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Aaron Mueller: Mid-July brings thoughts of NFL season

Published 8:39pm Wednesday, July 14, 2010

We’ve reached mid-July and that means sports fans can breathe a sigh of relief.

Spain has been crowned World Cup Champion, the marathon known as the baseball regular season has reached its halfway point and the LeBron Decision Watch is mercifully over, although its climax was mercilessly drawn out.

Fans can finally look forward to the start of NFL training camps and the painfully long preseason, but hey, it’s better than listening to obnoxious vuvuzelas while watching dudes kick a ball back and forth on an endlessly long field.

Training camp represents a clean slate and a hope for all of the NFL teams – even the Lions and the Bears. The NFC North promises to be one of the more competitive divisions, so here are the questions I would like to see answered for the two teams in our region, Detroit and Chicago, during training camp:

Chicago – How will the two-running back system work? After a stellar rookie season, Matt Forte’s numbers dropped off (a paltry 3.6 yards per carry and four touchdowns) in 2009. So the Bears went out and stole Chester Taylor from the Vikings. In Martz’s pass-happy offense, how will Chicago employ its two-back system and give both of them enough touches?

Will Julius Peppers, the Bears’ $91.5 million investment, earn his paycheck? And more importantly, when he draws double teams, will Tommie Harris, Mark Anderson and the rest of the defensive line step up? If the line doesn’t get pressure on the quarterback, it puts more pressure on a suspect secondary.

Who will start at safety? Last year’s secondary was a disaster, but the Bears improved on that with trading for Chris Harris and drafting Major Wright. But does Harris have the legs to be effective in coverage and will Wright adjust to the speed of the NFL game quickly? The Bears currently have five decent safeties on the roster, and Rod Marinelli needs to find the right starters.

Can the offensive line protect Jay Cutler? Some of Cutler’s struggles came from a leaky offensive line that forced him to rush throws. Moving Chris Williams to left tackle should help. A strong push from the line would also help a running game that needs to set the tone for the offense.

Detroit – How quickly will Matthew Stafford mature in year two? Stafford showed guts, leadership and a cannon arm his rookie season but still has to improve in decision making and putting some touch on his throws. His leadership and command of the offense should not be questioned.

Was drafting Jahvid Best the best decision? The Lions overlooked several more glaring needs to move up in the draft and take the running back with the 30th pick in the draft. Detroit already has third-year back Kevin Smith, but Best provides a quicker, more dynamic playmaker in the backfield as a change of pace. Still he needs to produce this season.

Can Ndamukong Suh dominate in the NFL game like he did in college? If Suh’s game is NFL ready at the start of the season, which the Lions are banking on, Detroit’s pass rush will improve greatly this season. The addition of Kyle Vanden Bosch and the development of Cliff Avril could make a defensive line that last year was a weakness into a strength.
Can the makeshift secondary really contain Favre, Cutler and Rodgers? Playing in a division with three elite quarterbacks, the Lions should have focused more on improving the secondary. Outside of second-year safety Louis Delmas, the unit is awful. As it stands Chris Houston, who struggled with Atlanta last year, and 33-year-old Dre’ Bly will compete for the No. 1 corner spot.

Aaron Mueller is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star.
He can be reached at aaron.mueller@leaderpub.com.

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