With tonight's game being our first real contact competition, I've put together a list of the big question marks hovering over out team as we enter the '08 season -
10) Will the injury bug bite us again?
Brown, Dvoracek, Harris, Vasher, Tillman, Archuleta - and that was just the list of significant injuries on defense last year. There are some positions where we appear to have depth, but only because the starters are on the list. If Urlacher or Briggs goes down, we're looking at starting guys who we've heard are (will be?) very good, but have seen little playing time so far. Kreutz just came back from Achilles trouble. Chris Williams has missed time. Kevin Jones still hasn't suited up. Injuries are the one thing you can't plan for, and last year we saw the affect they can have on a team.
9) Can Mike Brown stay healthy this season?
When he is healthy, Brown is someone offenses have to scheme against - a safety who scores TDs as a matter of course. With Mike on the active roster, we seem deep at the safety position. Without him, John Lynch's phone will likely be ringing. Brown is an incredible talent and a field general on defense, to go along with being a fan favorite, but he can't make the impact we need from him if he's back on injured reserve.
8) Will Hester's regular usage on offense affect his return game?
Devin only saw a small percentage of plays with the offense last season, but if Lovie and Jerry's words are to be trusted, he'll play a in a huge percentage of the snaps this year. Will the wear and tear of being an (almost) every down receiver tire him to the point of affecting his kick return abilities? Will corners and safeties take shots at him down the field in hopes of taking him out of the return game?
7) Will Ron Turner actually use the vaunted 2 Tight End formation this season?
When we drafted Greg Olsen, a lot of the buzz involved seeing both he and Desmond Clark out on the field at the same time. The 2TE set is one of Simmons's unstoppable Madden formations, so a lot of Bears fans were hoping to see our QB take snaps behind a seven man front. Unfortunately, Turner seemed to have other plans and rarely did the two share the field. This year we have renewed hope for the formation, as Kellen Davis appears to be surpassing expectations and developing into an all-around TE. Ron seems more open to getting multiple TE sets in on game day, but I'll believe it when I see it.
6) Does our collection of "ehh"-inspiring wide receivers suffice?
Bennett, Booker, Bradley, Davis, Hass, Hester, Lloyd, and Monk - Attorneys at Law? Nope, our current WR roster. The big question is - who will step up? By most accounts it is a list of second or third options with lots of "potential" or "up-side" but lacking in consistent production (save Booker). Can Hester develop (see #2)? Will returning to Chicago rejuvenate Booker? Can Davis or Bradley stand out now that the depth chart is completely up for grabs? Will Lloyd overcome his history of underachieving? Can any of the young kids distinguish themselves? Traditionally a wide receiver for the Bears just has to be enough of a threat to keep defenses honest (and our TEs should help with that) and catch what gets thrown their way. Who will stand up to be that threat this year?
5) Has Tommie Harris completely healed from last year's injury?
Before getting hurt, Harris was doing amazing things like jumping snaps to cause fumbles at the goalline and is one of the premier defensive tackles in the NFL. However, some of the games last year showed that if he's not 100%, his performance can drop off significantly. The Bears seemed convinced enough of his health to make him the richest DT in NFL history. If our training staff is right in that regard, we should have little issue controlling the line of scrimmage on defense.
4) Can a Matt Forte/Kevin Jones backfield produce?
It has been an interesting road for Matt Forte from draft day to training camp, especially when the rockiness of that road has little to do with him. He was drafted early in the second round when everyone (and their mother) thought we should have drafted a "QB of the future" with the pick. Then he transitions from "adds depth" and "possible future starter" to "thrust into the role" and "he better produce" after the much maligned Benson was cut. While he appears to be up to the challenge, being the starting RB in Chicago - with its history partially defined by HOFers at that position - is a pair of large shoes to fill. The oft (and still currently) injured Kevin Jones is at worst a cheap insurance policy, but at best could be a half of a great two-back tandem. He showed flashes of that ability in Detroit and would likely still be starting there if he stayed on the field. Will splitting reps keep him fresh enough? Can Forte translate 2000+ yards at Tulane into 1000+ in the NFL? Will the offensive line open any holes for these two? For a franchise married to the running game, these are serious questions.
3) Will Chris Williams's back let him start this year?
Williams bears the heavy burden of being a rookie left tackle drafted in the first round - someone who is expected to shore up an offensive line immediately. His selection has moved John Tait back over to right tackle, seemingly permanently. Unfortunately Williams has missed virtually all of training camp. He is now going on two weeks without having practiced - missing valuable reps with the first team offensive line and throwing more than just the LT depth chart in flux. If healthy (and Lovie says he is getting better day-by-day), the desired o-line would be Williams, St Clair, Kreutz, Garza, and Tait. But currently the left side isn't getting any reps in that configuration. I don't think anyone wants to start the season St Clair/Oakley, St Clair/Beekman, or St Clair/Metcalf - and certainly none of those lineups are in our long term plans. A left tackle doesn't improve from holding a clipboard like quarterbacks do, so it's urgent that we get Williams on the field as soon as possible.
2) Can Devin Hester develop into a #1 Wide Receiver?
A large part of the rationale for letting Bernard Berrian walk as a free agent and sign with the Vikings was Lovie and Jerry's belief that Devin can become an every down, #1 wide receiver in the NFL. Last year he showed glimmers of hope with 5 catches for over 20 yards, including his two TDs of 51 and 81 yards each. However, there were times when he looked lost on offense and the rumor was his lack of involvement was due to his lack of depth in the playbook. If he is able to perform, everyone is happy and the Bears look like geniuses; if not, I refer you back to question #6.
1) Will a real Bears quarterback please stand up?
Grossman? Orton? Hanie? Pennington? Simms? No one has started a greater number of quarterbacks over the past 15 years than the Bears. Only twice in that time frame have the Bears had one QB start all 16 games - in 2006 with Rex Grossman and in 1995 with Erik Kramer. Last year Grossman started the most games with 7 starts. In '04 Krenzel and Hutchison tied for the most starts with 5! Some of this carousel is due to injuries, but a lot of it is due to Chicago playing crappy quarterbacks. Kramer was the last quarterback Chicago had that was no doubt, the starter if healthy. Whoever the starter ends up being - whether that's GoodRex, Neckbeard, or someone else - he needs to play consistently well enough to not worry about getting yanked of the field for every city's favorite son, the backup QB.