John Crist, Editor-in-Chief, BearReport.com: Smith said all the right things to Bears fans at the press conference that accounted his hiring. He had three goals for this franchise: to beat Green Bay, to win the NFC North, and to win the Super Bowl. Two of those goals have already been accomplished, and the third looks like a reasonable expectation in year three. Smith brought a solid resume on the defensive side of the ball after his time in Tampa Bay and St. Louis, and Chicago is and will always be a city that expects tough defense. He doesn't get too high after wins and doesn't get too low after losses, so he has provided a calming influence since day one.
Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman (8) hands off the ball to running back Thomas Jones (20) during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2006. The Bears won 19-16. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Doug Farrar: Quarterback Rex Grossman is off to a fairly incendiary start after three undistinguished seasons in the NFL. Why has the light gone on this year? What are his primary strengths and weaknesses?
John Crist: I don't necessarily believe that the light has finally turned on with Grossman. He has always had the ability and intangibles to be a successful NFL quarterback, but the first three years of his career have been interrupted by downright unlucky injuries. We're not talking about a scrambler who keeps taking helmet-to-helmet hits from linebackers, yet he's had some freak accidents that have caused him to miss a lot of action. That being said, I believe his time out of the lineup has allowed him to study the game from the sideline and in the film room. He still tries a little too hard to look for the big play, but he is getting better every week at trusting all of his receiving threats and taking what the defense gives him.
Doug Farrar: If there’s one bugaboo in the Chicago equation so far this year, it’s been the running game – the Bears and Seahawks have that in common. The Bears are first in the league in yards per pass play and 29th in yards per rush. Why can’t Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson get off the schnied?
John Crist: First of all, you can't discount the fact that both Jones and Benson missed the majority of training camp with injuries. Jones pulled a hamstring before the first practice, and Benson sprained his shoulder on an awkward one-two hit from Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown. The two of them have been in the system for a full year and understand their assignments just fine, but there is no substitute for reps. Nevertheless, the Bears had three tailbacks average at least 4.1 yards per carry last season even with no semblance of a passing game, but they are only getting about three yards a crack this year despite Grossman's success through the air. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner spent almost the entire preseason getting the passing attack in order and assuming that the ground game would be fine, so for lack of a better term, I think they're just rusty.
Doug Farrar: Mushin Muhammad is the name everyone knows when talking about the Bears’ receivers, but who else do we need to know about?
John Crist: Muhammad led the league in receiving yards in 2004 with Carolina but had his production just about cut in half last year, his first with the Bears. He spent a good portion of 2005 repeatedly blaming rookie quarterback Kyle Orton for his struggles, but with the emergence of Grossman, Muhammad is proving once again that he is still capable of being a Pro-Bowler. Bernard Berrian was the most impressive player in training camp before another in a long line of track star-like injuries slowed him down, but he has made his share of big plays and entrenched himself as a starter. Mark Bradley has all the tools to be a dominant receiver in this league, but he had a horrific knee injury in Week 7 a year ago and is still working his way back. The biggest surprise so far has been Rashied Davis, a former Arena Leaguer who was playing cornerback as recently as last season, but he has found a home as a slot receiver and caught the winning TD pass against the Vikings.
Doug Farrar: What can you tell us about the team’s offensive line? Who’s the star, and where’s the weakness?
John Crist: Center Olin Kreutz is a perennial All-Pro and perhaps the single most respected player in the locker room. Tackles John Tait and Fred Miller came to the team via free agency and are reliable, veteran players. Guard Ruben Brown may not be the Pro Bowl performer he was back in his Buffalo days but is still a solid contributor, and Roberto Garza took over for Terrence Metcalf at the other guard and hasn't looked back. This is a seasoned unit that has started more than 500 NFL games combined. If there is a flaw it's that they are definitely an older group, so they may be more susceptible to ticky-tack injuries, and the depth behind them is questionable.