Tue, 16 Aug 2022

NFC NORTH: 3 storylines to watch for each team

Detroit Lions
26 Jun 2022, 20:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

The four teams in the NFC North have wrapped up their offseason training program with the conclusion of OTAs and mandatory minicamp. Players and coaches will now get a little downtime before things ramp back up again for the start of training camp later this summer.

There's been some interesting storylines in the division this offseason with Chicago and Minnesota welcoming in new regimes, Green Bay losing some big-time producers on both sides of the ball, and Dan Campbell and his staff settling into their second season in Detroit.

It should be interesting to watch all four of these teams as they progress through camp. Here's a look at three big storylines for all four teams in the NFC North heading into the summer.

GREEN BAY

2021 record: 13-4 (won division)

Strength of schedule: 22nd (137-150-2; .478)

3 storylines:

1. Who fills Davante Adams' shoes?

The Packers traded Adams, arguably the best receiver in the game, to the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason. That leaves a massive production hole for the offense. Last year, Adams caught 123 passes (on 169 targets) for 1,553 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Packers' second leading receiver was Allen Lazard, who caught 40 balls for 513 yards with eight scores. Can youngsters Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs help fill the void? What about veteran Sammy Watkins? Maybe second-year receiver Amari Rodgers?

2. Status of offensive line remains uncertain

Left tackle David Bakhtiari, who missed most of last season with an ACL tear, did not practice during OTAs or minicamp. Neither did Elgton Jenkins, who tore an ACL in November. Both Bakhtiari and Jenkins could be sidelined to start camp. In their absence, the Packers tried out several combinations upfront during the spring aside from Josh Myers at center and Jon Runyan at left guard. It will be interesting to watch the rehabs of Bakhtiari and Jenkins, and the competition to fill their roles if they aren't ready by the start of the regular season.

3. Have the Packers fixed their special teams woes?

The Packers have finished in the bottom four of the league's special teams rankings eight times in the last 16 years. They ranked 32nd last season. A blocked field goal and blocked punt helped seal their fate in last year's playoff loss to San Francisco. The Packers hired revered special teams coach Rich Bisaccia this offseason to hopefully help turn their teams around. It's something to watch early on in the preseason.

MINNESOTA

2021 record: 8-9

Strength of schedule: 20th (139-148-2; .484)

3 storylines:

1. One more piece of the o-line needs to be figured out

The Vikings are looking for consistency upfront. Christian Darrisaw (left tackle), Ezra Cleveland (left guard), Garrett Bradbury (center) and Brian O'Neill (right tackle) seem set. The right guard spot has yet to be determined between veteran Jesse Davis and rookie second-round pick Ed Ingram. It seems like the Vikings have entered the last few seasons with big question marks upfront. Could they finally have some stability there?

2. Hunter and Smith could form a dynamic duo on the edge

A healthy Danielle Hunter was back on the field for the Vikings this offseason after he battled injuries the past two years. Minnesota added another Pro Bowl edge rusher to the mix in Za'Darius Smith, who came over from Green Bay. Together they have the potential to be one of the best edge duos in the NFL, if they can stay healthy.

3. Big question marks at tight end

The Vikings do not return a single tight end who caught a pass for them last season. Irv Smith Jr. missed all of his third season with an injury suffered in the preseason finale at Kansas City. Ben Ellefson appeared in five games after joining the Vikings, but he was targeted just once. Veteran Johnny Mundt was also signed this offseason. Youngsters Zach Davidson and Nick Muse (rookie) will also be in the mix. The Vikings have a terrific receiving corps and backfield, but they've got some questions marks at the tight end position.

GET TO KNOW: Defensive end Aidan HutchinsonGET TO KNOW: Wide receiver Jameson WilliamsTWENTYMAN: 5 numbers to keep upCHICAGO

2021 record: 6-11

Strength of schedule: T-24th (135-152-2; .474)

3 storylines:

1. Offense not finished product yet

"I'm not ready for the season to start,'' second-year quarterback Justin Fields told reporters this offseason. "We're not ready to play a game right now."

A lot of teams can say that coming out of the spring, but Chicago's offense is going through wholesale changes under new coordinator Luke Getsy. How long will it take for Fields and the rest of the offense to get up to speed in a new scheme?

2. O-line still a work in progress

The Bears have been experimenting with different offensive line combinations all throughout the spring, and it doesn't seem like things will be settled upfront until well into camp. We could see a lot of moving parts and some position changes at the start of camp due to injuries suffered upfront this offseason. If the Bears' offense is going to be better in 2022, the offensive line needs to find some consistency.

3. What is Robert Quinn's future in Chicago?

Quinn recorded 18.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in his 11th season in the NFL with the Bears last season. Quinn was absent from the team this offseason, even for their mandatory minicamp. There are reports Quinn wants out of Chicago. The Bears say they won't trade him, but will that change if he holds out of camp? He would be a big loss for the defense.

DETROIT

2021 record: 3-13-1

Strength of schedule: 28th (135-154-0; .467)

3 storylines:

1. Can quarterback Jared Goff pick up where he left off?

The Lions have a new offensive coordinator in Ben Johnson, and the hope in Detroit is Goff can pick up where he left off last season after Johnson was elevated to passing game coordinator the second half of last season. Goff was 3-2-1 with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions with a passing rating north of 100.0 after Johnson was elevated to that role. Johnson and Goff have built this new offense together, and Goff looked really good in the spring.

2. Can the scheme changes on defense propel that unit forward?

The Lions ranked near the bottom of the NFL in every major statistical category on defense last year while taking their lumps and playing a lot of young guys. Those players are now a year older with experience under their belts, and the Lions have moved from a 3-4 react defense upfront to a 4-3 attacking scheme this year. Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn thinks this scheme fits his personnel better. Can the Lions play more on the other side of the line of scrimmage and be much more disruptive upfront in Glenn's second season as DC?

3. O-line has a chance to be great

Center Frank Ragnow and left guard Jonah Jackson have already been to a Pro Bowl. Second-year right tackle Penei Sewell is trending in that direction. Left tackle Taylor Decker is consistently one of the top 10 left tackles in the game. Right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai didn't allow a single sack last year. On paper, this could be one of the best o-lines in football. It will be fun to watch those guys go up against Detroit's young and hungry defensive line in camp.

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