We know success for this season heavily sits upon the pads of the Chicago Bears’ best players: Brian Urlacher, Jay Cutler, Julius Peppers, Matt Forte – you get the picture.
But what about the players who aren’t as revered nationally? The players who don’t popup in Comcast Infinity commercials, or the ones who get pub for impregnating their soon to be wife and once a reality star.
Here are five under the radar Chicago Bears whose performances will impact the course this season takes. And if they fail, they’ll be making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
5) Major Wright – strong safety
The revolving door – or doors – of Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 defense: the safety position(s). The dial has spun and spun, and for now has landed on Major Wright.
Injuries have haunted the former Florida Gator, including a hamstring injury in the Bears’ preseason opener against the Denver Broncos. Wright failed to make through all of last season due to a shoulder injury, making 11 starts in 12 games.
Health hasn’t been Wright’s only problem. He’s had moments of blown coverage over the top and missed tackles.This year, though, Wright needs to produce. He certainly doesn’t have to play at a Pro Bowl level, but Wright needs to stabilize the safety position. Wright is more of a hard-hitting safety than a finesse and coverage one. His ball hawking skills are average, at best.
If pressure is applied upfront by the Bears’ defensive line, Wright and fellow safety Chris Conte could see a lot of botched passes coming their way.
4) Kellen Davis/Evan Rodriguez
Kellen Davis is a freak, at least physically speaking. Evan Rodriguez fits the mold of an H-Back, possessing mismatch speed for linebackers to cover and the ability to catch out of the backfield. But neither of these players is being pegged as a sleeper at the tight end position for fantasy football, or even an up and coming pass-catcher.
While Davis looks like a Greek God, he certainly isn’t the reincarnation Cratus. Despite being listed at 6-7 and 267 pounds, Davis has struggled with run blocking. There are times where he is visibly overmatched with defensive ends, and gets blown past linebackers.
In the passing game, Davis has shown flashes of potential. His teammates and coaches have lauded Davis of his budding talent. But Davis has yet to reach that ceiling, so first year general manager Phil Emery decided to snag a tight end of his own in Rodriguez.
By trade, Rodriguez is a tight end, but fits more in the mold of a modern pass-catching fullback –better known as an H-back. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice has stated the tight ends will be more involved in the offense after being almost not used at all under Mike Martz for the past two seasons. Out of the gate, Davis will be the starting tight end. It would be a surprise if at some point Rodriguez unseats him since he’s struggled to sustain blocks.
The middle of the field will be more open this season with defenses having to put more attention on the Bears’ upgraded wide receivers. It will be up to Davis and Rodriguez to offer Jay Cutler a safety valve he hasn’t had since Greg Olsen.
3) Gabe Carimi
We know the importance of left tackle in the NFL but the right side of the Bears’ offensive line might be the one they’re expecting the most out of. Instead of trying to put Gabe Carimi at left tackle, the Bears are going with the safe option of putting him on the right side in hopes of him flourishing.
In terms of talent, Carimi surpasses all of his teammates up front. But like many of the Bears’ young and raw players, he’s been riddled with injuries which have prevented his development. While right tackle isn’t the “glamour” position of an offensive line, it could be the Bears’ best individual offensive line position if Carimi comes through this season.
2) Stephen Paea
Once pegged as the strongest man in the world by teammate Brian Urlacher, Stephen Paea had more up and downs than a lifetime Gold’s Gym body builder. The Bears showed how much they valued Paea by trading up to pick to former Oregon State lane clogger. There was even chatter in the event Carimi was picked earlier in the first round, the Bears would have gone with Paea as their first round pick.
Paea needs to develop into that defensive tackle offenses need to put two bodies on, which would the rest of the Bears’ lineman to get up field. The play of the defensive line has a ripple effect on the rest of the Bears’ defense: pressure created upfront forces offensive lines to take on defensive lineman, thus allowing linebackers to go gangbusters, leaving the secondary in a position to create a turnover.
Defensive lineman, especially defensive tackles, take more time to develop in the NFL. Paea has the looks of a dominating defensive tackle. But if he doesn’t show up, he’ll be just another failed physical specimen to come the NFL.
1) Earl Bennett
Surprised to see Mr. Reliable on this list? Fear not, Bears fans. It’s for good reason. With defenses facing the daunting task of covering Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, Bennett will get more looks and chances to haul in passes. Outside of Cutler, Bennett could benefit the most from the offense’s new additions.
Marshall evens out the rest of the Bears’ receivers on the depth chart. Instead of having to put Bennett and Devin Hester as their No. 1 or 2 receivers, they’re bumped down a notch and put into a more realistic position. Bennett fits the mold of an ideal No. 2 receiver. He doesn’t have elite speed, but runs his routes thoroughly and rarely makes mistakes. Until the arrival of Marshall, Bennett had the best hands among the Bears receivers.
Marshall will be doubled up in coverage, leaving Bennett with some one-on-one matchups and if the offense develops as it’s expected to, Bennett could develop into on the best No. 2 receivers in the NFL.