The Chicago Bears added more depth at guard Wednesday morning when they reportedly agreed to terms on a one-year deal with unrestricted free agent Chilo Rachal, a former second-round pick of the 49ers. The team, however, had yet to confirm the agreement by late Wednesday.
The 26-year-old Rachal was a second-round pick (39th overall) in 2008 out of USC and started six games as rookie and a total of 29 the next two seasons. But the 6-5, 323-pounder our of Compton, Calif., started just three games last season at right guard for the NFC West champions, although he played in all 16. Rachal has missed just one game in the past four seasons.
Guard could be an extremely crowded position at training camp. Rachal will be competing for playing time with Chris Spencer, who started 14 games at right guard last season; Chris Williams, who started the first nine games at left guard before suffering a season-ending dislocated wrist; and Edwin Williams, who started the final seven games at left guard.
Also, with 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi expected back as the starter at right tackle after missing 14 games with a knee injury last season, his fill-in, Lance Louis, could move back to guard. Louis started the 2011 season opener at right guard and four games there in 2010.
WR Brandon Marshall
Mark L. Baer/US Presswire
As long as Marshall doesn't do anything off the field to get himself suspended. Coach Lovie Smith says he's not worried about that.
"Every new member of our Chicago Bear team I've talked to about what's expected of them," Smith said. "Brandon, of course, was a part of that. He knew. Before guys come here, they do their research. He had a chance to talk to some of our other players, and they told him what it's like and what will be expected of him when he's here. He feels comfortable with that, and I feel comfortable with him along with the rest of the guys."
The excitement over the addition of Marshall is tempered by the uncertain future of Johnny Knox, which could leave the Bears lacking their best big-play receiver in 2011 and 2010 for at least part of the 2012 season.
Knox has averaged 19.1 yards per catch the past two seasons (88 catches, 1,687 yards), but there is no guarantee that he'll be back by the start of the season after having spinal fusion surgery following the wicked hit he took last December.
"I wish I could give you some more information," Smith said recently. "Johnny is working hard every day. He's making a lot of progress. From the time we saw him laying on the field to where he is right now, he's making the same type of progress throughout. Things should be OK for him."
But no one is prepared to say when that will be.
"As far as when he'll be back 100 percent and ready to go," Smith said, "I don't know that. We just want him to improve every day and that's what he's doing."
For now, Knox is not expected to participate in the Bears' June minicamp.
Two other wide receivers who have played key roles in the past are looking for bounce-back seasons.
Earl Bennett is the Bears' most reliable underneath receiver, but he had a disappointing 2011 season, partially because of an early-season chest injury that sidelined him for five games. He ended with just 24 catches for 381 yards, the second straight season those numbers have fallen off, although his 15.9 yards per catch were a career best. A healthy Bennett is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season.
Devin Hester's receptions and yards have also plummeted in each of the past two seasons, and his 26 catches for 369 yards last season were his worst numbers since his first NFL season as a wide receiver in 2007. It remains to be seen if less responsibility in the return game can get Hester's production back to where it was in 2009, when he caught 57 passes for 757 yards.
Marshall will be considered nothing less than a savior for an underperforming passing offense, but Smith says the three-time Pro Bowler is looking forward to the challenge.
"He's excited about being a Chicago Bear," Smith said. "A lot of times you go places and you're working with people you don't know. He, of course, knows Jay (Cutler), and he knows a lot of our other players, too. He knows a lot about the Chicago Bears."
The chance to be reunited with Cutler, who was his quarterback in Denver for his first two Pro Bowl seasons, was huge for Marshall. So was playing for a team with a legitimate chance to challenge for a title.
"He wanted to go to a team too that had an opportunity to win," Smith said. "He knows that we have a role for him."
QB Andrew Luck
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
--Not only do the Bears get to see Peyton Manning and the Broncos in their preseason opener and then Robert Griffin III and the Redskins the following week, they'll be the first regular-season opponent for quarterback Andrew Luck, the presumptive No. 1 overall draft choice of the Colts.
The Bears host Indianapolis Sunday, Sept. 9, in the regular-season opener and, considering the Colts' 2-14 record last season, that figures to be an advantageous start for the home team, even with Luck expected to be the starting quarterback.
The schedule gets much tougher four days later, when the Bears travel to Green Bay to face the defending NFC North champion Packers in a nationally televised Thursday night game on NFL Network.
After a Week 3 breather at home against the 2-14 Rams, it's back to prime time for the Bears in Week 4, when they hit the road to play the Cowboys on Monday Night Football.
"I love starting the season at home in front of our fans," coach Lovie Smith said. "I don't think there is a better place to kick off the season than playing at Soldier Field on the lakefront. Playing five of our first 10 games in prime time also stands out. Each week brings its own challenge and we are excited to begin our pursuit of a world championship."
After visiting Texas, the Bears have three more prime-time games, giving them the NFL maximum of five. They host the Lions on Monday night, Oct. 22, and the Texans on Sunday night, Nov. 11. The following week they meet the defending NFC West champion 49ers on Monday night in San Francisco. The Bears haven't played on Monday Night Football three times in the same season since 2002. Under coach Lovie Smith, they are 7-2 on Monday night, 8-8 on Sunday night and 2-2 on Thursday night.
The Bears' off week comes early this season, after the Week 5 game in Jacksonville against the 5-11 Jaguars. Following the bye, the Bears play five of their next seven games at home before finishing with three of their last four games on the road.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I play under Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli. These guys, they know us well, they know what is going to work well, they know what's going to help us to excel on the football field. We all have a great relationship, and we all know what we need out of each other. So, enough said." -- Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, when asked if he would like to see any changes in his role.
Bear Report: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears.