Over the past few days we have all gotten a little despondent with the state of our team. After a tough loss against our biggest rival, it happens all to easily and I'm as guilty of it as anyone. With just 180 minutes left of game time in our season barring any overtimes. It seems like a good time to discuss the bright spots so that we can all try to maximize our enjoyment of the final 180 minutes. Like all the good things in life it goes to fast.
I am going to start on the defense and will have to follow up on the other side of the ball in another post. Follow me through the jump and lets get to it. Don't forget to vote in the poll.
So I've watched all the games and looked at our roster, 53 man, practice squad, and injured reserve (IR). First off, and this can't be overstated, this defense is absolutely loaded with a bunch of football players that are both younger and more athletic than me. So right off the bat the Bears have that going for them. I say this because I've mostly heard but read too, over the past few weeks, people saying things like "I could cover Calvin Johnson and Ocho Cinco better than Charles Tillman" or "Tim Hightower would never have run past me like that if I was in for Tommie Harris" etc,etc... No, no you can't and yes he would have. If you could have done all that, you should be out there doing it and not reading this.
Next year when everybody is healthy again, the Bears will have the deepest Line Backing Corps in the entire NFL. Our starters, assuming they are Lance Briggs(weak side), Brian Urlacher (middle), and Pisa Tinoisamoa (strong side) account for 10 Pro-Bowls (Lance Briggs 4 and Brian Urlacher 6), a Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Defensive Player of the Year Award. Pisa Tinoisamoa has led the Rams in tackles since his rookie year in 2004 and appears to be a great LB when he is healthy. A dominant trio.
With all the injuries in 2009 the Bears have had ample opportunity to evaluate the LB second and third stringers and have to be happy with what they have for depth. Jamar Williams 20 tackles against the Rams is a season high not likely to be topped this year. Nick Roach continues to play consistently and Hunter Hillenmeyer has improved every week in the middle and is a smart back-up. I see Hillenmeyer as a coach one day if he wants the job.
Line Backer is possibly our deepest position which is why, even with all the injuries, there hasn't been a lot to complain about this year from these guys. Who knows, maybe one of these guys will turn into a 2010 draft pick.
The Bears most experienced CB is Charles Tillman, at 6-1 and right about 200 lb he is a physical CB who leads the league in forced fumbles. Tillman plays smart and physical football, when the D-line is getting pressure on the QB, he is a big play-maker and one of the better CB's in the league. At 28 years of age he can still play at a high level for a while. I always envisioned Tillman making the switch to Free-Safety one day to prolong his career. As a physical corner who plays smart, he would be great back there.
The rest of the promise at the position seems to be pretty young. Zack Bowman has really been growing on me over the course of the season. He is young and seems to have big play ability. With less than a full season under his belt, I only see him getting better. The rest of the promise comes from Corey Graham, he's played well when we've seen him, and rookie DJ Moore, both of which we need to see more of this season.
The good news is we are stocked at Strong Safety. Over the course of the season we have seen Al Afalava, Kevin Payne, Josh Bullocks in this position. Al Afalava is one of our very promising rookies and played admirably in Free Safety position too. Afalava is credited with 38 tackles, 10 assists, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and a fumble recovery on the season according to the Bears team site. Very promising for a rookie who has played two positions, good enough for seventh on the team.
Danieal Manning who has played Free Safety and Nickel Back this year as well as returning kick-offs, has 61 tackles, 17 assists, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and an interception. Good enough for second in tackles behind only Lance Briggs.
The D-Line hasn't exactly been a bright spot this year. It has to be said though, Alex Brown is a beast. He has a motor that doesn't quit and is our most consistent defensive lineman. While not being the prototypical speed rusher you usually see at Right End in a 4-3 defense, he has a tendency to make big plays in big games when they are needed. Brown plays great against the run and has racked up more tackles than any of our other D-Linemen. At 31 tackles, 8 assists, 5.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles on the season he is the best that the Bears have on the line.
Going into next year we have a lot of young people who should play more prominent roles. Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton will have to be evaluated more. Hopefully we will get a chance to see Gilbert more this year. Henry Melton, who is currently on the IR, is another very interesting prospect that we have. He is another incredibly athletic guy who played half his college career at RB. He's not huge for a D-lineman at 6-3 and 260, but he looked beefier to me than Gaines Adams does. The Bears site lists Adams at 258, not sure that I believe it, but at 6-5 it is spread out further than it is on Melton. Hopefully under the tutelage of Rod Marinelli, these guys will develop into Quarterback killers.
The Bears still have a great core of players on this defense. Despite what a lot of people think, this is a young group of guys and there are some great athletes there. The Bears spend the greater percentage of their salary cap on defense. Look for this group to rebound in a big way next year. Urlacher will be back and some yet unknown players will fill the leadership void created by Mike Brown's departure. Hopefully this team will become the dominant defense that we all love and expect it to be.
The cover-2/ Tampa-2 while under a lot of criticism from some people, is just as good as any other scheme if you have the personnel, coaches, and play-caller for it. The Saints, Colts, and Vikings all doing pretty well this year use it a lot.
If you've gotten this far, thanks for finishing. Please leave your thoughts on what you think the defense did well this year and tell me what you thought of the post ;)