Fixing the Holes in the Chicago Bears' Roster

Jacob NitzbergAnalyst IMay 12, 2009

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 22: Danieal Manning #38 of the Chicago Bears returns a kick-off against the Green Bay Packers on December 22, 2008 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Packers 20-17 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Chicago Bears' offseason has been eventful with some notable moves, including trading for QB Jay Cutler and signing free agent offensive linemen Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer to protect him. Of note on the defensive side, the Bears released fan favorite but injury prone safety Mike Brown and signed free agent Josh Bullocks as a potential replacement.

The Bears have improved dramatically since missing the postseason in 2008 for the second consecutive year.  However, there are still holes to fill and questions to be answered.

The most glaring hole on the offensive side is at the wide receiver position. Of the 10 receivers that the Bears have on their current roster, only two—Devin Hester and Rashied Davis—have reached double digits in career receptions. 

Running back Matt Forte was the team leader in receptions last season with just 63. Devin Hester's 665 yards were tops on the squad, yet it was 49th in the NFL and fourth lowest among team leaders. 

Currently, the Bears have Hester at No.1 and slotted at No. 2 is second-year player Earl Bennett spot, who did not make a catch last year as he had trouble learning the playbook.

This problem, however, can be fixed.  Currently, the Bears are missing a big target for Cutler, and made a solid effort in the draft to address that by picking up Juaquin Iglesias from Oklahoma in the third round. The Bears also used two second day picks on Abeline-Christian's Johnny Knox and Pittsburgh's Derek Kinder as upside plays. However, none of these players should be counted on to contribute right away.

The missing piece is a veteran wideout who can contribute both on the field and as a teacher in practice and on the sideline (size wouldn't hurt either). While GM Jerry Angelo has said the Bears are done making moves for now, there are a few options that the Bears should keep their eye on.

Although not on the Bears' radar for now, Amani Toomer should be.  With the exception of 2006 when he missed eight games, Toomer has played in 15+ games every year since 1997, and has caught an average of 65 passes per year for the past 10 seasons. At 34 years of age, he is a bit old for the WR position, but this is outweighed by his reliability.

At 6'2" and 215 lbs., Justin McCareins would provide the big target that the Bears need if Iglesias cannot contribute right away.  McCareins' stats are not outstanding, but this could change with Jay Cutler throwing him the ball.

Drew Bennett is coming off two disappointing seasons with St. Louis, but he is only four years removed from an 80 catch, 1247 yard season with Tennessee. At 6'5", he provides the height the Bears need, and could be in for a rebound year.

Other options include Marvin Harrison, Joe Jurevicius and D.J. Hackett.  The Bears need to go into the season with another wide receiver, especially a veteran one, in order for the Jay Cutler trade to be a good one.

It is all well and good that the Bears have their best quarterback in half a century, but without a proven receiver as a target it is a complete waste of his talent.

On the defensive side of the ball, the biggest need is at the safety position.  After the Bears released injury-plagued strong safety Mike Brown in the offseason, they have done little to replace him.

Josh Bullocks was signed after leaving the New Orleans Saints, but he has been less than impressive so far in his career. The Bears have also brought in 32-year-old former Houston Texan Glenn Earl, who has not played in a regular season game since 2006 due to a foot injury.  Expecting much from Earl would be foolish.

As for returning safeties, Danieal Manning has played all different positions for Lovie Smith on defense, at both safety positions and as a nickel back.  He will likely be returning kicks as well after his success there in 2008. Other options on the roster are Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz, who have each shown some signs of development but would not start for many NFL teams.

The Bears all but ignored the safety position in the NFL Draft after their supposed second-round target Michael Mitchell was snapped up two picks too early by the Oakland Raiders. Sixth-round selection Al Afalava from Oregon State was the only safety chosen by the Bears.

This problem is not as easily fixed, but there is a solution.  First and foremost, bring in Mike Brown on an incentive-laden contract.  If he plays, great, pay him for it, and if not, at least he is a veteran presence on the sideline. Bears fans already know that anything more than four games from Brown is a gift, so there is very little downside if the sides can agree on a suitable contract.

If the Bears are committed to leaving Brown off the roster, there is the option of promoting from within. Talk of converting veteran CB Charles Tillman or second-year CB Zackary Bowman to safety has been floated around.  Tillman is too valuable at corner to convert yet, but Bowman is a distinct possibility, and will be tried at the position in training camp.

The free-agent pool at safety is thin, with players such as Marlon McCree, Keith Davis and Michael Boulware as some of the best available options. Former Bear and Mr. Irrelevant Mike Green is still without a team as well. However, none of these players are better than a healthy Mike Brown. 

With the lack of available options, the Bears' best hope is that Nathan Vasher regains his pro bowl form at cornerback, allowing Corey Graham to play the nickel position and put Danieal Manning at free safety. If Vasher or Graham struggles however, the Bears will have issues in the secondary that will be tough to fill.

The Cover-Two defense employed by the Bears is built around not giving up the deep ball.  If the Bears cannot do anything to shore up the back of the secondary, the lack of depth will allow more plays like last year's 99-yard Bernard Berrian touchdown on Sunday Night Football to happen. Undoubtedly, the Bears' lack of experience at the position will be exposed by quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner and Matt Hasselbeck among others.