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Online Bears Lines & Predictions - Chicago Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 Chicago Bears Season Preview

2006 Bears NFL News - August 30th, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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It all depends on your perspective.Last season around this time, Chicago Bears fans were in full-scale pessimism mode over the state of the team's offense. The revolving door the organization had featured at quarterback in the

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past decade-plus was still spinning at an alarming rate. Would-be starter Rex Grossman was feared lost for the season, would-be replacement Chad Hutchinson was about to be cut, and Kyle Orton, the team's recent fourth-round draft choice, was slated, mostly by default, to be the next man up. Cedric Benson, the running back that the franchise had drafted fourth overall in the interests of improving the attack, looked months away from being a factor following an extended training camp holdout. Things looked dire for an organization that had endured eight losing seasons in nine years.

Following an 11-5 season that came complete with an NFC North title and unlikely postseason berth, life as a Chicago Bears fan should be a much happier existence one year later. The controversy that has swirled around the team in the offseason, however, would suggest otherwise.

Bears fans eyeing the team's first serious Super Bowl run since the Ditka days have been grimacing while watching a now-healthy Grossman struggle his way though the preseason. His backup, experienced veteran Brian Griese, has looked sharper than Grossman, though head coach Lovie Smith insists Griese is not a candidate to start. At running back, Benson was named the starter despite the yeoman 2005 efforts of Thomas Jones, the player who most of the team clearly supports as the primary ball carrier. The wide receiver situation continues to be fluid, as the team has searched (thus far in vain) for a complement to Muhsin Muhammad.

Super Bowl contender? Repeat NFC North champion? Chicago's soap opera-like preseason storylines hardly seem to reflect those aspirations.

Though you'd probably be hard-pressed to get the Bears fans of preseason 2006 to switch places with their 2005 counterparts.

Is some perspective-gathering in order for those long-suffering supporters?

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the Chicago Bears, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 11-5 (1st, NFC North)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2005, lost to Carolina, 29-21, in NFC Divisional Playoff

COACH (RECORD): Lovie Smith (16-16 in two seasons with Bears, 16-16 overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ron Turner

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ron Rivera

OFFENSIVE STAR: Muhsin Muhammad, WR (64 receptions, 750 yards, 4 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Brian Urlacher, LB (121 tackles, 6 sacks)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 8th rushing, 31st passing, t26th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 11th rushing, 5th passing, 1st scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at Green Bay (9/10), at Minnesota (9/24), Seattle (10/1), at N.Y. Giants (11/12), at Detroit (12/24)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Brian Griese (from Buccaneers), WR/RS Devin Hester (2nd Round, Miami (FL)), CB Ricky Manning (from Panthers), CB Dante Wesley (from Panthers), DB/RS Danieal Manning (2nd Round, Abilene Christian)

KEY DEPARTURES: C/G Lennie Friedman (to Browns), CB Jerry Azumah (retired), S Mike Green (to Seahawks)

QB: The Bears are hoping that the third time is the charm for Rex Grossman (259 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), who went into both 2004 and 2005 as the starter and was hurt early in each campaign. Grossman has just seven career starts (not including last year's playoff loss to the Panthers) and four career touchdown passes, but the 2003 first-round pick still represents the team's best hope at the position. Noting the franchise's dismal recent history with QBs, the Bears went out and got a good backup in Brian Griese (1136 passing yards, 7 TD, 7 INT with Tampa Bay), who has started at least five games in each of the past seven seasons but missed the final 10 contests in 2005 with a knee injury. Kyle Orton (1869 passing yards, 9 TD, 13 INT) will now carry the clipboard after starting 15 games as rookie in 2005. Orton was 10-5 as a starter, but his 59.7 passer rating was an indication that the winning record came in spite of, rather than due to, his efforts.

RB: There is great controversy at this position. Thomas Jones (1335 rushing yards, 9 TD, 26 receptions) comes off his best season as a pro, but found himself second on the depth chart to 2005 No. 4 overall pick Cedric Benson (272 rushing yards) as training camp began. Jones, as well as several of his teammates, were displeased with the setup, though the incumbent regained his first-string status when Benson went down with a partially dislocated left shoulder early in training camp. Jones will probably be the Week 1 starter with Benson still on the mend, but since Chicago didn't draft Benson fourth to be a backup, the situation will bear watching. Adrian Peterson (391 rushing yards, 2 receptions, 7 TD) played well when Jones and Benson were limited by injuries last season, and will stick around for a fifth season as a backup running back and special-teamer. With Bryan Johnson (5 receptions) slated to miss the season due to a torn hamstring, Jason McKie (22 rushing yards, 4 receptions) and rookie J.D. Runnels (6th Round, Oklahoma) will probably both be kept on as fullbacks.

