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NFL training camp: NFC North team-by-team preview

Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings carries the

Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings carries the ball during the third quarter. (Dec. 30, 2012) Credit: Getty Images


OPEN CAMP: July 30, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

LAST YEAR: Won fourth straight NFC North title in spite of calf injury that limited mobility of QB Aaron Rodgers late in MVP campaign. WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb gave opposing secondaries fits, while RB Eddie Lacy balanced attack on ground behind standout offensive line. Run defense improved in second half using pass rusher Clay Matthews more at inside linebacker. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix showed promise in rookie year. Veteran Julius Peppers proved he can still make impact after signing as free agent. Packers have promised they learned lessons from stunning 28-22 OT loss at Seattle in NFC title game, falling apart after taking 16-0 lead at halftime and 19-7 early in fourth quarter.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: All rookies -- DBs Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins; WR Ty Montgomery; LB Jake Ryan.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: CBs Tramon Williams and Davon House; LB A.J. Hawk; special teams coach Shawn Slocum.

CAMP NEEDS: Stay healthy, especially Casey Hayward. Fourth-year cornerback was limited in offseason by foot injury, and has been bothered in past by hamstring woes. He'll likely take Williams' spot as starter. Packers also breaking in Randall and Rollins, team's top two draft picks, at defensive back. Develop confidence in defensive line depth with potential early-season suspension of Letroy Guion, and Datone Jones already suspended for season opener. Guion and Jones had unrelated off-field issues. Renewed focus on special teams under new coordinator Ron Zook after struggles last season and glaring mistakes in loss to Seahawks.

EXPECTATIONS: With 31-year-old Rodgers in his prime and all key pieces back on offense, Green Bay will again be an NFC favorite. But questions loom on defense -- again. How productive will Peppers be at age 35? Matthews in middle may no longer be novelty, while secondary must find replacement for steady Williams. Always looking to keep things fresh, coach Mike McCarthy is giving up play-calling duties to devote more time to overseeing defense and special teams.


OPEN CAMP: Aug. 2, Allen Park, Michigan.

LAST YEAR: Made playoffs in coach Jim Caldwell's first season and had chance to win NFC North before losing at Green Bay in Week 17. Defense shut down opposing running games, and Detroit allowed only 282 points, second fewest in NFC. Matthew Stafford and offense didn't quite live up to expectations, but he threw only 12 interceptions, fewest of career in full season.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Haloti Ngata; WR Lance Moore; CB Josh Wilson.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley; RB Reggie Bush; C Dominic Raiola; G Rob Sims; DE George Johnson; CB Cassius Vaughn.

CAMP NEEDS: Find out how quickly G Laken Tomlinson and RB Ameer Abdullah, team's top two draft picks this year, can contribute. There's room for them to play right away after departures on offensive line and in backfield. Abdullah in particular could be counted on to produce in running game along with RB Joique Bell now that Bush is gone.

EXPECTATIONS: Losses of Suh and Fairley mean repeating last season's impressive performance defensively could be difficult. Lions acquired Ngata right away as Suh left via free agency. Detroit is hoping restructured offensive line will help keep pressure off Stafford. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate remain formidable receiving tandem. Lions have won one postseason game in last half-century, during 1991 season. They nearly added to that total last season and will be eager to earn another chance.


OPEN CAMP: July 26, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minnesota.

LAST YEAR: Lost five of first six games without RB Adrian Peterson before rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater made some strides down stretch of coach Mike Zimmer's first season despite leaky OL and lack of dominant WRs. Zimmer's defense ranked seventh in yards passing allowed, major improvement in area that's lagged for decades. DE Everson Griffen shined in first full year as starter. Rookie LB Anthony Barr showed flashes of ability before season-ending knee injury.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Mike Wallace; CBs Terence Newman and Trae Waynes; LB Eric Kendricks; QB Shaun Hill. Also, Peterson played in only one game last year before child abuse case involving his son emerged, keeping him tied up in Texas court and with NFL-NFLPA conflicts.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: FB Jerome Felton; WR Greg Jennings; LG Charlie Johnson; LB Jasper Brinkley; QB Matt Cassel.

CAMP NEEDS: Get Peterson going again after long layoff. Keep Bridgewater healthy. Create chemistry between him and Wallace. Figure out how to get more out of WR Cordarrelle Patterson, who slumped badly after promising rookie season. Solidify RG spot, with Brandon Fusco moving to LG to replace Johnson. Boost confidence of LT Matt Kalil after rough year. Get rookies Waynes and Kendricks up to speed on Zimmer's defense. Establish starting SS to play next to budding star Harrison Smith.

EXPECTATIONS: Starting to get national acclaim as team on rise in NFC, Vikings should be on track for winning record. Whether that's good enough to get playoff spot, let alone best Green Bay in NFC North, will depend on Bridgewater's progress, offensive line's improvement and Zimmer's continued ability to fluster opposing offenses with his aggressive, deceptive scheme.


OPEN CAMP: July 29, Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois.

LAST YEAR: Chicago missed playoffs for seventh time in eight seasons, costing GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman their jobs. But it wasn't just that Bears struggled; they were all-around mess. Trestman's offense took big step back in his second season, and defense ranked among worst in franchise history for second year under Mel Tucker. Along with poor play were distractions. LB Lance Briggs missed practice in week of opener to open restaurant in California. Former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer leaked critical story of QB Jay Cutler. And WR Brandon Marshall drew attention for reasons that had nothing to do with his play.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach John Fox; WRs Eddie Royal and Kevin White; S Antrel Rolle; NT Eddie Goldman; LBs Pernell McPhee, LB Sam Acho and Mason Foster.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Brandon Marshall; LB Lance Briggs; CB Charles Tillman; S Chris Conte.

CAMP NEEDS: Along with new head coach, Bears have new coordinators in Vic Fangio (defense) and Adam Gase (offense). There are question marks all over defense that switches from 4-3 to 3-4. Gase has some playmakers to work with in Cutler, White, RB Matt Forte and WR Alshon Jeffery, along with Pro Bowl lineman in Kyle Long. But can Cutler cut down on interceptions after tying Philip Rivers for league lead with 18?

EXPECTATIONS: Fox has a reputation for turning around teams. But this could take time given last season's struggles.

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