NFC NORTH: 3 questions entering training camp

The calm period in the NFL lasts about another month before the start of training camp later in July, which marks the real beginning of the 2019 NFL season.

All four teams in the NFC North will enter camp with a ton of optimism after improving through free agency and the draft, but there are always questions that still need to be answered.

Let’s take a look at some of the lingering questions surrounding the Bears, Vikings, Packers and Lions after their spring workouts and as they get ready for the start of training camp.

CHICAGO

Three big questions:

1. Can the Bears find a reliable kicker?

2. What will the defense look like under new coordinator Chuck Pagano?

3. Which newcomer can make the biggest impression on a veteran roster?

Twentyman: It’s been kind of a bizarre saga in the Windy City when it comes to finding a kicker. There are many in Chicago that still believe their starting kicker isn’t yet on the roster. Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro, who are currently on the roster, have never appeared in a NFL game. As Bears fans learned the hard way last year, a season can easily be derailed by an unreliable kicker and an upright and crossbar.

Pagano would be smart to keep the defense relatively similar to Vic Fangio’s. He’ll add some personnel touches, which every coach does, but why try to overhaul something that certainly wasn’t broken?

Running back David Montgomery is going to get an opportunity to tote the rock and catch plenty of footballs in Matt Nagy’s offense. Reports out of Chicago this spring were that Montgomery looked to be a natural fit in the scheme.

MINNESOTA

Three big questions:

1. How quickly can the Vikings pick up the new offensive scheme?

2. Where did the Vikings improve the most this offseason?

3. How does Kirk Cousins take his game to the next level?

Twentyman: The Vikings’ offense spent the spring learning the team’s new scheme under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and assistant head coach Gary Kubiak. There were multiple reports out of Minnesota this spring that the defense was way ahead of the offense on the practice field. That isn’t necessarily surprising given that the Vikings have one of the top veteran defensive units in the league. Head coach Mike Zimmer will like to see that gap close come training camp, however.

As far as roster improvements, resigning tight end Kyle Rudolph was key, but that position group was also bolstered by the drafting of Irv Smith Jr. in the second round. Minnesota is already strong at receiver and running back. The Vikings now add the ability to use a lot of different tight end formations to their repertoire. That tight end position has been upgraded.

Cousins answered that one for himself this offseason by acknowledging that he’s around a .500 quarterback (34-37-2) in his career and needs to lead the Vikings to more victories to get to the next level. Cousins completed 70 percent of his passes last season for 4,298 yards with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but the Vikings missed the playoffs with a 8-7-1 record.

GREEN BAY

Three big questions:

1. Is this Aaron Rodgers/Matt LaFleur audible kerfuffle anything for Packers fans to worry about?

2. Could the Packers move on from long-time kicker Mason Crosby?

3. How good can Green Bay’s pass rush be?

Twentyman: Michael Silver of NFL.com reported that Rodgers doesn’t have the same freedoms in LaFleur’s offense to change plays at the line of scrimmage that he had under Mike McCarthy. Rodgers is one of the best in the game with 11 years of experience at the line of scrimmage. LaFleur’s had a lot of success in a proven system. Something tells me the two will find a common ground for the greater good.

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst brought in competition for Crosby in the form of free agent Sam Ficken, who kicked in four games over the past two seasons with the Rams. It's the first time since the 2013 training camp the Packers have had a second kicker on their offseason roster. Crosby has been with the Packers since 2007 and has made 307 field goals out of 382 attempts. Last year, he made 30 of his 37 field goals.

The Packers upgraded the pass rush right away in free agency with the signings of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. Both players are expected to start on the edges. Then Green Bay used the 12th overall pick in the draft on Michigan’s Rashan Gary. Green Bay’s defense is expected to be much better in 2019, led by what they hope is a much more formidable pass rush.

View the best photos from 2019 Detroit Lions minicamp.

DETROIT

Three big questions:

1. How quickly can Matthew Stafford and the offense pick up Darrell Bevell’s new scheme?

2. Should fans worry about Darius Slay and Damon Harrison missing the offseason training program?

3. Can the Lions be a top-10 rushing team?

Twentyman: Learning a new offense in the NFL is like learning a new language. It’s year 11 for Stafford, so he’s run just about every play in the book, but it’s getting down the verbiage and learning some of the nuances, protections and checks of the offense that takes the most time. How quickly those players on that side of the ball pick up the offense will go a long way in determining how Detroit starts its season.

Slay and Harrison are arguably Detroit’s top two players on defense. Missing the spring isn’t a huge deal, but it also isn’t ideal. Khalil Mack was in Chicago this spring and the Bears defense is probably better off for it. If the absences extend into training camp then maybe the concern level increases.

Bevell's offenses have averaged 132.4 rushing yards per game during his tenure as a coordinator. That total would have been good for fifth best in the league last season. Detroit’s been looking for a consistent run game for a long time now. They made improvements last year, averaging 103.8 yards per game, which ranked 23rd, but they also lost top back Kerryon Johnson after only 10 games. Bevell’s offenses have finished in the top 10 in rushing percentage eight times in his 12 years as an OC. It’s expected to be a big component of the offense.

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