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2014 Team Report: Chicago Bears
QuarterbacksStarter: Jay Cutler
Backup(s): Jordan Palmer, David Fales Starting QB: Jay Cutler missed four games last season with an ankle injury. He returned, but struggled in his final two games, coming up short in both when the Bears only needed one win to make the playoffs. He finished the year with 2600 yards passing and 19 TDS against only 12 interceptions. Even without Cutler for the entire time, Chicago finished the season with over 4400 yards passing and 32 touchdowns. An impressive feat for head coach Marc Trestman’s new offense. Chicago showed great confidence in Cutler but ignoring the quarterback position in free agency and the draft, despite many fans suggesting that the team was better off without him. Cutler returns to an offense that boasts multiple pro bowl players and an offensive line that is the most stable he has had since he joined the team. If he can stay healthy, Cutler could post some of the best stats that he’s had since his final season in Denver back in 2008. Backup QB: Jordan Palmer barely made the team last year as a the emergency backup QB. But when Josh McCown was signed by Tampa, Palmer became the #2 QB by default. He’s certainly no threat to replace Cutler as the starter, but he will probably see some playing time this year given the fact that Cutler has never made it a full 16 games since his first season with the Bears back in 2009. The Bears drafted David Fales with their 6th round pick, but he is only projected to be a backup given his size and arm strength.
Running BacksStarter: Matt Forte
Backup(s): Ka’Deem Carey, Shaun Draughn, Michael Ford
Fullback(s): Tony Fiammetta, Willie Carter Starting RB: Starting RB: Matt Forte quietly posted career best stats last season, with almost 2000 yards from scrimmage and 12 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns. Despite being in an offense with two 1300 yard receivers, Forte still managed to be the focal point of the Chicago offense. The fear that Forte would be pulled at the goal line for Michael Bush was unfounded as eight of Forte’s touchdowns came from five yards or less. He closed out the season on a high note, posting over 150 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Packers in a losing effort. This season Michael Bush has moved on, and the Bears are actually a little thin at running back. Forte will again be counted on to carry the load for the team. With another year under Marc Testman’s guidance and their most impressive offensive line in several years, Forte looks ready to have another solid season for the Bears. Backup RBs: Chicago parted ways with Michael Bush, and only spent a 4th round pick on Ka’Deem Carey. They did not sign any free agent running backs, meaning that Carey, Michael Ford, and Shaun Draughn will battle to backup Matt Forte. Ford was on the team last season, but he did not have any touches during the regular season. Carey is a hard-nosed runner who had an impressive college career. But his upright, punishing running style means he’s going to have to bulk up to be effective at the NFL level. Draughn is the best and most experienced all-around back, so he has the best shot to open the season as the handcuff to Forte Fullback: The Bears rely more on their fullback for blocking and short passes out into the flat. Tony Fiammetta performed well enough in this role last season and he’ll enter training camp as the presumed starter. However, his four receptions for 50 yards should be viewed as about what to expect from him and this position next year. Willie Carter has an outside shot to make the team, but will need to improve on his blocking skills to have a shot.
Wide ReceiversStarters: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery
Backups: Marquess Wilson(injured), Santonio Holmes, Josh Morgan, Domenik Hixon, Terrence Toliver, Chris Williams, Josh Bellamy Starting WRs: It’s unbelievable to think of how far Chicago’s wide receivers have come in just two seasons. In 2011, their top receivers were Johnny Knox, Roy Williams and Dane Sanzenbacher. They had 101 receptions and 1500 receiving yards combined. Last season, top receive Brandon Marshall nearly had that by himself. Second year man Alshon Jeffery had 11 fewer receptions that Marshall, but posted 130 more receiving yards due to his big play potential. The two combined for 189 receptions, over 2700 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns. Jeffery chipped in another 100 on the ground. 1800 of those yards came with a backup QB under center. How good can these guys be with another season under their belts? With over 300 targets between them, they are an integral part of the Chicago passing game and certain to receive a lot of action this season as well. Backup WRs: The water gets really murky though when you move beyond the top two receivers on Chicago’s roster. Second year man Marquess Wilson had just three targets and two receptions last season. He was a 7th round draft choice out of Washington State and the Bears will expect a lot more from him now that Earl Bennett and Devin Hester are gone, although he'll likely miss the beginning of the season with a broken collarbone. Santonio Holmes is trying to prove he still belongs in the league and if he is motivated, he'll be one of the best #3 receivers in the league to open the season. Josh Morgan and Domenik Hixon have both been minor blips on the radar for other teams over their careers, but neither has been able to find a home despite being on the roster of multiple NFL teams. Terrance Toliver has bounced around to several NFL teams as well, but he has yet to even catch a pass in an NFL game.
