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2011 Team Report: Chicago Bears

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jay Cutler
Backup(s): Caleb Hanie, Nathan Enderle (R), Matt Gutierrez

Starting QB: Things certainly got better for Jay Cutler in his second year with the Bears as he led the team to a division title and cut his interceptions from 26 to 16. Cutler can still be a frustrating player to watch given his propensity to make mistakes at key moments, but he also has one of the best arms in the league and plays in a pass-friendly offense coached by Mike Martz. The weapons he has in the passing game are nothing special but good enough for him to be a productive fantasy option. The one major concern, however, is the Bears offensive line, which got even weaker with the loss of Olin Kreutz this summer. If they can give him time and keep him upright, Cutler will make a very strong QB2 and potential starter in deeper leagues.

Backup QB: When Cutler was knocked out of the NFC Championship game with a knee injury, Caleb Hanie came in and rallied the team to give them a chance to win. While not a threat to steal the starting job, Hanie has likely shown enough at this point to establish himself as a the clear #2 on this team. He combines good mobility with a decent arm, but the offense would likely take a step back if Cutler goes down for any significant period of time. Nathan Enderle was selected in the 5th round of the draft this year and has a chance to develop into a solid #2 over time, but he will most likely spend this year as the #3 or on the practice squad. Matt Gutierrez is a journeyman backup who has bounced around the league and will likely wind up as the #3 if Enderle isn't ready.

Running Backs

Starter: Matt Forte
Backup(s): Marion Barber, Chester Taylor, Kahlil Bell, Harvey Unga
Fullback(s): Will Ta'ufo'ou

Starting RB: Matt Forte's been a top-10 RB in two of the 3 years he's been in the league but still seems to be underrated by many fantasy owners. Despite playing behind a poor line in a pass-heavy offense, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry last year. While he may not do any single thing great, Forte is a very well-rounded talent who does a lot of things well. He can run inside or outside, blocks well, and is one of the most reliable receiving backs in the league. The Bears brought in Marion Barber to spell him and possibly take over goalline duties, but the offense still figures to rely heavily on Forte. Look for another RB1 type season from him, especially in PPR leagues.

Backup RBs: Marion Barber was signed in free agency from the Cowboys and should provide an ideal complement to the style of Forte. Barber is a violent runner who likes to punish tacklers as he fights for more yards, but he can also contribute as a blocker or receiver out of the backfield. He should take over as the team's primary goalline back and help keep Forte fresh for later in the season. Chester Taylor was a disappointment as the backup last year. He averaged just 2.4 yards per carry and simply looked slow and worn down at times. Taylor doesn't have that much mileage on his legs, but he is 32 years old and past his prime. Kahlil Bell has flashed some potential in very limited playing time, but he'll need to fight for a roster spot in the preseason. Harvey Unga is a big back who was taken in last year's supplemental draft but wound up suffering a season-ending injury early in camp.

Fullback: The Martz offense doesn't really use a fullback so Will Ta'ufo'ou will likely have to play well in camp and on special teams to earn a roster spot. More than likely, the team will carry extra tight ends to use as an H-back or slide a player like Marion Barber into this role at times.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Devin Hester, Roy Williams
Backups: Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Sam Hurd, Onrea Jones, Dane Sanzenbacher, Jimmy Young

Starting WRs: The Bears starting WR jobs probably aren't locked in yet, but the early favorites appear to be Devin Hester and newcomer Roy Williams. Roy Williams is now joining his third team since entering the league as a top-10 draft choice of the Lions. He had some success early in his career but has mostly been a disappointment in recent years. The Bears coaches believe that playing in the Martz offense again will help salvage his career. It's difficult to figure out where Devin Hester fits on this team. He is being paid like a #1 WR but his production fell off last year. After doing a thorough film review of last year, the coaches felt that he actually played very well and a big reason for his dropoff was that he was underutilized. The coaches seem determined to find ways to get him involved and make him a bigger part of the offense.

