Bill Huber: When the Bears acquired Jay Cutler, the question was whether he had any receivers at his disposal. Well, does he, or is this a case of the quarterback being so good that he could turn you and me into 70-catch threats?
John Crist: While I'm pretty sure I could still be the Earl Bennett of this offense and catch 50 passes, I'd say you'd be more of the Rashied Davis and fortunate to make the 53-man roster – thank you, try the veal.
In all seriousness, there is no question that the front office and coaching staff alike are hoping Cutler's mere presence will mean more production out of the likes of Bennett and Devin Hester in the receiving corps. Both Bennett and Hester have showed they have the ability to be competent starters in this league, although the smart money is on tight end Greg Olsen to lead the team in catches this season. Devin Aromashodu has come out of nowhere to claim the No. 3 wideout role, and don't forget now-backup tight end Desmond Clark because he's still going to be on the field quite a bit.
Olsen is the only Bears pass catcher that's going to help your fantasy team because he's destined for a big year, but a competent passer behind an improved offensive line is more pivotal to this unit's success in 2009.
BH: His two games against Green Bay notwithstanding, running back Matt Forte had a heck of a rookie season. What he accomplished – 1,700 total yards and 12 touchdowns – was all the more remarkable considering he didn't get a heap of help from Kyle Orton. With Cutler running the show, just how different does the offense look?
JC: The company line has been that Ron Turner's offense is essentially intact from a year ago, but I've noticed more bootlegs and rollouts to take advantage of Cutler's underrated athleticism both in and out of the pocket – something that wasn't possible with Orton, especially after his midseason ankle injury. The original plan was for Kevin Jones to take some of the pressure off Forte since the former Tulane Green Wave racked up 379 touches as a rookie, although that's been scrapped since Jones tore ankle ligaments the final preseason game and is now on injured reserve. I have little confidence in either Garrett Wolfe or Adrian Peterson to be a competent secondary ball carrier, meaning Forte may be driven into the ground once again.
Forte is going to be a star in this league because there really aren't any holes in his game, which makes him so difficult for Turner to take off the field no matter the down-and-distance situation.
BH: On the surface, if a lousy team like the Rams dumps an aging legend in left tackle Orlando Pace, it would indicate that Pace doesn't have much left in the tank. Obviously, Pace is a huge key for the offense – not to mention Cutler's safety. How has he looked?
JC: You know as well as I do how much the salary cap can force teams to make moves they don't necessarily want to make, and said moves are even easier to justify when a new coaching regime takes over after a dismal season – as is the case in St. Louis right now. Pace has stood by the belief that he's 100 percent healthy and his injuries have been of the flukish variety, so the Bears had no qualms moving 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams from left tackle to right tackle to accommodate the future Hall of Famer. Pace did have a tough time with Denver's Elvis Dumervil in the third preseason game, but he's a veteran and knows that the exhibition season is more about getting your body ready than the actual on-the-field results.
While he's not going to be a Pro Bowler again or anything like that, he should be an upgrade over career backup John St. Clair, who protected the signal caller's blind side adequately at best a year ago.
BH: The funny thing is, it was the Bears' defense that was the bigger issue last year. The offense was actually pretty good. With Lovie Smith taking over the defense, is that unit going to be good enough to make the Bears contenders again? Because, like in Green Bay, it's going to be the same cast of characters on defense.
JC: As is usually the case in the NFL, it's all going to come down to injuries and how well Smith makes adjustments to calling the signals again – something he hasn't done since 2003, his final year as the Rams defensive coordinator. Even though the preseason can sometimes be used to disguise what a ballclub will actually do when it counts, we've seen increased pressure up front and even some experimentation with the zone blitz here in Chicago. The secondary is going to be a question mark like it was a year ago because of all the nicks and scrapes we saw in training camp, which is why letting the enemy passer go through his progressions comfortably in the pocket is such a killer.
The Midway Monsters are going to be tested in Week 1, as Aaron Rodgers and Co. did a nice Air Coryell impression throughout the preseason.
BH: Sort of the same question as you asked me: With the reigning division champions adding Brett Favre, with the Bears adding Cutler, with the Packers adding Dom Capers to run the defense and with the Lions significantly better on paper, how do you think the division shakes out?
JC: I wrote it before the Favre acquisition, and I'll write it again after the Favre acquisition: Minnesota is the best team in the NFC North and my prediction to take the division. The Bears are without a doubt better on both sides of the football, especially at linebacker because free-agent addition Pisa Tinoisamoa has fit in beautifully alongside Pro Bowlers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. I'm high on Green Bay as well and believe they can challenge for a wild-card berth, although I'll need to see how Capers' 3-4 performs since it usually takes a year or so to get the personnel where it needs to be to run it properly.
Detroit is still Detroit and will inevitably be bottom-feeders again, but they're not going to be an 0-16 rollover like they were in 2008.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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