NFL Nation: Major Wright

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith hinted during the week that there could be some lineup changes, and he followed through.

Demar Dotson, who normally starts at right tackle, will start at left tackle Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Oniel Cousins will start at right tackle. Anthony Collins had been the starting left tackle most of the season, but he missed last week’s game with an elbow injury. Collins, who has not played well, appears to be a healthy scratch from the starting lineup and is listed as inactive Sunday.

The other inactives for Tampa Bay are receiver Robert Herron, receiver Solomon Patton, safety Major Wright, linebacker Mason Foster, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald.
TAMPA, Fla. -- They talked like they were drafting the second coming of John Lynch.

Instead, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of a past regime might have hit on a second Sabby Piscitelli.

The current regime was only too happy to give up on 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron on Tuesday as the NFL's trading deadline approached. Barron was shipped to the St. Louis Rams for fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2015. The Bucs also traded reserve linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots. The Bucs will get New England’s fifth-round pick next season and send their 2015 sixth-round pick to the Patriots.

Barron
But it's the trade of Barron that's most significant. The current tandem of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht obviously didn't share the same high opinion of Barron that former coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik did only two years ago.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but the Bucs could have taken linebacker Luke Kuechly with the seventh overall pick in the first round in 2012. Instead, they passed and took Barron. Kuechly won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 while playing for Carolina.

Barron hasn't been a total bust like Piscitelli, but he has produced only three interceptions in three seasons. Barron never has come close to playing up to his potential.

Barron became expendable in part because the Bucs have a trio of mediocre safeties in Bradley McDougald, Major Wright and Keith Tandy. None of those safeties has as much natural talent as Barron. But Barron's talent wasn't showing in the current system.

Barron also became expendable because he just wasn't as good as advertised. Maybe Barron turns into a force in St. Louis. But he was nothing more than mediocre in Tampa Bay.

Anybody else think the 2012 Bucs should have gone linebacker and drafted Kuechly?

The Film Don't Lie: Buccaneers

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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A weekly look at what the Buccaneers must fix:

Even after the first win of the season, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

No area stands out more than covering the tight end. That’s hugely significant because on Sunday, the Bucs have to face New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, who might be the best receiving tight end in the NFL.

If recent history is any indication, the Bucs will have their hands full with Graham. In Sunday’s victory at Pittsburgh, the Bucs allowed Steelers tight end Heath Miller to catch a career-high 10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.

The Bucs played a soft zone on Miller, and he did a nice job of finding the weak spots. They were lucky Miller is not much of a threat after the catch, or his numbers would have been even bigger.

Graham has the athleticism to make things happen after the catch, however. The Bucs can’t use soft coverage on him or else they’ll pay a steep price. Against Pittsburgh, it seemed like every Miller reception was capped by a first down with safety Dashon Goldson making the tackle.

Goldson left the game with an ankle injury, and replacement Major Wright didn’t fare much better. Whether it’s Goldson or Wright playing against the Saints, the Bucs need to let their safeties be more aggressive.
TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're looking for an under-the-radar player with a chance to make Tampa Bay's roster, you might want to consider wide receiver Tommy Streeter. But look quickly because Streeter might not be an unknown for much longer.

Streeter already is catching the eyes of his teammates and coaches.

"We kind of have a running joke, 'Man, that dude is catching the ball right and left, over and over,'" quarterback Josh McCown said after Thursday's practice. "It's like one of the better camps I've been around for a receiver. He's just got so many dang catches. And he's just doing his job. He's just a humble, hard-working guy that comes out here every day and gets after it. He catches the ball when it's thrown to him and that's all you can ask for as a player."

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Tommy Streeter
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown said Tommy Streeter's performance this summer is "one of the better camps I've been around for a receiver."
Streeter's talent flashed again in Thursday's practice when he made a nice catch when matched up against veteran safety Major Wright.

