Chicago Bears 2008 Preview Report

Grossman

By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com

Predicted: 3rd

2007 Record: 7-9 (4th NFC North)

Head Coach: Love Smith (5th year)

Roster Quick View

*rookie

**new veteran

Offense

QB: Rex Grossman If by potential you mean jittery, inconsistent, unreliable, up-and-down, shaky, maddening, bizarre passing abilities, then yeah, he’s still loaded with potential.

RB: Matt Forte* Pass-blocking and receiving look good, and scouts like his tenacious running. That said, his greatest strength may be that he’s not Cedric Benson.

FB: Jason McKie Moves alright, but doesn’t bring enough lumber as a lead-blocker.

WR: Marty Booker** The one-win Dolphins let him go because they thought he was past his prime. The Bears signed him to be their No. 1 WR.

WR: Devin Hester As a WR, needs to gain a much firmer grasp of Ron Turner’s system. Shouldn’t be playing offense if it means decreasing his return duties.

TE: Desmond Clark Excellent hands and serviceable as a blocker, but Greg Olsen is right behind him.

LT: Chris Williams* Terrific pass-blocker, but can he carry his weight in the run game?

LG: Terrence Metcalf The Bears had 7 months to find Ruben Brown’s replacement. They did nothing. Now, here’s Metcalf:.starting. Unbelievable.

C: Olin Kreutz Still a nasty, fist-fighting Pro Bowler.

RG: Roberto Garza Very limited athletically. But still, he somehow manages to survive week in and week out.

RT: John Tait Moving back to his original right side position. Many think that, at 33, this is a good fit. The question is, does he still have enough power?

—————————-

QB: Kyle Orton Could very well capture the starting job, though this says more about Rex Grossman.

RB: Adrian Peterson It’s a cheap shot, but:.the one in Minnesota is better. Still, a rock-solid veteran who can help out on third downs.

WR: Brandon Lloyd** Can make some dazzling catches. Imagine how good he’d be if he had any sense of work ethic or humility.

WR: Mark Bradley The most talented wideout on the team, but injuries marred much of his first three years.

TE: Greg Olsen Terrible blocker, but the Bears only need him to catch.

OL John St. Clair Decent utility weapon, but never seems to do well when asked to start.

Defense

LDE: Adewale Ogunleye Played with a better motor last season and wound up recording nine sacks. The quintessential good-but-not-great DE.

DT: Tommie Harris Justice was served when he became the league’s richest DT over the offseason. Will make $27 million over the next three years.

NT: Anthony Adams Plays with good leverage (in part because he’s only 6’0″) but could have a tough time holding off Dusty Dvoracek for starting job.

DL: Alex Brown Returns to starting lineup in ’08. Gets off the snap in a hurry and, while not strong enough to anchor, at least makes a modest impact against the run.

SLB: Hunter Hillenmeyer The “other guy” in this spectacular linebacking core. Lacks strength, but is a good pass defender.

MLB: Brian Urlacher Given his arthritic back and 30 years of age, you can’t blame Chicago for their initial reluctance in renegotiating his contract. Still the best MLB in football when he’s 100 %.

WLB: Lance Briggs Just needs to keep tackling running backs behind the line of scrimmage–the Bears will find someone to handle the rest of his glamour life.

CB: Charles Tillman Physicality and knack for turnovers makes him well respected around the league.

SS: Brandon McGowan Terrific run defender at all spots on the field. Should be better in coverage with Mike Brown beside him.

FS: Mike Brown Pro Bowl leader but injuries have ravaged him over the years. Has finished four of the last five seasons hurt, missing 43 of 64 regular season games.

CB: Nathan Vasher Quickness and agility make him lethal as an underneath defender. Bears desperately need him to stay healthy.

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DL: Mark Anderson Things didn’t work out as a starter (he can’t play the run), but he should be excellent once again in a pass-rushing role.

LB: Jamar Williams Good on special teams; only sees the field if one of the main LB’s is injured.

