Bears

First Look: 2011 Chicago Bears offense

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First Look: 2011 Chicago Bears offense

Monday, Jan. 31, 2011
Posted 7:32 p.m. Updated 8:49 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Chicago Bears offense finished the 2009 season ranked 23rd in yardage and produced 319 points under then-coordinator Ron Turner. In 2010 the Bears dismissed Turner and all but two of his staff, brought in Mike Martz as coordinator and finished 30th in yardage, dropping to 28th in passing yardage, and totaled 310 points.

Not the direction the Bears had in mind, although they did score 24 or more in five of the seven games before meeting Green Bay and the NFLs No. 2 scoring defense in the NFC Championship.

READ: Part 1 - Coaching, draft, free agency

The Bears did not stand pat last offseason and they wont this year. The changes are not expected to be sweeping in terms of free-agent acquisitions or even the draft, but the 2011 Bears will differ markedly from the 2010 edition.

In order to win 12 games in this league you have to have some power on the offensive side of the ball, coach Lovie Smith said. We made a lot of progress. As we look at our future -- what Matt Forte will be able to do this coming year, of an offensive line fighting through injuries, but to finish that way, our receivers, our quarterback -- I'm excited about the direction our offense is going.

In the second in a four-part series, CSNChicago.com examines the position groups on offense and what is likely to play out in the months before the 2011 season opens:

Quarterback

Jay Cutler is set. Caleb Hanie is a restricted free agent and the only question there is level of RFA tender. The Bears have gone with two quarterbacks during recent seasons and likely would have last season had Hanie not suffered a shoulder injury in preseason.

Jay led us to 12 wins, Smith said. We had a heck of a year. Finished short but we had a heck of a year. Hes our quarterback and done a lot of great things for us. I cant wait for our future together with him leading our team.

Matt Guiterrez was signed to a futures contract and should have a second training-camp stint with the Bears but Todd Collins muddied the waters as far as Mike Martz and a must-have veteran backup.

Running back

The organization will not rush into an extension for Forte, who had a career year in 2010 and has one year remaining on his rookie contract. But franchises like hungry players, Forte has had one super year but two OK ones, and the Bears will not be in a rush to do anything with Forte early.

One source told CSNChicago.com that Chester Taylor would be cut after his one disappointing year at huge money, and at 32, Taylors arrow is definitely not pointing up. But the team has paid him already and is not under money pressure at the position because Forte and Taylor combined are far below elite money.

Receiver

Look for the Bears to bring in a veteran wide receiver, possibly one that will jump over Devin Hester or Johnny Knox and into the starting lineup. The Bears will be one of the teams looking at Plaxico Burress when his prison stint finishes, and others like Roy Williams from Dallas or the Jets Braylon Edwards will be under consideration.

But price will be a factor and the Bears are not going to overpay for less than a sure thing. They spent heavily for Muhsin Muhammed and got value as well as contributions to two playoff appearances. But while none of their current receivers is at an elite level, all have improved enough to keep this from ranking as a desperate need, particularly with the group moving with Cutler into the second year in a potentially explosive offensive system.

Greg Olsen developed into a serviceable all-around tight end and is entering a contract year. As in Fortes case, however, the organization will not bid against itself for Olsen even though Brandon Manumaleuna contributes little beyond blocking and not even that at special levels.

Desmond Clark will leave Chicago with some mileage left, just no chance to use it under Mike Martz.

Offensive line

The 2010 Bears line achieved some cohesion after the midseason off week and had the same starting line of left tackle to right, Frank Omiyale-Chris Williams-Olin Kreutz-Roberto Garza-JMarcus Webb.

It is entirely possible that none of those five will be in those positions to open 2011, and the result could be a significantly better offensive line. Spending as many as two of their first three picks on offensive linemen is possible depending upon the vagaries of free agency. The team is expected to add a veteran, likely a guard, to the mix of the starting five.

With a year of his own tape to watch on linemen running the new system, coach Mike Tice will make adjustments, possibly even radical ones.

Left tackle: The organization made a decision that it could and would live with the learning year for JMarcus Webb. The result was sufficient evidence that the seventh-rounder is an NFL tackle, perhaps the best one on the roster. With his size and upside, the organization is expected to look at him first at the most critical line position.

This league is so intricate now, so many different blitz packages, personnel packages, and fortunately hes a good student, hes very smart, and hes got good veterans around him, Tice said. Roberto Garza, Olin Kreutz and Kevin Shaffer have taught him how to study.

Omiyale survived at the position but not well enough to establish himself and he projects to be in the competition at right tackle.

Left guard: Williams performed the best of any suitor for this position last season but he was a right tackle for the early part of 2009 and is better suited for the outside. This is a need position and free agency will offer alternatives.

Center: Olin Kreutz has played through three contracts with the Bears, virtually unheard of in the current NFL. But he has not been extended and hell be 34 in June. The organization has Edwin Williams in reserve and can slide Roberto Garza from guard to center.
Right guard: Garzas return from knee surgery was a turning point in 10 and he will open at one of the interior three spots. Lance Louis was a disappointment when he had his opportunity and the team has to be satisfied as to whether he has learned how to play through minor injuries. The Bears were well served by Garza and Ruben Brown but guards have been supremely expensive in free agency.

Right tackle: Omiyale or Williams will be in a competition at that spot, along with veteran Kevin Shaffer, although Shaffers role has evolved into swing tackle over the past year.

How really significant is this position group? Consider: For all of the injuries sustained by key figures this season, four of the five offensive line positions for the Green Bay Packers had the same starter for all 19 games, including playoffs. The fifth was right tackle, and when veteran Mark Tauscher went down, his relief was Bryan Bulaga, the Packers No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.

The 2006 Bears went to the Super Bowl with the help of an offensive line that saw four of five start all 16 games and the fifth, John Tait, start 17 of 19.

The 2010 Bears were 7-2 leading to the playoffs when the front five settled out with Omiyale-Williams-Kreutz-Garza-Webb. A significant focus of the OTAs, training camp and preseason will be on clarifying the best five and getting it in place as soon as possible.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.