"He's another guy with good size, good height, good speed and he's been catching the football," coach Lovie Smith said. "You talk to him and he doesn't want a whole lot of complements, he's just 'Hey, I'm just trying to do my job, trying to get better very day,' saying all the right things, just making plays. That's all you have to do as a player. You don't have to worry about, am I going to make the roster, am I going to get enough plays. If you get one play, you do something, you'll continue to get more. We've noticed him. When we initially came to camp he's wasn't one of the guys we were talking a lot about. But he's been pretty steady every day."

Streeter seems to be putting himself in line for a roster spot in a receiving corps in which the only sure things are starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

A sixth-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2012, Streeter has been unable to make an impact in the NFL so far. But he's not a stranger to the big stage. Streeter played at the University of Miami.

"No, I'm not afraid," Streeter said. "I've been doing this since age 7. I don't see any difference at any level. It all comes down to, at this level, how much goes into the preparation before the dance."

Streeter has been preparing for the dance by paying close attention to Jackson. That's a wise choice because Streeter is the same size (6-foot-5) as Jackson.

"I talk to him every day," Streeter said. "I ask him different questions on how do you run this route based on different leverages and techniques. Basically, what little tricks and crafty moves he has that he uses to get open. I try to incorporate that in my game as well."

Streeter said he already has learned a lot from Jackson.

"His ability to drop his weight and get in and out of his cuts," Streeter said. "He comes downhill and he's aggressive to the ball. That's something I always continuously try to improve on. At the University of Miami, I was always the deep ball guy. When you come here in this offense there's a lot of route running involved. That's something I continuously work on and something I always try to get better at."

Streeter may not have the NFL pedigree, but he came out of one of the nation's top high school programs. That's Miami Northwestern.

"They used to call us the University of Northwestern," Streeter said.

Streeter's high school team also featured two other Buccaneers, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Anthony Gaitor. Streeter wore the same jersey (No. 5) as previously worn by Kenbrell Thompkins, who now is with the New England Patriots, and later worn by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

"My coach, when he gave it to me, he was like 'Son, I'm going to give you No. 5. You might have to do a little history to understand the importance of this number and the guys who wore it before you and what they did,'" Streeter said. "I was kind of nervous, like 'Does the No. 5 jersey glow or something? Is everybody watching me?' But nonetheless, I thrived in that environment."

If Streeter can continue doing what he has been doing in practice, he might be able to thrive with the Buccaneers.
Neil Hornsby over at Pro Football Focus put together a piece Wednesday identifying five teams that could push themselves into the playoffs Insider by identifying and addressing one specific positional need in the upcoming NFL draft.

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He pointed to Carolina in 2013 as an example. Headed into last year’s draft, the Panthers needed to fix issues at defensive tackle. They did so by drafting interior linemen Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short with their first two selections, turning what had been identified as a glaring weakness into a major strength.

For the Chicago Bears, the significant weakness, according to Hornsby, is the safety position.

Horsby writes: “It would be far from unfair to say the worst position group in football last year was the Bears' collection of safeties. Both regular starters were listed in the worst five of our 86 ranked players at the position. Major Wright and Chris Conte combined to give up more than 1,000 yards in the air, and if anything, were worse as run defenders. Both missed more than 10 tackles in that phase alone, and were both in the top 10 for missed tackles overall.”

Obviously, the Bears tried to upgrade the safety position in free agency by acquiring Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, and Danny McCray. But at this point, those players appear to be depth signings, capable of starting games in a pinch. The club needs to raise the talent level, especially now that Conte might end up missing some training camp coming off a shoulder surgery.

Though it’s unclear whether the Bears will address safety immediately with the No. 14 pick, it’s pretty much guaranteed that at some point in the draft the team will take one, possibly even two.

By Hornsby’s rationale, that could be the difference in the Bears earning their first trip to the playoffs since the 2010 season.

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had another lively Dallas Cowboys chat on Wednesday with a wide range of topics.

We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.

But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.

Church
Thomas
Geno: the Cowboys seem to undervalue the safety positions- always seem to back fill or try a stop-gap; any chance of signing a more proven commodity this year pre- or post- draft?

Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.

To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.

Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.

But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?

They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.

In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.

Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.

Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harris (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.

You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.

The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.

