Ryan: Bears Need Playmakers on Offense
That's one of the dilemmas facing this team heading into the offseason for general manager Jerry Angelo, who says he wants competition at QB for starter Kyle Orton in training camp – there needs to be an upgrade at the skill positions no matter who lines up under center. While Matt Forte was terrific as a rookie and looks to be the next great tailback in the Windy City, converted corner Devin Hester is never going to develop into the primary target head coach Lovie Smith envisioned. Credit tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen for helping out as much as possible in the passing game, but they need help on the outside.
Even though the Midway Monsters still can't seem to get the quarterback position right, former Bear Tim Ryan, who is now a color analyst on Fox, doesn't think Orton is the problem.
Bennett caught a grand total of zero passes as a rookie. (Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)
"The first thing you've got to ask yourself when you look at that team is: How many real playmakers are on the offensive side of the ball?" Ryan rhetorically asked me in the Media Center. "I can name one and a half right now, and that would be Forte and Hester sometimes. And, of course, the tight ends, so we'll make it an even two. They need guys at the skill positions. I really believe that."
Instead of giving third-round draft pick Earl Bennett a real opportunity to make an impact at wideout, the Bears chose to go the veteran route with free-agent additions Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd – neither povided much return for the team's modest investment.
"You know what Earl Bennett did this year," said Ryan. "It wasn't much. ... I love wideouts in Round 2 of this draft. You look at last year and look at Eddie Royal (in Denver) and some of the guys that were taken in Round 2, that's the area where I think Chicago needs to target guys."
However, instead of knowing whether or not Bennett can help Orton become more dynamic through the air in 2009, he'll essentially be a rookie all over again.
Boselli: Williams Must Prepare Mentally
If Chris Williams, the team's first-round draft pick last April, can fulfill the promise he showed as a three-year starter at Vanderbilt, then he has a chance to man the left tackle position for the next decade. The former Commodore got hurt on the second day of training camp, and the surgery required to fix the herniated disc in his back essentially redshirted him for his first year in the NFL. Williams returned around the middle of the season and contributed a little in short-yardage situations and on special teams, but it was journeyman John St. Clair who got the starting nod protecting Kyle Orton's blind side for all 16 games.
Williams might as well be a rookie again next year, and potential Hall of Fame left tackle Tony Boselli knows there's much more to learn from college to the pros than simply having to block bigger and faster players.
Chicago got next to nothing out of Williams as a rookie. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
"Mentally being ready to play week in and week out against top players," Boselli told me when I asked him what Williams must do right away. "In college, you might get one or two a year. But [when you face] really good athletes who can embarrass you at any time, I think that's critical. And then just getting yourself mentally prepared for the long season, and a guy missing that much time and sitting out, I think that's going to be a big part of it and getting the confidence."
Boselli, who made five straight Pro Bowls for Jacksonville from 1996-2000, was forced to retire after seven seasons because of a long list of injuries, but playing through pain is something Williams must do like all offensive linemen.
"You're going to have hurts," he said, "you're going to be nicked and bruised, and you're never going to feel 100 percent. And you've got to know your own body. At times I pushed it too far and you pay the price for it, and sometimes you do the right thing and take a rest when you need to. So it's something each guy's got to figure out, and hopefully you have a good medical staff around you to help you determine what's best for you as a player."
For the record, Boselli believes the Bears reached for Williams at No. 14 overall.
Brown: Benson Was the Problem in '07
Even though head coach Lovie Smith constantly reminded anyone who would listen that his team got off the bus running the football, the Bears averaged only 83.1 rushing yards per game in 2007 and were dead last in the NFL at 3.1 yards per carry. Those numbers improved dramatically in '08, up to 104.6 and 3.9 thanks to a re-tooled offensive line and a new tailback. But does the credit go to the big boys in the trenches for opening up more holes, or was adding rookie Matt Forte the key to the turnaround?
According to nine-time Pro Bowler Ruben Brown, who played his last four seasons in the Windy City and retired following 2007, getting rid of failed first-round draft pick Cedric Benson made all the difference in the world.
Brown thinks Beekman played well at left guard this season. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
"Matt Forte, plain and simple," Brown told me Wednesday when making the rounds at Radio Row in the Tampa Convention Center. "It's no real knock on Ced. You see what Thomas Jones did. It wasn't the line. It wasn't a problem with the line. Obviously, the [last] year I was there, the line got banged up as far as injury-wise, so no line could really do anything in that case. But this offensive line stayed together the entire season, similar to what we did when we went to the Super Bowl in Chicago [in 2006]. An offensive line that stays on the field is going to be helpful, but a good running back solves all the problems."
His replacement at the left guard position, Josh Beekman, could eventually take over for Olin Kreutz at center once the captain calls it a career, but Brown believes the 6-2, 313-pounder is doing just fine where he is now.
"I think he can play left guard," he said. "I think people want to move him to center based on his size, which is no reason. He can play that position. He did a great job this year."
Nevertheless, the Bears are expected to be in the market for a young guard in the NFL Draft to push both Beekman and Roberto Garza.
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.