Behind Enemy Lines: Bears Reaction

VikingUpdate.com corresponded with John Crist of BearReport.com about some of Chicago's interesting offseason moves, from position switches to draft picks, from coaching moves to trades. See what the Bears team expert had to say about the team he covers.

Tim Yotter: From the outside, it looks like the Bears lost a lot at defensive tackle with Alfonso Boone and Ian Scott signing elsewhere and now the release of Tank Johnson. Who is most likely to replace Johnson in the starting lineup, and how will that affect the defense overall?

John Crist:
Head coach Lovie Smith was Johnson's biggest supporter and gave him every opportunity to rehabilitate his career, but that's not to say the Bears don't have anyone capable of taking over as the starter. Second-year pro Dusty Dvoracek is the leading candidate and will most likely open the season with the first team, but he missed all of last year on injured reserve with a foot injury. Antonio Garay has always been more talented than his play would suggest, and free agent signee Anthony Adams has the look of a Cover-2 defensive tackle and was simply a bad fit in San Francisco's 3-4 scheme.

Assuming Tommie Harris returns to Pro Bowl form, whomever lines up next to him will see plenty of one-on-ones and have myriad opportunities to succeed.

TY: The Ron Rivera saga was an interesting and perplexing one to follow early in the offseason. Was his relationship with Lovie Smith that bad that he would accept a demotion with another team, and will Bob Babich's defense be any different from a schematic or philosophical standpoint?

JC: The Bears were secretly hoping that Rivera would land one of the many head-coaching positions he interviewed for the last two years because they didn't want to excuse him the way they did. Rivera cut his teeth under the blitz-happy Jimmie Johnson with the Eagles, while Babich is more of a classic Cover 2 guy like Smith. Although Smith has refused to admit it since the move was made, I believe Rivera and Smith were never truly on the same page defensively – that problem should go away with Babich at the controls.

Make no mistake about it, even though Rivera was the defensive coordinator last year and Babich will be in 2007, this is Smith's defense.

TY: I know the Bears have been looking to upgrade at tight end for some time, and I really thought the selection of Greg Olsen was a great value pick at No. 31. From what you've seen in offseason practices, will he be the starter and is he forging a trust with Rex Grossman?

JC:
Incumbent Desmond Clark had the best season of his career in 2006 and did nothing to lose his job as the starter, so Olsen will be a complementary player as a rookie. Clark took every snap at tight end in the offseason program, while Olsen lined up everywhere from tight end to H-back to fullback at times. The former Hurricane certainly looks like the real deal and made an incredible one-handed snare on a high pass from Chris Leak over the middle on the final day of OTAs, so offensive coordinator Ron Turner must be imaginative with his newest weapon.

Also look for the Bears to employ a fair amount of two-tight sets this season in order to get Clark and Olsen on the field at the same time to create matchup problems.

TY: The move of Devin Hester to the offensive side of the ball is another astute move, in my opinion. But the questions are: How big of an impact do you really expect him to have as a receiver in 2007, how has he looked and how are they going to use him?

JC:
All hyperbole aside, you could made a convincing case that Hester was the single most impressive player on either side of the ball during the offseason program. I expected him to struggle running routes and catching the ball consistently, but aside from breaking the huddle and not knowing where to go a few times, he looked sensational. He lined up out wide, in the slot, and even took a few snaps in the backfield toward the end of OTAs.

Hester's not going to catch 60 balls or anything like that, but he'll inevitably author a few highlight-reel plays on offense and might even be just as effective as a decoy from time to time.

TY: The one move I really don't understand is just letting Thomas Jones go in free agency. I understand that Cedric Benson wants to be the featured back, but I'm not sure they can trust him to carry the full-time load given his pro history. Are you convinced that was a good move, and do you think he'll be able to hold up and be effective with a dramatically increased workload?

JC:
Jones was very productive for three seasons and one of the most respected members of the locker room, but there was simply no way he and Benson were going to amicably co-exist for another season. And considering the $17 million investment in Benson two years ago, the time has come for the organization to start seeing what they have in the former No. 4 overall draft pick. Remember that Benson was an absolute workhorse at Texas and carried the ball more than anyone in the country as a collegian, and although he's sustained a few ticky-tack injuries as a pro, I believe the "injury-prone" label is a little premature.

I'm absolutely convinced trading Jones was a good move and predicted it as early as the 2006 preseason, and I'm looking for Benson to put up 1,300-1,400 yards and 10-12 touchdowns should he stay healthy.


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