Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

Our experts, John Crist of Bear Report and Ken Palmer of, go Behind Enemy Lines for analysis of Saturday's preseason matchup between the Bears and Giants at Soldier Field in Chicago. Let's start off this two-part series with five questions from Ken to John.

Ken Palmer: How has Jay Cutler looked, and can he be the same guy he was in Denver?

John Crist: As you might expect from a new quarterback learning a new system, regardless of how much talent he has to play the position, Cutler has been up and down thus far in the Windy City – more up than down, however. There is no question that the passing game appeared to be more dangerous in training camp than it did a year ago, when Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman were in the middle of one of the most lackluster QB competitions in recent memory. That being said, Cutler looked quite ordinary in the preseason opener a week ago at Buffalo and needs to put together a much better performance Saturday against the G-Men.

The former Bronco has already had a few public-relations snafus and certainly isn't the most cuddly signal caller in the league, but most Bears fans don't care because they've been subjected to too many Will Furrers and Craig Krenzels over the years.

KP: Which of the young receivers do you see as becoming the biggest star of the bunch?

Hester is the Bears' primary receiver by default.
Warren Wimmer Photography

JC: As opposed to letting their primary wide receiver emerge organically, like Roddy White did in Atlanta, or plunking down big money for one in free agency, like the Giants did for Burress, the Bears simply anointed Devin Hester as their No. 1 guy even though he'd be better off as a slot specialist and kick returner. While I do believe Hester has made strides and could threaten 1,000 yards receiving this season if Cutler plays like he can, he's not going to be Brandon Marshall Version 2.0 any time soon. Cutler's former partner in crime at Vanderbilt, Earl Bennett, put together a solid camp and is locked in as the other starter, but you can't ignore the fact that he didn't make a single catch as a rookie in 2008.

The smart money is on Greg Olsen to be the team's top weapon through the air, and although he's technically a tight end in the game-day program, he lines up out wide and in the slot quite often.

KP: What have you seen out of Orlando Pace so far, and what should the fans expect?

JC: As you well know, it's become increasingly difficult to evaluate offensive linemen in training camp since most NFL teams do next to no full-contact drills these days. But based on what I've seen up close, Pace certainly appears to have some gas left in the tank and should solidify the left tackle position provided he's healthy. The future Hall of Famer says he feels great and that most of the injuries he's had recently have been of the flukish variety, and I talked to one beat writer in St. Louis who said Pace was still pretty effective last year – he was just doing it on an atrocious Rams team.

Another good sign for the Chicago offensive line has been the smooth transition from left tackle to right tackle made by former first rounder Chris Williams, who has a chip on his shoulder after essentially redshirting as a rookie.

KP: Hypothetically, if you could only have Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs, who would it be and why?

Urlacher is hard to replace at middle linebacker.
Warren Wimmer Photography

JC: For the record, that's one of the best Behind Enemy Lines questions I've ever been asked and one I haven't had the opportunity to answer before.

I've written time and time again the last two years that Briggs is now the best linebacker in Chicago, even if Urlacher still gets the majority of the headlines and endorsements. Briggs has been to four straight Pro Bowls and looks to be a shoe-in for a fifth, while Urlacher has not been to Hawaii in two seasons because of back and neck injuries that limited his production. That being said, I'm going to have to go with Urlacher because the middle linebacker position carries so much more responsibility – making the calls, covering everything between the numbers, kamikaze blitzing – than Briggs' spot over on the weak side of the formation.

Briggs may be the better player right now, but he is much more replaceable than Urlacher in this Cover-2 scheme.

KP: Which of Chicago's draft picks has been the most impressive so far?

JC: Believe it or not, it's probably sixth-round safety Al Afalava, who earns constant praise from coach Lovie Smith and will be in the starting lineup Saturday against the Giants. He's tough in the box and a sure tackler near the line of scrimmage, and he even started to make some plays in coverage the last week or so of training camp. The bad news is that Kevin Payne is forced to play out of position at free safety in order to make room for Afalava at strong safety, but with the secondary all kinds of banged up, they're the best the Bears have these days.

None of the three pass catchers drafted looks ready to be a big contributor just yet, although third rounder Jarron Gilbert has done well and should be a part of the rotation along the defensive line.

Be on the lookout for Part II of this two-part series, where Ken answers five questions from John, on Saturday.

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