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NFC Central: Chicago Bears
In the first of five installments on the NFC Central, we take a look at the 5th place projected Chicago Bears.
After having yet another disappointing season, the Bears once again were the cellar-dwellers of the Central, finishing 5-11, the Bears looked to improve on a young talent base. Unfortunately, while Chicago might have solutions at 21 of the 22 positions, the one position that requires the most attention is still going unnoticed; and thats Quarterback.
The Bears objective over the offseason was to keep the starting Offensive Line intact while improving the depth, as well as adding talent to the skill positions. The Quarterback position wasnt really addressed, despite the obvious need.
At Quarterback, the Bears brought back Shane Matthews who is competing with Jim Miller for the starting job. Matthews currently has the advantage, but if Miller can stay on the field, he might push for the job. Former first round draft pick Cade McNown is now being shopped around the league for a conditional draft pick, an obvious sign that McNown can now officially be declared a "bust".
In the backfield, James Allen will return as the starter. Skip Hicks was signed and Anthony Thomas was drafted to provide depth and push Allen, but Allen has improved on his own and looks to have the starting job, as long as he can stay healthy. The team also signed Damion Shelton away from Jacksonville to take over the lead blocking duties. Allen surprised many by rushing for more than 1,000 yards last season, and Hicks along with Thomas provide much better depth. An improved Allen, better depth, and a good lead blocker help improve the position.
At wideout, the team used its first round draft pick to select playmaker David Terrell. Terrell was supposed to become the #2 receiver, and learn from star Marcus Robinson. However, Robinsons back injury has forced Terrell into the spotlight. Terrell, along with Bobby Engram and Dez White, will have to make up for the loss of Robinson, a tough task. Engram has never become the go-to receiver that many expected him to, while White struggled in his first season. Fred Baxter will be the starter at Tight End, but there depth was hurt with the loss of backup Kaseem Sincero. They signed veteran John Davis from Minnesota to add depth. The group here is solid, but without the star in Robinson, this unit will struggle.
Up front, the Bears lost OG Todd Perry to the Miami Dolphins, but they plan to replace him from within using OG Rex Tucker. The Bears also drafted OG Mike Gandy and OT Bernard Robertson to add depth to an already solid Offensive Line. Gandy has been slowed by injuries, while Robertson has impressed with his ability to play all 5 positions. Tackles Blake Brockermeyer and James Williams provide solid leadership, and C Olin Kreutz is one of the best young Centers in the game.
The Bears looked to improve upfront on defense, mainly because last years group underachieved.
To improve the front four, they signed NT Ted Washington to start and signed DT Keith Traylor to hold the other spot up front. Young DT Robert Newkirk has been impressive in camp, and he was a main reason why the Bears decided to let incumbent DT Mike Wells go. These three will be in charge of stuffing the middle to allow DE Philip Daniels to create more of a pass rush, and to allow MLB Brian Urlacher room to roam, similar to what the Ravens did with Ray Lewis. Bryan Robinson will start opposite Daniels, but isnt much for generating a pass rush. Thats a main reason why the team drafted DE Karon Riley, to bring an outside pass rush. Riley has struggled thusfar in camp, but has been working hard and trying to pick up everything he can from coaches and veteran players. The hope is that with the addition of Washington and Traylor, the team can create more of a pass-rush from the Defensive Ends and take pressure off the secondary.
At Linebacker, Urlacher is the leader in the middle. After being named Defensive Rookie of the Year, the Bears are expecting him to begin to play like an All-Pro. The young group that surrounds him isnt spectacular, but should be able to get the job done. Warrick Holdman and Bobbie Howard will compete for the starting spot at the weak-side, while Roosevelt Colvin has improved since last season after his first year as a starter at the Strong-Side spot. With the experience, this young group should do fine.
In the defensive backfield, the Bears are just average. The team returns a great pair of Safeties in FS Mike Brown and SS Tony Parrish. Brown was drafted last year with the expectation of being the third Safety, but he beat out Shawn Wooden for the starting spot and never looked back. Walt Harris will most likely start at one Cornerback spot, but the other one is up for grabs. Thomas Smith has been a disappointment since coming over from Buffalo, and is being pushed by R.W. McQuarters for the other starting position. CB Jerry Azumah will also be in the mix. Smith will be the key to this group. The team gave him a big contract, and now theyll need him to play like hes worth it. Without a solid performance from him, this defense will still struggle to shutdown opponents passing games.
This team has made some improvements, but a lot of things will still have to go right for this team to contend. Losing Robinson really hurts the offense, and their lack of a legit starting Quarterback forces them to work from a disadvantage already. Daniels and Smith are two veterans signed in the 2000 offseason who under-performed, and need to improve for this team to have a chance. In other words, dont expect much to change from last season.
6-10, Last in NFC Central