Tight EndsStarters: Martellus Bennett
Backups: Fendi Onobun, Matthew Mulligan, Dante Rosario, Zach Miller The ‘Black Unicorn’ Martellus Bennett came into Chicago after an impressive season with the New York Giants. His competitive play and huge personality made him an instant hit with Chicago fans, and his performance on the field made him an excellent weapon for the Chicago passing game. With Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall drawing the defensive secondary attention, Bennett often found himself matched up against slower, less athletic defenders. He frequently hurdled opponents going for a low tackle, or out muscled them if they tried to go up high. His 65 receptions and 759 receiving yards were career highs for a guy that many people questioned about his commitment to football early in his career. He’ll return as a top target for the Bears this season, and should post similar stats again this year. Matthew Mulligan spent 2013 with the Patriots, but he managed to have just two receptions for the entire season despite New England losing their top two tight ends for most of the year. Fendi Onobun has good size and physical skills, but has to catch the ball better if he hopes to make the team. Dante Rosario and Zach Miller both bring NFL experience to the team, but neither should be expected to contribute much unless Onobun and Mulligan do not pan out.
Place KickerRobbie Gould: Robbie Gould continues to be one of the top kickers in the league (he has the best career field percentage among active qualifying kickers). He’ll be working with a new holder this year – most likely 6th round draft pick Pat O’Donnell (Miami FL), although he’ll have to beat out Tress Way. Gould will also be working with a new snapper, with Patrick Mannelly opting to retire rather than return from hip surgery. Chad Rempel is the favorite to snap, with Brandon Hartson the challenger. The Bears have been relatively consistent the past six years, ranking 18th, 13th, 15th, 18th, 18th and 19th in kicker scoring opportunities.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Jacquizz Rodgers, Marc Mariani, Senorise Perry Chicago's return situation was unsettled for much of last season. A change in coaching staff will make early predictions even more difficult. Chris Williams has not been re-signed, leaving Marc Mariani and Senorise Perry to compete with new arrival Jacquizz Rodgers for kickoff returns. Rodgers proved a capable returner in Atlanta before Devin Hester's arrival put an end to Rodgers' return opportunities. Punt Returners: Marc Mariani Wide receiver Santonio Holmes emerged as the primary returner last season but was let go in the offseason. Marc Mariani is now the most experienced punt returner on the roster, though had a poor showing in 2014 in the few opportunities that he was given. The team will likely audition other players in the preseason.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Matt Slauson, C Roberto Garza, RG Kyle Long, RT Jordan Mills
Key Backups: G/T Eben Britton, C Brian De La Puente, T Charles Leno, G James Brown The Bears return all five starters at all five positions, and as a bonus, all five started the entire season. Not many teams can make those statements and this is all great news for the line’s cohesion score. The Bears’ line played very well last season, and the extra experience together will only help their performance in 2014. At left tackle, Bushrod is playing at a Pro Bowl level, despite not making the contest last season. The Bears rewarded Matt Slauson’s consistent play with a new deal after last season, and he should man the position in the seasons to come. There was some concern that solid thirty-four year old center Roberto Garza would test the waters of free agency, but the team signed him to a one year deal a week prior to the opening of the market in March. The Bears also added veteran Brian De La Puente behind Garza, and at five years younger, could be considering him as Garza’s replacement in future seasons. The revamped right side played excellently last season, and the Bears have high hopes for second year players Kyle Long and Jordan Mills as they become seasoned veterans. In terms of depth, Eben Britton seems like the first man off the bench at most positions. Britton has starting experience and, while certainly not perfect, can be a capable swing tackle. The Bears have to make a decision on talented guard James Brown, as his contract is up after the season and there’s no clear path for him to start. The Bears took a flyer on former basketball player Charles Leno in the seventh round, and this athletic prospect is one to keep in mind in the seasons to come as a potential replacement for Britton. Overall this is one the league’s better lines and as the young players on the right side improve, the Bears’ line could potentially crack the top five in the offensive line rankings.
