It’s that time of year again in which the smell of pigskin is in the air. The NFL preseason is underway, and that means that the regular season is just around the corner. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge football fan. I’m a sports fan in general, but football is my #1 love. Being from Chicago, our teams don’t really give us a lot to shout about. Both the Bulls and the Blackhawks made it to the postseason, but both teams were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. With Derrick Rose recovering from an ACL tear, there is little to look forward to with the Bulls for this season. Baseball is also a sad story. As a Cubs fan, I’ve had to endure my baseball team hanging out in the NL cellar. With that said, the NFL season can’t get here soon enough!
Okay, the Bears made a number of off-season moves that have been scrutinized by many. Some think the Bears did very well (myself included), whereas some think they didn’t do well enough. The biggest highlight to their off-season was the trade to bring WR Brandon Marshall over from Miami. This move reunites Jay Cutler with his favorite target from his Denver days. Marshall is a bonafide #1 WR and an all-pro to boot. He is instantly the best WR in Bears’ history. However, he also brings some emotional baggage that some worry about. Personally, I think the Marshall acquisition was HUGE! I think it makes the Bears instantly better. One of the things I’ve been lamenting for years with the Bears is their utter lack of a game-changing WR; one who has a “go and get it” attitude with the ball. Marshall is that guy!
Another crucial off-season pick-up was the free agent signing of QB Jason Campbell. This gives the Bears a solid #2 QB — one with actual experience as a starter and who has had significant NFL experience. This was glaringly obvious last season when Jay Cutler injured the thumb on his throwing hand in game #10. Backup QB Caleb Hanie was clearly not up to the task of filling in. His ineptitude under center led to the Bears benching him in favor of Josh McCown, a QB who hadn’t played in over a year. McCown is still with the team as their #3 QB, but Campbell is a definite upgrade at the position.
Rounding out the major off-season acquisitions is RB Michael Bush. Bush gained 977 yards on 256 carries last year for Oakland in primarily a backup role. He is a big, physical runner who should help the Bears in short yardage situations. He also provides insurance against a Forte injury. With both Forte and Bush rotating in the backfield, the Bears have a formidable running attack.
In the draft, the Bears made some additional pick-ups to fill some gaps. DE Shea McClellin from Boise St. was drafted in the 1st round. He provides a solid pass-rushing presence opposite Julius Peppers. He projects to be the 3rd DE in the Bears’ rotation. While some see him more as a ROLB in a 3-4 scheme, the Bears will utilize him as a DE in their base 4-3 package. WR Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina) was drafted in the 2nd round and gives the Bears another big, speedy WR to line up opposite Marshall. Jeffery is seen by some as a Marshall clone. All I know is that is will be good to see two big WR’s out there for the Bears catching passes. The Bears drafted yet another safety in the 3rd round. It seems the Bears draft a safety every year, and every year they continue to have problems with that position. Maybe Brandon Hardin is the answer to their safety problems; time will tell. TE Evan Rodriguez was picked in the 4th round. Rodriguez is considered an “F” back, i.e., a mobile TE who lines up on the end or in the slot. The Bears want to utilize the TE more this year (haven’t we heard that before), yet they have a stable of average TE’s. It will be interesting to see how Rodriguez progresses.
Areas the Bears did not improve on that concerns many fans. The OL. The only significant addition to the OL was the return of Gabe Carimi from injury. The OL last year was bad, very bad; and the fact that the Bears didn’t make any changes is disheartening to say the least. However, Mike Tice is the new offensive coordinator, and hopefully what the Bears lack in OL talent they can make up for in scheme. In other words, maybe Tice can develop plays and schemes that hide the OL deficiencies and highlight their strengths (whatever they may be). The whole point will be to put the players in the best position to succeed, and that comes from coaching. Another area of concern is the LB corps. When Urlacher and Briggs are healthy, the Bears have one of the best LB corps in the NLF, but Urlacher is coming off injury, and he is nursing an injury right now in preseason. The Bears just don’t have an adequate backup for Urlacher, and his absence was keenly felt by the Bears’ defense.
All in all, I think the Bears will definitely improve upon their 8-8 record of last year. The Bears were 7-3 before Cutler was injured and playing relatively well. With him back and healthy and a much improved WR corps, the Bears should be much improved offensively. The key will be the defense and whether or not some of the “long-tooths” have enough in them for one more season of greatness. I am predicting a 10-6 season for a 2nd place finish (behind the Packers) in the NFC North and a playoff berth.