Chicago Bears: Depth chart
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Through two and a half weeks of camp and one preseason game, the Bears should be concerned about their offensive execution.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact: Whenever a new offense is installed there are naturally going to be concerns, especially coming off a disastrous 2012 season on offense. There is ample skill-position talent on the roster for Jay Cutler to spread the ball around to, but for whatever reason, the offense hasn’t looked all that sharp in practice since camp opened up in late July. Far too often Cutler has been intercepted, either due to his error or a miscue by the intended receiver. The Bears can’t turn the ball over if they expect to win. There is also the uncertainty on the offensive line, which will continue to be a cause for concern until the final starting five is set sometime around the third preseason game. And even when the No. 1 line is penciled in, are the Bears comfortable starting two rookies on the right side in the event Jordan Mills hangs onto the job? To be fair, the Bears haven’t really been able to run the ball in the preseason. If the ground game can get cooking with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, then no matter what happens with the other stuff, the Bears will have a chance to be decent on offense. But simply based on what we’ve seen so far, the offense has a long way to go before it will be ready to handle whatever the Cincinnati Bengals offense throws at them in Week 1.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Not any more concerned than anyone else around the league is at this point of the year. It's important to remember that the Bears are executing a brand new offense, and the truth is the first-teamers executed fairly well against the Carolina Panthers. In 10 snaps, Cutler completed 6 of 8 for 56 yards with a passer rating of 54.2, which was knocked down quite a few points due to the interception he threw on the first play of the game. Of those 10 plays, nine of them turned out to be passes, although Bears coach Marc Trestman later revealed that he called more runs than what was actually executed. This could be viewed as a positive. Cutler checked out of some of the runs to put the Bears in more advantageous situations to throw the ball, based on several factors. Judging from his completion percentage (75), Cutler was making the correct checks. So signs indicate Cutler is figuring out things, and that's exactly what the Bears want from their quarterback at this point in the preseason.
Bostic drew positive reviews for his first day making the calls.
"He did very very well," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We're going to need him. We hope Lance doesn't go down, but he could. All of us could go down. So whenever somebody goes down, the next player has to be up. So we've got to get him ready because we might need him one of those games."
The Bears could wind up needing Bostic sooner than originally anticipated. The club drafted Bostic with the expectation he would spend 2013 learning behind Williams, a 10-year veteran, who at one time was considered one of the NFL's most talented middle linebackers. Williams suffered a strained right calf on Wednesday, and the prognosis given by the team has been "week to week," which means the injury could linger.
"I really don't look at it as getting thrown in the fire," Bostic said. "I'm out there with a lot of guys I've pretty much watched on TV the last 10 or 12 years, however long I’ve been watching football. To be in there with them, I’ve got to pick it up. I've got to go out there and make sure I'm in my playbook off the field so I'm not making any mistakes when I'm out there."
Welcome to the 2013 version of Insider's offseason staple series: Red Flags. This is the sixth of an eight-part examination in which Football Outsiders identifies the biggest remaining issue for every NFL team, division by division, after the NFL draft.
Here is the Outsiders' look at the NFC North:
Chicago Bears: Wide receiver
Bears general manager Phil Emery and new head coach Marc Trestman deserve credit for attacking their weaknesses aggressively in both the draft and in free agency. While big signing Jermon Bushrod is far from an elite tackle, and his Pro Bowls probably should be viewed as a second slot the NFC used on Drew Brees, he's a definite upgrade over the dreck the Bears have been using at left tackle for years. The cascade effect of his signing is that J'Marcus Webb, part of the aforementioned dreck, will get a chance to play on the right side against pass-rushers that are generally weaker than those who gave him major problems as a starter for the past couple of seasons.
Read the entire story here.
Tice estimates the game Saturday will determine the winner of the starting left tackle job between Webb and Chris Williams as well as the starter at left guard, where Chris Spencer and Chilo Rachal continue to compete.
"Let's face it: this is gonna be the week (that determines the starter at left tackle)," Tice said, laughing. "We'll all know when we watch the game. You guys can text me and tell me who it should be."
Read the entire story.
