When we last left our heroes, we were flinging our feces at them as they somehow managed to go 10-6 and miss a playoff spot when the Minnesota Vikings beat the Packers because f&%k me, that's why. Since then, as you know, they've replaced the head coach with a guy half the fanbase undoubtedly knows only as "CFL guy", drafted the son of the guy known most for the movie Broken Arrow in the first round, made a bunch of free agent moves to fix the offensive line and the tight end spot, and now enter a new season as the biggest mystery team in the NFL. So who are these guys, and what can we expect? Onto the roster!
Quarterbacks: #6 Jay Cutler, #12 Josh McCown
As they've done the last two years, the Bears entered the sensible world of the NFL and kept only two QBs, since they along with everyone else realize that whether your 3rd string QB is on the roster or on his couch, you're fucked if you're playing him either way. You all know the Jay Cutler story at this point. He's got "no excuses" even though he's now got two rookie linemen on the right side and only one wide receiver who has made it through an entire NFL season in the last three years. The fact of the matter is, no, Jay doesn't have any more excuses. He does have the most talented offense he's been a part of since at least his last year in Denver (but even they did not have Matt Forte and Michael Bush), and a head coach who sure gives the impression he understands offensive football. There are those predicting a breakout season for Jay, and understandably so. But can someone breakout this late in their career? It's happened before, but not that often.
The key for Jay this year isn't suddenly becoming a guy who can throw 50 passes a game accurately, it's being efficient on the 25-35 throws he's likely to get. I can't sit here and tell you he won't throw interceptions that will make your eyes try to crawl out of your skull in order to unsee them. He will. But he should also have the protection and help he needs to complete 60+ %, throw for 25-30 TDs, and hopefully keep his YPA relatively high. In the end I think the Jay Cutler we get will look a lot more like the guy we thought we were getting from Denver, even if he will never be the guy his talent makes you think he could be. Either way, that should be more than enough for this team to contend, and for Jay to get his money.
As for Josh McCown, well, the plan is the same: if he's coming into the game for anything more than garbage time, maybe find something better to do with your Sunday.
Halfbacks: #22 Matt Forte, #29 Michael Bush, #32 Michael Ford
Forte had the most frustrating 1,000 yard season ever last year, didn't he? You look at the stat sheet and it doesn't tell you how unbelievably irritating it was to see Mike Tice refuse to commit to the run game one week and then pound it up the gut with a back and an offensive line ill-suited for it the next. That's without even mentioning how idiotic Tice was about Forte's usage in the passing game.
Trestman doesn't seem to have an issue with that. His backs at every stop have always been used in the passing game, both as checkoffs and targets downfield. I can't guarantee Forte's rushing yardage as a whole be greater, but from week to week it seems he won't be misused.
Michael Bush is a great backup, and seems perfectly capable of doing everything Trestman wants a back to do, and also serving as the vulture every Matt Forte fantasy owner will want to stab in the eye.
Michael Ford did to Armando Allen what Armando Allen done did to Kahlil Bell last year. Hopefully he won't embarrass if called on in the regular season.
Fullback: #43 Tony Fiammetta
I still can't get over my rage that Evan Rodriguez isn't here to actually be useful in an offense that would probably have thrown to him. You drunken fat idiot. Anyway, Fiammetta is a fullback and if the Tyler Clutts thing taught us anything, it's that Bears fans will assume any fullback is good, even if they suck (and Clutts blew, people), because FULLBACKS ARE BEARS FOOTBALL.
Wide Receivers: #15 Brandon Marshall, #17 Alshon Jeffery, #80 Earl Bennett, #10 Marquess Wilson, #19 Joe Anderson, #14 Eric Weems
Brandon Marshall is the greatest receiver in Bears history. He's played one year here and I don't think anyone would dare bicker with you. I'm not terribly worried about his hip, as there's no way he'd have been practicing since the start of camp if it was actually that bad. His history demonstrates he's a sure bet to crack 1000 YDs every year, and I don't think this year will break that streak.
