NFC North Camp Preview (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday July 10, 2007 3:12PM; Updated: Tuesday July 10, 2007 3:12PM
Challenge No. 1: Build the offense around Roy Williams, Mike Furrey and Calvin Johnson.
By selecting Johnson with the second overall pick in this year's draft, the Lions have built, arguably, the most explosive receiving corps in the league. Furrey and Williams combined for 180 receptions and over 2,300 yards last season. In particular, Furrey's ability to work over the middle and Williams' explosiveness ignited a passing game that finished seventh in the league. Adding another weapon to that combo will create even more advantageous matchups. The Lions' three-receiver set will become the foundation of their offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz proved with the Rams that he can drive defensive coordinators crazy when given outstanding talent on offense, and the pieces are in place in Detroit for similar success.
Challenge No. 2: Fully implement the Tampa Two scheme.
Rod Marinelli fired coordinator Donnie Henderson after one season in Detroit and hired Joe Barry to perfect the "Tampa Two" scheme that Marinelli prefers. Though parts of the defense were introduced last season, Henderson deviated from the philosophy of the scheme by using an aggressive blitz package crafted from his days with the Ravens and Jets.
Barry comes from Tampa and has been raised in the purest form of the scheme under Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin. Relying on pressure from the front four, he will drop seven defenders into a two deep look and force teams to nickel and dime the ball down the field. The simplicity of the scheme puts an added emphasis on having the right personnel in place. Shaun Rogers, Ernie Sims and free agent Dewayne White are joined by rookies Ikaika Alama-Francis and Gerald Alexander to form the foundation of the defense. Getting them to buy into the scheme and the philosophy will be the emphasis of the preseason.
Challenge No. 3: Back up the big words.
Despite being one of the league's worst teams over the past decade, the Lions enter the season full of confidence and swagger. Buoyed by a strong offseason and draft, several of the Lions have predicted double-digit wins next season. These proclamations have placed a bulls-eye squarely on the back of this team. Marinelli welcomes the pressure and has not shied away from the expectations. Hoping to build a tough-minded team, he doesn't feel the need to reel in his players' big talk.
Green Bay Packers
Challenge No. 1: See if Vernand Morency is ready to carry the load.
Morency is first in line to replace Ahman Green in the lineup. A natural cutback runner with good quickness, Morency has shown that he has the tools to be a productive pro. Though he had up-and-down performances in his two starts last season, he showed more burst and explosiveness than Green. If he can display the same talent and production during the preseason that he showed in his start against the Eagles (26 carries for 99 yards), he could lock up the job early in camp.
Challenge No. 2: Find a No. 3 receiver.
The Packers enter training camp desperately seeking to find a No. 3 receiver to join Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Tight end Bubba Franks is no longer a factor in the middle of the field, so the Packers have relied more on three- and four-receiver sets to open up their offense. Their reliance on these spread sets makes finding the right guys in the slot a priority.
Robert Ferguson, Ruvell Martin and rookie James Jones are competing for playing time in the slot. Ferguson has the most experience, but has struggled with injuries throughout his career and has not played a complete season since 2002. Martin came on with a strong finish last season and showed that he is capable of being a legitimate player with a 100-yard receiving performance in the regular-season finale against Chicago. Jones has the physical tools to be dominant in the slot, but can't be counted on to be an immediate contributor as a rookie.
Challenge No. 3: Stop giving up big plays on defense.
The Packers quietly put together a solid defense, but their inability to stop the big play keeps them from joining the elite defenses in the league. For a team that pressures the quarterback and forces turnovers so well, the elimination of the big play would make them dominant. Demanding better discipline and focus from their safeties will keep receivers from slipping past them on deep routes. If they can tighten up in the back end, the Packers' defense may be capable of leading the team to the playoffs.
Challenge No. 1: Find a No. 1 receiver.
The Vikings enter training camp without a clear cut go-to-guy in the passing game. Free agent Bobby Wade appears to be the guy in line to be the top receiver, but he has spent most of his career as a third receiver/returner. Former first-round pick Troy Williamson has been a huge disappointment and saw his playing time diminish down the stretch. Billy McMullen and a host of rookie hopefuls fill out the roster, but it remains to be seen what kind of production they can turn in. With an inexperienced quarterback under center, finding a reliable No. 1 will be a key.
Challenge No. 2: Figure out how to split the workload at running back.
Seeking to protect its young quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, the Vikings have committed to building a strong running game featuring Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Taylor is coming off a breakout season with over 1,200 rushing yards. Peterson enters the league after dominating college defenses with his tough, physical running style. Both runners bring an explosive dimension to the table and each deserve a lot of carries. Fortunately, the Vikings' West Coast system allows for a mix of formations and personnel groupings, which should make it easier to get both runners involved. It will take some tinkering during the preseason to get everyone used to multiple formats.
Challenge No. 3: Take the defense to the next level.
The Vikings quietly built a top-10 defense last season under defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin. New defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has the challenge of taking the defense to the next level. He inherits a defense that finished No. 1 versus the run, but was the 32nd against the pass.
But when you really examine the Vikings closely, you discover that they are not that far away from being a top-rated overall defense. Despite giving up more yards than any other team, the Vikings were impressive in several areas on pass defense. They only allowed 15 passing touchdowns and came away with 21 interceptions. Both totals ranked among the top five in the league. Frazier has to focus on getting more production from defensive ends Kenechi Udeze and Darrion Scott.