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MINNESOTA VIKINGS (14-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 25 (rookies) James Burgess Jersey , July 28 (veterans), Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Eagan, Minnesota
LAST YEAR: Despite losing starting QB Sam Bradford after season opener and rookie RB Dalvin Cook in fourth game, both to knee injuries, Vikings rode backup QB Case Keenum and league-leading defense to second-most wins in franchise history. Beat Saints on last-second 61-yard TD pass from Keenum to WR Stefon Diggs in play dubbed ”Minneapolis Miracle,” before being trounced by Eagles in NFC championship game to miss chance of becoming NFL’s first Super Bowl host to play in game.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, PK Daniel Carlson, CB/KR Mike Hughes, WR Kendall Wright, OG Tom Compton, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Brian O’Neill.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Keenum, Bradford, RB Jerick McKinnon, RG Joe Berger, WR Jarius Wright, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, QB Teddy Bridgewater, OL Jeremiah Sirles.
CAMP NEEDS: Cousins must continue to build chemistry with Diggs, WR Adam Thielen, TE Kyle Rudolph and rest of receivers, but even more important is establishment of healthy line in front of him. RT Rashod Hill will be in spotlight after taking most of first-team reps in spring practices while Mike Remmers moved to RG Dorance Armstrong Jr. Jersey , and C Pat Elflein has catching up to do with Cousins on cadence and calls; Elflein was out of team drills all offseason in recovery from shoulder, ankle injuries. Cook looks to step back in as starting tailback 10 months after ACL surgery. First-round draft pick Hughes will have opportunity to earn jobs as primary KR and nickel CB.
EXPECTATIONS: As high as ever, with fully guaranteed contract for Cousins and under-radar signing of Richardson to supplement one of league’s most stacked rosters. With Diggs, DE Danielle Hunter and LB Anthony Barr on expiring contracts and handful of defense’s stars nearing, at, or over 30, time is now for team’s first title. Repeating last year’s record won’t be easy, with questions remaining on offensive line, where Berger’s retirement created opening, and stiffer schedule that includes road trips to face Rams, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks.
DETROIT LIONS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Allen Park, Michigan
LAST YEAR: Early and late-season slides knocked team out of playoff contention and cost coach Jim Caldwell job. QB Matthew Stafford led pass-dependent offense with 1,000-yard WRs Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. CB Darius Slay emerged as one of league’s best in coverage.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach Matt Patricia, RB LeGarrette Blount, RB Kerryon Johnson, TE Luke Willson, C Frank Ragnow, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Christian Jones, LB Devon Kennard.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Coach Jim Caldwell, TE Eric Ebron, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Tahir Whitehead.
CAMP NEEDS: Developing running game with two new backs and rookie center. Learning new defense with first-year head coach and new coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
EXPECTATIONS: Making playoffs must be goal after firing coach coming off third winning season in four years. Third-year GM Bob Quinn wants team to become tougher, especially in short yardage and near goal line.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 26 Harrison Phillips Jersey , Green Bay, Wisconsin
LAST YEAR: Finished under .500 and out of playoffs for first time since 2008. Offense struggled with QB Aaron Rodgers sidelined for seven games with broken collarbone. Defense plagued by porous secondary and lack of consistent pass rush. Injuries ravaged cornerback position again.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: GM Brian Gutekunst, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, QB DeShone Kizer, TE Jimmy Graham, TE Marcedes Lewis, CB Tramon Williams, rookie CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, DL Muhammad Wilkerson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: retired GM Ted Thompson, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, S Morgan Burnett, WR Jordy Nelson, G Jahri Evans, TE Richard Rodgers.
CAMP NEEDS: Find receiver to replace Nelson. Packers took three wideouts in middle rounds of draft, but returnees Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis could have early edge. With Rodgers sidelined, Nelson’s production tailed off last year, and Packers let him go in offseason and brought in Graham to provide big target over middle. At their best, Rodgers and Nelson were one of top combos in league. Packers need to develop pass-rush depth behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and hope that Alexander and Jackson can learn from Williams to help in coverage.