Bucs add depth in secondary

April, 4, 2014
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Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith has reached back into his past to add some more depth for the secondary.

Former Chicago safety Major Wright agreed to terms with the Buccaneers on Friday evening.

The move is somewhat curious because the Bucs appear to have starters at both safety positions with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. But Goldson has had issues with being fined for illegal hits.

At best, Wright could challenge Goldson for a starting job. But it’s more likely that Wright will play in sub packages and on special teams.
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears agreed to terms on a two-year contract with safety Ryan Mundy, the club announced.

Mundy appeared in 16 games (nine starts) for the New York Giants last season, where he recorded a career-high 70 tackles, one sack and one interception. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound safety played four years (2009-12) for the Pittsburgh Steelers, starting five combined games during that stretch.

Mundy was selected by the Steelers in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL draft out of West Virginia.

With Major Wright expect to depart via free agency, Mundy should fill one of the Bears’ safety spots in 2014.

Although Chris Conte struggled last season, the Bears will allow the former third-round draft choice to compete for a starting job in the preseason.

Safeties Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters (restricted) are also free agents.
If the New Orleans Saints don’t re-sign safety Malcolm Jenkins, they will almost certainly need to add depth in free agency. Maybe in the draft as well.

The Saints already released veteran safety Roman Harper last month. Now they have only one safety left on their current roster: second-year pro Kenny Vaccaro. The good news is that Vaccaro looks poised to be one of their top playmakers for years to come after an outstanding rookie season. The Saints also like the potential of part-time starter Rafael Bush, whom they hope to bring back as a restricted free agent and might promote to a greater role.

The Saints need more depth, though, especially if they plan to continue the three-safety rotation that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan favored so much last season.

I doubt they will be in the market for the biggest names in free agency (the Buffalo Bills' Jairus Byrd and the Cleveland BrownsT.J. Ward). Hard-hitting San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner might also be too costly.

But there are still a handful of intriguing options in the next tier or two -- a tier that includes Jenkins, whom the Saints could still consider bringing back if the price is right.

The Saints have already brought in free-agent safety Louis Delmas for a visit after he was released last month by the Detroit Lions. But they don’t appear likely to sign Delmas, according to a league source.

Others in that same range include the Indianapolis Colts' Antoine Bethea, the Miami Dolphins' Chris Clemons and the Carolina Panthers' Mike Mitchell.

Bethea was the best of that bunch in his prime, earning two Pro Bowl invites. He turns 30 before the season starts, but he has remained productive. He hasn’t missed a game since 2007 and has six straight seasons with at least 95 tackles.

ESPN NFL Insiders Matt Williamson and Adam Caplan both suggested Clemons, 28, as a possible fit for the Saints. He is a physical safety who is also decent in coverage.

“I really like Chris Clemons from Miami,” Williamson said. “He’s more of a free safety type, fits that mold of what I think they’d be after. Still young.”

The next tier includes younger veterans with promise, such as the New York Giants’ Stevie Brown, the Chicago Bears’ Major Wright and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nate Allen. Brown and Wright played great in 2012, but Brown missed last season with a knee injury and Wright struggled along with the rest of Chicago’s defense.

James Ihedigbo is a 30-year-old strong safety who had his first 100-tackle season with the Baltimore Ravens last year after spending most of his career as a special-teams asset.

Free-agency primer: Bears

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, D.J. Williams, Major Wright, Devin Hester, Corey Wootton, Josh McCown.

Where they stand: The club informed Hester it won't be re-signing him for 2014, but the Bears are making a concerted effort to try to bring back Tillman. Still, there's a chance the economics won't work out, as Tillman could have other suitors willing to pay more than Chicago. The Bears did some work in re-signing free agents, such as defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, cornerback Kelvin Hayden along with center Roberto Garza, to cap-friendly deals. Negotiations to re-sign McCown have moved along slowly, which means there's a chance the Bears could lose him if another team gives the backup an opportunity to win a starting job. There's interest from both sides in re-signing Williams, and talks are expected to continue over the weekend.

