Last year I came across Pat Kirwan's 13 questions every team must answer to determine whether or not they have championship depth. I don't think any Chicago Bears fans are expecting a title in 2015, but we'll examine each question just to see how far off the Bears are.
Kirwan's theory that an NFL season is often times a war of attrition, so having good solid depth is the key to winning. Since the Bears are preparing for year one of the Ryan Pace/John Fox era, I'm not optimistic that they have the kind of depth they need at this time, but let's find out.
Last year, coming off an 8-8 season, I gave Chicago 8 in the yes category and 5 in the no. I don't think this year will be as rosy.
1. Does your team have a capable backup QB that can go at least 2-2 in a four-game stretch?
While the Bears are in better shape than last offseason, I don't see a back up QB on the roster that fills me with confidence. Last season the Bears were fortunate to even have a starter that went 2-2 in a four game stretch, let alone a back up. Jimmy Clausen will be the #2 QB for the Bears barring a surprise and in games that he's started during his career, his teams are 1-10. The answer to this question is no.
2. Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience?
I suppose technically the Bears have Michael Ola that can fill in at both tackle spots, but he wasn't that good as a rookie in 2014? If Kyle Long makes the move to right tackle, that will push Jordan Mills to a swing role, but he's not very good either. Until we see if some of the young tackles have improved , this one's a no too.
3. Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center?
Last year the Bears had veteran Brian de la Puente as the interior swing guy, but this year there is no one that has proven capable at both positions. It looks like rookie Hroniss Grasu will back up veteran center Will Montgomery, with the 1st guard off the bench to be either Ola or Vladimir Ducasse. Then again, Long to tackle could push Mills to guard, but until we know, it's tough to say.
If Grasu beats out Montgomery, then Montgomery has the experience to back up center and guard, but there are just too many ifs for me to give this question a yes. Another in the no column.
4. Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start?
As of right now there's no way to know if 2nd year pro Ka'Deem Carey or rookie Jeremy Langford is capable of hitting the century mark in a professional game. And free agent signing Jacquizz Rodgers has never cracked a hundred in 4 years as a Falcons back up.
Last year Carey put up 72 yards in garbage time against a Packers team that was just looking to get back in the locker room after crushing the Bears. On the entire season Carey only totaled 158 yards, so who knows what 2015 holds for him.
Rodgers' best game as a pro came as a starter in 2013, when he went for 86 yards on the ground, so I suppose he's capable, but he hasn't done it yet. This one receives another no.
5. Is there a good second tight end on the roster?
This one gets the biggest no of them all. After Martellus Bennett, the back up is... (crickets)
If we can't even say without a shadow of a doubt who the #2 TE is, how can we be confident in his ability?
6. Can the third wide receiver step up and start in the two-WR packages if a starter went down?
I think the Bears hope the starting wide outs are Alshon Jeffery and the rookie Kevin White, which makes newcomer Eddie Royal the 3rd man. Even though Royal was added to bring the Bears a shifty presence in the slot, he has 61 starts in his 7 year career. I think we finally have a yes.
7. Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be?
Last year I gave this one a yes because of the additions of Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen and Willie Young. This year the Bears are making the 3-4 switch and that affects all three guys mentioned. Plus Young and Houston are coming off of injuries.
I just think there are too many variables that makes it hard to identify a 3rd pass rusher that I have confidence in. This one is another no.
8. Is there a third defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be?
The interior of the Bears' D-Line is just as confusing as rest of the front seven. Chicago hopes rookie Eddie Goldman can be that guy, but he's yet to play a snap in the NFL. Will Sutton is learning a new position and the other guys are even more unproven. Chalk up another in the no category.
9. Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster, since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses?
With the addition of Tracy Porter (60 starts in 7 years), that gives the Bears good insurance at corner in case Kyle Fuller, Tim Jennings or Alan Ball falter. Demontre Hurst also gained valuable experience at nickel last year, and even though he didn't make any splashy plays, he young and improving. I'll go yes on this one.
10. Is there a fourth corner for dime packages?
Since I named 5 experienced DBs above, I suppose I could give this one a yes too. I also think veteran Sherrick McManis may benefit from a fresh set of eyes on him and I like the upside of Al Louis-Jean.
11. Is there a third safety for big nickel defenses?
If the Bears do run a 3rd safety out there in 2015, they have 2nd year Brock Vereen and rookie Adrian Amos with coverage skills. They may be inexperienced, but I'll lean towards a yes on this one too.
12. Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player?
The Bears brought Marc Mariani in last year because their return game was atrocious, but I don't think you can pin the return game solely on the returner. Mariani looked OK last year in the few games he played, but he adds nothing on offense. Eddie Royal has returned punts every year he's been a pro, and he has kick return experience, but I don't think the Bears will use him back there.
The roster doesn't really have a return man on the roster that figures into the O or D, so this one is another no.
13. Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the specials and can play inside linebacker in a pinch?
When looking at the projected inside linebackers that are returning to the Bears, all played in the 3rd phase last year. Jon Bostic had 152 special teams snaps in 2014, Shea McClellin had 79, Christian Jones had 280 and DeDe Lattimore 134 snaps. Newcomer Mason Foster didn't play many special teams last year for the Bucs (11 snaps), but he had 237 combined special teams snaps in '12 and '13.
So technically, the Bears have the bodies that can fulfill the 13th question, but we're not sure how well they'll do as they transition to a 3-4 defense. This group is plenty athletic, so I'll assume that the #3 ILB will be very involved on the special teams, so this final question receives a yes.
Thirteen questions, with only five answered affirmatively. (Insert sad trombone here)
It takes years of solid drafting to build depth on an NFL roster, so it may be a couple of years before we get a good idea if Ryan Pace is the right GM for the job.
Now it's your turn: go through the 13 questions, go through the Bears' roster, and give us your take on this exercise.