Sixth in a series of training-camp reports.
Training-camp site: Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Ill.
Training-camp report date: July 30.
Key veteran arrivals: S Chris Harris, CB Tim Jennings, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, DE Julius Peppers, RB Chester Taylor.
Key veteran departures: DE Alex Brown, RB Kevin Jones, FB Jason McKie, DE Adewale Ogunleye, OT Orlando Pace, S Kevin Payne, CB Nathan Vasher, LB Jamar Williams.
Drafted rookies: (3) S Major Wright; (4) DE Corey Wootton; (5) CB Joshua Moore; (6) QB Dan LeFevour; (7) OT J'Marcus Webb.
Offensive overview: Make way for Mike Martz, the Bears' new offensive coordinator whose résumé is highlighted by the famous "Greatest Show on Turf" offense he previously put together as the head coach of the Rams. Unlike his predecessor, Ron Turner, Martz prefers to use passes to set up the run, stressing an aggressive, high-risk, high-reward approach that forces opposing defenses to make constant adjustments. A key factor will be how well Martz is able to mesh with cannon-armed QB Jay Cutler, who couldn't be coming off a more disappointing season after hurling a league-leading 26 interceptions (as opposed to 27 TDs) in 2009. Early indications are that Martz and Cutler are having no problem at all staying on the same page with what both consider to be a very underrated receiving corps that included five players with 45 or more receptions last season — TE Greg Olsen (60), WR Devin Hester (57), RB Matt Forté (57), WR Earl Bennett (54) and WR Johnny Knox (45) — as well as Devin Aromashodu, one of the league's most productive receivers the last month of the '09 season. In addition to Martz, fresh blood is being provided by new O-line coach Mike Tice and free-agent additions Chester Taylor, who should keep Forté a lot fresher, and TE/blocking specialist Brandon Manumaleuna.
Defensive overview: Make way for Rod Marinelli, the former defensive line coach who becomes the Bears' third defensive coordinator in as many seasons despite never before being a coordinator at any level. The defense is expected to get a big boost from DE Julius Peppers, the offseason's highest-profile free agent. Look for Marinelli to move Peppers around on the D-line to create mismatches and bolster a pass rush that improved marginally last season (35 sacks up from 28 the previous season). The Bears' system remains highly discipline-oriented with an allegiance to the cover-2 concept head coach Lovie Smith was weaned on as an assistant back in the day with Tampa Bay. The Bears are hoping that both MLB Brian Urlacher, who missed almost the entire '09 campaign with a dislocated right wrist, and DT Tommie Harris, who has been hindered the last couple of seasons by knee issues and off-field problems, regain their Pro Bowl form. The Bears also will need to improve significantly in passing situations after allowing seven opposing receivers to have 100-yard games last season and managing only one interception combined from their safeties.
Battle to watch: Strong competition will be evident at strong-side linebacker, where a pair of players who have both performed well in the past — Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach — will be battling for the starting job. Tinoisamoa, who had his '09 campaign cut short by a knee injury, and Roach, who tied for the team lead in '09 with 10 tackles for loss, are both undersized go-getters who run quite well, which is important in the Bears' defense.
Injury update: Veteran C Olin Kreutz (Achilles), WR Edgar Bennett (knee) and Manumaleuna (knee) are all expected to be fully recovered from offseason surgeries in time for training camp. Tinoisamoa hardly participated in the team's OTAs but is also expected to be 100 percent in time for camp. The big-time burst Forté displayed as a rookie appears to have returned following surgery to his left knee. This is the first season in three years in which Harris isn't coming off a surgical procedure. Urlacher, meanwhile, is saying he has never felt healthier after being shut down most of last season.
Fantasy sleeper: In the final four games last season, Aromashodu had 22 catches for 282 yards and four TDs. Multiply those numbers by four and you get 88-1,128-16 — impressive fantasy figures to say the least. Cutler loves throwing to Aromashodu, and even though Aromashodu will be competing with a large crowd of receivers for touches, he still possesses very intriguing fantasy potential.
Training-camp site: Detroit Lions Training Facility, Allen Park, Mich.
Training-camp report date: July 30.
Key veteran arrivals: CB Dré Bly, WR Nate Burleson, QB Shaun Hill, CB Chris Houston, LB Landon Johnson, OG Rob Sims, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, CB Jonathan Wade, CB Dante Wesley, DT Corey Williams.
Key veteran departures: CB Phillip Buchanon, ILB Larry Foote, CB Anthony Henry, LB Ernie Sims, DE Dewayne White.
Drafted rookies: (1) DT Ndamukong Suh, RB Jahvid Best; (3) CB Amari Spievey; (4) OT Jason Fox; (7) DE Willie Young, RS-WR Tim Toone.
