First Look: 2011 Chicago Bears offense

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First Look: 2011 Chicago Bears offense

Monday, Jan. 31, 2011
Posted 7:32 p.m. Updated 8:49 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Chicago Bears offense finished the 2009 season ranked 23rd in yardage and produced 319 points under then-coordinator Ron Turner. In 2010 the Bears dismissed Turner and all but two of his staff, brought in Mike Martz as coordinator and finished 30th in yardage, dropping to 28th in passing yardage, and totaled 310 points.

Not the direction the Bears had in mind, although they did score 24 or more in five of the seven games before meeting Green Bay and the NFLs No. 2 scoring defense in the NFC Championship.

READ: Part 1 - Coaching, draft, free agency

The Bears did not stand pat last offseason and they wont this year. The changes are not expected to be sweeping in terms of free-agent acquisitions or even the draft, but the 2011 Bears will differ markedly from the 2010 edition.

In order to win 12 games in this league you have to have some power on the offensive side of the ball, coach Lovie Smith said. We made a lot of progress. As we look at our future -- what Matt Forte will be able to do this coming year, of an offensive line fighting through injuries, but to finish that way, our receivers, our quarterback -- I'm excited about the direction our offense is going.

In the second in a four-part series, CSNChicago.com examines the position groups on offense and what is likely to play out in the months before the 2011 season opens:

Quarterback

Jay Cutler is set. Caleb Hanie is a restricted free agent and the only question there is level of RFA tender. The Bears have gone with two quarterbacks during recent seasons and likely would have last season had Hanie not suffered a shoulder injury in preseason.

Jay led us to 12 wins, Smith said. We had a heck of a year. Finished short but we had a heck of a year. Hes our quarterback and done a lot of great things for us. I cant wait for our future together with him leading our team.

Matt Guiterrez was signed to a futures contract and should have a second training-camp stint with the Bears but Todd Collins muddied the waters as far as Mike Martz and a must-have veteran backup.

Running back

The organization will not rush into an extension for Forte, who had a career year in 2010 and has one year remaining on his rookie contract. But franchises like hungry players, Forte has had one super year but two OK ones, and the Bears will not be in a rush to do anything with Forte early.

One source told CSNChicago.com that Chester Taylor would be cut after his one disappointing year at huge money, and at 32, Taylors arrow is definitely not pointing up. But the team has paid him already and is not under money pressure at the position because Forte and Taylor combined are far below elite money.

Receiver

Look for the Bears to bring in a veteran wide receiver, possibly one that will jump over Devin Hester or Johnny Knox and into the starting lineup. The Bears will be one of the teams looking at Plaxico Burress when his prison stint finishes, and others like Roy Williams from Dallas or the Jets Braylon Edwards will be under consideration.

But price will be a factor and the Bears are not going to overpay for less than a sure thing. They spent heavily for Muhsin Muhammed and got value as well as contributions to two playoff appearances. But while none of their current receivers is at an elite level, all have improved enough to keep this from ranking as a desperate need, particularly with the group moving with Cutler into the second year in a potentially explosive offensive system.

Greg Olsen developed into a serviceable all-around tight end and is entering a contract year. As in Fortes case, however, the organization will not bid against itself for Olsen even though Brandon Manumaleuna contributes little beyond blocking and not even that at special levels.

Desmond Clark will leave Chicago with some mileage left, just no chance to use it under Mike Martz.

Offensive line

The 2010 Bears line achieved some cohesion after the midseason off week and had the same starting line of left tackle to right, Frank Omiyale-Chris Williams-Olin Kreutz-Roberto Garza-JMarcus Webb.

It is entirely possible that none of those five will be in those positions to open 2011, and the result could be a significantly better offensive line. Spending as many as two of their first three picks on offensive linemen is possible depending upon the vagaries of free agency. The team is expected to add a veteran, likely a guard, to the mix of the starting five.

With a year of his own tape to watch on linemen running the new system, coach Mike Tice will make adjustments, possibly even radical ones.

Left tackle: The organization made a decision that it could and would live with the learning year for JMarcus Webb. The result was sufficient evidence that the seventh-rounder is an NFL tackle, perhaps the best one on the roster. With his size and upside, the organization is expected to look at him first at the most critical line position.

This league is so intricate now, so many different blitz packages, personnel packages, and fortunately hes a good student, hes very smart, and hes got good veterans around him, Tice said. Roberto Garza, Olin Kreutz and Kevin Shaffer have taught him how to study.

Omiyale survived at the position but not well enough to establish himself and he projects to be in the competition at right tackle.

Left guard: Williams performed the best of any suitor for this position last season but he was a right tackle for the early part of 2009 and is better suited for the outside. This is a need position and free agency will offer alternatives.

Center: Olin Kreutz has played through three contracts with the Bears, virtually unheard of in the current NFL. But he has not been extended and hell be 34 in June. The organization has Edwin Williams in reserve and can slide Roberto Garza from guard to center.
Right guard: Garzas return from knee surgery was a turning point in 10 and he will open at one of the interior three spots. Lance Louis was a disappointment when he had his opportunity and the team has to be satisfied as to whether he has learned how to play through minor injuries. The Bears were well served by Garza and Ruben Brown but guards have been supremely expensive in free agency.

