Given everything that the Chicago Bears have accomplished this season, one might be quick to say they've over-achieved. But, if that's the case, you have to ask yourself just what you expected from each of the Bears' players? While there have been quite a few improved and break-out players, others have been just plain disappointing.
Most Improved: Israel Idonije, Earl Bennett
Israel Idonije went from a specials teams ace, and occasional defensive end/defensive tackle, to being tied for the team lead in sacks. When he was thrust into the starting job after Mark Anderson was cut, he never looked back. Idonije took his opportunity and ran with it. A big question coming into the year, for some, was who will play opposite of Julius Peppers? Idonije has seemingly played well at every position he has been told to play, and he's certainly brought-it this year. TV analysts such as ESPN's Tom Jackson have even started mention his name when talking about the Bears defense.
Idonije's 2010 Stats: 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 3 pass deflections.
Cutler's old Vanderbilt buddy Earl Bennett has showed why he is the SEC's all-time leader in receptions. Bennett seems to be the go-to-guy for Cutler these days, especially on 3rd down. The sure-handed third-year player really started to shine toward the end of the regular season. After being injured during training camp and subsequent surgery rehab, Bennett finally got back onto the field and made a name for himself. Bennett seems like he could become one of the best possession receivers in the NFL. While he's no Johnny Knox - speed wise - he's the toughest and strongest receiver on the roster, breaking tackles consistently and catching tough passes over the middle.
Bennett's 2010 Stats: 46 receptions, 561 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Most Surprising Players: Danieal Manning, D.J. Moore, Tim Jennings, Henry Melton
Danieal Manning, yet again, was given a new defensive position at the start of the season. He has played free safety, right-side cornerback and nickelback, and finally landing at strong safety this year. Since the very beginning of the Lovie Smith era, the Bears haven't had safeties that could play at a big-time level outside of Mike Brown. The problem was, Mike Brown could never stay healthy. Manning played at a very consistent level this season, while not being caught out of position as much as he did at FS. While Manning is no pro-bowler just yet, he's finally a solid player at this point in his career. Lovie's "project," that he has been tinkering with for years looks to have found his niche on defense. It's highly doubtful that anyone actually thought Manning would play consistent and solid defense before the season.
Manning's 2010 Stats: 72 tackles, 7 passes defended and 1 interception.
After sitting-out his first season in the NFL, D.J. Moore has really stepped up and become a playmaker. Sporting the infamous Mike Brown #30, at times he's mirrored the Bear-great by being in the right spot at the right time. He burst onto the scene in week 2 when the Bears played in Dallas, where he recorded 2 interceptions. Standing at only 5'9", Moore plays bigger than his size. Another big asset to Moore's game is the fact that he blitzes as well as any corner in the league. This second-year player works with Lovie Smith one-on-one each week, and has seemingly turned into the perfect nickel back.
D.J. Moore's 2010 Stats: 42 tackles, 8 passes defended, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and 4 interceptions, one of which was taken back for a touchdown.
Another undersized player who is excelling this season is cornerback Tim Jennings. When he was signed to the Bears squad, it's highly doubtful that anyone really thought he would be the starting corner this season. This savy veteran got thrust into the top cornerback spot and has played very well the entire year. He's only 5'8" and, much like Moore, he also plays much bigger than his size. Jennings has matched up well against big time wide receivers and is a very solid tackler, unlike the player who was demoted out of the role in Zack Bowman.
Tim Jennings' 2010 Stats: 56 tackles, 7 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception.
After being on injured reserve his entire first season, Henry Melton has started to excel in Lovie's defense. He seems to produce at whichever position he lines up; Playing defensive tackle at times, while also getting switched out to defensive end whenever Idonije or Peppers is off the field. The second half of this season, Melton has really started to have the look of a player who could work out as a long term option for the Bears. The former Texas running back has speed and power that he needs to play both positions, and has helped fill a gap that former pro-bowler Tommie Harris once held with dominance.
Henry Melton's 2010 Stats: 2.5 sacks, 1 pass deflection and 1 forced fumble.
* Notable Mention: Matt Toeaina and Corey Graham
Most Disappointing Players: Zackary Bowman, Tommie Harris, Chester Taylor, Brandon Manumaleuna
Zack Bowman was picked by many to become a break-out player prior to this 2010 campaign. Coming off a season where he recorded 6 interceptions, Bowman was a major let down. After poor tackling, and giving up big plays because of it, he was benched in week 3 for Tim Jennings. He never earned his job back.
No explanation needed for Tommie Harris anymore. Injuries have completely destroyed him. Warren Sapp might have said it best, "He looks like a blind dog in a meat house." With the signing of Peppers, many thought Harris would have a chance to revert back to form. But his performance wasn't even close to that. He lost his starting job during the season and appears to be on his way out of a Bears' uniform.
Bears' fans everywhere had high expectations for Chester Taylor this season. It's safe to say that he's been a complete disappointment so far this season. He is averaging 2.4 yards per carry with only two touchdowns, despite being used early as the goal-line back. He hasn't been what anyone expected.
Brandon Manumaleuna was brought in to basically be an offensive tackle that played tight end. But, he's played more like a cornerback/tight end. He appears to be completely out of shape, and getting bigger as the year goes on. Even Greg Olsen looks to be the better blocking option over the chunky cornerback that just so happens to be a tight end. It's safe to say, Manumaleuna was a big waste of money. Thanks Mike Martz.