QuarterbackThe battle for the starting job between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton is yet to produce a clear-cut winner, although it's very likely head coach Lovie Smith will announce who's going to open 2008 under center after Saturday's preseason contest at Seattle. Both Grossman and Orton were wildly inconsistent down in Bourbonnais, seemingly alternating back and forth between good days and bad days throwing the football. That being said, if you simply break down the raw data, Grossman threw fewer interceptions in practice yet was still able to make more big plays down the field. Undrafted free agent Caleb Hanie looks like he might be a find, showing a pretty good arm and nimble footwork outside the pocket. The rookie was impressive in his professional debut against Kansas City last week.
Conclusion: There's still a pretty good chance Orton will emerge as the No. 1 once all the smoke finally clears because Grossman is a been-there-and-done-that situation for the coaching staff, although it's a virtual certainty that both he and Grossman will start their fair share of ballgames in 2008.
Running BackVeteran Adrian Peterson got the nod to start once the proceedings began at Olivet Nazarene University, but it didn't take long for rookie Matt Forte to prove that he was the best back on the roster. The second-round draft pick from Tulane will open the regular season as the primary ball-carrier, displaying excellent hands out of the backfield and plenty of toughness between the tackles. While Peterson's role should be diminished to some degree, second-year change-of-pace Garrett Wolfe looked awfully good in the preseason opener and is stating a strong case for a complementary role. Free-agent addition Kevin Jones spent the first two weeks of camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but he's been activated and will be brought along slowly. He's looked a little rusty at times, but he's got no problem lowering his shoulder and delivering a lick.
Conclusion: The position is still a question mark since Forte is a rookie and Jones has a long history of injuries, but this quartet certainly looks to be more dynamic than Cedric Benson was this past season as the featured back.
Wide ReceiverWhile nobody has separated himself as a potential go-to guy in the passing game, the Bears had eight players in camp step up and make a case to be included in the pass-catching rotation. Devin Hester has all the talent in the world and is more polished than he was a year ago, but asking him to be a No. 1 would be irresponsible because of his value as a return man. Rashied Davis and rookie Earl Bennett both raised some eyebrows the first week or so, although each dropped more passes than you'd like to see as the calendar flipped. Veteran additions Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd will be in the mix somewhere, with Booker taking it quite easy in Bourbonnais and Lloyd flashing the occasional brilliance he showed as a youngster in San Francisco. While ex-practice squaders Mike Hass and Brandon Rideau both performed well at times, chances are former second-rounder Mark Bradley will get the benefit of the doubt even if he doesn't necessarily deserve it.
Conclusion: Three or four wideouts could end up catching 40-50 passes by the end of the year, which would create a nice balance at the position no matter who lines up at signal-caller, but who can be fully trusted to move the chains on third down week in and week out?
Tight EndFinally, a position of strength for this team on the offensive side of the ball, as the Bears might have the best collection of talent at tight end in the NFC. Many fans were surprised to see Desmond Clark get a contract extension in the offseason just a year after the team drafted Greg Olsen in the first round, but the veteran just seems to be getting better and had an excellent training camp. Olsen creates matchup problems for every defense, as he's faster than any linebacker and bigger than any safety. His ability to create big plays down the field might make up for any perceived deficiencies at receiver. Rookie Kellen Davis isn't the short-yardage and goal-line blocker this team needs to replace the departed John Gilmore, but he showed great hands in Bourbonnais and is a mammoth target for any QB.
Conclusion: Look for Clark and Olsen to be on the field together much more so than a year ago, and Olsen in particular will line up at both fullback and wideout from time to time.
Offensive LineThe entire plan was to put 14th-overall selection Chris Williams immediately into the starting lineup at left tackle, moving John Tait back to his natural home on the right side and potentially John St. Clair inside to left guard. But Williams hurt his back on Day 2 of training camp, and the injury turned out to be worse than expected – surgery on a herniated disc will keep him out of action until at least midseason and could eventually force him onto the injured reserve list. That means St. Clair, who apparently wasn't good enough to start over the atrocious Fred Miller at right tackle in 2007, is now protecting the passer's blind side at left tackle. Left guard is also a problem, as Terrence Metcalf is still dealing with a bum knee and second-year pro Josh Beekman hasn't been up to snuff thus far. Former All-Pro Olin Kreutz missed the first week of camp with a mysterious Achilles injury, but he's returned and added a spark up front.
Conclusion: Poor play from the offensive line was the main reason this team had so much trouble moving the ball consistently this past season, and there is little reason to assume that things have gotten any better for 2008 – they could, as a matter of fact, be even worse.
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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