Backup WRs: Knox was a 5th round pick just a couple years ago and led the team in most key receiving statistics last year. Known primarily for his great speed and ability to stretch the defense, he averaged an amazing 18.8 yards per catch in 2010. Unfortunately, he plays the same position as Roy Williams and it looks like he might go into the season as a backup. Earl Bennett played in college with Jay Cutler and has been one of his go-to targets with the Bears over the past two years. Bennett may not have great size or speed, but he runs precise routes and catches most balls thrown his way which makes him an ideal fit as the team's #3 WR. Sam Hurd showed potential in Dallas, but never really took advantage of the opportunities he was given there and will most likely be little more than a special teams player in Chicago. The other receivers on the team will likely be competing with each other for a roster spot but are unlikely to make much of a contribution this year barring injuries.

Tight Ends

Starters: Kellen Davis
Backups: Matt Spaeth, Desmond Clark

The Bears traded Greg Olsen to the Panthers this offseason, creating a great opportunity for a young player like Kellen Davis to emerge as the starter. The Bears under Martz don't really like to use the TE in the passing game much so he will primarily be used as a blocker, but Davis also has 4 touchdowns on 10 career receptions and will likely provide a big target in the red zone. Matt Spaeth has spent his entire 4-year career as a backup with the Steelers and he is also more of a blocker than receiver. Desmond Clark is the best receiver of the group and also the most experienced so it would not be a surprise if he fought his way back into the starting lineup at some point.

Place Kicker

Robbie Gould : Two of the three Bears starting specialists remain the same - long snapper Patrick Mannelly and kicker Robbie Gould. The change is at punter/holder where the team parted ways with Brad Maynard and snagged Adam Podlesh from the Jaguars via free agency. Gould remains one of the most accurate kicker in NFL history, and has added some longer kicks the past two years. The Bears have been consistent the past three years, ranking 18th, 18th and 19th in kicker scoring opportunities.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Khalil Bell, D.J. Moore

Punt Returners: Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, D.J. Moore

Once again, the Bears are hoping to get WR Devin Hester more involved on offense. What does that mean for his punt returns? HC Lovie Smith noted, "We look at snaps. But we have to rely on him a lot. When he's tired, he'll let us know. But there's no way I could stop him from returning punts. I mean, he's a Hall of Famer. There's a balance there, and we'll watch it." What about kickoffs now that safety/KR Danieal Manning gone? "Devin continues to talk about returning kicks, too. It's hard to say no to a Hall of Famer when he wants to do something." Backup returners include WR Earl Bennett, who had a 33 yard punt return in the preseason opener, and WR Johnny Knox, who had a 70 yard kickoff return.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Gabe Carimi [R], LG Chris Williams, C Roberto Garza, RG Edwin Williams, RT J.Marcus Webb
Key Backups: Frank Omiyale, Lance Louis

Team Defense

The Bears defense still has room for improvement. Up front, the star is Julius Peppers. Peppers is one of the NFL's best athletes and can really disturb opposing passing games by getting to the quarterback and also using his height and length to knock down passes. The Bears will be leaning on former Texans first-round pick Amobi Okoye to play one of the tackle spots to help fortify the line. The long, storied history of this franchise has many great middle linebackers. Brian Urlacher is no exception. He's getting up there in age, but he's still this team's most important defender and leader. Lance Briggs provides a solid, veteran presence on the outside as well. The back four is anchored by a solid veteran in Charles Tillman at one corner. Tillman had a nice year last season with five interceptions. A new safety will be in the mix with Major Wright taking over at strong safety while Chris Harris should move to free safety. This should a solid, if unspectacular, safety tandem. The Bears defense should improve slightly this season but will still remain a middling unit.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Julius Peppers, DE Israel Idonije, NT Anthony Adams, DT Amobi Okoye
Backups: DE Corey Wootton, DE Vernon Gholston, DT Matt Toeaina, DT Henry Melton, DT Stephen Paea (R), DT Marcus Harrison

Starting DL: Julius Peppers signed a huge contract with the Bears last year and lived up to expectations with a tremendous season. Even though his sack numbers weren't as high as many hoped for, he was a dominant all-around player and remains a very safe choice as a top-5 fantasy DE. Playing across from Peppers in his first full year as a starter, Israel Idonije enjoyed a breakout season in 2010. He collected 8 sacks, racked up 4 forced fumbles, and generally took advantage of teams sliding their protection schemes to the other side. NT Anthony Adams has been a steady force inside over the past couple years and should remain that way in 2011. The other starting DT spot is up for grabs this year thanks primarily to the release of Tommie Harris. One potential replacement is Amobi Okoye, who was signed as a free agent from the Texans. A former top-10 draft pick, the Bears hope that Rod Marinelli can help get the most out of his natural ability.

