QuarterbackStarter: Kyle Orton. Although he wasn't particularly sharp during training camp and didn't put up big numbers the first two preseason contests, Orton looked like the man for the job in the third exhibition game after being named the starter by head coach Lovie Smith.
Reserves: Rex Grossman, Caleb Hanie. While Grossman is officially just another busted first-round draft pick and isn't happy about being subjected to backup duty, Hanie came out of nowhere as an undrafted free agent and forced himself onto the 53-man roster with a terrific preseason.
Strengths: Neither Orton nor Grossman is going to the Pro Bowl any time soon, but this team has won games in the past with both signal-callers to the tune of a 31-17 combined record – 12-6 with Orton, 19-11 with Grossman. If Grossman is called upon to replace Orton due to injury or ineffectiveness, the offense shouldn't need any tweaking whatsoever.
Weaknesses: While Orton does make quicker decisions than Grossman and therefore takes better care of the football, he's another statue in the pocket and isn't capable of creating a play with his feet. If the offensive line struggles as badly as it did a year ago, Orton will be subjected to all kinds of pressure and may be throwing the ball away to save his hide quite often.
Outlook: Even though Grossman always has been and always will be the more talented QB, Orton was the right choice for this team since the Midway Monsters are focusing on tough defense and strong special teams once again. It's a virtual certainty that both signal-callers will get the nod at some point in 2008, so don't pretend for a minute that we've seen the last of Grossman under center.
Running BackStarters: Tailback Matt Forte, fullback Jason McKie. Forte looks like the real deal as a second-round draft pick from Tulane, while McKie is solid if not spectacular as a lead blocker and occasional pass catcher.
Reserves: Kevin Jones, Adrian Peterson, Garrett Wolfe. Jones could get a lot of work if he proves to be fully recovered from last year's knee injury, meaning both Peterson and Wolfe will be counted on more for their special-teams skills than their offensive abilities.
Strengths: This offense way too predictable in 2007 because of Cedric Benson's general ineptitude in the passing game, but Forte has proven to be an excellent receiver as well as a quality blocker even though he's a rookie. Splitting reps 2-to-1 or so between Forte and Jones should help this offense get back to the two-pronged running attack that was successful with Benson alongside Thomas Jones down the stretch in 2006.
Weaknesses: Forte is a rookie after all, so it would be foolish to simply assume he'll be an upgrade over Benson until he proves he can do it week in and week out at this level. And if either Forte or Jones – heaved forbid both – goes down with an injury, Peterson and Wolfe aren't the kind of backs that can be counted on to handle a heavy workload.
Outlook: The backfield does appear to be much more versatile than it was a year ago, as all four tailbacks can both run and catch pretty well. Forte could be on the short list for Offensive Rookie of the Year since he'll no doubt get every opportunity to succeed, but that success might hinge more on the play of the offensive line than his own talent.
Wide ReceiverStarters: Brandon Lloyd, Devin Hester. Even though Lloyd and Hester will likely get the starting assignments in Week 1, look for at least four wideouts to get consistent playing time in this offense.
Reserves: Marty Booker, Rashied Davis, Mark Bradley, Earl Bennett. Davis was the best of this bunch in training camp and throughout the preseason, although Booker is a dependable veteran who has never been much of a practice performer.
Strengths: Hester is arguably the most explosive player in all of football, although he is yet to fully translate his mind-blowing return ability into consistent success as a receiver. There may have a lack of a true No. 1 target through the air, but that could mean that defenses won't have anyone to specifically gameplan against each and every Sunday.
Weaknesses: It's nice to have four or five options that can get the job done, but who can be consistently counted on to come up with a big catch on 3rd and 9 to keep the chains moving? Lloyd has a reputation for being soft on game day, Davis is having a hard time breaking out of that slot-guy mold, and Bradley just hasn't been the same after all those injuries earlier in his career.
Outlook: Tom Brady got the Patriots to a few Super Bowls with a less-than-stellar receiving corps before Randy Moss and Wes Welker came to New England, but that's one of the things that makes him Tom Brady. This just in: Kyle Orton is no Tom Brady.
Tight EndStarter: Desmond Clark. One of the most underrated players in the league at his position, Clark returned to practice Monday after suffering a sprained knee in the second preseason game.
Reserves: Greg Olsen, Kellen Davis. Olsen has all the talent in the world and will be counted on to balance out some deficiencies at wide receiver, while Davis looks like a bargain as a fifth-rounder thus far.
Strengths: When offensive coordinator Ron Turner puts both Clark and Olsen on the field, he can create all kinds of matchup problems in the middle of the field. Olsen in particular needs to stretch the defense down the seam instead of running so many of those shallow patterns in the flat like he did a year ago.
Weaknesses: Even though all three of them catch the ball beautifully, nobody is a true road grader in the running game. John Gilmore was a nice asset to have the last few seasons because of his ability to serve as a glorified third tackle, which is a role Davis is yet to embrace despite his tremendous size.
Outlook: Stay away from having either Clark or Olsen on your fantasy team since they'll inevitably take some stats away from each other, but they should be quite an effective pair for the Bears this season. Look for a lot of two-tight end sets, especially in the red zone, plus Olsen has the versatility to also line up at fullback and wideout from time to time.
Offensive LineStarters: Left tackle John St. Clair, left guard Josh Beekman, center Olin Kreutz, right guard Roberto Garza, right tackle John Tait. There are new starters at three of the five spots from last year, but Kreutz is the glue that holds it all together.
Reserves: Terrence Metcalf, Chris Williams, Kirk Barton. Holding a roster spot open for Williams, the 14th-overall selection who is out until at least midseason with a back injury, could be dicey if another player gets banged up during the first few weeks of the schedule.
Strengths: Assuming Kreutz returns back to Pro Bowl form, he might be able to make up for what could be some subpar play from either Beekman or Metcalf at left guard. Tait was originally a right tackle, so switching back after a few years on the left side might make him more effective and potentially lengthen his career.
Weaknesses: St. Clair supposedly wasn't good enough to start ahead of the jettisoned Fred Miller at right tackle this past season, but now he's being counted on to protect the passer's blind side at left tackle? Left guard is also a question mark, especially since that position tends to do a lot of pulling on running plays in this scheme.
Outlook: Regardless of what happens with the skill positions listed above, this team will be made or broken offensively based on what happens with the big boys in the trenches. Even though the O-line performed fairly well in three of the four exhibition games, that dreadful performance against an aggressive Seattle front seven could be a dubious sign of what's to come.
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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