This season is all about survival for a coaching regime that has received every possible bit of support from management and ownership in the offseason.
"We haven't made the playoffs in three years," said Bears coach Lovie Smith, who has two years left on his contract. "Normally if you haven't done that, there are rumblings going on."
Allowed to promote good friend Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and hire former boss Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, Smith also got $91 million to buy the pass rusher needed for his cover-2 scheme, Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers.
The defense also will benefit from the return of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, back from the dislocated wrist that wiped out his 2009 season, and defensive tackle Tommie Harris.
Injuries, talent shortages and inexperienced assistant coaches no longer are convenient excuses for failure. Smith's Bears have reached the jump-up or jump-off point.
Offense: Martz's addition makes for an interesting contrast. Smith abhors turnovers, yet Martz's offenses are turnover-prone because of a de-emphasized running game and an emphasis on throwing downfield with seven-step quarterback drops. During Martz's 10 NFL seasons, his teams were at or near the top 10 in fumbles lost, interceptions thrown and sacks allowed. It's going to be a high-risk, high-reward offense being run by quarterback Jay Cutler, who epitomizes that philosophy.
Both Matt Forte and Chester Taylor fit the exact mold for a running back in Martz's system. Both are good receivers and block well enough in the passing game. Taylor has averaged 40 catches in the past five seasons, compared to Forte's average of 60 over his first two campaigns.
Peppers, a quarterback's nightmare, is the key. However, he has a reputation for taking downs/games off. Even so, he'll require double-teams, which should allow Harris, who finished last season playing his best ball since 2006, to penetrate inside. The key to the defensive line's success is Harris maintaining his health and a healthy attitude—two things he hasn't always done the last few years.
Chris Williams, LT
Williams, the 14th overall pick of the 2008 draft, produced nothing as a rookie because of a back injury and was mediocre at right tackle last season. Still, he showed signs of being an effective left tackle after replacing Orlando Pace. He needs to improve at run blocking, however.
"We drafted him to be our left tackle. To see him move over there (from right tackle) and play well, he finished off the (2009) season strong. You don't really draft a right tackle in the first round that early. He's that kind of athlete; he's going against the best defensive end, best rusher, blindside (rusher), all of that. Chris has great size, but he's an athlete, a knee-bender, he has power, he's a competitor." —Smith
"They've gotten older, and they haven't had a lot of top young talent support come in. Their offensive line hasn't been the same since they had Ruben Brown at guard and John Tait at tackle, and Thomas Jones was running behind them. They used to be able to keep their defense off the field. They don't now. It might help them having Mike Tice as O-line coach. ...
"Their defense doesn't force the turnovers they used to, and I think a lot of this went away when they fired former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. He brought something different, more blitzing, or really, I guess, how to blitz. You don't see a lot of the Bears blitzing and getting to the quarterback, but they should be able to do it. Other teams in cover 2 seem like they can blitz and get there. They needed a change on offense because they'd gotten predictable, and Martz should really help. ...
"No question Peppers is going to help that defense, but they have problems. Like I said, they are older now. It's a younger man's league."
Desperate for a playoff season so Smith can maintain his job, the Bears have handed Cutler a crate of TNT in the form of Martz's high-risk, high-reward offense. The result likely will be either an explosive attack or the coaching regime going up in a giant fireball fueled by Cutler turnovers.
QB: Jay Cutler, Caleb Hanie
FB: Eddie Williams, Will Ta'ufo'ou
RB: Matt Forte, Chester Taylor
TE: Greg Olsen, Brandon Manumaleuna
WR: Devin Hester, Devin Aromashodu
WR: Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett
LT: Chris Williams, Kevin Shaffer
LG: Josh Beekman, Johan Asiata
C: Olin Kreutz, Josh Beekman
RG: Roberto Garza, Lance Louis
RT: Frank Omiyale, Kevin Shaffer
DE: Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton
DT: Tommie Harris, Jarron Gilbert
DT: Anthony Adams, Marcus Harrison
DE: Mark Anderson, Israel Idonije
SLB: Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa
MLB: Brian Urlacher, Hunter Hillenmeyer
WLB: Lance Briggs, Nick Roach
CB: Zackary Bowman, Corey Graham
CB: Charles Tillman., Tim Jennings
SS: Danieal Manning, Al Afalava
FS: Chris Harris, Major Wright
K: Robbie Gould
P: Brad Maynard
KR: Johnny Knox
PR: Devin Hester
LS: Patrick Mannelly
PFT: Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith said the draft process taught him an important lesson on taking criticism.
Y! Sports: Redskins fans found what appeared to be the wedding registry for Robert Griffin III and fiancee Rebecca Liddicoat, and they helped out their star QB.
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