Sunday, August 01, 2010

The cold north wind blows.

The news in brief: Gerald McCoy has signed. Some other rookies signed. Albert Haynesworth missed his test with a knee problem. Tom Brady is hailing Bradfords new contract as a great thing (mainly because it raises the bar for his own). Right, with that out of the way let's take a look, as promised, at the NFC North and what might the teams be working on in their coming training camps. Minnesota Vikings With Favre still absent, Tavaris Jackson continues to get reps and build himself as a QB. You can't help but feel sorry for Tavaris as he grinds away all through training camp knowing that King Brett will walk in for the last week or so and take his job. Toby Gerhart will be doing his best Chester Taylor impression for a few weeks and Adrian Peterson will be learning how to carry the ball properly. The key to this camp for the Vikings is defense. Everson Griffen must push Ray Edwards to have a repeat year, and between them the two must present a sufficient enough threat to draw some attention away from Jared Allen. Meanwhile, with Cedric Griffin (they love their Griffins in Minnesota) down injured, the race is on to find a starter opposite Antoine Winfield. Is Lito Sheppard the answer? Probably not. If there is any weakness on this Vikings team it's the secondary, especially at the safety spots. Somehow, someway, the Vikings need to start making plays on the back end this year if they're going to get back to the playoffs. Everything else is set in place (almost) for another great year, but you have to wonder what will happen when Drew Brees turns up and starts picking holes. Expect to see plenty of coverage rotation in Minnesota this year. Green Bay Packers I've heard rumors that the Packers plan to throw bricks at Aaron Rodgers every time he holds onto the ball too long. This is of course untrue, but would certainly liven up the camp. Offensively, Rodgers's penchant for getting knocked over was the only problem the Packers really had last year. Ryan Grant somehow slipped into the upper tier of running backs unnoticed, while the Packers receiving corps continues to make jaws collectively drop across the country with their performance. And if it all goes wrong for Rodgers, Graham Harrell of Texas Tech fame is now waiting in the wings. First Round pick Brian Bulaga (on reflection, probably the second best Left Tackle in the draft) will likely start on the right side, getting ready to displace old man Clifton next year (yes, he's 34 now). So again, we must turn to the defense to hunt for a weakness and again it shows up in the secondary. Both Atari Bigby and Al Harris find themselves on the PUP list heading into camp, and given the already shaky nature of their secondary at times (Arizona will testify to that), you have to wonder whether this new 3-4 scheme will be fairly judged in the coming season. Towards the end of last year everything was starting to slot into place nicely, but unless Clay Matthews and co. can keep up the pressure, things will start going wrong quickly. So, the key is three fold: Find someone to draw attention away from Matthews, find someone to play opposite Charles Woodson (probably Tramon Williams), and step up the work rate for B.J. Raji. That last point shouldn't be overlooked. In a 3-4 scheme, the NT is critical. Raji needs to step up and become the focus of the defense. I'd imagine the Packers too will spend some time honing their rotating coverages. Chicago Bears For all the talk of Mike Martz and Jay Cutler having to find a partnership etc, it's the O-line in Chicago that needs the most attention in camp. It might have been a little easier for Cutler last year were it not for the fact that the Bears couldn't run the ball. Anytime they needed yards, it was always going to come down to whether Cutler could find them. With the release of LT Orlando (No)Pace - the sole person with prior knowledge of Martz's scheme - the job of protecting Culters backside now falls to Chris Williams. He might have stepped up well towards the end of last year, but it's going to be a whole different prospect keeping it up for 16 games. The main theme though should be run blocking, especially in the Red Zone. The struggles of RB Matt Forte were well covered in the media, but much of the blame has to fall on this line unit. With Chester Taylor brought in through Free Agency, we'll soon see who's at fault. Defensively the Bears are in surprisingly good shape. Julius Peppers is a solid, if bloody expensive addition to the roster. Brian Urlacher should be back and healed from last years season ending wrist injury. And the Bears secondary is... well it's the Bears secondary. Overall this D-unit should be able to fight it out with the best of them. Which means they'll probably spend the whole of training camp boosting their confidence by picking off Jay Cutler.... Detroit Lions D-Fense. That's what camp is all about for the Lions in 2010. Jim Schwartz has brought together some of the pieces and now they have to find a way to make it all click. The Lions have been just, awful for too long now. Their D-line has lacked anything that might even be tentatively described as organisation in the pre-schwartz era, and the secondary has sieve makers across the states drooling at the prospective marketing opportunities. This has to change. Ndamukong Suh must live up to the hype. But most importantly for the Lions this year, Kyle Vanden Bosch must grab this D-line by the scruff of the neck and start fixing some of the leadership issues. He must be the coach among the players, showing them the way that Jim Schwartz wants it done on defense. He must guide them. He must control them. He must teach them how to recognise a f&*%ing screen play for a change. Matthew Stafford and the offense will, I imagine, take a back seat. Despite a shaky start, all signs point to Stafford having a promising career ahead. When he came back onto the field and threw a last gasp TD against the Browns, despite separating his shoulder on the previous play, that pretty much cemented Stafford as the leader of the offense. With Jahvid Best added to the team to help on the ground and Nate Burleson added to help draw coverage from Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, the Lions offense should do just fine. So, that's the NFC North done. Tomorrow I want to look at the 2008 and possibly 2007 draft classes as a kind of "where are they now?", and hopefully to get a better idea of what we can expect of this years draft class in the coming season. Then at some point we'll move on in our virtual training camp tour to the NFC East, perennially one of the toughest divisions in the league. Have a great day everyone.

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