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Chicago Bears Team Report

Starter - Rex Grossman
Backups - Chad Hutchinson, Kyle Orton [r]

Starting Quarterback: Entering his third season, Rex Grossman has played in a total of six games. He missed the last 13 games of last season after tearing a knee ligament. In the three games Grossman played last season he completed 47 passes for 607 yards one touchdown and three interceptions. He should be fully recovered for training camp, but he will be playing in a completely different run oriented offensive scheme. The Bears remain confident that Grossman is the quarterback of their future, and he is entrenched as the starter. The team made an offseason effort to upgrade their horrendous offensive line, and only time will tell if it will be significant enough to help Grossman. The Bears allowed a league leading 66 sacks last season so if they haven't improved dramatically, Grossman could be in for another short season. The addition of legitimate #1 receiver Muhsin Muhammad and emphasizing a power running attack should help the 32nd ranked passing offense.

Backup Quarterback(s): The odds say Rex Grossman will not play all 16 games in 2005. Chad Hutchinson played well at times last season, but he finished 1-4 where it counts the most - the standings. The Bears' failure to improve at quarterback is an indisputable blunder. After failing to sign an established veteran free agent, it looks as though the Bears will proceed with Hutchinson. Hutchinson played in six games in 2004. He had 92 completions for 903 yards four touchdowns and three interceptions. Rookie Kyle Orton (6' 3" - 226) will enter camp as depth behind Hutchinson. Orton may not be in the best situation for his development as Grossman and Hutchinson have only 20 NFL starts between them.

Running Backs
Starter - Cedric Benson [r]
Backups - Thomas Jones, Adrian Peterson
Fullback - Bryan Johnson, Jason McKie

Starting Running Back: New offensive coordinator Ron Turner is implementing a power running game and wanted a pounder in his backfield. Enter 2005 1st round draft pick Cedric Benson (5' 10"- 222). The Bears ranked 25th in rushing last season and should be improved. Benson is a workhorse back who gains most of yards after initial contact. He is more powerful than fast and will be a monster between the tackles. He fits perfectly in the new scheme and should help the entire offense. Benson will also be used extensively in the red zone which increases his value. The knock on him is the mileage he already has from his enormous workload at Texas, but that shouldn't be a detriment early in his career.

Backup Running Back(s): The selection of Benson will likely slide Thomas Jones (5' 10"- 220) into the 3rd down role, but it's possible Jones will get more work early in the season while Benson is learning. With Jones excellent speed and route running he will continue to have a role somewhere in the offense. Jones should be an excellent compliment back to Benson, but regardless of how you slice it Jones' value takes a serious hit. Jones had his best season in 2004 garnering 948 yards 7 touchdowns rushing and 56 receptions and 427 yards receiving. In the event something was to happen to Benson, Jones would step back into the starting role. Adrian Peterson will compete for playing time but won't see much action unless there is a significant injury to Benson or Jones.

Fullback(s): Bryan Johnson (6' 1"- 242) appeared in 12 games in 2004 and didn't have a carry. He had foot surgery in December but should be ready by training camp. He has very soft hands and is an asset in the passing game evidenced by his 14 receptions for 55 yards and two touchdowns. Jason McKie (5' 11"- 240) is a solid back-up and may push Johnson for the starting role. McKie had only 1 carry but he caught 13 passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide Receivers
Starters - Muhsin Muhammad, Bobby Wade
Backups - Mark Bradley [r], Bernard Berrian, Justin Gage, Eddie Berlin, Airese Currie [r]

Starting Receivers: Muhsin Muhammad (6' 2"- 217) is entering the down side of his career, but he is definitely an upgrade to the Bears receiving game. He comes to Chicago's 32nd ranked passing offense in hopes of reviving a less than stellar group. Entering his 10th season, Muhammad has had only three complete 16 game seasons so injury is a concern. He has no viable #2 receiver to play across from him so he will see double coverages. All things considered Muhammad will have a hard time repeating last years league leading numbers - 93 receptions, 1405 yards and 16 touchdowns. Someone has to win the #2 receiver job, and they will benefit greatly from Muhammad's presence. The incumbent as of now is Bobby Wade (5' 10"- 182) who had 42 receptions for 481 yards and zero touchdowns.

