When your favorite baseball team is 22 games under .500, and 15 games out of first place in the middle of June, there isn’t too much to get excited about for the rest of the summer in a sports way except counting down the days until training camp. One of the ways to pass the time away is to read season previews, and this week while passing the magazine stand there were a couple Fantasy Football magazines and a USA Today season preview magazine.
Normally, I look at the fantasy football magazines first, but I picked up the USA Today magazine because I wanted to see if the addition of Brandon Marshall would lift the Chicago Bears past the Detroit Lions and/or Green Bay Packers. The answer to that question was a resounding NO. The Packers a year removed from their Super Bowl championship are still being predicted to win the division, while the up and coming Lions team is picked to finish second in the NFC North. The Bears are predicted to finish 3rd, but on the bright side were picked as a Wild Card participant.
Most of these predictions you can take with a grain of salt, because last season the NFC Championship Game was suppose to be contested by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Packers. The Eagles AKA “the dream team” laid a huge egg early in the season and could never recover, while the Packers lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions NY Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs. Nobody predicted the Giants vs SF 49ers in the NFC Championship game so preseason picks are fun to read, but not something set in stone(thank God).
They did have 4 reasons of concern for the Bears heading into the season according to this preseason preview.
Tice’s offense will never be compared to the complexity of Martz’s offense, and this fact alone nationally will always be a factor until proven otherwise that the Bears offense will struggle in 2012. Tice’s offenses in Minnesota were very successful, but the name doesn’t ring excitement even for me the first time I heard he was taking over as offensive coordinator. The Bears goal is to have explosive plays in the air while grinding it out on the ground if they are to simulate Tice’s offense while he was coaching for the Minnesota Vikings. The key difference in between offenses is that the QB in Martz offenses gets sacked and punished a lot with no room to audible, while Tice’s offense is keyed by the running game which sets up big time passing plays down the field. The personnel in the wide receiving core with the addition of Marshall will make this type of offense possible if the next two points of concern are addressed.
2. Forte’s contract issues.. how will this hinder the Bears best offensive producer?
Matt Forte being healthy both physically and mentally for this season to start basically hinges on dollar signs. Forte recently said that the Bears were still negotiating a long term deal which needs to get done by July 16 or Forte’s only option is the Franchise Tag tender of $7.5 million. It seem evident from the posturing, that Forte will not be a happy camper if he plays underneath the tag for the 2012-2013 season, but he’s a very dedicated off season workout guy, that whenever he show’s up for training camp is not going to be out of shape and play poorly like Chris Johnson did last season after Johnson’s holdout. Forte has had the ball in his hands a lot in his first four season as one of the few Bears offensive weapons, but now he has Brandon Marshall to carry some of that burden. Let’s hope that Forte gets a long term deal he deserves, and if he does the third concern by the preview would be the biggest one for the upcoming season.
3. Can the offensive line give Jay Cutler enough time?
This off season should be very interesting as Tice and company try to come up with the right offensive line combination for the season. J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams look to be battling it out at LT, while RT looks to be just waiting for Gabe Carimi to return healthy from his knee injury last season. Two positions seem to be locked in, with Roberto Garza the starting center and Chris Spencer at left guard. The right guard position in mini camp was held down by Lance Louis. This group will be a very good run blocking unit like we saw last season when Forte almost had 1,000 yards through 12 games, but the key is giving Cutler the necessary time to make the big time, game changing pass plays down the field. The good thing about this group is that after a rough start they only gave up 5 sacks in the last 5 games that Cutler started before the dreaded thumb injury. This group of guys with Tice as their coach have been together long enough that they should start gelling and becoming a unit to count on instead of always being viewed as the weakness of the organization. If this line can go from a weakness to a strength, the Bears could be looking and should be looking at a divisional title more than hoping for just a Wild card spot.
4. Lovie Smith
This is usually, in the Lovie Smith era, the time the Bears will bubble up and win the division. Even though nationally Smith doesn’t get any kind of recognition as a head coach, Smith is 71-57 in the regular season and 3-3 in the postseason. This season will be big for Lovie because he finally is believed to have all the necessary offensive weapons to score points while the defense although getting a little older should still be able to create turnovers and havoc especially if they don’t have to be on the field as much because their offense can control clock and put points on the board. Nobody is comparing Lovie to Bill Belichick ,but he does have his system and this is by far the most talented offensive team his tenure has scene. Smith and the Bears must have a very successful season or new Gm Emery may be looking for his own guy to lead the way next year.
It doesn’t matter where you start in any preseason preview, all that matters is where you finish in the post season!! This season the only thing that will be considered successful for Bears fans and the organization is a trip to the Super Bowl and giving Brian Urlacher and friends a title and giving Lovie a Gatorade bath that will never be forgotten. Lots of questions and a little more than a month until some of those questions get answered at training camp, please hurry one can only watch so much bad baseball!!