Bears Inside Slant: January 24th

The Chicago Bears missed the playoffs one year after reaching Super Bowl XLI, so it's time evaluate the depth chart and locate every strength and weakness. What went right? What went wrong? The NFL experts at take a closer look and break down the roster position by position.

Rex Grossman
Backups: Kyle Orton, Brian Griese

Grossman is an unrestricted free agent whose chances of returning are 50-50. The Bears won't pay him starting money but would welcome him back at a moderate price to compete for the job. He was benched after a poor start but played much better, though not great, when he got a second chance later in the season.

After two years of sitting, Orton finally got another chance to start the final three games and showed enough to be a contender for the No. 1 job next season. He has the best chance of any of the quarterbacks returning next season. Griese is too expensive to keep as a No. 3, so if Grossman re-signs, Griese is gone unless he takes a pay cut. He's still a decent backup capable of managing a game but unlikely to be a difference-maker.

RB Cedric Benson, FB Jason McKie
Backups: RB Adrian Peterson, RB Garrett Wolfe, FB Lousaka Polite

Benson was a major disappointment for most of the season, averaging 3.0 yards per carry through the first nine games with no runs longer than 16 yards. He seemed to find a rhythm in Games 10 and 11, averaging 7.0 yards per carry, but then suffered a season-ending fractured ankle. It wasn't nearly enough to guarantee him the starting job next season, but he will be in the mix.

Peterson is a competent third-down back with solid receiving skills, but he's nothing special as a runner and not the guy you want starting. Wolfe showed some wiggle and quickness, mostly as a receiver out of the backfield. He tended to get engulfed between the tackles, although he has enough speed and quickness to get the corner on a team with a decent O-line. McKie is a solid blocker, period. Polite is about the same and can contribute on special teams.

Desmond Clark
Backups: Greg Olsen, John Gilmore

Despite the presence of a talented first-round pick (Olsen), Clark held on to his job and had one of the best seasons of his nine-year career. His 545 receiving yards were third best on the team, and his 44 catches were fourth. If Clark can maintain the same level of play, the Bears will utilize even more two-TE sets next season because Olsen looks like a star with the ability to stretch the field and the athleticism and sticky hands to take the ball away in a crowd.

Gilmore does most of the dirty work (blocking).

Bernard Berrian, Muhsin Muhammad
Backups: Devin Hester, Rashied Davis, Mark Bradley

Berrian probably won't be back, although his departure would leave the Bears severely short-handed at wideout. They could make an effort to bring him back but won't pay him as a star, and he might not want to come back to an offense with a lot of holes to fill.

Muhammad is clearly on the decline and no longer close to a No. 1, but he still makes some tough catches and is physical and a good-sized target. Hester is a work in progress who has shown flashes of greatness but is not a quick study. Davis is tough but small and not that fast. He's a decent No. 4. Bradley seems to have all the physical tools but, after three years, hasn't figured out how to use them.

LT John Tait, LG John St. Clair, C Olin Kreutz, RG Roberto Garza, RT Fred Miller
Backups: G Ruben Brown, G Terrence Metcalf, G/C Josh Beekman, G/C Anthony Oakley

Most of the offensive troubles can be traced to this overaged, underachieving unit that is in dire need of an infusion of young talent. It was supposed to be a cohesive unit because of the abundance of experience, but the Bears were plagued by false starts all season and neither the pass protection nor run blocking were adequate.

C Olin Kreutz
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images

Brown started the first eight games at LG before suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery, which could end his long, illustrious career. He's a free agent and will be 36 before next season starts. Metcalf had been groomed as a replacement for six years but was a bust when he got his chance to replace Brown and wound up benched in favor of St. Clair, a journeyman backup tackle and not a long-term solution. Tait is okay at LT but would be better off on the right side, although that means the Bears would need to draft or sign a standout LT since there are no prospects on the roster. Kreutz is still outstanding, although he wasn't voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time in seven years. Garza is solid but nothing special, and the 34-year-old Miller needs to be replaced. He's become increasingly susceptible to speed.

None of the backups are potential starters with the possible exception of Beekman, who never got a chance as a rookie.

