Chicago Bears: Grading Every Positional Unit at the Start of Camp
By now you are probably clamoring for training camp to start. LeBron and Carmelo have made their decisions and baseball has once again proved to be a short lived distraction.
How does each position stack up? Overall the Bears will feature a solid team but there are some areas that are better than others. Here's the full breakdown by position with a letter grade at the end.
After reading, don't forget to share your thoughts and grades in the comments section and enjoy the opening of training camp.
Josh McCown's departure to Tampa Bay means the quarterback group for the Bears takes a hit. McCown was one of the better backups in the league and the team currently doesn't have a backup option comparable to him.
The Bears do still have Jay Cutler. Coming off a career-high 89.2 quarterback rating, Cutler is poised to take a big step forward in the second year of this offense. As long as he stays healthy, there should be no reason why Cutler isn't a top 10 quarterback statistically this season.
Questions arise after Cutler. Jordan Palmer doesn't have much experience, has battled minor injuries and has been erratic all offseason. Jimmy Clausen was brought in as extra insurance but now seems he could easily jump Palmer.
Clausen's experience includes 10 starts and only one win as a rookie. He's looking to reclaim his career and prove he still belongs in the NFL.
One positive to latch on to is Marc Trestman's ability to get the most out of average at best quarterbacks. He could very well turn Clausen around, get Palmer on track and develop a rookie.
David Fales is a talented rookie but still a few seasons away from being a backup option the team can rely on. Everything starts and ends with Cutler. He's not only the strength of this position but the only reliable option.
There aren't even a handful of running backs who do more and mean more to their football team than Matt Forte. He's showing no signs of slowing down after producing the best season of his career last year.
Forte will shoulder the load again this year but look for rookie Ka'Deem Carey to be a decent piece in the offense. Carey has an affinity for finishing runs and getting the ball in the end zone. He's an upgrade over last year's backup Michael Bush.
Michael Ford is the front-runner to round out the running backs because of his ability to play special teams. Tony Fiametta returns as the team's only fullback and is about as consistent a blocker as it gets.
This running back corps has versatility, explosion and loads of talent. The 1-2 punch of Forte and Carey could prove to be one of the best in the league.
Even a grammar school kid with little to no knowledge of the game knows when he wants to beat his buddies deep on Madden he picks the Bears because of their receivers.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are the premier duo in the NFL. Their size, physicality, big play capability and respect for each other is unmatched by anyone in the league.
The wild card in this all is second-year man Marquess Wilson. If he can develop into a lethal third option from the slot then it becomes an absolute nightmare for defenses when the Bears spread them out wide.
Eric Weems is a solid veteran who provides a ton of value on special teams and Josh Morgan is a good fallback option for whatever situation arises.
When you feature some of the best receivers in the NFL there's no doubt you can call yourself the best and get no complaints from anyone.
The Bears finally found some stability at tight end when they signed Martellus Bennett last year. He's improved his season catch total in each of the last two seasons and could very well do it again this year.
While Bennett is Mr. Consistency, things become very inconsistent after him. Zach Miller, Matthew Mulligan and Dante Rosario won't impress anybody even as backups.
It will be interesting to see if the team decides to keep two tight ends instead of three. There might not be a need to keep a third very poor option when you can have an extra offensive lineman or linebacker.
The Bears got two pleasant surprises from rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills last year. The two started all 16 games and really provided stability on the right side.
The line as a whole got off to a rough start last year but really came on strong as the season progressed. Adding Brian De La Puente at center will only make them stronger up the middle.
Long and Mills with one year under their belt should take a major step forward this year. Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson will be their usual solid selves and the group will continue to gel after working with each other for quite some time.
What was once an area of weakness has now turned into a strength. This line knows each other and the offense and will do a much better job of keeping Jay Cutler upright this year.
Guys like Roberto Garza, Eben Britton, and rookies Charles Leno and Cody Booth give the Bears solid depth but it's really all about the first five here.
It can't get any worse than what the Bears trotted out to the field last season. Julius Peppers didn't seem to try and the interior defensive line was a thin disaster.
Enter Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson on a line that's now balanced and deeper. Allen will provide the intense pass rush while Houston's versatility to line up inside and out will help others get on the field.
Young will be a great rotational end while re-signing a healthy and focused Jeremiah Ratliff is one of the most under the radar moves of the offseason. Ratliff can help the youngsters in Sutton and Ferguson get adjusted to the NFL and learn how to properly go about playing the game.
Stephen Paea will likely continue to be inconsistent but that's why you draft two defensive tackles and bring Nate Collins back.
Cornelius Washington, Austen Lane and David Bass could be back end rotation players on a very deep defensive line.
Lance Briggs is the only linebacker you can really count on and he played in only nine games last year.
If D.J. Williams can stay healthy, then he should have no problem being the team's starting middle linebacker. He's a solid veteran who's not going to make a ton of big plays but will provide stability.
Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic are projected to split time at the other linebacker spot. Both players have struggled in their young careers and are looking to reinvent themselves at a different position.
McClellin and Bostic are huge question marks. Anybody who's saying they know both players are going to pan out are not only speculating but really wishing more than analyzing.
The unit does look to be strong on special teams. Undrafted free agent Christian Jones could knock out second-year man Khaseem Greene and veteran Jerry Franklin.
Jordan Senn is a very solid special teams player who will be an upgrade over Blake Costanzo, which is hard to do. Overall this unit's success depends on health and hope, but isn't everything?
The Bears have an interesting secondary. The corners are all very good but the safeties are still a little less than desirable.
It's a scary thought for opposing offenses to think Tim Jennings will line up at the nickel. Jennings has been to two straight Pro Bowls and has 13 interceptions over the past two years.
Charles Tillman is still a very good corner as long as he stays healthy and first-round pick Kyle Fuller is a stud. Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis are very good backups and special teams players. It's interesting to think last year's starting nickel Isaiah Frey might be at the bottom of the depth chart.
Now let's look at the safeties. The Bears certainly brought in quantity but does it amount to quality?
Brock Vereen will be a very good football player in this league. He has the skills, football I.Q. and natural instincts to succeed. The question is, can he do it right away?
Ryan Mundy has been an average at best starting safety meaning he's a slight upgrade over Major Wright but it's not a huge leap.
Chris Conte and M.D. Jennings probably shouldn't be starters in the NFL ever again and nobody knows what Adrian Wilson has left coming off a torn Achilles.
Guys like Craig Steltz and Danny McCray are a part of this group but aren't really much more than players fighting for a final roster spot.
If Vereen can prove he's ready to go right away and Mundy shows he's ready to take the next step then the future looks brighter but for now there's still a ton of uncertainty.
The key to a good special teams unit is effort, composure and coaching.
The Bears seemed to be lacking in at least two of those areas last year. There were just too many penalties and mistakes and that falls squarely on the players for not playing smarter and the coaches for not preparing the unit better.
Robbie Gould returns as the stabilizing force leading the charge. He will continue his quest to be one of the league's greatest and most accurate kickers of all time.
New rookie punter Pat O'Donnell will get some push from Tress Way but ultimately the big leg of O'Donnell will win out.
There will be a new long snapper who has to replace the long-time veteran Patrick Mannelly who retired due to injuries. We will also see a team of new return men now that Devin Hester has moved on to Atlanta.
Eric Weems and Michael Ford are the favorites to handle the return duties but dark horse Chris Williams can push them in camp and preseason.
There's a good group of athletic linebackers, veteran defensive backs and receivers accustomed to playing special teams. It's up to special teams coach Joe DeCamillis to get everybody to gel together. If he does so then the third phase will be just fine.
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