Bears Inside Slant: A Playoff Return?

The Chicago Bears have made their decision under center, selecting Kyle Orton over Rex Grossman, but now what? The rest of the offense is full of question marks, and the defense doesn't look near as good as it did back in 2006. Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at

If nothing else, at least the Bears have decided on a starting quarterback. That's the good news, maybe, depending upon how well Kyle Orton plays after winning the battle with Rex Grossman.

So far, though, that's about the only question the Bears have answered of the many that faced a team looking to rebound from last year's 7-9 record.

The offensive line remains a mystery. Plan A was for first-round pick Chris Williams to take control of the left tackle spot. Veteran John Tait moved from left tackle to right tackle after the Bears took Williams with the 14th-overall pick. Unfortunately for the Bears, Williams suffered a herniated disc in his back on the second day of training camp. The team originally said the injury had nothing to do with a back injury Williams experienced as a freshman at Vanderbilt but then clarified their stance to say it was the same disc but at a different location.

The bottom line is that Williams won't be back on the field until at least midseason, and veteran backup John St. Clair is the starter at left tackle. In addition, Terrence Metcalf, who started camp as the No. 1 left guard, missed the entire preseason after having his knee scoped and has been replaced, at least for now, by Josh Beekman, a fourth-round pick in 2007 who played briefly in one game last season. In his seventh season, Metcalf has never been able to hold on to a starting gig, so the Bears might be better off with Beekman – but it's not an ideal situation.

Then there's the wide receiver position. The Bears didn't have a go-to guy when camp opened, and they still don't. Devin Hester remains a work in progress, although he's a project with almost unlimited upside. Marty Booker, at one-time a No. 1 receiver in Chicago, has been nearly invisible, although he was never a great practice player. Brandon Lloyd has impressed, but the big question with him is whether he can do it when it really matters.

The most consistent wideout has been Rashied Davis, who in the past was a seldom-used but reliable slot receiver. He could be a lot more than that this year.

DE Alex Brown
Warren Wimmer Photography

The defense is expected to play at the level it did in 2006, when it was the strength of the NFC championship team. Right end Alex Brown is one of many players who have predicted a return to greatness for a defense that slumped to No. 28 last season amid a slew of injuries.

Brown and several defensive teammates say they anticipate a top-five finish for the defense.

"That's what we're expecting," Brown said. "If we can stay free of the injury bug, then we should be OK."

But some observers doubted those aspirations after a 37-30 loss to the 49ers in the third preseason game, in which a mediocre San Francisco offense behind vagabond quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan marched up and down the field.

For now everyone on defense is healthy, and there is the feeling among the principals that this veteran group can flip the intensity switch and turn up the production starting Sep. 7 when the Bears face the Colts in the first regular-season game at Lucas Oil Stadium. If the defense lives up to its expectations, the Bears can parlay that and their elite special teams into a successful season despite an offense that is shaky at best.

But if the defense reverts to last year's level, it will be a very long season.

News & Notes
Williams, a first-round draft choice, believes there has been enough discussion about his back surgery, his medical history, who knew what, and when they knew it.

"I'm not talking about medical stuff anymore," the rehabbing Williams said. "It's just a waste of everybody's time in general. We're playing the Colts in two weeks. We've got the Browns this week, and that's what we're focused on as a team."

Williams is convinced he'll play this year and for many years to come despite a herniated disc that sidelined him the second day of training camp and required surgery Aug. 6. He said the pain is in the past, but the mental frustration continues.

"It's been a big test," he said. "I'm not used to sitting out. But it's something you learn from, and I've gotten better from it and I'll be a better player in the end. You learn the tempo, what to expect on game day, how stuff changes on game day. Because as much film as you want to watch during the week, teams are going to throw extra stuff at you." …

Orton is usually considered an adept manager of games and a proficient high percentage passer, but he showed more ability to stretch the field last week by completing passes of 55 yards to WR Mark Bradley, 23 and 21 yards to Davis and 18 yards to TE Greg Olsen.

WR Marty Booker
Warren Wimmer Photography

"He manages the game very well, and that's not a negative. There's nothing wrong with that," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "But he's not just a game manager. His rookie year when he came in, obviously the package we had for him was limited, and with our defense and special teams we asked him basically to do that for the most part. But he is so much better of a quarterback than that. It's a positive that he does manage the game and has great presence and football intelligence all that and, but he can do much more than that." …

Booker has more than twice as many career catches (509) than all the rest of the Bears' wide receivers combined, but the 10-year veteran has just 1 catch for 15 yards in the preseason and hasn't even been on the field for many snaps.

"I would like to be out there a lot more," Booker said. "But sometimes you have to get the other guys some work and get them going. If I have to take a backseat and get some spot work here and there, I guess my time has to be in the classroom and studying and learning." …

It sounded a bit odd when 25-year-old DT Tommie Harris referred to himself as old after the third preseason game, but he explained. "I am old," he said. "I play in the trenches, dude. That's dog years." …

The Bears were averaging 4.7 yards per rush through three preseason games, compared to last preseason's 2.7. But they had been outgained on the ground 484-335, although they had just 71 running plays to their opponents' 105.

Quote to Note
"I don't know. I don't pay attention to fantasy football in the first place." – QB Kyle Orton, when asked if he expected to be a popular pick in fantasy football.

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