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.

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Injuries will remain a swirling Bears story until the start of the regular season in Houston on Sept. 11, at which time the injuries will be separated from what coach John Fox termed “owies” on Tuesday. Players are trained to know the difference between pain (which you can play through) and injury (which you can sometimes worsen by playing on) and the next couple weeks, more than Saturday’s preseason game No. 3, will see all that play out.

In the meantime, however, projected roster decisions are being affected by what a handful of Bears are revealing about themselves in the vacuum created by injuries to front-liners.

These three do not automatically translate into changes at the top of the depth chart. Players lose jobs, not because of injury, but because their replacements play better than they were, and that hasn’t necessarily happened. But a team looking for quality depth is getting glimpses of some while starters are sidelined.

1.   Jeremy Langford/Ka’Deem Carey down, Jacquizz Rodgers rising.

Over the past couple weeks, the Bears’ running back committee has been expanding even as certain key figures have coped with injuries. Carey was put in the concussion protocol after a hit on special teams during the Denver game, and Langford was in a walking boot from a minor foot injury suffered in the New England game.

Rodgers, the senior member of the running-back committee, may have been an outsider in a roster squeeze, particularly after the drafting of Jordan Howard this offseason. But Rodgers has materialized with the No. 1 offense with increasing frequency, even with Carey back.

“You know 'Quizz was a big part of what we were doing early last year and then he got injured, he broke his arm,” said coach John Fox. “You know he's a real pro's pro as far as he approaches the game. He's a leader in that running-back room, you know he's a big contributor on 4th down as well as a guy who can go in and tote the rock. 

“But we didn't get a lot of looks at that last year and I've liked what I've seen this year.”

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2. Grasu/Long down, Cornelius Edison rising.

First it was center Hroniss Grasu going down with a torn ACL. Over the past week it has been right guard Kyle Long sitting out with a worrisome shoulder injury. The first occasioned installing Ted Larsen, edged out at left guard by rookie Cody Whitehair, at center. The second sent Larsen to right guard and moved Cornelius Edison up into the center spot with the No. 1 offense.

Edison, who’d spent part of his rookie year on the Bears’ practice squad, went undrafted out of Portland State and was far from a player to watch when camp began, even mistakenly ID’d as a linebacker in team literature.

Not anymore. Long is expected back at some point and Larsen the presumptive starter at center. But Edison has earned time with the No. 1 offense and done enough with it to be a serious candidate to stick on a roster in need of interior insurance.

“[Edison] is athletic,” Fox said. “He doesn’t have quite the experience that Ted has but he’s a good young prospect and the more snaps he gets [the better]. He got quite a few snaps Thursday night in New England and I thought he performed pretty well.”

3. CB’s down, Kevin Peterson rising. 

Kyle Fuller required knee surgery a week ago. Bryce Callahan has been hobbled and held out of practice. Jacoby Glenn started at New England but went out with a concussion. All are favorites for roster spots, but their absences has allowed Peterson onto the field and into situations where he has played his way into position to surprise when final cutdowns are done.

An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Peterson is an obvious prospect for practice squad. “He's been here all through the off-season and into training camp,” Fox said. “He hasn't had a lot of opportunity until we got nicked up at the [cornerback] position. So [the Kansas City game] will be a big opportunity for him as well as the final preseason game against Cleveland.”

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

Bears coach John Fox draws much the same distinction as your Mom might have, between real injuries and “owies,” those nicks and things that she could put a band-aid on and you would be back out playing before you’d missed a turn at bat.

Owies won’t keep players out of the Bears’ Sept. 11 opener in Houston against the Texans, so conclusions about whether it’s an injury or an owie don’t mean much at this point when thinking ahead for Week 1 availability.

But the seemingly endless drumbeat of players missing practice time – typically more than a dozen out of 90 on any given practice day – takes players out of the sessions they need to become parts of a whole on offense, defense or special teams. It means, for instance, that rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, working to master pass-rush moves at the NFL level, misses time to work on those desperately needed moves against tackles and tight ends.

This time last year, linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were coming off injuries that ended their 2014 seasons. They were established veterans and it still took time, arguably the better part of a half season, for them to come all the way back physically, but also to integrate fully into the scheme with teammates.

[RELATED: Porter balancing job as 'coach' and starting CB]

Now with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters, the Bears could more than some other more veteran teams feel the effects of that lost time and chances to develop cohesion.

