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2006 Team Report: Chicago Bears

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Rex Grossman
Backup(s): Brian Griese, Kyle Orton

Starting QB: For now, Rex Grossman is the starting QB for the Bears. Of course, with his injury history, nothing is ever set in stone. Grossman has been named the starting QB in each of the past two seasons, only to see each of those seasons interrupted by serious injuries. Last year, the Bears held off putting Grossman on injured reserve with the hope that he’d be ready to come back before the end of the season. He made it back for Week 15 and 16, and then started the team’s playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers. The decision to keep an injured Grossman around, and then hand him his starting job back after Kyle Orton led the team to a first place standing, demonstrated how much the coaching staff is behind Grossman. Still, Grossman doesn’t exactly enjoy Brett Favre-type job security. His NFL experience consists of a grand total of eight games, and the Bears wouldn’t hesitate to get newly-acquired Brian Griese into the lineup or even 2nd year man Orton, who proved last year that he can be a winner.

Backup QB: Chicago signed Brian Griese away from the Bucs this past off-season to compete for the starting job with Rex Grossman. The team likely hopes Grossman will win the job outright, but at least now they have a veteran presence in case things don’t work out or if injuries strike again. The Bears were stuck with a rookie QB last year when Grossman went down with an injury, and the team didn’t want to be put in a similar situation this season. While Orton did perform admirably as a rookie last season, he probably isn’t ready yet at this point in his career to carry a team on his back into the playoffs, so he will be relegated to the #3 QB spot this year and be allowed to develop at a more reasonable pace.

Running Backs

Starter: Thomas Jones
Backup(s): Cedric Benson, Adrian Peterson, PJ Pope, Andre Hall [r]
Fullback(s): Bryan Johnson

Starting RB: After selecting Cedric Benson with their first round pick, most assumed that a RBBC was on the horizon in Chicago. After a prolonged contract holdout by Benson, however, Jones assumed the starting spot. He was drafted in the middle rounds of most fantasy leagues, and rewarded his owners with the first top-10 finish of his career. Even that wasn’t enough to satisfy the Bears, however, as they reportedly sought several trade avenues during the off-season. As of early May, Jones was still with the club and still the starting running back, but it has become increasingly clearer that the team wants to see just what they have in the talented Benson. While this may not become an outright RBBC, it is entirely possible that Benson will serve a specific function as the short-yardage and/or goal line back.

Backup RBs: As stated above, Benson likely enters the season if not as part of a committee, then at least with some sort of role within the offense. Jones was excellent in goal line situations last year, but the Bears invested a lot of time and energy (not to mention the fourth overall pick in 2005) on Benson. It’s probably about time they saw some returns on that investment. Adrian Peterson is the other RB on the roster. It was Peterson, not Benson, who saw much of the rushing duty last year when Jones was unavailable. That was likely due more to Peterson’s knowledge of the plays and his blocking ability than anything else, because he is nowhere near the talent that Benson is. For what it's worth, Benson was running with the first-team offense as late as June 3 during minicamp with Jones M.I.A. PJ Pope has looked impressive in camp and may make the roster if Jones and Benson aren't healthy. Andre Hall had a great college career at the University of South Florida, but went undrafted and has a long battle ahead of him to even make the team.

Fullback: Bryan Johnson is strictly a blocker and will not play a significant role within the offense. He is an adept receiver, but even those touches will be too few and far between to be meaningful.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Muhsin Muhammad, Mark Bradley
Backups: Justin Gage, Bernard Berrian, Airese Currie, Rashied Davis

Starting WRs: Muhsin Muhammad saw his statistics dwindle upon leaving Carolina for Chicago as a free agent. There is some concern that Muhammed only performs when his contract status is on the line, but there’s likely more to it than just that. The Bears offense as a whole struggled last year, and Muhammad’s stats were more a result of that rather than a cause. There is no question that he brings a high ability level to the table, but there is little else to complement him on offense. Second-year man Mark Bradley showed glimpses of some ability during his rookie campaign, but his year was ended prematurely by a torn ACL suffered midway through the season. If he can return to 100% sometime during the season, it would be a big boon to Rex Grossman and the rest of the Chicago offense. Expecting a 100% return from a torn ACL by a speed receiver, however, is probably an unrealistic expectation. One thing that is known, though, is that when Bradley is healthy he will be in the starting lineup.

