Last Thursday, the Chicago Bears wrapped up this year's mandatory minicamp, so it's time to take a look at where the roster stands before we tumble headlong into full-blown training camp.
It bodes well for the offense.
Of course, Jason Campbell is a major upgrade over everything they had last year, and if the worst happens, he should be a good option to keep things afloat for an extended period of time.
Josh McCown isn't anything but a break-the-glass emergency quarterback. Given what happened when one of those got in the lineup last season, it's better to leave the genie in the bottle.
There has been no solution in the Matt Forte stand-off, which leaves us with an extended look at the newest addition, Michael Bush.
Reports have been positive for Bush, and while some of that is obvious posturing, Bush is a talented back and will excel in this offense.
Another guy to watch would be Kahlil Bell, entering his third year in the league. Bell is a powerful runner who, while not as talented as Bush or Forte, could hold his own as part of a committee.
If Forte's holdout lingers, you'll hear more and more about Bell, as he'll take more carries to help offset the loss.
Of course the two biggest stories have been the acclimation of Brandon Marshall and the new role of Devin Hester.
One, I buy. The other, not so much.
Marshall and Cutler have apparently picked up right where they left off. The two have been doing well so far this year and look like they're poised to have a great season. They've done a great job of adapting what they'd already done before to this new offense.
Hester is the guy I'm not on board with. We've heard the praise before, and it doesn't ever pan out. Hester may look good right now, in shorts and shells, but once he sees contact, it will be the same story as ever.
Where he fits into this offense is impossible to say right now. Marshall is obviously the primary receiver. Rookie Alshon Jeffery has been battling a lower-leg injury, and while he did individual drills, he has to get healthy between now and camp if he's going to have a shot at the No. 2 spot.
He has the talent, but he won't get the job on the sidelines.
Earl Bennett is pretty consistent and can step in as the No. 2, but Jeffery has far more upside.
Regardless, Jeffery and Bennett will end up ahead of Hester. The one-time cornerback and all-world returner has yet to prove he can reliably perform as a major part of the passing game.
I don't see that changing any time soon.
I'm high on Kellen Davis this year, as he should be a great fit in the new offense. While that doesn't mean I expect Rob Gronkowski numbers, he should easily double the amount of catches he had in 2011, topping 36-40.
Davis has his sights set on 40-60, a little high for an offense with Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, rookie Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett looking for catches and touches.
Still, he could be a very effective target for the Bears and Jay Cutler. Coach Lovie Smith has compared him to elite-level tight ends, and he has great hands, so he could be a factor in the red zone.
Plus, I love the confidence.
Matt Spaeth is a huge target and could get some work closer to the goal line or in blocking, and rookie Evan Rodriguez is a player I like to have an impact over the next few years.
Actually using the tight ends is a new look for this Bears team and will pay dividends all season long.
It's easy to pick this line apart, especially when the most critical aspect of it—the left tackle—is a question mark. Can J'Marcus Webb improve over his 2011 performance? He was a late-round draft pick, and there is only so much you can ask of a guy when he went close to going undrafted.
Or will Chris Williams take over there and succeed in a position he was drafted for and struggled with? Williams had issues at guard—it's dicey to stick a player who can't hack it at guard to left tackle.
Still, as I have mentioned before, he is in a contract year—the team has incentive for him to win that job so they know with absolute certainty if he's worth re-signing and for how much.
Gabe Carimi is still healing, and it remains to be seen if he's going to be in the mix at left tackle or hang at guard.
It's no overstatement that he entire season could hinge upon those three players. If they can step up, protect Cutler and keep him healthy, the Bears offense is in good shape.
If not, it could be a long season.
While the tackles are OK, the real action is on the ends. Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije were already studs on their own—adding rookie Shea McClellin just makes this portion of the line that much more dangerous.
The question will be how to juggle it, but honestly it's about how fast McClellin can get up to speed. If he has a good rookie season, it could spell the end of Idonije's time in Chicago.
Then again, what's the harm in three great defensive ends?
Brian Urlacher may be older and a little less productive, but he's still a force in the middle of the field. He could be around a few more productive years, and he'll have a solid 2012. The guy to watch will be Dom DiCicco, who has been getting reps at the MIKE spot Urlacher usually has as well as rave reviews for his work.
That might be a torch being passed, folks.
Lance Briggs and Nick Roach are looking as solid as ever, and the depth behind them is good and reliable. You don't replace Briggs easily, but they can do more than just hold the fort.
Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings hold the corner spots for now, but don't sleep on DJ Moore, who has looked good in minicamp. He will push for time, and while undersized, if he can make plays he'll get in the game.
At safety, Major Wright and Chris Conte will have to hold off rookie Brandon Hardin. I've seen Hardin listed as a free safety, which puts him at odds with Conte, but it may take a while for Hardin to really get up to speed.
The Bears will be able to rotate the safeties if need be, though, a luxury not every team has. When you are in a conference that throws as much as the NFC does, being able to spell the starters is a good thing.
Overall, the biggest question mark is definitely the offensive line. The team believes it has the pieces and just needs to find a way to make those pieces fit. It's a gamble, but one which could pay off big time.
Or blow up big time.
The sooner the Forte situation cools off, the better, but Bush can hold the fort down if need be.
The question becomes how late Forte can return without tempting fate like other hold-outs have in the past.
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