EXPECTATIONS: Packers are always threat as long as Rodgers is healthy. Last season served as painful lesson of what team needs to shore up defensive deficiencies that could be masked by their gifted quarterback. At worst, expect return to playoffs – assuming Rodgers is healthy – following offseason full of changes in Titletown.
CHICAGO BEARS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 19, Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Illinois
LAST YEAR: Bears finished last in NFC North for fourth straight year, then fired coach John Fox after three losing seasons. GM Ryan Pace got contract extension through 2021 and hired Andy Reid protege Matt Nagy as head coach, hoping he gets most out of QB Mitchell Trubisky. Wide receivers were big weakness Andrew Billings Jersey , with Cameron Meredith (left knee) out for season and Kevin White (shoulder) missing most of it. Chicago’s leading receiver was Kendall Wright – now with Minnesota – with 59 receptions for 614 yards. Bears had formidable RB tandem with Jordan Howard (1,122 yards) and Tarik Cohen (370 yards rushing, 353 receiving), though Howard struggled to catch passes. Defense ranked 10th overall despite Philadelphia’s six leading average scorers so far in the playoffs, in order are: Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
Their homelands: Australia, Croatia, Cameroon, the United States, Italy and Turkey.
Philadelphia – a melting pot of humanity for more than 300 years – has a basketball team probably as diverse as the city itself. The 76ers, 19-1 in their last 20 games and suddenly looking very much like an NBA Finals contender, will try to close out the Miami Heat and clinch their Eastern Conference opening series when they play host to Game 5 on Tuesday night.
About a dozen languages and dialects can be spoken in the 76ers locker room at any time, but clearly, winning is a universal language.
”It’s all basketball, but the true side of how people coach, speak, say, play the game is different,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. ”And that collection now that I have with everybody is like is a melting pot of all peoples experiences. That equals a team. I mean, I love it. I love the geo-political conversations. I love that diversity on the court, off the court. I enjoy it.”
There might be no coach better-suited for this particular gig that Brown, too.
He spent nearly two decades living overseas, spending most of that time coaching in Australia before getting hired by the San Antonio Spurs – another franchise that has found championship ingredients from all over the world – back in 2002. Brown went to Philadelphia in 2013 Tre'Davious White Jersey , took loss after loss after loss for his first four seasons when The Process was playing itself out, and now is reaping the rewards.
The 76ers are young. They’re brash. They’re fearless. And they’re legit.
”A lot of the guys growing up overseas, we have that European style of play,” Simmons said. ”It’s a lot different than the U.S. style.”
Simmons is still a kid, in the NBA sense. He’s 21. But he’s already seen the world with a basketball in hand: He’s played all over Australia, represented his country in Lithuania at the FIBA World U17 Championships as a 15-year-old, ended up going to high school in Florida and spent his lone year of college at LSU.
”I’ve seen a lot,” Simmons said. ”I’ve played everywhere.”
The poise shows, with the rookie shining in his first playoffs.
Embiid, also in his first playoffs and with a mask protecting his surgically repaired face, has handled playing injured with ease. Belinelli has been a steadying force since he got to Philadelphia two months ago. Saric has been doing things in these playoffs that can draw comparisons to what that countrymen Drazen Petrovic and Peja Stojakovic did before him. Ilyasova has been a key player for Philadelphia since getting rescued from Atlanta in February.
They all think differently, many learned the game differently, and the backgrounds are wildly different.
But it works.
A record 62 players from 33 countries were on playoff rosters across the NBA this season, and no one had more of them than Philadelphia – the 76ers have seven international guys with them for the postseason, matching Utah for the league lead.
”My English isn’t that good, Dario’s isn’t that good, but we try to be a great group,” Belinelli said. ”And we are. We go to dinner all together, we spend a lot of time together in the locker room after practice. It’s just part of the work, I think. Having all these guys from different parts of the world, it’s a good thing.”
Brown, a coach in three Olympics, couldn’t agree more.
”This global instinct and sort of global feeling that we have in Philadelphia interests me very much,” Brown said. ”I embrace it. For me, it’s another layer of why I enjoy coaching this team.”
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