From players to coaches, a number of pieces have been added or changed across the league since the conclusion of the 2017 season.
Two NFC North teams, the Lions and the Bears, hired new head coaches this offseason, and Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia talked about the competiveness of the Black-and-Blue division he's recently joined.
Patricia, who previously was the Patriots defensive coordinator, spoke with media members at the NFL's Annual League Meeting in Orlando.
"Our division's extremely difficult," Patricia said. "It's a lot of outstanding players, great quarterbacks, difficult schemes both offensively and defensively that we're going to have to contend with, so no doubt that's what you have to handle first and foremost."
Dave Birkett of the *Detroit Free Press *wrote that the division has gotten "undeniably better" this spring:
The defending division-champion Minnesota Vikings signed impact free agents on both sides of the ball, including free agency's top quarterback, Kirk Cousins. The Green Bay Packers, who'll return a healthy Aaron Rodgers in 2018, went out of their free-agent comfort zone to add one of the game's best red-zone receiving threats in Jimmy Graham and an impact defensive lineman. And the offensively challenged Chicago Bears got their young quarterback help at wide receiver and tight end.
*New Lions [Head Coach] Matt Patricia said … that the North is "absolutely" the best division in football. *
Birkett said that the Vikings are the "early division favorites" after they finished the 2017 regular season 13-3 and made an appearance in the NFC title game. He also said the Vikings had "arguably the NFL's best defense last year" before adding defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in free agency.
*Minnesota did lose versatile running back Jerick McKinnon to the San Francisco 49ers, and starting guard Joe Berger, a Michigan Tech product, [announced his retirement] after 13 NFL seasons. But top running back Dalvin Cook is expected back by the start of the season from a torn ACL and Cousins adds stability at a quarterback position. *
Birkett said the Lions were the "least splashy" in free agency of the NFC North squads but that Patricia believes "they're positioned to contend" in 2018.
Thielen, Ham among athletes participating in Sioux Falls clinics
Minnesota natives Adam Thielen and C.J. Ham are among a group of nine athletes who will be visiting South Dakota in June for the 2018 Hy-Vee/Sanford Legends.
According to Mick Garry of the *Argus Leader, *the event will run from June 7-19, and the athletes will "participate in the Legends Banquet and their respective free clinics." Garry wrote:
The Hy-Vee/Sanford Legends program has provided learning opportunities for young student-athletes by providing different sporting clinics and camps.
The sessions are conducted by present and past professional athletes and the region's best college and high school coaches. Parents and coaches also participate in clinics designed to help them further understand their role as mentors while sharpening their coaching skills.
In 2017, the Hy-Vee/Sanford Legends and Celebrity Football Camp succeeded in raising $210,000 for the Legends Grant Program, and Legends is continuing its scholarship program this year.
The Legends for Kids Scholarship is a $5,000 award given to eight outstanding graduating seniors who have demonstrated exceptional character and leadership in athletics, school and community involvement. The scholarship program was created by Hy-Vee, Sanford and First Premier to be used for post-secondary education.
In addition to Ham and Thielen, other celebrity participants include Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, Hall of Fame center (basketball) Robert Parish, former NBA guard Kirk Hinrich, two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North, Olympic gold medalist (hockey) Jocelyne Lamoureux, and MMA fighters Ben Nguyen and Logan Storley.
Rudolph supports Timberwolves' Towns
While Vikings players are enjoying their offseason, a handful have taken the opportunity to attend Timberwolves games as the NBA regular season begins winding down.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is a common guest spotted at the Target Center, and he has formed a friendship with Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Timberwolves, who are hoping to keep a spot in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, defeated the Hawks Wednesday night with the help of a career outing from Towns, who scored an impressive 56 points to set a new franchise record.
Not surprising, one of countless fans to congratulate Towns on the accomplishment was Rudolph, who tweeted in reaction to the performance.