Monday, August 22, 2011

The 2011 Bears Have Cause For Optimism

The Chicago Bears finished the previous NFL season just a game — nay, a drive — short of the Superbowl. Despite that, they only scored 48 points more than they allowed. The Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers scored 148 more than they allowed.

So, yeah, the NFC probably had a its best team represented in the Superbowl, but will the 2011 Chicago Bears really be a game above mediocre? Over the weekend, Will Smith suggested the Bears will go 9-7 in the coming season.

Well, I'm here to disagree. I think a 12+ wins season is possible — maybe with some help from the Packers offensive line, maybe not easily, and maybe not probably; but possible nonetheless.

Here's where it starts and ends with the 2011 Bears: The offensive line. Will outlined how massively terrible they were last year — and he's right. In fact, he almost undersells their terribleness.

They were bad. I mean bad:
The Bears have had a top 10 defense every year under Lovie Smith except 2009 (when Brian Urlacher was injured and Hunter Hillenmeyer had fill in for a titan-among-men). Defense will probably not be a problem.

The skill players are sufficient to good to Matt Forte and the special teams are other-worldly, so the offensive line is the only element — and the chief element — that could be the Bears' Achilles' Heel. (NOTE: I played o-line for 11 years, so I may be a bit biased in forecasting the importance of linemen.)

But here's the deal: J'Marcus Webb, like the line as a whole, improved through the end of last year and is back at his old position. That's certainly no guarantee for success, but it may be a step in the right direction. He looked lost against Shawne Merriman and contributed his fair share of terribleness in the Bears nine-sack "performance" against the Buffalo Bills in the week one of the preseason.

But, at the same time, it was one game. And it was a preseason game. After a super short training camp.

Behind Webb, the Bears have Frank Omiyale (oh-me-yell, kinda like, "When I see him play, oh me yell at the TV."). Omiyale has been a starter at times for the Bears, but it would be best if we did not need him to start anytime soon. Hopefull Webb will live up to his high-potential reputation this year.

Then we have Chris Williams, a first round selection — 14th overall in 2008 — who is now playing left guard. With a 14th overall pick, few teams are thinking, "Franchise guard." But that appears to be what the Bears have gotten in Williams, who is only 26 as of this Friday, which is young on offensive lineman years.

Williams has not played effectively at either tackle position, so getting a quality, young guard out of him would be gravy at this point.

At center, Roberto Garza has been a sufficiently average utility lineman — if such a thing exists — and will be taking the place of likely soon-to-be-retired Olin Kruetz, who was great in his years with the Bears, but probably not effective enough to warrant the contract he commanded. After the Orlando Pace debacle, I think the Bears front office is more willing to try younger models.

Anyway, Garza can be serviceable at center, and he can also slide over to right guard if Lance Louis (another 26-year-old like Williams and another seventh round pick like Webb) does not show signs of life soon. The Bears have a viable starting center in Chris Spencer, recently signed after spending six seasons in Seattle.

At right tackle, the Bears have Gabe Carimi, the rookie who looks better than any rookie lineman the Bears have seen since, well, since Olin Kruetz was a rookie. Hopefully the early impressions are the right ones.

Last year, the Bears had a terrible offense — and that started at the line — but they also had a volatile offense. Their highs were good and their lows were miserable. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears had the 31st most volatile offense in the league.

That is partly due to the offense improving as the season progressed, but another part of it was the constantly shuffled o-line. Hopefully, the line will present itself impressively tonight and the Bears will have a set line for most of the year. If they do, we could be in store for a great season.

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