Dec 25, 2011; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (44) is tackled by Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) during the game at Lambeau Field. The Packers defeated the Bears 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Franchise Development 6 of 32: The Chicago Bears

The 2011 version of the Chicago Bears was an ugly team. QB and Head League Crybaby Jay Cutler actually had a lot to cry about. It’s hard to do well when you have a sieve-like offensive line and a well below-average group of wideouts to throw to, and the management knew it. Cutler has suffered injuries the past two seasons as a result.

What did they do about it? LOTS!

First, they traded with the Miami Dolphins a pair of third-round picks for troubled but highly dangerous WR Brandon Marshall, reuniting the pair from their days in Denver before idiot Head Coach Josh McDaniels dismantled the talent from his team en route to an 11-17 record before he was fired for his incompetence.

Miami’s loss is Cutler’s gain. Before I get too much further into things, let’s look at their 2012 draft:

1 19 Shea McClellin DE Boise State
2 45 Alshon Jeffery WR South Carolina
3 79 Brandon Hardin FS Oregon State
4 111 Evan Rodriguez TE Temple
6 184 Isaiah Frey CB Nevada-Reno
7 220 Greg McCoy CB Texas Christian

Second round pick Alshon Jeffery is a very big target to put opposite Marshall. They’re similar players with similar styles and builds, but concerns over what Jeffery’s actual playing weight is still abound. The Gamecocks had nobody at quarterback last year worth playing and that negatively impacted Jeffery’s stats from his junior season so the pick was a bit of a risk for DAAAA Bearsssss.

The potential is there for quite an improvement in the passing game with Jeffery and Temple’s Evan Rodriguez. The hope is that Rodriguez can take up the production that left with Greg Olson before the 2011 season.

RB Matt Forte has just been producing for everyone including fantasy owners. With his contract status having been in flux for ages, he recently said he’ll have no choice but to play in 2012. Finances aside, he is the steadying influence of this offense. He runs inside, outside, he catches the ball, and allows his coaches to deploy him depending on coverages and matchups to their advantage. He has rather quietly become one of the top backs in the game, having rushed for over 900 yards and caught over 50 passes each of his first four seasons. Put him down for 1500 yards from scrimmage and will continue to help move the chains. Did I mention he’s a threat for a breakaway run as well?

The biggest question overall is the offensive line. Tackle Gabe Carimi, their top pick in 2011, was injured for all but 2 games so it looks like they’ll at least have him to help, but they didn’t draft a single lineman on either side (unless you count Rodriguez as a ‘lineman’). One undrafted free agent they signed is Old Dominion’s James Brown. Brown was a late-round projection who didn’t make the cut when all the offensive linemen slid down in the 2012 draft so he was one of the “odd men out.” With the Bears’ OL situation, he could make the team as a reserve with some upside.

With that in mind, they signed Jason Campbell to back up Cutler, giving the Bears one of the best backup QBs in the NFL. Campbell’s career has been overshadowed by his up-and-down play, frustrating coaches with just enough “flashes of brilliance” as to be tantalizing, but he’s never really put together a great season. Part of the reason is that he’s one of those guys who had to deal with new coordinators year after year when he entered the league and that’s hard on anyone. If memory serves, going back to his college days at Auburn, after his 4th pro season, he’d had 7 different OCs in 8 years. Ouch. Still, he probably played better than he should have under the circumstances, has a big-time arm, and is an experienced starter. With Forte in the backfield and two giant WRs, the Bears offense could be dangerous with improved OL play.

Defensively, Brian Urlacher anchors the middle of the linebacking corps. Lance Briggs is to one side and is a good player in his own right. Veteran Geno Hayes from Tampa Bay rounds out a solid group there.

Top pick Shea Mclellin darted up the draft board with his high motor and versatility. DE Julius Peppers makes a formidable presence as one of the games top pass rushers and all-around disruptive defenders.

As for cover on the back end, they spent 3 draft picks on defensive backs. Granted, two were 6 and 7th rounders but they got some bodies to help there. This is the team’s weak spot so they better generate a pass rush other than Julius Peppers – which is why McClellin was drafted. He’ll be the key to improving this defense.

Come to think of it, the Bears’ defense is very similar to that of the Panthers….their LB corps is their strength, they have one star DE pass rusher and are looking to develop a rookie on the other side (McClellin for the Bears, Alexander for the Panthers) and the both need some people to step up in the secondary.

As always, Devin Hester must always be considered one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL.

For the franchise in general, so long as Forte doesn’t hold out in 2012, I’ll say they took….

One step forward. A vastly improved group at WR should breathe life into the offense, and added depth at QB was some necessary insurance for them. The OL and DB positions weren’t significantly upgraded so it’ll be at least another year before they can push the Green Bay Packers, maybe two.

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Tags: Alshon Jeffery Brandon Marsall Brian Urlacher Chicago Bears Devin Hester Evan Rodriguez Gabe Carimi Josh McDaniels Julius Peppers Lance Briggs Matt Forte Shea Mclellin

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