NFC North Training Camp Goals

While the Bears won the NFC North last year and have virtually the same starters intact this year, there are still weak spots they are looking to improve. And you know the Lions and Packers have plenty of room for improvement. Find out the training camp goals for each of the Vikings' divisional rivals.


  • Develop an NFL-caliber receiving corps: Aside from aging Muhsin Muhammad, who will be 33 on opening day, the Bears don't have any special receivers. And it's not for sure that Muhammad is very special anymore, after his 64-catch, 750-yard 2005 season.

    The rest of the Bears' wideouts are young players with assorted physical skills and heavy on potential but — so far — light on production. Mark Bradley appeared on the verge of stardom as a rookie last season when he suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 30. If he's back to 100 percent, as he appeared in OTA's, he could be a solid No. 2. Skinny, fragile Bernard Berrian has big-play speed, and he started to step up at the end of ‘05. Six-foot-four Justin Gage was the team's second-leading receiver last year, but he needs to take another step in his fourth season or he'll be passed up by younger players like Airese Currie, another deep threat who missed all of his rookie season with injuries.

    The Bears' conglomeration of tight ends may be one of the league's weakest. Incumbent Desmond Clark's production keeps declining (24 catches for 229 yards last year), and the Bears struck out in the draft, when 17 tight ends were taken. They've promised to use Clark more this season, but that's not the first time Bears fans have heard that about a tight end.

  • Keep Rex Grossman healthy: Last season, the perennial quarterback of the future suffered a fractured ankle in the second preseason game and didn't play until Game 15 of the regular season. A year earlier he was lost for the season in the third regular season game.

    The mere presence of a healthy Grossman for 16 games should guarantee improvement on the offense. Grossman is in his fourth year, although this is the first time the Bears' offensive system and coordinator haven't changed. Grossman appears to be the real deal, and he doesn't lack for confidence.

    "I know that you've got to perform in this league to keep your job," he said after veteran Brian Griese was signed to be his backup, "and that's what I plan on doing."

    Grossman gets rid of the ball faster than most NFL quarterbacks, reads defenses quickly and gets the ball to the right receiver, usually with great accuracy. But, because of injuries in each of his three previous seasons, he hasn't played enough — just seven starts — to justify the Bears' faith in him.

  • Decide who is the featured runner: Thomas Jones rushed for a career-high 1,335 yards last season, but he is unhappy with the two years left on a four-year, $10 million deal — so much so that he boycotted all voluntary activities in the spring and summer. Jones isn't happy that he's making far less money than Cedric Benson, the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, who has a five-year, $35 million contract. Jones remains arguably the hardest worker on the team, so there is no doubt that he'll arrive in camp in shape. Last season he seemed to use Benson's presence as incentive for a career year. Benson wasn't happy with the 67 carries he got last year, but he got a lot of work with the first team in the off-season while Jones was absent. If they aren't on equal footing entering camp, they're close.

    CAMP CALENDAR: Players report to Olivet Nazarene University in far south suburban Bourbonnais on Wednesday, July 26, and the first practice is at noon, Thursday, July 27. Camp closes after a 10 a.m. practice on Wednesday, Aug. 16. The Bears have a 7 p.m. practice at Soldier Field on Wednesday, Aug. 9; and 7 p.m. practices under the lights at ONU's Turner Field on Friday, Aug. 4, Tuesday, Aug. 8, and Sunday, Aug. 13.


  • The Bears will be desperately seeking a reliable complement for go-to wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad once training camp begins, and for now, the competition is wide open.

    According to wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, there are several players in the mix.

    "Right now that No. 2 is hard to say," Drake said. "With Mark Bradley (rebounding from a knee injury) and Justin Gage having a few injuries this spring, Bernard Berrian right now has the inside shot at it. But if things continue to progress, you need to keep your eyes on Rashied Davis because he has demonstrated this off-season that he has the ability and potential to be that guy. He's jumped into the mix in my opinion, and he needs to continue to do that."

    Davis is a former Arena League MVP who played cornerback and special teams for the Bears last season but has switched to offense this year.

  • Justin Gage was second on the Bears last season with 31 receptions and 346 receiving yards, but he'll be hard-pressed to hold off younger, faster competition this season like Bernard Berrian, Mark Bradley, Rashied Davis and Airese Currie.

