NFC North Training Camp Battles

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NFC North is one of the most competitive and interesting divisions in the NFL. Almost every season, any team in this division can win it or completely collapse. Last year, the Chicago Bears surprised a great number of people by winning the division and boasting an impressive record of 12-4. On the contrary, the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings caught many people off guard with their records of 6-9-1 and 8-7-1 respectably. Training camp starts this week, so this article will cover three battles to keep an eye out for each team in the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

12-4, First in the Division

Under new head coach Matt Nagy, the Chicago Bears lit up the NFC North and the rest of the NFL by going 12-4. They were the best defense in the NFL. The offense struggled on occasion, but also looked like a top-five offense at other times. This was the teams first year in the offense with a young quarterback, so inconsistency is fairly normal. They had bigger issues running the ball then most teams with that kind of win-loss record do.

1. Runningback

The Bears saw their concern at running back and addressed it this offseason. They traded away Jordan Howard for a sixth-round draft pick, and went out and signed Mike Davis of the Seattle Seahawks. Davis put together a fine season for the powerful rushing offense of the Seahawks accumulating about 150 touches total and five touchdowns.

After that, the Bears drafted David Montgomery out of Iowa State in the third round of the draft. That was their first selection of the draft. Montgomery was spectacular for Iowa State in his two years starting there. According to Pro Football Focus, Montgomery had more broken tackles in the last two season than any running back in college. He plays a lot like Kareem Hunt, so he fits perfect in Nagy’s offense.

300 touches for the running backs are now available with the loss of Howard, Cunningham, and Mizzell (moved to Wide Receiver). Who will take the majority? Will it be a split backfield? Look to training camp to tell.

2. Nickel Corner

The Chicago Bears last season had one of the best nickel corners in the NFL in Bryce Callahan. Callahan signed with the Broncos this offseason for a lot of money, so the Bears signed nickel corner Buster Skrine of the New York Jets to replace him. Skrine is a very aggressive corner that could fit well in this Bears defense. They also went out and drafted very underrated cornerback Duke Shelley out of Kansas State. Shelley has impressed thus far at workouts and OTAs.

3. Kicker

After last seasons horrendous (to say the least) kicking scenario, the Bears brought in six corners to compete for the job. That number has now dwindled down to just two with Elliot Fry and Eddy Piniero being the lone two remaining. Fry was a kicker for the Orlando Apollos in the AAF and made all 15 of his attempts during that short season. Piniero was signed by the Raiders last season as a rookie before getting hurt and sitting out all of last season. The Bears then traded a seventh-round pick for him. Piniero made all but one field goal his senior year of college at the University of Florida.

Minnesota Vikings

8-7-1, Second in the Division

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Coming into the season, the Minnesota Vikings were the favorite to win the division. They brought in Kirk Cousins for a lot of money, Dalvin Cook was healthy, that defense was back, and they brought in John DeFilippo as their offensive coordinator. What they later got was a mess. DeFilippo was fired midway through the season, Cook wasn’t healthy, and Cousins didn’t seem worth the hefty paycheck. Now, the Vikings are looking to be back at the top of the division.

1. Who are the Starting Wide Receivers?

We all know that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are the starting wide receivers, but what about after that? After Diggs and Thielen there is a mess of wide receivers all fighting for the starting role. Chad Beebe, who Vikings fans compare to Wes Welker, is a possible great slot fit for this offense. Laquon Treadwell is now in his last season in Minnesota and may look to prove everyone wrong and live up to his first-round hype. Jordan Taylor has been called a “diamond in the rough” by his quarterback Cousins. Then, there are two rookies in Dillon Mitchell of Oregon and Olabisi Johnson of Colorado State.

2. Who is the Primary Backup to Dalvin Cook?

Minnesota quarterback Jake Browning hands off to running back Alexander Mattison during the Minnesota Vikings Rookies minicamp at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan on Friday, May 3, 2019. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Dalvin Cook has had health concerns, so the primary backup to Cook needs to be talented. This offseason, the Vikings signed former Lions running back Ameer Abdullah and drafted Alexander Mattison of Boise State. From the looks of it, these two will be fighting it out for the primary number two role behind Cook. Mike Boone and Roc Thomas could also fight for the job, but they have a longer shot than the other two.

