Training camp is almost upon us and that means it's proving time for rookies and veterans a like. It's also that time of year for us to look back on the offseason and see what everyone has done. No offseason is perfect. Every team tries to improve from the year before but there is always a hole left over for your opponent to take advantage of. or a soft spot to the roster. Let's take a small trip around the NFC North and look at where those questions are for each of the three teams:
The Green Bay Packers: Was enough done to improve the defense?
The draft was a drastic action to improve the defense. The first six of eight picks all spent on defense, the first two just on pass rush. Along with that the free agent waters were tested for some bargain defensive linemen who could push the pocket as well. The problem is that two of the guys being counted on that defensive line are going to be suspended for significant portions of the season (Mike Neal and Anthony Hargrove). It can also be problematic to rely on rookies to contribute right away. The defense is going to need to complement the offense more this year than it did last year, no matter how good that offense is; the Packers need a defense come playoff time. Nevertheless it should be an interesting camp with much more competition at all three levels of the defense, which should give some sort of answer.
The Detroit Lions: Is this team still hungry?
There was a big media blow up recently over comments Greg Jennings made about the Detroit Lions. The comments were made as a part of a piece on NFL Network about questions going into training camp for the NFC North. Jennings question caught the headlines, but it was Warren Sapp's question that caught my attention. Sapp wondered how this team was going to handle success. It's been noted more than once this offseason that teams that cast off the losing team exterior and make the playoffs for the first time in a long time are likely to backslide the next year. Why? They are satisfied with where they are at and don't work as hard the next year. This is what strikes me with the Lions more than any discipline issues they have faced. You have seen lots of Lions on ESPN, NFLN, and countless websites, but how often have you heard them mention how bitter it was to lose in New Orleans? No, you typically hear about how far they've come and how happy they are not to be losing anymore. That's not the sound of a hungry team, and if they don't get hungry soon they could be in store for a disappointing season.
The Chicago Bears: How is it all going to fit together?
To me the Bears offseason is a lot like shopping for furniture at Ikea. Sure all your friends say it's a great deal and everything looks good in the store; but when you get home and open the box there is always a moment when you wonder if it's going to come together and be the pleasant surprise you were hoping for deal or a wobbly piece of crap that you want to forget. The Bears made some significant changes this offseason, and if how are all these pieces come together the Bears will be a great team. But there are a lot of if's to work out. IF any one of the big three of the defense don't show their age this year; IF the set up with Tice calling runs and Bates calling passes works out; IF Marshall keeps his head on straight; IF the offensive line can improve without personnel upgrades; IF Jefferies stays motivate and/or doesn't eat his way out of the NFL; IF the "Devin Hester Package" can work; etc., etc. Don't get me wrong, I'm more worried about the Bears than the Lions this year, but that's a lot of if's.
The Minnesota Vikings: Is this franchise finally on the right track?
A while ago I came across a comment that the past two years would be known as the forgotten years of Vikings history. Pretty understandable statement since it seemed that the organization was in denial on the state of the franchise for that period of time, but I'll give 2010 a pass. It was too close to the success of 2009, and so I can understand where they may have been confused then. Last year was rather inexcusable though. It seemed like everyone could see the handwriting on the wall but the Vikings and a large chunk of their fans. Now they have the stadium done, an actual GM in place, and more of an emphasis on the draft than in years past. Most important is the fact that they finally have the stadium fight behind them. This could be enough to move the franchise forward, but as always there is drama still present. Adrian Peterson is getting paid big money, but if he doesn't make a full recovery the prime years of his career could be over. Jared Allen is still in his prime but those prime years are ending. The only young superstar on the team, Percy Harvin, well let's just say he had an interesting offseason as well. The answer to this question lies in Christian Ponder. A good year for him could move this franchise out of rebuilding and into a playoff push which could squeeze a nice run into the window for AP and Allen; and keep Harvin happy too. If Ponder doesn't show something this year then there could be trouble on the horizon though.