Right tackle: Omiyale or Williams will be in a competition at that spot, along with veteran Kevin Shaffer, although Shaffers role has evolved into swing tackle over the past year.

How really significant is this position group? Consider: For all of the injuries sustained by key figures this season, four of the five offensive line positions for the Green Bay Packers had the same starter for all 19 games, including playoffs. The fifth was right tackle, and when veteran Mark Tauscher went down, his relief was Bryan Bulaga, the Packers No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.

The 2006 Bears went to the Super Bowl with the help of an offensive line that saw four of five start all 16 games and the fifth, John Tait, start 17 of 19.

The 2010 Bears were 7-2 leading to the playoffs when the front five settled out with Omiyale-Williams-Kreutz-Garza-Webb. A significant focus of the OTAs, training camp and preseason will be on clarifying the best five and getting it in place as soon as possible.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

The NFL Scouting Combine convening this week in Indianapolis isn't really the high point of pre-draft assessing being done by NFL teams. Those evaluations have been going on for many, many months — on college campuses, at bowl games — and will go on with Pro Days and selected visits to team headquarters.
 
But what it does represent is two things: a chance for teams to probe for detailed medical information on some 300 potential draftees, and a case study in savvy brand marketing by the NFL that has become its own hot-stove league on steroids (hopefully not literally for any of the participants).
 
Covering the event 25 years ago, representatives of the three Chicago-area newspapers comprised one of the two largest media contingents (the other being New York's) going about the business of football reporting after the sport had largely moved off the sports-front with the wrap-up of the Super Bowl. No TV, no internet, and the Combine operators really didn't want media around for what was set up as a purely team-centric.
 
Now the NFL has created a media event that keeps it in news prominence at what had always been a dormant calendar nadir for pro football, with not only some 1,000 media members and outlets welcome, but also with fans able to attend events like the 225-pound bench press and 40-yard dashes, whose results were once something that reporters dug around for as news scoops.
 
But beyond the observed events, including group media interviews for the majority of athletes, individual draft stocks will be affected by vertical jumps, cone drills and such. And by interviews with individual teams, which are still private. (For now. Somehow, it's not beyond imagination that someday even those will be televised, in an NFL guise of "transparency" or something, but that's for another time.)
 
Strengths, weaknesses and the QB conundrum
 
One annual refrain are the assessments of the overall draft class, what positions are its deepest, its weakest, an evaluation that carries some weight because invitees to the Combine include underclassmen, which the Senior Bowl does not.
 
But a danger within the process is exactly that — the "weight" assigned to results, particularly the on-field ones. On-field evaluations are the best indicators, but the right on-field ones were there on playing fields and now tape, not inside Lucas Oil Stadium this week.

[RELATED - Which direction will Bears go at pick No. 3?]
 
Combine performance has affected drafts rightly and wrongly over the years.
 
ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio has made an excellent case for players declining that test for reasons of confidentiality. And frankly, if teams have a problem with a player declining the test, then teams and the NFL need to do a better job of keeping the results in-house, particularly given that correlations between the Wonderlic and NFL success are questionable at best.
 
But some player or players will move up or slip down on draft boards because of drill work. That may be unfortunate for the player, and for the teams.
 
QB or not QB
 
It is at this point that the Combine becomes increasingly relevant to the Bears, or at least to those trying to discern what realistic chances exist for the Bears to address their well-documented areas of need (quarterback, tight end, cornerback, safety).
 
An inherent problem at this stage is the difficulty in arriving at a right decision, particularly at the paramount position. NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock did some checking that illustrates the issue.
 
Between 2007-14, teams selected 21 quarterbacks in the first round. Nine of them are no longer even in the league, and only a handful have achieved something close to the coveted "franchise" distinction: Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Carolina's Cam Newton, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Only Flacco has won a Super Bowl.
 
"It gives a pretty good feel for the 'hit' rate of franchise quarterbacks in the first round," Mayock said on Monday.
 
"My message to NFL teams is, 'you've got to keep trying, keep on swinging.'"
 
Whether the Bears take a swing at a franchise quarterback at No. 3 is still many weeks off. But Mayock didn't endorse making that swing at that point.
 
"I don't have any quarterbacks anywhere near the Top 10," Mayock said. "That doesn't mean I think there's no talent there, because I think there are four quarterbacks that have first-round talent. In my order I had for my initial Top 5, it was [DeShone] Kizer, [Deshaun] Watson, [Mitch] Trubisky, [Patrick] Mahomes. All four of them have holes in their games.
 
"I don't think any of them are ready to start Week 1."
 
More to come over the next week. Make that "weeks."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPNChicago.com) and Danny Parkins (670 The Score) join David Kaplan on the panel.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Bears will not use the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery for the second straight year. Is that the right move? And what will Ryan Pace do with all of his team’s cap space?

The Bulls are winning but their new, young point guard doesn’t know his role. Will anything ever change with the Bulls?

That plus Scott Paddock drops by to recapping a thrilling Daytona 500 finish.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: