Draft Picks: 1.20, 2.18, 4.20, 5.20, 6.20 Traded 3rd to Miami (Marshall) and 7th to Tampa Bay (Price) UFAs:
Campbell, J – QB
McCown, J – QB
Mare, O – K
Scott, J – OT
Louis, L – OG
Rachal, C – OG
Spencer, C – OG
Idonije, I – DE/DT
Melton, H – DT
Okoye, A – DT
Hayes, Geno – LB
Roach, N – LB
Urlacher, B – LB
Bowman, Z – CB/ST
Hayden, K – CB
Moore, DJ – CB
A quick highlight and shout-out to a class organization for their treatment of Johnny Knox. Even though it was pretty clear after his injury and subsequent spinal fusion that he wouldn't be playing football again, they kept him on the roster to get full access to rehab equipment and to clear the five-year barrier for full NFL retirement benefits. The Bears are a family-run organization and, in an often cold and business-focused world, went out of their way to take care of one of their own.(another nail in the coffin of the Bears being "cheap")
The 2012 Chicago Bears season really was a perfect microcosm of the Lovie Smith era. There were more highs than lows. The defense played turnover-driven, disciplined ball, consistently coming up with big plays and representing well at the Pro Bowl (both starting CBs in the NFC, Tillman and Jennings, plus Peppers and Melton. Briggs turned down a chance to play) and leading the team to a 10-6 season. There were certainlymoments of pure defensive joy.
On the other side of the ball, though, performance was as erratic and stilted as it has ever been under Lovie. Cutler still has all of the tools and Marshall is beastly, but the praise ends there. But the third in a string of bad coordinators (Tice, following Martz and Turner) led to uninspired play.
On the back of good defense and bad offense, the Bears slumped to a 3-5 finish to the season after starting 7-1, and missed out on the playoffs for the 5th time in 6 years. This is why Lovie had to go: he coaches teams that are perennially competitive, but never elite. True, the Bears are facing a talent gap that is the result of a decade of Jerry Angelo calling the personnel shots, but Lovie consistently hired friends (Former roommates Martz and Marinelli, brother-in-law Bob Babich, his son, former co-worker Tice, etc) instead of the best for the job, which led to a lack of player development. Lovie was loyal to a fault, and that fault hit hardest on an offense that never had enough talent, and seemed to see players regress instead of progress.
While there was no stated “Marshall Metric,” it seems Tice didn’t drop far from his Randy Ratio days. Marshall set a team record for receiving yards and was the first Bears receiver to cross 1000 yards since Marty Booker’s first go-round with the team.
Forte put in another 1000 yard season and Bush proved to be the answer for short-yardage plays. The offensive positive pretty much ends there.
1 in interceptions and INT TDs, #2 in forced fumbles and fumble recoveries (Tillman forced more fumblesthan either the Packers or Colts totaled as a team, and Jennings had more interceptions than the Eagles, Cowboys or Chiefs).
For the first time in the (now ended) Lovie Smith era, the safety tandem seemed to stabilize, with Conte and Wright manning the middle.
Melton continued to emerge as an elite DT, which is great during the year but trouble now that it’s contract time. Still, at 26 and at only his second year in the position, he put together a Pro Bowl season. There are some rumors the Bears are willing to let him test the FA market, but I don’t see it. The aging defense has to keep its young stars in the fold.
While Marshall set team records for receptions (118) and yards (1508), the passing game stops there. Second on the team in receptions was Forte (44) and the next receiver was Bennett (29, also second in yards at 375).
That discrepancy combined with nearly zero production from TEs in the passing game (Four TEs combined for a 33/318/3 line, and many drops) led to predictable play-calling and a technique regression from Cutler. It’s very clear he only trusts one option in the passing game right now, and he’s scared to throw it up to anyone else. Outside of Marshall and some of Forte, the offense fell flat on its face.
Further, Forte, one of the best pass-catching RBs in all of football, was criminally underused in the passing game. Many of his 44 catches were desperation dump-offs, and his catch and yardage totals were his lowest since entering the league in 2008. In criticism of Forte, there were times when he appeared to play soft—something you fear seeing after a young RB receives a big payday. Add Bennett and Hester to the “I got paid” list of underachievers.
This year we will learn a lot more about who GM Phil Emery is. His 2012 draft was done with Jerry Angelo’s scouts, system, and notes. He seems to have found some potential – Alshon Jeffery was leading rookie WRs in catches and yardage until he broke his hand, and McClellin (DE) has shown flashes and a mean spin move. He brought in Marshall and Bush, and locked up Briggs and Forte. But he also failed to improve on a clearly inferior OL. Some would suggest that Tice and Lovie assured him that the current group of guys was the best group for the job. Some of it has to do with lingering injuries to 2011 1st rounder Carimi. And some of it, perhaps, was negligence. That is one area that has to improve this year. Perhaps an elite free agent (Jake Long or Jermon Bushrod, although the cap space may not be there) or one of the many talents in available in this year’s draft could shore up the line.
The Bears have three LBs who started games for them in 2012 who will be free agents. Urlacher is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and while he has said he’s happy to take a team-friendly contact to return, the team has had many chances to say they want him back, and thus far have declined. Nagging injuries have slowed him down the past few years, and he’s looking at the wrong side of 35. His backup, Roach (and starting SAM backer) is also a free agent. He’s not the most spectacular player, but he’s a solid starter and would get more credit on a team that didn’t boast Urlacher and Briggs as his complements. The Bears have talked to both Urlacher and Roach’s agents at the Combine, and seem to at least be interested in keeping them in the fold.
The Bears have suggested this week TE isn’t a big position of need, but one has to wonder if this is smoke-and-mirrors. Kellen Davis occasionally flashes, but had a historically bad drop rate in 2013. HC Trestman has admitted he’s not sure how 2012 rookie TE/FB Rodriguez fits into his offense. There’s just no reliable receiving TE on the roster.
And of course the OL. Many fans would actually prefer an OG to an OT, citing metrics that suggest Webb was actually the best lineman on the Bears last year. Many of his more egregious mistakes were actually breakdowns at LG that made him look bad, because the Spencer/Rachal combo was taking on the wrong man. Garza is also a below-average C. Lovie seemed to valued leadership and knowledge more than athletic performance at C; we will see where Emery/Trestman move with that position. RG Lance Louis played well in 2012 but is a FA and is rehabbing an ACL In a draft loaded with OL talent, I would expect the Bears to try to build that way. Frankly they could spend all 5 picks on OL, and while that’s not a sexy draft, I would be more than satisfied. That may or may not (okay, it is) be reactionary meatball fandom speaking rather than actual football acumen.
Summary: Great defense. Bad offense. This is the recent story of the Bears franchise. But Marc Trestman inherits a 10-6 team, and he hired a Cover-2 DC who can keep the defensive schemes intact. With some creativity on offense and some more talent on offense, there is no reason to think the Bears can’t be a playoff team in 2013