Offensive overview: The pieces are starting to fall into place for the Lions, who are attempting to surround QB Matthew Stafford with a stronger cast. Stafford flashed his toughness and arm strength and now needs to improve his accuracy and decision making. Some of the offensive additions should help him do that. The team added speed and receiving ability in the backfield with RB Jahvid Best. There is more help to draw defensive attention from WR Calvin Johnson with the additions of WR Nate Burleson and TE Tony Scheffler. And the offensive line received a little tweaking with the trade for OLG Rob Sims, who could win the starting job. Coordinator Scott Linehan always has run a vertical offense, which suits Stafford and Johnson well, but head coach Jim Schwartz also wants to be tough. That means getting more physical up front and running the ball early and late in games. They want to be the aggressors more and not have to change game plans after falling into big holes early in games.
Defensive overview: This group has been a mess for years now, and the brass continues to manipulate the personnel from Rod Marinelli's Tampa-2 style defenders to fit Schwartz's attacking 4-3 system, which favors more size up front. The team made three major additions up front, trading for DT Corey Williams, signing DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and drafting DT Ndamukong Suh. Although the linebackers and secondary must be sorted out, the significantly improved front four should allow for more pressure and better run defense, which will make everyone else's jobs easier. MLB DeAndre Levy and FS Louis Delmas are building-block players in the back seven, but quality starters have not been established at every other spot, with weak-side linebacker and strong safety the biggest holes right now. Still, Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew have crafted a better roster with playmakers at all three levels.
Battle to watch: Strong safety is an open field. Wide open. It's anyone's guess who the front-runner is now, much less who will end up with the job when the Lions head to Chicago on Sept. 12. Marquand Manuel and C.C. Brown have experience, each having started more than 50 games in the NFL, but each is coming off a sub-par season. Ko Simpson is in the mix, but he's coming back from microfracture surgery and might not be ready for camp. Daniel Bullocks and Marvin White also are possibilities. Some were surprised when Bullocks returned, having missed last season with microfracture surgery, but he appears fully healthy and could be a sleeper in this battle. Expect Mayhew to scour the wire for help, even up through the final weeks of the preseason; there was talk that the team was sniffing around disgruntled Chiefs S Jarrad Page.
Injury update: TE Brandon Pettigrew and RB Kevin Smith are coming off torn ACLs, suffered three weeks apart last season, and could be limited at the start of camp. Each is being counted on to play a significant role, so the Lions will ease them back slowly. Smith appears to be an eyelash ahead of Pettigrew in terms of field readiness. Simpson and CB Jack Williams (knee) were limited in OTAs and might begin camp on the PUP list.
Fantasy sleeper: Scheffler isn't considered fantasy-starter material, but he has been flashing great seam speed in OTAs like he did in Denver. With Pettigrew slowed, Scheffler has had time to establish a rapport with Stafford and could be the team's third-leading receiver behind Johnson and Burleson.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Training-camp site: St. Norbert College, Green Bay, Wis.
Training-camp report date: July 30.
Key veteran arrivals: None.
Key veteran departures: DE Johnny Jolly, LOLB Aaron Kampman, DE Mike Montgomery, P Jeremy Kapinos, FS Matt Giordano.
Drafted rookies: (1) OT Bryan Bulaga; (2) DE Mike Neal; (3) SS Morgan Burnett; (5) TE Andrew Quarless, OG Marshall Newhouse; (6) RB James Starks; (7) DE C.J. Wilson.
Offensive overview: Coming off a season in which it set a franchise record with 461 points, the Packers' multifaceted offense packs a mighty punch. Last year the unit became the first in league history to feature a 4,000-yard passer (Aaron Rodgers), a 1,200-yard rusher (Ryan Grant) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Greg Jennings and Donald Driver) in back-to-back seasons. Rodgers, who became the first quarterback in league history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in his first two years as a starter, keeps mistakes to a minimum and is excellent in third-down situations. An already well-rounded receiving corps became even more explosive with the emergence of TE Jermichael Finley, a very physically gifted player with perennial Pro Bowl potential. If there's a problem on offense, it's an offensive line that gave up a whopping 37 sacks the first half of last season. A key factor on the line will be the extent to which aging, injury-prone OTs Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher can stay on the field.
Defensive overview: There's no denying that the defense's 3-4 conversion under new coordinator Dom Capers last season ended up working like a charm. In addition to ranking second overall and first against the run for the first-time ever, Green Bay's defense led the league with 30 interceptions. Capers' ultimate chess piece is veteran CB Charles Woodson, who tied for a league high in '09 with nine interceptions (three of which he returned for scores) and excelled at covering the opposing team's best receiver. Capers is anticipating improvement in the team's pass rush with 2009 first-round draft pick B.J. Raji taking over as the starting nose tackle and making more of an impact after an injury-plagued rookie campaign, Big things are again expected from the team's other '09 first-round pick, ROLB Clay Matthews, a relentless playmaker who led the team and set a team rookie record with 10 sacks last season. As good as the defense was in '09, perplexing across-the-board meltdowns in shootout losses to the Steelers in Week 15 and the Cardinals in the playoffs were hard to fathom. The defense must also overcome the indefinite suspension of DE johnny Jolly, who led the unit's D-linemen with 39 tackles last season.
Battle to watch: It will be worth keeping close tabs on the SS position, where incumbent Atari Bigby, who is unhappy with his contract and has yet to sign his restricted free-agent tender, could get a real run for his money from third-round rookie Morgan Burnett. Bigger and faster than Bigby, Burnett has received rave reviews so far this offseason. The big question is whether he can hit as well as Bigby, who always packs a wallop, for better or worse.
Injury update: Continuing his intense rehabilitation for a nasty knee injury suffered in Week 11 against the Niners last season, it remains to be seen whether 35-year-old starting CB Al Harris will be able to start Week One. Harris is doing everything in his power to make it back in time for a full season, but it remains quite possible that he could start the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list. RILB Nick Barnett and WR Donald Driver have taken it easy so far this offseason after undergoing arthroscopic "clean up" knee surgeries, but they both should be good to go without missing much of a beat in training camp. Versatile reserve OL T.J. Lang will be very anxious to make up for lost time in training camp after missing all of the team's spring OTAs and minicamps with a fractured wrist that required surgery in April.
Fantasy sleeper: By all accounts, WR James Jones, who remains stuck behind Jennings and Driver on the depth chart, has had an outstanding offseason up to now. With the 35-year-old Driver starting to slow down, Jones, who managed five TDs in '09 despite being the fifth option, could end up being a surprising fantasy force.
Training-camp site: Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minn.
Training-camp report date: July 30.
Key veteran arrivals: PK Rhys Lloyd, DE Mike Montgomery, CB Lito Sheppard.
Key veteran departures: OL Artis Hicks, CB Karl Paymah, RB Chester Taylor.
Drafted rookies: (2) CB Chris Cook, RB Toby Gerhart; (4) DE Everson Griffen; (5) OG Chris DeGeare, LB Nathan Triplett; (6) QB-WR Joe Webb; (7) TE Mickey Shuler, FB Ryan D'Imperio.
Offensive overview: The Vikings took a major jump with the addition of QB Brett Favre last season, also transforming from an Adrian Peterson-dependent team to one that could pass its way to a victory — and often did. Obviously, the hope in Minnesota is that Favre returns for another season, and though we don't yet know his plans, all signs point to yes. Under Favre's watch, WRs Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin became dangerous weapons, and the team has other strong receiving options with TE Visanthe Shiancoe and WR Bernard Berrian. The offensive line has a good pedigree and is coming off a mostly strong season, and it should hold up again as a bedrock. Peterson might not be the focus any longer, and he has fumbling issues he must curb, but the run game remains potent. The addition of rookie RB Toby Gerhart should offset the loss of Chester Taylor, even though they have different skill sets.
Defensive overview: The run defense remained elite and the team finished with 48 sacks, and nearly all of the crucial pieces remain. MLB E.J. Henderson, the heart of the unit, is coming off his second season-ending injury in a row — this one a broken leg in December — and might not be ready to return to top form immediately. But with a standout defensive line, the Vikings should be in top form again. DEs Jared Allen and Ray Edwards (who might be ready to make a big jump) and DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are as fearsome a front four as you'll find, even as Pat Williams, who turns 38 in October, approaches the twilight of his career. The secondary is a concern, with injuries and poor safety play the biggest culprits. But otherwise, this should be a very strong defense.
Battle to watch: Tyrell Johnson hasn't emerged as the strong safety the Vikings envisioned when they drafted him in Round Two a few years back. He hasn't been awful, but there are holes in his game and he has been challenged by 2009 seventh-rounder Jamarca Sanford, who got more reps on defense late last season and was splitting time with Johnson this offseason. Sanford lacks size but not pop — he's a big hitter with good instincts and a mean streak he flashed on special teams. The Vikings are downplaying the competition here, but don't be surprised if Sanford steals some time from Johnson unless there is improvement.
Injury update: Brad Childress has danced around Henderson's status all offseason, but the linebacker was taking part in individual drills fewer than seven months after fracturing his left femur, which is pretty remarkable. If he's not back to full health, Jasper Brinkley will take over again. Brinkley was solid last season but struggled at times in pass coverage. OLG Steve Hutchinson (shoulder surgery), CB Cedric Griffin (knee) and Pat Williams (elbow) were non-participants in OTAs, and the prognosis to return by the start of camp is good for all except Griffin, who tore the ACL in his left knee in the NFC championship game in January. He could land on the PUP list and be limited early on. Favre, should he return, is coming off ankle surgery this offseason.
Fantasy sleeper: On a deep team with a number of established stars, there are few true sleepers. But keep an eye on Gerhart, who could earn 6-10 carries per game and have a big impact on the run game. Owners of Peterson should try to snag Gerhart late to try to protect against Peterson getting hurt.
Other training-camp reports: NFC East | AFC West | AFC South | AFC North | AFC East
You can learn even more about each team in the Volume XXV, Issue 6 print edition, with training-camp previews that address additional topics, such as juiciest story line, burning questions and fearless prediction for every team. The Issue 6 print edition is on sale at retail outlets, or you can buy a PDF or print copy online at PFWstore.com.