Archuleta may not have been a perennial All-Pro when he wore a Rams uniform from 2001-05, but he was certainly a very good player and got rewarded with the richest contract in NFL history for a safety (six years, $30 million) by Washington before last season. Just one disappointing year later, he re-joins former defensive coordinator Lovie Smith in Chicago and only cost the organization a sixth-round draft pick in return. Smith believes Archuleta was miscast by the Redskins and can be a great player once again now that he is back in the Cover 2 system, but the former first-rounder curiously went from prized free agent acquisition to expensive backup awfully fast in our nation's capital.
The Bears don't seem to have a lot of faith in Chris Harris and really want Archuleta to win the strong safety job in training camp, but it remains to be seen if 2006 was simply a season from hell or a sign of things to come.
2. Who will be the primary target in the passing game?
Muhsin Muhammad has led the Bears in receptions each of his two seasons in Chicago and is a good bet to do so once again in 2007, but he is little more than a possession receiver now at 34 years old. Despite the fact that he keeps himself in unbelievable shape and can still make the tough catch in traffic as well as anyone in football, he simply does not have the kind of speed necessary to keep opposing cornerbacks honest with the deep ball anymore. Bernard Berrian raced off to a hot start last season before getting banged up in Week 9 and missed the next two games, and although he wants to be the No. 1 wideout for this team, he is still yet to prove that he can play that role week in and week out.
Third-year pro Mark Bradley has the speed to beat most any corner and the size to handle most any safety, but he has battled injuries and inconsistency since entering the league and is currently behind Muhammad, Berrian, and slot receiver Rashied Davis on the depth chart.
3. Is benching Alex Brown in favor of Mark Anderson the right move?
Nobody can deny that Anderson had a sensational rookie season, leading the Bears with 12 sacks and finishing second to Houston's DeMeco Ryans – his former teammate at Alabama – for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Nevertheless, Brown is a very well-rounded player, incredibly durable, and one of the most respected veterans in the locker room. Brown is a better defender against the run, and it is yet to be discovered if Anderson can be equally effective as an every-down player at right end as opposed to just a situational pass rusher.
Smith loves to rotate his defensive lineman and will make sure both players get plenty of snaps, but altering what appeared to be a successful formula last year – Brown reportedly asked to be traded after learning of his demotion – may not be the right decision.
4. Should Adrian Peterson or Garrett Wolfe be the No. 2 tailback?
It appears that Cedric Benson is going to get 20-25 carries a game now that Thomas Jones is no longer in the mix, but the running game was at its best last season when both players were used heavily. If offensive coordinator Ron Turner sticks to that philosophy and employs a two-pronged attack once again, a battle will emerge in training camp to see if Peterson or Wolfe is better suited to complement Benson. Peterson averages 4.7 yards per carry in his NFL career and has always played well when given the opportunity, but Wolfe was awfully impressive during the offseason program and has the kind of speed the Bears haven't seen in their backfield for quite some time.
Remember that Peterson's true value will always be on special teams since he is fantastic on the coverage units, so don't be surprised if Wolfe's role on offense increases as the season progresses.
5. Can the special teams continue to be so special?
The Monsters of the Midway have had sensational special teams under coach Dave Toub for a few years now, but last season was the crowning achievement. Kicker Robbie Gould led the NFC in scoring and was named All-Pro, Brendon Ayanbadejo made his first Pro Bowl as a specialist, and everybody knows what Devin Hester did in the return game as a rookie. But Gould has to show that he can master the Soldier Field elements once again, Peterson now has a bigger role than before at running back, and Hester will surely get fewer opportunities to work his magic since every team on the schedule is going to make a point to kick away from him.
No franchise has gotten more out of its special teams than the Bears have the last few seasons, but things have a way of evening out in the NFL since the margin between good teams and bad teams is razor thin.
The Bears report to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais on Thursday, July 26 and will hold their first training camp practice at 3:00 p.m. the following day. Click Here for the full training camp schedule.
|John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|