Article updated: 11/6/2012 7:31 PM
Bears grading out with high marks for first half
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was the star of the show in the teamís 7-1 first half.
By Bob LeGere
At the semester break the Bears have a roster full of players on the honor roll, which they deserve after a 7-1 first half even if their schedule wasnít a killer.
The material gets more difficult in the second semester, starting with tough tests against Houston and San Francisco. But so far most players have report cards that parents would love to see.
Here are the midseason grades:
Despite the absence of flashy individual statistics, Jay Cutler is in elite company when it comes to wins and losses. Since the start of the 2011 season, he is 14-4 as a starter, including 12-1 in his last 13 games. In games Cutler doesnít start, the Bears are 1-5 since 2011.
Still, he needs to do a better job of getting rid of the ball to avoid sacks and take some heat off his line. While he has rekindled his connection with Brandon Marshall, Cutler has yet to develop the same rapport with any other receiver. He is partly responsible for slow starts by the offense in some games.
However, since back-to-back poor outings vs. Green Bay and St. Louis, Cutler has thrown 9 TD passes and just 2 picks for a passer rating of 101.5.
Running backs: B
An early-season sprained ankle sidelined Matt Forte for 1Ĺ games, and he isnít getting quite as many touches as he should, but the 2011 Pro Bowler is playing as well as ever. His 5.0 yards per carry would be a career best for a full season.
He hasnít been used as much as a receiver this season but still is second on the team with 20 catches and third with 179 receiving yards.
Michael Bush is much more effective than recent Forte complements Marion Barber and Chester Taylor because heís more than just a short-yardage option.
Wide receivers: B-minus
Brandon Marshall has exceeded even the lofty expectations of super fans and is on pace for the most prolific receiving season (118 catches, 1,594 yards and 14 touchdowns) in Bears history. He even blocks well and campaigns for more touches for his teammates. He gets an A.
Earl Bennett has 3 or more catches in each of the three games since he returned from a hand injury, and he needs to be even more productive when opponents focus on Marshall.
Devin Hester has become an afterthought in the offense, although he still commands attention from opponents.
Rookie Alshon Jeffery was off to an impressive start (14 catches for 184 yards in the first five games) before a broken hand sidelined him. He could help the passing attack move to the next level.
Tight ends: C
That whole preseason spiel about the tight ends, especially Kellen Davis, playing a bigger role in the passing game apparently was a banana in the tailpipe. Itís not happening, although Davis finds the end zone more often than expected based on his limited receptions. But he is penalized too often.
Davis, Matt Spaeth and Kyle Adams have all blocked well in the run game but not as well in pass protection.
Offensive linemen: C-minus
The Bears are last in the league in sack percentage. Not all 28 sacks can be blamed on the line, but that doesnít mean it has played well. There continue to be too many breakdowns in pass protection and too many penalties, including 6 against Carolina.
Right guard Lance Louis is the only member of the group who hasnít struggled throughout much of the season. But the O-line has performed well in the run game and is a large reason the Bears are 10th in rushing yards and 11th in average gain per rush.
Defensive linemen: A-minus
No single player is putting up tremendous numbers, although Julius Peppers and Henry Melton each have 5 sacks, and Israel Idonije and Corey Wootton each have 4.
More important, this group has been the catalyst for a defense that ranks in the top 10 in sacks and third-down efficiency and in total yards, rushing yards, first downs and points allowed.
It also has brought the pressure that has helped the Bears pile up a league-high 28 take-aways and 17 interceptions.
Lance Briggs has played at a Pro Bowl level all season, and Brian Urlacher, who struggled early, is getting closer every week. Theyíve combined for 3 of the Bearsí 7 interception returns for touchdowns, 3 forced fumbles and 2 recovered fumbles. In addition to the impact plays, theyíre in a dead heat for the team lead in tackles.
Defensive backs: A
If not for Charles Tillmanís 7 forced fumbles and 2 pick-6s, fellow cornerback Tim Jennings would be getting a ton of Pro Bowl pub for his 6 interceptions, including a pick-6 that was the key play in the win over Carolina.
Safeties Major Wright (3 picks, including a pick-6) and Chris Conte have been active in run support and adept at preventing big plays.
Special teams: B
Place-kicker Robbie Gould has missed just 2 of 18 field-goal attempts, and 1 of those was a block. His kickoffs continue to be more unreturnable every season.
Punter Adam Podlesh started slowly after a preseason hip injury but has been solid.
Devin Hester shows signs of busting out after a disappointing first few games.
Coverage has been excellent.