LDE Adewale Ogunleye, DT Tommie Harris, NT Darwin Walker, RDE Mark Anderson
Backups: DE Alex Brown, DT Anthony Adams, NT Dusty Dvoracek, DL Israel Idonije, DT Antonio Garay, DE Dan Bazuin

Ogunleye had his best of four seasons in Chicago, leading the team with nine sacks and the linemen with 70 tackles. Harris, a standout at the three-technique, made his third straight Pro Bowl because he had seven sacks in the first half of the season but just one in the second half. He was ineffective for long stretches, although he played through the kind of injuries that sidelined other less-committed players.

DE Adewale Ogunleye
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images

Walker did not play through injuries after getting a big signing bonus in a renegotiated deal, and he was a non-factor most of the season. He is due a $5.2 million roster bonus in March that would be a ridiculous waste of money given his production in 2007. Anderson was given Brown's starting position in training camp but suffered through a sophomore slump, as his sacks dropped from 12 to five. Brown is a better two-way player, and although the Bears play three in their DE rotation, Brown should be the starter. Dvoracek is a force as a run stuffer and earned a starting job, but he played just one game before a knee injury ended his season. He could be back as the starter next season. Adams was paid a lot less than Walker but was a much better player and can play both the three-technique and the nose.

Idonije's versatility makes him invaluable. He plays tackle and end in addition to special teams. Garay is a backup at best, while Bazuin is an unknown quantity who barely got on the field before landing on injured reserve.

WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer
Backups: Jamar Williams, Rod Wilson, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Nick Roach, Michael Okwo

Briggs is history and Williams is slated to take his spot. Briggs has made three straight Pro Bowls but won't get the money he wants from the Bears, who have been impressed with Williams' smarts and versatility in two years as an understudy at all three LB spots. Urlacher's demise was greatly exaggerated. Except for a brief slump when he was hampered by an arthritic back, he played at or near his Pro Bowl level. But he didn't get his seventh trip to Hawaii, although he may have deserved it more than Briggs considering he had the rare combination of five sacks and five interceptions. The assignment-sound and reliable Hillenmeyer was given more responsibility in nickel situations last season and he is a solid starter, even if he isn't in the same class as his LB mates.

After Williams, the other 2007 backups are all primarily special teams players, but very good ones. Pro Bowl coverage ace Ayanbadejo is an unrestricted free agent with one foot out the door.

LCB Charles Tillman, RCB Nathan Vasher, SS Brandon McGowan, FS Danieal Manning
Backups: S Mike Brown, CB Trumaine McBride, CB Ricky Manning Jr., SS Adam Archuleta, CB Corey Graham, S Kevin Payne

The corners form an excellent tandem when they're healthy, but that wasn't the case in `07 when Vasher, an excellent ball athlete and interceptor, missed 12 games with a nagging groin injury. The big and physical Tillman is well suited to play press coverage in the Bears' Cover 2 and is excellent in run support.

Safety was a disaster last season, starting with the season-ending knee injury to 2005 Pro Bowler Brown in Week 1. Trade acquisition Archuleta was a bust, a liability in coverage and an inconsistent tackler. The Bears would love to have a healthy Brown back, but he's missed 43 of the past 64 games with a variety of injuries and will have to accept less money to return. McGowan turned out to be a physical presence, but he's still suspect in coverage and has an injury history, too. Manning is big, fast and can be physical, but his play is way too inconsistent for someone with his tools. He needs to take another step next season or step aside.

McBride was a most pleasant surprise, playing much better than his size and draft status would indicate. Graham has a future at least as a special-teamer, where he was excellent. Payne impressed with his athleticism and heavy-hitting, and he could challenge for a starting job soon.

K Robbie Gould, P Brad Maynard, LS Patrick Mannelly, KR Devin Hester, PR Devin Hester

Gould's FG kicking was only slightly less accurate (31 of 36) in 2007 than it was a year earlier (32 of 36) when he went to the Pro Bowl. Maynard was his usual consistent, accurate self. Mannelly remains as steady as clockwork, while Hester was arguably the Bears' MVP, breaking his own NFL record with six return touchdowns – four on punts and two on kickoffs – and is already arguably the greatest returner in NFL history.

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