DE's: #90 Julius Peppers, #71 Israel Idonije, #99 Shea McClellin, #98 Corey Wootton, #95 Cheta Ozougwu
It's difficult to say which unit needs to improve more this year between the offensive line and defensive line. Julius Peppers, of course, needs only to stay healthy and match his usual production, but the others all have tons of potential and plenty of questions. Izzy is still solid against the run, but can he pass rush like he did in 2010? Can Shea McClellin be enough of a presence on third down and in passing situations to justify his draft slot? Can Corey Wootton stay healthy and be something other than the man who ended Brett Favre's career? Can Cheta Ozougwu be more than just an awesome name and keep himself on the roster all year?
I still like this unit's potential. The Idonije/McClellin combo will provide more than enough spark to improve on last year's production and for once provide the numbers you'd expect from the bookend to Julius Peppers. Wootton needs only to develop into a guy who can spell Peppers for 5-6 plays a game. Cheta has an awesome name.
DTs: #69 Henry Melton, #92 Stephen Paea, #75 Matt Toeiana, #91 Amobi Okoye,
The Bears usually keep 9 defensive linemen, and this year is no exception, although it's surprising to see them go with just four DTs. It helps that Idonije, Melton, and Okoye all have experience playing both inside and out.
Melton was spectacular last year at times, as he finished with seven sacks, which was just a half sack behind Geno Atkins and Tommy Kelly for most by a DT in the NFL. He also disappeared for several games, however, so the important thing for him this year is finding consistency in his second full year on the interior of the line. The Bears were extremely fortunate that Greg Schiano's tough guy routine apparently led to him cutting a player who missed all of the preseason even though he was on pace to play in week one, so now they get Amobi, an extremely valuable backup three technique who contributed four sacks in part time duty, for a bargain bin price once again.
Paea had a great camp and was named the starter before he suffered an ankle injury that's seemingly taking forever to heal. If he can ever put it all together and stay in the lineup his skillset makes him the rare 4-3 nose tackle who has quickness to go along with his ability to draw double teams. He'll vastly upgrade the line if he's healthy, but they may end up with another season of solid-but-boring Matt Toeiana.
SLBs: #53 Nick Roach, #58 Geno Hayes
Nick Roach has quietly been a pretty solid player at the most unappreciated position on the Bears defense. For a guy who mostly slams himself into fullbacks in order to give Urlacher and Briggs room to make plays, he does pretty well. He's not a liability in coverage and he can play some MLB.
Geno Hayes was a solid signing. He's got a great deal of starting experience at WLB in Tampa Bay, but he can back up either OLB spot and has looked solid at SLB in the preseason.
MLBs: #54 Brian Urlacher, #52 Blake Costanzo
Urlacher's obviously the biggest question mark right now (he practiced on Monday solely because Telander made sure Emery was on to his ruse), but even if his knee is an issue you can still expect him to be one of the better middle linebackers in the game. In many ways his ability to get other people in position is even more valuable than his physical ability at this point.
Costanzo is a special teams ace and actually looked half-decent at MLB in the preseason. If Urlacher can't go Roach will get first crack, but it may not be DOOM if Costanzo has to play a game or so.
WLBs: #55 Lance Briggs, #97 JT Thomas, #59 Patrick Trahan
Lance Briggs is awesome, and just got a contract extension that he'll wait at least three games to bitch about.
JT Thomas seemed destined for the waiver wire after a year off with an injury and an offseason arrest, but he made plays in camp and during the preseason and now gets a shot to make an impact on special teams. It would be nice if they've managed to find one decent developmental linebacker. Trahan's a special teamer and nothing more.
CB: #33 Charles Tillman, #26 Tim Jennings, #30 DJ Moore, #24 Kelvin Hayden, #27 Sherrick McManis
P'Nut had a bad preseason game and it naturally brought the idiots who still don't understand zone coverage and ignore the fact that he MADE THE GODDAMN PRO BOWL last year. He's the very definition of a prototypical Cover 2 corner and hopefully has several years of ball-punching awesomeness left.
Tim Jennings was actually better than Tillman in coverage (THAT'S A COMPLIMENT YOU TILLMAN-HATING MORONS) last year but hasn't forced as many turnovers as he should. He held onto his job but will be in trouble the next time he fails to hang onto another dropped interception.
DJ Moore is an awesome nickelback and his best feature is that he's irritating as shit. Try to watch the wide receivers that DJ covers sometime. They can't fucking stand him.
Kelvin Hayden seems to be healthy, and that's good, because he's got the most experience of all four main corners on the outside and at the slot. He's great depth and may just force his way into the lineup regardless of how well Jennings plays.
Sherrick McManus was a surprise addition to the roster after he was traded by the Texans for Tyler Clutts. There's little in the way of stats or film for him, so the only thing we know about him is that the Bears apparently liked his potential on special teams better than Josh Wilhite, Isaiah Frey, or Greg McCoy.
FSs: #47 Chris Conte, #37 Anthony Walters, #46 Jeremy Jones
Sure, the safety position has plagued the Bears for nearly a decade, but at least they addressed that in the draft by taking Brandon Hard--oh fuck. He's on injured reserve already?
Okay. The situation at safety scares the piss out of all of us, and with good reason. Last year the Bears five game winning streak coincided with the pairing of Major Wright and Chris Conte at safety. Unfortunately, both of those players are made of glass and are still largely unproven. So we will sweat it out if any one goes down.
For what it's worth, I think Conte's a pretty good player who should make more plays on the ball this year. Anthony Walters is a hard hitter who hasn't gotten many reps on defense, but doesn't inspire much confidence. Who the hell is Jeremy Jones?
SSs: #21 Major Wright, #20 Craig Steltz
Major Wright is, as far as I can tell, made entirely of wet newspaper and he tears everything at the slightest misstep. He's also a feast or famine player in coverage, as he had three huge interceptions during the winning streak last year but also got badly burned in the loss at New Orleans. At best, his hold on the job is tenuous since, God in heaven, Craig Steltz was actually the most effective safety on the team last year. Guh.
Let's just hope that Wright and Conte stay healthy and don't just let Calvin Johnson roam free behind them. That's all.
K: #9 Robbie Gould
No discussion required. Moving on..
P: #8 Adam Podlesh, #1 Ryan Quigley
Podlesh is out for a little while with a hip injury, which sucks, because he had the best season by a punter in franchise history (presented without sarcasm. I swear). Quigley will hopefully be on the roster for no more than a week or two, at which point he'll be cut and I would assume someone like Brian Price or the suspended Nate Collins may make their way back on the roster. Or Josh McCown, which would make less sense.
LS: #65 Patrick Mannelly
Is it wrong to be this emotionally attached to a long snapper? Patrick Mannelly has been the Bears long snapper since I was in 3rd grade. I will be sad someday when he is gone.
That's it. Those are the 53 men who will charge onto the field on Sunday. Well, 45 of them will. Actually it'll be less than that since several that dress won't play. Then there's always the backup quarterback who you hope won't pla...what was I saying? There are roster moves to come in the future of course, since Podlesh is coming back at some point, Nate Collins is only suspended for one game, and Johnny Knox has six weeks to work his way back into playing shape before the Bears have to decide whether or not to shelve him all year.
In all, I'd say you can list QB, RB, TE, WR, LB, and CB as strengths. The OL and the DL will hopefully be much improved, and the safeties will hopefully just avoid doing really stupid shit (see Meriweather, Brandon). For the whole, this is appears to be the most talented team of the Lovie Era, and thus since the 1980s, at least. Hopefully that's enough. We'll find out starting Sunday.