NB: Ricky Manning Jr. Decent player, but his 3-interception performance in the NFC Championship game a few years ago overbuilt his hype.

Players Acquired

WR Marty Booker (Mia)

WR Brandon Lloyd (Was)

RB Kevin Jones (Det)

Players Lost

S Adam Archuleta

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (Bal)

RB Cedric Benson

WR Bernard Berrian (Min)

G Ruben Brown

TE John Gilmore (TB)

QB Brian Griese (TB)

DB Ade Jimoh

DT Jimmy Kennedy (Jax)

OT Fred Miller

WR Muhsin Muhammad (Chi)

DT Darwin Walker (Car)

Well, the Bears got half of it correct. They dumped the right players (Archuleta was horrendous, Benson was a train wreck, Griese wasn’t needed, Kennedy was still too fat, Miller and Brown had aged and Walker was a bust). Problem is, Chicago didn’t find replacements for any of these guys. They underwent a stunning downgrade at wide receiver. Booker is a less-productive version of Muhammad, and Lloyd can’t begin to match Berrian’s production. Jones must prove his knee is alright.

2008 – Chicago Bears

Rd

Sel #

Player

Position

School

1

14

Chris Williams

OT

Vanderbilt

2

44

Matt Forte

RB

Tulane

3

70

Earl Bennett

WR

Vanderbilt

3

90

Marcus Harrison

DT

Arkansas

4

120

Craig Steltz

S

Louisiana State

5

142

Zack Bowman

CB

Nebraska

5

158

Kellen Davis

TE

Michigan State

7

208

Ervin Baldwin

DE

Michigan State

7

222

Chester Adams

G

Georgia

7

243

Joey LaRocque

LB

Oregon State

7

247

Kirk Barton

T

Ohio State

7

248

Marcus Monk

WR

Arkansas

Williams will have the monumental task of starting at LT right away. Let’s just hope he doesn’t come to think that all NFL quarterbacks crumble in the pocket like Rex Grossman. Forte gets to replace Cedric Benson, which is a lot like getting to replace Isiah Thomas: no matter how bad and unlikable you are, you’re still an upgrade. Bennett was super productive in the SEC, but some question whether he’ll be able to get open in the NFL. Harrison‘s draft stock fell because of drug charges in college (he was charged with the Ja Rule special: two marijuana cigars and an ecstasy pill). Management believes Steltz can one day start. Bowman was a first-round prospect before undergoing major surgery on his left and right knees in the back-half of his college career. Davis just has to be a No. 3 TE.

Chicago Bears 2008 Preview Report

You can’t find a more distinct contrast. It’s like a Smart ForTwo parked next to a Hummer H2. Or an albino Irishman standing beside a tribal African. All the ups and downs, fats and thins, blacks and whites, and lefts and rights in the world don’t compare to the juxtaposition that is the Chicago Bears.

The Bears have two divisions: the one they share with Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota, and the one between their offense and defense. It’s the second one that kills their chances in the first.

Chicago‘s defense is as sturdy as the Sears Tower. The offense is as shaky as a Jenga tower. Each Sunday, defensive leader Brian Urlacher makes crowds gasp and cheer. Offensive leader Rex Grossman makes them gasp and boo. Or laugh. Urlacher’s fellow linebacking partners (Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer) smother the flats; Grossman’s fellow backfield mates (Jason McKie and Matt Forte) are liable to get smothered.

The Bears defensive line features an interior presence, Tommie Harris, who moves the pile and blows up plays in the backfield. The offensive line boasts an inside force, Terrence Metcalf, who enlarges the pile and, also, blows up plays in the backfield. The D-line is deep enough for diving; the O-line is shallow enough for kindergarten swim lessons.

Cornerback Nathan Vasher has the quickness of an alley cat. Receiver Marty Booker has the quickness of an Alley, Kirstie. The rest of Chicago‘s secondary has been known to create big plays. The rest of Chicago‘s receiving corps has been known to create punting situations.