Team DefenseThe once-feared Bears defense is still trying to make itself over through free agency. After Julius Peppers lost a step (or three) in 2013 they added two defensive ends in Jared Allen and Lamar Houston to replace him. Allen has long been one of the best pass rushers in the league and they'll need him to play up to that level to get any kind of pass rush at all. On the rest of the defense the Bears are counting on aging vets to have one more good year. Lance Briggs, Tim Jennings, and Charles Tillman were all defensive stars at one time or another but they're also nearing the end of their career. The safety position is a complete mess and it seems like the Bears aren't quite sure what they have in linebacker Jon Bostic. For this unit to be even average they're going to need several former stars to play as if in was 2010 and not 2014.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Jared Allen, DT Jay Ratliff, DT Stephen Paea, DE Lamarr Houston
Backups: DE Willie Young, DE David Bass, DE Israel Idonije, DE Cornelius Washington, DT Tracy Robertson Starting DL: The Bears defense slumped last year and it was driven in large part by how little they got from Julius Peppers. They released him this offseason and signed two of the best available defensive ends to upgrade their pass rush. Jared Allen was signed from Minnesota, and while he isn’t the dominant player he was just a couple years ago he is still more than capable. Lamarr Houston was one of the best 3-4 ends in football last year and he will provide a much-needed upgrade at the LDE spot. The weakness of this group is in the interior, but they are hoping to get a bounce back year from the former Pro Bowler and longtime Cowboy Jay Ratliiff. Stephen Paea is the incumbent at DT but that’s a position the Bears would like to upgrade. Backup DL: Willie Young was the 3rd defensive end the Bears brought in this offseason, but he underwhelmed as a starter with the Lions last year. Israel Idonije was also brought back into the fold after spending last year with Detroit, and he can also take some snaps at DT if needed. Washington is a project the team drafted last year. He has terrific physical attributes but needs to learn how to turn them into production.
LinebackersStarters: WLB Lance Briggs, MLB DJ Williams, SLB Jon Bostic
Backups: OLB Khaseem Greene, OLB Jordan Senn, OLD Lawrence Wilson, OLB Shea McClellin Starting LBs: Lance Briggs is probably nearing the end of his career, but he provides much-needed leadership and stability for a LB group that is going through a transition phase. He missed half the year with injuries last year and will turn 34 years old during the season so it’s natural to expect some dropoff. DJ Williams was not the most exciting choice to take over inside for Brian Urlacher, but he was much more reliable than the rookie Jon Bostic and the Bears would prefer to have an experienced veteran starting in the middle. That leaves the strongside spot for the speedy Bostic, who showed a lot of promise during the preseason but disappointed when he was thrown to the wolves midseason. Backup LBs: Khaseem Greene was believed to be the heir apparent to Briggs at weakside when the Bears took him last year. He looked good in spot duty last year and should be ready to step in if called upon, either this year or next. Jordan Senn and Lawrence Wilson provide depth. Shea McClellin was a first-round pick as a defensive end, but he has been a disappointment so far and was moved to linebacker this offseason. He will now have a lot more competition for playing time.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Charles Tillman, SS Ryan Mundy, FS Chris Conte, CB Tim Jennings
Backups: CB Kyle Fuller, CB Sherrick McManis, CB Kelvin Hayden, S M.D. Jennings, S Craig Steltz Starting DBs: Charles Tillman hit free agency this offseason but re-signed with the Bears on a 1-year deal. He’ll probably go down as the best corner in franchise history but the team has to start wondering how much left he has in the tank at this point. Opposite him is Tim Jennings, another experienced playmaker who has 13 interceptions over the past two years. Both are still above average starters but on the wrong side of 30. The safety position is one the Bears have been trying to solve for years with mixed results. They are hoping that free agent pickup Ryan Mundy can help provide some stability, but he was benched by the woeful Giants last year and might be better used as a backup. Chris Conte has been a 3-year starter but he underwent shoulder surgery in March and might not be ready for the start of training camp. Bears GM Phil Emery also declared the safety position would be a wide open competition in training camp. Backup DBs: Many observers expected the Bears to go after a DT or S in round 1 of the draft, but when their target at DT was gone they decided to take CB Kyle Fuller. He was the second corner taken and looks like a potential long-term replacement for Tillman who might be in his last year with the team. He should be able to step right in and compete for the nickel back job, which leaves the other players fighting for spots on the depth chart and special teams contributions. MD Jennings was also signed in free agency and will be in the competition for a starting job. Craig Steltz has been with the team awhile but has never really emerged as anything more than a backup. Last modified: 2015-05-03 20:11:38