An Early Look at the 2012 Depth Chart – Offense

There is a great deal of uncertainty throughout the NFL right now, and this is especially true for the Bears, who face big decisions regarding some players who played substantial roles in last year’s NFC North Division Championship season. DT Tommie Harris has already been shown the door, and starting SS Danieal Manning; SLBs Pisa Tinoisamoa and Nick Roach, and LT Frank Omiyale will probably be or have to be replaced. We are also facing the free agency of 4-phase special teams standouts like Garrett Wolfe, Corey Graham, and Rashied Davis. The draft did fill a few bigger needs, but there are still a great deal of empty holes that have to be addressed. Problem is, with the lockout hanging over our heads, we have not been able to do anything in Free Agency; and we are prohibited from talking to undrafted free agents until the lockout is lifted. So here is a look at the team, as it stands presently. First, we will look at the positions that seem pretty settled:

1) Jay Cutler;

2) Caleb Hanie;
3) Nathan Enderle
Caleb Hanie is a RESTRICTED free agent; so the Bears have the right to and should retain him. Keep an eye on Enderle, however; from everything coming out of Bears administration, he is expected to give Hanie a run at the backup job. One thing is for certain—-Cutler will be the starter in 2012.

Running Back –
1) Matt Forte;

2) Chester Taylor;
3) Harvey Unga
Garrett Wolfe and Kahilil Bell will probably not be back, as the Bears are really anxious to see what Unga (who they took in the 2011 Supplemental Draft and promptly put on IR for the season) can do. Unga should immediately be the Bears’ short-yardage back; and he has surprisingly good hands for a big guy. The question is whether he can fill some of the void let by Wolfe’s departure on special teams. Forte will be the starter, and if the Bears cannot sign him to an extension by the beginning of the year, may be primed for a HUGE season, as he seeks his big money, long-term deal.

Wide Receiver –
1) Johnny Knox;
2) Earl Bennett;
3) Devin Hester;

4) Andy Fantuz;
5) Onrea Jones
This is a position that many expected the Bears to address in the draft; but the Bears chose to fill other positions of need. As a group, they will win the speed matchup with almost any secondary in the league; on the downside, they lack the ability to fight through jams and make big catches over the middle. It will be intriguing to watch Fantuz in camp (provided there is one), as he possesses the traits of a big possession receiver—which the Bears lack. If the lockout ends soon and Free Agency begins, I would be fairly surprised if the Bears do not go after Sidney Rice (Vikings), Vincent Jackson (Chargers), or Mike Sims-Walker (Jaguars).

Tight Ends-
1) Greg Olsen
2) Brendan Manumaleuna

3) Kellen Davis
Manumaleuna is on the team simply for his blocking abilities; and I expect Olsen and Davis to be utilized more this season than last. Desmond Clark will not be back.

Offensive Line –
LT) Gabe Carimi
LG) Chris Williams
C) Olin Kreutz
RG) Roberto Garza
RT) J’Marcus Webb

T) Kevin Shaffer
G) Lance Louis
G) Herman Johnson
C) Edwin Williams
From all appearances, the Bears look like they fully intend to start the rookie Carimi from Day One at Left Tackle. He will definitely bring more size and tenacity to the table than last year’s starter Omiyale—how he handles the speed rushes of Jared Allen, Clay Matthews, and Kyle VandenBosch remains to be seen. Chris Williams settled in a Left Guard, as did Webb at Right Tackle—and both should start at those same spots this season. Kreutz should be re-signed after the lockout is lifted; and there might not be two better blockers out in space on screen passes than him and Garza, who should start at Right Guard. I fully expect either Omiyale or Shaffer to be released; and while Omiyale does offer a bit more versatility; cutting him would offer a great deal more cap relief. It will be interesting to watch what plans the Bears have in store for Johnson; and Louis and Williams (who I anticipate will be re-signed) provide good depth and some starting experience. Overall, this is a group that got alot better as the season went on, and should be even better this season, with the addition of Carimi and another year under the coaching of Mike Tice.

Kicker –
1) Robbie Gould

Gould, the most accurate kicker in Bears’ history, had a subpar year by his standards; but I would expect him to bounce back nicely and he should really benefit from the moving up of kickoffs to the 35-yard line.

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