NFL

2002 OFF-SEASON PREVIEW: NFC North

Share This Story

foxsports admin

 
   
 
2002 Off-season previews by division
AFC East
AFC North
AFC South
AFC West
NFC East
NFC North
NFC South
NFC West
NFC North
Chicago Bears — 2001 record: 13-3 (1st in NFC Central)
2001 Season Success Meter: 4
Everything finally came together for the Bears this season after the core of their drafts over the last three years finally developed. Early lead for 2002 Media Guide coverboy:
Brian Urlacher, LB

Offseason To-Do List:
1. Decide whether or not to replace Miller at QB
2. Get help for the pass rush
3. Find consistent return specialist

Should they stay or should they go?
STAY — Olin Kreutz, C
Kreutz is one of the few difference-makers at the center position. He¿s a physical presence who also provides good intangibles.

GO — Walt Harris, CB
His teammates love him, but the Bears won't have enough dough to keep him.

Offense: Jim Miller put together a respectable season, although the Bears are thinking about an upgrade. There are better options than Miller, but the Bears must proceed carefully to find the right matchup for team chemistry. The play at WR must become more consistent. Marcus Robinson suffered another injury, which left the unit without much experience. Marty Booker emerged as a cornerstone and also made some big plays. David Terrell had an erratic year, but he should make strides in the next year or two. Dez White showed some improvement, but remains a little inconsistent with his hands. At tight end, Fred Baxter played well and even contributed as a pass catcher, but he's upgradeable when looking at the long-term picture. The biggest story has to be Anthony Thomas taking control of the ground game. Thomas was a dependable force and will also contribute more in the passing game down the road. Leon Johnson emerged as a capable backup. The O-line looks strong. Rex Tucker developed into a solid left guard. But they may lose center Olin Kreutz to free agency, which would be a tough loss. A tough decision is looming. Defense: The additions of tackles Ted Washington and Keith Traylor allowed MLB Brian Urlacher to make plays against the run. But one of them may not be back next season, perhaps Traylor, because personnel boss Jerry Angelo would like to see a penetrator in the middle. Alfonso Boone emerged as a young prospect to watch due to his size and quickness. On the perimeter, Phillip Daniels and Bryan Robinson had solid seasons, but the Bears would like to add another pass rusher to the equation. In addition to Urlacher, the linebacker unit was bolstered by the development of Rosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman. Colvin has quietly developed into one of the league's most versatile defenders. With R.W. McQuarters' emergence, the secondary had a very solid season. McQuarters and Walt Harris did a fine job containing opposing teams' passing games, but expect a change here. Harris will be looking to sign elsewhere for the second consecutive year. Unless he doesn't get market value again on the open market, expect Jerry Azumah to step into the lineup. Azumah got off to a slow start as a backup this season, but finished the year strong. The Bears believe he will be a productive starter because of his outstanding athletic skills. Inside, Mike Brown is a winner. He isn't the best athlete at free safety, but he's very smart and puts himself in a position to make plays. Tony Parrish continues to play well at strong safety, but he could leave as a free agent. Don't be surprised if Mike Green finds a starting job somewhere in the secondary after having a solid season as their nickel back. Special Teams: One of the biggest needs for next season is a return specialist. The Bears received only subpar production at best from Autry Denson.

Detroit Lions — 2001 record: 2-14 (5th in NFC Central)
2001 Season Success Meter: 1
The Lions have a lot of holes on both sides of the ball as they took a step back. Now, it's time to put together building blocks for the long-term. Early lead for 2002 Media Guide coverboy:
Johnnie Morton, WR

Offseason To-Do List:
1. Major reconstructive surgery to defense
2. Find another WR to complement Morton, Crowell
3. Forget 2001 season altogether

Should they stay or should they go?
STAY — Germane Crowell, WR
Although Crowell missed almost all of last season, the Lions must bring him back because he¿s their lone playmaker and he¿s young enough to rebound.

GO — David Sloan, TE & Allen Aldridge, LB
I think it¿s time for Sloan and Aldridge to depart. Sloan has some tools, but hasn¿t been a consistent option for a few years due to injuries. Aldridge has been part of a vanilla trio of linebackers that needs to be broken up.