3. How will the Tight End Position be used?

Kyle Rudolph has been an extremely reliable tight end in years past for the Minnesota Vikings. The two-time Pro Bowler is growing older, so the Vikings invested a high-capital pick in tight end Irv Smith, Jr. out of Alabama. After that, Rudolph signed a $36 million extension, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Vikings use these two tight ends. Training Camp will at least show who will be used in the 11 and 12 personnel and different sets.

Green Bay Packers

6-9-1, Third in the Division

Along with the Vikings, the Packers failed to live up to the hype surrounding their team entering the 2018 season. They were considered playoff contenders, but injuries, coaching problems, and a dramatic quarterback derailed their season. Aaron Rodgers played a little banged up (bone bruise in his knee) and their team was young. After an aggressive free agency, the Packers look to contend to be a top team once again before the time of Rodgers has passed.

1. Who is Starting Alongside Davante Adams?

In the first four games of 2018, Geronimo Allison looked like a true breakout player. He was averaging about 72 yards a game and a touchdown every other game. Then, he got hurt and missed the whole season (barely played in one game). Marques Valdes-Scantling then stepped into his role and was on fire. In his first four games, he was averaging around 80 yards per game and touchdown every other game. After that, Valdes-Scantling only had one game with more than 50 receiving yards in a seven-game span. These two are the two main contenders for the second wide receiver position, and whoever loses will more than likely take the third wide receiver spot.

2. Who is the Next Man Up at Wide Receiver?

It is established that the main three wide receivers going into week one for Green Bay will be Adams, Allison, and Valdes-Scantling. After that, it is anybody’s ball game. Jake Kumerow, an undrafted free agent last season, is the favorite to win the job due to his great connection with Rodgers and how much Rodgers talks him up. Equanimeous St. Brown out of Notre Dame is another guy that could win the job thanks to his size (6’5) and his blazing speed (4.4 40 yard dash). He struggled last season with drops and pleasing Rodgers, but maybe this year can be different. J’Mon Moore, who actually was the first wide receiver picked out of all the rookies in 2018, has really struggled to make a case for himself. That could change at training camp as well.

3. Who will be starting at Corner?

Last year, Jaire Alexander was very solid as a rookie for the Packers porous secondary. He was their lone bright spot, but who will start alongside him? Kevin King was a second-round pick in 2017 and has been great when on the field. The problem has been keeping him on the field. He has played in 15 games in his two-year career and has only finished 10 of those games. The Packers also invested a second-round pick in 2018 in cornerback Josh Jackson. Jackson struggled last season playing for the injured Kevin King, but he was only a rookie. Veteran Tramon Williams also won’t go down without a fight for the starting role.

Detroit Lions

6-10, Fourth in the Division

Detriot Lions struggled last season under first-year head coach Matt Patricia. Matthew Stafford played with a broken back, their running game was atrocious (outside of the few bright spots from Kerryon Johnson), and their defense wasn’t too great. They made a few good offseason moves to try and contend this season in the NFC North.

1. Cornerback

Darius Slay is going to be the starting cornerback. That is certain, but who will be the other starting corner? In the offseason, the Lions signed former Oakland Raider Rashaan Melvin. Melvin is entering his seventh season in the league and is now on his sixth team. He’s very good on the ball and has a lot of experience in a lot of different systems. Former second-round pick Teez Tabor will be fighting to retain his job during training camp. Tabor was very inconsistent, but he has shown some very bright flashes of being a great cornerback in the NFL.

2. Backup Runningback

Sep 23, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson (33) runs the ball during the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Kerryon Johnson is expected to be the starting running back after having an extremely efficient season last season. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry and was a threat in the receiving game. Theo Riddick is expected to be just a receiving back if he isn’t cut. The Lions tried to make LeGarrette Blount their starting running back, but that ended poorly with him averaging a mere 2.7 yards per carry.

Now that Blount is gone, the Lions went out and signed C.J. Anderson to replace him in the power back role that Blount held. Anderson was great for the Los Angeles Rams last season on their playoff run playing in the absence of Todd Gurley. The Lions are hoping he can play similar to how he played then. The Lions also have a healthy, reliable Zach Zenner back returning from injury last preseason. Rookie Ty Johnson could also impress at training camp with his blazing speed.

3. Guard

The Lions struggled with run blocking last season. The Lions signed Oday Aboushi from the Arizona Cardinals this offseason in hopes to at least spark a battle at the guard position. Aboushi has never played a full season in the NFL, but he apparently showed bright spots in June to spark a training camp battle with veteran Kenny Wiggins. Wiggins started 10 games last season for the Lions and hopes to retain the job this upcoming season.

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