The mere presence of a healthy Grossman for 16 games is supposed to guarantee improvement on the offense. Grossman is in his fourth year and appears to be the real deal. He gets rid of the ball faster than most NFL quarterbacks, reads defenses quickly and gets the ball to the right receiver, usually with great accuracy. But, because of injuries, Grossman hasn't played enough yet -- just seven starts -- to justify the Bears' faith in him. That's why bringing in a quality veteran backup like Griese was imperative. He's a proven winner with 72 NFL starts and a 39-33 record. Third-stringer Orton started 15 games last season as a rookie, going 10-5, and he was behind center for each of the Bears' eight straight wins.
The Bears have enough talent and depth that they could consider trade offers for Jones. They could decide the 1,335-yard rusher is expendable with last year's first-round pick Benson waiting in the wings. They insist that they need at least two quality running backs in their run-first attack, and the case could be made that they had three last season. Jones had his best season of his six-year career. In limited opportunities, Benson showed flashes of why he was the fourth overall pick. Special-teams standout Peterson averaged 5.1 yards per carry, the best on the team. If fullback Johnson is back to full speed after an injury-plagued 2005, he is an effective lead blocker and decent receiver but not much else. McKie is a similar player but younger and healthier.
The Bears' conglomeration of tight ends may be one of the league's weakest. Incumbent Desmond Clark's production keeps declining (24 catches for 229 yards last year), and the Bears came up empty in the draft, when 17 tight ends were taken. In an effort to become a bigger contributor in the passing game, Clark lost 10-15 pounds, and he appeared quicker and faster in the off-season. Gilmore has the frame to be the best in-line blocker of the bunch, while Reid is an undersized pass catcher with some run-after-the-catch ability. Both Day and Wallace have a chance to make the final roster. Day is the better receiver, Wallace the better blocker.
Aside from the aging Muhammad, who will be 33 on opening day, the Bears don't have any special receivers. But they've got some young players who could become effective complements and more. That could be significant this year because it's not for sure that Muhammad is very special anymore, coming off a pedestrian 64-catch, 750-yard season. Bradley, the second-round pick in 2005, appeared on the verge of stardom as a rookie when he suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 30. If he's back to 100 percent, and he appears close already, he's a solid No. 2 who could become a go-to guy. Skinny, fragile Berrian has big-play speed, and he started to step up at the end of '05. He's currently running ahead of Bradley on the depth chart but will have to prove he's more durable than in the past to hold on to the starting job. The 6-foot-4 Gage was the team's second-leading receiver last year, but he needs to take another step in his fourth season or he'll be passed up by younger players like Currie, another deep threat who missed all of his rookie season with injuries, or Davis, a former Arena League star who is converting to offense after playing corner for the Bears last season.
This is a veteran unit with good continuity and is better blocking for the run than the pass. The only projected change is Garza for Metcalf at right guard. Garza started three games there last year and four more at left guard, where Brown is beginning to break down. For now, Metcalf, who was a 13-game starter last year, is the swing guard. Tait moved to left tackle last season and performed well. He's better on the right side but is above average on the left. In his first year with the Bears, Miller started 15 games at right tackle, including one just nine days after his jaw was broken by Kreutz, who made his fifth straight Pro Bowl and retained his heavyweight title. Age is a concern. Tait is 31, Miller 33 and Brown 34. Kreutz is 29 but entering his ninth season. The backups are mostly underachievers who failed in the past as starters.