Detroit is hoping rookie Kerryon Johnson can provide a spark to their running game
If history has taught us anything about the NFL it’s that nothing is perfect, especially during the preseason. Some teams like to think that they already have their 53-man roster set before camp even begins, others think that they have everything settled early in the preseason and that everything else is a formality. But every team, regardless of any perceived perfections, has a weakness. Every team has a flaw, or something that can at least be improved to some degree.
For the four franchises that occupy the NFL's "Black and Blue Division," each team has one glaring concern. These are issues that must addressed and/or improved before September or it could affect their outlook for the 2018 season. Here are the biggest concerns for each NFC North team.
1. The Chicago Bears' linebacking corps
The good news is that Roquan Smith and the Bears were finally able to come to terms, so their first-round pick will finally report to training camp. There's a chance that Smith could actually play in weekend’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos, but it's no stretch to say he has plenty of catching up to do. Danny Trevathan (above, right) and Aaron Lynch have yet to suit up in the exhibition round due to injuries, Josh Woods sustained a hand injury against Cincinnati last week, Sam Acho only has four career sacks in a Bears uniform, and Leonard Floyd has been limited as he returns from last year’s knee injury.
Isaiah Irving only has three tackles and a sack in two preseason games so far, while Kasim Edebali has seen very little playing time. John Timu, Jonathan Anderson, and Nick Kwiatkoski on the other hand have been the only positives as they’ve combined for 30 tackles heading into the team's third preseason game. The rest of the group is rounded out by rookies in Kyle Fitts, Joel Iyiegbuniwe, Ro’Derrick Hoskins, Elijah Norris and Andrew Trumbetti, who are all still learning the ropes. Considering the Bears run a defense which requires multiple linebackers, this is very concerning. Vic Fangio and his defensive staff need to right this part of the ship to help the team be successful as a whole in 2018.
2. Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook
The Vikings used their second-round pick on Cook last year so they could move on from Adrian Peterson. But just 74 carries into his rookie season, the Florida State product tore the ACL in his left knee. Peterson bounced back from injury on many occasions during his days in Minnesota and now the Vikings are hoping Cook can do the same. The Vikings made a deep playoff run last year on the backs of their defense and solid quarterback play. But if a healthy Cook can give Minnesota a formidable rushing attack, the Vikings will field a well-rounded team as they look to contend for a championship again.
3. The Detroit Lions' running game
When you look at the current running backs on Detroit's roster you’d be hard pressed to find a 1,000-yard rusher. Ameer Abdullah (drafted by the Lions in 2015), Theo Riddick (2013), Dwayne Washington (2016), and Zach Zenner (signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015) have never had a 1,000-yard season in their respective careers. Detroit signed LeGarrette Blount to upgrade their backfield but his last 1,000-yard campaign came in 2016 when he was with the New England Patriots. The Lions need to diversify their offense and ease the pressure on Matthew Stafford this season.
If the Lions want to get back to the postseason they need to have a solid ground game. While depth is always a good thing, they should operate with one feature back and push for the franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2013. Can second-round pick Kerryon Johnson be that guy?
4. Backup quarterback for the Green Bay Packers
Last year we saw the stark differences in how the Packers' offense operates when Aaron Rodgers is not on the field. Rodgers injured his collarbone in Week 6 last year, tried to come back toward season's end, but wound up being place on injured reserve. The team drafted Brett Hundley in 2015 in case something like this happened. In 11 games including nine starts in place of Rodgers last year Hundley threw for 1,836 yards and completed 60 percent of his passes, but he also had more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (nine), and was sacked 29 times. Green Bay went 3-6 in his starts, averaged just 16.6 points per game (shut out twice), as he finished the season with a passer rating of 70.6.
His performance didn’t inspire the confidence that everyone had hoped it would. The Packers traded for DeShone Kizer in the offseason, but fans are skeptical after his difficult rookie season in Cleveland last year. The other quarterback on the current roster is undrafted rookie Tim Boyle out of Eastern Kentucky. He impressed in the preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans, as he completed 7-of-15 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
If Boyle keeps playing like this or better, the Packers will have a tough decision to make when Labor Day weekend rolls around.
-- Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of www.detroitlions.com)