After months of OTA’s and minicamps and weeks of training camp, the 2012 Chicago Bears roster is set, for now at least. Let’s break down who made it:
Quarterbacks (2): Jason Campbell, Jay Cutler
In a bit of a surprise move, the Bears cut Josh McCown and chose to go into the season with two quarterbacks on the active roster. Expect Matt Blanchard to get a call to run scout team from the practice squad.
Running backs (3): Lorenzo Booker, Michael Bush, Matt Forte
Lorenzo Booker wins the third running back job over Armando Allen, mostly for his special teams contributions. Look for Forte to do most of his damage between the 20′s with Bush doing a lot of work in short yardage and the red zone. Expect this to be a lethal duo.
Wide receivers (6): Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Dane Sanzenbacher, Eric Weems
The Bears decide to keep six wide receiver, with Dane Sanzenbacher getting the nod for the final spot. Eric Weems brings a lot to the party on special teams and even showed he can contribute on offense.
I can’t put into words how the talent of this positional group has changed with the addition of Brandon Marshall. I would have been excited if the Bears had just drafted Alshon Jeffery, but getting Marshall is a game-changer. Bennett and Hester can slide into more natural roles inside while Marshall and Jeffery can work outside. I expect big things from Jeffery, especially in the red zone while Marshall will be a beast. He’ll break the Bears’ single season receiving record. Book it!
Tight ends (4): Kyle Adams, Kellen Davis, Evan Rodriguez, Matt Spaeth
The Bears keep four tight ends, mostly because Mike Tice likes to deploy his tight ends as H-back types. Kellen Davis has been awfully quiet in the preseason, almost too quiet. I expect big things from this group, especialy Davis in the red zone and Evan Rodriguez stretching the seam, but he’s got to learn to block if he wants to play with the big boys on Sundays.
Offensive linemen (8): Gabe Carimi, Roberto Garza, Lance Louis, Chilo Rachal, Chris Spencer, J’Marcus Webb, Chris Williams, Edwin Williams
Ah, the offensive line. No huge surprises here, though I thought the Bears might try to keep James Brown around rather than try to pass him through waivers.
I actually think that through scheme and play-calling, the Bears will keep this group from looking bad. I think J’Marcus Webb gets the nod at left tackle but keep an eye an Chris Spencer at left guard. If he slips, Chilo Rachal will step in quickly. Carimi needs to stay healthy to keep the right side stabilized.
Defensive linemen (9): Israel Idonije, Shea McClellin, Henry Melton, Cheta Ozougwu, Stephen Paea, Julius Peppers, Brian Price, Matt Toeaina, Corey Wootton
This group is really sort of 10 right now, with Nate Collins serving a one game suspension, so a move will need to be made. Another move is coming too, as Amobi Okoye is expected to sign a free agent deal after getting cut by the Bucs. If I were Corey Wooton or Cheta Ozougwu, I might be sleeping a little restlessly. I thought there was a shot that Brian Price might get a trip to the IR while he recovers from injury and gets his life in order.
I am concerned about the health of Julius Peppers, who’s battling plantar fasciitis. It’s something worth monitoring through the season. I contend Peppers is the guy the Bears can least afford to lose. Yes, more than Urlacher. Rookie Shea McClellin is raw and right now his best asset will be his motor. Look for him to make some hustle plays and show some flashes, but ultimately I think he disappoints for a first round pick. Also keep an eye on Henry Melton, who’s in a contract year, and will be looking to get paid.
Linebackers (7): Lance Briggs, Blake Costanzo, Geno Hayes, Nick Roach, J.T. Thomas, Patrick Trahan, Brian Urlacher
The Bears keep seven linebackers this season, a departure from the five they kept last year. Obviously the big question is Urlacher. If he’s healthy, everything else falls into place. If he’s not, things could come unglued in a hurry. Nick Roach has struggled a bit in the middle and has gotten flattened in run support and played in the passing game. It’s hard to live up to a legend. I like what I saw from J.T. Thomas in the preseason, let’s see if he can raise his game if given an opportunity on Sundays.
Cornerbacks (5): Kelvin Hayden, Tim Jennings, Sherrick McManis, D.J. Moore, Charles Tillman
The Bears go with 5 cornerbacks including the starters Tillman and Jennings with nickelback DJ Moore. I like what Kelvin Hayden brings and am curious about McManis, whom the Bears acquired for Tyler Clutts from the Texans.
Peanut struggled a bit in the preseason, so you have to wonder if it was a bad stretch in games that don’t count or if father time is tapping him on the shoulder. Tim Jennings brings it on every play and is a prototype Cover-2 corner, but he’ll continue to have a tough time matching up with bigger wide receivers. DJ Moore has taken over Mike Brown’s “johnny-on-the-spot” role and always seems to have his nose around the football. He’s also looking to get paid this season, so expect his best effort.
Safeties (5): Chris Conte, Jeremy Jones, Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters, Major Wright
The Bears keep 5 safeties including Chris Conte and Major Wright who are expected to start. Craig Steltz is always steady, just not spectacular. Jeremy Jones and Anthony Walters should rent and not buy, because I assure you the Bears are looking for some veteran help at safety.
The revolving door continues, especially if presumed starter Chris Conte is still nursing that bum shoulder. It’s time for the investment the Bears have made in drafting safeties every year starts to pay off. Major Wright needs to understand his responsibilities and take better angles in run support. He’s run himself out of too many plays. Most of all, these guys all need to stay healthy.
Specialists (4): Robbie Gould, Patrick Mannelly, Adam Podlesh, Ryan Quigley
The Bears are forced to keep two punters to start the season, until Adam Podlesh is healthy enough to resume his usual duties. Podlesh was a pleasant surprise last season and special teams under Dave Toub are always a strength for the Bears. I expect that to continue this season. Robbie Gould is among the best in the business and he’s gotten better and stronger in recent years. With the Bears offense scoring points, Gould could have a big scoring season. (At least my fantasy team hopes so!)
I think the talent level has increased exponentially, especially on offense. Is it enough to get past the Packers and Lions and head back to the playoffs? That’s what we’re about to find out. Kickoff is just over a week away.