Grading the Offseason

It’s been far too long since I posted one of my random, lengthy, nonsensical rants around here.  Time to break the silence!  Follow me through a recap of our offseason, and I'll hand out grades as to how I feel the Bears performed.

The Bears were a good team last year.  Good, but not great.  Our defense, as usual, was amongst the League’s best.  Brian Urlacher returned with a vengeance; Lance Briggs was his usual steady, productive self; Julius Peppers provided a presence on the Line that we haven’t seen since 2006; and both the Hitman Chris Harris and Peanut Charles Tillman provided security in the backfield.  Special teams, thanks to Robbie Gould, Devin Hester, and guru Dave Toub, was also up there.  Our offense, after sputtering in the beginning, found a groove with the running game and stepped up in the second half of the year.

Still, this was a flawed team.  We had talent, but there was also a certain amount of luck involved in our NFC Championship Game appearance.  Calvin Johnson.  Third string QBs.  The Seattle Seahawks.  Health.  It’s likely that all of that luck won’t happen again this year.  Our flaws were fairly obvious, but I’d like to point them out once again so that our offseason can be put into the proper perspective.

The Problems

The Offensive Line.  56 sacks.  3.9 yards per carry.  This was not a good group last season.  Some called it the worst offensive line in the history of the league.  Virtually every position lay an egg last season.  Frank Omiyale was simply overmatched and gave too many dumb penalties.  Chris Williams was miscast as a Guard.  Olin Kreutz had lost most of what made him great for the entire decade.  Roberto Garza was solid but unspectacular, easily the best offensive lineman on the team.  J’Marcus Webb made a habit out of blocking with his butt.  And there was nobody on this team that could supplant these five.  This was an atrocious group of players.  Clearly, this needed upgrading.

Wide Receivers.  It’s not a good thing when your leading yardage getter in a pass-happy offensive system like Mike Martz’s only gains 960 yards.  In my opinion, this group’s largest flaw was that Jay Cutler didn’t have enough time for their routes to develop.  But they also as a whole lacked the toughness to go up against the more physical corners and safeties in the NFL.  An upgrade here was a borderline necessity.

Defensive Line.  Julius Peppers is a beast amongst men.  Unfortunately, he was also clearly the best player on this line, and nobody really came close.  Pep was facing double teams on almost every play, and the players around him didn’t step up the way we felt they should have.  We needed a playmaker that would force teams to leave Pep in one-on-ones more often than never.

Secondary.  Specifically, the cornerback position.  Peanut is still his usual punch-happy self, even though his coverage skills have declined somewhat in recent years.  Tim Jennings was serviceable, but could not hold his own against physical, tall WRs like his namesake up in Green Bay.  Our Safeties were pretty good last year, though the Hitman was basically played out of place as a Free Safety.  Still, we had solid, productive starters and an up-and-coming rookie in place.  A cornerback was considered a high want, but not a need.

Running backMatt Forte was amazing last year when allowed to play his game.  Chester Taylor was awful.  And nobody else really played any.  An upgrade to the backup position would have been nice.

Linebacker.  Only two of our LBs from last year were under contract for this upcoming year.  Fortunately, they are two of the best players at their position.  One is a future Hall of Famer.  The other is a perennial ProBowler.  We just needed a few more pieces here just in case.

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The Draft

Gabe Carimi, LT.  This was the obvious, no brainer, I can’t believe he fell to us pick.  Carimi was an outstanding left tackle in college, earning the Outland Trophy as the best offensive lineman in all of college football.  And he did it in a conference that featured 4 first round defensive end draft choices in 2011.  If this guy’s a bust, I think that the entire football world would be shocked.

Stephen Paea, DT.  Some were projecting him to be the Bears first round draft choice after the Big Five offensive linemen all were projected to be gone by the time the Bears picked.  Somehow, he fell almost through the second round, where the Bears traded up to pick him.  He almost set the Combine record for bench press reps, posting 49 reps of 225 pounds.  He’s considered an almost instant upgrade for our defensive line.

