John Crist: Forte has been one of the few workhorse backs in the league since he came to the Windy City, and while he was a revelation as a rookie and at times carried the offense single-handedly, he dealt with a few injuries last season and wasn't very effective. While Forte is much healthier now than he was a year ago, the Bears didn't pay Taylor all that money in free agency just to be an insurance policy. He's going to play quite a lot, and his skills appear to be a good fit for Mike Martz's offense, so Forte isn't a virtual certainty for 20-25 carries anymore.
If I had to guess, I'd say the Forte-Taylor split resembles what the Bears did during the Super Bowl campaign of 2006, when it ended up being approximately two series with Thomas Jones for every one with Cedric Benson.
TY: Mike Tice was a very solid offensive line coach for the Vikings during his time here, and his direct personality endears him to some and turns off others. What sort of results do you expect with the offensive line, and how do you see his personality working with Mike Martz's offensive philosophy?
JC: It was time for some fresh blood at offensive line coach, as Harry Hiestand was never really given an abundance of talent, but he never seemed to maximize the talent he was given, either. While Hiestand was far from a big personality, as I never once did a one-on-one interview with him in five seasons covering the team, Tice brings a much more impressive resume to the table and should command the respect of his players. The personnel is largely the same, which is a bit of a concern since the Bears were terrible along the offensive line in 2009, but everybody is back at home with Chris Williams finally taking over at left tackle and Frank Omiyale now at right tackle following his failed experiment at left guard.
This has been a man-on-man blocking system for quite some time, which is very old-school in nature, but Martz will no doubt employ more zone schemes since his offense has always been more about finesse than power.
TY: Jay Cutler enters his second year with the Bears, but his first with Mike Martz as his offensive coordinator. What are the expectations of him, and how is Cutler reacting to a new coordinator and his second season in the Second City?
JC: Even though Martz criticized Cutler this past season for the way he treated the media following a four-interception performance in a Week 1 loss at Green Bay, at least so far, both coordinator and quarterback have done nothing but lob praise back and forth to each other. Martz puts an unbelievable amount of pressure on the game's most important position, and Cutler is willing to handle all that responsibility. Cutler's two biggest concerns last year were 35 sacks and a league-leading 26 interceptions, and if you study the history of Martz's offense, his QBs get sacked quite a bit and throw a fair amount of interceptions.
In terms of expectations, Cutler doesn't have to morph into Kurt Warner 2.0 and become an instant MVP candidate, but he needs to put together a much more impressive TD-to-INT ratio – 27-to-26 won't cut it – and take better care of the football in the red zone.
TY: It appears the Bears focused heavily on improving their personnel at safety by drafting Major Wright and trading for Chris Harris. Will those two be the starters on opening weekend, and what kind of impact do you expect the new safeties to have on the overall defense?
JC: The Bears were nothing short of atrocious at both safety positions last year, as evidenced by the fact that one former starter, Kevin Payne, was traded to St. Louis for a conditional seventh-round pick, and another starter, Al Afalava, is no guarantee to make the 53-man roster. Drafting Wright and trading for Harris sure looks to be an improvement on paper, although right now Wright is only getting second-team reps behind the yearly question mark that is Danieal Manning. The coaching staff moved Manning from free safety to strong safety this season in order to take advantage of his in-the-box skills, plus that may prevent him from making some of the back-breaking mistakes we've seen from him at times in deep coverage.
The problem with Manning's move, however, is that Harris is now being asked to be the last line of defense at free safety, when everything about his game suggests he's also better in the box and needs to be at strong safety.
TY: In addition to the changes mentioned above, Julius Peppers was probably the biggest offseason signing in the league. Where do you think the Bears have improved the most and where do you still see a need for improvement?
JC: Peppers can only help the end rotation, as Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye were solid all-around players but simply didn't put enough pressure on the enemy passer. Neither will be missed on the field, although a lot of fans are still angry about Brown being sent away since he gave 100 percent each and every Sunday, suited up every week no matter how banged up he was and helped keep the locker room loose with his playful personality. The coaches have a lot of confidence in Mark Anderson starting opposite Peppers in 2010, which is curious since he was a complete disaster as the starter ahead of Brown back in 2007.
It remains to be seen if the Bears have improved enough along the offensive line and at safety, as Martz's system isn't going to work without adequate protection and you can't run the Cover-2 unless there is excellent play from both safeties.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Bears, Pt. II
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