guard and backup center.

Last year as a rookie, wide receiver Mark Bradley had begun to establish himself as a legitimate starter opposite Muhsin Muhammad. But he suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 30, seemingly jeopardizing his ability to come back at the same level this season. Bradley, however, appeared to be 100 percent recovered during spring practices and could be ready to establish himself as a reliable complement to Muhammad.

The Bears also have high hopes for skinny wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who came on late last season and showed signs of courageousness over the middle and of becoming more than just a sideline option. Airese Currie essentially red-shirted last season because of a variety of injuries, but he is the fastest player on the team and provides another big-play option.

Kicker Robbie Gould performed very well as a rookie (21 of 27 field goals), especially considering the sometimes-difficult conditions at Soldier Field, and his kickoffs were solid. But he could be pushed hard for his job by Josh Huston, an undrafted free agent from Ohio State with a big leg.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've made a run and had a good season (in 2005). We've gone on a long winning streak (eight in a row), and now the next phase we have to go through is how to come back from a tough loss (in the divisional round to the Panthers), when we've been knocked down. This team will get up. That's the next step for us. We can't wait for the season to start. We can't wait to get up, and this time we're going to handle success a lot better." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith.


The Lions' offensive outlook entering training camp:

The Lions' biggest offensive changes from last year are right at the top -- offensive coordinator Mike Martz replaces former head coach Steve Mariucci as the man running the offense and the "Greatest Show on Turf" replaces the West Coast offense.

But those are not the only changes that will be showing up at Ford Field this fall. Far from it.

Jon Kitna, an 11-year veteran, is the frontrunner to win the quarterback job, replacing Joey Harrington, who decided four years of misery and abuse from fans, coaches and teammates was all he could stomach. Harrington was traded to Miami.

There will be at least one change in the offensive line. It appears likely Ross Verba will take over at left guard, a position left vacant when Kyle Kosier left during free agency, and there is an even-money chance that Rex Tucker will take the right tackle job from Kelly Butler.

And it can be safely assumed that the receivers -- whoever the starters turn out to be -- will be better prepared and will execute better than they did in last year's disappointing 5-11 season.

Roy Williams is the only one of the three first-round receivers who is locked in as a starter. Charles Rogers is showing signs of improvement after three troubled seasons with injuries and a drug suspension, but Mike Williams still has to prove he's disciplined and fit enough to win a starting job.

The disciplined approach of coach Rod Marinelli and Martz have brought a whole new realization to the Lions offensive unit.

"He's very demanding," Roy Williams said, referring to Martz. "I don't know if I can say it but I jokingly said to myself he's like a terrorist on a football field. He can blow things up at any time he feels like it and that falls on our shoulders. He can dial it up and we've just got to execute it.

"I'm making no predictions this year. I just want to go out there and play and see (what happens). We've got the best offensive coordinator/head coach/mastermind in the country. As long as we do what he tells us to do there's no stopping us."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the fact we stunk it up the last five years might have something to do with it." - Fullback Cory Schlesinger explaining why most of the Lions players have bought into the aggressive, disciplined approach of coach Rod Marinelli and his staff


The Packers' offensive outlook entering training camp:

An offense that plummeted to 18th in the league for total yards and 22nd for scoring lost its top playmaker in wide receiver Javon Walker (traded to Denver), Pro Bowl center Mike Flanagan (free agent-Houston), third-down back Tony Fisher (free agent-St. Louis) and the franchise's all-time scoring leader in kicker Ryan Longwell (free agent-Minnesota).

Green Bay did little of note to replace them, though, opting instead to mostly replenish through the draft and go with a change in offensive philosophy under new head coach Mike McCarthy.

The Packers are spicing up their longstanding West Coast system with a zone-blocking scheme intended to bolster a once-formidable rushing attack that ranked 30th in 2005 with an averaged of only 84.5 yards per game.

The shift to lighter, athletic blockers along the line dictated the selections of Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz in the first three rounds of the draft. Colledge is all but a lock to be the opening-day starter at left guard, while Spitz has moved ahead of second-year Junius Coston for the job at right guard. Scott Wells gets a full-time shot at center as Flanagan's replacement.

Despite giving in to Walker's trade demand, the Packers have assembled potentially a deeper corps of talented receivers for Brett Favre's 15th -- and final? -- year at quarterback.

Greg Jennings was a second-round draft pick and seemed to be ahead of the learning curve in off-season workouts. He could push Robert Ferguson and Rod Gardner for the No. 2 spot, with Donald Driver entrenched as Favre's go-to receiver.

Fourth-round draftee Cory Rodgers and veteran free-agent signee Marc Boerigter will challenge for situational roles.

Identifying even an adequate replacement for Longwell is the big unknown heading into training camp. Dallas castoff Billy Cundiff and kickoff specialist Dave Rayner are the candidates at the moment, though neither is assured of still being on the roster in early September. The Packers missed out in free agency on signing Adam Vinatieri, perhaps the only kicker who can handle crummy weather conditions as deftly as Longwell did for nine years.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You never know when your body is going to give out. I've been so fortunate after 15 years, this will be 16, that I've been able to play every game. You figure it's just a matter of time before something gives out. It's like driving a car -- eventually, you're going to have a blowout. I don't want that to happen. I've had a lot of success. I don't need to play. I'm playing because I like to play; I love the game." -- Quarterback Brett Favre while he was in Chicago on June 27 to shoot a commercial for Sensodyne toothpaste.

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