The offense and defense form a perfect antipode. Problem is, having a heavily weighted defense and a frail offense does not make perfect equilibrium. Instead, it makes for perfect inconsistency (see Chicago‘s 7-9 record last season). It also makes for vulnerability. What happens when injuries hit the defense? (Again, see 7-9.)

The Bears have always been known as a defensive team, but never has their offense looked so stark. The quarterback duties are up for grabs–and Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton are the only two passers on the roster. Whoever proves closest to average will win the job. And whoever this is will still feel like a backup once he takes a close look at the talent lining up around him.

Bears GM Jerry Angelo had a busy offseason. Needing to revamp an offensive unit that ranked 27th in total yards, Angelo cleaned out Lovie Smith’s fridge. He saw the expiration dates on offensive linemen Ruben Brown and Fred Miller and resolutely let them go (Miller was released and Brown, who missed the final eight games last year after shoulder surgery, was not re-signed). He released veteran receiver Muhsin Muhammad and chose not to bring back speedy but expensive free agent Bernard Berrian.

Later, to everyone’s joy, Angelo recognized that non-achieving running back Cedric Benson had spoiled (a pair of DUI arrests killed the remains of Benson’s reputation). Deciding that an immature, injury-prone, overpaid runner with a 3.8 career yards per carry average was expendable, Angelo dismissed the former No. 4 pick in May.

Aside from maybe Berrian, all of Chicago‘s personnel changes were initially applauded. But that was before people saw how the GM restocked the offense. Angelo replaced Miller with 14th-overall pick Chris Williams, a superb pass-blocker from Vanderbilt. Williams immediately becomes the starting left tackle (veteran John Tait moves back to right tackle, where Miller resided). Williams might be the right buy for the Bears in the long haul, but you wonder how any rookie can hold up as the guardian of the quarterback’s blindside fresh out of the box.

Angelo did not replace Brown with anyone. Instead, he opted to fill the vacant left guard spot with stale veteran Terrence Metcalf. To make up for Muhammad, Angelo busted out the Tupperware for some Marty Booker leftovers. Booker was with the team from ’99-’03 and posted a pair of 1,000-yard seasons during that time. However, he has spent the last four years in Miami, where he never caught more than 55 passes in a season. The Dolphins–who, remember, won all of one game in ’07–let the soon-to-be 32-year-old receiver go because they felt that his best days were behind him. Booker can still play, but he’s a poor man’s Muhammad.

To replace Berrian (who, by the way, joined division rival Minnesota), Angelo called on journeyman Brandon Lloyd. The 27-year-old wideout hails from the same faction as Cedric Benson. Blessed with highlight-reel talent, Lloyd’s NFL career has never taken off, thanks to a bankrupt work ethic and an attitude bad enough to classify as a ‘tude. Lloyd played for offensive coordinator Ron Turner at Illinois, so the hope is that a quasi-homecoming can inspire him.

Finally, to replace Benson, the Bears tapped second-round rookie Matt Forte (who was likely to capture the starting running back job even before Benson’s dismissal). Chicago‘s hoping Forte can perform well enough to make people forget that less than two years ago, they traded away Thomas Jones. Veteran running back Kevin Jones (unrelated) was also signed, but he’s not fully recovered from a torn ACL.

Bad as the offense is, Angelo has done the best job he can. Take a look at Chicago‘s defense. This past offseason, the GM wisely re-signed three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs (six-years, $36 million, with $13 million guaranteed). And he prevented the league’s best defensive tackle, Tommie Harris, from becoming a free agent next season by awarding the fifth-year star the most lucrative defensive lineman contract in history (four years, $40 million, with $18 million guaranteed and $27 million in the first three years). Finally, Angelo acquiesced on the demands of linebacker Brian Urlacher by giving the future Hall of Famer a renegotiated contract that included $18 million in new money.

