NFC North: Popeye
News and circumstances have delayed our attempts to close the book on spring practices in the NFC North. But I've had all I can stands and I can't stands it no more. So let's get to some observations and other important points while the Black and Blue teams continue their summer vacations.
Chicago's acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler removed the offseason glare from its defense. Remember, before the Cutler trade, the Bears' biggest issue was whether coach Lovie Smith could turn around a defense that seemed old and unorganized last season.
So let's catch up: The Bears opened competition at two positions -- outside linebacker and free safety -- after overhauling their defensive coaching staff. Pisa Tinoisamoa is expected to win the former spot, and either Craig Steltz or Corey Graham will take over at the latter.
But neither of those personnel moves addressed this group's primary issue: Can the Bears revive their pass rush on their defensive line? It's a fundamental requirement of the Tampa 2 defense, and the Bears can't improve much without it. It's difficult to draw many conclusions from non-contact spring drills, but the state of defensive tackle Tommie Harris' knee is hardly encouraging.
Harris, the team's best pass-rusher when healthy, sat out most drills this spring to limit wear and tear. Despite the team's protests to the contrary, it was an ominous sign.
A quick glance at the Bears' top four receivers reveals that only one -- Devin Hester -- has caught a pass in an NFL game. Earl Bennett and rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox are as green as can be. Veteran Rashied Davis always could work his way back into the rotation, but at the end of the spring the Bears seemed all-in with youth.
General manager Jerry Angelo has noted the Bears' depth at tight end and expressed little concern about the receiver position, but it's a fact that he looked into acquiring Arizona's Anquan Boldin as well as free agent Plaxico Burress. The impact of this issue would be limited had Kyle Orton returned as the Bears' quarterback, but it's fair to wonder why Angelo would devote so many resources to acquiring Cutler and then leave him with such an inexperienced receiving corps.