I spent the last week visiting the Pacific Coast. It was sunny, cool, and humidity free. I spent the days camping, hiking, and swimming, and discovered that it's probably better to spend my time doing that than sitting at my desk and work and hitting "refresh" on NFL.com and ProFootballTalk just to see if anything worth discussing has popped up. Alas, I had to return, and just as I come home from camping, the Bears are putting up the tents. Hopefully this year's training camp will avoid the frenzied coverage that Cutler's arrival brought to it last year, even though there's (rightfully) more pressure on all involved to get things done this year. With all that said, on to unit by unit previews of your 2010 Chicago Bears, starting today with the offense:
QUARTERBACKS- #6 Jay Cutler, #12 Caleb Hanie, #15 Dan LeFevour, Mike Teel
Cutler is obviously the player under the most scrutiny this year, and while my own position on the guy's struggles last year has been made abundantly clear, that's just part of the job description for an NFL quarterback. I've waxed and waned all spring and summer with regards to how good of a fit Jay really is in Martz's offense. Right now I'm optimistic. Martz has really only coached one quarterback in his career that had a truly dynamic arm, and that was Warner. In the case of Marc Bulger, Trent Green, Jon Kitna, and whatever refuse he started in San Francisco, Martz has managed to at least improve quarterbacks who would most likely have struggled or even failed to receive an opportunity without him. With Cutler's undeniable talents, this is a marriage that Should work. Right now, I'm willing to believe that it will.
Hanie is a meathead favorite, a guy with a big arm and good mobility who should keep the back-up job he held last year. I don't see Mike Teel offering much of anything, and he should be cut as soon as camp breaks. LeFevour is obviously the most intriguing of the back-up options, and he'll stay simply because Martz likes his projects.
RUNNINGBACKS- #22 Matt Forte, #29 Chester Taylor, #32 Khalil Bell, #25 Garrett Wolfe, and #48 Harvey Unga
Matt Forte had a pretty craptacular year last year. The usual pieces have been written this year about how he's "recoverd his burst" and "looks like a new guy," and if you want to believe them, go right ahead. I don't think the kid was ever that hurt. He seemed to lose the willingness to hit the hole, but that happens when you get used to getting clobbered in the backfield before you've even secured the ball. If the line improves (you'll hear me say that alot), he'll thrive in this system, which utilizes both his running and receiving skills. If it doesn't, the rookie Unga and his greater size may be the best bet at any kind of running game. Either way, Taylor and Forte will catch more passes than they probably ever have at any level this year. Bell and Wolfe are as good as gone (and in Wolfe's case, it's about f*&king time).
WIDE RECEIVERS- #23 Devin Hester, #19 Devin Aromashodu, #80 Earl Bennett, #13 Johnny Knox, #81 Rashied Davis, #83 Freddie Barnes, #17 Juaquin Iglesias, #16 Greg Matthews, #11 Eric Peterman, #18 Antonio Robinson
Hester will probably be the #1 again this year, and it'll ensue more debate, and it won't matter because arguing over who's #1 is nonsensical when it comes to receivers, especially in this offense, as there's no major difference between #1 or #2. For what it's worth, Hester was well on pace to catch 75 balls and have over 1,000 yds before he missed some time with injuries last year. Aromashodu is everyone's fantasy sleeper this year, which probably means nothing. Cutler does seem to enjoy having one big target among this group, and he's more "miscast" in his likely role in the slot than Hester is as a #1. If they were going to make that switch, it would be to see what Aromashodu can do as a starter, not because Hester can't do the job. Johnny Knox seems to be the guy making the biggest strides this offseason, and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up leading the team in yards this year. Bennett is a quality possession guy who reminds me a lot of Bobby Engram. That's a good thing to have, depth-wise. Iglesias has all the makings of a bust, while Barnes, Matthews, Peterman, and Robinson get to compete for the coveted Mike Hass Award for Fan Favorite Wideout Who Impresses in the Preseason and Never Comes Close to the Active Roster (MHAFFFWWIITPANCCTTAR, for short).
