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Hoge’s Offseason Notebook No. 4: Quarterback, Running Back Review

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Jay Cutler throws a pass against the Cleveland Browns. (Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Jay Cutler throws a pass against the Cleveland Browns. (Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

(CBS) — As we move through the offseason, I’ll periodically take some time to review the 2013 season by position group and look ahead at possible changes in 2014.

This week, we’ll start with the quarterback and running back positions, two bright spots during the Bears’ 8-8 season.

Quarterback

Jay Cutler

Age: Turns 31 in April
Experience: 8 years
Best Game: Week 17 vs Packers. It was never a do-or-die game in regards to getting a new contract from the Bears, but Cutler nevertheless delivered. He was the biggest reason why the Bears had a lead with under a minute to go. Despite not making the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons in Chicago, fans should be optimistic about the Cutler-Trestman tandem in Chicago, as both are locked up for the next three seasons.
Worst Game: Week 4 at Lions. After starting the season with three huge fourth quarter drives that led to three straight wins, Cutler got a little careless in Detroit. He threw three interceptions on the day and for the first time all season, he fell back on some bad habits that had previously been corrected by the new coaching staff.
Summary: The loss in Detroit was one of only two games Cutler graded out negatively in my book, with the other being the Week 7 loss at Washington when the QB got off to a slow start before suffering a groin injury. Cutler missed five games in 2013 because of injury, but when he was on the field, he played the best he has in five seasons in Chicago.
Outlook: The Bears saw enough from Cutler to sign him to a 7-year extension with the first three years fully guaranteed. Health will continue to be a question mark, but there’s reason to believe that Cutler will only get better under Trestman’s watch.

Josh McCown

Age: 35 in July
Experience: 11 years
Best Game: Week 9 vs Packers. This wasn’t his best game statistically — in fact, it was the worst of his five starts — but the way in which he led the offense in a place where the Bears hadn’t won since 2007 was impressive. Sure, the Bears were aided by Aaron Rodgers getting knocked out with a collarbone injury in the first quarter, but that had nothing to do with the way McCown played. His touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, when McCown eluded pressure and threw the ball while getting hit, was one of the highlights of the season. And the nine-plus minute drive in the fourth quarter to seal the game showed Marc Trestman’s value as head coach.
Worst Game: Week 13 at Vikings. Another example of how stats can be deceiving. McCown threw for a season-high 355 yards against the Vikings, but it wasn’t his sharpest game. Despite some ridiculous plays by Alshon Jeffery, McCown was off on some throws and got away with what should have been a pick-6 by Audie Cole.
Summary: To prove how great McCown really was in 2013, he still finished with a passer rating of 114.9 in that loss to the Vikings. McCown was the definition of the perfect backup quarterback, performing well in relief and serving as an extension of the coaching staff when Jay Cutler was healthy enough to play.
Outlook: Who wouldn’t want to bring the perfect backup quarterback back? The Bears want McCown back next year and the quarterback genuinely wants to be back. The question is, what kind of offers will he receive from other teams? The Bears have exclusive negotiating rights, but can’t officially execute a contract with McCown until the new league year starts March 11.

Jordan Palmer

Age: Turns 30 in May
Experience: 5 years
Summary: Did not play in 2013. Spent a couple weeks with the team during the preseason and then rejoined the Bears when Cutler got hurt in Week 7.
Outlook: Palmer is already working on a second career in sports marketing and while the Bears like how he contributed in meetings and in the preseason, he’s nothing more than an emergency option for them. Maybe he gets an invite to camp, but the Bears also have Jerrod Johnson on a futures contract so he’ll be around in OTAs and mini-camp as a third QB.

Running Back

Matt Forte

Age: Turned 28 in December
Experience: 6 years
Best Game: Week 17 vs Packers. Like Cutler, Forte showed up when it mattered most, it’s just didn’t result in a win. Forte ran for 110 yards on 22 carries in the season finale, while also adding four catches for 47 yards. Overall, he accounted for three touchdowns in the game.
Worst Game: Week 16 at Eagles. Forte only ran for 29 yards, but that wasn’t really his fault as he only received nine carries with the Bears trailing for most of the game. The bigger problem was that Forte’s pass blocking was one of many reasons why they were trailing. He missed four blocks on the game, two of which resulted in sacks.
Summary: There’s not much to complain about as Forte was fantastic all season long and fully deserved his Pro Bowl berth. And despite the pass blocking struggles in Philadelphia, Forte was actually a pretty reliable blocker for most of the season.
Outlook: The only thing to keep an eye on here is age as 28 tends to be “old” for NFL running backs. That said, Forte doesn’t take many big hits and his style saves mileage. He’s not showing any signs of slowing down and should continue to be a huge part of the Bears’ offense both on the ground and through the air.

