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Roster Roundouts: A Chicago Bears Season Preview

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The Bears won’t argue that either of the last two seasons have lived up to the lofty expectations set by a super bowl appearance in 2006.  In fact, if you get the chance to ask him, Lovie Smith will probably agree with you that his 2008 team had every chance to make the postseason in some capacity, and failed to get back to a place that they most likely belonged.

But the Bears don’t need your pity.  They have Jay Cutler.  You have to admit, he’s a worthwhile consolation prize.

In our Denver Broncos’ Roster Roundouts, I looked at the complicated equation of what the Broncos would have to get from their haul to justify the trade, and determined that they needed multiple stars from their 2009 draft, specifically 2 or more.  For the Bears, the trade equation is a lot simpler.  If you assume an average drafting ability for Jerry Angelo picks, the combined total draft value of all the picks given from Chicago to Detroit is valued at roughly 10 wins above replacement over the life of the rookie contracts.

For the Bears, it would take 5 years at the current levels of play for Cutler to accrue 10 more wins than Orton, according to a regression run by Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats that used adjusted yards per attempt as it’s value metric.

The key phrase of course is “at current levels.”  It appears to be a very even trade based on expected development paths, but the Broncos have a much higher upside prospect in Orton than the Bears are getting in Cutler.  Orton might completely bust out of Denver, but he’s pretty replaceable: from Denver’s perspective, the success or failure of the deal doesn’t hinge on Orton.  He’s just one piece of four.  If the Broncos get a franchise quarterback in Orton, they likely win this deal going away.  If they don’t, they probably lose the deal, but they can still win it if they get major contributions from this draft class.

But Cutler is the trade from the Bears perspective.  And now that he’s switching offenses, switching offensive lines, and will throw to a completely different group of receivers, the Bears are asking a lot from the guy to have him produce immediately.  The seeds of failure have spiked the kool-aid in Chicago.

flickr.com/I Bird 2

flickr.com/I Bird 2

And yet, this appears to be a great situation.  When LiveBall looked at the Bears Defense last month, the conclusion was that the Bears defense is a very dangerous unit once again this year, and that an analysis of the Chicago Bears has to start there.  Last year in Denver, Jay Cutler had one of the worst defenses in the NFL.  This year in Chicago, he’ll have one of the best.  It’s such a radically different team that we don’t know how his personal style will translate.  He figures to benefit a lot from playing with a lead, but in the last three years, the Bears defense hasn’t had to deal with a high turnover defense.  Every once in a while, Rex Grossman would throw up a classic six turnover game or so, and once or twice, the Bears have even overcome it.  But Cutler turns the ball over on a more constant basis, more like a time or two every week, and that might be a tough adjustment for a defense that is used to leading the charge with scoring.

The Bears can cut down on the turnovers by letting Matt Forte handle the load.  The rookie exploded last year for more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage, more than Chris Johnson, Jonathon Stewart, Kevin Smith, or Darren McFadden.  The advanced numbers suggest he’s a better pass receiver than a runner, but that he’s capable of carrying the load again.  There’s nothing wrong with letting Forte touch the ball 350 times this season, or about 22 times per game.  The offense will be better for it.

The Bears did a pretty remarkable job piecing together a offensive line on the cheap.  Chris Williams looks good at the RT–he was the 14th overall pick in 2008 out of Vanderbilt (the Bears have four Vandy players!)–and the team found a serviceable one year LT in former pro-bowler Orlando Pace.  Pace has missed significant time in each of the last two seasons with injury, but the guy is only 33 years old, and can still play.  They added Kevin Shaffer from Cleveland for depth, and he’s probably better than the guy who Cleveland signed to replace him, former Bears LT John St. Clair.  The final piece to the offseason OL puzzle was T/G Frank Omiyale, who was a valuable depth lineman for the Panthers last year.  He starts the season on the bench, but could play guard right away if necessary.

But a discussion of the Bears offense can’t ignore it’s talented tight end duo, which includes Greg Olsen and veteran Desmond Clark, who are really the point-men in the passing offense.  Eventually, the discussion drifts to the receivers, a group known to many as “Devin Hester and the scrubs.”  That’s pretty charitable to Hester, who would probably be one of the scrubs if not for his contract, which he earned with his punt return abilities, not his receiving skills.  Hester is the kind of player who can frustrate Cutler to no end, with his dynamic talent earning numerous looks, and his lack of discipline and discernible route running ability wasting downs.  Still, if you want to go vertical, Hester is the man for the job, while guys like Earl Bennett, Brandon Riddeau, Juaquan Iglesias, and Rashied Davis are the guys who will work the underneath role in the offense.

Without re-hashing points already made about the defense, the Bears feature a re-tooled front seven with Pisa Tinoisamoa as a quality addition to an already fantastic linebacker unit.  You can make the argument that the weak link of the group is now MLB Brian Urlacher, but you know what kind of player you are going to get from him on a week to week basis.  Urlacher’s days as an elite player may be in the past, but there’s some degree of leadership and continuity value that you get from having him running your defense, and he’s still capable of putting up numbers and making pro bowls.

It’s the secondary that is most unsettled.  There’s no shortage of talent throughout the roster: there’s about 10 guys on the Bears defensive back depth chart that could start somewhere in the NFL.  Problem is, the Bears are working with one experienced Corner (Charles Tillman), and zero safeties with more than a year’s worth of starts under their belt.  What the Bears do to improve at this position could make the difference between being the best defense in the NFL, and the 11th best.

No matter how well the Bears defense does this year, it won’t overshadow the Jay Cutler media circus.  But in the 12 years since Erik Kramer took his franchise records and left town, the Bears have needed a quarterback to whore attention as badly as they’ve needed a strong head coach figure or a G.M. who could draft an offense.  They’ve rolled through Moses Moreno, Cade McNown, Shane Matthews, Jim Miller, Kordell Stewart, Chad Hutchinson, Chris Chandler, Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, and Kyle Orton.  Jay Cutler is a fantastic diversion not only from the rest of the team, but from the team’s past.  Bears fans can only hope that the team will capitalize on the opportunity.

Bears Headquarters, Lake Forest, IL

The Bears usually save a bunch of spots on their active roster for undrafted players who impress, so this year’s roster fillers are perhaps as exciting as any team in the league.

– RB Adrian Peterson has been a fixture on the team since 2003, but his days as the divisions’ “other” Adrian Peterson might be numbered.  The Bears figure to only need three RBs with Matt Forte as a feature back, and the team likes Garrett Wolfe.  A lot.

– WRs Johnnie Knox (Abiliene Christian) and Devin Aromashadu (Auburn) have fallen behind Brandon Riddeau in the contest they are having to prove that you too can play receiver for the Chicago Bears.  Riddeau is getting reps ahead of former arena star Rashied Davis, who now finds himself on the bubble.

-DEs Ervin Baldwin and Henry Melton find themselves with a real, live roster spot available for the winning now with the season ending injury to DL Dusty Dvoracek, who is now on IR for the fourth consecutive season.  Boomer Sooner.  If the season is lost, Melton can return kicks at least as well as Devin Hester  can, and would you not pay to sit in 15 degree weather and see number sixty-nine sprinting up field with a football?

-S Al Alfalava is a 6th round pick from this year’s draft for the Bears, and he’s been so good that he might be the team’s starting strong safety on opening day.  I don’t know if that needs additional comment, but it does seem to call for a nickname.

Surprise Cuts?

  • RB Kevin Jones
  • WR Rashied Davis
  • LB Hunter Hillenmeyer
  • S Craig Steltz
  • S Josh Bullocks
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