Backup DL: Corey Wootton fell to the 4th round last year, but is a promising young pass rusher who figures to see a jump in playing time this year. Vernon Gholston was a bust with the Jets after not posting a single sack in 3 years, but the Bears hope they can find a way to salvage his career. Matt Toeaina played well at times last year and will compete for playing time in the DT rotation this year. Henry Melton is an athletic tackle who picked up a couple sacks as a rookie last year. Stephen Paea was taken in the 2nd round this year after a very productive college career at Oregon State. Marcus Harrison may have to fight for a roster spot given the depth the Bears now have at the position.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Nick Roach
Backups: OLB Brian Iwuh, OLB J.T. Thomas (R), ILB Deron Minor (R)

Starting LBs: There aren't many teams with a better LB tandem than the Bears have in Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. Briggs has consistently been one of the best weakside linebackers in the league over his career. He has been very durable and productive and should continue to make a very solid LB2 option in most leagues. Urlacher appeared to be slowing down but he rebounded with a huge season in 2010 after missing the previous year with an injury. When he is playing at his best, he can fill up the stat sheet and make plays all over the field, and he should once again be considered a solid LB1. Nick Roach has shown some flashes when given a chance to start in the past but his grasp on the starting strongside job appears to be somewhat tenuous. Whoever winds up winning the job will likely be just a 2-down linebacker and have limited fantasy upside as a result.

Backup LBs: The Bears released veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer and didn't re-sign Pisa Tinoisamoa this offseason, which leaves them with very little in the way of experienced depth at linebacker. They will likely be in the market for help in free agency, but for now Brian Iwuh looks like the top backup. Iwuh has played in the league for the past 5 years but has yet to crack 25 solo tackles in a season. J.T. Thomas was taken in the 6th round out of West Virginia and will probably contribute mostly on special teams this year. Deron Minor was signed as an undrafted free agent out of McNeese State.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Charles Tillman, CB Tim Jennings, SS Major Wright, FS Chris Harris
Backups: CB Zackary Bowman, CB Corey Graham, CB D.J. Moore, S Craig Steltz, S Chris Conte (R)

Starting DBs: Charles Tillman has finished as a CB1 in nearly every year of his 8-year career, with the lone exception coming in a year when he missed half the season with an inury. He is a physical tackler who can also make plays in coverage, and the addition of Julius Peppers up front has helped elevate his game. Tim Jennings developed with the Colts and joined the Bears last year as a free agent. While he lacks ideal size and doesn't make many big plays, he is a good cover-2 corner who also doesn't make many mistakes. The Bears lost Danieal Manning in free agency and appear set to replace him with last year's 3rd round pick Major Wright. Coming from a big college program like Florida, the Bears hope that Wright is ready for a big increase in playing time and responsibility. Chris Harris brings a steady veteran presence to the middle of the secondary. He can play either position but will likely line up at free safety since he is more reliable in coverage. Neither safety looks like a great fantasy option, but there has been a history of solid production from the SS in this defense.

Backup DBs: Zackary Bowman has started for the Bears in the past and figures to compete for the spot opposite Tillman again this year. He's been injury prone in the past and tends to gamble too much, but he's a good tackler and playmaker. Corey Graham has played well as a slot corner for the Bears in the past and signed a 1-year deal to stick around. D.J. Moore got a chance at some significant playing time last year and played very well so he also figures to be in the mix for the nickel corner job. Craig Steltz has been on the team for 3 years but has yet to make a significant impact on defense. Chris Conte was taken in the 3rd round this year and could have a chance to start if Wright struggles.

Last modified: 2011-08-26 09:15:47

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