OPEN CAMP: July 27, Ray Nitschke Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
LAST YEAR: Lost in NFC title game for second time in three seasons, getting blown out in Atlanta. Disappointing end overshadowed remarkable late-season turnaround. Packers made good on QB Aaron Rodgers’ ”run the table” statement, finishing regular season with six straight victories to reclaim NFC North. Rodgers threw league-high 40 TD passes, while WR Jordy Nelson bounced back from ACL injury with 14 TD catches. Running game was problematic for much of season because of Eddie Lacy’s ankle injury, but converted receiver Ty Montgomery showed promise after moving to backfield. Defense suffered from porous pass coverage at cornerback, unable to make up for loss of veteran Sam Shields in opener to concussion, and injuries that slowed second-year pros Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. LB Clay Matthews was also slowed by injuries. DL Mike Daniels remained rock up front, while Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are among top safety combos in league.
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IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Martellus Bennett, TE Lance Kendricks, G Jahri Evans, CB Davon House, DT Ricky Jean Francois, rookie DBs Kevin King and Josh Jones, rookie RB Jamaal Williams.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Eddie Lacy, TE Jared Cook, RG T.J. Lang, OL JC Tretter, LB Julius Peppers, S Micah Hyde, P Jacob Schum.
CAMP NEEDS: Bennett and Kendricks should enjoy building rapport with Rodgers on offense that will throw new wrinkles at opponents. Coach Mike McCarthy will develop young, overhauled running back position now led by Montgomery in first full NFL season at position. King could be No. 1 cornerback of future, though rookie missed virtually entire offseason program because of NFL rules. Camp will be time to build confidence in cornerback position overall. Young pass rushers must step up with Peppers now back in Carolina and Matthews likely being moved all around field.
EXPECTATIONS: With Rodgers in prime, Packers should always be threat to go to Super Bowl. Sure, there might be questions about running game, but with additions at tight end, two-time NFL MVP has more options in what was already dangerous passing game. Focus will be on defense again. Shoring up pass coverage and generating consistent pressure will be priorities.
DETROIT LIONS (9-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 30, Allen Park, Michigan.
LAST YEAR: Lost last four games, including playoffs at Seattle, after surging atop division with eight wins in nine-game stretch. Made NFL history by rallying from fourth-quarter deficits to win eight games. Matthew Stafford had highest passer rating of career despite Calvin Johnson’s retirement and injured finger on throwing hand.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: OT Rick Wagner, OG T.J. Lang, OT Greg Robinson, rookie LB Jarrad Davis, rookie CB Teez Tabor
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OT Riley Reiff, OG Larry Warford, LB DeAndre Levy, WR Anquan Boldin.
CAMP NEEDS: OT Taylor Decker had shoulder surgery in June and replacement options desperately needed. Robinson, acquired from Los Angeles, Cornelius Lucas, Corey Robinson, Joe Dahl and Cyrus Kouandjio will get chance to fill in for Decker.
EXPECTATIONS: Loss of Decker, out indefinitely, hurts franchise’s attempt to revamp offensive line to protect Stafford and pave way for lackluster running game. Detroit’s defense lacks playmakers, leading to drafting Davis and Tabor in first two rounds. Lions will overcome low expectations if they earn spot in playoffs for third time in four seasons.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minnesota.
LAST YEAR: Fell hard following 5-0 start, finishing third in NFC North they won in 2015. Devastating knee injury to QB Teddy Bridgewater was handled deftly with acquisition of Sam Bradford, who set NFL record for completion percentage. But already dubious depth on OL couldn’t handle onslaught of injuries up front. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner abruptly resigned after seven games due to philosophical disagreement with coach Mike Zimmer. With running game buried at bottom of league, defense and special teams that fueled season-opening surge ran out of steam down stretch. Zimmer’s eye trouble that forced him to miss one game topped off dysfunction.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LT Riley Reiff, RT Mike Remmers, rookie RB Dalvin Cook, RB Latavius Murray, WR Michael Floyd, DT Datone Jones, rookie C Pat Elflein.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Adrian Peterson, CB Captain Munnerlyn, LT Matt Kalil, WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, LB Chad Greenway, RG Brandon Fusco, P Jeff Locke.
CAMP NEEDS: Smooth and swift rebuild of OL is most critical project, with Reiff and Remmers bookending embattled group that likely will have two holdover starters, LG Alex Boone and RG Joe Berger. Murray must regain full speed following ankle surgery rehab. Speedy Cook has to prove he’s ready for complexity of NFL offense, reliable pass blocking and hanging onto ball after fumbling problem at Florida State. Defense, with all but one starting spot retained from last year, needs to regain swagger.
EXPECTATIONS: With refreshed Zimmer and rekindled defense, Vikings will have edgy eagerness to restore themselves among NFC contenders after last season’s debacle. Fact they’re hosting Super Bowl doesn’t hurt for motivation. With wealth of young drafted-and-developed standouts like WR Stefon Diggs, DE Danielle Hunter and CB Xavier Rhodes, there’s strong enough talent base for turnaround. But with Bridgewater still rehabbing, Bradford can’t regress. And, of course, OL must show significant improvement.
CHICAGO BEARS (3-13)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois.
LAST YEAR: Injuries and poor play doomed Bears to worst season in decades. Chicago posted lowest win total in non-strike year since 1973 team went 3-11, and most losses since 1969. Bears also missed playoffs for ninth time in 10 seasons. Chicago had 19 players finish season on injured reserve, which exposed team’s lack of depth.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Mike Glennon, rookie QB Mitch Trubisky, QB Mark Sanchez, WR Victor Cruz, WR Markus Wheaton, TE Dion Sims, DL Jaye Howard, CB Prince Amukamara, CB Marcus Cooper, S Quintin Demps, KR Benny Cunningham.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Jay Cutler, WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Eddie Royal, CB Tracy Porter.
CAMP NEEDS: With Cutler era over, QB job belongs to Glennon – for now. He signed three-year deal with Chicago after backing up Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, but could be pushed by Trubisky at some point. Bears traded up one spot to draft Trubisky with No. 2 overall pick. QB won’t be only position worth watching. WR Kevin White, limited to four games through first two seasons because of injuries, must show he can be No. 1 receiver with Jeffery gone. RG Kyle Long, coming off ankle surgery, might flip-flop positions with LG Josh Sitton. Defense could have solid front seven led by NT Eddie Goldman, DE Akiem Hicks and LBs Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd, if they stay healthy. More pressure up front would help secondary.
EXPECTATIONS: Bears need to show they’re headed in right direction after wrong turn last year. Chicago has one playoff appearance since 2006 team’s run to Super Bowl. Patience is running thin. Crowds shrank in Bears’ third straight losing season. Fox is signed through 2018, though heat could mount on him if team doesn’t progress.
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