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2013 Team Report: Chicago Bears

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jay Cutler
Backup(s): Josh McCown

Starting QB: Jay Cutler comes into this season with a mountain of pressure on his shoulders. Since coming to the Chicago in 2009, he's had to deal with a sub-par receiving corps, an offensive line made that looks more like a turn stile, a revolving door of offensive coordinators and constant questions about his ability and commitment to the team. This year, he's also playing for a new contract. However, the table is set for Cutler to post some of his best offensive numbers as a Bear. New head coach Mark Trestman helped Rich Gannon post career-best numbers in his 15th NFL season, and has extensive experience as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. The Bears added depth on the offensive line and will likely have four new or relocated starters on day one. His trio of targets will be the best he's ever had in Chicago as well: Brandon Marshall, second-year man Alshon Jeffery and free agent Martellus Bennett. If Cutler can't succeed in Chicago with this group, the Bears could go shopping for a new signal-caller in 2014 rather than re-sign Cutler for the big money that quarterbacks are getting these days. Look for Jay to make the most of his opportunity and play his way into a big paycheck by this time next year.

Backup QB: Jay Cutler has been sacked 113 times in his last 40 games. He hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2009. Yet the Bears have moved on from Jason Campbell and will go with journeyman Josh McCown as Cutler's backup. McCown was on the street when the Bears recruited him in 2011, and he didn't play a down last year as the team's No. 3 quarterback. He's no threat to take Cutler's job and the Bears are in serious trouble of McCown has to start for any length of time. Don't be surprised if Chicago adds another backup this summer. Running Backs

Running Backs

Starter: Matt Forte
Backup(s): Michael Bush, Michael Ford
Fullback(s): Tony Fiammetta, Harvey Unga

Starting RB: After an extended hold-out last season, Matt Forte signed a long-term deal and was in camp when the Bears needed him. Yet despite posting his best rushing stats since his rookie season, most folks were disappointed with Forte's performance last year. The addition of Brandon Marshall took away the short check-down passes that made Forte so dangerous, and he posted career lows in receptions and yards-pre-catch. Michael Bush became the short-yardage back, and he will limit Forte's goal line carries again this season. However, the re-tooled offensive line should open up better holes for Forte this year, and he could easily return to the big-play threat that he was back in 2011 where he averaged 4.9 yards per carry until he was hurt in Week 12 and lost for the season. His upside will be limited because the passing game will flow through Brandon Marshall again, but Forte should still post solid RB2 numbers with upside to sneak into the RB1 category

Backup RBs: Chicago's backup running backs looked more like a triage ward than an NFL team last season. Lorenzo Booker beat out Armando Allen as the RB3 in the final game of the season, but was placed on injured reserve eight days later and never played a down. Michael Bush established himself as the thunder to Matt Forte's lightning, but he too missed several games due to injury. This year you can expect more of the same, with Bush and Forte being the one-two punch that Chicago will trot out every week. Bush is a legitimate handcuff to Forte, and could vulture a few red zone touchdowns as well. He's only one season removed from posting nearly 1,400 yards with the Raiders back in 2011 and he would be the go-to guy if Forte went down to injury for an extended period of time.

Fullback: Evan Rodriguez was supposed to be Chicago's version of an H-Back, but his off the field issues became too much for the team to deal with and they cut him loose. Tony Fiammetta has bounced around from team to team, but the Bears like him as their lead blocker. At least for this season. Harvey Unga has been on and off the active roster, but has yet to post any offensive stats.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery
Backups: Earl Bennett, Marquess Wilson, Devin Hester (PR/KR), Eric Weems (KR), Josh Lenz, Dale Moss, Terrence Toliver, Brittan Golden, Joe Anderson, Marcus Rucker

Starting WRs: Saying that Brandon Marshall was the biggest addition to the Chicago Roster last season is like saying the Baltimore Ravens played well in the playoffs last year. Marshall set team and personal records in most major receiving categories and averaged almost 10 receptions a game. He finished at the No. 2 fantasy receiver, and many fantasy owners rode his big numbers all the way to their fantasy championship. Rookie Alshon Jeffery was considered the WR2 on the Bears by the end of the season, but missed six games due to injury and finished well short of expectations. With another full summer to polish his skills, look for Jeffery to be starter opposite Marshall this year. Expect a more balanced passing attack from Chicago this season, but Marshall will still be the go-to guy when Jay Cutler needs a clutch reception. The new offense could easily see both Marshall and Jeffery positing solid numbers if they both stay healthy.

