QuarterbackThe Monsters of the Midway wished Kyle Orton well as he shipped off to Denver, but it's no secret that players in the locker room couldn't contain their excitement when they learned the team had traded for Jay Cutler.
While Orton was voted an offensive captain, Rex Grossman had a Pro Bowl-worthy start to the 2006 season, and Brian Griese put up solid numbers from time to time, Cutler brings an element to the passing game that has been missing since head coach Lovie Smith took the reigns back in '05. Say what you want about Cutler's 17-20 career record as a starter and the way he whined his way out of Mile High like a petulant child, but he's one of the bright young stars in the game today and could solve the Windy City's seemingly endless quarterback dilemma for the next decade. He's got more than enough arm to take advantage of offensive coordinator Ron Turner's desire to push the ball downfield, his fiery competitiveness should win over teammates immediately, and the fact that he grew up a passionate Bears fan means he'll have an instant connection with the 60,000-plus at Soldier Field.
Behind Cutler, the coaching staff is showing a lot of faith in Caleb Hanie, who was nothing more than an undrafted free agent a year ago but appears to have a future in the NFL – free-agent signee Brett Basanez is currently listed as the No. 3.
Running BackSecond-year pro Matt Forte enjoyed a sensational rookie campaign both running and receiving, and there's no reason to think he won't get even better in 2009 – he could go as high as No. 2 overall in your fantasy draft, as a matter of fact.
RB Matt Forte
Rick Havner/AP Images
But the former Tulane Green Wave broke down to some degree during the second half, in part because of a nagging toe injury but also the fact that he was simply on the field too much. Even with Kevin Jones, Adrian Peterson, and Garrett Wolfe on the 53-man roster most of the season, and many times with all three backups active on game day, Turner didn't have enough confidence to believe any of them could keep the offense in rhythm with Forte getting spelled on the sideline. Curiously enough, the organization brought back all three of them and didn't make a concerned effort to sign a veteran free agent or add a draft pick to compete in the backfield.
Jones was re-signed to be the secondary ball carrier and should be healthier this year than he was last year since he's further removed from 2007's torn ACL, and Turner would be wise to get him 5-10 touches per game to help keep Forte fresh.
Wide ReceiverThere is no question Cutler adds a big-play element to the passing game that has been absent in Chicago for quite some time, but he's not going back to the Pro Bowl any time soon without more weapons at his disposal.
Former All-Pro return man Devin Hester is still the best of a lackluster bunch, with the hope being Cutler makes him more of a No. 1 than he could have ever been with Orton at the controls. Second-year pro Earl Bennett is currently atop the depth chart opposite Hester even though he didn't catch a single pass as a rookie, but look for draft picks Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox to challenge for playing time right out of the shoot in a way that Bennett never did – Iglesias might even earn a starting job in Bourbonnais. So far, general manager Jerry Angelo has balked at the idea of bringing in a veteran wideout like Torry Holt or Amani Toomer after swinging and missing with Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd a year ago, but there will be another wave of cuts around the league this summer before teams head to training camp.
Annual preseason hero Brandon Rideau will get one last chance to prove he belongs, while Rashied Davis may have to fight for a roster spot after dropping so many passes that hit him right in the bread basket in 2008.
Tight EndIf there was one position on the offensive side of the ball where the Midway Monsters didn't need an upgrade of any kind, it was at tight end.
TE Greg Olsen
Dave Einsel/AP Images
But that didn't stop Angelo from tinkering to some degree, even though the combo of Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen is one of the better one-two punches in the league and present matchup problems when both of them are on the field together. While Kellen Davis was drafted in the fifth round a year ago to be the third tight end in short-yardage and goal-line situations, he's proven to be an impressive pass catcher but a less-than-willing blocker – he'll have to fight to keep his job now that Michael Gaines was signed in free agency. The Bears don't really need another receiving threat since Clark and Olsen do that quite well and augment a shaky crop of wideouts, but having that third option to assist in the running game is a crucial component of Turner's system that has been difficult to replace after John Gilmore left town for Tampa Bay.
Fontel Mines was a good story two years ago, earning a spot with the club after being a non-roster invitee to rookie minicamp, but he may have to look elsewhere for gainful employment before long.
Offensive LineEven prior to Cutler being anointed as the new face of the franchise at the game's most important position, Angelo recognized that he needed to address the blocking up front in a big way.
With John Tait deciding to hang up his spikes – a year or two earlier than expected – and John St. Clair getting a better offer from Cleveland in free agency, suddenly there was precious little experience at the tackle position. Last year's first-round draft pick, Chris Williams, didn't play very much because of a back problem that surfaced early on in training camp, meaning he essentially redshirted as a rookie and still has a lot of questions to answer at this point. So Angelo first inked veterans Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer to challenge for starting jobs at guard and tackle, respectively, and then he made a much bigger splash by getting future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace to sign on the dotted line.
Pace will immediately move into his regular position at left tackle and kick Williams over to the right side, and don't be surprised if Omiyale eventually beats out the undersized Josh Beekman for the starting assignment at left guard.
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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.