Backup WRs: Both Gage and Berrian have had opportunities to unseat incumbent starting wideouts, and each time Gage and Berrian have come up short. Berrian at least produced well in a very limited capacity last season. Gage saw the field as a starter to open the year, gave the job up to rookie Mark Bradley, and only re-inherited the job when Bradley was injured. Gage is probably best suited for a WR3 role so he can line up in the slot and take advantage of mismatches, as he is likely miscast as a starting wideout. And Berrian will continue to play the role of home-run threat downfield and try to provide a deep target for Rex Grossman to open up the offense a bit more. Rashied Davis is undersized but has been having a strong camp and could be the team's slot WR this year.

Tight Ends

Starters: Desmond Clark
Backups: Gabe Reid

Clark is one of the few guys the Bears can rely upon in the passing game. His football skills aren’t what they once were, but they haven’t entirely diminished, either. At 29, he’s starting to head towards the downside of his career and he’s also coming off one of his worst statistical seasons, but that’s not entirely his fault. He’s never been known as a guy who can make plays alone to get open downfield, a la a Jeremy Shockey. He’s someone who needs the right match-ups and the right mismatch to make plays and get open. He’s also a huge target down near the red zone, and could be utilized in much the same way Bubba Franks was once utilized by the Packers. The problem for Clark is that the Bears can’t often move the ball well enough offensively to get him in position to score. If Rex Grossman can improve the Bears “between the 20s”, expect it to have a significantly positive impact on Clark’s red-zone stats in 2006. Reid is strictly a blocking tight end who was only targeted on six passes all season long, catching three of them. He is not draftable under any league format.

Place Kicker

Robbie Gould : Heading into 2005, Gould was rated in the lowest tier of undrafted free agents; however he managed to win the Bears job when Doug Brien flopped after three games. Gould beat out four other kickers in tryouts, including Steve Christie and Martin Gramatica. He was very solid from short range, going 18 of 19 from under 40 yards. His long range was not so solid, where he went 3 of 8 in the 40 to 49 yard range. Undrafted Josh Huston invited himself to join the Bears, and they agreed and signed him. He did fairly well following up Mike Nugent at Ohio State last year, hitting 22 of 28 on FGs and 44 of 45 on PATs. He wasn’t quite as accurate from long range, but he was actually better in the kickoffs. Two weeks into camp, Gould had the early lead. He looked much improved on the long ball, while Huston was inconsistent overall. Huston was released midway through the pre-season.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Devin Hester; Danieal Manning; Rashied Davis; Jason McKie; Adrian Peterson; Nathan Vasher; Bernard Berrian; Mark Bradley; Dion Byrum

CB Jerry Azumah, who led the Bears in KRs the last three years, has retired after battling chronic neck and hip injuries. CB/WR Rashied Davis stepped in last year (11 returns, 22.8 avg.), however he’ll probably backup the new rookies. Although second round draft pick WR Devin Hester returned punts at Miami, the Bears are hoping he'll also handle the primary kickoff return role. Second round draft pick DB Danieal Manning returned both kickoffs (29.2 avg., 6th in Division II) and punts (22.0 avg., 1st) for Abilene Christian last year. He scored six TDs during his career. The long list of backups includes RB Adrian Peterson (2 returns, 16.0 avg.), FB Jason McKie (3 returns, 9.7 avg.), and CB Nathan Vasher (1 return, 0 yards). WR Bernard Berrian served as a backup in 2004. WR Mark Bradley (4 returns, 17.5 avg.) will probably see more work on offense, plus he’s coming off a torn ACL. Undrafted free agent CB Dion Byrum (Ohio University) returned kicks in college. Devin Hester is almost assured of getting the top punt returner role. The Bears are also hoping that he’ll emerge as the top kickoff returner. If he doesn’t, CB/WR Rashied Davis is next in line.

