Sun, 25 Oct 2020

NFC NORTH: Offseason headlines for each team

Detroit Lions
04 Jun 2020, 20:25 GMT+10

Rookies are settling into the virtual offseason program and their respective teams are entering Phase 3 of the program, which in a normal year would include the start of the mandatory minicamp.

Teams are doing what they can in this virtual environment to prepare themselves for the start of training camp, which everyone is hoping takes place as scheduled beginning late July.

It's been over a month since the conclusion of the draft, so let's check in with the four teams in the NFC North:

GREEN BAY

1. Did Packers do enough on defense this offseason?

The last time we saw the Packers was in the NFC Championship Game when the San Francisco 49ers rushed for 285 yards and won in dominating fashion (37-20) over Green Bay to earn a trip to the Super Bowl.

As Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com pointed out, the Packers made only one major addition to the defense in free agency and waited until the fifth round of the NFL Draft before they took a defensive player.

The Packers finished the 2019 regular season ranked 14th against the pass, 23rd against the run and 18th in total defense. They were top 10 in points allowed (19.6 ppg), however.

2. Head coach Matt LaFleur on his virtual work with rookie first-round quarterback Jordan Love

"We have got to try to show him as many good examples of what it looks like because the challenge is he's going out on his own and working those different techniques and fundamentals but you're not there to be able to correct him or show him the right way," LaFleur said via ESPN Wisconsin radio. "So we've got to present as much to him so he can get that good visual so that he can go out there and replicate that."

3. Packers gain salary-cap space by restructuring Lane Taylor's contract

Originally set to make $3.8 million in base salary in 2020, Taylor will now make $1.5 million. Taylor can recoup another $1.5 million if certain incentives are met, per the NFL Network. The Packers save about $3 million in the move.

The team drafted Elgton Jenkins in the second round last year, and he and Taylor competed for the starting left guard spot in training camp, a job Taylor won. Taylor started the first two games before suffering a biceps injury in practice before Week 3. The injury ended Taylor's season. Jenkins went on to become a Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team member.

MINNESOTA

1. Mike Zimmer ready to rebuild Vikings' defense

While the bulk of Minnesota's offense is set to return in 2020, the defense is a different story. The Vikings lost four starters in Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes, and they also lost nickel cornerback MacKenzie Alexander.

Zimmer told the Minneapolis Star Tribune earlier this month that he is getting excited at the idea of working with a lot of new faces on defense.

"Defensively we're going to have some younger guys, obviously, but I think it's kind of refreshing to get a chance to work with some younger guys," he said.

2. Vikings' offensive line tries to bond during virtual offseason

Second-year center Garrett Bradbury has taken the initiative to get some of the lineman together for workouts on their own at Adam Thielen's Lakeville gym.

"Two days a week, we're getting on the field and doing football work, and we're going through whatever we would be doing for an individual period with Coach Dennison," Bradbury told the Star Tribune. "That's the beauty of being up here and being with some linemen, and I know that the guys in other cities are doing the same thing.

"Coach Kubiak keeps going back to, 'Guys, we would be in Week 2 of OTAs right now; what would you all be doing right now to prepare for the season?' I know that everyone's doing that."

3. Thielen clear No. 1 in Minnesota after Stefon Diggs trade

Thielen and Diggs made up one of the best receiving duos in the league over the last few years. Now that the band is broken up after Minnesota traded Diggs to Buffalo this offseason, Thielen takes on the unfamiliar role of being the clear top dog among the Vikings' receiving corps.

Thielen, who turns 30 in August, has become a mentor to the young receivers, including first-round pick Justin Jefferson out of LSU, in hopes of forming another terrific receiving duo for the Vikings.

"I know that I've been able to learn from some veterans that came before me as far as how they handled those things and how they helped me become the player I am," Thielen told ESPN.com.

Lions offseason questions: Bold predictions TWENTYMAN: 5 numbers that need to change Where are they now: Kevin Glover

CHICAGO

1. All eyes will be on quarterback competition when Bears finally hit the field

The last time the Bears had a true quarterback competition was in 2008, when Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton were battling it out in camp.

Mitchell Trubisky and newcomer Nick Foles are expected to compete for the starting quarterback job in training camp this season. How will Trubisky handle the competition with Foles?

"Any person, when that happens, you're just going to feel like, 'OK, how do I make this better?'" head coach Matt Nagy told the Chicago Sun-Times. "And for probably a day or two, (Trubisky) was that way. After that and ever since, he's been really good. And I appreciate that about him."

2. Bears decline Trubisky's fifth-year option

Trubisky is coming off his worst season in 2019 and is now trying to keep his starting job after Chicago traded a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville for Foles, who has experience in Nagy's offense.

The Bears insist that there will be an open competition for the starting spot, but nothing ties Trubisky to Chicago beyond the 2020 season, which definitely levels the playing field.

3. Is Bears LB Roquan Smith ready for a take-off in year three?

After an up-and-down 2019 season that ended early because of the pectoral injury Week 14, Smith is expected to be 100 percent healthy for camp and looking to make a huge leap in Chicago's defense in year three. He's dealt with injuries in both of his first two seasons, but the Bears have big plans for Smith in 2020, as he's expected to be a big component of their defense, if he can stay healthy.

The Lions know how good Smith can be. He had 16 tackles and two sacks in Chicago's win over Detroit on Thanksgiving last season.

DETROIT

1. There's a role in Detroit's multiple defense for whoever proves themselves

The Lions may have half a dozen new starters on defense, and the competition at linebacker could be really intriguing with the additions they've made at the position.

"As everyone knows we run a multiple defense, so there can be a role for whoever proves themselves," veteran linebacker Christian Jones said in a Zoom call last week.

"We have a lot of good players and competition is always good. I know each and every one of those guys in there is going to push each other and try to be the best players we can be for the team. I'm excited about it."

2. 'The sky is the limit' for Kenny Golladay in fourth season

Golladay recorded his second consecutive 1,000-yard season in 2019 and led the NFL with 11 receiving touchdowns.

"What I love about Kenny is he's a dog," wide receiver Danny Amendola said of Golladay. "He plays the game very physical and he's a great teammate. The sky is the limit for Kenny. It's just a matter of getting out there, getting years under his belt and getting experience under his belt."

3. Matthew Stafford hoping to build on Darrell Bevell's offense in 2020

Up until a Week 9 back injury ended his season prematurely, Stafford had 2,499 passing yards (ranked fourth in the NFL), 19 touchdowns (second) and a 106.0 passing rating (fifth).

While this offseason has been trying in terms of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and a virtual offseason program, Stafford fells like he's in a really good place in terms of his knowledge and comfort level of Bevell's scheme headed into year two of this offense.

"I think last year was a big offseason for me and a tough one," Stafford said. "Obviously, right as we were starting to do all the OTAs and everything, where we're going to install offense and all of that, Kelly (Stafford's wife) is going through brain surgery and I'm trying to navigate that and learn the offense as best I could.

"I put a lot of time and effort into that, but at the same time, it's not the same as being there in the meetings and all that. I feel like I had a really good grasp on this offense in the first year and I'm hoping to build on that."

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