Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Chicago Bears 2008 Preemptive Autopsy Part 2: Offense
The Chicago Bears offense, particularly the passing offense, has almost always been the redheaded stepchild of the franchise, going way back. From the times when guys like Dick Butkus and Ed O'Bradovich would come off the field and simply ask the offense to "hold 'em for us," to the days when an all-time great defense and Walter Payton had to try their damnedest to pick up the slack of the fearsome Steve Fuller-to-Keith Ortego passing combo, defense has always come first in that own. But a "defense first" philosophy is one thing. In 2007, I became convinced that not only is the Bear offense a second-class citizen in the grand scheme of things, but the powers that be have gone so far as to actually hate their own offense. How else can you explain trading away the team's offensive MVP and not drafting any future replacements for a line that included four players who saw playing time in the 1990s and another who wasn't good enough to play for the Falcons? And this year, in many ways, it's even worse.
I know standard procedure is to start with the quarterbacks and do the line last, but there's really no other way to do this. Because, remember: Much as it was last year, without an offensive line, no assessment of the rest of the offense means a damn thing. And with the shape the line was in last year, no one at any of the skill positions mattered in the least. Sure, Cedric Benson was pretty worthless, but nothing short of Barry Sanders on meth would have been able to make lemonade out of that big shit-pile of festering, rotten lemons. Last year, the biggest problem was that Fred Miller and Ruben Brown both aged ten years over the offseason, which resulted in Brown becoming a cripple and Miller becoming a human "welcome to the backfield" sign, Olin Kreutz's career officially began to decline, and Roberto Garza remembered that he's just not that good at playing football on a professional level. So, how did they fix that? Well, they got rid of Miller and Brown. Okay, sounds good. What else did they do? In the draft, they used a first-round pick on Chris Williams, a guy who had already been taken off most other teams' draft boards over concerns about his back. Well, those were certainly baseless concerns, right? Like he had been hurt long ago and it was just a case of teams being overly cautious, right? Right? Fuck. As it turns out, not only did he have a disk in his back that had been herniated in the past, but it was also still herniated, which turns you into a ticking time bomb when you're a 300 pound man who runs into things for a living. So the immediate quick-fix cure-all for all the Bears offensive woes is on the shelf till November, by which time the Bears will more than likely already be out of playoff contention. So what you have in Chris Williams is the kind of "if we weren't laughing, we'd be crying" blunder the likes of which haven't been seen since they bet the farm on Rick Mirer. So what else did they do to fix the line? For starters , they also drafted Kirk Barton, and he's... He's certainly an offensive lineman, I suppose. Aside from that, they decided to depend on the same backups who were terrible replacing Brown and Miller last year, but now as starters, which I guess gives them a +10 bonus on saving throws or something. Shit. Fuck. Oh hey, and they traded a draft pick for former Buc Dan Buenning, who blew out a knee in his rookie year and hasn't been heard from since. That'll change everything, right there. So yeah. Barring a nuclear accident that imbues Josh Beekman with super-strength, this is going to be a long, horrible year.
Our long national nightmare finally ended and Rex Grossman's time as a starter has come to a close. For now. But until he gets folded in half by a couple defensive ends, the Kyle Orton era has begun. They had an open competition heading into the season, and while Orton actually looked pretty good in the meaningless exhibition games, Rex silenced all his doubters by looking absolutely lost out there, even when facing second-string defenses with the Bears' starters still out there. And even in this, the season of our discontent, I'm actually sort of pumped. Oh, don't get me wrong here - Kyle Orton is still not a real NFL quarterback. But he's also not a fucking terrible one, so it's a step in the right direction. I consider it a great step forward into the past, where mediocre quarterbacks like Jim Harbaugh didn't fuck up bad enough for the rest of the team to not be able to bail them out, as opposed to the 2000s norm of rotten pieces of shit like Cade McNown and Henry Burris at the helm. So even though the game-manager type QB is useless in the modern NFL, it's still a huge improvement over the "close your eyes and chunk it high and far, with no concern as to where it comes down" style of the previous guy. The number three guy is Caleb Hanie, an undrafted free agent, who will eventually be the subject of Romo-esque cries from the fans to make him the starter, which will only end in him playing horribly and getting a job at a used car lot. But yeah. This is a team that hasn't had a real quarterback since the late 1940s, and that doesn't look to change any time soon.