TIGHT ENDS- #82 Greg Olsen, #88 Desmond Clark, #86 Brandon Manumaleuna, #87 Kellen Davis, #89 Richard Angulo
As usual, this position is a strength on the team. The big debate has been over whether or not Martz will "use" his tight ends, but I think that's all a load of crock. As I've said before, there's very little schematic difference between the Martz Rams offense and the Vermeil Chiefs offense, and those guys had no trouble utilizing Tony Gonzalez. The lack of fullbacks on the training camp roster (Eddie Williams and Will Ta'ufo'ou are the only ones listed, and neither of them has much experience or a pedigree) has me convinced that Manumaleuna is likely to spend most of his time as an H-back, and thus will be on the field with Olsen most of the time. I wouldn't be surprised to see Desmond Clark cut. I like Desmond, and he's certainly been the best tight end the Bears have had in my lifetime, but his skills are diminishing and it's hard to argue that the young and promising Kellen Davis couldn't offer similar production at a lower price. I've never even heard of Richard Angulo.
OFFENSIVE TACKLES: #74 Chris Williams, #68 Frank Omiyale, #78 Kevin Shaffer, #79 Levi Horn, #72 James Marten, #73 J'Marcus Webb.
Chris Williams is one of three locked-in starters on the line. Last year was essentially his rookie season, and he had to start out at right tackle, a position he wasn't used to. He struggled mightily at first, and was nearly as much to blame for the early season run-game struggles as his fat, worthless counterpart Orlando Pace. However, when Pace was finally sent off to live on the Old and Worthless Tackle Farm with Big Cat Williams and Fred Miller, Williams played exceptionally well on the left side and even earned the commendation of the statheads at Football Outsiders. He's a keeper.
Frank Omiyale is built like a tackle and played tackle in college and in Carolina. The Bears paid him tackle money before deciding to go after Orland Pace. To justify the big contract, they moved Omiyale to guard, where he was predictably awful. Absolutely, Brian Griese-level awful. Hopefully the move back to right tackle will help. Until he proves he can actually block something more than the Bears' playoff aspirations, however, Frank remains on my shitlist.
Kevin Shaffer is fine in small doses, but I don't expect much from the right side if he starts. J'Marcus Webb seems likely to get the "medical redshirt," meaning he'll be placed on IR with some vague-sounding injury and allowed to compete for a spot on the roster next year. Horn and Marten are just tackling dummies who can talk (in theory).
Offensive Guards: #62 Johan Asiata, #63 Roberto Garza, #67 Josh Beekman, #60 Lance Louis, #70 Vince Vance
The Bears have tried to get younger at this position, but it remains to be seen whether any of these guys outside of Garza can be effective starters. Beekman looked okay in 2008, but has since become the heir presumptive to Olin Kreutz at center (a switch I think could happen as early as this year). Asiata seems the most likely option to start at left guard, as the staff believes he has the most potential and he's got more experience at guard than Vance or Louis. I'd look for Garza and Asiata to start, with Beekman officially moved to center and Louis as the main back up. Vance will probably hit the streets or the practice squad.
Centers: #57 Olin Kreutz, #64 Tim Walter
Kreutz has declined marginally in each of the last few seasons. He just had surgery to remove a bone spur. The Bears are selling that as a good thing, but I'm not sold. I hope Olin can still be a starter, but I also hope the Bears don't allow sentimentality to prevent them from making the switch to Beekman if it becomes necessary. Walter's just another guy.
That does it for the offense. I think as a whole the team should see improved play from all of these units. The area most in need of improvement is obviously the offensive line. I'm one of many who have complained that the Bears didn't do enough to fix this position, but I'm also well aware that it's a position that varies wildly from year to year and often defies most predictions. It'd be hard to imagine them playing much worse, but I wouldn't rule it out. An improvement from atrociously bad to "not embarassing" would allow these team a shot at having a playoff-caliber offense. I'm hoping that's what will happen.