As players prepare to report to Bourbonnais for the start of training camp, here's a position-by-position look at the Bears on paper before the pads start popping. It might be fun to compare what we think we know about before training camp to what we find out during the preseason and regular season.
Here goes, a brief position-by-position analysis based what we saw last year, improvements that have been made during the offseason and how they might project this season. Basically, it's my gut talking. Yours may see things differently.
Cutler will be better. He has to be. He will still make bad decisions and bad throws but there's one thing to remember about Mike Martz's offense that hasn't been discussed much lately. It always seems like somebody is open, especially in the red zone. How many time during Kurt Warner's career, for example, do you remember him flipping an easy pass to a wide-open receiver for a gimme touchdown? Criticize Cutler all you want, but time after time last season (the 49ers game leaps immediately to mind), he dropped back and nobody was open, forcing him to try to thread the ball through the eye of a needle for a completion. That won't be the case as often this year, which will help him immeasurably.
Projected grade: B
Matt Forte should be better, Chester Taylor is the perfect compliment for this system and Harvey Unga has promise. A solid running game should also help Cutler.
Projected grade: B +
I think Chris Williams can develop into a solid left tackle. As for as overall talent, however, I don't believe this group is much better than average. I've talked to person after person who are convinced that new offensive line coach Mike Tice will squeeze every ounce of ability out of these players, which makes me give this unit the benefit of the doubt.
Projected grade: C +
We'll include the tight ends in this group, too. Mainly, the question is, will the receiving corps play as well as it did late last season or as inconsistently as it did before that? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. It's a reasonably talented group but expect more growing pains while players learn a new system.
Projected grade: B -
I don't believe in the myth of Tommie Harris. Sorry. Israel Idonije, Mark Anderson and/or Marcus Harrison need to have career years. As you can probably tell after two sentences, I don't have much confidence in what looks to me like an average group, and that's with Julius Peppers.
Projected grade: C
Easily the strength of the team. Brian Urlacher has something to prove and will be an absolute beast. Lance Briggs is capable of having another Pro Bowl-caliber year and whether Pisa Tinoisamoa or Nick Roach starts on the strong side isn't a big deal because both are solid. Hopefully, this unit can make up for shortcomings in front of them and behind them.
Projected grade: A
This is the unit that could determine the team's fate. If Chris Harris and, say, rookie Major Wright proved to a capable safety duo and the corners stay healthy, this may still only be a slightly above average secondary. But what happens if one of the safety spots remains unsettled and a cornerback or two goes down to injury? The bottom falls out, that's what happens. I just don't see the top-end talent or the depth here.
Projected grade: C -
They always seem to come together under Dave Toub, which is why I'm giving the unit that includes kicker Robbie Gould and punter Brad Maynard the highest grade yet. Devin Hester told me he has changed his offseason conditioning program with the hope of improving his return game. The Bears better hope it works because they're going to need every edge they can get.
Projected grade: A