On the Clock: Chicago Bears
By Keith Kidd
Editor's note: Over the next month, "SportsCenter" will be putting every NFL team "On The Clock." Scouts Inc. also will be breaking down each team and looking at what questions still need answering.
The Bears are in great shape to make another Super Bowl run in 2007. They return almost all of their starters, with the exception of running back Thomas Jones (traded to the N.Y. Jets) and unrestricted free agent left guard Ruben Brown.
Obviously, it all starts with defense. The Bears finished the season as the fifth best defensive unit in the NFL, and created a league-leading 44 takeaways. Pro Bowlers Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Tommie Harris form a strong nucleus that should be even better in 2007. However, there is still a lot of doubt as to the abilities of quarterback Rex Grossman. Can former first-round pick Cedric Benson be the franchise back the team so desperately needs? The Bears have one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL in Devin Hester and do a great job on special team units.
The Bears have been very quiet in free agency. They did place the franchise tag on Briggs, who continues to play at a Pro Bowl level in the Bears' Cover 2 system. Briggs, who is upset at being franchised, has said numerous times this offseason that he doesn't want to stay in Chicago. He is a difference maker who forms one of the strongest linebacking cores in the NFL playing next to Urlacher. The organization finally did the right thing this offseason in extending the contracts of head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo. The Bears' personnel staff, led by director of pro personnel Bobby DePaul, has done an outstanding job of placing this team in position to be successful for years to come.
Jones was traded to the Jets, making Benson the featured back in offensive coordinator Ron Turner's system. Benson is a bigger, faster, more powerful back than Jones, but has been somewhat unreliable in terms of durability. The other key loss has been the departure of former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who has since been replaced by assistant head coach/linebackers coach Bob Babich. Look for Babich to be closer philosophically to Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 schemes than Rivera was. Also, the Bears chose Pep Hamilton to succeed Wade Wilson as the quarterbacks coach, serving as the new mentor to Grossman.
As the Bears move closer to the NFL draft, they have positioned themselves to take the best available player according to their draft board. Also, by switching places in the second round with the Jets, they are now in position to possibly move up, if the players they have targeted start to fall down the draft board. Defensively, with the uncertainty over Briggs' future and the depth at OLB, look for the Bears to address this position early in the draft, along with adding depth at defensive tackle and safety. Depth at defensive tackle is even more of a need now with the uncertainty surrounding Tank Johnson. Johnson was just sentenced to four months in prison and according to reports could also face a four-game suspension from the NFL.
Offensively, the Bears will target young offensive linemen, along with another playmaker at wide receiver for Grossman.