Speaking of long national nightmares come to an end, Cedric Benson was instructed to not let the door hit his ass, after his love of alcohol and boats got him in trouble one too many times. Enter Matt Forte, (with the little accent mark over the E, but I'm too lazy to copy-and-paste it from the character map) another one of Jerry Angelo's cutesy small-school second round picks, but one that actually looks to be useful, for a change. He's basically what Cedric Benson would be if he was taller, faster, could block or catch, actually liked playing football, had short hair, and wasn't an absolute head-case. But you know, otherwise just like the dude. He looks like a player with a lot of potential, and its just too bad that he's got to run on an offense where a 3.5 average would take a superhuman effort. Behind him, there's miracle-healing reclamation project Kevin Jones, who looked like a superstar for about five minutes with the Lions, but then started piling up major injuries, because God hates the Detroit Lions. He seems to have fully healed, and even if he's only a shadow of his former self, that's still a pretty decent option as a backup running back. The third-stringer is "the other" Adrian Peterson, a guy who can do pretty much everything, but cant do anything well enough to get major playing time, so he's headed back to being mainly a special teams guy, as it should be. In a rare case of a team keeping four running backs on the roster, Garrett Wolfe brings up the rear. And I'll be honest, with his Rudy-esque "dude who was too small to play at any level, but still done good" underdog story, he might be my current favorite player on the team. But when people use him as a shining example of why Jerry Angelo needs to go, it's hard to not agree. They used a third round pick on a guy who more than likely would have still been there in the sixth or seventh, who's the kind of situational third-down guy that's a luxury for a team that's already good, but not a good move for a team that's hurting for an every down back. He's a quick little (and I do mean, little - 5'7", 186) dude who's got a chance to go all the way every time he touches the ball, and he's probably got a decent future ahead of him. Thing is, that decent future is probably with a team other than the Bears, somewhere where they already have a proven starter and can afford the luxury of a gadget player.
At fullback, Jason McKie is the only one on the roster, and he's a player who's just sort of "there." He doesn't do anything bad, but he doesn't do anything good either, so you eventually forget he's even on the team after a while. I'm always hoping that they'll replace him with someone who'll be more of a factor, but they never do. I still think they should have kept Lousaka Polite instead, if only for the fact that his first name sounds like someone a barbarian would lock swords with.
You know, I honestly think that former Arena Leaguer Rashied Davis could end up being a pretty good player. He's showed flashes ever since they switched him from cornerback to receiver, and this year it's really seemed to finally click. And rookie third-round pick Earl Bennett has looked good so far, even helping out in the return game. It's just too bad that it's all bad news outside of those two guys. The other starter alongside Davis looks like it's going to be Brandon Lloyd, a washed-up retread whose career prior to this point involves a long, winding trail of dropped passes and broken dreams. But hey, he's Ron Turner's boy, and if ole Ronny says it's a good idea, it must be! Shit. And hey, Devin Hester is pretty much hands-down the best kick returner in the league, and it would be real hard to not consider him the best ever, even after only two years. But as a wide receiver... Well, he's a really good kick returner. Hopefully, we can get some return on 2006's top pick when Danieal Manning has to fill in on returns after Hester gets his knees obliterated after some headhunter safety obliterates him on a stupid fucking slant pattern he shouldn't be running. Marty Booker is an old favorite back in town after the Bears pulled some "beads for Manhattan Island" shit, trading him to the Dolphins for Adewale Ogunleye, but he's a far cry from the player he used to be, couldn't crack the starting lineup, and probably only made the final cut because Angelo and Lovie knew the press would have a field day with them after another fuckup like that. The other guy is Mark Bradley, an often-injured guy who used to have potential, but is probably only here because they didn't want to cut loose both the first and second round picks from 2005 in the same offseason. It's safe to say that this is Bradley's last chance. Either way, I would have taken Brandon Rideau over either one of those guys, and I'm going to be pissed when someone snags him off the practice squad.
Tight end, on the other hand, is nothing but giggles and smiles at this point. Desmond Clark is one of the best in the league, Greg Olsen is a little lacking in the blocking side of things, but is a lot like a 6'5" 250 pound wide receiver otherwise, and rookie Kellen Davis is an absolute beast of a monster and should contribute nicely on special teams while he waits for Clark to retire. Also, it's not as much fun to write about positions where nothing's really all that bad. Huh. So if I want my contributions to this thing to be any good, I have to hope for the Bears to suck this year. Stupid tangled webs.
Up next: The phases that matter - Defense and special teams.