Preseason Watchlist - NFC North
By Jason Wood
July 26th, 2010

Chicago Bears

  • Link: http://www.chicagobears.com/events/TrainingCampActivities.asp
  • Location: Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, IL)
  • Dates: July 30 (Rooks & Vets) - August 19
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Bears return to Olivet Nazarene University on July 30th for a make-or-break training camp for Lovie Smith and his coaches. Much of the attention will be on new coordinators Rod Marinelli and Mike Martz, who both have their work cut out for them. Martz is going to completely transform the offense, and no one's job is safe outside of QB Jay Cutler. On defense, Marinelli will keep the Tampa Cover-2 in place but look to tighten up a unit that was inconsistent and injury-plagued in 2009.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/14 - @San Diego (9:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/21 - Oakland (8:30 PM Eastern)
  • 8/28 - Arizona (8:30 PM Eastern)
  • 9/02 - @Cleveland (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • What We're Watching

  • Can QB Jay Cutler and OC Mike Martz co-exist? - Mike Martz has turned the likes of Jon Kitna and Marc Bulger into fantasy stars, so Jay Cutler should be capable of eye popping numbers. But Cutler has maturity issues and will be challenged in camp in what will be a battle of egos. If Cutler accepts the tough love, this offense could click on all facets. But if not? This could be a disaster in the making.

  • The WR Depth Chart - Fantasy owners are in love with Devin Aromashodu, but we think Devin Hester is the WR1 of this bunch. His quicks and ability with the ball in his hands are ready made for Martz' spread attack. Either way, both Devins plus Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett will all likely see plenty of snaps, the question is who gets the majority? The starters could be fantasy steals, so watch that depth chart all preseason.

  • RBs Matt Forte vs. Chester Taylor - Matt Forte flopped in Year 2 and the Bears brought in skilled veteran Chester Taylor for competition. Mike Martz probably won't call enough running plays to make a committee viable for fantasy owners, so all eyes will be on the duo to see if either can secure the main role.

  • Is TE Greg Olsen really in limbo? - Greg Olsen has the hands and athleticism to be a fantasy starter, but he's probably the biggest loser in the Martz hire. The team signed Brandon "Blocker" Manumaleuna and also have Desmond Clark under contract. It's tough to see Olsen playing a big enough role to matter as more than a spot starter.

  • Is the defense poised for a rebound? - The Bears allowed 29 TD passes and gave up 2,022 yards rushing last year, numbers that give Windy City fans chills. The team added DE Julius Peppers - the gem of this year's free agent class - and also benefit from a healthy return of LB Brian Urlacher. But will that be enough? Aside from CB Charles Tillman, the secondary is unsettled particularly at safety.

  • Detroit Lions

  • Link: Lions Training Camp Practice FAQ
  • Location: Detroit Lions Training Facility (Allen Park, MI)
  • Dates: July 30 (Rooks & Vets) - August 19
  • Open to the public? - Select dates only (see website)
  • The Lions have the sense of going in the right direction as they start training camp on July 30th. But in order for that perception to translate into wins on Sundays, a LOT of questions need to be answered over the next month. On defense, in particular, virtually every job is up for grabs as DC Gunther Cunningham looks to improve on the league's most porous D (32nd in points and yards allowed). It will be important to get 2nd overall pick DT Ndamukong Suh signed and in camp quickly because he holds the key to rebuilding the defensive front.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/14 - @Pittsburgh (7:30 PM Eastern)
  • 8/21 - @Denver (9:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/28 - Cleveland (5:30 PM Eastern)
  • 9/02 - Buffalo (7:00 PM Eastern)
  • What We're Watching

  • Keeping the offense healthy - Matthew Stafford struggled in his rookie season but the 1st overall pick is still projected as a potential star, and fantasy owners are going as far as expecting him to push for Top QB2 honors. The key, above all else, is getting better luck this year in terms of health. Calvin Johnson and Stafford both played hurt last year, and Kevin Smith and Brandon Pettigrew were shelved before season's end.

  • RB Jahvid Best's role - Jahvid Best has the opportunity for a full-time role right at the start, but the Lions would do well to foster a sense of competition in camp for the young dynamo. Kevin Smith believes he'll have the opportunity to hold onto his starting job, but Best is healthy and extremely talented. So long as Best is in camp on time and can pick up the blocking schemes, he should be in line for the majority of the RB touches.

  • TEs Brandon Pettigrew vs. Tony Scheffler - Brandon Pettigrew is being brought along slowly as he recovers from ACL surgery, and may not participate in much of the preseason. That opens the door for Tony Scheffler to build rapport with Matthew Stafford. Scheffler is a forgotten man in fantasy circles and could be an intriguing late round flier if it's clear he will be a regular part of the offensive lineup.