“It was good to let Kelvin get an opportunity to play with the first team,” Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. “We feel we have three starting corners with him, [and] we also feel he can back D.J. up. We shouldn’t miss a beat and you want to be in this situation.”
Several other players sat out Monday night’s workout including: middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (knee), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (ankle), linebacker Dom DeCicco (groin) and guard Chilo Rachal. Wide receiver Earl Bennett was excused for personal reasons.
However, DeCicco suffered a significant groin injury last week against Denver which further complicates the Bears situation at linebacker.
“I was just running and I made a cut and it just went,” DeCicco explained on Monday.
The question now becomes when DeCicco will be able to return to the field. Generally when it comes to these types of injuries, teams prefer to wait a week and then re-evaluate the situation. The fact DeCicco is able to stand on the field and walk around on crutches is encouraging, although it’s unknown when he’ll be cleared to return to practice or if he’ll be healthy enough to participate in perhaps the Bears’ final preseason game on Aug. 30 at Cleveland. The good news is it doesn't sound as if DeCicco tore the groin muscle.
“I feel like I deserve to make the team and these are the chances where I can show that,” DeCicco said. “It’s tough to sit out and just watch everybody else play. But I’m going to watch everybody else play and just take as many mental reps as I can and learn as much as I can and try to help everybody else out.”
Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nick Roach, Geno Hayes and Blake Costanzo appear to be roster locks, which leaves DeCicco in competition with J.T. Thomas, Patrick Trahan, Jabara Williams and newcomers K.C. Asiodu and Xavier Adibi if the Bears decide to keep just six linebackers on the final roster.
You think those pants make you look fat? Ask Tice.
"You look like 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound sack. Take those off."
Not sure about that best man speech? Listen to Tice.
"Don't lead with that Tijuana anecdote. You sound like a moron. What's wrong with you? Your grandma is here."
Unsure if there's an open competition at left tackle for the team you cover? Tice will set you straight.
"I know it rained. Did you not go to the game? You went to the game right? OK, you saw the same thing I saw. I have trouble sleeping at night until I know that our quarterback is protected."
The first two quotes are made up. The last one is all too real.
Tice is Joe Biden with a Long Island accent, a giant-sized Joan Rivers with the practice field his red carpet. You might remember him as the permissive Minnesota Vikings coach who scalped his Super Bowl tickets and always had a pencil behind his ear, but he could be a godsend to a Chicago Bears team unable to find a consistent offensive identity, even with Jay Cutler under center.
For the Bears' offensive players, Tice is a refreshing change, in several ways, from the man he replaced at the offensive coordinator position, Mike Martz. For reporters, Tice is the Last Honest Man in a business where obfuscation with the media is the standard.
Read the entire column.
Although Williams split time with J'Marcus Webb at left tackle during the workout at Olivet Nazarene University, Bears coach Lovie Smith reiterated the job remains up for competition.
“All positions are open,” Smith said.
Speaking in general terms during his opening remarks after practice, Smith expressed disappointment with the team’s effort in a 31-3 loss to the Denver Broncos on Thursday night in the preseason opener, but revealed “we had a couple of players that showed us that they belong and those guys will start getting more reps.”
In the exhibition opener, Williams played extensively at right tackle, primarily with the second- and third-teamers.
“Coach told me to get some work at left tackle today,” Williams said. “That was it.”
Early in camp, the Bears utilized a rotation at left tackle consisting of Webb taking most repetitions with the starters one day, and Williams doing the same the next as the two competed for the starting left tackle position. On Aug. 1, however, the rotation changed, with Webb taking most of the practice snaps with the starters and Williams moving over to the right side where he backed up Gabe Carimi.
That day, Williams said he just wanted “to get a fair shot at starting; don’t care where, never have cared where.”
But when the Bears released their unofficial depth chart last week leading into the preseason opener, the club listed Webb as the starting left tackle although both Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Tice maintained the competition wasn’t over.
The club made that even more apparent with the latest move. Smith was reluctant to discuss positives when asked about Williams’ performance Thursday night against the Broncos. Webb, meanwhile, committed one of the offensive line’s three false-start penalties against the Broncos.
