John Crist: In the salary-capped system of the NFL, every team is going to have a few weaknesses. The Bears, for instance, have two very good starting cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher, but depth is an issue and Ricky Manning Jr. was not up to the task when asked to start last season. The defense is also putting a lot of faith in the healthy return of both Tommie Harris and Mike Brown, especially since they each proved to be just about irreplaceable after getting injured a year ago. The offensive line is one of the more experienced groups in the league and has played together for quite some time, but they are getting long in the tooth and right guard Roberto Garza has to step it up a notch.
Everyone is quick to blame Rex Grossman for the loss in Super Bowl XLI, but he's still the best quarterback this franchise has had in a long time and should only get better after his first full season under center.
NC: Did Chicago lose anything by putting its faith in Tank Johnson? How will Johnson's absence and missing productivity affect the defense?
JC: 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.
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.
NC: Earlier in the offseason, there were rumors that human highlight film Devin Hester was possibly going to be moved to the offensive side of the football, a la Deion Sanders. Is this still a possibility? Where would Hester make the biggest impact?
JC: Hester was moved to the other side of the ball officially on the first day of mini camp, and you could make a convincing argument that he was the single best player on the field during the offseason program. I expected him to struggle a little catching the ball and running routes, but aside from forgetting exactly where to go coming out of the huddle a few times, he looked sensational. He was lined up out wide, in the slot, and even ran a few sweeps at tailback, so it looks like offensive coordinator Ron Turner has a few tricks up his sleeve this coming season. Even if just used as a decoy from time to time, Hester will have to be accounted for by the defense every time he's on the field.
Although he's not going to catch 50 passes or score a dozen touchdowns, he'll certainly add an explosive element to this offense that has been missing for quite some time.
NC: Certainly, the addition of Greg Olsen will strengthen the Bears tight end position. In evaluating Chicago's draft, who are some players that have the ability to stick and perhaps stand out in their first season?
JC: Olsen isn't going to start ahead of Desmond Clark, but the rookie lined up everywhere from tight end to H-back to fullback during OTAs and is going to contribute. Defensive end Dan Bazuin was taken in the second round to the surprise of many considering Adewale Ogulneye, Alex Brown, and Mark Anderson were already on the roster, but he'll get some snaps at left end because Lovie Smith really likes to rotate his D-linemen. Third-round tailback Garrett Wolfe may be No. 3 on the depth chart right now, but I'm predicting he'll leapfrog Adrian Peterson at some point in 2007 and be the primary change-of-pace to Cedric Benson. The Bears took three defensive backs and two offensive linemen on Day 2 of the draft, but look for them to be special-teamers at best.
The Bears had the luxury of drafting for depth as opposed to filling holes in the starting lineup, so GM Jerry Angelo was able to stick to his best-player-available approach.
NC: Sorry, Lions fans simply can't get enough of the Rex Grossman chatter. While he has showed sparks of talent, much of last season was spent being dragged and saved from humiliating performances by the defense. Can Grossman be a championship quarterback, or will he continue serve as the team's rather large, lingering question? If the latter is true, have the Bears made any significant moves to push Grossman or replace him should he fail?
JC: As is usually the case for QBs in this league, Grossman got too much credit last season when he played well and too much criticism when he played poorly. The 'Good Rex' vs. 'Bad Rex' phenomenon really took on a life of its own in 2006, and it doesn't appear to have lost too much momentum heading into 2007. Personally, I believe he can be a very good player provided that he improves his footwork and decision-making. Fortunately for him, the Bears don't particularly need an air-it-out passing attack because this team will always be built around a strong running game, tough defense, and solid special teams.
However, should Grossman get off to a bad start this year, I believe that the organization will be more willing to bench him in favor of Griese since he is in the final year of his contract – he's most likely playing for his future in Chicago.
To read Part I of this series, where Nate answers five questions from John, Click Here.