There's been no shortage of news in the NFL since the lockout ended, and there's been no shortage of headlines coming out of Bears camp either.
First the Bears made waves by opting not to re-sign veteran center Olin Kreutz, who recently signed with New Orleans. The offensive line was brutally awful last year, so the move begs the question: was Kreutz, who is now 34, part of the reason for the line's struggles, or was the offensive line bad despite him? There's little question the Bears will miss Kreutz's leadership; any time a center stays in place for 12 years, guys are going to look up to him. But more importantly, how much will they miss his presence in the middle of the line? Robertzo Garza is slated to replace him at center, and while offensive line coach Mike Tice has liked what he's seen from him thus far in camp, it's difficult not to be nervous when the most stable presence from a terrible offensive line leaves.
Speaking of the offensive line, Mike Tice declared the starting crew set on Sunday despite the fact that the first preseason game was still six days away. On top of that, center Chris Spencer, who was signed to a $6 million deal to replace Kreutz, wasn't listed among the starters.
The offensive line was the Bears' Achilles Heel in 2010. It's amazing they won 11 games and went to the NFC Championship Game despite allowing an NFL-high 56 sacks. The great thing is that if they can improve upon this particular aspect, there's reason to believe the Bears could be even better in 2011. The Bears haven't been shy about making changes to the line, but we'll have to wait and see whether those changes are improvements.
The other key decision the Bears made recently was to name Devin Hester the starting receiver opposite newly acquired Roy Williams. Johnny Knox, who will come off the bench, was easily the Bears' best receiver last season:
Knox: 960 yards, 18.8 avg, 5 TD, 17 receptions of 20+ yards
Hester: 475, 11.9 avg, 4 TD, 4 receptions of 20+ yards
In addition, Hester has punt (and sometimes kick) return responsibilities that could suffer given his starting role in the offense. Knox is understandably frustrated by being told to sit on the bench, and the move sure seems like a potential waste of talent. Hester has proven to be a legitimate NFL receiver, but Knox seemed poised to break out this season after a very solid 2010 in which he ranked 21st in receiving yards and fifth in average yards per catch.
The Bears have not been afraid to gamble here in training camp, but we'll have to wait and see whether these gambles pay off. Right now the team is emitting a bit of a crazy vibe, but this same coaching staff seemed to know what they were doing in 2010--hopefully we'll be able to say the same of 2011.
Note: Speaking of gambling, there won't be any posts the next few days as I'll be in Vegas.