Turner could have brought back the two-back system that worked in 2006
The Monsters of the Midway had one of the better running games in the league down the stretch of the 2006 season, riding the two-pronged attack of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson all the way to Super Bowl XLI. It was no secret that Jones and Benson did not get along, but their animosity toward each other seemed to bring out the best in their respective performances on game day. Jones frustrated defenses early with his shiftiness and cutback ability, while Benson punished tacklers late thanks to a bruising, no-nonsense style.
Trading Jones after that season simply had to be done with the investment already committed to Benson, but reverting back to a single-back approach made no sense whatsoever – especially since Benson had suffered through a few injuries in his career already and ultimately got hurt again in 2007.Consequently, the Bears ranked 30th in the league running the football at just 83.1 yards per game, and their 3.1 yards-per-carry average was dead last. Former Charger Michael Turner would have immediately changed the Chicago running game, but he was signed by the Falcons to be the successor to Warrick Dunn in the Atlanta backfield. General manager Jerry Angelo promised in his season-ending press conference that there would be more competition for carries going forward, yet he hasn't taken a shot at any tailback in free agency. Turner was the marquee player on the list, but even a second-tier name like Julius Jones, Derrick Ward, or the aforementioned Dunn could have given Benson reason to worry and perhaps lit a fire under the former No. 4-overall draft pick. While Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe are both quality backs, neither is capable of being a primary ball-carrier.
Bottom Line: Benson looks like a bust, Peterson is a backup at best, Wolfe was a reach in the third round, and Turner is better right now than all of them will ever be.
Faneca would have immediately brought some credibility to an aging line
The Bears came into 2007 with the oldest starting offensive line in the league at 31.8 years of age on average. However, linemen have enjoyed solid careers well into their 30s for quite some time, and this group had a ton of experience playing together the past few seasons. Center Olin Kreutz was a perennial All-Pro, left guard Ruben Brown had just made his ninth Pro Bowl, and left tackle John Tait continued to be one of the more underrated players at his position.
G Alan Faneca
Jack Dempsey/AP Images
But the quintet went from "battle-tested" to "flat-out old" seemingly overnight, as Kreutz had a subpar year, Brown was moved to injured reserve with a shoulder injury, and Tait looks like he needs to be shifted back to his natural home on the right side in 2008.Brown is not in the team's plans this coming season and right tackle Fred Miller was released Feb. 18, even though John St. Clair proved to be the only backup on the roster capable of holding down the fort when called upon – the veteran made at least one start at left tackle, right tackle, and left guard. Former Steeler Alan Faneca is a fixture on the All-Pro team, and despite the fact that he got an awful lot of money from the Jets in the Big Apple considering he's already 31 years old, his presence alone would have made Kreutz's job easier and possibly allowed Tait to stay put. Since Angelo didn't make a play for any of the less-expensive guards on the market like Justin Smiley or Jake Scott either, the Midway Monsters are currently faced with the grim reality of starting someone like Terrence Metcalf of Josh Beekman. Metcalf was nothing short of a disaster after Brown went down, and Beekman was active for a grand total of one game in 2007 despite his status as a fourth-round pick. Asking St. Clair to start at left guard for an extended period of time would be irresponsible since he's been little more than a reserve tackle as a pro.
Bottom Line: Brown was no spring chicken when he was brought to the Windy City in 2004, so dollars and cents appeared to be the issue with Faneca as opposed to age and mileage.
Berrian should have been franchised even if he's not worth the tender amount
Bernard Berrian did not exactly have the breakout season that many expected of him in 2007, but he was still by far the most reliable target in the Bears passing game and fell just 49 yards shy of the magical 1,000-yard mark. And when you take into account the three-headed monster at quarterback, a brutal running game, and a disappointing O-line, perhaps Berrian's performance was even more impressive than it looks at first glance. He did drop some passes in the early going, although he seemed to fix that problem in November and December.
A free agent for the first time, Berrian was arguably the best wideout on the market since nobody expected All-Pro Randy Moss to leave the Patriots.If contract negotiations spiraled out of control, Angelo could always protect the depth chart by slapping his leading receiver with the franchise tag even if $7.85 million for a glorified No. 2 seemed excessive. But Angelo ultimately decided not to play the franchise card, and Berrian quickly signed a six-year, $42 million contact with the rival Vikings and leaves Chicago painfully thin in terms of pass-catchers. There is no question that Minnesota greatly overpaid for Berrian because they were desperate for help at receiver, but letting him go without exhausting every option looks like bad news for the Bears. Mark Bradley caught a grand total of six balls this past season even with all that talent, and Devin Hester is not a starting wideout in this league despite head coach Lovie Smith insisting his return-man extraordinaire could be a No. 1 some day. Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd were eventually signed, although Booker last had a 1,000-yard season in 2002 and Lloyd has been a locker-room cancer both in San Francisco and Washington.
Bottom Line: Even if Berrian isn't worth $7.85 million for one year, saving a few bucks at one of the most important positions on the field isn't going to help Ron Turner develop a better game plan offensively.
To read Part II of the "What Could Have Been" series, when your dearly devoted Publisher takes a look at the defensive side of the ball, Click Here.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.