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On Masters Week, Nine Holes Bears Must Fill to Succeed in 2014

| April 8th, 2014

masters

I love golf. And while most golf fans are down on their knees with their mouths in the lap of Augusta National, I am more reserved. I think Augusta is, for the most part, the most self-indulgent sports entity in creation and The Open Championship is my favorite tournament. But I still get excited for the first major championship of the season and it seems a convenient way to put a column together.

Here are nine issues, nine holes, still facing the 2014 Bears.

Hole #1 Tea Olive

The Bears don’t currently have a good safety on the roster. Is it possible Ryan Mundy will thrive at the strong safety position after showing limited flashes in both Pittsburgh and New York? Yes. But ask yourself this question: if Mundy were a budding star, why would the two best run organizations in the sport, both with proud lineages on defense, let him walk out the door?

And while Chris Conte has been the subject of ridicule, he’s a capable free safety if his run-stopping assignments are limited. His lack of availability for the bulk of training camp won’t help build his confidence heading into the 2014 season. I see his days in Chicago numbered.

Hole #2 Pink Dogwood

The Bears will have to win a game or two with Jordan Palmer playing quarterback. History says what history says and history says Jay Cutler will get banged up at some point during the season. Today, that would mean Palmer steps under center.

Side note: I could have written the same thing, with Josh McCown’s name a year ago and it turned out not to be a hole. But McCown at least has a MINOR track record in the sport. Palmer does not.

Hole #3 Flowering Peach

What happens if Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery go down for a significant period of time? The answer? Last year’s seventh round draft pick. This is a hole until Marquess Wilson proves it isn’t.

Hole #4 Flowering Crab Apple

If you asked me what the most intriguing Bourbonnais camp battle will be, I’d argue Drew Butler v. Tress Way for the punter role. I’d argue this for several reasons. (1) I am slightly obsessed with punting. Slightly. (2) Kevin Butler’s kid is in the discussion and Butler v. Ditka were some of the greatest, one-sided battles in Bears history. (3) I like the name Tress Way. Sounds like a road in Oklahoma. (4) Last year the Bears defense was not only bad but they were never allowed the luxury of defending a long field due to the disastrous season from Adam Podlesh. Expecting the Bears defense to turn completely around in 2014 is a bit unrealistic. They need a good punter.

Hole #5 Magnolia

What the hell is going on at linebacker? We can assume D.J. Williams starts in the middle and Lance Briggs on the weak-side. Is James Anderson going to be brought back? Are Bostic and Shea going to have a legitimate competition for “one spot”? With the amount of time NFL defenses spend in coverage packages, will the strong-side backer even see the field on passing downs? And does that mean the Bears are considering taking all the speed Bostic and Shea present and benching it once the opposition spreads them out?

This is not a hole, as in a hole in a pair of pants. This is not something that necessarily must be fixed. This is a hole, as in your walking in a forest and come across a dark hole and wonder, “Hey, what’s in that dark hole in this forest?” I just haven’t wrapped my mind around the plan at the position.

Side note: I would stick McClellin behind Jared Allen on some third downs, let Allen hold the edge/contain and release Shea’s speed at the QB.

Hole #6 Juniper

There has been much debate about where the Bears will go with their first round pick but, in my mind, their biggest fillable need is at defensive tackle. (I don’t take a safety in the first round unless I’m sure he’s a game changer.) Aaron Donald, Timmy Jernigan and physical freak Ra’Shede Hageman could all turn out to be productive NFL players in the middle. I expect Jay Ratliff to have a terrific season and I’m a big Nate Collins fan but for the life of me I don’t understand what the world sees in Stephen Paea. Bears need a third guy and there will be one available at fourteen.

Side note: this is not a prediction. I’ve given up trying to predict Phil Emery. I think outside QB, RB and the OL, every position is on the table for Emery at fourteen.

Hole #7 Pampas

Is Chris Williams (oh that name) going to provide the electricity the Bears expected when they signed him off the Saints practice squad? Bears fans began to take for granted how greatly Devin Hester influenced opposing coaches. Williams has a lot to prove. From a Sun-Times piece by Adam Jahns:

Williams set a Canadian Football League record with six return touchdowns in 2012 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. An undrafted free agent from New Mexico State in 2009, Williams also had 1,117 punt-return yards and 83 receptions for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns that season. He’s considered an intriguing prospect.

“I had a few offers [from other teams],” Williams said Monday. “I was in a good situation in New Orleans, and I decided to stick that out. And then Chicago came, and obviously [there’s] familiarity. Once I sat down with my family and we just started talking, this seemed like the best place for me to continue my football career, so we made the move.”

Here is a look at what Williams can do:

Hole #8 Yellow Jasmine

Is Lance Briggs going to wake up and take over this defense? Brian Urlacher’s physical ability was not missed a year ago as he didn’t have much physical ability left. But many of us expected Briggs to compensate for the tangible loss of calling plays in the huddle/getting players lined up correctly and the intangible loss of leadership in the post-Urlacher era. Injury aside, Briggs never seemed fully there in 2013 and his critical comments about the organization illustrated a man desperately unhappy. If Briggs wants, this defense could be his. If Briggs wants, he could leave a legacy greater than Urlacher’s. But does Briggs want?

Hole #9 Carolina Cherry

With an offense so dependent on the running back in the passing game, Bears pool is shallow behind Matt Forte. (The only other back on the roster is Michael Ford.) Having a second running back is not a depth concern. Having a second productive running back is a necessity in the NFL.

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