QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Kyle Orton. Backups - Rex Grossman, Caleb Hanie.
Orton may be the safer bet and more capable of managing the offense while avoiding mistakes. The Bears have won big with both Orton and Grossman. Orton got them to the postseason as a rookie in 2005, and Grossman was the starter during the run to Super Bowl XLI. This time Orton will get to use the whole playbook, unlike in '05 when the game plan was dialed down because of his inexperience. Hanie, an undrafted rookie from Colorado State, made a good impression in the preseason.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Matt Forte, FB Jason McKie. Backups - RB Kevin Jones, RB Adrian Peterson, RB Garrett Wolfe.
Forte appears to be a huge upgrade over first-round bust Cedric Benson, whose combination of poor production and off-field problems led to his off-season release. Forte, the second-round pick from Tulane, has already shown to be a better receiver and blocker than Benson. Jones was snagged after he was cut by the Lions, and although he missed most of training camp rehabbing his surgically repaired knee, he could be close to full speed by the regular-season opener, and his physical style is an effective complement to Forte. Peterson is a valuable backup and third-down option as a pass receiver, while 5-foot-7 Wolfe has demonstrated enough big-play ability to carve out a specialty niche.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Desmond Clark. Backups - Greg Olsen, Kellen Davis.
Ten-year veteran Clark keeps on getting it done as a reliable target and decent blocker. Olsen should play almost as many snaps, often at the same time as Clark. Last year's first-round pick flashed exceptional talent as a pass catcher, even if he's deficient as a blocker. Davis looks like a fifth-round steal. At 6-foot-7, 262 pounds, with 4.65 speed, he could be special.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters – Rashied Davis, Devin Hester. Backups - Marty Booker, Brandon Lloyd, Earl Bennett.
The first four are practically interchangeable and all four could wind up splitting time evenly, at least until Hester becomes as proficient a pass catcher as he is a kick returner. The knock on this group is that it lacks a legitimate No. 1. The Bears believe Hester can be one in the future, but he's still a work in progress. Lloyd has impressed throughout the preseason, but he has to prove he can do it when it counts and be a team guy, neither of which he's accomplished in five previous seasons. Booker was the main man in the past and, although Davis lacks size and isn't quite a true speed guy, he's tough and consistent, will be in the mix somewhere and could have a breakout season. Early on, this is expected to be a committee effort with no one player putting up big numbers.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT John St. Clair, LG Josh Beekman, C Olin Kreutz, RG Roberto Garza, RT John Tait. Backups – G Chester Adams, T Chris Williams, G Tyler Reed, T Fred Miller, C Dan Buenning.
Veteran backup St. Clair ended last season at left guard, and he may well have found himself back there if not for the back surgery that will keep first-round pick Williams off the field for at least half the season. The Bears say they will not move 33-year-old Tait back to left tackle, where he started the previous three seasons. He moved to right tackle after Williams was drafted. Six-time Pro Bowler Kreutz is still one of the best, and Garza is solid, but that might not be enough. None of the backups beyond Williams provides any cause for optimism.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Adewale Ogunleye, LT Tommie Harris, NT Anthony Adams, RE Alex Brown. Backups -- DT Marcus Harrison, DT/DE Israel Idonije, DE Mark Anderson, DT Mark Toeaina.
With three-time Pro Bowler Harris back healthy at the "3" technique, and Adams capable of playing well at either spot, the Bears have talent and depth. Because injuries killed them inside last season, Idonije bulked up by 20 pounds so he could focus more on tackle after playing inside and outside in the past, and Harrison was drafted in the third round. Brown doesn't put up big sack numbers, but he's solid in all phases. Ogunleye is a better pass rusher but also plays the run well. Anderson's sack total fell from 12 as a rookie in 2006 to five last season when he was a starter, but he can be effective as a situational rusher.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Nick Roach. Backups - Jamar Williams, Hunter Hillenmeyer.
As long as Urlacher and Briggs don't get complacent after big pay days - Briggs got a $36 million, six-year deal and Urlacher got a one-year extension worth $18 million in new money - this unit will be one of the NFL's best. Hillenmeyer gets overlooked, but he's smart and doesn't make mistakes. This will be his fifth straight season as a starter alongside the two superstars. Williams can play all three LB positions and Roach has moved into the starting lineup.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Charles Tillman, RCB Daniel Manning, SS Kevin Payne, FS Mike Brown. Backups -- CB Corey Graham, S Kevin Payne, S Craig Steltz, CB Corey Graham, SS Terrance Holt.
Tillman is big and physical, and an exceptional athlete. Graham has made great strides in his second season. Safety seems deep, but durability concerns are many considering the extensive injury histories of Brown and McGowan. History says second-year man Payne and rookie Steltz will be needed, but both are unproven. Manning, a starter at free safety in his first two NFL seasons, is being tried at nickel, but the early results were mixed, and he could wind up back at safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Robbie Gould, P Brad Maynard, LS Pat Mannelly, KOR Devin Hester, PR Devin Hester.
Hester is simply the best, although his return workload could be curtailed a bit if he becomes a bigger part of the passing game. Gould is one of the most accurate in NFL history, and he was rewarded with a five-year, $15.5 million extension, one of the richest ever for his position. Maynard is as good as ever in his 12th season, which is pretty good. Mannelly is practically automatic, and he helps out on the coverage units, which are among the NFL's best.
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