Punt Returners: Devin Hester; Bernard Berrian; Craig Bragg; Danieal Manning; Rashied Davis; Nathan Vasher; Dion Byrum

WR Bobby Wade was the Bears’ top punt returner last year, but he was released late in the season after continual fumbling problems. Bernard Berrian took over for the final few games (8 returns, 8.6 avg.), but he’ll probably be demoted to a backup as a result of the draft. WR Devin Hester averaged 14.2 yards per punt return (ranked 12th) and scored once for Miami last year. Versatile, dynamic, and fast, he was considered one of the top returners in this year’s draft. He scored six times during his career. Rashied Davis also handled several punts last year (5 returns, 6.2 avg.). Nathan Vasher returned punts during his college career at Texas, but still hasn’t gotten the call in the NFL. Devin Hester is almost assured of getting the top punt returner role, given his skills and track record at Miami. In addition to Hester, WRs Bernard Berrian and Craig Bragg have also been working on punt returns.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Fred Miller, RG Terrence Metcalf, C Olin Kreutz, LG Ruben Brown, LT John Tait
Key Backups: T John St. Clair, G Roberto Garza, G Tyler Reed (rookie)

The Bears offensive line is very good. They have perhaps the top center in the game today in Olin Kreutz who is a very smart, athletic player who hasn’t taken a holding penalty in the past four seasons. At right guard, Terrence Metcalf is a big body who is quite effective as a run blocker. He isn’t very athletic but serves well as a road-grader. Ruben Brown is 34 years old but had a very good season a year ago and should hold his starting spot at left guard although Roberto Garza may push him. Right tackle Fred Miller had perhaps his finest season as a pro last year and really helped to solidify the offensive line. He plays with a lot of heart and has a mean streak. Finally at left tackle, John Tait is a very talented lineman who struggled a little in his first season with the club. He surrendered 9 ½ sacks, took 3 holding penalties and was never able to find his ‘A’ game. Expect the Bears to have another good season out of this group and it could be exceptional if Tait rediscovers the form that made him a Pro Bowler in the past.

Team Defense

In their second year under Lovie Smith, the Bears sported the league’s best defense, allowing a microscopic 12.6 points per game. The defense was so dominant, that the team was able to run away with their division and secure a 1st round bye in the playoffs despite playing most of the season with rookie Kyle Orton at QB. Using the same “Tampa 2” zone defense that was made popular by Tony Dungy, the Bears were equally adept at stopping the run and the pass. All 11 defensive starters return in 2006 and most of them are still young and improving. Up front, the Bears boast one of the best and deepest defensive lines in the league with 3 players that garnered Pro Bowl consideration. They also have one of the best LB tandems in the league with defensive player of the year Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, who will be entering a contract year. The secondary has talent but lacked depth before this offseason, which they addressed by signing RFA CB Ricky Manning away from the Panthers and drafting FS Danieal Manning with their first pick in the draft. Although last year ended with a disappointing loss to the Panthers in the playoffs, very few changes were made and that consistency should allow this defense to remain one of the best in the league.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE Alex Brown, LDE Adewale Ogunleye, DT Tommie Harris, DT Ian Scott
Backups: DE Israel Idonije, DT Tank Johnson, DT Alfonso Boone, DT Michael Haynes, DE Jamaal Green, DT Dusty Dvoracek, DE Mark Anderson

Starting DL: Alex Brown is a good all around defensive end, but he has been a very streaky pass rusher and can disappear for long periods of time. Despite finishing with just 6 sacks last year, he played well enough to be named first alternate for the Pro Bowl. In contrast, Adewale Ogunleye is an explosive pass rusher with great speed off the edge who offenses always have to be worried about. He had 10 sacks last year and was named second alternate for the Pro Bowl. Tommie Harris got a surprise invite to the Pro Bowl in just his second season despite putting up numbers nearly identical to his rookie year. Harris has amazing quickness for his size and is a perfect fit for the Bears system that asks the linemen to shoot gaps and try to make plays rather than just tie up blockers. Ian Scott plays the NT spot and is very stout against the run, but doesn’t play much in passing situations. Overall, this is a young and talented group that should continue to be one of the best in the league for some time.

Backup DL: The Bears had 8 defensive linemen who got regular playing time last year making this one of the deepest groups in the league. Israel Idonijie was a restricted free agent this year who signed an offer sheet with the Buffalo Bills, but the Bears elected to match it. Despite playing in only about 15% of the defensive snaps last season, he’s a young player who can contribute at both DE and DT. Tank Johnson is a former 2nd round draft pick with great speed who began to emerge as a playmaker last year with 5 sacks. He was expected to compete with Ian Scott for the starting NT job before he suffered a torn quadriceps muscle that could keep him out until late in the preseason. Alfonso Boone has been with the team for 5 seasons, longer than any other defensive lineman on the team, and will likely be the primary backup for Scott until Johnson returns. Michael Haynes is a former first round pick who doesn’t fit well in the Bears system and will likely be moved to DT or possibly even released. Jamaal Green is a former 4th round pick of the Eagles who spent last season on the Bears practice squad. The Bears added to their defensive line depth when they took Dusty Dvoracek in the third round of the draft. He is a player with first round talent who fell due to some off-field problems and should be a perfect fit for the Bears system.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer
Backups: OLB Joe Odom, OLB Leon Joe, OLB Brendon Ayanbadejo, ILB Jeremy Cain, OLB Jamar Williams

