2006 Chicago Bears Preview

I really like what head coach, Lovie Smith has accomplished in his three years at the helm of the Bears. Not only has Smith managed to turn around the losing mentality the Bears possessed before his arrival, but he has also transformed the Bears into legitimate contenders in the NFC – when they have competent quarterback play.

Having said that, I am already on record as saying that Smith is making a huge mistake by starting incumbent starting quarterback, Rex Grossman ahead of free agent acquisition and former Pro Bowler, Brian Griese, who has outplayed Grossman all preseason.

Nevertheless, the Bears, who have developed into an outstanding defensive team under Smith, should once again be a legitimate contender in the NFC. Here’s my 2006 preview of the Chicago Bears.

I recently wrote a scathing column ripping Smith for his decision to start Grossman over Griese, and until further notice, or should I say, until Grossman starts to outplay Griese, I’m sticking with my guns. Griese is an experienced starter who has won nearly six times the amount of games Grossman has started. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t get it, Grossman has been thoroughly outplayed all preseason, yet remains the starter. If the Bears falter under Grossman, I’ll simply send Smith a copy of this column instead of giving him the proverbial, ‘I told you so.’

Running Backs
The Bears drafted Cedric Benson with the fifth overall selection in last season’s draft, but Benson has been unable to unseat incumbent starter, Thomas Jones, who just keeps going and going and going. If Benson can ever get his act together, the Bears will have one of the best pairs of backs in the league. Until then, the Bears will continue to watch Jones run over, through and around dazed defenders. Fullback, Bryan Johnson, is a capable lead blocker and backup, Adrian Peterson is a slippery sort who averaged over five yards per carry last season.

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Wide Receiver/Tight End
The Bears could use a serious upgrade at wide receiver. Muhsin Muhammad will be 33 on opening day although he is still very capable. Mark Bradley, Justin Gage and Eddie Berlin form the trio of receivers that fall in line behind Muhammad, although in which order, is anyone’s guess. Personally, I don’t think it would matter if Jerry Rice were on this roster in his prime. Remember the Bears have Grossman starting at quarterback – duh.

Offensive Line
Center Olin Kreutz, left tackle John Tait, right tackle Fred Miller and guards, Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza form a more than competent offensive line for the Bears. Kruetz is a Pro Bowler and the rest of the Bears offensive line does a more than respectable job. One concern for Chicago however, is that the members of this unit are starting to age. Other than that, Chi-Town is fine with their O-line.

Defensive Linemen
The Bears defensive line may not get as much recognition as it probably should, but Chicago’s front four is nearly as good as any in the entire league. Former Miami Dolphin, Adewale Ogunleye is the best defensive lineman for the Bears and had 10 sacks last season. Right defensive end, Alex Brown had six sacks – and more importantly – showed improvement with each successive game. Defensive tackle, Tommie Harris, made his first Pro Bowl appearance and is only going to continue improving as well. The other tackle, Ian Scott is a run stuffer and space eater who allows others to make the highlight reel plays. Tank Johnson is a highly effective pass rusher in obvious passing situations.

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Everyone knows that middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is an absolute monster who must be accounted for on every single play. What most people don’t know is that Urlacher’s fellow linebackers are pretty damn good too. Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer are both very competent linebackers who are only a step or two away from playing at a Pro Bowl level. Youngster, Jamar Williams will fill in, possibly at all three positions, in relief.

Defensive Backs
Cornerback Nathan Vasher is arguably, the best cover corner in the entire league right now. Whatever Vasher lacks in size he more than makes up for with his innate nose for the ball. Unfortunately for Chicago, their other corner hasn’t been too much to write home about. Charles Tillman has shown glimpses of the potential he possesses, but hasn’t been able to play at a high level for an extended period. If he can become a little more consistent, then the Bears could have a great tandem on the corners.

Safety Mike Brown has been an excellent player for Chicago – when he’s healthy – and unfortunately, he’s missed over half of the Bears regular season games the past two seasons. If Brown can stay healthy, the Bears defensive signal caller will be a huge addition. Free safety Chris Harris has been competent at the free safety position, but needs more consistency to enter the class of the NFL’s elite safeties. The best thing about Harris is that he’s – young and is going to improve. The Bears also signed cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. to a five-yea deal that gives Chicago another excellent cover corner.

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Special Teams
The Bears special teams are average at best. Second-year kicker, Robbie Gould greatly surpassed any expectations the Bears had for him last season although punter Brad Maynard was downright mediocre at best last year. The one plus for the Bears is that they may have solved the punt and kickoff return problems they experienced all season last year. Manning and rookie cornerback, Devin Hester are both excellent return men.

Once again, for the umpteenth time, I really respect what Lovie Smith has accomplished since his arrival in the Windy City. However, I have to call things like I see them and for Smith to stick with Rex Grossman, even after he has been thoroughly outplayed by Brian Griese throughout the entire preseason, sends a bad message to his players – one that says, it doesn’t matter if you outwork and perform better than the guy in front of you, I’m calling the shots and I’ll play who I want.’
I’m hoping Smith’s decision works out for the best for him because I genuinely like him, but I am going on record to say that this is the biggest mistake to date of his head-coaching career.