Chris Conte, S.  There was a lot of hand-wringing over this pick.  Many felt that another Offensive Lineman would have been a more productive pick at this point.  But Danieal Manning was an Unrestricted Free Agent, and the Bears needed some insurance in case he decided to go elsewhere.  He only had one college season at Safety, but earned All-Pac-10 honors at the position and a reputation as a rangy, instinctive player with good tackling skills.  Some have called him the best Safety in the draft.  Even if Manning resigned, he would have spent a year as a backup to one or both Safety positions, being groomed to take over as a Starter eventually.

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Leaving so soon?

Brandon Manumaleuna, TE.  Goodbye.  Don’t let the door hit you.  Our precious Manatee was nothing but a goat last year.  Terrible in blocking, catching, or being anything other than a beached whale, nobody is upset to see him gone.

Todd Collins, QB.  In many fans eyes, the man directly responsible for the Bears losing the NFC Championship Game.  And he stunk in his other two appearances as Bears QB as well.  6 picks to 0 TDs.  That’s terrible.  I never want to hear his name again.

Devin Aromashodu, WR.  Once anointed our top WR prospect, he quickly fell out of favor when he acquired a case of the dropsies and refused to learn the interior WR positions in the Martzfense.

Garrett Wolfe, RB.  The Pocket Rocket spent most of his time manning up the Special Teams as a Gunner, where he will be missed.  However, his abilities as a running back, at any level, were poorly utilized or nonexistent.  His contributions on Special Teams could be replaced.  And we can always find another underutilized but talented speedster to take his bench space on offense.

Brad Maynard, P.  He is the best directional punter in the NFL.  He also lost all of his power over the last couple of seasons.  These statements are not contradictory in the least.  When he could punt from outside his own 35, he could change games with his pinpoint placement of the football near the sidelines inside the opponent’s 10 yard line.  However, he could not change field position by himself.  This is a tough loss, but we need some more power out of our punter.

Rashied Davis, WR.  He was a Special Teams standout.  He was also a fairly substandard WR.  A possession receiver without fantastic hands, route running ability, height, or strength, he could never cement a spot on our roster higher than WR4.  His ST contributions will be missed, but his WR abilities will not.

Danieal Manning, S.  Now we’re getting into the former players that hurt.  Manning is as physically gifted of a secondary player as exists in the NFL.  But he was shunted across the secondary like nobody I’ve ever seen.  He played virtually every position in the secondary except CB1.  When allowed to mature as a Strong Safety, he displayed awareness, quickness, and toughness in spades.  And he was also a fantastic return man, once leading the league in kickoff return yardage.  This man will be missed.

Olin Kreutz, C.  I never thought I would have to write that without a "Retired" next to it.  Kreutz was amongst the best Centers in the NFL for the better part of a decade.  What’s more, he almost never missed due to injury, and very rarely had problems performing any part of his job.  Heck, they created a False Start rule because of him!  However, his play had declined in the last couple of years.  He is still a league-average Center, but no longer amongst the Elites of his position.  His pass-blocking was decent, while his run-blocking was terrible.  My heart says that we should have kept him.  My head says we needed to find an upgrade.

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Re-signed Free Agents


Anthony Adams, DT.  Solid, but unspectacular.  He’s a good space eater, defends the run at an above average level, and collapses the pocket if given enough time.  He does not have the speed or explosiveness of a young Tommie Harris, but performs his role solidly and without a lot of fuss.

Nick Roach, LB.  He’s never really been given the chance to prove himself, but appears to be a solid player in the limited time he’s been given.  Relatively young, with enough range and instincts to man our third LB spot, he’s shared that role with Pisa Tinoisamoa the last two years.  A good choice to bring back.