“No one played well,” Smith said. “A few guys played well. So we weren’t pleased -- starting with me on down -- with our effort. We can’t say an awful lot.”
Center Roberto Garza said Webb “went out there and learned from what he was doing and got better as the game went on” Thursday night against the Broncos.
Perhaps that wasn’t enough.
Tice has said the club wants to solidify its starting lineup on the offensive line as soon as possible. But it’s likely the team will wait to see how Williams and Webb perform in another preseason game before naming a starter.
Williams didn’t seem to be affected positively or negatively by what appeared Thursday to be a promotion.
“I just do what I’m told. It’s all O-line, man,” Williams said. “It’s hands and feet. So (I) just go out and work. It’ll work itself out.”
So we can disregard, for now, the paltry 13 yards on 4-of-5 completions that Jason Campbell racked up in three series of the Bears first preseason game Thursday night at Soldier Field.
So astounding is it that for the first time, well, ever, that the Bears have a solid backup quarterback behind a potentially exceptional starter, you're almost skeptical.
The Bears are merely grateful.
Read the entire column.
He’s not complaining, though.
Sanzenbacher worked with the first team Sunday because starter Earl Bennett suffered a leg injury during an early portion of the workout. Earlier in the day, Bennett’s primary backup Devin Thomas announced he had decided to retire.
That meant more first-team repetitions for Sanzenbacher, while undrafted rookie Brittan Golden worked with the second team. Bears coach Lovie Smith said Sanzenbacher continues to impress the coaching staff.
“(He’s making a) big impression, the same type he made last year coming in as an undrafted free agent and earning a spot on the roster,” Smith said. He’s improved his play just in general. He picks up things pretty quickly. We’re pleased with him. He should have a good shot with our team.”
Sanzenbacher played in every game as a rookie in 2011 with one start and caught 27 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first undrafted rookie since 1983 to post multiple TD catches. Sanzenbacher was also the franchise’s first undrafted rookie to catch touchdowns in back-to-back contests (Week 2 against New Orleans and Week 3 against Green Bay).
But despite the promising early-season showings, Sanzenbacher tied Roy Williams for the team lead in dropped passes (7).
“I have just as much to prove (as last year) I feel like,” Sanzenbacher said. “You go into the locker room on your family day and you still don’t have a guaranteed locker yet. It’s the same situation, just a year down the road.”
But don't look into the move as a simple waiver claim. The team actually sees something in Williams, who fits the mold of the run-and-hit type of linebackers coveted in the club's defensive scheme.
"[We] did a lot of work on him leading up to the draft, coming out of Stephen F. Austin; a great player from my area back home [in Texas]," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "So we had a chance to get him."
Williams played in two games for St. Louis before the club decided to release him, but the linebacker was on Chicago's radar even after he was drafted by the Rams. With the team looking to add to the position back in early September, general manager Jerry Angelo cued up game tape of Williams on a screen in his office at Halas Hall, optimistically anticipating the linebacker's potential availability.
Obviously, the Bears couldn't consummate a move until the Rams released him.
As a 21-year old senior at Stephen F. Austin, Williams caught the attention of the league's scouts with his athleticism, and cover skills. Some scouts considered Williams undersized coming out of college and not as stout as teams prefer in a run defender.
But those same scouts raved about Williams' fluidity, and sideline-to sideline range, not to mention the high grades he received in the character department. Many scouts graded Williams higher than Bears' sixth-round pick J.T. Thomas, who is currently on the team's injured reserve.
Williams posted 109 tackles, and 6 1/2 sacks as a senior at Stephen F. Austin in 11 starts to follow up a junior campaign in which he tallied 113 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks.
It also doesn't hurt that Williams is a native of Texas. The current Bears roster features 11 players from Smith's home state.
"We've been one linebacker short for a while," Smith said. "So good pick-up by us by Jerry [Angelo], [director of player personnel] Tim [Ruskell], and the guys with him."
In the first half, Louis entered the game at his customary right guard spot because Chris Spencer was taken back to the locker room with a hand injury. But when Spencer returned after halftime, Louis slid over to tackle and even occasionally reported as a tackle eligible, which allowed Omiyale to sporadically re-enter the contest.
