We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team writers and ask for answers to pressing 2010 fantasy football questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2011 Chicago Bears Fantasy Football Preview comes courtesy of beat reporter Sean Jensen of Chicago Sun-Times.
With the decision to let Olin Kreutz leave, the Bears have added T Gabe Camiri via the draft, G Chris Spencer and Matt Spaeth a notable blocking tight end from the Steelers. With the embarrassing game last year against the Giants where the Bears gave up 10 sacks still fresh in fans minds do you think these additions are enough to help both the running game improve and keep Jay Cutler out of harm’s way? And do you see them making any more moves to shore up this area?
It’s too early to tell, if these moves are enough. Players are genuinely distraught that Olin Kreutz is not returning for another season. The expectation from everyone — from players to the front office, to the coaching staff — was that Kreutz would be back, which is why they didn’t try to address the position in the NFL Draft or when they could pull off a trade. Now, they are kind of scrambling, signing Chris Spencer from the Seattle Seahawks. Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice is adamant that his starting five is in place, as follows: J’Marcus Webb at left tackle, Chris Williams at left guard, Roberto Garza at center, Lance Louis at right guard and rookie Gabe Carimi at right tackle. Louis, from what I have seen, does look like he may do a fine job. And while I’ve seen Carimi and Webb have some issues in pass protection, I’m fairly certainly any left tackle in the league would have some problems with Julius Peppers, one-on-one. Even Garza has looked solid at center. The player who has concerned me is Chris Williams, who has made defensive tackle Matt Toeaina look like he’s bound for the Pro Bowl. Toeaina looks more explosive than last year, but Williams has been on the ground several times in drills, and he has whiffed far too many times, when I’ve been paying attention. Maybe I’m just consistently catching him at the wrong time.
The Bears fantasy Defense/Special Teams is ranked near the top 5 in most experts rankings for this upcoming season. We know all about the core of this Bears defense being Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs. With the additions of DT Amobi Okoye, DE Vernon Gholston, and the returning free agents DT Anthony Adams, and CB Corey Graham, what should the expectations be going into this 2011 season? And can Vernon Gholston get his career turned around with Chicago, being able to use the 3 point stance like he did in college, and cause some havoc on QBs?
The Bears are blessed to return the core of its defense, especially re-signing Nick Roach and Anthony Adams. I’m surprised they haven’t added another corner — perhaps believing that Josh Moore is ready to step up — but they have definitely bolstered the defensive line with some serious depth. Second-round pick Stephen Paea has looked sharp, as long as his knee isn’t serious and won’t be a lingering problem. Amobi Okoye definitely looks like he can be a part of a rotation, and Matt Toeaina and Henry Melton both look excellent physically, embracing the fact that they’re both going to play a lot more snaps this year with the departure of Tommie Harris. But, so far, Vernon Gholston has not stood out to me. It’s early yet, but I haven’t seen a flash, like I have from every one of the other d-linemen I mentioned. The concern on defense is the back end. Major Wright, a third-round pick last year, hasn’t really distinguished himself at camp, so far. Chris Harris, who is playing for a new contract, will have a strong season, because he had one last year. And while Charles Tillman shows no sign of decline, the other cornerback spot looks shaky. Tim Jennings has gotten beaten quite a few times already this camp, and Zack Bowman hasn’t stood out. These guys, though, will go as the d-line goes. The defensive line could have better depth and quality then Lovie Smith has ever had, so the cornerbacks may not get exposed as much. As for the special teams, Dave Toub is among the league’s best coaches. The team was smart to re-sign linebacker Brian Iwuh and cornerback Corey Graham, and they also added special teams stud Sam Hurd, the receiver from the Dallas Cowboys. Now, they’ll need a few of the young guys to step up. Last preseason, the special teams looked dreadful. But, Toub whipped it into shape for the regular season. And one of the biggest weaknesses — at punter — was upgraded, it seems, with Adam Podlesh.
Roy Williams had the best two years of his career with Mike Martz in Detroit in 2006, and 2007. He caught 146 balls for 2,148 yards, and 12 touchdowns. He’s also familiar with receivers coach Darryl Drake who was his position coach at the University of Texas. Do you expect Williams to come close to his 06 and 07 production and what does his presence do now for Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, and Earl Bennett in terms of targets?
As I spelled out in Sunday and Monday’s paper, the Bears look like this at receiver: Devin Hester is locked in as the starting Z; Earl Bennett is locked in as the starting Y; and Roy Williams and Johnny Knox will compete to start at X. Knox, interestingly, played more snaps last year (88 percent) than any other receiver. But, the indications I get is that Knox wasn’t consistent enough. In fact, after film review, Hester was the most consistent receiver. What troubled me about Knox last season was the fact that he was the target on 11 interceptions, tops in the NFL. He also was the target on two interceptions in the playoffs. Knox is speedy, and the Bears will use that. But, he surely looks like he’ll be giving up some serious snaps to Williams, who is familiar with both Drake and Martz. Do the Bears need Williams to be a 100-catch player? I don’t believe so; Hester, Knox and Bennett all can be productive, not to mention Kellen Davis, Matt Speath and Matt Forte, out of the backfield. But, Williams is 6 foot 3, and while he doesn’t look as fast as he was in his early years in Detroit, he should be able to use his size and give Jay Cutler a bigger target. That, however, has never been a real strength of Williams, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can do that consistently for the Bears. If so, then the Bears offense could make a huge jump up the rankings.
Matt Forte had his least number of carries and receptions last season with 237 and 51, but also had his highest per carry and per reception average of his career. The expectations of a Marshall Faulk like roll and production in Martz’s offense were of course too much, but do you see an uptick in production now in his second year with the system or something more in line with last season’s numbers?
Everything — from Lovie Smith’s preference, to the personnel — points to the Bears running the ball more. Forte did a solid job last season, and I think Martz realizes that he’s athletic, smart and versatile enough to be the centerpiece of the offense. They certainly will want to throw the ball to him more, relieving the pressure on Cutler by getting the ball out of his hands quicker. I expect the Bears to use more “hots” to players like Hester and Davis, as well as screens to Forte, to temper the aggressiveness of opposing pass rushers. Forte proved last year that he’s able to line up all over, including at receiver, effectively.
In response to the new rule of moving the ball up 5 extra yards on kickoffs to try to prevent more concussions and injuries, Devin Hester spoke out about how it wasn’t fair to him or any of the elite returners in the game. Do you see this rule effecting Hester that much on kick returns, or will he still be able to be the old Hester and find his way to the end zone?
Well, Johnny Knox will be the primary kickoff returner. He’s looked sharp during practices so far, given his blazing 4.2 something speed. Hester, I’m sure, will return an occasional kickoff. But, he’ll primarily handle punt returns. With Danieal Manning leaving and signing with the Houston Texans, Knox and Hester will have to handle these jobs again. But, with more depth at receiver, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern.