Doug Farrar: Let's try to transcend the obvious. We all know that the Bears offense is projected to be a huge liability. Who could surprise on the offensive side of the ball? Where are the encouraging signs?
John Crist: Rookie Matt Forte is already atop the depth chart at running back and looks really good, catching the ball out of the backfield beautifully and earning respect from the veterans with his humble approach to the game. In other words, he's been everything so far that Cedric Benson never was – both on and off the field. But the offensive line is riddled with question marks and we still don't know who will get the call under center, which is only going to put more pressure on Forte to deliver right out of the gate.
Tight end looks to be the only real position of strength offensively, as the triumvirate of Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, and rookie Kellen Davis has been quite impressive since the team arrived in Bourbonnais for training camp.
DF: One thing we can't avoid, as much as we may like, is the quarterback competition between Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. The jokes have become so prevalent that we may have forgotten what the skill sets are. Give us a brief scouting report on both players, tell us who you think will win the battle this year, and explain why Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith haven't tried to improve the position through the draft or free agency.
JC: If you look strictly at what the two players have done on the field in training camp, then Grossman is ahead of Orton slightly because he's thrown fewer interceptions and made more big plays down the field. However, based on the fact that the Soldier Field crowd showered Grossman with boos two Fridays ago – on Family Night, no less – tells you that Orton is probably the people's choice. I still believe that Grossman is the more talented player and fits Ron Turner's system fairly well, but Orton might be the better choice for a team that's going to be overly dependent on defense and special teams to win games once again.
As far as why the organization hasn't tried harder to improve the position, it mostly has to do with the fact that neither Angelo nor Smith is the kind of guy who likes to admit his mistakes – but not taking a QB at some point in the NFL Draft this past April was nothing short of ludicrous.
DF: In Seattle, we have a problem in that the Seahawks will have to play Nate Burleson at receiver so much, the team may lose his amazing return ability. Will the Bears' decision to make Devin Hester a full-time receiver take him out of his position as the most dynamic special-teams threat in recent memory?
JC: Smith honestly believes that Hester can be a No. 1 receiver in this league, but he should be happy if the greatest return man in NFL history – that's what they call him in Chicago – can simply develop into a reliable third option while continuing his mesmerizing magic on special teams. Hester is an incredible athlete, but asking him to be on the field for 40-50 offensive snaps per game and also return every punt and kickoff is simply too much. When push comes to shove, look for the likes of Marty Booker, Rashied Davis, and Brandon Lloyd to be on the field every bit as much as Hester if not more.
Just having Hester back there on kicks and punts gives the Bears a field-position advantage like no other team in the league, even when opponents go out of their way to keep the ball out of his hands.
DF: One thing the Chicago offense can be credited for is the extensions of several defensive stars. Where is the defense strongest and weakest? And is there any way that Tommie Harris can miss the flight to Seattle? He does bad things to our quarterbacks.
JC: The defense can once again be one of the best in the business provided all the major cogs in the wheel stay healthy. The linebackers are fantastic, with Brian Urlacher still among the top players in the game, Lance Briggs being named to three straight Pro Bowls, and Hunter Hillenmeyer improving yearly. Neither Charles Tillman nor Nathan Vasher is the proverbial shutdown corner, but they're physical with receivers and offer solid run support. Nobody will confuse Adewale Ogunleye or Alex Brown with the likes of Julius Peppers or Jared Allen, but they are both well-rounded, every-down ends. You've already seen what Harris is capable of doing on more than one occasion. He'll be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, trust me.
If there is indeed a weakness it would have to be at the safety position, where Mike Brown is fabulous but always finds a way to get hurt, Brandon McGowan is still somewhat unproven – plus he's currently battling a sprained ankle – and the depth behind those two is young and inexperienced.
DF: The NFC North is a wide-open division, though I think the Brett Favre-less Packers are a stronger team than many think. What are the expectations for the Bears this year? Is this a rebuilding phase, or can this team be expected to contend for a deep playoff run with the question marks on offense?
JC: Honestly, I'm not expecting the NFC North to be wide open and firmly believe that the Vikings are the class of the division. While it's possible the Bears could contend for a playoff spot if the defense gets back to elite level and Hester takes everyone's breath away on special teams again, the offense just doesn't look like it will be able to score enough points consistently. Aside from when Hester is on the field, there isn't one player that opposing defensive coordinators will have to gameplan against during the week.
It's dangerous to make predictions in today's NFL because the margin between good and bad is razor thin, but this version of the Midway Monsters looks like a 6-10 team to me as presently constituted.
To go back and read Part I of this series, where Doug answered five questions from John, Click Here.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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