Louis, the club's starting right guard in Week 1, suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the regular-season opener and was forced to miss the Bears road game against the Saints. The third-year offensive lineman was active during the loss to the Packers, but did not play. A versatile athlete who played both offensive line and tight end while at San Diego State, Louis said in the postgame locker room he last lined up in a game at right tackle during his final year with the Aztecs.
"Overall, it was OK" Louis said of his performance at tackle. "I definitely have to work on more stuff if I'm going to be out there. There is a lot of space out there. It's different because there is a lot of space out there, the [defensive players] have a lot of freedom to do anything. When you are inside, the guy is right there, but outside he can line up wider and do all kinds of spins and moves. It's different, but it's my job."
Louis said the move to tackle wasn't unexpected since he took some practice reps on the outside this past week at Halas Hall.
"[Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice has] been trying a few different things to see how I felt about a few things," Louis said. "At the end of the day, it's going to make our line that much more versatile. It's a good thing.”
But don't expect the Bears to get too comfortable with Louis at right tackle. Rookie first-round pick Gabe Carimi will eventually return from a minor knee dislocation, meaning Louis will be on the move again, probably back to right guard. Tice called Louis one of the team's five best offensive linemen on the roster, and vowed to find a spot on the field for the former seventh-round draft choice once his ankle heals.
"I just want to play," Louis said. "I don't care, I just want to be out there helping the team."
The team continues to closely monitor the progress of Louis. If Louis' sore ankle improves enough for him to play against the Packers, the Bears won't need to promote Horn. But if it doesn't, the team will likely make the move.
Signed as an undrafted rookie by the Bears in 2010, Horn spent the majority of last season on the practice squad.
Given the uncertain status of Louis, and the right kneecap subluxation suffered last week by Gabe Carimi that will keep him out for an extended period, the Bears -- should they decline to add personnel to the active roster -- could enter Sunday's matchup against the Packers with six healthy linemen, which means five starters, and only one reserve. That wouldn't be an ideal situation for a team currently leading the league in sacks allowed (11) after the first two weeks of the season.
"Everybody that's on our roster, in our mind is a future starter," said offensive coordinator Mike Martz, when questioned about depth concerns up front. "We don't have backups. That's how we look at our guys. We look at them all as starters. It's just their opportunity to step up and play well, and be excited that they have that opportunity. We're disappointed the opportunity is there. That means somebody got hurt. But we're also excited these guys who have been waiting for an opportunity like this get a chance."
Listed in the team's media guide as a tackle, Horn also spent time with the Bears working at guard. Horn played with the second team offense in the preseason, and drew praise from offensive line coach Mike Tice for his vast improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 with the team. Because Horn can play either inside or outside, the Bears could use him as a potential backup at two positions.
Asked whether Louis would be available for Sunday's contest, Tice said, "I don't know, he's trying. When Lance comes back we'll find a place for him to play."
The Bears generally break camp with six linebackers, but right now only four or five positions are secure: Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nick Roach, Brian Iwuh and probably rookie sixth-round draft choice J.T. Thomas. Thomas, however, has been sidelined with a few injuries in the opening weeks of training camp.
The club continues to keep tabs on Pisa Tinoisamoa, but the veteran is still recovering from offseason knee surgery and is doubtful to be 100 percent by the start of the regular season.
If the club opts to fill the void at linebacker in-house, then DeCicco has three more preseason games to further impress the coaching staff.
"Of course we want to see a little more of J.T. Thomas, but Dom DeCicco has done a good job at the middle linebacker spot filling in," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said.
"He played well on special teams (against Buffalo)," Smith said. "We had a few guys play well on special teams, but he was one of them."
DeCicco, who played safety for much of his career at Pittsburgh, did transition to linebacker in the second half of the 2010 season. He made a pre-visit to Chicago and caught the eye of Bears linebackers coach Bob Babich, who happens to be a native of Pennsylvania and a former Pitt assistant coach.
DeCicco was the Bears’ second-leading tackler in the preseason opener versus the Buffalo Bills with four stops.