It’s no wonder the Bears did not have the resources to retool the offense. What they must do now, oddly enough, is embrace their imbalance. Just two years ago they rode their sledgehammer defense to the Super Bowl (granted, the offense they had then wasn’t quite this bad). If they lean on their D and continue to get a boost from Devin Hester and the special teams, Chicago has an outside chance at conjuring some success in 2008. But there are a lot of flaws on the shallow side of the ball.

Offense

The natural assumption is that the biggest decision facing Chicago‘s coaching staff is who to start under center in Week 1. In what appears to be a true quarterback competition, the nominees are sixth-year pro (and former first-round pick) Rex Grossman and fourth-year pro (and former fourth-round pick) Kyle Orton. But where is the reward behind this decision?

In Grossman, the Bears have a maddeningly inconsistent gunslinger who tends to point the barrel at his own team more than the opponent. In Orton, they have a direly mediocre pocket passer who, on a good day, might vacillate between seven-and twelve-yard completions. If Chicago is delirious enough to search for lightning in a bottle under center, they should go with Orton. After all, he has only 18 career starts, while the soon-to-be 28-year-old Grossman has 30. In other words, there still might be a sliver of hope that Orton is not a finished product.

But here’s how much the quarterback matters in Chicago: last season, with Grossman, Orton and Brian Griese sharing the starts, the Bears posted 3,362 yards passing. It was the third greatest output in franchise history (remarkably, it was still only the 15th largest output in the entire NFL in ’07). Over the final 13 weeks of the season, the Bears were third in the league in pass plays of 25 yards or longer. In other words, they did not struggle to throw the ball like they have in years past.

But in the end, Chicago still ranked 27th in total offense, 29th on third down and 18th in scoring. The stellar quarterbacking didn’t matter. It almost seems that as long as the orange C is on the blue helmet, the running game is going to be the a priori issue.

Enter Matt Forte. The second-round pick out of Tulane is the man responsible for rebuilding the rushing attack. Forte’s greatest strength may be that he’s not Cedric Benson. However, he does seem to have a similar skill set. Scouts describe the 224-pounder as a between-the-tackles grinder who makes sharp cuts and hits his holes. Unlike Benson, scouts praise Forte’s tenacity and credit him for continually keeping his legs churning. Ensuring that Forte is a true fit in Ron Turner’s offense, the black marks beside his name are for speed and explosiveness (he tends to get tracked down from behind).

Backup Adrian Peterson has a little bounce in his step, but his best contributions are in blocking and, occasionally, short-area receiving. As much energy as he brings off the bench, the 29-year-old veteran is not cut out to be anything more than a third-down back. Last season, Peterson averaged 3.4 yards per carry, the same number as Benson. It was, however, nearly a full yard more than disappointing third-round rookie Garrett Wolfe. Kevin Jones is a fine runner when healthy. But he’s not healthy often enough. Jones is currently recuperating from ACL surgery and is likely to begin the season on the PUP list.

Given the state of the offensive line, it’s almost implausible that Chicago‘s rushing attack will be any better in 2008. Rookie left tackle Chris Williams is tremendous in pass protection (he surrendered only two sacks in his three years at Vanderbilt), but scouts question whether he has the viciousness to be a great run blocker. Williams weighs 320 but has only average strength.

Left guard Terrence Metcalf would be a backup for 31 other teams in this league. In fact, there might be some teams that he couldn’t make altogether. Metcalf’s shortcoming is his power (he doesn’t have any). He actually moves quite well–especially for a 318-pounder–but not well enough to make up for his struggles in a phone booth.

Metcalf’s foil is right guard Roberto Garza. A combative eighth-year veteran, Garza has limited range and mobility, but he’s able to hold his ground. He won’t push the line of scrimmage or flourish in space, but he’ll lock down his spot on the field.

Chicago‘s meagerness at guard is assuaged by the presence of six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz. Meaner than a rabid wolverine and prideful as your grandpa, Kreutz, 31, is the preeminent center in the NFC. Chicago‘s second best lineman is John Tait, who is back at his original right tackle position. The assumption is that the 33-year-old is a better fit here, given his declining quickness. The reality is that he no longer has the resounding power to be a premiere right tackle. However, Tait’s fundamentals have always been good enough to mask his deficiencies.