Starting LBs: In just his third season since entering the league as a 3rd round draft pick, Lance Briggs went to the Pro Bowl and was named 1st team All Pro. He’s scheduled to become a free agent after this season and the Bears are trying to sign him to a contract extension, but he won’t come cheap with Drew Rosenhaus as his agent. Brian Urlacher has been one of the best middle linebackers in the game since entering the league 6 years ago. Although his numbers last year were not even the best of his career and his 6 sacks all came in the first 5 games of the season, he was still an easy choice as defensive player of the year. After backing up Urlacher at MLB for a couple years, Hunter Hillenmeyer became a full-time starter at SLB last year and played well after getting off to a slow start. As a restricted free agent, he signed a one year contract this summer, meaning that the Bears could be in danger of losing two starting linebackers after this year.

Backup LBs: Despite missing all of 2005 with a foot injury, Joe Odom has starting experience and provides quality depth at both outside linebacker spots while also contributing on special teams. The Bears were encouraged by Leon Joe’s play when he started three games in place of an injured Hillenmeyer at the end of the season. Brendon Ayanbadejo is one of the best special teams players in the league and has been an alternate for the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons. Jeremy Cain is a former undrafted free agent who was inactive for 15 games last season. Linebacker depth was considered a need for the Bears on draft day, but they only added Jamar Williams in the 4th round. He’s a versatile linebacker who can play either OLB spot and contribute on special teams right away.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Charles Tillman, CB Nathan Vasher, SS Mike Brown, FS Chris Harris
Backups: CB Ricky Manning, CB Dante Wesley, S Todd Johnson, S Brandon McGowan, FS Danieal Manning

Starting DBs: The Bears secondary improved considerably last year thanks to move of Mike Brown from FS to SS and the insertion of Nathan Vasher and Chris Harris into the starting lineup. After missing half of the 2004 season with an injury, Charles Tillman began the season healthy and ranked among the top defensive backs in tackles and interceptions all year. Although his play was inconsistent and he struggled in coverage at times, Tillman is an aggressive, physical player who fits well in this system and should rebound in 2006. Nathan Vasher lacks ideal size and speed, but he has great instincts and a knack for making big plays. He led the team in interceptions with 5 as a rookie and then backed that up with 8 in year two, earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl. Mike Brown began his career at free safety but was moved to the strong side last year to take better advantage of his tackling ability and put less pressure on him in coverage while he returned from a torn Achilles. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just 12 games in the regular season, but when healthy he was one of the Bears best defenders and was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl. Chris Harris was a 6th round pick last year who wound up starting 13 games. He is a smart player and a good tackler, but lacks great speed and can be a liability in coverage.

Backup DBs: The Bears were burned by Steve Smith in the playoffs as he continually exposed their lack of depth at cornerback. To address this, the Bears decided to go out and sign some players who had experience covering him in practice. They signed restricted free agent Ricky Manning to an offer sheet which the Panthers decided not to match. Manning is very small at 5’8”, but he is a good tackler who should be a great fit as the Bears new nickel back. They also signed Dante Wesley from the Panthers, a backup CB who was one of their better special teams players. Todd Johnson missed most of his rookie season in 2003 with a broken jaw, but then filled in capably for an injured Mike Brown during the 2004 season. He started a few games in 2005 and contributed on special teams but has been somewhat injury prone so far. Brandon McGowan is a former undrafted free agent who looked impressive when given a chance to play last year, but he tore his ACL in the season finale and may not be back in time for the opener. The Bears filled several needs on draft day with their selection of Danieal Manning in the second round. Manning played for a Division II school, but is a physical player and a great athlete who will compete for the starting FS spot and can also contribute as a cornerback or punt returner.

Last modified: 2006-08-24 19:35:26



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