Instead of doing daily updates from Bears camp, I’ve decided to wait and do a weekly recap of things that caught my attention. I know Bears fans are clamoring for any piece of news from every drill at camp, so here are some things to pay attention to as the Bears prepare for their first preseason game.
The health of Brian Urlacher is perhaps the biggest issue facing this team that doesn’t include the words offensive and line. Urlacher has been wearing a massive knee brace all off season, sat out Friday night’s Family Fest at The Park District in addition to Monday’s practice (his 5th straight missed practice) & won’t play vs the Broncos in the first preseason game. Urlacher sprained the MCL & PCL in his left knee in a collision with Mr. Bad Angles, Major Wright in the meaningless week 17 win at Minnesota. If 54′s knee is still balky (the bet here is we’ve seen the last of him as a dominant force), he should sit the entire preseason if need be. He doesn’t need the reps and knows this defense better than he knows Jenny McCarthy’s inner thighs.
This Urlacher injury annoyance is why I wanted them to sit the defensive stars in that week 17 game. They lowered their draft position and won a game that meant absolutely nothing. And yes, the thought of Nick Roach trying to play the middle and drop in coverage like 54 does is a petrifying thought for any Bears fan.
With the additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the Bears red zone offense should be downright scary. They ranked 12th in red zone offense, scoring 183 points in 38 possessions inside the 20 last season and scored touchdowns on 52.6% of their red zone possessions. Like all teams, red zone offense has been a priority in camp. And unlike the mad man offensive imbecile Mike Martz, new coordinator Mike Tice has implemented roll-outs and bootlegs that utilize Jay Cutler’s top notch athletic ability. What do you know, a coordinator tailoring his offense to the strengths of the franchise’s most important player. What a concept, huh?
Back to the beast mode receivers for a second… With their height (Marshall’s 6’4 & Jeffery is a legit 6’3), the Bears will be able to run fades and back shoulder routes inside the red zone at will. And it will be a relief for Cutler knowing he doesn’t have to be pinpoint accurate with his throws to a bunch of 5’9 receivers. That alone should ease the pressure on Cuts, and allow him to play in a more relaxed state of mind.
It looks like J’Marcus Webb has won the left tackle competition with Chris Williams. With Gabe Carimi back (and hopefully healthy), Williams will be the swing tackle. The story, however, is another 1st round Jerry Angelo pick that has bust written all over him. I don’t care about Williams being able to play a competent guard– when you draft a guy to be your franchise left tackle at #14, he better at least be a right tackle. This is another indictment on Angelo, and another reason to praise the hiring of Phil Emery.
Newcomer Chauncey Davis is making an impression on the defensive line. This team’s depth on the line could give them ability to rotate guys in and out and allow them to provide constant pressure. Stephen Paea has made an impression at the nose, and should start with Peppers, Idonije & Henry Melton. And, if Davis continues to impress once the games start, you can have him, Shea McClellin & Corey Wootton to throw on fatigued offensive lineman. This line isn’t quite as fierce as the Giants, but it should be damn good.
Speaking of McClellin and Paea, it’s nice to see high end picks making a name for themselves early. McClellin will need time to adjust to a big city, big expectations & mammoth lineman, but he has already shown flashes that should excite fans. If he doesn’t start as a rookie, so what? If he can have a Mark Anderson type rookie season (in terms of providing pressure), it’ll be a win for Emery and the Bears. And seeing Paea develop makes me hate Angelo a little less. When you trade up for a guy in the 2nd round, he better start for you. He’s one to watch once the games start.
It’s always a circus when it comes to the safety position with the Bears, and the development (or lack thereof) of Major Wright is another story line to watch. His 3 interceptions last season were nice, but he needs to take better angles in coverage and has to start forcing more turnovers (no fumbles forced in ’11). I think Chris Conte will hold his own, but Wright has a lot riding on his shoulders this season. He has to have a better nose for the football or else fans will be begging for Brandon Hardin by week 3. Knowing how competitive the vets on this defense are, can’t you picture them rolling their eyes when Wright’s name is brought up.
There’s a lot to watch when the Bears take the field against Denver Thursday. How does the offense function? Has J-Webb improved his game? (Don’t bet on it) What’s Carimi look like? How quickly can Brandon Hardin adjust to playing safety in the league? Can Jeffery make a sudden impact?
The first preseason game in the NFL is like the first time you have sex. You’re overly amped up beforehand, but the starters are out and done before you know it. Then you’re sitting there, unsatisfied and wondering what the whole fuss was over. But hey, at least football’s back in our lives. But after a spring and summer littered with injuries to some of Chicago’s biggest stars, Thursday can’t get here soon enough.