Behind Enemy Lines: Bears

Chicago is heavily favored to win their third consecutive NFC North title this season, but they've had a rough go of it the last few months. Bears expert John Crist drops by PackerReport.com to detail everything that has happened in the Windy City this offseason. Who will replace Tank Johnson? Has Rex Grossman gotten any better? Will Lance Briggs ever be back? Find out the answers inside.

Todd Korth: How much will the Bears defensive line be affected without Tank Johnson?

John Crist: Personally, I feel that Johnson is an average player at best and really won't be missed too much along the defensive line. That being said, depth could be an issue because head coach Lovie Smith really likes to rotate up front and keep everyone fresh. Johnson had 52 tackles and 9 sacks in three seasons, so it's not like he was a Pro-Bowl player by any stretch of the imagination. Second-year pro Dusty Dvoracek will most likely open the season as the starter, but expect to see Antonio Garay and Anthony Adams get their fair share of snaps.

Tommie Harris is arguably the best defensive tackle in the league, so anyone who lines up next to him will have plenty of opportunities to make plays.

TK: Do you feel Rex Grossman has improved enough this offseason to help the Bears offense be more effective?

JC: Grossman wasn't overly sharp at the beginning of mini camp but looked much better as the weekend progressed, and you could say the same for his performance during OTAs. If you watched him closely last season, most of his mistakes were the result of bad footwork and poor decisions. Pep Hamilton is the new quarterbacks coach and he drawn rave reviews so far, as he has been drilling Grossman on the fundamentals this offseason. And remember that the Bears had the 29th ranked offense in 2005 with Kyle Orton at the controls, but Grossman elevated the unit to 15th a year ago.

I believe that Grossman received way too much credit early in the season for playing well and way too much criticism late in the season for playing poorly, but as we've seen in today's NFL, that's usually the case for QBs.

TK: Are the Bears expecting Greg Olsen to start this season?

JC: Incumbent Desmond Clark enjoyed a career year in 2006, catching 45 passes for 626 yards and 6 touchdowns, so he hasn't done anything to deserve a demotion at this point. However, Olsen was the best player available in the draft at his position by far and looked every bit as good as advertised in the offseason program. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner lined up Olsen everywhere from tight end to H-back to fullback with the first team, so expect some new wrinkles from this offense. On top of that, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see a good number of two-tight sets in order to keep both of them on the field as much as possible.

Grossman was at his best last season when Clark was heavily involved in the passing attack, so the addition of Olsen could be another way to get the most out of No. 8.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

TK: Will Lance Briggs play for the Bears again?

JC: Briggs has been running his mouth the entire offseason that he will never suit up for the Bears again, but since a trade wasn't worked out, I suspect his holdout will come to an end before Week 1. Remember that Briggs was just a third-round pick not too long ago, so it's not like he's made countless millions of dollars in his career already and can afford to sit at home and watch from his La-Z-Boy. With a $7.2 million franchise tender currently on the table, he'd be throwing away about $450,000 for every game he misses. If you look at the history of disgruntled franchise players, they almost always come crawling back because they need to get paid and have to showcase their skills for other teams.

Second-year man Jamar Williams has impressed the coaching staff so far at weakside linebacker, so even if he does come back, don't just assume that Briggs will be re-inserted next to All-Pro Brian Urlacher.

TK: Do the fans and media in Chicago feel the Bears can win the Super Bowl XLII?

JC: The Windy City enjoyed the Bears' ride to Super Bowl XLI considering it was their first trip to the Big Game in 21 years, but losing – and losing the way they did – was tough to take. No team has added more speed on offense than this one, and it's impossible to understate just how crazy this town is to see Devin Hester on the other side of the ball. If Harris and Mike Brown can stay healthy and return to form, the defense should be every bit as good as the one that dominated the first half of 2006 before struggling with injuries down the stretch. The Bears also have perhaps the best special teams in the NFL, from All-Pro kicker Robbie Gould to the coverage units to Hester in the return game.

And since nobody else in the NFC looks remarkably better than last season at this point, you would have to say that this team has as good a chance as any to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy once again.

To read Part I of this series, where Todd answers five questions from John, Click Here.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. Todd Korth is the Managing Editor of PackerReport.com.


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