The Chicago Bears went 8-8 in 2011, down from their record of 11-5 in 2010. Against NFC North teams, they broke even at 3-3, but two of those wins came after facing the Minnesota Vikings, who will be picking 3rd in the upcoming draft.
The season started out great, and by Week 11, Jay Cutler had led his team to seven wins versus three losses. A playoff berth seemed inevitable.
All season Bears had been dropping like flies, but the final nail in the coffin was Cutler's broken thumb. He had to sit for the rest of the season. His backup helped bring Chicago five straight losses.
After a rough season, this piece looks back at the young men the Bears drafted last April and what they did for their team.
Say what you will about the Bears' offensive line, but don't say that the team didn't fix it.
With the 29th pick in the draft, Chicago selected Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin to keep QB Jay Cutler off the dirt and let RB Matt Forte work his magic.
Unfortunately, Carimi only lasted two games before a knee injury knocked him down to the injured reserve for the rest of 2011. Chicago was playing New Orleans. In case you've been lying under a rock since February, it has been revealed that the Saints were paying players to injure targeted opponents. Carimi, receiver Earl Bennett, and Cutler are all suspected to have been on this hit list.
In the two games where the right tackle appeared, he performed quite well. Standing at 6'7'', with a 83.25 inch wing span, Carimi has fantastic measurements, which more than make up for his lack of elite agility.
Assuming he recovers, Carimi should be a big part of holding together a team that struggled with injuries in 2011.
If he can keep Jay Cutler standing up, who knows how far the Bears will go into the 2012 postseason?
October 16th, 2011.
Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb is backed up into his own end zone.
He's making his reads, starting to sense the pressure, moving out of the way...
And he's down.
The Oregon State defensive tackle scrapped 14 tackles and 2 sacks together in 2011, even though he had only limited participated in just 11 games. Health was a concern for the New Zealand native. Every moment Paea found himself on the field he tried his best to make something happen with it.
Though the DT was not a consistent starter, Paea is definitely a contender to play first team in 2012. With a full offseason, the raw talent could improve to Pro Bowl status.
The Bears still have a hole at safety, but Chris Conte was shovelful of dirt.
That didn't come out right.
Named to the Professional Football Writers of America 2011 All-Rookie Team, the California star may just have been the best pick Chicago made in the 2011 draft. He was certainly the best safety of the draft class.
The free safety started nine of the 14 games he played in. ESPN has him at 30 tackles over the course of the season, 23 of them solo, seven of them assists. He actually generated more solo tackles than veteran safety Brandon Meriweather.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Conte could be a household name within the near future.
Though there is no hard evidence that Nathan Enderle was a bad pick, there are some questions surrounding his talents.
Mainly, one must wonder why he did not start after Jay Cutler's season-ending injury and Caleb Hanie's incompetence at quarterback. Instead of playing their fifth-round pick, the Bears elected to sign and start Josh McCown.
Respectively, Hanie's and McCown's passer ratings were 41.8 and 68.3. Caleb Hanie may have the greatest first name in existence, but he should not start in the NFL, and McCown's role was solely not to turnover the ball.
Perhaps the management felt that without the benefit of a full offseason, Enderle could not be sufficiently evaluated as a player. This may be true, but Chicago might as well have benched Hanie during the fourth quarter of games in which the Bears faced insurmountable deficits. The franchise could have seen Enderle in a pressured environment, a true test for a young quarterback.
Enderle is an unknown at this point and can't be said to have been a great pick yet.
The Bears tried to boost their weak linebacker corps with J.T. Thomas.
Not much happening there.
Thomas spent the season on injured reserve with a hip problem and was recently arrested for possession of marijuana.