Will Furrer. Moses Moreno. Henry Burris.
Know what those three have in common? They’re just a few of the 30 different quarterbacks the Chicago Bears have started since their 1985 Super Bowl win. Not exactly a stellar list of talented arms, that. A shining example of what’s held the franchise back for so long – until now, that is.
By swinging a deal for Jay Cutler this offseason – one the Chicago media called the biggest in Bears history – Chicago has its first star QB since Jim McMahon and is a major player when it comes time to bet on NFL football. But while exciting for the young Pro Bowl signal caller and the Windy City itself, there are some potential pitfalls. Cutler comes into town with the weight of the city on his shoulders, looking to vault a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in two years and lacks a lot of depth at receiver.
Key Departures: WR Marty Booker, OG Terrence Metcalf, QB Kyle Orton, OT John St. Clair.
Key Acquisitions: Free Agents – S Josh Bullocks, QB Jay Cutler, OL Frank Omiyale, OT Orlando Pace, OT Kevin Shaffer, OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa.
So the Bears got Cutler. Great. Now, there’s just a slight problem – who’s he going to throw to? At the time of writing, his most viable option was converted kick returner Devin Hester, a tantalizing talent that doesn’t have a lot of experience (a career-high 51 catches a season ago). The rest of the cast is equally question-marked; Earl Bennett and Rashied Davis are the two most recognizable names and between them is a whopping 74 career receptions. Thankfully, Cutler does have a true offensive weapon in Matt Forte. In a stellar 2008 rookie campaign, Forte showed a great ability to run through the tackles but an even better one catching the ball; he finished second amongst all rookies in receptions with 63 (ahead of pure receivers like DeSean Jackson and Donnie Avery) and found pay dirt four times. Oh, and lost in all the Cutler hoopla? The Bears’ improvements to the offensive line; Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer were brought in and should make Chicago’s front five one of the NFC’s best. That’s reflected in terms of sports betting – currently, the Bears are at 10/1 to win the NFC Championship outright.
Defensively, the Bears don’t look much different from a year ago. All the big names remain the same – Tommie Harris, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman are still four of the best at their respective positions. Granted, the defense did struggle last year, ranking 21st in yards allowed and 30th against the pass, and that needs to improve. To fix it, head coach Lovie Smith took over the play-calling duties and hired ex-Lions head man Rod Marinelli as his defensive line coach. That’s a pretty big score for a positional coach, getting a guy with head-man experience, and Smith will likely utilize it to the fullest. In another underrated move, the Bears went out and snagged former New Orleans safety Josh Bullocks in free agency – Bullocks was highly touted coming from Nebraska and has yet to find his NFL niche. Expect Smith and Marinelli to turn him into a player.
Notable 2009 Games: A fantastic crossover game against the Steelers on September 20th sees two of America’s greatest football cities – Pittsburgh and Chicago – go head-to-head. But the big game of the year has to be the Monday Night Football matchup on December 28th, when Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings visit Soldier Field.
2009 Outlook: The Bears were right on the cusp of the playoffs last year with a suspect defense and even more suspect quarterback play, so there’s reason for optimism in 2009. Cutler will give the offense a dynamic passing dimension that should open up even more room for Forte than he saw a year ago. There’s a lot to like, so a 10 or 11 win season seems apropos.