With training camp and preseason finally over, we get to the real thing starting this Sunday. Before I premiere this season's weekly WCG Key Match-Up series, I think it's only right to bring some closure to the end of training camp and preseason with some observations and notes for the offense, defense, and special teams.
Here's a wrap up observation piece of the Chicago Bears 2011 training camp and preseason... Tune in Thursday at 8 ET as I kick off the WCG Key Match-Up series.
QB's: It's night and day when you try to compare Jay Cutler's 1st year in Martz variation of the Coryell offense. Last year you could tell that Jay didn't fully trust aspects of the Martz offense specifically throwing to a spot where the wide receiver should be. This year it looks like Jay has brought in to Martz system from the footwork, quickly getting the ball out his hand, and mechanics to throwing to a spot. You can't take much from preseason, but I feel those things should have stood out to fans. Caleb Hanie had an up and down summer, but was competent enough to hold on to his back-up job from rookie Nathan Enderle. There's a good possibility that Hanie can get demoted to 3rd string if Enderle furthers improve during the season.
RB's- It sucks to hear that Jerry Angelo is putting the contract talks on hold with Matt Forte until the end of the season. However; I expect Forte to go about his business for two main reasons, and that's 1) He's a true professional and 2) He and his agent knows that another big season can get him big money elsewhere or at worst be franchise tag. On the field, Forte has displayed better quickness, speed, and has gotten much stronger when running or catching the football. Before his calf injury, Marion Barber was running very hard; brought back that hard nose running that Bears fans love (I swear to god if I see another Marion the Barbarian reference). Kahlil Bell had a great camp, and I'm glad that the Bears rewarded the former Bruin with a roster spot instead of going with the vet Chester Taylor.
OL- They had an ugly showing against the Bills in the first preseason game, but quickly bounced back against the Giants vaunted defensive line on Monday night and capitalize off that with another solid performance in the dress rehearsal against the Titans. Probably the most impressive lineman in the preseason was LG Chris Williams. Williams looked stronger out there in both run and pass blocking, but mostly in running blocking. I wasn't that surprise to see how well Webb performed at LT position in preseason. Webb has LT traits and it showed in the Giants and Titans preseason match-ups. Carimi looks like more a natural fit at RT. He has had some hiccups here and there, but overall he has been solid. Roberto Garza has been alright at the C position, at least enough to stay in the starting C spot. If Garza does lose his job it will have more to do with Lance Louis. The jury is still out on Louis, but it's encouraging to see him improve throughout the preseason. The more Louis keeps improving the longer Chris Spencer stays on the bench.
WR- The competition at the split end position between Johnny Knox and Roy Williams was the talk of camp for some time. They both didn't do much in the preseason to separate from one another, so pretty much you will see the two players rotated in at points in the game. Devin Hester hasn't impressed from a pass catching standpoint, but he is improved in the route running department. Earl Bennett end the season as the most impressive receiver and picked up where he left in the preseason as still the team most impressive receiver. Dane Sanzenbacher was a surprise for the Bears in camp, as seemed to pick up the offense a little more quickly than the other UDFA WR's.
TEs- Matt Spaeth showed in preseason that he's clearly an instant upgrade over Brandon Manumaleuna. Like Manu he's not much of a pass catching TE, but unlike Manu he's able to seal the edge and capable of blocking a DE 1 on 1. Kellen Davis was hurt most of the preseason, but coaches raved about him in training camp. I kind of figured that Kyle Adams was going to make the team as he showed he can play special teams and be a good in-line blocker from the H-Back position.
DL- As expected we really didn't see Julius Peppers going all out in the preseason; however it scary that even with that he was still disruptive in the Giants game. Israel Idonije hasn't made much noise in the games, but like Peppers I also didn't expect him or any other establish vet to go all out in preseason. The defensive tackle position looked much improved with Henry Melton and free agent acquisition Amobi Okoye. The two tackles along with NT Matt Toeaina have performed well in preseason especially Melton who looks like hasn't lost an ounce of quickness and athleticism since beefing up to 295. The Bears pass rush should be improved, but they do need Corey Wootton back as they are thin at DE with projects Mario Addison and Nick Reed behind the two starters.
LB- There's always a defensive guy I like to pinpoint in training camp to having a breakout season. This year that guy is Strong Side Linebacker Nick Roach. Roach has impressive me this training camp with his speed and athleticism that's fit perfectly in a position that's asked to cover TE's, effectively blitz, and contain/pursuit the RB. Dom DeCicco is an interesting player that proved this preseason he's a player the Bears should continue developing.
Secondary- Charles Tillman looked impressive in preseason; certainly like a player that's playing with a chip on his shoulder (Thank You Dan Pompeii). Tim Jennings has been getting a lot of flak through training camp and preseason despite in my opinion performing quite well. Zackary Bowman has a lot of talent, but was just simply outplayed by Jennings for most of camp. Moore displayed a lot of ball-hawk abilities in camp, but didn't show much in preseason. Moore though is the least of my worries in the secondary. Which brings me to FS Major Wright; he hasn't been tested much in coverage in the preseason and his coverage abilities are one of my question marks surrounding him. It's not a good sign for Wright when they bring in a FS that has had plenty success in the league in Brandon Meriweather.
Special Teams- Adam Podlesh pretty much quieted whatever punting competition there was in camp with Spencer Lanning by putting in two good performances in the final two preseason games. The coverage team on both the kick and punt returns is not much to desire about, but ST Coach Dave Toub might have been testing new and young players at positions usually held by starters to see what he has in them. Media always bring up how the Bears will be hurt with the new kick off rule, but Toub has proved in the preseason that he has faith in Johnny Knox and Devin Hester to take it out the end zone. Knox has had some nice returns coming out the end zone for 70 and 40 yards.