Today’s absurd prediction:Someone who isn't on the Bears' roster yet starts and wins a game at quarterback.
Right now, the Bears only have Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton on the roster. They didn't pick up any free agents, and they didn't take any in the draft. They'll probably want a third-stringer when all is said and done, so they'll nab an undrafted rookie like Paul Smith or Brad Roach, or a still-available free agent, like Byron Leftwich or Kelly Holcomb. And somewhere between injuries and/or bad play, this third QB will get a chance, and perform well enough to win the game. Why? Because 1) a new quarterback seems to infuse new life into the rest of the offense, though only for a game or two; and 2) I always bet on the thing that will complicate things further.
Coaching Changes: No Change Means A.
The Bears return their entire coaching staff, it appears, with many of them entering their second year. It's nice to see that the ownership didn't see the need to scapegoat anybody after the big letdown following Chicago's Super Bowl appearance. It's also nice that no one tried to steal away special teams coach Dave Toub, who I think is one of the best specialty coaches there is.
Draft: Gambling and Stealing - both legal in an NFL draft. (B+)
The Bears made OT Chris Williams their top pick, the second of five offensive linemen taken within eight picks of each other. It was a surprise to some that they didn’t take still-available Jeff Otah, but not to the Chiefs or Lions who passed on Otah as well. Williams plays sound football, and has experience at guard should the Bears need to shuffle things around, but doesn’t seem to play with a lot of fire or fight. But I think he’ll be a solid enough tackle who doesn’t get injured often, and getting a lineman was the right choice for the Bears. They could have taken local hero Rashard Mendenhall, who saved the Illini a tiny bit of embarrassment in the Rose Bowl by making a play or two, but instead later took Matt Forte at RB in the second round. Though he played against lighter competition than most of his fellow rookies, Forte's got a great burst and fights for yardage, which should fit great in the Bears’ system (though SI’s scouting report disagrees with me on his burst). And one great thing about Forte – he’s a blocker too. The Bears added a new receiver to the mix in Earl Bennett – when’s the last time a team took two guys from Vanderbilt in the same draft? – another guy who I think is a good fit for Chicago, though they could probably have gotten him later. He’ll catch most anything you’d expect of him, and won’t fumble it afterwards. He could be quite dangerous in the slot. But he’s not likely to catch Rex’s deep ball – NFL defenders won’t have much trouble keeping up with the guy. DT Marcus Williams was a questionable pick for me - he's had legal issues (arrest for marijuana possession), injury troubles, and can often be stopped by a decent OL without any help. S Craig Steltz lacks speed, but makes up for it with intelligent play - he's an aggressive tackler who isn't likely to miss, and he'll make you pay for poorly thrown passes. Plus, he's a champion. The fifth round is the right place to gamble on a player like injury-plagued CB Zackary Bowman. If his knees are shot, you haven't lost much, but if not, he's tremendously skilled and makes your GM look like a genius. The Bears didn't really need another tight end, but they'll find uses for Kellen Davis, who slipped to the late fifth. His experience at defensive end should boost his usefulness on special teams, and he'll make a nice wild-card end zone target in three-tight-end packages. And with five seventh-round picks, the Bears really filled up the depth chart at positions of need. They got two offensive linemen, Chester Adams and Kirk Barton, a pass-rush specialist in Ervin Baldwin, an LB I know nothing about in Joey LaRocque, and a wideout, Marcus Monk. Monk had an outstanding junior year, but lost most of his senior year because of injury. Between him and Bowman, the training staff has their work cut out for them. Adams has underachieved his entire college career, and I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't make the team, but Barton is definitely good enough to fill in from time to time. Baldwin doesn't seem to have the complete package, but he's probably good for a few sacks. The Bears did better than most teams at filling needs; they got bodies everywhere they needed them, except arguably at quarterback, dooming us Chicagoans to another year of Grossman vs. Orton.
Player Movement: Brandon Lloyd knocks you down a full letter grade. (C+)
It feels like 2003 - Marty Booker is in Chicago, and Muhsin Muhammad is in Carolina. Yes, believe it or not, the Bears managed to get YOUNGER at receiver by picking up Booker. And why not? He's the only person this decade who's caught for 1000 yards in a Bears uniform. Really, though, the Bears showed some commitment to getting younger early on; they cut Darwin Walker and Fred Miller along with Muhammad before free agency began. For the second straight year, the Bears picked up The Face Of Redskins Free Agent Failure. This time it's WR Brandon Lloyd, who caught exactly 25 passes in two years in Washington. How did the Adam Archuleta experiment work out, Bears? He was cut on May 6th, so... yeah, good luck with Lloyd. They lost Brendon Ayanbadejo to free agency, where he'll learn that he made the Pro Bowl merely because he was the most noticeable special teamer (not counting kickers/returners) for the best special teams coach in the league. They won't miss a beat, someone else will step up. G Ruben Brown is gone, which hurts the continuity of the line, but his useful playing days were over. Not much else in player movement; the two who were supposed to be big names on the market, Rex Grossman and Lance Briggs, are staying in Chicago. Rashied Davis is also sticking around, and extensions were given to Robbie Gould and Desmond Clark, which tells me the Bears' management is getting better at evaluating their own talent, and giving the money to those who have earned it. And also to Grossman.
Other Considerations: Someone besides Hester wanna score? Tillman, Vasher, you don't count.
This is where I talk about things like quarterback controversies and O-line continuity issues, and the Bears have plenty of both. In fact, the offense in general is kind of a problem for me. Fitting the rookies into the rotation on the offensive front, and getting either Grossman or Orton to play well enough to keep the rabid fans quiet, are the keys to success for the Bears this season. Really, that's all I'm worried about. Their receivers aren't great, but many other teams are worse off in that department. Hopefully it won't take them too long to realize that Lloyd should not be given a starting spot. Devin Hester must improve his route running if he is to become a true threat at receiver. Also, Tommie Harris and Mike Brown need to make it through the season, but who knows if they're even back to their pre-injury form? When those guys are out, the defense suddenly has exploitable weaknesses. And of course, there's the question of Benson, but I don't think it'll take long at all for Forte to become the feature back and Benson to be forgotten.
The Grade: B-. They've gotten younger, and they're on their way.
But this isn't their year - they'll compete for the NFC North again soon, but not quite yet.