Chicago Bears: 5 Young Players Ready to Break Out in 2011
Following a year chock-full of surprises that included a trip to the NFC Championship Game, the Chicago Bears are a mixture of veterans and youth heading into the fall.
The defense will be headed by veteran linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, while the offense is still looking for a leader amongst a wealth of youth.
After a mediocre 2010, the offense must start to catch fire if the Bears want to upend the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. Check out the breakout players who could help them do that in 2011.
Johnny Knox, WR
Last year could be considered Knox's breakout year, as he burst onto the scene to lead the Bears with 960 receiving yards.
However, while he has developed quickly, he is still not one of the most feared wide receivers in the league or even in his own division. That can change with another year like 2010.
Knox has tremendous speed and is good at making tough plays in traffic. However, he sometimes has troubles making easy catches and tries to make routine plays look flashy, resulting in drops.
With Knox's tremendous upside, the Bears passing game has a chance to improve greatly in 2011. Expect Knox to be Chicago's focal point when it goes to the air.
Earl Bennett, WR
Chicago is full of young wide receivers, and Bennett is one of its best. He played with quarterback Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt and has put up decent numbers in two years with the Bears.
While Bennett has been adequate, he has not put together a true breakout season so far. He and Knox both have the chance to turn heads around the league and establish themselves as Chicago's top wide receiver.
Like Knox, Bennett makes a number of flashy catches but sometimes has trouble making the easy plays. He needs to become more consistent and fundamentally sound if he wants to have a breakout season.
Greg Olsen, TE
When Chicago chose Greg Olsen in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, fans and analysts alike questioned the pick. However, five years later, Olsen has turned out to be a great pickup for the Bears.
He has provided steady production for an inconsistent offense and provided some big plays for the Bears down the stretch in 2010.
With some of the top NFL tight ends getting older, 2011 could be Olsen's year to grab the spot as the league's top tight end. He has been very involved in the offense and can run downfield routes as well as the wide receivers.
Olsen is one of the most underrated tight ends in the game, and this could be the year that he proves that to the nation.
Chris Harris, S
Harris put together a solid season in his first year back with Chicago. The former Carolina Panther totaled a career-high five interceptions and was a leader of the Bears' defensive backfield.
He and Danieal Manning led a ball-hawking secondary that was very good at shutting down big plays.
Manning is the more well-known of the two safeties, but Harris has a chance to build on a solid 2010 season and make a name for himself in 2011. To do that he needs to keep up his interception numbers and improve on last year's 70 tackles.
Pisa Tinoisamoa, LB
Rarely is a 29-year-old considered a breakout player, but Tinoisamoa quietly put together a solid season behind Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
While those two typically hog all of the attention in the middle of the Bears defense—and rightfully so—Tinoisamoa was an instrumental part of the supporting cast.
Don't expect his numbers to go through the roof next season, but expect him to play more of a lead role in the defense as more attention turns to Urlacher and Briggs next year.