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
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.
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.
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.