Offense: They may have found a QB to build around in Marty Mornhinweg's offense. Mike McMahon was erratic at times, but he also provided some spark and has the tools to develop into a productive passer. But don't be surprised if they do add another QB. Finding targets in the passing game was no easy task as Johnnie Morton was the only dependable guy all season. Germane Crowell missed most of the season with an injury, but is expected back. The Lions hope Crowell returns to full strength, because they need his downfield ability. Herman Moore has hit the end of the line, something most people realized a year ago. Larry Foster and Scotty Anderson were erratic, but both still have the potential to become solid backups. Expect an upgrade at tight end where David Sloan hasn't proved to be reliable enough. James Stewart had a decent season on the ground, but missed time with injuries. Lamont Warren provided some help out of the backfield, but was nothing special. The Lions need a threat out of the backfield for next season and will eventually need to upgrade from Stewart as the featured back. Fullback Cory Schlesinger had a very good year. The offensive line still has some questions, but it might be working in the right direction. Jeff Backus had his rough spots at left tackle, but should continue developing into a dependable blocker. Eric Beverly did a fine job in the pivot, but he could move to make room for Dominic Raiola. The biggest disappointment was Stockar McDougle, who must work harder to solidify himself as the right tackle. It wouldn't be a surprise to see more talent added to the equation here. Defense: Disappointing is the operative word. Outside of Robert Porcher, their pass rush was anemic. They must find an upgrade from Tracy Scroggins at right end. James Hall shows potential as a situational pass rusher, but more depth is also needed. Inside, Luther Elliss suffered through an injury and poor season, but Shaun Rogers emerged into an impact player as a rookie. Expect the interior line to rapidly ascend into a solid area next season. They have decisions to make at LB where they don't make enough plays as a unit. Stephen Boyd's future in the middle could be questionable following an injury this season. Chris Claiborne moved over from the weakside, but was very erratic. Claiborne will enter next season at a crossroads. He's been an underachiever on the field due to his poor work habits. Barrett Green got an opportunity to establish himself over the latter half of the season, but didn't make enough big plays as he's still learning the nuances of pass coverage at the NFL level. Allen Aldridge doesn't figure to return on the strong side after another year of average play. The secondary was a mess and must be upgraded with more speed. Bryant Westbrook never returned to form following an injury, but could be re-signed and re-emerge after a full off-season. Terry Fair is just adequate on the other side. Todd Lyght rebounded over the latter half of the season after a poor start and is expected to return as a backup next season. Overall, the Lions need some help here. They need even more help inside where the play of their safeties proved to be liabilities. Kurt Shultz doesn't have enough speed from the free safety position and don't be surprised if they add a better athlete to replace strong safety Ron Rice. Special Teams: Don't expect major changes, but they need to perform better next season as a unit. Jason Hanson had an off-year with his accuracy, which makes 2002 a critical season to rebound. Desmond Howard had a good year on kick returns, but was just average on punt returns.

Green Bay Packers — 2001 record: 12-4 (2nd in NFC Central)
2001 Season Success Meter: 3.5
As long as Brett Favre is in the picture, Green Bay has a chance to contend. But they must give Favre some help and refine their defense for next season. Early lead for 2002 Media Guide coverboy:
Brett Favre, QB

Offseason To-Do List:
1. Get Favre some playmakers before he gets too old
2. Develop a big-play defensive presence
3. Get depth in secondary

Should they stay or should they go?
STAY — William Henderson, FB
Henderson is a key veteran at fullback, but the Packers must remain careful about what they pay.

GO — Gilbert Brown, DT
I would not give nose tackle Gilbert Brown the long-term contract he seeks. Sure, Brown was solid when he played, but he spent a lot of time on the sidelines with injuries.

Offense: The offense is in good hands with the presence of Brett Favre, Ahman Green, and their O-line, but they need to look at upgrades for the rest of their unit. At WR, Antonio Freeman still has value as an intermediate option who can make some clutch grabs, but he's not a playmaker anymore. He may not return unless he agrees to a paycut. Bill Schroeder and Corey Bradford can make plays downfield, but are too inconsistent and one-dimensional. Robert Ferguson will get a chance next season. He lacks experience and polish, but he has the tools to make a difference at some point. Expect to see the Packers add help here.

At tight end, Bubba Franks must take his game to another level in all phases of the game. He has shown a knack for making plays inside the red zone, but must show more consistency on the rest of the field. David Martin has shown he can contribute in the passing game in a situational role to create favorable matchups for their offense. Defense: The defense is solid, but there are questions to answer. Upfront, Santana Dotson, Brown, and Jim Flanigan formed a dependable interior rotation, but they must think about getting younger here in the near future. A young blue-chip player would bolster this unit. On the perimeter, Vonnie Holliday had a very good year on the left side. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila emerged as a solid pass rusher while John Thierry was slowed by injuries. Look for Jamal Reynolds to further improve the pass rush as he develops. At LB, they lack a blue-chip presence, but remain happy with the play of this unit. Bernardo Harris, Nate Wayne, and Na'il Diggs can be inconsistent at times, but they play with effort. Torrance Marshall has the tools to be an impact player at some point, but is too raw in terms of learning assignments. Mike McKenzie emerged as a solid cornerback and Tyrone Williams continues to play well on the other side. But they lacked depth at times. Bhawoh Jue could eventually provide that unless he remains inside beyond this season. If Jue moves back to cornerback, the Packers must consider adding a safety to pair with Darren Sharper due to the uncertain future of LeRoy Butler. Special Teams: After Allen Rossum was slowed by injuries this season, Green Bay's punt and kickoff return abilities went numb. The Packers must find insurance for their return game.

Minnesota Vikings — 2001 record: 5-11 (4th in NFC Central)
2001 Season Success Meter: 1.5
The Vikings will begin a new era under Mike Tice and that means some transition to balance out a roster that became unstable under Dennis Green. Early lead for 2002 Media Guide coverboy:
Matt Birk, C

Offseason To-Do List:
1. Rebuild offensive line
2. Keep Randy Moss interested
3. Stop ignoring defense

Should they stay or should they go?
STAY — Byron Chamberlain, TE
Chamberlain gave the Vikings the production they needed from the tight end position. He should remain productive as long as he stays in shape.