Backup WRs: The Bears have mercifully declared that their attempts to turn Devin Hester into a wide receiver are over. This season Hester will be used almost exclusively on returning kicks and punts, eliminating whatever fantasy value he had left. Earl Bennett actually finished as the No. 2 wide receiver for Chicago last season, but if Alshon Jeffery stays healthy, that will change this year. Bennett also has to stay healthy if he hopes to live up to the big contract that he signed with the Bears in December of 2011. Although he was a seventh round pick for Chicago this season, rookie Marquess Wilson has a solid chance to make the roster. He has the skills to beat out Eric Weems for the WR4 spot since Weems is known more for his return skills as well. The final receiving spots on the roster are definitely in play this year, and the final receiving corps will probably not be decided until after the final preseason game.

Tight Ends

Starters: Martellus Bennett
Backups: Kyle Adams, Brody Eldridge, Steve Maneri, Fendi Onobun, Gabe Miller

Chicago was all too happy to part ways with Kellen Davis after a horrible 2012 performance. His frequent drops and missed blocking assignments will not be missed. Chicago made a big free-agent splash by adding Martellus Bennett to the roster right out of the gate. Bennett revitalized his career with the Giants last season, and the Bears will be overjoyed if he can post another 625-yard, 5-touchdown performance this season. Kyle Adams was used more as a blocker last year, but caught a few passes as the backup tight end. Brody Eldridge was another free agent acquisition and he'll compete with Adams and Steve Maneri to make Chicago's final roster this season.

Place Kicker

Robbie Gould: Robbie Gould missed the final three games last year and recovered from tendon surgery back in January. In the interim, Austin Signor handling the kicking duties during the spring. The other two-thirds of the specialist trio remain intact - long snapper Patrick Mannelly, who was re-signed in December, and holder/punter Adam Podlesh. The Bears have been relatively consistent the past five years, ranking 13th, 15th, 18th, 18th and 19th in kicker scoring opportunities.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Eric Weems, Michael Ford, Domenik Hixon

Chicago will enter 2014 without all time great Devin Hester as their returner. Eric Weems was a very good returner in Atlanta and stands to enter preseason as the favorite. Michael Ford has been in competition in the past as Hester's backup and should also get a shot at the starting job. The signing of Domenick Hixon provides another veteran presence with a solid kick return history. Hixon logged a 24.6 yard clip on his 80 returns with the Broncos and Giants.

Punt Returners: Eric Weems, Domenik Hixon,

Eric Weems was losing some time last season as the backup returner to Earl Bennett, but the latter's departure should leave Weems as the favorite for punt returns as well. Hixon could again be competition, owning a 10.7 yards per punt return average that is slightly better than that of Weems.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Kyle Long, C Roberto Garza, RG Gabe Carimi, RT J'Marcus Webb
Key Backups: T Cory Brandon, T Jordan Mills, G Eben Britton, G Matt Slauson, C Taylor Boggs

The Chicago Bears made a real effort to improve their line this offseason, and the result is a ranking ten slots higher than where they ended last season. The Bears made several free agency additions, but none were bigger impact than bringing Jermon Bushrod from New Orleans to play left tackle. Bushrod has made the Pro Bowl in the last two seasons and is known for being a solid pass protector without need of tight end or running back help. This move allows former left tackle J'Marcus Webb to move back to right tackle, a position where he started his career and likely to be more comfortable. Webb is still a relatively young player, he and Bushrod could be long term bookends in the Bears' system. The Bears made a high profile selection of Kyle Long in the first round. Kyle is the son of Howie and brother of Chris, and many thought he was a blatant reach at that point in the round. However sources report that other teams were ready to select Long within the next few picks. When we consider his bloodlines and athleticism, this was not a dire reach. Long is likely to start at left guard, and this is a further upgrade to the Bears' line, compared to last season. In addition to these moves, the Bears signed Eben Britton and Matt Slauson to compete at several spots. Neither man has a starting position yet, but both have experience and should fight for jobs in camp. Center Roberto Garza is mostly solid but nearing the end of his career at age thirty-four. Slauson, who has center experience, could push Garza. Right guard Gabe Carimi is running out of opportunities to shed the dreaded bust label and he will not simply be given his job as in years' past. Jonathan Scott provides emergency depth at the swing tackle role, but could be pushed out by either Britton or fifth round pick Jordan Mills out of Louisiana Tech. Overall there should be several interesting battles in preseason, and all of this competition adds up to an improved Bears offensive line. Jay Cutler was one of the most sacked quarterbacks last season; it is reasonable to expect better protection this season. This line has low cohesion due to all the changes but they can continue to improve in the rankings if the right side settles down and plays sound football.

