The Detroit Lions are more than a week into their summer break, but for the other three teams in the NFC North, Monday marked the beginning of their first full week of vacation after finishing their mandatory minicamps last week.
With all four minicamps now in the books, what have we learned about the Packers, Bears, Lions and Vikings heading into training camp?
Headline: Packers have their right tackle back
What does it mean: To say the last year and a half has been tough for 2010 first-round draft pick Bryan Bulaga might be a bit of an understatement.
Bulaga partially tore his ACL at the Packers’ Family Night scrimmage last August and missed the entire 2013 season. He missed the second half of the 2012 season with a fractured hip.
Bulaga is back on the field now and has taken the reigns of the starting right tackle job during OTAs and minicamp, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.
Bulaga was considered the Packers’ best tackle heading into last season and his loss was a significant blow. It forced Green Bay to thrust rookie Davis Bakhtiari into the left tackle spot. Bakhtiari played well for most of the season in Bulaga’s absence and his development has allowed the Packers to feature Bulaga on the right side and they feel they’re a much stronger offensive line because of it.
Stat line: According to footballoutsiders.com, the Packers were one of the most injured teams in the NFL last year. Football Outsiders lists the Packers with 104.5 games lost due to injuries by starters, injury replacements and important situational reserves. That was the third-highest in the NFL last year.
In 2012, the Packers led the NFL with 108.1 games lost.
Quotable: “Bryan’s done a lot of good things and he’s stronger,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told the paper.
“Bryan’s so consistent. He’s a very good worker, very diligent, very anal in his approach, and he’s the ultimate pro. I thought he had a very good offseason.”
Headline: Bears like the makeup of newly revamped D-line
What does it mean: Annually a consistent and stout defensive team, the Bears were anything but last year.
They ranked toward the bottom of the NFL in most major defensive categories and revamping that unit has been the No. 1 task for Chicago’s front office this offseason. The main focus was re-tooling the front four.
They went out and signed five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen. General manager Phil Emery pitched Raiders sack leader Lamarr Houston to join the Bears in free agency. Former Lions defensive end Willie Young also joined them in free agency to add depth. They re-signed former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and drafted two tackles — Ego Ferguson (second round) and Will Sutton (third round).
It'll be an unrecognizable defensive line for NFC North opponents and they'll have to do their homework in preparing for it early on in the season.
Stat line: The Bears’ defense ranked 32nd in the NFL in total yards and rushing yards and 26th in sacks per pass play in 2013.
Quotable: “It’s a salty group,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told the Chicago Sun-Times of his defensive line. “We’re putting a premium on toughness and being rugged and being stout — and having tremendous anchor in our d-line and being able to control blockers. [Players] that violent shed and make plays and push the pocket in the passing game, and then win one-on-ones.”
Headline: Lions planning big changes on defense
What does it mean: The Lions are hoping the changes on defense lead to a new defensive mentality and better results on the field, especially late in games.
Fans who venture out to the first few open practices in August will see a very different defense than the one they've been used to the last few years.
It’s a much more aggressive scheme, meaning the linebackers will be up closer to the line of scrimmage – the SAM linebacker will be on the line of scrimmage a lot of times – and we’ll see them come after the quarterback on blitzes a lot more.
The cornerbacks will play up closer to the receivers and will be in man coverage much more.
The Lions plan a lot of movement along their defensive front, moving players around and even standing them up in some occasions to get the best matchups and to keep defenses guessing.
It’s a very complicated scheme, and coaches are gambling a bit that all the moving parts will come together in time for the regular season, but it has shown some early results this spring and coaches are hoping to build on the good foundation already implemented.
Stat line: The Lions average margin of defeat last year was 5.89 points in their nine losses. That was the sixth-fewest in the NFL. The league average was 11.34 and the average among the 12 playoff teams was 9.53.
Quotable: “You’ve got to be aggressive and this is an aggressive game, but you also have to take calculated risks as well,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. “You just don’t want to be overly-aggressive where it creates problems, but we want to play smart. We certainly don’t want to play scared. We’re going to make some aggressive mistakes along the way.”
Headline: Cordarelle Patterson to have big role in Vikings offense
What does it mean: Minnesota signed Greg Jennings to a five-year, $47.5 million contract last offseason and they saw a pretty good return on that investment as Jennings led the team in catches (68), receiving yards (804) and tied rookie Cordarelle Patterson with four touchdown receptions.
Patterson finished his rookie campaign last year catching 45 passes for 469 yards. He earned a Pro Bowl nod as a kick returner, where he led the NFL with a 32.4 average per return with two scores.
If OTAs and minicamp are any indication of how Patterson's role will change in the fall, the Vikings might have a new No. 1 receiver with offensive coordinator Norv Turner planning to feature the speedy Patterson much more in 2014.
Stat line: Patterson had 293 yards after the catch as a rookie, for 62.4 percent of his yards.
Quotable: "I wanted him to know that, coming in, the expectation of you is no longer 'rookie.' It's, 'You gotta go. We saw what you can do. We're gonna showcase this,'" Jennings told espn.com. "For me, it was making sure that he understands that he has to be a professional. He has to be a pro's pro when he steps foot in this building, because we're expecting (him) to give us what we've seen (him) put out there."