Caleb Hanie, QB.  I’m certain that there are teams out there that would like him as their Starter.  Just not on this team.  He’s probably one of the best backups in the NFL today.  While he tends to telegraph his throws when allowed to throw, he had complete command of the huddle during sparse play time.  I would like to see him resigned to a longer term contract, but I understand why he wouldn’t want that for himself.

Brian Iwuh, LB.  Purely a Special Teams sign.  I don’t remember him ever playing on the defense, but he’s a valuable contributor to our fantastic Special Teams.  Good to see him back.  But I also wouldn’t be too upset if he had gone elsewhere.

Corey Graham, CB.  A perfectly serviceable backup CB.  But quite possibly the best Gunner in the game.  He was directly responsible for more punts downed I5 than anybody I’ve seen in a long time.  Of all the Special Teams players not named Hester, Mannelly, or Gould, he’s quite possibly the most valuable.

Desmond Clark, TE.  The ultimate fan-favorite player.  Many were upset that he was inactive so often last year.  He doesn’t specialize in any one aspect of playing TE, but rather does all of them reasonably well.  He will likely be used as the H-back in the Martzfense due to his versatility.  I’m glad to have him back.

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Free Agents

Andy Fantuz, WR.  The leading receiver in the CFL, Fantuz was signed before the Lockout to basically be the guy people around here have wanted forever.  A big, go-up-and-get-it type.  And at 6-4, 221, he certainly fits the bill.  I basically see him as being a replacement for Greg Olsen.  He’s big, has pretty good hands, and runs precise routes, but he’s also fairly slow for his position.

Adam Podlesh, P.  From everything that I’ve heard, he’s basically Brad Maynard Plus.  A good directional punter with some lift to his legs and good hang time.

Matt Spaeth, TE.  Manatee, meet your maker.  Spaeth is the prototypical Martzian tight end, sticking around to block much more than catch passes.  Sounds like he does what the Manatee was supposed to do last year, only better in every possible way.

Roy Williams, WR.  SBN Writer Andrew Sharp has recently called Roy Williams the "worst receiver in the entire world".  I can probably find guys worse than the former first rounder, but he really has not lived up to his lofty draft position during his time in the league.  He had one ProBowl year with the Hello Kitties of Detroit under Mike Martz, and hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot other than that.  He’s a big dude, though (6-3, 215), fights for the ball, runs his routes adequately at worst, and is at worst league-average in speed.  Just gotta work on those dropsies.

Sam Hurd, WR.  Basically, he’s our Rashied Davis replacement.  He’s got a couple inches and a few pounds on our boy Davis.  But otherwise is largely the same player.  On offense, he’s Earl Bennett Lite.  On Special Teams, he’ll do his job admirably.  Just don’t expect anything more.

Vernon Gholston, DE.  Bust.  That’s about the only label you can possibly use to describe Gholston.  He was drafted #6 overall by the Jets in 2008, and has basically done nothing since.  However, he played his entire life before the Jets as a 4-3 DE.  Those skills do not necessarily translate well into a single position in a 3-4 defense.  The Bears feel that there’s something salvageable in here.

Marion Barber, RB.  Bruiser Back.  He’s not going to outrun you.  He’s not going to elude you.  He’s going to pancake you.  And that’s exactly what he did for his first five seasons in the NFL.  Last year was a low for him, but the Cowboys basically stunk up the NFL last year relative to their talent level.  But he’s not here to take 200 carries and lead the team in rushing.  He’s here to be Jerome Bettis cerca 2005.  Grab TDs.  Convert short yardage situations.  And not much more than that.

Amobi Okoye, DT.  Another draft bust, the third of this offseason.  The 10th overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft hasn’t done too much with his opportunities.  He hasn’t been terrible.  But he also hasn’t been 10th overall great.  He’s shown flashes at times, but he’s really a 4-3 pass-rushing DT.  He’s not great against the run according to everything that I’ve read.  But he gets to the QB fairly well.  And that should translate in this disruption defense.

Chris Spencer, C.  There’s been more hand-wringing over this pickup than any other this offseason.  And he’s got some shoes to fill.  He’s not a great center.  According to many sources, he’s barely league-average.  He generally performs better in the rush than in the pass.

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Fixing the Problems

The Offensive Line. Gabe Carimi was our big pickup, and everything that I’ve seen has rated him as being far superior to any of the Tackles currently on our roster.  However, we had Tackle depth last season with 3 players for 2 spots in Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale, and J’Marcus Webb.  Tackle wasn’t our biggest issue last season, though it needed an upgrade.  Where we really needed the upgrade was on the inside.  Williams is not and will never be a Guard.  Olin Kreutz was serviceable, relying more on veteran savvy than on physical gifts.  Roberto Garza is league average.  And we did not significantly upgrade our interior line this offseason.  Spencer is, at best, a marginal upgrade over Olin Kreutz.  And I still don’t see anybody on this team better than Chris Williams at the LG spot, which is particularly sad. 

Final Grade:  D+


Wide Receivers.  There was a lot of talent on the Free Agent market this year.  And we walked away with Roy Williams and a bunch of filler, for the most part.  Admittedly, I’m high on Andy Fantuz, and I firmly believe that both Knox and Bennett are better than many are giving them credit for.  But I don’t view this as being an upgraded position over last year.  Particularly when Greg Olsen, arguably our best pass-catcher, was traded.

Final Grade:  B


Defensive Line. Jerry Angelo really earned his reputation as a defensive line addict this offseason, didn’t he?  We needed an upgrade for at least one of our defensive line positions, and we potentially got upgrades for 3 of them.  Granted, I’m not yet sold on the players that we have for those upgraded positions.  Paea hasn’t done anything.  Gholston has done less with more time.  Okoye is at worst league-average.  Adams is about the same.  Still, the most work has been done here.  And most of it has been reasonably low risk in terms of salaries and longevity.

Final Grade:  A-


Secondary. One move back here.  That’s it.  Conte might or might not be the future of this organization back there, but it’s also possible that he could flame out.  Manning proved that he’s at worst a capable starter at the Strong Safety position.  And we didn’t upgrade our corners in any reasonable manner.  On the positives, Chris Harris is back in his natural role at Strong, and Major Wright is looking to be a fine Free Safety.  I’ll call this one a wash.

Final Grade:  C+


Running back. Barber is an upgrade for the role Taylor was trying to fill last year.  We finally get to see what Harvey Unga can do in the NFL.  Chester Taylor falls back into his role of Forte’s Replacement.  And we waive goodbye to Garrett Wolfe and likely Kahlil Bell.  Not a bad bit of work for this offseason.

Final Grade:  B+


Linebacker. We brought back Nick Roach and Brian Iwuh.  And didn’t do anything else to the position.  I feel a little bit uneasy with only having 4 LBs on the roster right now, not including the UDFAs.  Granted, our starting 3 are probably the best linebacker core in the entire NFL.  But if even one of them goes down to injury, we’re in serious trouble.

Final Grade:  C+

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We secured upgrades to a position of strength and our defense will probably be far stronger this upcoming year than it was last year.  With a greater ability to rush the passer, the deficiencies in our secondary can be masked and our incredible rangy linebackers will be able to freelance and better help out the defense.  Our offense, on the other hand, didn’t secure upgrades in the single weakest point of our entire team last year, and is not likely to be significantly better because of it.  Jay Cutler will likely continue to have problems getting his passes out before he’s greeted by a wall of giants.  Forte will be forced to basically create something out of nothing, just like last year.  I firmly believe that football games are won and lost in the trenches.  And the Bears failed to address that portion of the game on the offensive side.

Overall Grade:  C

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Now that I've given my thoughts, what thoughts do you guys have about how our offseason panned out and how you'd grade it?  Sound off in the comments!

<em>This FanPost was written by a Windy City Gridiron member, and does not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of its staff or community.</em>

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