Chicago‘s aerial attack is blemished by its starting wide receivers. Marty Booker is a No. 3-level player and Brandon Lloyd is a No. 4. Still, both could end up starting. Because of this, it’s vital that the Bears incorporate second-year tight end Greg Olsen more in the passing game. Olsen came along slowly as a rookie and finished with just 39 receptions. He has the skills to be a 65-catch weapon who, to a modest degree, can stretch the field. But Olsen’s inability to block could keep him behind respectable all-around veteran Desmond Clark.

The Bears face a scintillating temptation to jumpstart the offense with Devin Hester. Hester has proven to be a better route runner than expected, and his speed makes him a lethal deep-ball weapon. However, he’s shown only a remedial understanding of the offense, and his fundamentals are as refined as Adam Sandler’s wardrobe. Receivers coach Darryl Drake worked closely with Hester during the offseason, but it’s doubtful that the third-year star will be much better than oft-injured Mark Bradley or underrated Rashied Davis in ’08. The Bears must keep their perspective with Hester. There have been whispers that they’ll remove him from kickoff returns in an effort to save him for offense. This would be sinfully stupid.

Defense

What is the status of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher? The ninth-year superstar turned 30 in May. Having missed the Pro Bowl for only the second time in his career (the other time was in ’04 when he missed seven games), Urlacher, by most accounts, is coming off a down year (though it’s hard to call 123 tackles, five sacks, five interceptions and 12 passes defensed a “down year”). He had minor neck surgery during the offseason, and he reportedly has an arthritic back that isn’t expected to heal.

Despite all this, Urlacher still publicly demanded–and received–a new contract. It wasn’t without strife, as the veteran skipped some of the voluntary team activities in spring. In all likelihood, the future Hall of Famer will be dominant in 2008. The question is whether he’ll be his complete self.

Urlacher’s instincts make him a superstar, but he’s boosted by outside linebackers who are willing to do a lot of the dirty work. Lance Briggs is a maniac, and Hunter Hillenmeyer is an underappreciated presence.

Briggs is coming off his third consecutive Pro Bowl. His speed makes him an ideal fit for the weakside responsibilities in Lovie Smith’s Cover 2. Last season, Briggs finished second in the NFL with 12.5 stuffs (tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage), a remarkable feat considering Chicago‘s defensive line focuses so heavily on shooting the gaps rather than occupying blockers.

Defensive line coach Brick Haley–who took over when Bob Babich was promoted to coordinator last year–has the luxury of utilizing the most fearsome three-technique weapon in football: Tommie Harris. When healthy–which, after a severe ’06 hamstring injury, hasn’t been often enough–Harris is as close to unstoppable as any player can be. He operates with explosiveness, power and leverage. At times, he’s even too quick to double team.

It almost doesn’t matter who lines up next to Harris, though the Bears would rejoice if they ever found a stud. There’s some hope that his Oklahoma teammate, Dusty Dvoracek, can be that guy. Dvoracek, however, saw his first two pro seasons go down the drain with injuries (foot in ’06, knee in ’07). He may begin the year behind stubby but effective nose tackle Anthony Adams. Third-round rookie Marcus Harrison impresses scouts with his strong punch, but it’s believed that he’ll need a year or two to settle in at the NFL level.

The Bears have five defensive ends at their disposal. Left side starter Adewale Ogunleye is steady in every sense of the word. If you don’t get a good body on him, he’ll eat your quarterback alive. Mark Anderson started on the right last season, which was a mistake considering that at 6’4″, 255, he’s a model speed-rusher who gets dismantled against the run. Anderson had 12 sacks in a third-down role as a rookie, but after moving ahead of Alex Brown, he felled the quarterback only five times. Anderson must keep significant separation from O-linemen in order to function. This is why the Bears are wise to go back to starting the more rounded–though still pass-rushing centric–Brown.

