When the Bears aren't cancelling Family Night, or bickering with the Park District about who's at fault for the turf at Soldier Field being laughably pathetic, they are (hopefully) putting together a game plan to do more than defend their NFC North division championship.
And what they have, on paper, is a new-look group of players that is at worst younger than last year and, at best, intriguing.
On Sunday, offensive line coach Mike Tice confirmed that he already knows what his starting offensive line will be for the season opener; it's reflected in the diagram above. Gone are Olin Kreutz and Greg Olsen, and in their places are younger players that will try to keep Jay Cutler off his butt.
- LT: J'Marcus Webb - 6'8, 333, 22 years old
- LG: Chris Williams - 6'6, 320, 25 years old
- C: Roberto Garza - 6'2, 310, 31 years old
- RG: Lance Louis - 6'3, 320, 26 years old
- RT: Gabe Carimi - 6'7, 312, 23 years old (2011 1st round pick)
- TE: Matt Spaeth - 6'7, 270, 26 years old
In a perfect world, the Bears have found their bookend tackles for the next decade in Webb and Carimi. And yet how different the roads of the two players have been to the NFL!
Carimi was one of the most decorated seniors coming into the 2011 Draft. He was the Outland Trophy winner, Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, and a consensus All-American at Wisconsin after starting for the Badgers for four years. He was a first round draft pick in the eyes of every scout, and the Bears felt fortunate to get him.
On the flip side, Webb was selected by the Bears in the seventh round (218th overall) in the 2010 Draft after splitting his college career between the University of Texas, Navarro Junior Collage and West Texas A&M. He wasn't on Mel Kiper's radar, wasn't all-everything in a major conference, and was named an All-American... at a junior college. And yet, as a rookie last year, he started 12 games (played in 14) and performed admirably.
In Williams, the Bears hope they've found a home for him at left guard. He was the 14th overall pick by the Bears in the first round of the 2008 Draft after earning All-SEC honors at Vanderbilt. At right guard, the Bears appear set to start project Lance Louis, who was a tight end as a sophomore in college and who has dealt with off-field issues; a court date from a fight in college kept Louis out of the draft combine and he fell to the Bears at the 246th overall pick in the seventh round of the 2009 Draft.
Roberto Garza, suddenly the elder statesman on the line, will replace Kreutz at center. The two reserves on the line will be newcomer Chris Spencer (6'3, 309), who was signed away from the Seattle Seahawks, and Frank Omiyale (6'4, 315).
At tight end, the Bears brought back Desmond Clark and decided to replace both Greg Olsen and Brandon Manumaleuna with Matt Spaeth (formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers). With Olsen traded to Carolina and Spaeth's career resume boasting only 275 yards in 60 games, the questions regarding Mike Martz's use of the tight end position can officially be put to rest: he doesn't care if they exist, unless they can keep a defensive end away from Jay Cutler.
The wide receivers for the Bears will, yet again, be a group that's put to the test and comes with a lot of questions.
- Devin Hester
- Johnny Knox
- Roy Williams
- Sam Hurd
After putting up 28 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the NFL, Williams has scored only 14 in the last four. He has also missed 19 games over his last four seasons, and fell out of favor in Dallas last year despite being a college star at the University of Texas. His best seasons were in Detroit, where Martz was his coordinator. Whether or not there's anything left in Williams' game is 16 regular season games from being determined, but at 6'3 and 215 pounds, he's the big receiver the Bears wanted this offseason.
The talk of the Bears' camp so far has been the development of Devin Hester at the position. While most fans (including yours truly) hold onto the dream that he'll take every kick he touches to the house, everyone hating on his skills at receiver forget that he played defense in college at Miami. Indeed, the Bears drafted Hester as a corner (albeit one that couldn't tackle or cover very well), and their gamble became the best return man since Deion Sanders. The more time he spends at receiver, the better he'll be; he clearly has instincts that you can't teach once the ball is in his hands, the trick is getting it between his mitts more often.
How Knox develops is totally up to him. He obviously has speed to burn, but he gave up on too many routes last year. In Martz's system, a receiver that gives up on a route has an angry quarterback and a pink slip in his locker more often than he has airline tickets to the Pro Bowl, so it will be interesting to see if Knox matures into the offense this year.
Hurd will compete for the fourth receiver job and, depending on Knox's development, could see time as the third wideout. The Northern Illinois grad has 45 career receptions in four seasons, but the important number for him is 35 - the number of his receptions that have resulted in a first down.
In the backfield, the Bears have a talented group that doesn't make much sense.
- Matt Forte
- Marion Barber
- Chester Taylor
Barber was brought in to provide some muscle between the tackles... which is precisely what Taylor was brought into town to do last year. Odds are that Taylor is moved before the regular season begins, but the fact that Jerry Angelo is spending more money to correct annual mistakes like Manumaleuna and Taylor is frustrating.
What's more frustrating is that the organization has apparently reached a stalemate with starting running back Forte, who has over 3,200 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground and another 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns catching the ball out of the backfield. He's the best all-around back the Bears have had since Neal Anderson, yet Angelo has decided to have a pissing contest with one of the more productive backs in the NFC.
We discuss the moving parts of the offense before the quarterback because, frankly, it's the players around Cutler that will determine how he performs this year. His 6,940 passing yards already rank 8th in franchise history, and he's only 3,020 from jumping into the Bears' top five all-time. Does that mean he's played well? Or is it a statement of how awful the history at the quarterback position has been in Chicago? Either way, Cutler has better physical tools than any signal caller to take snaps in Chicago but needs help if he's going to last more than another couple years. The line needs to protect him, the backs need to run well, and the receivers need to stay in their routes and catch the ball.
If everyone does their job this year, and the returning players have a better grip of Martz's system, then there's no reason to think this group of Chicago Bears can't be one of the better offenses the organization has put on the field in the last 20 years.
But that's an enormous if...