by Carlos Nazario
The season came to an excruciatingly horrible end for the Chicago Bears. They were 7-3 and had a stranglehold on a playoff spot. Then a litany of injuries hit them, starting with quarterback Jay Cutler breaking his thumb on his throwing hand. They finished the season 1-5 and out of the playoffs.
Now the offseason is here and the Bears are making some changes. They fired general manager Jerry Angelo, and offensive coordinator Mike Martz retired. They now have a new General Manager, a new Offensive Line Coach, a new Offensive Coordinator, and a new Quarterbacks Coach. Ok, good start.
Now, however, is the time to improve the product on the field. Yes, they are a pretty good team, but not one that was going to win a title. They had some gaping holes that were evident even when they were winning games; holes that need to be plugged in order for Head Coach Lovie Smith to keep his job.
The Bears should improve the backup quarterback position. Cutler had the offense going and the team was among the best, but when he went down, the season was effectively over. Caleb Hanie was disastrous, and Nathan Enderle could not even get into a game. Josh McCown was an improvement over Hanie, but that is not saying much.
Jake Delhomme and David Garrard are a couple of free agent veterans who can back up Cutler effectively. Either one can greatly improve the position just by standing there. They have been through the wars, so they would not be overwhelmed should they be needed for an extended period of time.
Tell me if you have heard this before. The Bears need a big wide receiver to be their #1. In the past 25 years, the Bears have had 6(!) receivers to have over 1,000 yards receiving. Of those 6, 4 of them came from 2 players. In that same period of time, the Bears #1 receiver has averaged 59 receptions, 848 yards, and 4 touchdowns for a season. Those might be good numbers…if your quarterback was Tim Tebow!
The Bears need to go after an established veteran. Players who should be available are Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe, and Mike Wallace.
I would want the Bears to make a serious run at Jackson. They had a great look at him in Week 11 when he torched them with 7 receptions for 165 yards. He is big, fast, and strong and would complement Cutler’s big arm. Having Jackson will take a great deal of pressure off of Matt Forte, who accounted for almost 60% of the Bears offense before his season was cut short due to a knee sprain. If they were to make a draft pick, they should make it Michael Floyd of Notre Dame. He is big and athletic, though he seems not to have the elite speed.
Another area the Bears need to improve is the pass rush. The Bears defense was still stellar this past season, but the secondary got burned when they were one-on-one. Opposing quarterbacks had the time to find open receivers since defensive end Julius Peppers was about the only pass rusher making an impact. He had another Pro Bowl season, despite seeing double teams for most of the snaps he played.
I really like Whitney Mercilus from Illinois here. He led the nation in sacks this past season with 16. He also had 22.5 tackles for losses and 9 forced fumbles. He is strong, relentless, athletic and agile. He also has great instincts and the kind of attitude coaches love. He has played defensive end on the left, right, and even played over center. He would work perfectly with Peppers. Both could move all over so it would keep offensive linemen off balanced.
I have not forgotten the Offensive Line. They still had some tough times, but they improved as the season went on. They also had two key players, Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi, who were lost to injury. Again, as with the receiving corps, the line needs an established veteran.
The most attractive player here is Carl Nicks. He has done a great job protecting Drew Brees in New Orleans and would be a good fit with the Bears. He is 6-5, 343 pounds, and considered one of the top guards in the NFL. At 26, he is also in the prime of his career. The Saints already paid their other guard, Jhari Evans a huge deal, and Brees will also be a free agent, so Nicks looks like he is the odd man out. The Saints loss should be the Bears gain.
In a Mike Martz offense, the Tight End is usually only used for blocking. Greg Olsen did not fit that bill so he was shipped to Carolina. The remaining TE’s were good enough blockers, but it looks like one that can catch passes effectively is needed. Teams that utilized their tight ends as big receivers (New England, New Orleans, and ugh, Green Bay) had excellent seasons, so the Bears should go to that.
Coby Fleener from Stanford would be a great pickup here. He is the best available at that position and at 6-6, 250, he is a middle-of-the-field threat for Cutler. He would also gobble up a lot of third down conversions for the Bears, who ranked 27th in the league in that category.
If they can get Jackson and/or Floyd added with Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett, to go with Fleener, Cutler may have a 4,000 yard season. Add to that the combo of Forte, Marion Barber, and Khalil Bell, and the Bears would FINALLY have the high octane offense fans have only dreamed about.
Most of the moves I presented are to improve the offense. As I stated earlier, the defense is still stout and with an added pass rusher, it can remain one of the best. The offense is where most of the holes are contained, and the players mentioned can convert that offense to one of the stronger ones in the league. Even with their deficiencies, they ranked 6th in points scored before Cutler’s injury.
With these improvements a strong playoff run is within reach for the 2012-2013 Chicago Bears.