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2012 Team Report: Chicago Bears
QuarterbacksStarter: Jay Cutler
Backup(s): Jason Campbell Starting QB: With Mike Martz's deep-drop passing system, it's no surprise that Jay Cutler missed six games in 2011. Although Cutler missed his time after the team made adjustments to the offense, it was clear Cutler took a ton of punishment by midseason and that Martz's time was coming to an end in Chicago. The Bears spent the offseason addressing deficiencies with the depth and range of talent at the skill positions, providing much-needed help at the receiving corps, H-back/tight end, and depth at running back. At wide receiver, they added Cutler's old Denver stablemate Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery. Both Marshall and Jeffery are big, strong, and thrive on making plays in tight coverage. Expect the Bears to utilize an aerial attack that allows Cutler to use more three- and five-step drops, play action, and routes where receivers are set up to gain yardage after the catch. This should ease the burden of the offensive line. Cutler was a top-five fantasy quarterback when paired with Marshall in Mike Shanahan's Broncos' offense. As long as Marshall stays healthy and focused, Cutler should have every chance to perform like a fantasy starter in 2012. However there is past history that suggests Marshall can't maintain equilibrium on or off the field, and if this happens, Cutler is no better than a backup in most leagues. Backup QB: Jason Campbell and Josh McCown have enough starting experience to manage an offense. Both are strong-armed quarterbacks with mobility. Campbell in particular, throws a good deep ball. Even with Campbell at the helm for an extended period, there will be a significant drop-off in productivity if Jay Cutler misses time.
Running BacksStarter: Matt Forte
Backup(s): Michael Bush, Lorenzo Booker.
Fullback(s): Evan Rodriguez [R] Starting RB: Matt Forte was fantastic during his 12 starts this year, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 9.4 yards per reception. He was the centerpiece of the Chicago offense and managed to crack the Top 15 for fantasy runners despite missing the final four games of the season with a knee sprain. Forte was healthy enough to participate in the Pro Bowl and physically should be ready for another strong year. The contract fiasco is over and Forte came to camp ready. Michael Bush might take away some Forte's touches and goal line opportunities, but not enough to drop Forte lower than that RB1-RB2 border. Backup RBs: Although the Bears were stubborn about not rewarding Matt Forte what some believe he has deserved, they were savvy about adding Michael Bush to the depth chart. The Raiders runner had 1395 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns for a Raiders unit in 2011 that dealt with injuries and a change at quarterback. Bush lacks the vision and agility of Forte, but he's a big, strong back that can wear out a defense late in games. His production declined from Weeks 12-17 after 65 combined touches in Weeks 10-11. Although he was still good enough to be the No.9 fantasy runner in 2011, it is possible Bush did not physically prepare to be the starter. Expect him to learn his lesson and be ready to carry the load in 2012. Booker is an adept pass-catcher with good quickness and speed. He had stints in Philadelphia and Minnesota. Fullback: Tyler Clutts was traded to Houston just prior to September. Rookie Evan Rodriquez has hybrid tight end speed and the Bears hope he'll develop into an Aaron Hernandez-type moveable chess piece.
Wide ReceiversStarters: Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester
Backups: Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery [R], Eric Weems, Dane Sanzenbacher Starting WRs: Brandon Marshall's 1227-yard, six-touchdown season was his best since 2009, and it was his first 16-game season since 2007. He is truly a game-changing player and gives the Bears their best wide receiver since Willie Gault left in 1988. He should also be the team's first receiver to catch more than 71 passes since Bernard Berrian in 2007. Reunited with Jay Cutler, it would not be outrageous to expect Marshall to reach the 100-reception totals he had for three straight years in Denver. If this happens, he's a lock as a starting-caliber wide receiver in fantasy leagues. Devin Hester has never successfully made the conversion from special teams ace to top-notch offensive weapon. According to Marshall, however, the Bears intend to use Hester in a manner more befitting his talents; Marshall predicts a huge year as a starter for Hester. If the rookie Alshon Jeffery continues to flash his ability and build on a solid camp, Hester's worst case is that could be limited to multiple receiver sets. Backup WRs: The player with the greatest potential to benefit from the infusion of new talent in the receiving corps is the slot receiver Earl Bennett. Cutler's former college go-to guy will see more opportunities underneath because Brandon Marshall will command double coverage. If Hester or Jeffery proves reliable and dangerous, Bennett could be in for a career year for receptions and yardage. If the Bears use more no-huddle sets, which offensive coordinator Mike Tice has discussed with the media, then Bennett could be the beneficiary of quick passes that serve as running plays. Jeffery is a lot like Brandon Marshall in the sense that he's big, strong, physical, and wins passes in tight coverage. Since he basically on has to beat out the always-disappointing Devin Hester, Jeffery has a good opportunity to become one of the few rookie receivers in the NFL this year that attains starter production. Dane Sanzenbacher is a reliable slot player, but neither physical nor explosive. Eric Weems is a good special teams player.
