The 2012 Bears schedule is out. Now the order of opponents is set, subject to flex times later in the season. That is always the trigger mechanism for predictions of how the year will go.Actually, you could have gotten into predix mode anytime after the final game, since the opponents were set back then, based on finish in the standings, yours and others in your conference.But now there are dates and times in place. More important, a major portion of player movement has already occurred, meaning that teams can be critiqued not just on last years record but also on what theyve done, not done or had done to them in the offseason.And for the third year in a row, View from the Moon is down with a prediction of 10-6 or better, with strong emphasis this year on the or better.(View from the Moon will pass on predicting game-by-game. That's minutiae, and View from the Moon is strictly big picture).Heres why:Recent historyThe 2010 season ended up 'or better' (11-5) and within a touchdown of reaching the Super Bowl. Last seasons '10-6 or better' was spot on up until Jay Cutler broke his thumb when the Bears were 7-3. The Bears still were within a game of tiebreakers even with Caleb Hanie and without Matt Forte for the final quarter of the season.Lion-izingThe draft still has to play out in a little more than a week, but the Bears were already even with or past the Detroit Lions (they whacked Detroit in their second game last year). And that was with Matthew Stafford healthy.OCThey changed offensive coordinators, formally, to the individual (Mike Tice) most responsible for turning around their game plans the past two years. The Bears didnt win 18 of 26 regular-season games entirely because of Mike Martz; they won some in spite of him.QBsTheir quarterback has ended the past two seasons wearing a baseball cap on Sundays but they are better equipped to deal with misfortune now than at any time in recent history, with Jason Campbell, should calamity befall Cutler a third straight year.(Not that it matters exactly, but if the Lions or Packers lose their starting quarterback, theyll be lucky to be playing in a BCS bowl game).UpgradesNo team in the NFC North has upgraded as much as the Bears already have with Brandon Marshall at wide receiver, Michael Bush at running back, Devin Thomas and Eric Weems at wideout and special teams, and at the same time avoided taking any significant steps backwards.This was already a good team; critics should accept that. It has only gotten better this offseason. The same cannot be said for Detroit and Green Bay, and for a number of teams on the schedule, for that matter.ScheduleForget about win-loss percentage of opponents for evaluating difficulty of schedule. View from the Moon has always placed greater store in how many good teams do you have to play?The Bears play seven games against teams with winning records for 2011, and four of those are in the NFC North (Detroit and Green Bay). The other three are the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, in succession from weeks 9-11.
With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line.
1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?
One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week.
“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”
2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?
Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey.
“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said.
3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?
A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case.
With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.
1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?
Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.
“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”
2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?
Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie.
“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”
3. How productive can this unit be?
Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season.