LIONS INSIDER

NFC NORTH: Offseason headlines for each team

Posted Jun 25, 2017

Tim Twentyman takes a look at the headlines surrounding each team in the NFC North.

The next five weeks are the calm before the storm that is NFL training camp. Players, coaches and front office personnel are fitting in some vacation time before everyone reports back to work at the end of July to officially begin preparations for the 2017 season.

When they do return, here's what you should keep an eye on in Green Bay, Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago:

GREEN BAY

Headline: Is Green Bay’s secondary finally ready to take the next step?

Twentyman: Ted Thompson has spent considerable resources over the last three seasons to address what’s been a weak spot for the Packers for several years.

Over the past four years, Thompson has drafted six defensive backs and signed a veteran free agent. Of the six picks, two were first-rounders (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Damarious Randall), three were second-rounders (Quinten Rollins, Kevin King and Josh Jones) and one was a sixth (Demetri Goodson).

The free agent was Davon House, a former fourth-round pick in 2011, who is in his second stint with the Packers.

The Packers have amassed a group that appears on paper to be young, versatile and fast. How quickly they can all put it together, and whether they can stay healthy, will be huge factors in deciding if Green Bay’s secondary is much improved in 2017.

Key stat: Green Bay allowed the most 20-plus-yard passing touchdowns last season (14) and the fourth-most 20-plus-yard passing plays (58).

Quotable: “Our biggest challenge was that we had so many guys going through the cornerback position (last season),” head coach Mike McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Teams that are playing the best are the teams that are playing together. Ultimately, one of the best statistics out there is if you look at the success of a football team that plays with the same offensive line the whole year. It’s a great stat. It tells you so much.

“If you have the same group playing together down the stretch, if you have a very healthy team just in the month of December, you’re in it. Going into the playoffs, it’s a huge advantage. But when you’re still rotating guys — it was every week — you can’t really set your plan until Thursday or Friday, it’s a bigger challenge. I’m not trying to make excuses.”

DETROIT

Headline: Who holds down the left tackle spot until Taylor Decker returns?

Twentyman: The Lions were dealt a blow in early June when starting left tackle Taylor Decker suffered a right shoulder injury that required surgery. Decker’s status will be updated at the start of training camp, but it’s likely he begins camp on the PUP list. How much of the season he misses, if any, will likely be known at that point.

The focus in Detroit now shifts to finding a replacement for Decker until he can return.

The good thing for the Lions and head coach Jim Caldwell is that general manager Bob Quinn has provided some options.

Quinn traded for former No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson and signed veteran Cyrus Kouandjio last week. Both players have starting experience in this league.

Caldwell also has some in-house options in Corey Robinson (if he’s healthy to start camp) and Cornelius Lucas. Again, both of those players have starting experience and are familiar with Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme.

It’s obviously not ideal to start training camp without a starting left tackle. As injuries go, Decker is probably the next guy the team didn’t want to lose after Matthew Stafford and Ziggy Ansah, but that’s just the reality of this league. Next man up.

Quinn acted quickly after the Decker injury, and at least the Lions have some good options until Decker can get back on the field.

Key stat: Decker played every snap for the Lions last season and finished his rookie season allowing just 4.5 sacks.

Quotable: “I think one of the things you have to understand about us and I think it’s kind of been consistent, that we’re looking for every opportunity that we can to improve our football team,” Caldwell said of the additions of Robinson and Kouandjio.

“That’s what we’re all about. We’re trying to get better and we’ve got to get better fast. So, any opportunity that we see that we can get some improvement, we’re going to certainly look at those closely.”

MINNESOTA

Headline: Do Vikings have the best pass-rushing duo in NFC North?

Twentyman: One of the big breakout candidates for the Vikings this season is defensive end Danielle Hunter. The freakishly athletic Hunter recorded 12.5 sacks as a reserve last year and appears to have leaped Brian Robison as the starting left defensive end opposite Pro Bowler Everson Griffen.

Hunter was taken in the third round of the 2015 draft and showed immediate promise with six sacks his rookie season. Last year, he became Minnesota’s top pass rusher even though he played just 58 percent of the defensive snaps.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is expected to utilize Hunter more frequently in 2017, and could even use him and Griffen as interchangeable parts to utilize mismatches.

Key stat: The Vikings recorded the fifth-most sacks in the NFL last season with 41. That amounted to 310 lost yards for opponents.

Quotable: “Danielle’s a young monster,” Griffen told The St. Paul Pioneer-Press. “He’s 22 years old, he’s physically gifted and he works hard each and every day. He’s looking good.”

CHICAGO

Headline: Is Kevin White still the same receiver Bears drafted at No. 7?

Twentyman: It’s a valid question given what White’s gone through from an injury perspective the last two years.

He ran a blistering 4.35-second 40-yard dash two years ago at the NFL Scouting Combine. At 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, that was moving.

Since then, White has suffered a pair of fractures in his left leg and has gone through two surgeries. Will he still be the same burner?

He was held out of OTAs with a leg injury, but White told the Chicago Tribune that he’s healthy and will be ready to roll for the start of camp.

Can White stay healthy and have the kind of impact the Bears expected from him when they made him their top pick in 2015?

Key stat: White has played in just four career games and has 19 receptions for 187 yards and no touchdowns. He’s averaging 9.8 yards per catch.

Quotable: “It’s got to happen now,” White told the Chicago Tribune this offseason. “I’ve got to turn it up. You know, even in Year 1, Year 2, I always want to turn it up and show what I can do. So, to me, Year 3, it’s time.”