Backup Receiver(s): There will be an interesting battle for the #3 spot. Rookie Mark Bradley (6' 1"- 201) was one of the fastest receivers in this draft, and the Bears will try to get him on the field one way or another. His depth status will be determined in camp. He is also an excellent return man. This group of receivers isn't the most exciting bunch. It's comprised mostly of guys who are #3 and #4 receivers at best. The entire group of returning receivers scored a grand total of two touchdowns in 2004, and Bernard Berrian (6' 1"- 185) had them both. Throw in Justin Gage (6' 4"- 210), free agent addition Eddie Berlin (5' 11"- 195), and rookie Airese Currie (5' 10"- 186) to battle for the remaining positions. The one player that may sneak up the depth chart is Gage. He was in Terry Shea's doghouse last season but fits much better in the new scheme.

Tight Ends
Starter - Desmond Clark
Backup(s) - Dustin Lyman, John Gilmore

Without an elite receiving crew, Desmond Clark (6' 3"- 254) may be relied upon heavily. Clark didn't have a very good year in 2004 (catching 24 passes for 282 yards and one touchdown in 13 starts), but his numbers should improve under new offensive coordinator Ron Turner. Dustin Lyman (6' 5"- 254) will join Clark in two tight end formations and will serve as the primary back-up. Lyman is also a receiving threat out of the backfield as he caught 11 passes for 73 yards and one touchdown. John Gilmore (6' 4"- 262) is a blocking tight end as evidenced by his one reception for one yard in 2004.

Place Kicker
Paul Edinger, Tyler Jones, Nick Novak: Edinger's FG percentage has dropped four consecutive years (hitting 62.5% last year). He missed the most kicks in the NFL in 2005. Team management and coaches have publicly stated more than once that they are not happy with the kicking game. The Bears have signed undrafted rookies Jones (Boise St.) and Novak (Maryland) to compete. Jones has a stronger leg but less accuracy, while Novak is accurate under 40 yards, but lacks the leg for longer kicks and kickoffs.

Kick and Punt Returners
KRs - Jerry Azumah; Bernard Berrian; R.W. McQuarters; Eddie Berlin; Nathan Vasher
CB Jerry Azumah has led the Bears in KRs the last two years (42 returns, 22.0 avg in 2004; and 41 returns, 29.0 avg, 2 TDs in 2003). WR Bernard Berrian provided a decent backup last year (17 returns, 22.6 avg). McQuarters is the primary PR, but can also return kickoffs if needed. Recently acquired WR Eddie Berlin has limited experience returning both kickoffs and punts from his days with the Titans.

PRs - R.W. McQuarters; Bernard Berrian; Nathan Vasher; Eddie Berlin
CB R.W. McQuarters has led the Bears in PRs the last two years with solid numbers (44 returns, 9.9 avg, 1 TD in 2004; and 37 returns, 12.2 avg, 1 TD in 2003). Berrian was the only other player with PRs last year (2 returns, 5.0 avg). Lurking in the wings is CB Nathan Vasher, who had some impressive PR numbers in his collegiate days at Texas. The Bears have a surplus of good CBs so it's possible one of the above won't be with the team in 2005.

Offensive Line
Projected Starting Lineup: C-Olin Kreutz; G-Terrence Metcalf; G-Roberto Garza; T-John Tait; T-Fred Miller
Key Backups: T Marc Colombo; G Reuben Brown
After a couple of mediocre seasons, this offensive line should be better in 2005. The Bears have veteran leadership in center Olin Kreutz, guard Reuben Brown, tackle John Tait and tackle Fred Miller. They also possess young talent in guard Terrence Metcalf and T Marc Colombo and good of depth to call upon. Metcalf has great bulk and power and is a gifted run blocker. He does need to improve his footwork though and is a sub par pass blocker. Kreutz is the best center in the game today with tremendous athleticism and technique. Tait had a good first season with the Bears but will be expected to have more of an impact in 2005. If Terrence Metcalf can continue to grow as a player and cement his spot in the starting lineup (and newcomers Roberto Garza and Fred Miller can quickly feel comfortable within this scheme) expect big things from this group. The depth is outstanding with players like Colombo and Brown more than capable of starting at the NFL level.

