– In spite of all the personnel turnover this offseason, the Bears special teams are maintaining their place among the NFL’s elite.
– I personally believe it is posturing to make the Packers game plan for a few different scenarios, but Chris Harris says he is “50-50” for this week’s game against the Packers.
– In other injury news, Earl Bennett is looking like a scratch for Week 3.
And….we are back baby. Its that wonderful, exciting time of the NFL season—where every team is undefeated and healthy. For me, it is about 50 percent excitement and 50 percent nervousness. Nervous because the Bears historically have followed good seasons with injury-plagued disappointing ones; Excited because we had the ball at the end of the NFC Championship Game with a chance to win the game against the eventual Super Bowl Champions—all with our third-string quarterback. So we are not that far off, right? Anyways, on to the analysis. We wil start the season off by analyzing our final 53-man roster we will head into the season with.
Due to some of the quirky rules regarding cap space and league minimum salaries in this strike-altered season, there is a good chance the 53-man roster today will notbe the 53-man roster one week from today; or even by the first game against the Falcons on Sunday afternoon (Since Saturday, when the Bears released their first 53-man roster, FS Brandon Meriweather has been signed and CB Josh Moore has been released). With this in mind, a few thoughts about the roster decisions as we head into the opening weekend of the regular season:
(starters in bold)
QB: #6 Jay Cutler; #12 Caleb Hanie; #10 Nathan Enderle
No real surprises here. Cutler is entrenched as the starter; Hanie solidified his grip as a capable backup after his performance in the NFC Championship Game and a solid preseason; and you had a feeling the Bears were not going to risk losing Enderle by putting him on waivers and signing him to the practice squad, after losing Dan Lefevour in the same manner last year. I think I can speak for all Bears fans when I say if we NEVER see Todd Collins (last year’s backup) again, it will be too soon. While on the subject, let me take this time to say that Cutler looks stronger, physically and mentally–not to mention smoother in the pocket and with his reads— than he did last season and I think he is going to make alot of believers this year.
Running Backs: #22 Matt Forte; #24 Marion Barber; #32 Kahlil Bell
You have to figure that: a) Matt Forte is not going to have a worse year than last year, in his quest for a big money, long-term deal; b) that a tandem of Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell will average better than Chester Taylor’s 2.4 yard per carry when Forte needs a breather. I will go a step further and say that I think Marion Barber will revert back to his 2007, pre-injury form when he ran all over us to close out a Cowboys win on Sunday Night Football—as long as the Bears limit him to a short-yardage, goal-line, and 4th-quarter-eat-up-the-clock role.
Fullbacks / Tight Ends: #87 Kellen Davis; #89 Matt Speath; #86 Kyle Adams; #44 Will Ta’ufo’ou
Kellen Davis will be listed as the starter here, but I think you will see alot of Matt Spaeth at the start of games—especially on running downs. Spaeth showed a remarkable ability to seal the edge on outside runs and should definitely open up alot of holes for Forte and Barber. The Bears showed in the trading of Greg Olsen that they do not see a drop-off in the pass-catching abilities of Kellen Davis compared to Olsen; and I tend to agree with them. Davis’ size and attitude should make him a beast in the red zone. Kyle Adams was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Purdue, and—if the preseason was any indication—looks like he may be a future star. Ta’ufo’ou is on the team for special teams and goal-line situations—the Bears do not use too much fullback in their offense.
UPDATE: Bears announced Tuesday (9-6-11) that they have released FB Will Ta’ufo’ou, and have listed TE Kyle Adams as the starting FB on the updated depth chart.
Wide Receivers: #23 Devin Hester; #11 Roy Williams; #13 Johnny Knox; #80 Earl Bennett; #18 Dane Sanzenbacher; #81 Sam Hurd
Hester and Knox look like they both used the lockout time off to bulk up and improve their route running—both looked impressive to me in the preseason. Roy Williams was signed due to his familiarity with the “Martz System”, and was brought in to bring a more physical presence to the Bears’ passing attack. I am not sure if Williams is too out of shape, or forgot the offense, or forgot how to catch a football—but his acclamation to the Bears has not been as smooth as I, or the Bears’ coaching staff for that matter, would have hoped. However, the raw talent of Hester, Knox, and Bennett cannot be questioned; and if by bringing in Williams the Bears’ front office motivated those three to step up and play to their abilites, then the signing of Williams was a success, in my book. Sanzenbacher looks like a keeper. Hurd is there for special teams—if he plays any substantial time at reciever this year, we have a big problem.
