Silverman: NFC North Rivals Have Plenty Of Issues Of Their Own
By Steve Silverman
(CBS) — The Chicago Bears are loaded with questions as they prepare for the start of training camp. How are they going to adapt to new coach Marc Trestman and will he be able to upgrade the Bears’ offensive attack?
Will an aging defense still be able to lock the door at key moments without middle linebacker Brian Urlacher?
The Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings all have issues of their own as they prepare for the 2013 season. Here’s a look at several of the questions the Bears’ division rivals face as they prepare for training camp.
Jim Schwartz is facing a critical season in his fifth year with the Lions. While the coach you see on the sidelines on Sunday is often mistake-prone, out of control and clueless much of the time, his players love him and he is actually an excellent coach from Monday through Saturday. However, since they play games on Sunday, Schwartz is under the gun.
He needs Reggie Bush to become a consistent, go-to running back who can take the heat off of quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions have not had a solid running attack for Stafford. Bush has plenty of speed, he can catch passes and he has demonstrated at various points in his career that he could be a No. 1 running back, but never for a full season. That’s what he must do for the Lions this year.
The Lions, like the Bears, have questions on the offensive line. While they appear to have some solid candidates for key positions, they are unproven. Second-year left tackle Riley Reiff has the tools – foot quickness, hand punch and nasty attitude – to succeed at his vital position. However, he’s unproven at this point. Third-round draft pick Larry Warford looks good enough to start at right guard, but how well will he stand up in training camp and at the start of the season?
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are likely to be the class of the division as long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy and the Packers provide him with adequate receivers.
However, the Packers want to become a much better defensive team after they were torched by Adrian Peterson and Colin Kaepernick at the end of last season. Defensive end Datone Jones brings size and athleticism to the Packers’ front. Nick Perry should take a lot of the burden as he starts opposite Clay Matthews at the outside linebacker spot. The Packers will find out if these changes are adequate when they go to San Francisco in Week One.
Specifically, the Packers have to find a strong safety who can do what Charles Woodson did in his prime. The battle for the position will be between M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian. Jennings should have the edge at the start of training camp, but head coach Mike McCarthy won’t put up with any inconsistency from him.
Much of what the Vikings will do this year depends on the progress of Christian Ponder. He seems to understand how to play the game, but his execution is the big problem. Ponder’s lack of proficiency almost killed the Vikings after a 5-2 start. If he can’t step it up this year, the Vikings will not be competitive.
On the defensive front, the Vikings were the team that was mentioned most frequently as a potential home for Urlacher. The reason for that was the Vikings unimpressive play at the linebacker position. While Chad Greenway is solid at on the strong-side, Leslie Frazier doesn’t have much in the middle or on the weak side.
Erin Henderson and Desmond Bishop will fight it out for the MLB spot and the loser will likely grab the weakside linebacker position. That’s not very comforting for the coaching staff. If Greenway gets neutralized, the Vikings are likely going to get run over on a consistent basis.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.