Team Defense
New head coach Lovie Smith had a nightmare season in 2004 (thanks to an offense that was one of the league's worst). The defense played reasonably well and did their best to keep the team afloat, finishing the year ranked as the #21 fantasy defense. They only gave up an average of 18 points/game, but a lack of consistent QB pressure (33 sacks) and takeaways (29) kept them from being a consistent fantasy defense. The team has most of the pieces in place to be a dominant defense so the most important factor in their success will likely be a consistent offense that can take some pressure off them and allow them to play more aggressively. The focal point of the defense will continue to be Brian Urlacher, who has lost some of the luster that he had early in his career, but remains one of the league's best MLBs. He's flanked by Lance Briggs, who had a breakout season in 2004 upon being moved from SLB to WLB. The line has two quality DEs and a very talented DT who can all put pressure on opposing QBs. Finally, the secondary should benefit from the return of CB Charles Tillman, who missed most of the 2004 season with an injury. While the team still lacks quality depth at a few positions, when healthy, the team's starters should be good enough to compete with any team in the division. It would be perfectly reasonable to expect this unit to take another step up in Lovie's second year now that he's had a chance to modify the roster to his liking and to and fully implement his system.

Defensive Line
Starters - LDE Adewale Ogunleye, RDE Alex Brown, DT Tommie Harris, DT Ian Scott
Backups - DE Michael Haynes, DT Alphonso Boone, DT Tank Johnson

Starting Defensive Linemen: The first thing Lovie Smith did upon his arrival is change the mentality of the defensive linemen. Rather than having guys play big and heavy to help stop the run, he wanted a defense that was built on speed so he immediately required all the linemen to drop weight. The Bears also made some major upgrades to their defensive line over the past couple years. Perhaps the biggest of which was the trade for DE Adewale Ogunleye last season. Ogunleye developed into one of the league's best pass rushers while playing opposite Jason Taylor in Miami but didn't make nearly the impact that was expected of him last year. He wound up missing 4 games due to injury, but he'll be just 28 years old when the 2005 season starts and should be entering the prime of his career. Across from him is Alex Brown, who the Bears recently locked up to a long-term contract as well. Brown has shown flashes of dominance (four sacks in a game against the Giants last year) but needs to become more consistent. The Bears spent their top two draft picks on defensive tackles (including Tommie Harris who was the top DT taken in 2004). Harris had a great career at Oklahoma and is exactly the type of player Lovie was looking for. He's extremely quick for his size and could develop into an impact player as early as this season. Playing next to Harris is Ian Scott, a 4th round pick from 2003 who won the starting job early on and never looked back. He played in 2 fewer games than Harris but wound up finishing with very similar statistics.

Backup Defensive Linemen: The Bears traded down in 2003 and took DE Michael Haynes with their first pick. He's a bigger DE who could also play inside at DT, but he hasn't really shown much of the pass rushing ability that made him such a high pick. He provides some depth at the position, but at this point he looks like a draft bust. The depth on the interior is very solid and there are four players that should see regular time in the rotation. Tank Johnson was drafted in the 2nd round last year and was expected to be the starter, but he was beat out by Ian Scott. He has phenomenal speed for a 300 lb player and actually ran the fastest 40 time of all DTs at last year's scouting combine. Alphonso Boone is a big, strong player who defends the run very well and has some starting experience.

