Camp2010: Players in the pressure cooker
July, 28, 2010
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
US PresswireMark Anderson, Tramon Williams and John Sullivan are among the NFC North players who must step up for their teams because there are few appealing options behind them.Let's continue our march to training camp by considering a handful of NFC North players whose teams are counting on strong training camp showings to bridge personnel gaps. You could refer to this as the proverbial "Hot Seat," but I prefer "Pressure Cooker." These players aren't facing either-or scenarios. In most of these cases, the team hasn't left itself a safety net. They must either jump out of the pot or get boiled. (Or something like that.)
Anyhoo, I made sure to identify at least one player from all four teams, but pardon me in advance for the unequal distribution. No sense forcing anyone into a category for symmetry's sake.
Defensive end Mark Anderson
The task: Demonstrate the kind of 10-sack potential the Bears apparently saw when they handed him a starting job this offseason.
The skinny: The Bears are projecting a repeat performance of Anderson's rookie season, when he had 12 sacks as a part-time player. He managed 9.5 sacks over the next three seasons combined, illustrating the risk Chicago is taking. Israel Idonije is available for depth, but he is best suited as a backup.
Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy
The task: Resolve questions about his aptitude for moving inside after spending all of his college career, and most of his rookie NFL season, as an outside linebacker.
The skinny: Lions coaches have lauded Levy's versatility and hitting ability for a year, but his assumed competence at middle linebacker is based on projections rather than evidence. While demonstrating athletic ability as a rookie, Levy also tied for the NFC North lead in broken tackles against. In his favor will be a huge upgrade at defensive tackle; Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh should keep offensive linemen away from him.
Outside linebacker Zack Follett
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireZack Follett was a standout special-teamer in 2009, but he's unproven as a starter at weakside linebacker.
The task: Replace Ernie Sims as the starting weakside linebacker.
The skinny: A seventh-round draft pick last season, Follett impressed coaches and teammates with his aggressive attitude on special teams. But the Lions are asking him to take a big leap, and to this point they haven't signed a veteran to give them a safety net if Follett isn't ready.
Green Bay Packers
Cornerback Tramon Williams
The task: Take the leap from fill-in to full-time starter after sitting out most of the offseason program.
The skinny: Williams has displayed immense potential in starting stints the past two years, but the Packers might need him to take over on a permanent basis this season. Former starter Al Harris is recovering from a serious injury and isn't expected to be ready for the start of training camp. There's a big difference between fill-in work and long-term stability.
Cornerback Lito Sheppard
The task: Recapture enough of his skills to provide short-term relief as a starter while Cedric Griffin recovers from knee surgery.
The skinny: Sheppard lost his starting job with the New York Jets last season, a year after the Philadelphia Eagles gave up on him. He was a good get based on the availability of veteran cornerbacks, and the Vikings would do well if they can get a solid six weeks from him. That will allow them to save Benny Sapp for nickel situations and give rookie Chris Cook more seasoning.
Left guard Steve Hutchinson, center John Sullivan and right guard Anthony Herrera
The task: Demonstrate their health and rebound from a season that left something to be desired from each.
The skinny: Hutchinson and Herrera were slowed by injuries last season, and Sullivan recently revealed he had ankle surgery this offseason. As a whole, the interior of the Vikings' offensive line needs to spend this summer leveling itself out.
Earlier: NFC North teams ready to implement a counterpunch to the pass-happy 2009 season.