Alshon, is, after the offensive line, the second biggest key to this team's offensive improvement. They're just a much harder team to defend when Marshall and Jeffery offer those kinds of matchup issues on the outside, and Jeffery seems very poised for a big year in his second season.
My gut tells me this is the BBE's last go-round with the Bears, but I'm glad he's ready for week one. I think Marquess Wilson will be a good player in the NFL, and a fine #3 receiver, but Earl's experience in the slot can be a big help to this offense from the beginning.
Joe Anderson looks like he could be a #4 wide receiver someday, if he tries real hard. So, it's probably a good thing he's a #5. If you're looking for someone to tell you why Eric Weems made the roster if Hester's still here, I'm not that guy. It baffles me.
Tight Ends: #83 Martellus Bennett, #88 Dante Rosario, #87 Steve Maneri, #86 Kyle Adams.
Martellus Bennett has to feel good knowing that he could fail at nearly everything he tries to do this year and still probably be an upgrade over Kellen Davis. That said, he is (according to PFF) one of the three best blocking TEs in all of football year in and year out and last year flourished as a receiver in his first year free of Jason Witten's shadow. Jay has always favored his tight ends when he's had faith in them, even when Martz was the OC, so it seems safe to bet on Martellus having a pretty good year.
Dante Rosario isn't exactly a game-changing threat as a receiver, but he's also not someone you're scared to throw to if he's open, so that makes him an automatic improvement over the other hideous options the Bears had as their backups. From 2008-2010, when he was largely a starter in Carolina, Rosario was also a top five blocking TE, so Jay should enjoy some protection in two TE sets this year.
Maneri is a converted tackle, and it shows any time you watch him run or try to catch. But as long as he's not asked to do either of those things, he should be fine! Kyle Adams is one of those guys that everyone says "looks impressive in practice" and then doesn't actually do anything with any of the opportunities he's given in a game. I mean, shit, how does a guy who is supposedly so "versatile" and "impressive" fail to rise to the top of the shitheap that was the Bears TE situation last year?
Offensive Line: #74 Jermon Bushrod, #68 Matt Slauson, #63 Roberto Garza, #75 Kyle Long, #67 Jordan Mills, #62 Eben Britton, #78 James Brown, #60 Taylor Boggs
Did the Bears overpay for Bushrod? Probably a little, but it's easy to see why they did. He's always been an above-average tackle, and on the right day is an elite one. That's a far cry from J'Marcus Webb's wild undulations between embarrassing and "hey, he was kind of good today," and it gives the team some peace of mind in their game-planning that they haven't had before. Matt Slauson is never going to wow anyone with his workout numbers, and yet he's always graded out as a + pass protector. He's dependable, and that, too, is a massive upgrade.
Roberto Garza has now broken Olin Kreutz' record by entering a Fifth season as a Bears starting offensive lineman based solely on reputation, since his last non-shitty season was 2008 (Kreutz tanked after 2006 but held on until 2010). He's still a sort-of average-on-a-good-day pass protector, but adds nothing as a run-blocker. You can't fix everything in one year, but it seems likely the Garza Era ends next offseason at the lastest (maybe sooner, since they kept Boggs and are working Britton at center as well).
Kyle Long is good, and I'm not scared to make that bold statement. He's going to be a very good NFL guard. Mills has certainly looked solid up to this point, but if either of the two rookies is going to need some help, my money is on Jordan. I think he's also going to be a solid player eventually, though.
As for the backups? Boggs doesn't really strike me as being the heir at center so much as a guy who made the roster because he was younger and cheaper than the other underwhelming option for backup center (Edwin Williams). He also may not be on the roster long if Britton impresses in his practice reps at center and the team decides to bring back Jon Scott.
