The Chicago Bears have what seems to be a very interesting problem: too much depth. Now, I know what you’re thinking, how can a team have too much depth? But that’s what the Bears have, so much so that they have traded last year’s starting SS Chris Harris to the Carolina Panthers and are looking to move another, reserve CB and special teams standout Dante Wesley. I will be the first to admit that I was very hard on Bears GM Jerry Angelo in the early days, but the last 3 years, he has proven that he has not only grown into the job, but has been one of the most shrewdest GM’s in the game in that period.
(Tribune photo by Scott Strazzante)
Angelo has wisely locked up core young talent early at a lesser price then they would have commanded in the open market, has drafted very wisely (has any GM drafted better from rounds 4-7? If so, I want to know who that person is) and has built a roster that is arguably the strongest in the NFC from top to bottom.
The Bears are trying to defy recent history by returning to the Super Bowl a year after losing the Big Game, only a return is not the goal. Winning the Super Bowl is the goal and it seems as though Bears head coach Lovie Smith has every man clearly focused on that goal once again. For the Bears, 5 things have to happen in order to have a chance at returning to the Big Game:
1. Avoid injuries at all cost — having the best bench depth in the NFC (and maybe in the league, west of New England) is definitely an asset, but you need your best players playing in top form all season. If LB Brian Urlacher, QB Rex Grossman, RB Cedric Benson, WR Bernard Berrian, KR/PR/WR Devin Hester, DT Tommie Harris, or any one of the starting OL goes down, the next line of talent is thin at these positions.
2. Offense has to make another leap in performance — The surprise of last season’s team was definitely the performance of the offense. Nobody on the planet thought the Bears would be #2 in the NFL in scoring nor that Rex Grossman would throw 20 TD passes and over 3000 yards passing. For the Bears to jump to the next level, Grossman must improve his completion rate. Last season, he was at 54.6%. This season, he has to eclipse 60% and limit his interceptions from 20 to single digits. RB Cedric Benson is on the spot now, and must rush for at least 1,200 yards and 10 TD’s. WR Mark Bradley must avoid the injury bug and establish himself as the #2 receiver, and WR Bernard Berrian must prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.
3. KR/PR/WR Devin Hester must emerge as a multiple options threat — this is probably the most tenuous of all the options. I can’t recall a return man who has excelled on the offensive side of the ball in recent history. The Kansas City Chiefs tried KR Dante Hall at WR and that didn’t work. Devin Hester could be one of the best open field players in NFL history, but not after one record setting season as a KR/PR. Hester must prove that he is a threat regardless of position. He didn’t stand out as a DB. The offensive side of the ball is where he belongs, but yet again, he is very raw and unproven there….
4. Defense can’t have another late season drop off — It was clear that the defense dropped off significantly in the second half of last season. It was still a very good defense, but a dominant defense wins Super Bowl XLI and that wasn’t the case for the Bears. The Indianapolis Colts rushed for 191 yards in the Super Bowl against a defense missing DL Tommie Harris and SS Mike Brown. That defense stepped up against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, but the time for the defense to shine is in December and January. New defensive coordinator Bob Babich must bring more energy to the table then his predecessor, Ron Rivera, otherwise the change may be for naught.
5. Young players must perform well — Of any reason listed above, the performance of young players have been one of the biggest contributors to the recent success the Bears have experienced. KR/PR Devin Hester, SS Danieal Manning, WR Mark Bradley, when healthy, DE Mark Anderson, departed SS Chris Harris, K Robbie Gould are all young players that really turned their games on in their rookie or second years, pushing for playing time and putting high priced veterans on the bubble. The pressure will be on this year’s draft class, particularly TE Greg Olsen, RB Garrett Wolfe, and CB Trumaine McBride to fill key roles. If these rookies shine, expect the Bears to be even more potent.
Opening day in San Diego is right around the corner. The time to play the Chargers might be early in the season, but this is a tough opener. The non-division schedule is tough, with games against the San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Seattle Seahawks, but to be the best, you have to go through the best. The Bears will definitely have that to deal with this championship season….