Almost exactly a year ago I posted this FanPost analyzing the off-season moves and the impact they had on the Bears' overall talent. Well, it's time again to assess: Did the offseason changes make the Bears a better team?
I remember once hearing a phrase something like: "If you are not getting better you are getting worse" applied towards the NFL off season. If we choose to block the trauma of the final weeks of the 2011 season, we can recall a high-flying offense that was turning heads and well on its way toward earning a playoff berth.I am going to use the recently released depth chart as the basis for this simple analysis.
Special Teams: The annual departure of top special teams contributors saw Corey Graham, Zach Bowman and other standouts rewarded with contracts from new teams. This year, the Bears went shopping for more talent in the third-phase. Devin Thomas has retired, but the addition of Eric Weems and Blake Costanzo and the return of Rashied Davis gives Dave Taub a good starting point. Adam Podlesh proved to be a solid punter, while Robbie Gould and Patrick Mannelly are expected to continue their consistent performance for at least another year. Devin Hester may benefit from a reduced workload on offense. The biggest challenge is to find a suitable replacement for Johnnie Knox, and Weems may actually represent an upgrade. Overall, special teams should be better than in 2011
Defense: Overall, the defense appears set to keep the same starters as in 2011. The hope is that either Shea McClellin or Corey Wootton will provide help putting pressure on opposing QBs, while Stephen Paea is pushing Matt Toeaina for his starting spot. Charles Tillman remains solid, while Tim Jennings is looking for improved consistency, Chris Conte and Major Wright should improve with a year of experience, if they can avoid injury. The Linebackers remain an elite unit, but there is a noticeable lack of depth. With questions remaining at DE and lack of proven depth, I grade the defense as the same as last year, but there is potential for growth and we may see improvement if we can avoid injuries.
Offense: Huge changes during the off-season overhauled the offense. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery provide a new-look WR corps that finally competes with the rest of the conference in terms of overall talent. Last years' collapse exposed the lack of quality depth, and Michael Bush and Jason Campbell are huge upgrades that we hope will not need to start. A new rookie TE shows physical tools to succeed, but may not see much playing time behind a solid, but not spectacular, group. The line looks much the same as last year, but may be helped by the single biggest offensive change of the year: new coordinator Mike Tice. There are some unanswered questions, but if Tice is able to tailor his scheme to the talent he has, the offense should be vastly improved.
On offense, the only major question is at LT, while a lack of depth on defense could be costly if the injury bug bites. However, I believe that the 2012 Bears are a significantly better offensive team and should see no drop off from their aging defense.