Offensive Line: #73 J’marcus Webb; #74 Chris Williams; #63 Roberto Garza; #60 Lance Louis; #72 Gabe Carimi; #67 Chris Spencer; #68 Frank Omiyale; #70 Edwin Williams
You will notice two major trends when looking at the offensive linemen on our roster. One, our front office knew we had to get bigger long the offensive line. That’s what happens when you are going to face Suh, Fairley, Kevin Williams, and BJ Raji six times per year. By replacing Olin Kruetz and Frank Omiyale with Lance Louis and rookie Gabe Carimi, we added roughly 10 pounds per lineman—not to mention alot more nastiness and physicality. Two, you see alot of interchangeable parts. LT J’marcus Webb can play either tackle spot; Chris Williams can play LG or either tackle spot; and C Roberto Garza has started at RG for the last five years. Reserve lineman Frank Omiyale can play either tackle or LG; and Chris Spencer and Edwin Williams can play guard or center. This allows us to have starter-quality depth at all 5 spots without having to allocate 10 roster spots for the offensive line.
Rookie RT Gabe Carimi; WR Roy Williams; C Roberto Garza; New Punter Adam Podlesh
So, after all the posturing, negotiations, and threats of no football on 2011…the owners and players FINALLY agreed on a deal to keep the NFl going for the next ten years. After a flurry of draft pick signings, free agent signings,and salary cap cash dumping; after two weeks of hearing all the lip service of how hard everyone worked in the offseason and how GREAT everyone looks in camp—we get our first look at the 2011-2012 Chicago Bears, tonight at home against Buffalo. We return with our entire coaching staff in tact; and 18 or 19 of a possible 22 starters in the same spots they finished the season. A season that most are quick to forget ended with us hosting the NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME. In my opinion, we are not as far off from the Saints, Falcons, Eagles, and Packers as everyone seems to think we are. With the shortened offseason and training camp, we all know that there have really only been a handful of practices, and starters’ time and in-game strategy should be pretty limited, But here are some key things I will be looking for tonight:
1) Roberto Garza’s play at Center: He is playing his first game taking over for Olin Kreutz. I will be watching how he handles the other four linemen; how smoothly the center-to-quarterback exchanges are; and if Garza can get out to the second level on running plays and screens as well as Kreutz did all of those years. His size will be a huge plus, especially in short yardage situations; but he needs to prove he can handle all of the other things that made Olin Kreutz so great all of those years.
2) Pass Protection: This was undoubtedly our team’s Achilles Heel last season—it cost us the Giants game (where we lost Cutler for two weeks); and the NFC Championship Game versus the Packers (where Cutler also left due to injury). Gabe Carimi was drafted in the first round, and is expected to handle the the right side for the next decade, which starts tonight. Last year’s 7th-round pick, J’Marcus Webb, is moving moved from RT to LT. Overall, Webb payed okay for a rookie; but he seemed to really struggle against speed rushers, like Cameron Wake of the Dolphins and Ray Edwards of the Vikings. Keeping Cutler upright and on the field will be critical to our efforts to repeat as NFC North Champions. The good thing about the preseason is that there is not too much blitzing—we will get to see those guys go one-on-one with some guys and see how they handle themselves.
3) Wide Receiver Separation: The only receivers who could get open on a consistent basis last season were Earl Bennett and Rashied Davis. Davis is gone. Devin Hester and Johnny Knox allegedly spent the whole summer getting bigger and stronger. Then, we added Roy Williams from the Cowboys. If our WRs can provide the target, we know Cutler can make the throws. This really hurt us in the all three Packers’ games last year, and you KNOW every team we play will watch that film. So our Wideouts have to be better at beating the jams, creating space, and getting to the correct spots.
4) Interior Run Defense: Specifically, our DTs (Anthony Adams, Matt Toeina, Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, and Amobi Okoye) need to be able to collapse the pcket and keep blockers off of LBS Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. In the first seven weeks of the season, we will face Michael Turner (Falcons), Mark Ingram (Saints), Ryan Grant (Packers), Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams (Panthers), Adrian Peterson (Vikings), and LaGarrette Blount (Bucs). We have to prove we can be stout inside for the Cover-2 scheme to work.
5) Special Teams: Gone are Punter Brad Maynard (Replaced by Adam Podlesh from the Jaguars), and special teams stalwarts Garrett Wolfe and Rashied Davis, among others. There will be alot of new pieces out there on special teams this season, so Dave Toub has to find his guys and get them up to speed quickly.
Here are some competitions I will be watching:
1) Marion Barber versus Chester Taylor: I find it REALLY, REALLY hard to believe that the Bears will keep TWO backup running backs , neither of which play on special teams. I think they will drop one or the other by the beginning of the season, making space for Kahlil Bell or Harvey Unga.
2) Tim Jennings versus Zack Bowman versus Joshua Moore: Someone is going to have to shore up the spot opposite Charles Tillman; DJ Moore is entrenched at the nickel spot; Corey Graham gets one of the reserve spots simply for his play on special teams. A SLEEPER TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Ryan Jones, from Northwest Missouri State.
3) Wide Receiver: You have to figure the Bears will keep six WRs this season. Hester, Bennett, Knox, and Roy Williams seem like locks; and it is hard to imagine them not keeping Sam Hurd after they signed him from the Cowboys. That leaves one spot open for guys like Dane Sanzenbacher, Jimmy Young, Andy Fantuz, Onrea Jones, and Travis Cobb. Those guys should see alot of time tonight, so it will be interesting to watch who stands out.