  • The defensive line rotation - HC Jim Schwartz is happy to have Kyle Vanden Bosch back under his watch, and the veteran will be expected to provide a consistent pass rush. DT Suh should start immediately but what about the other spots in the D-line rotation? DEs Jason Hunter, Jared DeVries, Cliff Avril and Turk McBride all have designs on playing time. At tackle, Sammie Hill, Corey Williams, Landon Cohen and Andre Fluellen will fight for roles.

  • The starting linebackers - Julian Peterson and DeAndre Levy will start on the strong-side and middle, respectively, but Zack Follett and Landon Johnson will duke it out at the Will.

  • Who plays in the secondary other than FS Louis Delmas? - Second-year safety Louis Delmas is a keeper but no other role in the secondary is set in stone entering camp. Rookie CB Amari Spievey will contend with the likes of Chris Houston, Jon Wade, Dre Bly, Dante Wesley and Eric King at corner. At strong safety, the trio of Ko Simpson, Marquand Manuel and C.C. Brown all want the starting role.

  • Green Bay Packers

  • Link: http://www.packerstrainingcamp.com/
  • Location: St. Norbert College (De Pere, WI)
  • Dates: July 30 (Rooks & Vets) - August 31
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Packers return to St. Norbert College for the 53rd year on July 30th, with practices starting on the 31st. The Packers are done rebuilding and will look to reinforce depth on a team that should be in contention for the division title and quite possibly more. There aren't a lot of jobs up for grabs, but the team is hopeful that a few young players are so impressive as to force the coaches hand in playing them over some aging veterans.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/14 - Cleveland (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/21 - @Seattle (10:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/26 - Indianapolis (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 9/02 - @Kansas City (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • What We're Watching

  • Does WR Donald Driver have another year in the tank? - Donald Driver is 35 years old and had both knees scoped in January. He wasn't able to participate in mini-camps and if he isn't a full participant in training camp, fantasy owners will need to consider James Jones and Jordy Nelson as his possible replacement. Both are capable.

  • Is TE Jermichael Finley really an elite player? - Jermichael Finely is routinely being drafted as a Top 5 fantasy TE, which shows a lot of faith in a guy who only started 10 games last year. Finley certainly has the skills to be one of the most productive TEs in the NFL, but the Packers have lots of other weapons. Camp will be telling as to whether Finley is being used as a primary option in the base offense.

  • Fixing the offensive line - The fact QB Aaron Rodgers was able to put up MVP caliber numbers behind an offensive line that gave up a league-worst 51 sacks is astounding. But Packers brass knows that the line has to do a better job in order to keep Rodgers healthy for years to come. Rookie 1st rounder Bryan Bulaga is part of the solution, but where he'll play in 2010 will be determined in the next few weeks.

  • Will S Atari Bigby sign on the dotted line? - Safety Atari Bigby wants big money but the Packers are offering him a one-year restricted tender. If Bigby holds out, he may find himself without a starting job when he returns because rookie Morgan Burnett has the ability to take the role away from him.

  • OLBs Brad Jones vs. Brady Poppinga - Jones emerged as an effective pass rusher last year but wasn't consistent enough to be handed the 2010 job without a fight from Poppinga, who doesn't make a lot of big plays but doesn't make huge mistakes either.

  • Minnesota Vikings

  • Link: http://www.vikings.com/schedule/training-camp/index.html
  • Location: Minnesota State University (Mankato, MN)
  • Dates: July 30 (Rooks & Vets) - August 12
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Vikings head back to Minnesota State University in Mankato for one of the shorter training camps this season (two weeks). The Vikings have few questions in terms of the starting lineup; that is, so long as Brett Favre returns. Most of the intriguing battles will be at the backup positions and the final roster spots based on who can help the most on special teams.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/14 - @St. Louis (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/22 - @San Francisco (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/28 - Seattle (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 9/02 - Denver (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • What We're Watching

  • Will Brett Favre return? - Another year, another drama. With camp starting in a few days, it's still not clear whether Brett Favre is coming back. Most fantasy owners assume he will, in which case he's in line for another stellar year most likely. But HC Brad Childress seemed genuinely unsure after a recent visit to Favre. If he doesn't return, the entire outlook for the Vikings offense changes considerably.

  • How is WR Sidney Rice's hip? - Rice emerged as a Top 10 fantasy receiver in 2009 and is being drafted as though he'll repeat the feat. But Rice's agent raised a caution flag by saying that Rice's hip injury is recovering slowly and hinted he may miss part of camp. If Rice doesn't participate in camp, the risk of taking him highly may be too much to justify. Particularly with Bernard Berrian healthy again and 2009 Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin poised for greatness.

  • Can RB Toby Gerhart replace Chester Taylor? - Stanford Cardinal Toby Gerhart will have a chance to earn major touches right away as the new complement to Adrian Peterson. Gerhart's skill set is different from Taylor's but equally valuable.

  • CBs Chris Cook vs. Benny Sapp vs. Lito Sheppard - Two veterans (Sapp and Sheppard) must hold off 2nd round rookie Chris Cook for the nickel job.

  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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