- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Josh McCown, QB: Losing Jay Cutler for a minimum of four weeks because of a torn groin muscle is a tough pill to swallow, but McCown at least gives the Bears a chance on offense. McCown gave the Bears all they could ask for against the Washington Redskins with completing 14-of-20 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown. Can he do it again? That remains to be seen. But McCown is an intelligent player with 33 career NFL starts under his belt. We should all know by now that starting experience is a big factor when it comes to a No. 2 quarterback. McCown can still throw the ball reasonably well and has plenty of skill-position talent, plus a decent offensive line surrounding him. To steal a phrase from ex-Bears general manager Jerry Angelo: The Bears aren't likely to fall off the cliff with McCown at quarterback.
2. Lance Briggs, LB: Briggs was all over the field making plays before he suffered a small fracture in his left shoulder that will shut him down for about six weeks. Briggs had eight tackles, one tackle for loss and two passes defended before he left the game. The veteran linebacker has performed at a Pro Bowl level this season, topping the team in tackles and tackles for loss, while tying for the team lead in sacks and forced fumbles. For as bad as things were on defense before Briggs got hurt, what is it going to look like now without him? Scary.
3. Devin Hester, KR/PR: Hester is dangerous when he's confident. The hope is he can parlay his 81-yard punt return touchdown -- tying Deion Sanders for the most regular-season return scores in NFL history with 19 -- in Week 7 into more scores and long returns in the coming weeks. With the defense full of holes and Cutler on the shelf, the Bears will need points from their special teams. Hester really has a shot to help save the day -- if teams kick to him. Opponents will no doubt continue to try and avoid Hester, but as he proved in Washington, it only takes one mistake or bad kick and he can take it to the house. Also, field position will be at a premium with McCown at the helm. Hester can help in that area, too.
1. Mel Tucker, DC: With all due respect to Tucker, a 16-year coaching veteran and former collegiate defensive back at the University of Wisconsin, a confused and agitated fan base no longer wants to hear about the "next man up mentality," "pad level," or "the collective group effort." It's time for Tucker to start sounding like a defensive coordinator who is capable of leading the Bears out of this mess, as daunting a task it might be. Tucker doesn't personally owe the media anything, but how can reporters assigned to cover a team offer any sort of insight into Tucker's defensive philosophies or coaching style when every week during his limited media availability he talks in bland generalities and clichés? The Bears don't do Tucker any favors by preventing their assistant coaches from talking after games, but Tucker needs to use whatever opportunity he has to convince people that he is not destined to be the Terry Shea of Marc Trestman's first coaching staff. In case you need a refresher course on recent Bears history, Shea was fired after one season on the job as Lovie Smith's offensive coordinator in 2004 when his unit finished dead last in total yards, passing yards and points scored. Through seven games, Tucker's defense is ranked No. 26 in total defense and No. 28 in points allowed, with much better players than Shea ever had to work with.
2. Shea McClellin, DE: I feel bad for McClellin. When one of the greatest linebackers of the last generation, Brian Urlacher, tells ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" that McClellin is miscast as a 4-3 defensive end and better suited to be a 3-4 outside linebacker -- then you know that McClellin is out of place in the Bears' defense. McClellin's 56 snaps against the Redskins were at times painful to watch. His struggles are only heightened by the fact that the Bears really have nobody else to play the position now that Corey Wootton has been forced to move inside to defensive tackle because of injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins. McClellin needs to be a situational player to have any sort of impact, but injuries make that impossible. He needs to play. But mark my words: McClellin will eventually leave the Bears and sign with a team that presents him with a better defensive fit for his talents. Once that happens, McClellin will go on to be an adequate defensive starter of the next six to eight years. But the odds of that happening in Chicago seem remote, unless the Bears undergo a dramatic shift in their defensive philosophy in the offseason.
3. Chris Conte, S: Competition brings out the best in all of us. It's probably time for the Bears to sprinkle safeties Anthony Walters or Craig Steltz into the equation to try and break Conte out of his funk. Conte is talented, but he seems to lacking somewhat in the confidence department. Conte has had several massive collisions in recent weeks trying to tackle running backs with a full head of stream in the open field. Maybe those collisions have chipped away at his confidence. Putting some pressure on Conte to keep his job could result in the safety elevating his game, a la punter Adam Podlesh who had to save his roster spot a couple of weeks ago after a rough outing against the Detroit Lions. Podlesh responded to the challenge. Perhaps Conte does the same.