The 2012 football season is not far away. The Bears have finished OTAs and are about to start Training Camp on July 25th. The team is looking really good for the 2012 season but every fan knows what looks good on paper does not translate to the playing of a real game. That being said, there are three questions that every Bears fan should be asking themselves as we get closer to training camp.
1. Who will be starting where on the offensive line?
The Bears have had a poor line two years running. In 2010, the Bears made it to the playoffs and won the division with the worst line in the NFL. The Bears knew they had to improve their line and drafted Gabe Carimi, but that was short lived since he was hurt after the second game of the 2011 season. They say when you hit rock bottom there is no where to go but up. The Bears offensive line only moved up to 27th overall in 2011 and if you want to count that as progress then go ahead.
That being said, the line doesn't have to be elite to get the Bears to the playoffs or Super Bowl. In 2011, four teams that had offensive line rankings below 20 made the playoffs.
22. Green Bay Packers
23. Pittsburgh Steelers
24. Denver Broncos
26. San Francisco 49ers
The only team to sniff the Super Bowl is the 49ers but it still shows that having the best offensive line does not guarantee you will do great. In 2011, four teams that had offensive line rankings above the top ten did not make the playoffs.
3. Tennessee Titans
5. Oakland Raiders
8. San Diego Chargers
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Thus, you can have a really good offensive line and still not make the playoffs.
The best way to improve a offensive line is to have continuity. The Bears have lacked this every year, whether it was due to injury or playing ability, they have lacked the ability to be a cohesive unit. The lineup for the Bears is looking like this for 2012.
Left Tackle- J'Marcus Webb
Left Guard- Chris Spencer
Center- Roberto Garza
Right Guard- Lance Louis
Right Tackle- Gabe Carimi
The Bears line will not become a top ten unit but when you look at the numbers, they really don't need it. The main thing the Bears need to do is keep their most valuable asset upright. Jay Cutler. The Bears cannot afford for another injury to knock Jay Cutler out for the season or even his career. To be fair, in 2011 it was Jay Cutler who actually knocked himself out for the season, but that was not the case in 2010 during the playoffs.
If the Bears want to make it to the big dance then they need to let these guys become a cohesive unit. The longer they wait to figure out where who should start where, the longer it will take for them to play at a high level. The offensive line needs to stay healthy because if they want to stop being scrutinized by every media, analyst, or fan then they need to step it up.
2. Is everyone fully healed from last year?
In 2011, the Bears lost a lot of players to some serious injuries.
Brian Urlacher- In the final game versus the Vikings he sprained his MCL and partially sprained his PCL.
Jay Cutler- Lost for season because of a Bennett fracture sustained during the game versus the Chargers.
- Lost for the season because he suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain versus the Chiefs.
Gabe Carimi- Lost for season because he had a knee sprain versus the Saints.
Johnny Knox- Lost for the season because of a very serious back injury.
The only players who look fully healed or are believed to be are Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. Jay Cutler looked great during OTAs and Matt Forte was cleared in January to play in the Pro Bowl. The Bears cannot say the same for Carimi, Knox, or Urlacher.
As of right now, they are taking it really easy on Urlacher and are trying not to push his knee too hard . Carimi could be next on the fully healed list but he is still taking his time too and the Bears are still playing him cautiously; this was evident during OTAs. Knox will most likely not play this season. According to reports, he has lost 30 pounds since the surgery on his back and the Bears are waiting to see if he can physically play. To be honest, I hope he doesn't come back to play for any football team since a back injury is very dangerous and trying to play football would just be suicide. I hope Knox understands that another injury could end his career or his life.
If all goes as planned and there are no setbacks, the Bears should have everyone but Knox for Training Camp. Training Camp will be the real test to see how well everyone is healed. Can Carimi's right knee not buckle when playing in pads? Can Urlacher still play the MLB position without losing step? Can Cutler take a few hits and have his thumb stay in place? Can Forte run full speed and make the same cuts he did in 2011? The Bears season hinges on how healthy the players are and if they can remain healthy.
3. Is the Chemistry still there?
Let's be honest, the Bears are favorites to win the division and to win it all, according to Vegas and a lot of analysts. There is really only one reason that is. It's not because Mike Martz is gone. It's not because Mike Tice will run a more realistic offense. It's not because the offensive line will be dramatically improved. It's because the Bears have finally got a number one receiver and one that Jay Cutler actually trusts: Brandon Marshall.
Time can change a lot of things. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are two different people now compared to what they were in 2008. The positive part is that they are better now than they were then. Even Brandon Marshall admitted it when watching film of Cutler and him in 08'. Here are some quotes from Brandon Marshall:
"When I look at film now, I think we were terrible. We were just young and immature out there on the field, not understanding the big picture of the offense and the game itself. To see where we're at now, where our football mind is now, it's going to be really dangerous. I'm excited to really fall into this offense with a new mind."
Now, do I think the chemistry is there? Yes. But I do realize that a lot of the Bears expectations are riding on this. Marshall is supposed to open up the offense to levels that no one has seen yet. Defenses will have problems because you need to stack the box for Forte, but if you do that then Marshall has one-on-one with the cornerback. The same thing goes the other way. If you don't stack the box up then there will be more running lanes for Forte to run through and less people at the line of scrimmage. This offense will be dangerous and it has been a long time since those words have been linked to a Chicago Bears offense.
Can the Bears still win games without Marshall? Yes. They went 7-3 last year without a number one receiver and with a bad offensive line. The fact of the matter is that the reason a lot fans and analyst are saying that the team is Super Bowl ready is because of Marshal and they have every right to. But if Marshall doesn't play at the level everyone is expecting, then the Bears are back to square one at the wide receiver department. Thus, if the chemistry is not there and if he gets into trouble, expect a lot of people to make claims that the Bears screwed up by trading for Marshall.
The Bears need to answer these questions during Training Camp because time will be running out by the time preseason starts. Teams do not scramble to fix problems during preseason unless they lose someone during preseason or training camp. When that happens, teams have seasons like the Cotls did. The Bears really do not have a lot of depth and cannot afford to lose any of their players. The team cannot let any of these questions backfire on them since they won't have time to fix them. Everyone needs to be healthy and everyone needs to live up to expectations.
If the offensive line can be somewhat decent, if everyone can get healthy and stay healthy, and if Brandon Marshall is everything that he is being made out to be, then the Bears are going to be a very scary team. If they do that then the sky is the limit. But if just one of these items goes wrong, then the road to the Super Bowl will be an uphill battle.
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