Here is what I believe.
I believe that if the Bears were to enter the 2012 season with just the defenders currently under contract they could compete for a championship. I believe from 1-to-11 the Bears defense is superior to both the defenses that appeared in our most recent Super Bowl. Offensively I believe the 2012 Chicago Bears are, with the additional of Brandon Marshall, the most talented group of skill players they’ve assembled in my lifetime. (Cutler-Forte-Marshall are superior to McMahon-Payton-Gault at both the quarterback and receiver spots.) And we know the specials are good, making up for the prospective loss of Corey Graham with the acquisitions of both Eric Weems and Blake Costanzo. As long as Dave Toub is in charge I won’t worry what’s happening in the kick games.
The Bears are better on March 20th 2012 than they were on November 20th 2011. On that date they were 7-3 and charging up the meaningless power rankings of the mainstream sports media. Maybe the biggest reason is that on November 21st they would have Jason Campbell and not Caleb Hanie assuming the reigns.
They do have needs, however. And when I say needs and I do not mean a lack of depth. Every team would like a fourth linebacker, a third safety, a plethora of nickel corners. But it is not the makeup of the modern NFL roster or the modern league cap to be able to stack depth across a team’s bench. When I address needs I am addressing needs when the whistle blows on game day. Starters. Immediate impact players.
#1 Defensive End
I’ve never seen it from Israel Idonije and I don’t believe Lovie Smith or Phil Emery has either. The team’s failed pursuit of Jaguars standout Jeremy Mincey proves the club is looking to improve on the edge. But premiere pass rushers cost a fortune and it is incumbent upon Emery and the scouting staff to find Julius Peppers’ compliment in April’s draft.
What do we know about Chris Conte and Major Wright? We know they are talented. We know both are good when the ball’s in the air. We also know both have difficulty staying healthy. The Lovie Deuce defense can only be great – not good, but great – if there is a star-type in center field. The Bears need a Mike Brown. Badly.
There have been many arguing the Bears need an upgrade at corner. I disagree. (1) Corner, as a position, is devalued in today’s NFL. Rules being what they are I am constantly surprised to see teams drop $40 million plus on players who can barely make contact with their opposition without drawing a yellow hankie. (2) Corners are always devalued in Lovie’s system. They need to sit back, be disciplined and tackle well.
The Bears need a player capable of keeping Calvin Johnson from sprinting by him twenty yards off the line of scrimmage and also capable of bringing Adrian Peterson down after a gain of 8 instead of 80.
#3 Running Back
The Bears were never a more dynamic run game than they were with Thomas Jones carrying the load and Cedric Benson bruising up defenses as a change-of-pace. Matt Forte can cover the TJ bit. But who will get the tough yards early in the third quarter? Who will keep Forte from having to surpass 30 carries a week? It can’t be Marion Barber, kids, because I can’t afford to have my head explode.
#4 Veteran Left Tackle
He won’t necessarily take J’Marcus Webb’s job but he will challenge Webb in camp. A player like Marcus McNeill might have nothing left in the tank but I’d prefer to see the tank drained in Bourbonnais. I maintain that Webb will play far better in Mike Tice’s system than he did under the previous regime but that should not keep Emery and company from finding a player with more than sixteen games experience on the left edge. J’Marcus could have a long career in the NFL as a flex tackle off the bench.