With training camp opening up tomorrow what better time to take an early look at the Bears and some of the story lines we can expect to be hearing a lot about. It would be nearly impossible to take a look at this year’s team if we didn’t first take a quick look back at the disappointing 2009 season. While the Bears did get off to a promising start in 2009 with a big win against, defending Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the season was quickly derailed with back to back loses to the Falcons and Bengals. That Bengals game, as most will remember, was a 45-10 thrashing where the Bears leading rusher, Matt Forte, only racked up 24 rushing yards.
Unfortunately, things would only get worse as the Bears would lose six of the eight in one stretch by a combined score of 200-98 with their only two wins coming over the Browns and Rams. Shortly after the 2009 season ended the Bears organization did what fans had been clamoring for during much of the season. While they weren’t major changes like some in the organization proclaimed, many members of the coaching staff were given pink slips, most notably offensive coordinator Ron Turner.
With all of the ugliness behind them, the Bears became big players in the free agent market signing Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna. All three players were brought in for specific reasons and will be invaluable in bolstering their respective units. Peppers, a pass rushing force, has averaged 10 sacks per year for his eight year NFL career with a high of 14.5 sacks in 2008. Chester Taylor, much like he did in Minnesota, will provide Forte with needed breaks in workload and even push him for the starting role. Its no secret that Manumaleuna, not Greg Olsen, is the type of tight end that Mike Martz prefers for his offense and was brought in to be a blocker. Now that we’ve taken a look back a what brought the Bears to this point, lets take a look at the offense, defense, special teams and coaching staff heading into the 2010 season.
With Martz taking over the play calling this year you can pretty much forget the Bears offense you’re accustomed to seeing on Sundays. The run, run, pass, punt days should be barely visible in the rear view mirror as Martz brings his super aggressive and intricate offense to Soldier Field. A major criticism of this Bears team is that they do not have the aerial threats to make defenses respect their passing game. But, the Martz offense is about timing and reads, you don’t need an Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald to be successful. Martz has already gone on record saying that Devin Hester will be used differently, presumably in a role that allows for him to use his strengths and not be forced to carry a load he can’t. Jay Cutler’s favorite receiver spent almost all of last year on the practice squad and when Devin Aromashodu is in the game we all know what he and Cutler are capable of doing. With Forte not having to carry the full running load and being used similar ways Marshall Faulk was in St. Louis, the third year back from Tulane could look more like he did in year one than year two.
Injuries, no pass rush and a weak secondary doomed the Bears defense last year. And as Tommie Harris told Laurence Holmes, he will be going into camp 100% healthy for the first time since his rookie season. A healthy Harris lining up in front of a potential line backing corps of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Pisa Tinoisamoa would already drive offensive coordinators crazy. But throw in Julius Peppers and a Marc Anderson who more than likely won’t see many double teams and you’ve got a front seven that can be outright dominant. Safety Chris Harris returns to the team that drafted him and will step in and be a huge upgrade in the secondary. Harris along with rookie Major Wright, who could very well find himself in a starting role, are sure to be an improved pairing to what the Bears were dealing with last year. Charles Tillman and Zachary Bowman are really the only legitimate starting corners the Bears have and should play like that if they can remain healthy. All in all, health is the key to the success of the defense, as the talent is most certainly there.
This one is simple. Robbie Gould, Brad Maynard, Patrick Mannelly, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Daniel Manning and Israel Idonije, among many others, running Dave Toub’s schemes and you’re looking at another year where the Bears are at the top of the league in special teams.
There are four coaches on the Bears staff who have experience as head coaches in the NFL. Current head coach Lovie Smith, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, offensive line coach Mike Tice and the previously mentioned Martz. Those four men along with Toub bring a lot of experience and knowledge with them. While not all of them have seen success as head coaches, you don’t get that chance until you’ve proven to be a valuable assistant coach. So on paper this looks like a very capable and much improved coaching staff than what we saw a year ago. Although, it’s important to keep an eye on how well this group works with one another. If they all have a head coach ego about them, then Lovie might not see the season’s end. However, if they are able to work well together and funnel all their experiences to the right avenues, their hirings could be job saving decisions for both Lovie and GM Jerry Angelo.
Overall this looks to be a much improved team on paper. The key phrase there is “on paper,” like it was said earlier we are still a day away from the real practices starting. Will the offense be able to pick up and execute the schemes while giving Cutler the time he needs to read the defense? Will an aging defense be able to stay healthy and play like the younger versions of themselves? And will this coaching staff prove that they can do as assistants what they couldn’t as top guys? We have all these questions and more, and the answers will start to form this Friday on a practice field in Bourbonnais.
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