Tight EndsStarters: Kellen Davis
Backups: Matt Spaeth, Kyle Adams Kellen Davis had career highs across the board as a receiver in 2011, but he was still only ranked 31st among fantasy tight ends. The encouraging sign is that Cutler targeted him enough in the red zone to accumulate five touchdowns on 18 receptions. New offensive coordinator Mike Tice was a starting tight end for the Minnesota Vikings during his playing career, and based on comments from head coach Lovie Smith, the position will become a more prominent part of the passing game. Davis is big, strong, and quick enough to crack the Top 15 of fantasy players at the position. Matt Spaeth is a reserve blocker with short yardage receiving skill and the rest of the depth is vying for special teams duty.
Place KickerRobbie Gould : All three Bears starting specialists remain the same - long snapper Patrick Mannelly, holder/punter Adam Podlesh and kicker Robbie Gould. The latter remains one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history -- going 28 of 32 (87.5%) last year. He has added some longer kicks the past two years, hitting 9 of 10 from 50+ yards. He has not missed an extra point since his rookie season. The Bears have been relatively consistent the past four years, ranking 15th, 18th, 18th and 19th in kicker scoring opportunities.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Devin Hester, Eric Weems, Devin Thomas As if having WR Devin Hester's ridiculous return abilities weren't enough, the Bears went out and signed two more solid return men this offseason in WR Eric Weems who handled both punt and kickoffs for the Falcons, and WR Devin Thomas who was the primary kickoff returner for the Giants. Punt Returners: Devin Hester, Eric Weems Though the Bears have expressed a desire to increase Hester's role in the offense, special teams coach Dave Toub has said Hester will continue to be the top return man, though Eric Weems will get kick return opportunities as well.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT J'Marcus Webb, LG Chris Spencer, C Roberto Garza, RG Lance Louis, RT Gabe Carimi
Key Backups: T Chilo Rachal, T Chris Williams, C/G Edwin Williams UPDATE: J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams have been engaged in a game of "which left tackle is not the worst" and so far, it's been a draw. As this position battle resolves itself, note that rookie James Brown out of Troy has been quietly solid on the second team. The Bears offensive line is ranked 28th as the season opens, but could get better if Gabe Carimi has a bounce-back year. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: The Bears offensive line has a lot of possibilities this season, but it's questionable if any possible combination is better than the next. Predicting their lineup at this point might be a tall order. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb is a talented athlete but has struggled at times on the blind side. The coaching staff has shown public faith in this player, but recent news has the Bears moving former first-rounder Chris Williams back to tackle, presumably to challenge Webb for a starting role. Williams is on the last year of his rookie contract, and this could be a last ditch attempt for the Bears to make that high pick pay off. It's possible that the Bears could move Williams back and forth between the positions before he moves on in 2013. Williams was actually decent as a left guard, however, so he should continue to be penciled in at that spot despite the recent news. This situation is certainly one to watch in the preseason. Center Robert Garza is the Bears' most reliable lineman and has starting experience at guard. Left guard Lance Louis has seen action at guard as well as tackle, but his performance has not been consistent. It's likely Louis will be challenged by a bevy of options in preseason. Edwin Williams, Chris Spencer, and Chilo Rachal could compete for starting guard jobs. Right tackle Gabe Carimi was actually a very good player coming out of Wisconsin, but his rookie season was cut short after only two weeks due to a dislocated kneecap. Look for Carimi to make a full recovery and open up some holes in the Bears rushing attack. Undrafted rookie James Brown out of Troy is a possible swing tackle. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice was an excellent offensive line coach before washing out as the head coach of the Vikings; he often spends time with the big uglies during practice. Overall, the Bears line has weaknesses on the left side, and quarterback Jay Cutler has taken a beating since joining the team. Still, the line could be decent, and if they stay healthy, have a chance to gel and get better performances from their left side starters.
