Chicago Bears’ owner George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips hired Phil Emery this off-season in hopes that he will close the talent gap within the NFC North. With Emery making some drastic roster upgrades this off-season, here's an in-depth look at what he is working with not only this year, but in the years to come.
30-something core players:
- Brian Urlacher MLB, 34 years old
- Lance Briggs WLB, 31 years old
- Julius Peppers DE, 32 years old
- Charles Tillman CB, 30 years old
What the Bears have in this specific core group are great players still playing at a high level. Urlacher, Briggs, Peppers, and Tillman were selected to last season’s Pro Bowl and are still playing vital roles in the Tampa-2 scheme. Whether they have a year, two years, or more than that will be partly determined by how the Bears’ season goes this year, and how the defense performs.
If the Bears’ season is a big disappointment, there’s a good possibility Head Coach Lovie Smith could be fired, and Emery could bring in a whole new coaching staff with a whole new scheme. This core realistically has 2 years of high-level play left in them, but if this team underachieves this year, Emery will most likely overhaul the core.
Core players in their prime:
- Jay Cutler QB, 29 years old
- Matt Forte RB, 26 years old
- Brandon Marshall WR, 28 years old
- Earl Bennett WR, 25 years old
- D.J. Moore NB, 25 years old
- Devin Hester WR/KR, 29 years old
- Henry Melton DT, 25 years old
These players are looked at as guys who are entering, or currently in, the prime of their careers, and will be counted on heavily to keep this team in contention for years to come. The most important player in this group is Jay Cutler, who came off one of his best seasons—from a leadership and decision-making standpoint.
The trio of Cutler, Marshall, and Forte (if signed to long-term extension) gives the Bears the type of fire power on offense to compete for the division title each and every year. Bennett and Hester are looked at as complimentary players, but do play integral roles on the team. Bennett is one of the few WRs Cutler trusts on offense; Hester’s importance on the team is mainly in return duty, helping the offense with field position before they even take the field.
Melton and Moore are probably the only two players on defense who are young and in the prime of their careers. Melton just came off a breakout season last year as a full-time 3-technique DT; Moore is considered one of the best nickel backs in the league. As you can see, there are very little young, solid players on the defensive side of the ball, which leads me to the next group . . .
Young players with plenty of potential:
- Stephen Paea DT, 24 years old
- Shea McClellin DE, 22 years old
- Chris Conte FS, 23 years old
- Brandon Hardin SS 22 years old
- Gabe Carimi RT, 24 years old
- Alshon Jeffery WR, 22 years old
- Evan Rodriguez TE, 23 years old
This group boasts an abundance of young talent, with some having to take that next step and some who are quite simply unproven. The young defensive players in this group will be counted on to keep the defense from severely falling off when Emery moves on from the 30-something core players.
There’s a lot of talent and potential in this lead by 1st-round draft pick Shea McClellin, who specialized as a pass rusher at Boise State no matter where they lined him up. Last year’s 2nd-round pick Stephen Paea showed flashes last season at both NT and 3-technique and will need to take the next step to secure the starting NT job.
Chris Conte will be counted on to be a major contributor in the defense with this being his 2nd year in the system. He played admirably well his rookie season, earning a spot on PFW (Pro Football Weekly’s) all-rookie team. Rookie Brandon Hardin is more of a project who will be brought along slowly, but the vision is for Conte and Hardin to be a solid safety tandem for a longtime.
Three offensive players in this group who have potential to be core players in the future are Gabe Carimi, Alshon Jeffery, and Evan Rodriguez. We saw very little of Carimi last year as a week-2 knee injury knocked him out for the entire season. Before the injury, though, Carimi was arguably the best lineman on the team. Moving to a more traditional offense should only help Carimi become one of the better OTs in the league.
What you hope to have in Alshon Jeffery is a guy who can be your future No. 1 WR once Marshall starts declining. At 6-3, 216 pounds, Jeffery possesses all the traits you want in a No. 1 WR. He reminds me of a young Brandon Marshall, only with better hands and a wider catch radius. For now, Jeffery will have to contribute at the flanker position with Hester before fully taking over the starting spot.
There’s a big possibility that Rodriguez will play a role in his 1st year in the F-Back role in Tice’s offense. Rodriguez game draws comparisons to Aaron Hernandez’s; he’s a very athletic TE who causes mismatch problems for LBs because of his speed, athleticism, and good route running from the position. Rodriguez has the ability to be a core player on this offense for a long-time regardless of the offensive coordinator.