Michael Bush

Age: Turns 30 in June
Experience: 7 years
Best Game: Week 15 at Browns. Bush only had three carries in the game, but he broke one of them open for a 40-yard touchdown (more on this below in the film session). His longest run of the season before that was a 15-yard gain at Minnesota.
Worst Game: Week 12 at Rams. Seven carries, -5 yards. An average of -0.7 yards per carry. As you can imagine, the blocking wasn’t great, but some of it was on Bush too.
Summary: For as much criticism as Bush received from fans, 2013 wasn’t that bad of a year. The reality is that he received 51 less carries than he did in 2012 and the offensive scheme probably had more to do with that than Bush’s ability.
Outlook: You’d like to see him average more than 3.1 yards per carry, even as a backup, and one has to wonder if his role on the team is worth the $3.85 million he’ll count against the cap in 2014. The problem is that $2 million of his 2014 contract is dead money, which means the Bears would only save $1.85 million by cutting him outright. If they designated him as a June 1st cut, that would jump to $2.85 million in cap savings.

Michael Ford

Age: Turns 24 in May
Experience: 1 year
Summary: Ford didn’t get many chances to shine as a rookie, playing 12 games on special teams and never getting a carry. He only had five tackles on the season based on the coaches’ review of the tape and a bad offsides penalty in overtime against the Ravens could have cost the Bears a win. Ford also had five kick returns, averaging just 7.4 yards per return, but those aren’t really fair to judge because he was in as the upback and fielded short kicks when opponents were kicking away from Devin Hester.
Outlook: A fair grade for 2013 would probably be “incomplete” as we don’t really know how Ford projects offensively as a running back. It’s hard to know for sure, but the Bears might believe he can take some carries in the backfield while also serving as the primary kick returner if they don’t keep Hester around. Chances are Ford would have to compete for that role and win the job, however.

College Prospect Of The Week

DE Michael Sam – Missouri

Sam is the big story this week after he announced Sunday that he is gay. But let’s ignore that for right now and focus on his football ability. At 6-1 5/8, 260 pounds, Sam is undersized for a defensive end, but he might fit that hybrid mold the Bears could be looking for. I stress the word “might” though, because while some think Sam has the ability to drop back into coverage from time-to-time and take on some of the duties of an outside linebacker, he’s pretty much unproven in that sense.

To me, Sam looks more like a true 4-3 defensive end. Yes, he’s small for the position, but he also carries his weight well in his frame and is very strong against the run. He’s quick off the snap and, at least in college, had a knack for slipping blocks and getting to the ball (he had 18 TFLs as a senior in addition to 10.5 sacks). I tend to trust tape over measurables, but Sam was sort of a one-year wonder at Mizzou. That said, we learned this week that he came out to his team in August and is it possible that took some weight off his shoulders? Will coming out publicly before the draft have the same impact? Sam had a quiet Senior Bowl and didn’t make the same jump that Auburn’s Dee Ford did, but it will be interesting to see how he performs from this point on. I think he’s a solid third or fourth round pick right now. I’m basing that solely on his talent and that’s exactly where I had him before Sunday night when he made his announcement.

Film Session

Earlier in the notebook, I made reference to Michael Bush’s 40-yard touchdown run against the Browns. Well, it was actually one of my favorite runs of the season, mainly because of what happened to Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson:




Extra Point

Monday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut former Bears’ first-round pick Gabe Carimi. It was an interesting move because Bucs head coach Lovie Smith was the head coach in Chicago when the Bears drafted Carimi. The Bears traded Carimi to Tampa last summer for a sixth-round pick they’ll have in this year’s NFL Draft.

When the news of Carimi’s release came out, many took to Twitter to once again criticize the Bears’ 2011 first-round pick, but how soon people forget the knee injury suffered in just his second NFL game. Before that injury, Carimi was off to a great start in the preseason and had a good debut against the Falcons in Week 1. Dislocated knees are tricky injuries (especially for linemen) and Carimi maybe should have shut it down right away instead of trying to come back within his rookie season. He hasn’t been the same player since.

But be careful when you criticize the pick. At the time, Carimi was considered a steal late in the first round and the Bears desperately needed an offensive tackle. Any offensive lineman can be a “bust” when they dislocate their knee in Week 2 of their rookie season.

Meanwhile, GM Phil Emery — who didn’t draft Carimi — deserves credit for cutting ties with the tackle at the right time and getting a draft pick for him.

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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