WR/TE: Muhsin Muhammad (64 receptions, 4 TD) didn't replicate the Pro Bowl numbers he put together as a Panther in 2004 (and given the state of the Bears QB situation, few expected him to), but he still had the best year of any Chicago receiver since 2002 in his first season as a Bear. Muhammad is 33 but still looks to have a good year or two left in him. Who will line up opposite Muhammad is a major question mark. Bernard Berrian (13 receptions) has started three games in two years with the Bears but is inconsistent. Mark Bradley (18 receptions) looked solid early after being drafted in the second round of Oklahoma in 2005, but lost the final nine games of the year with a torn right ACL and is still recovering. Justin Gage (31 receptions, 2 TD) was not the answer in 11 starts a year ago, and the team is unlikely to look for him to serve in a starting capacity again. That leaves the possibility of former Arena League standout Rashied Davis winning a starting job after serving as a backup cornerback and special teams player a year ago. Davis impressed the coaching staff with a strong showing early in the preseason. Battling for the final receiver slot will be players such as 2005 fifth-round pick Airese Currie, who missed all of his rookie year with knee and hamstring injuries, and Alex Bannister, who made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer for the Seahawks in 2003 but has just nine career catches. Desmond Clark (24 receptions) will again be the starter at tight end, with John Gilmore (1 reception, 1 TD) to appear in double-tight sets and Gabe Reid (3 receptions) occupying backup duties.

OL: A major difference-maker for the Bears last season was the improved play of the offensive line, which blocked effectively for Thomas Jones despite the presence of regular eight-man fronts, and surrendered just 31 sacks one year after giving up a league-high 66. That group should return in its entirety. Five-time Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz anchors the group from his center slot; right tackle Fred Miller and left tackle John Tait will help to keep Grossman upright; and right guard Terrence Metcalf and left guard Ruben Brown will help clear some holes for Jones up the middle. Metcalf is probably the weak link of the group, and could surrender his spot to part-time starter Roberto Garza if he fails to suitably recover from offseason knee surgery. Providing depth up front will be the loser of the Metcalf/Garza battle, holdover John St. Clair, and perhaps rookie Tyler Reed (6th Round, Penn State).

DL: The Bears are set at defensive end, where Adewale Ogunleye (40 tackles, 10 sacks) and Alex Brown (45 tackles, 6 sacks) were a disruptive force for most of last season. There is less certainty at tackle, where 2005 Pro Bowler Tommie Harris (32 tackles, 3 sacks) returns but starting candidates like Tank Johnson (25 tackles, 5 sacks), Ian Scott (27 tackles), Michael Haynes (9 tackles, 1.5 sacks), and Dusty Dvoracek (3rd Round, Oklahoma) all struggled with injuries during training camp. Dvoracek was placed on the season-ending injured reserve on Aug. 28th. Alfonso Boone (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks) was working with the first-team during much of training camp. Johnson will probably double as a situational pass rusher if he can overcome a torn quad that limited him during camp, and holdovers Israel Idonije (20 tackles, 1 sack) and Jamaal Green can help in that area as well.

LB: After struggling with injuries in 2004, Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (121 tackles, 6 sacks) was back with a vengeance last season, captaining the league's best defense and earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors for his efforts. Urlacher's cohorts on the linebacking corps, weak side man Lance Briggs (107 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) and strong side backer Hunter Hillenmeyer (63 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), also return for 2006. Projected to serve as backups and on the special teams unit are holdovers Leon Joe (28 tackles), Brendan Ayanbadejo (26 tackles), and rookie Jamar Williams (4th Round, Oklahoma).

DB: There are some changes afoot here, as longtime secondary staples Jerry Azumah (37 tackles, 1 sack) and Mike Green (39 tackles, 1 INT) have departed and new blood like ex-Panther Ricky Manning (41 tackles, 2 INT) and rookie Danieal Manning (2nd Round, Abilene Christian) are in. In the short term, Nathan Vasher (46 tackles, 8 INT) and Charles Tillman (93 tackles, 5 INT, 1 sack) will remain at corner, though there has been discussion about Tillman moving to safety somewhere down the line. Incumbent strong safety Mike Brown (72 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack) was expected to miss all of the preseason with an Achilles problem, and Todd Johnson (35 tackles) would fill in for him if the injury was to limit Brown during the regular season. Chris Harris (58 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack) played well at free safety last season, and should be able to hold off the rookie Manning there. Devin Hester (2nd Round, Miami (FL)) will be kept on as a return specialist and fifth corner, and Dante Wesley (17 tackles with the Panthers) and Brandon McGowan (31 tackles) should also make the roster.

SPECIAL TEAMS: It appears that Chicago will maintain the status quo at kicker, where Robbie Gould (21-27 FG) was decent as a rookie and punter Brad Maynard (41.0 avg.) was reliable as well. Rashied Davis (6.2 punt return avg, 22.8 kickoff return avg.) was slated to handle kickoffs before his emergence as a potential starting receiver threw that prospect into question. Second-round pick Devin Hester returned four punts and two kickoffs four touchdowns while at Miami (FL)), and will get a chance to make some big plays with the Bears. Patrick Mannelly has played in 125 games as Chicago's long-snapper, and is back for a ninth season in the Windy City.

PROGNOSIS: The battles going on at the various skill positions are unlikely to do wonders for team chemistry, but having good second options at quarterback and running back will undoubtedly make this a better offense on paper. If Grossman can find his confidence and the team can identify a reliable second wideout, the offense should move at a reasonable clip no matter who does the running. And once again, the defense will cover up a lot of this team's warts. Will Urlacher and company be as dominant as they were in 2005? Probably not, but there is every reason to believe they'll be a top-five unit again, and that should be enough for the team to win a second straight title in a weak NFC North. A trip to the Super Bowl? Don't rule it out, especially if the Bears roll through the division while the teams in the stronger NFC East and NFC North beat one another up for 17 weeks. They won't be among the sexy picks, but Smith's team has the potential to be the real deal.


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