Israel Idonije is an excellent run defender, while Dan BazuinChicago‘s second-round pick in ’07–has some potential. Bazuin, however, missed his entire rookie year with a knee injury that twice landed him on the operating table.

An injury note is a perfect segway to introducing free safety Mike Brown. Chicago‘s esteemed veteran playmaker has finished the past four seasons on the mend, missing a total of 43 games. Brown’s injuries have been as multifaceted as his game: ’04–ruptured Achilles; ’05–calf; ’06–foot; ’07–knee. He has looked good this past offseason, but the Bears still insisted that he restructure his contract to divest the franchise of liability should he get hurt again (Brown honorably agreed).

If Brown is unable to go, rangy third-year pro Danieal Manning–who proved to be a failed experiment at cornerback last season–will step in. Playing with Brown, strong safety Brandon McGowan should make a substantial leap in 2008. McGowan is a very sturdy run defender who can operate near the box and also make tackles in the open field. The front office loves fourth-round rookie Craig Steltz, but not enough to demote the almost-25-year-old McGowan.

Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher are two of the best in the business (when healthy). Both have mastered the Cover 2, showing ball-hawking prowess (Vasher especially) and run-stopping physicality (Tillman especially). Working in the slot will be Ricky Manning Jr., overrated from his days with Carolina, but still opportunistic in big moments. Because of Vasher’s groin pull last year, Trumaine McBride started seven games as a rookie. He’s capable of being more than just a No. 4 cornerback.

Special Teams

If Devin Hester’s career ended tomorrow, the ex-Hurricane would be remembered as the greatest return artist in NFL history. Through two seasons, Hester has 11 kick or punt returns for a touchdown. The all-time record is 13, held by Brian Mitchell (who took 14 years to set the mark). Counting the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI, and the 107-yard missed field goal return against the Giants in ’06, Hester has 13 touchdown returns.

Given the great lengths opponents will travel just to avoid kicking to Hester, there’s no way the Bears can entertain the idea of not putting him back in every possible return situation. Hester’s impact on field position alone makes him one of the most valuable players in football.

Brad Maynard is blessed to be the only punter in the league who is ensured of not having to kick to Hester. Maynard netted 37.4 yards per punt last season (having the league’s third best coverage unit helped). Kicker Robbie Gould was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in ’06. He remains solid–particularly from 35 yards-in.

The Bears had the league’s top-ranked kick coverage unit in 2007, though the loss of Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo could set them back.

Bottom Line

Whoever said “offense wins games but defense wins championships” never saw an offense like this. If Chicago‘s defense stays healthy and the special teams remain potent, there’s a chance this team could compete for a nine or ten-win season. But it will be very tough given their inability to run–and throw–the ball.

Myth Buster

Rex Grossman is still developing

Perhaps most people have moved on from this thought, but there are still the deep-drilling analysts who point out that because Grossman–who turns 28 in August–missed virtually all of his first three seasons with injury, he’s still a work in progress. The bottom line is, the guy has been partaking in NFL offseason programs for six years. He’s been a part of the pro sports culture for that long as well. Grossman started 16 games in 2006, plus two playoff contests and the Super Bowl.

What’s more, Grossman is one of the few players in football who may actually regress with experience. His errors have not strictly been the results of bad reads and naïveté (though he’s more than proven himself in this sense); they’re also the result of terrible habits and focus.

Open Thought

Have you ever noticed that there always seems to be at least one Bears player who has half of the orange C on his helmet torn off?

It’s a little surprising that the team still sports the orange C. After all, they have a decent logo in the Bear head. Chicago is one of five NFL teams to have their main logo centered around their home city (rather than mascot). The other four are the Green Bay Packers (giant G), New York Giants (letters NY), New York Jets (their title in that green “kind of a football, kind of not” shape) and San Francisco (letters SF).


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