Britton and Brown are the two key backups, and interestingly enough the Bears list Brown (who has only ever played guard in the NFL, and spent the offseason battling with Long there) as a tackle and Britton (who has started way more games at tackle than guard) as a guard. Either way, I think these two are probably better backups than what the team had last year, but it's hard to imagine the team not struggling if they are forced to play for more than a game or two.
Defensive Ends: #90 Julius Peppers, #99 Shea McClellin, #98 Corey Wootton, #94 Cornelius Washington, #91 David Bass
This is the deepest position on the team in many ways, but also the one that took the biggest loss. Izzy was not the most intimidating pass-rusher, but he was a far more complete end than Wootton or McClellin and both will have to step up to replace his production in the run game, even though I expect them both to have good years as pass-rushers.
Julius Peppers is still Julius Peppers until I see any reason to think otherwise, so that's a good thing. I can see McClellin getting 7-10 sacks and still pissing off anyone who watches him get driven away from the ball against the run. Wootton has a better chance to develop into a three down DE, and needs to do so to get an extension.
Washington's talent is intriguing, but as raw and inexperienced as he is, and considering who he's behind on the roster, it's hard to see him doing much as a rookie. His roster spot was merely to protect him from waiver claims, I think. I know absolutely nothing about David Bass and won't try to fool you into thinking otherwise.
Defensive Tackles: #69 Henry Melton, #92 Stephen Paea, #93 Nate Collins, and #96 Zach Minter
Melton seems to have recovered okay from his concussion, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to develop in just his third year as a defensive tackle after getting 7 sacks his first year and making the Pro Bowl in his second. For some reason there's this perception that Stephen Paea is a disappointment, and, sure, I suppose he looks like he's talented enough to be more of a pass-rusher. His main role is to draw double-teams and slow down the run game, and with Izzy's departure he's the second best run-defender on the line after Julius Peppers. I still believe in Stephen Paea.
Collins should get as much playing time as Melton and Paea as he'll rotate with both, and he seems ready to build on the surprisingly great season he had last year. I don't think Emery gets enough credit for finding this guy off the scrap heap.
Minter was one of the more impressive UDFA's in all of the NFL in the preseason, but it's hard to expect a guy from Montana State to dominate as a rookie. He, like Washington, will probably play only in the event of injury. That said, it's always nice for your scouting department to find someone like that who might be a player down the road.
Linebackers: #55 Lance Briggs, #57 Jon Bostic, #58 DJ Williams, #50 James Anderson, #59 Khaseem Greene, #52 Blake Costanzo
Briggs is coming off arguably the best season of his career, and should have fewer responsibilities, ironically, now that he doesn't have to cover more ground to make up for Urlacher's declining speed. I don't know if he can repeat what he did last year, but I can assume he'll be just fine.
Williams is apparently listed ahead of Bostic on the depth chart, and the coaching staff has made it clear that Bostic isn't exactly where they want him to be for them to feel comfortable rolling with him as their unquestioned starter, even though he's shown flashes of brilliance with that talent of his. That's okay. I'd expect both of them to be improvements on Urlacher's 2012 run defense, although they'll probably give up a few pass plays over the middle that Brian may not have. It seems likely they'll rotate the two of them and protect both from passing situations as much as possible by using Anderson and Briggs in the Nickel.
Anderson has always been a solid player when healthy. Let's hope that holds up in Chicago. Greene was the least impressive of Phil's rookie crop so far, but that's really not a knock, and he certainly would seem to have the most time to develop in his role as Briggs' understudy.
I honestly think Blake Costanzo is just on the roster to placate Brad Biggs, who still hasn't gotten over the loss of previous special teams-only linebacker Tim Shaw.
Cornerbacks: #33 Charles Tillman, #26 Tim Jennings, #31 Isaiah Frey, #38 Zack Bowman, #27 Sherrick McManis, #25 CJ Wilson.
