Training Camp Preview: Offense

In Part I of a three-part series, JC takes a look at the Chicago Bears on the offensive side of the football. With training camp finally set to open at the end of this week, here are five crucial questions that need to be answered if the Midway Monsters are going to make it back to the postseason in 2009.

1. Will Turner tweak the offense to take advantage of Cutler's strengths?
While Jay Cutler will never be confused with a running quarterback in the Steve Young or Randall Cunningham mold, he's fairly light on his feet and athletic enough to extend plays if none of his receivers are open initially. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner hasn't had that luxury at the game's most important position in recent years, as Rex Grossman, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton were all statues in the pocket and unable to slip away from a heavy pass rush. Former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan did a good job buying Cutler an extra second or two to make a play with rollouts and bootlegs, so it will be up to Turner to bring that element of the passing game back to Chicago this season.

A good coordinator molds his playbook around the offensive talent he has at his disposal, not the other way around – Turner needs to remember that.


Jones has to give Forte support on the ground.
Getty Images: Andy Lyons

2. Is Jones finally ready to take some of the pressure off Forte?
By all accounts, both on the ground and through the air, Matt Forte enjoyed a tremendous rookie season and single-handedly carried the offense at times. That being said, he was subjected to way too much punishment along the way, broke down to some degree in December and quite simply wasn't as effective as the team needed him to be down the stretch – just another reason why this team missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. But now that Kevin Jones is an additional 12 months removed from knee surgery and more closely resembles the first-round draft pick he was not too long ago, the former Lion needs to work his way into the lineup for a series here and there to ensure that Forte has some gas left in the tank for a playoff push.

The last time this offense featured a productive one-two punch at the running back position, with Thomas Jones starting and Cedric Benson relieving, the Bears were in the Super Bowl.

3. Who will step up to support Hester in the receiving corps?
Even though Devin Hester is not a classic No. 1 receiver in this league and would be better suited in a complementary role, he's the best the Bears have right now – and Cutler could very well turn him into a 1,000-yard guy as soon as this season. What remains to be seen, however, is who takes a hold of the other starting position opposite Hester, where second-year pro Earl Bennett currently sits atop the depth chart, practice-squad veteran Brandon Rideau is an intriguing option and rookie Juaquin Iglesias offers the most upside down the road. Bennett is the leader in the clubhouse because he and Cutler worked beautifully together for a year at Vanderbilt, but Rideau is an inviting target at 6-3 and 198 pounds and Iglesias has the makings of a classic possession target on Sundays.

As for the third man in the slot, Rashied Davis gets the nod initially but fifth rounder Johnny Knox opened up a lot of eyes throughout the offseason program.


Olsen may be on the verge of his first Pro Bowl.
AP Images: Dave Einsel

4. Can Olsen live up to the hype and develop into a Pro Bowler?
It's hard to remember the last time a second-string tight end got so much attention in the NFL – Desmond Clark remains the starter – but Cutler's arrival in the Windy City is supposed to trigger Greg Olsen's ascent toward stardom. The Midway Monsters should feature as many two-tight end sets as any team in the league this season, in part because Clark and Olsen are a dynamite duo but also due to the lack of talent available at wide receiver. Cutler and Olsen became fast friends off the field, but it remains to be seen if they can develop chemistry quickly within the confines of Turner's offense and help put each other in the Pro Bowl.

If Olsen proves up to the challenge and reels in 65-70 balls in 2009, there is a good chance Cutler finishes with a passer rating around 90 and gets the Bears back in the playoffs where they belong.

5. How much will the offensive line be improved from a year ago?
If free agent signee Frank Omiyale beats out incumbent Josh Beekman at left guard, which is expected based on what we saw during OTAs, then the Midway Monsters will feature new starters at three of the five positions up front. Future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace arrives from St. Louis to man left tackle, while supposed left tackle of the future Chris Williams has flip-flopped over to the right side. Bears fans know what to expect from the two holdovers, center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza, but Omiyale has never started an NFL game at guard, Pace isn't the All-Pro he used to be and Williams essentially redshirted as a rookie.

Most pigskin pundits believe this team to be better in the trenches now than it was a year ago, but it takes time for an offensive line – no matter how talented the five individual pieces may be – to mesh into a cohesive unit.


Agree? Disagree? Let your voice be heard on our message board RIGHT HERE.


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.


Bear Report Top Stories