Team DefenseThe Bears are once again projected to be a strong Defense/ST unit in 2012 Last year, they led the league with 9 TDs scored on defense and special teams combined. Devin Hester showed us that he can still be a threat as a return man, scoring twice on punt returns and once on a kick return. He is without question, the ace of the Bears special teams unit. WR/KR Eric Weems was added via free agency, who may step in as the regular kickoff returner, giving Hester only punt return duty, where he thrives the most. Interestingly enough, Chicago's sack totals suffered last year when nobody rose to the occasion as a second force on the defensive line behind Julius Peppers. To hopefully solve that problem, Chicago selected DE Shea McClellin, from Boise State in the first round of the draft. Look for him to get a chance to start right away and make an impact that could provide a spike in Pepper's game. If McClellin's play elevates the pass rush as some expect it to, Chicago should see an increase in defensive pressure, which will lead to more sacks and possibly one of the better defenses in the league. The Bears may not be in the first 3-5 Def/ST's taken, but they are definitely capable of a Top 5 finish.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Julius Peppers, DE Israel Idonije, DT Henry Melton, NT Matt Toeaina
Backups: DE Shea McClellin [R], DE Corey Wootton, DT Stephen Paea, DT Brian Price Starting DL: Julius Peppers is 32 years old and figures to start slowing down at some point, but he isn't really showing many signs of it yet. He has finished as a top-10 fantasy DE for each of the past four years and has also not missed a game during that time, so you can pretty much count on similar production from him once again. Israel Idonije is a solid all-around player who the team signed to a 1-year contract extension this offseason. He's not an explosive edge rusher but can push the pocket and move inside if needed. After a strong preseason and a quick start to the year, Melton looked like a serious breakout candidate. He went through a long stretch of little to no production during the heart of the season though and many fantasy owners likely wrote him off. The talent is there for him to be a very potent pass rusher if he can become a bit more consistent. Matt Toeaina started 12 games last year at nose tackle but did not do anything particularly well. Backup DL: The Bears used their first round pick to bring in some much-needed help for the pass rush when they selected Shea McClellin out of Boise State. He's a good athlete who figures to start out as a pass rush specialist and eventually take over for Idonije in 2013. Corey Wootton has dealt with injuries the past couple years but is an intriguing player who should also compete for a bigger role. Stephen Paea didn't find the field until week 6 last year but he arguably looked more impressive in his limited snaps than Toeaina did as a starter. Brian Price was a 2nd round pick in 2010 who didn't live up to expectations in Tampa, but he could still develop into a contributor with the Bears.
LinebackersStarters: WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher, SLB Nick Roach
Backups: OLB Geno Hayes, OLB Blake Costanzo Starting LBs: You'll have a hard time finding a more consistently productive outside linebacker in the league than Lance Briggs. He's pretty much the prototype for playing weakside linebacker these days and has been among the best at his position for almost a decade. Brian Urlacher isn't the dominant player he used to be, but he has played well the past two years and should continue to be the leader of this defense. At 34 years of age, you have to figure he'll be a step slower dropping into coverage but he can also make up for that with his experience and anticipation. Keep an eye on his knee though as it acted up early in camp and kept him out of the entire preseason. Nick Roach is the incumbent on the strongside, but he was a non-factor too often last year and the team would be wise to try and find an upgrade at this spot. He's also expected to move inside to MLB if Urlacher is forced to miss time during the season. Backup LBs: Geno Hayes was a starter in Tampa for the past few years and could push Roach for a starting spot at best or provide quality depth at worst. Blake Costanzo is primarily a special teams contributor who hopes to find a new home with the Bears after bouncing around the league.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Charles Tillman, CB Tim Jennings, SS Major Wright, FS Chris Conte
Backups: CB D.J. Moore, CB Kelvin Hayden, CB Jonathan Wilhite, S Brandon Hardin [R], S Craig Steltz Starting DBs: Charles Tillman has been one of the best fantasy cornerbacks in the league since joining the Bears in 2003. He's about the only player in the secondary that has a lock on a starting job so there should be some interesting battles to follow leading up to the season. Tim Jennings has been a starter for most of the past two years and posted a career-high 69 solo tackles in 2011. Although listed at just 5'8", Jennings is a sound tackler who plays bigger than his size. MA.J. or Wright and Chris Conte are both former 3rd round picks who figure to enter camp as starters. Wright has had some durability issues but also flashed the type of playmaking ability that could make him a breakout candidate. Conte started 9 games as a rookie and the Bears have high hopes for him as well. Backup DBs: D.J. Moore is a great fit as a nickel corner. Although he doesn't have ideal size, he makes plays as evidenced by the four interceptions he's posted the past couple years. The Bears tried to add some depth at the position with a couple of low cost free agent signings. Kelvin Hayden was a long-time starter for the Colts but he hasn't been able to play a full season since 2007. Jonathan Wilhite is a former Patriots draft pick who spent last year with the Broncos and started a couple games. Brandon Hardin is a promising rookie with an impressive size/speed combination, but he was lost for the season following a preseason injury. Craig Steltz is a reliable veteran backup who can fill-in if needed. Last modified: 2012-09-02 15:21:20