Team Defense

The Chicago Bears were an excellent fantasy defense in 2012 as they topped the field in most scoring systems. Doing this in the same division as Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, and Calvin Johnson speaks to the overall strength of the Bears defense. Chicago was second in quarterback rating defense, and (in our random stat of the week) they were the only defense to allow fewer than 20 passing touchdowns and accumulate more than 20 interceptions. Things aren't all rosy in Chicago, however, as longtime middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher, was released. In reality, Urlacher's play had declined due to age and injuries, so his departure likely will not be tough to overcome. The Bears defense is still littered with excellent players like Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers, and their entire starting linebacker corps. They will be a starting-caliber option in any scoring system.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Julius Peppers, DE Shea McClellin, DT Henry Melton, NT Stephen Paea
Backups: DE Corey Wootton, DE Kyle Moore, DT Nick Collins, DT Andre Fluellen, DT Turk McBride, DT Zack Minter (R)

Starting DL: Julius Peppers is 33 years old but continues to play at a very high level. Over the past five years, he has averaged over 11 sacks per season and he'll once again be expected to carry this unit. Veteran Israel Idonije had been very productive at the other end spot but last year's first-round pick Shea McClellin is expected to take over. He has added bulk in anticipation of a bigger role this year, but showed very little as a rookie. Henry Melton signed a one-year franchise tender and hopes to sign a long-term extension. He had a breakout season last year and should be considered one of the top fantasy defensive tackles in the league. Stephen Paea has shown steady improvement since the Bears drafted him a couple years ago and should be ready for a full-time role.

Backup DL: Corey Wootton finally was able to stay healthy last year and posted some impressive numbers as a reserve pass rusher. He'll be ready to step in and play a big role if McClellin needs more seasoning. Kyle Moore didn't put up big numbers but generally played well with the Bills last year and should provide quality depth. There is little in the way of proven depth behind the starters at defensive tackle. Nate Collins and Andre Fluellen are both on one-year contracts and can contribute as pass rushers. Turk McBride had some success with the Lions a few years ago, but didn't show much with the Saints the past couple seasons. Zack Minter signed as an undrafted free agent and has a good opportunity to make the roster.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Lance Briggs, MLB D.J. Williams, SLB James Anderson
Backups: ILB Jon Bostic (R), ILB Dom DeCicco OLB Blake Costanzo, OLB Khaseem Greene (R)

Starting LBs: A new era will begin for the Bears this year as Brian Urlacher was released, but they might actually get an upgrade at the position if D.J. Williams can return to his prior form. Williams has been an elite linebacker in the past but had a forgettable season in 2012 and may have lost a step at this point in his career. Lance Briggs continues to be very reliable but will turn 33 this year and may need to play fewer snaps to be at his best. James Anderson has been highly productive with the Panthers when forced into an everydown role and should help stabilize a strongside linebacker position that has generally been a weak spot in Chicago.

Backup LBs: The Bears attempted to address their aging linebacker group on draft day with the selections of Jon Bostic and Khaeem Greene. Bostic was the higher pick and the Bears obviously hope he'll be the MLB of the future, but he may not have the range needed to be an everydown option. Greene is more athletic and could be a potential replacement for Briggs down the road. Blake Costanzo is a journeyman player on his fourth NFL team, but he probably won't be counted on for much more than special teams play. Dom DeCicco provides additional depth at inside linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Charles Tillman, CB Tim Jennings, SS Major Wright, FS Chris Conte
Backups: CB Kelvin Hayden, CB Zackary Bowman, CB Sherrick McManis, S Tom Zbikowski, S Brandon Hardin, S Craig Steltz

Starting DBs: The Bears continue to get exceptional play from Charles Tillman year after year. He forced an amazing 10 fumbles last year and was one of the best defensive players in the league. If opposing quarterbacks wanted to avoid throwing to Tillman's side, they didn't find much success as his counterpart Tim Jennings piled up nine interceptions. This is one of the league's best corner tandems and both should continue to be great fantasy options even if they don't replicate last year's huge numbers. The safety position is more settled this year than it's been in the past, but neither player appears to stand out. Major Wright is the better playmaker and fantasy option, but Chris Conte is developing nicely and has good range.

Backup DBs: Kelvin Hayden played in nearly half of the snaps last year as the team's primary nickel corner and that trend should continue this year. Zackary Bowman has been a starter in the past but fell down the depth chart the past couple years. Sherrick McManis is a key contributor on special teams. The Bears have solid depth at safety with the signing of Tom Zbikowski, who should compete with last year's third-round pick Brandon Hardin for playing time. Craig Steltz has plenty of experience as well and could compete for a backup spot.

Last modified: 2014-05-15 15:15:57