Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC North [Print without images]

Thursday, July 29, 2010
Camp2010: Coaches in the pressure cooker

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

One of your most frequent requests, either through the mailbag or in our weekly chats, is to rank the NFC North head coaches. I tend to take a simple -- and usually unsatisfying to you -- approach to this question. To me, a coach is as good as his record. It's true that some coaches have more talented players than others, but unfortunately for them, the history books don't provide asterisks for mitigating factors.

So with training camp set to open around the division, my rankings are based on each coach's career record:


So to make things a bit more interesting, let's run the division's coaching staffs through our Camp2010 Pressure Cooker. The specific summer task facing each coach below are critical to their team's fortunes.

Chicago Bears
Head coach Lovie Smith
The task: With his job hanging in the balance, set the foundation for a winning record and/or playoff berth.
The skinny: That appeared to be ground rules set by team president Ted Phillips last winter, making Smith the NFC North's only win-or-else coach this season. Smith will have to make quick work of organizing a new offensive scheme and establishing the workflow for his third different defensive coordinator in as many years.

Detroit Lions
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham
The task: Utilize new talent on the defensive line to cover for inexperience and uncertainty at linebacker and in the secondary.
The skinny: Cunningham has more tools to work with this season as he attempts to elevate the Lions from the bottom of the NFL's defensive rankings. But because those assets are focused in one position, Cunningham's schematic skills will be tested.

Green Bay Packers
Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum
The task: Identify a new punter, establish kickoff and punt returners, ensure that place-kicker Mason Crosby has moved past last season's troubles and elevate coverage teams that left the Packers ranked last in the NFL based on the annual analysis of Football Outsiders.
The skinny: Slocum's debut season in 2009 didn't go as well as anyone had hoped, and he's got his work cut out for him in training camp. His task list speaks for itself.

Minnesota Vikings
Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy
The task: Smooth over the offseason disconnect that arose with tailback Adrian Peterson and develop new depth after the departure of Chester Taylor.
The skinny: Bieniemy was recently promoted and given a raise to prevent him from jumping back to the college ranks, so the Vikings believe he is up to the task. And I'm not even assigning him the duties of rectifying Peterson's fumbling issue. That's an organizational problem and must be addressed at a higher level. But Bieniemy will have to make sure that rookie Toby Gerhart or veteran Albert Young is ready to step in for Peterson if needed.

Earlier: NFC North teams ready to implement a counterpunch to the pass-happy 2009 season. Eight players find themselves in our training camp Pressure Cooker.