Starters - WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Marcus Reese
Backups - LB Hunter Hillenmeyer, LB Joe Odom, LB Levar Woods

Starting Linebackers: Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher give the Bears a great tandem to build around. Briggs thrived in 2004 with the move from the strong side of the formation over to the weak side, and he wound up leading the team in tackles. Briggs played at a Pro-Bowl level last year and will be just 24 years old when the 2005 season starts. He's an ideal fit at WLB and the team would be wise to try and lock him up to a long-term deal before he gets too expensive. Inside, the Bears were hurt when Urlacher, who hadn't missed a single game during his first 4 seasons, injured his hamstring in training camp and wound up missing seven games. There was some concern prior to the season about how Urlacher would fit into the new system, but he put those concerns to rest as he dominated when healthy. He averaged six solo tackles/game, but the most impressive statistic was the 5.5 sacks he produced in just nine games. Urlacher remains a physical freak of nature thanks to his size/speed ratio that is in a similar class to Ray Lewis, but he has struggled at times in getting off blocks. At just 27 years old, look for him to come back fully healthy and regain his status as one of the best LBs in the league. The starting job at SLB is unsettled at the moment. Marcus Reese is listed as the current starter, but the Bears would like to add a veteran before the season begins. Reese is an undrafted free agent who played primarily on special teams and wasn't all that impressive when given a chance to start late in the season.

Backup Linebackers: Hunter Hillenmeyer started several games at both SLB and MLB last year and performed well. He's in the running for the starting SLB job, but the Bears would prefer to keep him as the primary backup at all three LB positions. Joe Odom will also be in the mix for the starting SLB job but hasn't been able to keep it when given a chance in the past. The Bears also signed Levar Woods as a free agent from the Cardinals. He's bigger than the other SLB candidates and has some starting experience, but he's primarily been a special teams performer for the Cards and will likely fill the same role in Chicago.

Defensive Backs
Starters - CB Charles Tillman, CB Jerry Azumah, SS Mike Green, FS Mike Brown
Backups - CB Nathan Vasher, CB R.W. McQuarters, S Todd Johnson, S Bobby Gray, S Jason Shivers

Starting Defensive Backs: Charles Tillman made an immediate impact as a rookie in 2003 leading the team in interceptions and also being named NFL rookie of the year by Sports Illustrated. At 6'1", he's tall enough to handle most of the league's bigger WRs, and he's also a very good tackler. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury last year that forced him to miss eight games, but he should be fully healthy for this year and ready to take on the league's best WRs. Starting opposite him will be Jerry Azumah, who played RB in college but was converted to CB in the pros. Azumah doesn't have great height, but he's very quick and has developed into a solid cover CB who can also make plays (eight INTs in two years as a starter). He's also served as the team's primary kick returner, even leading the league and going to the Pro Bowl in 2003. Azumah is scheduled to become a free agent in 2006 so this could potentially be his last year with the Bears if they don't sign him to an extension soon. Inside at SS, despite having a tenuous hold on his starting job for years, Mike Green has been one of the most productive fantasy DBs when healthy. He finished 2004 as the 3rd leading tackler among DBs and the 2nd leading scorer according to FBG scoring. FS Mike Brown exploded onto the scene early in his career when he scored three defensive TDs in his first two seasons, but his playmaking has steadily declined since. After having not missed a game in his first four seasons, the injury bug caught up to him last year as he missed nearly all of the season with an Achilles injury. If healthy, he should provide a nice playmaking boost and veteran presence to the secondary.

Backup Defensive Backs: Nathan Vasher was a 4th round pick last year who was forced into a starting role and wound up leading the team with five interceptions. He slipped in the draft because of some concerns about his size and speed, but he has great hands and was physical enough to play SS during his sophomore year at Texas. He should make an excellent nickel back this year with Tillman and Azumah both reclaiming their starting jobs. Also providing depth is R.W. McQuarters, who filled in at FS for Mike Brown and has also been the team's primary punt returner, but his $3 million salary makes him a potential June 1st cap casualty. Todd Johnson missed his entire rookie season in 2003 with a broken jaw, but he saw a lot of action in 2004 and could have a chance to unseat Green at SS. Bobby Gray is a big hitter at the safety position who provides solid depth and contributes on special teams. Jason Shivers is an interesting player who the Bears signed off the Rams practice squad last year. He was regarded by some as one of the best safeties in last year's draft class after an outstanding career at Arizona State and is someone to keep an eye on in the future.

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