You may be going Jin Mora Sr. on me and asking, playoffs? After two relatively unimpressive performances in the preseason, I see something about this team, notably the offense that makes me believe they can make some noise in the NFC this year.
Lovie Smith admitted during training camp that the Bears made a mistake in trading away Chris Harris. He started Super Bowl XLI for the Bears. He is not Mike Brown or Antrel Rolle, which many fans wanted, but a solid player and hitter nevertheless. He is the last line of defense that should benefit from Julius Pepper’s pass rush.
Tice was brought in to prevent ownership from spending on a relatively weak OL class in free agency and late in the draft. He won’t work many miracles, but his presence should improve Chris Williams, the franchise Left Tackle for the Bears. Lance Louis has been a pleasant surprise as well in the preseason.
The second order of business in free agency was finding a #2 to Matt Forte. Chester Taylor is a #1A on many teams in the NFL. His signing not only improved the Bears, it weakened division rival Minnesota in their pursuit for the playoffs.
Unnoticed by many in the Bears community through a busy offseason, they signed their tenders on the same day last offseason. Bell and Shaw were two unknowns in the NFL last year at this time. This year, Shaw is among the best special teams players in the NFL, and Bell busted a 72 yard run for his first play in the NFL, after coming from the Vikings. These players may not start, but they provide soul and depth on special teams.
The Bears traded their first two picks last year, but still picked up valuable pieces later in the draft in Wright and Wootton. Wright played very well in his first preseason game vs. San Diego, and Wootton will be a key player in making sure that prized DE Julius Peppers gets rest.
Many fans and Mike Martz wanted a veteran backup QB this offseason, but the Bears remained quiet for the right reason, knowing that signing Bulger meant some competition between Cutler and Bulger, but this competition would not be necessary for a young QB trying to learn a new system. Cutler has the confidence and the keys for this offense to make the playoffs. Todd Collins was recently picked up as a vetran at a good price, who will not threaten Cutler's job.
The first person the Bears signed on their $100 million free agency spending spree was veteran TE Manumaleuna. He was signed to fit in to Martz’s offense as a blocking TE. More important here, is that the Bears found a way to keep Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark on the team. Kellen Davis is still fighting for a spot on the team, but Manumaleuna’s presence is key for learning how tight ends operate in a Martz offense.
After missing out on Jeremy Bates, Cutler’s QB coach in Denver. in their search for an offensive coordinator, they hired a veteran mind in Mike Martz to direct this offense to the playoffs. He turned Kurt Warner from a waiver QB to a hall of fame QB. Martz has his best talent yet at the QB position in Chicago with Cutler. He also has Chester Taylor and Matt Forte, two RBs who can catch out of the backfield and block. He coached Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt to hall of fame careers as well. Bears fans should see increased production in Armoashodu Hester and Knox this year. A knock on Martz was that he left Detroit and San Francisco after one season, but the offense improved overall in the years he was in Detroit and San Francisco.
Another under the radar move, was Forte getting healthy after playing with a sprained knee since week 3 last year. He got arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason and broke an 89 yd. run vs. Oakland, as well 2 more runs for first down. Forte should top the 1,000 yard mark with the signing of Chester Taylor.
The prized free agent of 2010, Pepper’s 6 year $92 million will be under scrutiny by many analysts and perhaps some Bears fans who preferred the tandem of Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye. Peppers has brought a new meaning of the term, “Monsters of the Midway,” with DT Tommie Harris creating T-shirts for the D-Line saying “Rush Men.” He will be the heart and soul of this defense, and with Urlacher and Briggs and Tommie Harris, all 4 should make the pro-bowl this year. A knock against Peppers is that he “shuts it down” during games, but Coach Smith has not mentioned this and in fact, mentions Peppers as one of the hardest workers in practice.
The Bears have work to do against Minnesota and Green Bay for the division crown, but a solid defense and a high powered offense will allow the Bears to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.