The Chicago Bears finished with a disappointing end to what opened up as a promising season in 2012. Injuries along the offensive line and to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte kept them from making the playoffs. That didn’t sit with new GM Phil Emery, who has made tremendous strides in addressing key weaknesses during the offseason. Changes in the coaching staff, new offensive weapons, and a returning defensive unit ensure that Lovie Smith’s team is going to be interesting, at the very least. Now let’s dive into the 2012 Chicago Bears!
We all saw how important Jay Cutler was to this team after he suffered his hand injury which kept him out of the stretch run. Cutty’s back and in a familiar offense with some new/old friends. Matt Forte signed his new contract without missing most of training camp, which means he should be in a groove when the regular season starts. Emery brought in the bruising Michal Bush, who showed in preseason a glimpse of his goal line/short-yardage effectiveness. How the Bears have another legitimate backfield pairing, which should help keep Forte healthy late in the year.
And who are these wide receivers? Oh, just Brandon Marshall, Pro-Bowler and 100-catch threat. On the opposite side of the field? Yeah, that’s rookie Alshon Jeffery. Chicago went from having no legitimate big receivers on the outside to featuring two. They completely blew up and rearranged the receiving corps, pushing Devin Hester to where he should be: a third down slot receiver that changes the pace of the offense. Keeping him out of an every-down role can only mean good things. These wide-outs will stretch the field and show you things (you know, like wide receiver skills) you’ve only seen outside of Chicago. At tight end the Bears brought back Kellen Davis, teaming him with Matt Spaeth, Kyle Adams, and drafted FB/H-back Evan Rodriguez. There’s a lot of youth at tight end and the fullback spot, so expect a few miscues and missed assignments.
Along the offensive line… it’s still not especially pretty. That’s because nothing’s really changed. J’Marcus Webb will be starting at left tackle come week one, beating out Chris Williams during the preseason. Chris Spencer will take a turn at left guard, alongside center Roberto Garza. The right of the side should be slightly more solid, with Lance Louis returning at right guard and Gabe Carimi at right tackle. Carimi gets a full season to start after missing most of 2011 with an injury. There’s a lot of work to be done with this squad, but a shift in offensive focus should take some (but not all) of the pressure off them.
What does all this mean? It’s pretty clear that the front office is going all-in with Jay Cutler. They’re giving him everything he’s ever wanted. It’s like they allowed him to celebrate his birthday and Christmas during the offseason. Now it’s time for him to put up the numbers we all know he’s capable of. And with a different scheme in place, he shouldn’t have to hold onto the ball and get crushed in the pocket. If he does, at least Emery had the forethought to sign Jason Campbell as a veteran back-up QB.The Defense
It all starts up front with a Lovie Smith defense. Julius Peppers headlines a unit that under-performed in 2011. Julius Peppers is back to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, and he’s joined by first round pick Shea McClellin and retuning veteran Israel Idonije. Henry Melton and Stephen Paea get the starts on the interior of the line, but without a lot of depth behind them. As talented as this d-line is, I think it’s top-heavy. If there’s an injury somewhere…
Onto the linebackers, who are hopefully aging gracefully? Brian Urlacher will be back in the middle of the defense after knee surgery this offseason. If he’s lost his range, then Chicago’s defense will be exposed down the middle of the field. Lance Briggs is back at the weakside, from which I expect another productive season. Nick Roach starts the season at the strong-side, but I’ve never been entirely confident in his abilities. Much like the D-line, this unit is good at the top, but weak on the second string. If Urlacher can’t stay on the field, there are going to be major issues.
In the secondary, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are back at the corner slot, joined this year by Kelvin Hayden, ex-Colt. Tillman’s another year older, but I haven’t seen a lot of drop-off in his performance. In fact, 2011 was one of his better years in recent memory. If he can stay at that level, I like this squad. At the safety slot, Lovie is going with youth once again. He’ll start Chris Conte and Major Wright at strong and free safety, respectively. Though to be fair, in this cover-two scheme these safeties are fairly interchangeable. The Bears’ secondary hasn’t been as ball-hawky in recent years as I would like to have seen, but they’re typically sold tacklers and don’t get beat deep often. And that’s what the system calls for.Special Teams
As always, the Bears special teams unit should be a shining spot. After the departure of Corey Graham, Emery wasted no time in bringing in replacement Eric Weems, who can perform both as a gunner and as a return man. Former Niner linebacker and special teamer Blake Costanzo was signed to fill the middle of the kick coverage units. Robbie Gould has shown some more leg strength in the preseason, but Lovie won’t likely trot him out for 57-yarders every game. Adam Podlesh will likely miss the opener, but he should be back for the remainder of the regular season. There seems to be some concern over this phase of the Bears, but I don’t think it makes any sense to be worried. I expect nothing but the same from Chicago’s special teams.Coaching
Ch Ch Ch Changes! Gone is Mike Martz and the seven-step drops. Mike Tice moves in as offensive coordinator and Jeremy Bates is on as the passing coordinator. Obviously this offense is going to look VERY different. If you remember Jay Cutler’s Pro Bowl year in Denver, that’s when he had Bates as his offensive coordinator. I trust Tice and Bates to get this offense in the best position to consistently put points on the board. Rod Marinelli is still on at defensive coordinator, so don’t look for a ton of changes on how that side of the game is called.
And you know… there’s Lovie. He bores me. I’m moving on.
2011 Record: 8-8
2012 Prediction: 11-5
Yep. I’m pretty sure this is my first overly positive season preview for the Bears since I started making predictions. There are certainly swing games in the schedule, but I don’t see a ton of “automatic losses.” These Bears should be extraordinarily competitive this year if they stay healthy thanks, mostly in part to what is going to be a dynamic offense.
And there you have it! My preview of the 2012 Chicago Bears is in the books! Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @JoeAnello!