Which Rookie is Most Likely to ...

The Chicago Bears selected 12 players in the 2008 NFL Draft last month, although it's unreasonable to expect all of them to make a difference on the field this season. Who will step into the starting lineup right away? Who will spend his first year riding the pine? Bear Report gazes into its crystal ball ...

... Start in Week 1

OT Chris Williams
The Monsters of the Midway were nothing short of terrible on offense this past year, and the offensive line deserves the lion's share of the blame. Yes, the quarterbacks turned the ball over too much. Yes, the running backs didn't break enough tackles. Yes, the wide receivers failed to catch the ball consistently. But the skill positions would have been given a much greater chance to succeed had the O-line done a better job opening up holes on the ground and protecting the QB better in obvious passing situations.

With John Tait overdue for a move back to right tackle and Fred Miller being handed his walking papers back in February, the Bears need Williams to line up at the all-important left tackle position immediately.

... Make the Offense More Flexible

RB Matt Forte

RB Matt Forte
Warren Wimmer Photography
One reason the Bears had so much trouble offensively in 2007 was their increasing predictability, which was a product of who was in the backfield on a given snap. Because Cedric Benson isn't much of a receiver or blocker in the passing game, when he was in the game, a running play was going to be called more often then not. And because Adrian Peterson is much better with the ball out in space after a reception than his in between the tackles after a handoff, when he was in the game, a passing play was going to be called more often than not. The ground attack was great down the stretch in 2006 because Benson alternated series with starter Thomas Jones. But shuttling in and out of the huddle every few plays last year tipped offensive coordinator Ron Turner's hand.

Forte, on the other hand, is an every-down back in every sense of the term, so the opposing defense will have to respect the entire playbook once he starts to become a bigger part of the game plan.

... Become an Instant Star on Defense

DT Marcus Harrison
Everybody knows Dusty Dvoracek has all the drive and determination necessary to be a very good player at nose tackle, but injuries have derailed the start of his career. A bum foot cost him his entire rookie year in `06, and then a torn ACL in Week 1 last season put him back on injured reserve for the balance of the schedule. The Midway Monsters did get better-than-expected play from Anthony Adams and Matt Toeaina in Dvoracek's absence, but Adams doesn't offer much of a pass rush and Toeaina is too small to make a difference against the run. Tommie Harris is arguably the best D-tackle in the league when operating at full capacity, yet having a consistent partner in crime would only make him better. And if Dvoracek can't stay on the field, all that potential doesn't mean a thing.

Harrison was a first-round talent available in Round 3 because of knee problems and off-the-field incidents, but there is no question he could be a monster in the middle if he returns to full strength and cleans up his act.

... Get More and More Playing Time

S Craig Steltz

S Craig Steltz
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
This defense was riddled with inconsistency a year ago, and the injury bug – especially in the secondary – was a big reason why. Losing Mike Brown in the season opener was catastrophic, especially since the Adam Archuleta reclamation project was such a disaster. Danieal Manning and Brandon McGowan are both solid players, but are they truly starting-caliber safeties on a title contender? Manning is more athlete than football player and hasn't improved as much as the organization would like, while McGowan plays well near the line of scrimmage but struggles in coverage. And who knows what to expect from Kevin Payne, who broke his arm as a rookie just as he was beginning to get more snaps.

Steltz is a smart player with a nose for the football and a penchant for making big plays, something that always seems to be missing when Brown is on the sideline in street clothes.

... Get Comfortable on the Bench

WR Earl Bennett
It will be interesting to see what the receiving corps looks like once the 2008 season begins, as both starters, Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, will have to be replaced. Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd were signed in free agency, although Booker was jettisoned by a 1-15 Dolphins team and Lloyd caught only two passes last year for the Redskins. Mark Bradley has been in and out of the doghouse and Devin Hester is still learning the nuances of the position, so neither is automatic for a starting role. Slot man Rashied Davis just signed a three-year contract, but he was little more than a special-teamer toward the end of last season. Fortunately, the tight end combo of Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen figures to be involved prominently and can alleviate some of the pressure on the wideouts.

Nevertheless, Bennett doesn't have the hard-to-defend size or track-star speed to warrant an immediate move up the depth chart, plus receiver tends to be the hardest spot on the field to make the leap from college ball to the pros.

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.

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