GO — Jake Reed, WR
The end of the line has arrived for this veteran.

Offense: Daunte Culpepper had a tough season with the mess around him and then going down with an injury. He must become more focused this off-season. Todd Bouman showed solid passing skills in a few starts last season. He could be used as trade bait or return as a solid backup who will keep Culpepper on his toes next season. Spergon Wynn has the tools to develop into a dependable passer, but he needs a lot more experience and development, as was shown late in the season. Michael Bennett had a rocky rookie season at RB. As expected, he didn't show very good patience and needed more development. But he showed some progress near the end of the season and has the speed to become a big-play runner. At WR, look for changes. Randy Moss will not get a free ride of disruptive behavior next season while Cris Carter and possibly Jake Reed will be elsewhere. They need some younger talent here and will look to acquire it. At tight end, they must re-sign Byron Chamberlain after he provided help in the passing game. With Jim Kleinsasser moving to tight end from fullback, the Vikings can put together some creative packages to occupy the middle of the field and free Moss downfield. The offensive line will also need some changes. Center Matt Birk is the only safe guy here and remains an anchor. Chris Liwienski and Brad Badgers were two guards playing tackle. They must find a left tackle and return Badger to a swing role. Ideally, they also need a powerful right tackle so Liwienski could possibly move back inside. At the guard positions, Corbin Lacina and David Dixon are in trouble of being replaced. They would like to bring former Falcon Calvin Collins back next season after he joined the team late last season. Defense: The defensive side of the ball is a mess and will be a primary focus with the new football structure in place. Up front, Chris Hovan progressed into a solid red-chip player inside due to his blend of quickness and effort. But he needs a lot of help. They need to add a blue-chip player somewhere along the front four along with another solid support player because their overall run defense and pass rush don't scare anyone. Fred Robbins, Willie Howard, and Shawn Worthen showed flashes at times of being contributing players inside, which gives the Vikings some depth to work with. On the outside, Stalin Colinet is mostly an effort player who is best suited to a backup role. Lance Johnstone didn't provide the pass rush the Vikings expected. And Talance Sawyer is best suited as a situational pass rusher. Keep an eye on Patrick Chukwaruh to continuing developing as a pass rusher.

At linebacker, Lemanski Hall had a good season on the strong side, but there could be other changes here. Ed McDaniel has hit the end of the road on the weakside. Watch for Jim Nelson to emerge here next season as a solid option. In the middle, there's a lot of mixed opinions regarding Kaliee Wong. Look for Andre O'Neal to also make a push on the outside for playing time. The secondary has a lot of questions. If Dale Carter returns, perhaps he can stabilize things if he returns close to his form in Kansas City. Eric Kelly is a good athlete who can make some plays, but he's still on the raw side. Robert Tate and Kenny Wright hasn't proved to be consistent enough either. This team definitely needs a young blue-chip corner who can take wide receivers out of the game. Inside, they hope to have Robert Griffith return as a free agent at strong safety. Orlando Thomas had an awful season at free safety and Tyrone Carter wasn't much better. It could be time for an upgrade here also. Special Teams: Kicker Gary Anderson, 42, remains dependable, but the team must decide how much more mileage they can get out of him. They also must focus on finding a skill-player who can double as a return specialist. Nate Jacquet and Troy Walters didn't scare anyone this season.

Tagged: Falcons, Bears, Browns, Lions, Packers, Titans, Chiefs, Dolphins, Vikings, Redskins, Dez White, Dustin Lyman, Alfonso Boone, Olin Kreutz, Marty Booker, Jerry Azumah, Mike Brown, Brian Urlacher, Walt Harris, Phillip Daniels, Chris Villarrial, Jim Miller, Bryan Robinson, Tony Parrish, Johnnie Morton, Luther Elliss, Jason Hanson, James Hall, Jeff Backus, Shaun Rogers, Dominic Raiola, Mike McMahon, Barrett Green, Robert Ferguson, Nate Wayne, Mike McKenzie, Bubba Franks, Na'il Diggs, David Martin, Brett Favre, Allen Rossum, Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell, Vonnie Holliday, Ahman Green, Scott McGarrahan, Randy Moss, Robert Griffith, Robert Tate, Todd Bouman, Tyrone Carter, Michael Bennett, Fred Robbins, Chris Hovan, Matt Birk, Jim Kleinsasser, Daunte Culpepper, Jim Nelson

More Stories From foxsports admin


NFL Videos

Best Person in Sports: Keenan Lewis Posted: Jul 15, 2014
Saints CB Keenan Lewis hosts a back-to-school event, giving children medical ser...

NFL Roundtable: New York Jets Posted: Jul 14, 2014
They're a team with plenty to prove and a roster of players primed to get it don...

NFL Roundtable: Detroit Lions Posted: Jul 11, 2014
A team with so many weapons, is this the season that the Lions put together and ...