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NFC North Training Camp Preview: 3 things to watch

Around The League's *Training Camp Preview* series will identify three things to watch for the teams in each division this summer. Next up is the NFC North.

Green Bay Packers

  1. The Packers teamed Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews with dreams of 30 combined sacks floating in their heads. Let's see how this plays out. Peppers is entering his age-34 season and looked a step slow in his final go-around with the Chicago Bears last season. As for Matthews, he sat out the Packers' offseason program to help ensure he doesn't have any more problems with his twice-surgically repaired thumb. If healthy, he's a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
  1. The Packers used their first-round pick on Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Secondary is an area of concern for Green Bay, but Clinton-Dix is no guarantee to be a rookie starter. He worked with the second team during the bulk of the team's offseason program. Clinton-Dix is going to have to earn it, but consider it an upset -- and a disappointment -- if the rookie doesn't break camp with a starting gig.
  1. Jermichael Finley clearly has designs on rejoining the Packers, but it remains to be seen if he can get the proper clearance after neck fusion surgery. That leaves a wide-open battle for the starting tight end job in Green Bay. Third-round pick Richard Rodgers turned heads in OTAs and may be the favorite. Andrew Quarless is Rodgers' primary competition. There is approximately a 400 percent chance someone takes Rodgers too high in your fantasy league.

Chicago Bears

  1. When the Bears gave Jay Cutler that fat extension in January, it wasn't because of his Favre-like durability. To that point, the Bears have left themselves vulnerable at the game's most important position. Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer will compete for understudy duties behind Cutler, who has missed 13 starts since the onset of the 2010 season. Josh McCown, you will be missed.
  1. The Bears had an egregiously poor rush defense last season, surrendering a league-worst 161.4 yards per game. The team looked to the draft to address the problem, using their second-round pick on defensive tackle Ego Ferguson. You can safely assume Ferguson will be given every opportunity to lock down a starting job this summer. The Bears need a lane-clogger to emerge.
  1. Bears fans still have nightmares of Randall Cobb loping through the secondary for a back-breaking touchdown in Week 17. This is a team that needs to find answers at safety. Two starting jobs are available for a group that includes M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray, Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy. Fourth-round pick Brock Vereen is a favorite to start at free safety.

Detroit Lions

  1. This is a big, big season for Matthew Stafford. The quarterback underwhelmed last season and now must find a comfort level in a new offense. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi could be a difference-maker, and his plan to give Stafford more autonomy at the line of scrimmage could be the kick in the pants the quarterback needs right now.
  1. The Lions have three tight ends that neatly complement one another. Creating a Frankenstein monster is (sadly) impossible, which means Jim Caldwell and company must figure out a plan of attack for Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron. The Lions used the 10th overall pick to land Ebron, so consider it a big disappointment if he doesn't contribute as a rookie. Pettigrew's blocking abilities will keep him in the gameplan. Fauria is a wild card who showed legitimate red-zone chops last season.
  1. Kicker battle! Jason Hanson isn't walking through that door, and David Akers didn't take last season. The Lions will use training camp and the preseason to find their guy. Seventh-round pick Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio are the candidates for the job. We haven't heard anything about Kickalicious, which is both a shame and a damn travesty.

Minnesota Vikings

  1. Here's the only quarterback competition you'll find in the division, and it's legit. Teddy Bridgewater is the exciting first-round pick. Matt Cassel is the steady veteran who was re-signed specifically so Minnesota wouldn't be rushed into anything at the position. Christian Ponder lingers on the periphery, a man without a country. Cassel is the slight favorite here, but he'll have to earn the gig.
  1. One of the good things about training camp and the preseason is that it gives us an idea which offseason storylines were legitimate and which were just fluff. Case in point: We heard all about Norv Turner's plans to utilize Adrian Peterson as a receiver out of the backfield this season. The Vikings have gotten away from that in recent seasons, which seems counter-intuitive considering the talent involved. Let's see if All Day is used any differently. 
  1. Cordarrelle Pattersonlanded atop our "Making The Leap" list for a reason. The second-year pro can be one of the NFL's most explosive playmakers if the Vikings can get the ball in his hands on a regular basis. Minnesota schemed throughout the offseason toward that goal; general manager Rick Spielman said at the combine in February that the Vikings had already designed 10 plays specifically for the electric wideout. It will be fun to see the fruits of that labor.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" shines a light on the most unpredictable teams entering the 2014 season.

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