NFC NORTH: Offseason updates for each team

The Annual League Meetings that concluded last month in Arizona are an opportunity for the leagues owners, general managers and coaches to convene in one place for a few days and talk business.

Every year there’s a coaches breakfast where all 32 head coaches are made available to the media for an hour. It’s good timing -- A couple weeks into free agency and with the NFL Draft fast approaching.

All four coaches in the NFC made themselves available for breakfast in Arizona. Here are a few key takeaways that came from those sessions:

CHICAGO – MATT NAGY

1. Is Chicago’s 2019 kicker on the roster right now?

“Um I don't know (laughs),” Nagy said. “If I knew I'd tell you, you know.”

Nagy was then asked six follow-up questions about the kicker position. It’s obviously an area of need after the Bears were eliminated from the playoffs because of a missed field goal. They dealt with inconsistency at the position all season. Currently Chris Blewitt and Redford Jones are on the roster, and Nagy hasn’t ruled out adding a third kicker (maybe a rookie?) to the competition.

2. Nagy believes he has to be very careful this season not to lean too heavily on running back Tarik Cohen, who fits his offensive scheme perfectly, and is now Chicago’s lead back with the departure of Jordan Howard via trade. Cohen caught 71 passes last year and is expected to see his carries increase this season.

“It's that whole less is more principle and you can't overload him,” Nagy said.

3. The Bears are currently transitioning from Vic Fangio’s defense to Chuck Pagano’s after Fangio was hired this offseason by Denver to be their new head coach. Nagy said Pagano is grinding hard. He expects the transition to be easier than most people think.

“The X’s and O’s part, that’s not as hard as you guys think,” Nagy said. “For these guys, once they come in and feel it and see what he’s all about, they’re going to trust what he’s doing. And then it’s just going to be a matter of going out and letting it loose.”

MINNESOTA – MIKE ZIMMER

1. Mike Zimmer told reporters that Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes “needs to play better.” He said he'll make sure that happens.

“I just don’t think he played as well as he can play,” Zimmer said of Rhodes, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He needs to play up to his ability level. We’re paying him a lot of money. He needs to play up to that contract.”

Rhodes was graded the 103rd best cornerback in the league last year by Pro Football Focus. He’s paid like a top five cornerback.

2. Zimmer doubled down on his comments and actions from last season in terms of wanting to run the football more and be more balanced on offense in 2019.

“We want to be great running the football ... but it’s not always about running for 200 yards,” he said, via the Vikings website. “The defense was on the field four minutes more a game (in 2018), I think that’s what it was.

“It’s time of possession, it’s controlling the game, it’s the mentality, the physicality of all that. If you look at the teams that played really good on offense this year, or the final four teams or whatever you want to call them, they ran the ball.”

The Vikings were 30th in rushing and 27th in rushing attempts last season.

3. Zimmer has spent a lot of time in the offensive meetings this offseason with assistant head coach/offensive advisor Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. He’s enjoyed the dialogue with the two offensive gurus and even called it “eye opening” to hear them talk about why they run this play or that play or make a certain call. Zimmer said quarterback Kirk Cousins will benefit from working with Stefanski and Kubiak.

GREEN BAY – MATT LAFLEUR

1. What will LaFleur’s new offense in Green Bay look like? First and foremost, he said he’s tailoring some of it to the strengths of his players. He also can't wait to sit down with veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers and get his input.

“I think it can go any which way,” LaFleur said “Anytime you have a veteran quarterback that has countless number of reps with certain concepts and certain plays – there’s going to be stuff he’s really comfortable with that we’ll implement into our offense. It’s no different than what we did in Atlanta with Matt Ryan.”

LaFleur has watched the last 1,500 snaps Rodgers has taken in the NFL to help prepare him to build this offense around Rodgers’ strengths. He says there’s a lot of his playbook he didn’t use in Tennessee last year that will be part of Green Bay’s playbook thanks to Rodgers’ ability.

2. The Packers plan to deploy new free agent signees Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith on either side of their defense. LaFleur expects them to make an immediate impact.

“The one thing that’s unique about those two guys is they’re still young in their career,” LaFleur said. “Their best football is in front of them. When you have two guys taking care of the edges, it presents a lot of problems on the defense. Not only from a pass-rush perspective, I think those guys bring it in the run game as well, which sometimes is an oversight in this league.”

3. LaFleur talked about opening his Green Bay coaching career on a national stage against NFC North rival Chicago in the first game of the 2019 season.

“Yeah, it’s pretty exciting,” he said. “You start off right out the gate with the total focus of the entire country or the entire world, especially in a game that means so much to so many within the league.

“It will be an exciting atmosphere. Opening day is always exciting, but when you have a rivalry game on top of that — and by the way, it’s on Thursday night and you’re the only game on — yeah, there’s going to be a lot of excitement out there. Nothing like jumping in.”

DETROIT – MATT PATRICIA

1. Patricia admitted that he’s much more comfortable in his surroundings and the pace at which everything comes at a head coach entering his second season on the job. Going from a Super Bowl run with the Patriots to being named Detroit’s head coach in February put Patricia behind the clock last offseason. He said he’s much more comfortable entering year two.

2. The Lions are trying to change the culture in Detroit under Patricia, and Patricia said he’s on the lookout for players willing to buy in. Guys who work hard, do it the right way and are trying to help build longstanding success.

“Who are the guys who want to study the game and work hard at it?” Patricia said. “There's just a different level of work ethic that some of the guys have that are going to come in, and that we're developing of the fine line of what the NFL really is. It may be an hour extra here, or a conversation here between players, or being a little bit smarter in these situations. It's about just the right type of guys that you put together as a team.”

3. Patricia said the team has a lot of options to fill their opening at right guard. He didn’t rule out the possibility of tackle Tyrell Crosby, who the team really liked as their swing tackle last year during his rookie campaign, getting some looks at guard to see if he could fill the role. There’s a few veteran guards with playing experience on the roster and the Lions could add an interior lineman via the draft later this month.

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