Charles Tillman is a hall of fame caliber cornerback, and that's not even remote hyperbole. He won't make it, of course, because of some absurd notion that he's a zone only corner, but as the whole world saw in his public humiliation of Megatron last year, Charles has always been able to shutdown guys when he was asked to. Last year the Bears played more Cover 1 than ever with Urlacher unable to take deep drops in the Cover 2 as often as he used to, and Tillman and Jennings both responded with All-Pro-level seasons. I don't expect TJ to lead the NFL in picks again, but I also can't imagine the pass defense dropping much if these two stay healthy.
If they don't, though? Shit. The depth here scares the piss out of me. I'm sure Frey is capable of playing nickelback given the rave reviews of him this offseason and the success young guys like DJ Moore have had as the nickels in this system, but can he play well on the outside as an untested player? Do we really want to relive the "Zack Bowman, Starting Cornerback" experience? Can Sherrick McManis and CJ Wilson be more than special teams players at this point? I'd rather not find out the answers to Any of those questions (although on the Zack Bowman one it is a resounding FUCK NO), so pray for Mommy, Daddy, and the continued health of Tim and P'Nut.
Safeties: #21 Major Wright, #47 Chris Conte, #37 Anthony Walters, and #20 Craig Steltz
Major Wright, outside of one awful game against the 49ers last year, probably should have been a Pro Bowler. He took huge strides, and will hopefully sustain or improve on that play this year. The nicest thing you can say about Chris Conte is you rarely hear his name because his job is to simply stay in position and take away big plays. He does that well. There's been talk that he's added bulk and might be more of an "impact player" this year, and I hope that's true, but I'll have zero complaints if he simply continues what he's done his first two years.
Walters is just a guy and you all know I hate Craig Steltz, even when the numbers say he might actually be a half-decent safety, so, yeah...going to hope no one gets hurt here, either, which is always a tricky proposition with Major's history and the history of Bears safeties in general since the Curse of Mike Brown started in 2004.
Kicker: #9 Robbie Gould
Do you need me to tell you Robbie Gould is awesome? Because I will. Robbie Gould is awesome.
Punter: #8 Adam Podlesh.
I was disappointed with Adam Podlesh last year. The guy has the punter's equivalent of an armcock (and no, it's not a legcock, because that just sounds stupid) and his net punting average was great, but he wasn't very good at precision punting, certainly not when compared to his masterful predecessor. Hopefully he bounces back this year.
LS: #65 Patrick Mannelly.
The longsnapper with his own website! One that, hilariously, hasn't been updated since 2008. Someday Pat will no longer be the Bears longsnapper, which will be sad, because he's been doing the job since I was nine fucking years old.
PR/KR: #23 Devin Hester.
I honestly thought they'd get rid of him this year, but maybe one Bears legend per offseason is enough for Phil. Certainly Devin is still dangerous at this job, and it will be amusing to see him as a special teams only player. I can imagine he'll make quite the gunner.
We reach the end, finally, after approximately 50,000 words. If you're still here and are curious as to my BOLD PREDICTION, well, here it goes:
I'm not one for schedule-handicapping. Teams change so much from year to year that basing your prediction off a false strength of schedule is foolhardy. I look at the overall talent of a roster, and make my call from there. Last year I thought the roster was good enough for 11 wins, and they somehow won 10 games and we all knew they'd fucked up good.
This team, on paper, is even better than last year's, with the two most obvious deficiencies (TE, OL) getting clear upgrades and the rest of the team sustaining major losses. I think there's enough talent here to win 12 games. They've had enough talent to win at least 11 or more games the past three seasons, and done it just once, with Jay's injury crippling the 2011 team and a shockingly incompetent offense sinking last year's bid. If this team stays healthy and isn't in the playoffs come January, even I'd be willing to consider moves at quarterback and elsewhere. We're all tired of should haves and could haves and might have beens. Now is the time for this team to actually take a step forward. The journey begins Sunday. Go Bears.