JC: Offensively, it has to be Bernard Berrian. One of the biggest questions coming into 2006 for the Bears was the lack of a secondary wide receiver opposite Muhsin Muhammad, but Berrian has proven to be one of the better deep threats in the league and might have cracked the 1,000-yard barrier had he not missed some time with bruised ribs midseason. His ability to stretch the field has opened up the middle for Desmond Clark and allowed Muhammad to become more of a possession receiver. The runner-up would probably be Jason McKie. He's become a solid receiving threat from the fullback position and was rewarded by GM Jerry Angelo with a five-year contract extension.
TK: Why has WR Bernard Berrian been so quiet in the past two games (11 catches, 76 yards)?
JC: I don't know if 11 receptions in two games counts as "quiet" considering that would equate to an 88-catch season. That being said, the Bears played the Buccaneers and Lions the last two weeks, and both of those teams employ the Cover 2 defense. The main responsibility of the safeties in that scheme is to split the field down the middle and not be beaten deep, so it's difficult for Berrian to get behind the secondary and make big plays. Consequently, Clark has been the open man in the middle of the field and set a career high with 125 yards receiving against the Bucs. When Grossman is playing well, he simply throws the ball to the open man and doesn't play favorites, hence the periodic pullback in Berrian's production.
TK: How many losses would the Bears have without Devin Hester this season?
JC: They absolutely would have lost the Arizona game in Week 6 until he pulled that rabbit out of his hat late in the fourth quarter. And they may have won by 15 points, but the Bears certainly could have lost the St. Louis game in Week 14 without Hester's double-dip. He has obviously been special in the return game this season, and even when he's not taking back kicks and punts for touchdowns, he's flipping the field position and generally scaring opponents to death. He seems to have a bad day every now and then and struggles with decision making and catching the ball cleanly, but there are very few return men against whom you have to gameplan. Hester is already one of those chosen few and has given a new dimension to this Bears team as a rookie.
TK: What other Bears from their 2006 draft class have made contributions this season?
JC: Despite not having a first-round pick, you could argue that the Bears have the most productive rookie class in football. We've already detailed what Hester, a second-rounder, has done this season on special teams. Fifth-round selection Mark Anderson leads the team with 12 sacks despite only starting one game this season. He slipped in the draft because he was considered too small to play end and too big to play linebacker, but he's proven to be a natural as a pass-rusher. Danieal Manning was a relative unknown in the second round coming out of Abilene Christian, but he stepped right in at free safety and is arguably the best athlete in the Chicago secondary.
TK: How important is it to the Bears that they beat the Packers on Sunday night, even though the game means nothing for them? Do you expect Lovie Smith to play the starters the whole game?
JC: When Lovie Smith first took over as head coach in 2004, he listed three specific goals for the franchise: win the division, win the Super Bowl, and beat Green Bay. We all know that this game means absolutely nothing to the Bears in terms of their postseason seeding, but this team wants to finish strong and go into January on a roll.
There would also be a degree of satisfaction keeping the Packers out of the playoffs if they would indeed qualify with a win. Smith says that he will play his starters long enough to secure a win, but even if the game is not in hand, I would be very surprised to see the starting units out there for long after halftime. Players like Grossman and Urlacher won't play the whole game, but they'll be playing to win.