Fox has seen this situation before, and every preseason has injury stories. “I think it's pretty much the same in the other 31 [NFL] cities,” Fox said. “It's been about the same for me the last 15 years. So there's a difference between injuries and owies, so we've had a couple injuries and now it's just about getting everybody healthy for Houston.”

The sick-bay list by the time the Bears visit Houston is not expected to include guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, running back Jeremy Langford or nickel corner Bryce Callahan. But Long (shoulder) was working off to the side with right tackle Bobby Massie on footwork, not at full speed in practice. Callahan (hamstring) was just doing some light running, not in pads and not in concert with the rest of the nickel secondary projected to include him. Miller (concussion) was in a no-contact red jersey that called attention to his history of injury susceptibility.

They and others are not in any sort of game-week schedule.

“Everything is a schedule,” Fox said. “I don’t care who you are or where it is at home or at the office, there's a routine and a schedule. You like getting guys acclimated to the point of where we've got a 12 o'clock kickoff for a preseason game, which is a typical Sunday kickoff for us in our routine so I think the more you can expose guys to scheduling, kind of what you're expecting in the preparation, I think the better.”

Injuries, and owies, are doing that schedule no favors.

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

When Charles Tillman retired earlier this year, more than an elite cornerback was exiting the game. Tillman was a mentor to young defensive backs, even though he made it abundantly clear that he had no interest in moving on to coaching in his next career.

When the Bears re-signed Tracy Porter to a three-year contract this offseason, one that committed some $4.5 million to a cornerback who’d been with five different teams over the past five seasons, they were cementing in place more than just their top defensive back. They were committing to one of those hard-to-find individuals whose presence makes the whole greater than just the sum of the parts.

Porter, who has played 16 games just once (Oakland, 2009) in his eight NFL seasons, has started as many games in his career (79, including six in postseason) as the rest of the Bears defensive backs combined (75). The result is that Porter suddenly becomes the bell-cow for a group that is struggling to establish itself and a level of NFL competence.

“We’re young in the secondary outside of Tracy Porter for the most part and we’re just going to have to see what they’re capable of doing mentally as we go through the process here,” said coordinator Vic Fangio, “and how many schemes we can ask them to do effectively.”

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A significant measure of how many of those schemes and everything else the secondary will be able to do traces (no pun intended) to Porter. He is not only the best defensive back on the roster; he also is the most experienced, from time in schemes with New Orleans, Denver, Oakland, Washington and now the Bears.

The situation is complex, however.

Veterans are too often assumed to be mentors to young players, even to the point of helping know where to line up, techniques and such. That involves in-game help, which is the nature of defense anyway. But a player assuming too much of a role in coaching others in his group can lose focus on his own job, a prelude to disaster.

“It can, but I try to do my best to focus in on what I need to do, and then once I see those guys taking their reps, then that’s when I go into the coaching mode,” Porter said. “But when I’m out there on the field, I’m locked in to what ‘21’ [his own number] and the rest of the defense has to do.

“But when the younger guys are in, I’m definitely in coaching mode. I’m getting my mental reps. At the same time, I’m watching those guys what they’re doing, if they’re having a missed assignment or having a not-so-good technique that I can help them with.”

The Bears had high hopes last year for tall cornerback Alan Ball, who started the first three games as Porter worked his way back from a preseason hamstring strain. Ball failed to capitalize on his opportunity and Porter replaced him at Seattle, then started the rest of the year.

And he has has begun this year working at setting an example as he did last Nov. 26 when he intercepted one Aaron Rodgers pass and broke up four others – most by any player in Rodgers’ career. Last Thursday’s game at New England was preseason, meaning that stats are typically dismissed as meaningless (which they are decidedly not when they indicate a pattern or trend). Inside the Chicago 10 Porter stripped the football from a Patriots running back and recovered it. The play was one the Bears practiced and the result was a takeaway in a second straight game, something the Bears were unable to accomplish over the final seven games of 2015.

It also was the only pass breakup or forced/recovered fumble by any member of the secondary in the game.

But that is part of preseason, and with the spiraling injury list in the secondary, Porter’s work away from the football will continue to be an unofficial on-field “assistant” to defensive-backs coach Ed Donatell.

“My biggest challenge?” Porter reflected. “Just keeping the guys into it that are injured and bringing the guys that weren’t getting many reps, getting those guys up to speed, to catch up the first- and second-team defense.”