    "Justin is Justin," said wide receivers coach Darryl Drake. "He's steady and consistent. Justin doesn't have the speed that you would like, but there's a role for him. He's a guy that when you put him in there, you don't (worry) because you know that he's going to do the right thing. You know that if the opportunity's there for him to make a play, he'll make it. Justin's a guy who you can put in and trust to do things the right way."

    The 6-foot-4 Gage, who played basketball in addition to football at Missouri, creates mismatches with his size and leaping ability, but he hasn't ever established himself as a go-to guy who can get consistent separation.

  • Even though he's No. 3 on the depth chart, Adrian Peterson led all Bears running backs with a 5.1-yard average per carry last season, picking up 391 yards on 76 carries. He also averaged 6.9 yards per reception, better than both Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson.

    Running backs coach Tim Spencer said Peterson could be a starter in the NFL.

    "He can do anything that our position requires him to do and do it well while also playing on special teams," Spencer said. "He's a jack of all trades, and master of all. That would be A.P."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Thomas is a smart individual. We know that Thomas is going to be in shape. Thomas came in here for the minicamp, and he didn't miss a beat. There are some things we might need to tweak, but I'd venture to say that he'll be in shape and he'll be ready to go and he won't miss a beat." — Bears running backs coach Tim Spencer, downplaying the effect of Thomas Jones' absence from most off-season activities.


  • Adjust to their new head coach: Coach Rod Marinelli has to complete the job he started in the off-season mini-camps, most notably setting new standards for toughness, discipline and work ethic.

    In recent seasons, the Lions became a soft, undisciplined football team and the results couldn't have been more obvious. They won only 21 games while losing 59 over the past five years.

    That kind of record — and the attitude that accompanied it — will not be acceptable for the new regime, headed by Marinelli with Mike Martz running the offense and Donnie Henderson running the defense.

    Marinelli laid the groundwork for the new approach during the off-season workouts and, while most players bought into it — or at least claimed to have bought into it — it is noteworthy that the new, first-time head coach met some resistance along the way.

    One or more players filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association — apparently on the grounds Marinelli was keeping them on the field too long or the workouts were too physical to be conducted in shorts and helmets — and the Lions lost two days of offseason training activities as a result.

    The off-season workouts were probably only a hint of what the Lions can expect when training camp workouts begin in Allen Park on July 28. It is expected there will be more contact work than the Lions have experienced since the departure of former coach Bobby Ross during the 2000 season.

    Marinelli believes there is only one way to win and that is through hard work and toughness, and his coordinators — Martz and Henderson — are just as demanding as Marinelli.

  • Establish Jon Kitna — or Josh McCown — as the starting quarterback: When president Matt Millen and Marinelli went after Kitna on the free agent market last winter it was clearly with the idea he would push Joey Harrington for the starting job.

    Within a matter of weeks, however, all of that changed. Harrington, frustrated and beaten down after four years as the whipping boy in the West Coast offense, couldn't bring himself to return to a hostile locker room and asked to be traded.

    Millen, who still believed Harrington can be a winning NFL quarterback, and Marinelli, who was willing to give him a fresh start in a conventional offense, were surprised and somewhat disappointed but agreed to give him a fresh start. They eventually traded him to Miami, then went back to the free agent market to sign McCown, a veteran of four years at Arizona.

    Although Marinelli has declared the quarterback competition open, Kitna has much more experience and has shown himself to be a more consistent, productive quarterback. He took most of the snaps with the first offense during the mini-camps and offseason training activities but has yet to prove on the practice field and in exhibition games that he can run the team more effectively than McCown.

    Dan Orlovsky, a fifth-round draft pick in 2005, probably does not have the experience to compete for the starting job but he has the talent to qualify as a Martz developmental project. He'll get plenty of work in training camp but will probably go into the season as the No. 3 quarterback.

  • Put together a workable set of linebackers: For four years the Lions have drafted fast, athletic linebackers; now they'll have to see if any of them can stay healthy and play at a productive level.

    And the problem is that two of them — second-round picks Boss Bailey (2003) and Teddy Lehman (2004) — are coming off off-season foot surgeries that kept them out of the off-season indoctrination process.

    If they're healthy at the opening of camp, it's likely Marinelli and Henderson will have Bailey playing in the middle with Lehman on the strong side, where he played much of his rookie year while Bailey was out with injuries.

    Ernie Sims, the Lions' No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, is expected to get a shot at the weak-side linebacker position, with James Davis (a fourth-year player) and Alex Lewis (a third-year player) competing for playing time.

    Earl Holmes, last year's middle linebacker and most effective linebacker, no longer has the speed to play Henderson's system and was not re-signed, assuring this year's linebacking corps a new look.

    CAMP CALENDAR: July 27 — All players report to training camp; July 28 — Two-a-day workouts begin; August 11 — exhibition opener against Denver.


  • By quarterback Jon Kitna's estimation, the Lions got only about 30 percent of their offense installed during the off-season mini-camps, which means they will have a tremendous amount of work facing them at the start of training camp.

    Nevertheless, Kitna — the pre-camp favorite to emerge with the No. 1 quarterback job — feels the Lions have a solid basis from which to learn the rest of the Mike Martz offense.

    "It's still above the average NFL level and training camp will be much more intensive," Kitna said. "We'll go through 14 practices in the first two weeks; we've had 14 practices the last two months (of OTAs)."

    Actually, the Lions will have more like 25 practices in the first two weeks of training camp, with two-a-days scheduled to begin July 28.

  • Coach Rod Marinelli has made a lot of changes — physical and mental — in the Lions' approach since he was hired in February, but he says he never considered moving the team away from its Allen Park facility for training camp.

    "I wanted to keep as many things the same as I could," Marinelli explained. "Otherwise, I thought it was a hindrance."

    Neither was Marinelli eager to hold a combined workout with any other NFL team or teams.

    "I really didn't want to do it the first (season)," he said. "Sometimes you have to cut back when you go into it wanting to see certain things. I didn't need an added distraction. I just wanted to make sure this camp goes right, that our installation pace is at our pace that we want and at the tempo we want."

    The last time the Lions held an out-of-town training camp was under Marty Mornhinweg, when they practiced at Saginaw Valley State College in 2001. Since the opening of their Allen Park facility, the Lions have held training camp there. It is closed to the public.

  • The Lions saved their franchise player tag and left tackle Jeff Backus got the long-term security he was seeking in an 11th-hour deal worth $15.5 million in guaranteed money on a six-year contract.

    The Lions and Backus arrived at the settlement last Thursday afternoon; approximately four and a half months after the team had put the franchise tag on Backus, guaranteeing him $6.98 million for the 2006 season.

    Had they not settled on a new contract before the July 14 deadline, the Lions could not have negotiated a new contract until the end of the 2006 season without risking the franchise tag for the duration of Backus' contract.

    Although Backus has not reached the elite level of NFL left tackles, he has been a pillar of strength for the Lions — starting all 80 games since he was taken in the first round of the 2001 draft, playing over injuries and proving himself as one of the hardest workers on the team.

    "He embodies what (coach) Rod Marinelli's looking for in terms of football character," said Lions chief operating officer Tom Lewand. "He rarely misses a practice. He's played hurt. He goes above and beyond, and he has developed into one of the most solid left tackles in the league — solid and steady. He's the kind of guy you can count on day in and day out."

    Backus, who is coming off off-season ankle surgery, was clearly miffed at the team's inability to come up with a satisfactory long-term contract at the start of free agency last winter, but he was clearly pleased with the Lions' efforts resulting in the current deal.

    "It's a big load off my shoulders," he said.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's been a big adjustment but I think we adjusted to it fine. It's a lot faster than we're used to but we're starting to get used to it now, so it's getting to be second nature." — Running back Kevin Jones on the increased practice tempo under coach Rod Marinelli and his staff.


  • Determine if starting rookies at both guard spots will work out: Brett Favre wasn't helped any when seventh-round draft pick Will Whitticker floundered at right guard last season after surprisingly winning the starting job in training camp.

    Now, new coach Mike McCarthy is considering going with two rookies at the guard spots in Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz. The Packers have never opened a season with two first-year players on the offensive line since at least the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

    The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Colledge was taken in the second round and is the prototype in size, demeanor and skill of what the Packers want in their interior linemen as they go with a zone-blocking scheme. Third-round pick Spitz, likewise, endears himself with a feisty attitude. Together, they're young, yet unrefined versions of Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, the talented tandem Green Bay still is seeking to replace after letting them go following the 2004 season.

    Solidifying the line, which offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski wants accomplished early in camp, is paramount to keeping Favre upright and getting a stagnant rushing attack back on track.

  • Surround Favre with enough skilled guys to make his possible last hurrah worthwhile: The Packers enter camp unsure of what they'll have at running back and wide receiver, which might lead to another season of Favre feeling he has to take the game in his own hands. Last year, such a scenario was disastrous as Favre had a career- and league-high 29 interceptions.

    Top backs Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport were sidelined the entire off-season after missing most of last season with leg injuries. Green still isn't fully recovered from a torn thigh muscle, and he might not be cleared for contact until the latter part of camp. Green Bay is counting on him to be its starter opening day. If his comeback doesn't prove to be successful, the Packers probably will be in a world of hurt this season.

    Meanwhile, Donald Driver is the only receiver about whom Favre has no qualms. The Packers granted Javon Walker his wish to be traded in the off-season, stripping them of a starter and their deep-ball threat. A camp battle will be waged among Robert Ferguson, Rod Gardner and rookie Greg Jennings for the No. 2 job.

    Absent quality playmakers, however, Favre could be second-guessing why he even bothered putting off retirement another year.

  • Find someone who can fill Ryan Longwell's prolific right shoe: The Packers let their all-time scoring leader take his kicking tee to division rival Minnesota. Perhaps taken for granted, Longwell was a master of the nasty elements indigenous to Green Bay once November hits.

    The Packers failed to land Adam Vinatieri in free agency and are left with a camp competition between Billy Cundiff and Dave Rayner. Both have strong legs, but neither will stop Green Bay fans from longing for Longwell. Cundiff had accuracy issues in four years with Dallas. Rayner was relegated to kickoff duties last season with Indianapolis.

    CAMP CALENDAR: Opens July 28 in Green Bay, closes Aug. 26. There will be an intrasquad scrimmage the evening of Aug. 5 before a sellout crowd at Lambeau Field.


  • Newly elected team president John Jones is recovering at home after undergoing open-heart surgery June 11.

    "He's resting very well," chairman/chief executive officer Bob Harlan told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "I'm not sure how soon he'll be back (to work). There's no rush."

    Jones, 54, succeeded Harlan as the organization's 10th president May 31. Harlan will remain in the front office until he retires next May after turning 70.

  • The publicly owned Packers are expecting a record turnout of 30,000 people for the annual shareholders meeting the morning of July 19 inside Lambeau Field.

    It's the first time the event will be at the stadium since 1999. About 5,000 people had to be turned away last year when the meeting was held across the street at the 10,000-seat Resch Center.

    Shareholders attending the meeting can bring one guest. The attendees will get a tour of facilities, including the Packers locker room, after the meeting.

  • Former tight end Keith Jackson will present the late Reggie White for induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame on July 22 at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

    White, the team's all-time sacks leader, died Dec. 26, 2004, at age 43 from a respiratory ailment. He will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 5.

    Besides Jackson, former teammates Edgar Bennett, LeRoy Butler, Santana Dotson, William Henderson, Sean Jones and Frank Winters are expected to attend the Packers Hall of Fame induction banquet.

  • The Packers are commemorating the 10th anniversary of their Super Bowl XXXI-winning season in 1996 with the creation of an anniversary logo, which will be displayed on game tickets and programs during the upcoming season.

    The club also will play highlights from the Super Bowl victory over New England on the video boards at Lambeau Field during game days.

    "I think the fans will enjoy some of the things we have planned, which will conjure up some great memories and allow us all to relive exciting moments," Harlan said.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "The offensive line is really the question mark because we're so young right now. It's a two-edged sword. One, it's good because they're only going to get better. But, on the other hand, it's going to take time for them to get that way; there's going to be some mistakes." — Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski on the state of the offense entering training camp, which starts July 28.

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