What to expect: At this point, it's unknown where Chicago's pro personnel department has rated its own unsigned free agents against what else is available on the market. So count on the Bears waiting to see what the market value for their own players is before moving to re-sign them, which is actually a smart move that will keep them from overpaying. The Bears aren't expected to overspend on big names in free agency, but general manager Phil Emery has been known in recent years to make a couple of surprise moves. The Bears would like to infuse youth on defense, but that could prove to be a pricey proposition in free agency for a team with limited cap space. They do have the flexibility to free up cash by cutting players such as Julius Peppers, or restructuring Jay Cutler's deal, which includes a base salary of $22.5 million in 2014.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating Saturday with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents, but deals can’t be executed until Mar. 11 at 3 p.m. CST, when the new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents and their chances of returning to the team in the second part of our week-long series.

Melton
2014 free agent: Henry Melton

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: Three games (three starts); five tackles, two quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.

2013 salary: $8.45 million base salary, $4,725 workout bonus -- $8,454,725 cash value.

Outlook: Once the negotiating window opens up Mar. 8, Melton fully expects to start discussing potential deals with other teams. That expectation comes as a result of talks with the Bears that haven’t quite gone the way Melton’s representatives would have hoped, which is understandable considering he’s coming off a torn ACL and a recent arrest, not to mention concerns about his level of commitment. Bears coach Marc Trestman has raved about Melton’s rehabilitation, and there’s a desire on the team’s part to bring him back for 2014. But with the team tight against the cap, Melton can’t expect to receive a deal anywhere near the $8.45 million franchise tender he signed in 2014, coming off a Pro Bowl season. Melton will have some suitors, and there’s a chance he could come back to Chicago at a reduced rate.

2014 free agent: Zack Bowman

Position: Cornerback

2013 statistics: 16 games (seven starts); 49 tackles, three interceptions (one touchdown), 10 pass breakups, two tackles-for-loss and three special-teams tackles.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary, $65,000 signing bonus and $5,245.00 workout bonus -- $785,425 cash value.

Outlook: Bowman is expected to test free agency, but the Bears want him to return. At 29 years old with 23 career starts over six seasons, Bowman will probably generate interest from teams in need of depth at the cornerback position. The Bears were pleased with how Bowman performed when he replaced Charles Tillman in the second half of 2013, although it’s unknown if the club is willing to offer the six-year NFL veteran anything above a league-minimum contract. Bowman’s leverage would increase if Tillman leaves the Bears via free agency. Bottom line: The Bears are a better team with Bowman on the roster in 2014. It wouldn't take much to keep him in Chicago, but he is coming off a productive season. That is an important factor to remember.

Wright
2014 free agent: Major Wright

Position: Safety

2013 statistics: 15 games (15 starts); 117 tackles (97 solo), two interceptions, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles.

2013 salary: $1.323 million base salary and $5,075 workout -- $1,328,075 cash value.

Outlook: After a solid showing in 2012, Wright came into the 2013 season with high expectations but regressed to the point at which there’s a perceived need at the safety position. While it appears Wright can be salvaged, it’s expected he’ll test the market because the Bears don’t appear inclined to offer anything more than a veteran minimum type of deal. Wright possesses the skill set to be a solid starter for the Bears moving forward, but his lack of consistency has become such a liability the Bears are likely strongly considering replacing him.

Wootton
Wootton
2014 free agent: Corey Wootton

Position: Defensive line

2013 statistics: 16 games (15 starts); 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five pass breakups, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 4.5 tackles-for-loss.

2013 salary: $1.323 million base salary and $5,600 signing bonus -- $1,328,600 cash value

Outlook: The Bears' talks with Wootton have likely not surpassed the exploratory phase after the versatile defensive lineman underwent hip surgery in the offseason. It’s simply too early to tell when Wootton will be fully recovered from the procedure, although given Wootton’s work ethic and physical fitness level, he could be ready to return to the field in June. Wootton proved in 2013 that he can be both a viable defensive end and tackle. The ability to bounce inside and line up at tackle should aid Wootton (seven sacks in 2012) when he enters free agency. Wootton is a talented player with impressive size (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) who is extremely well-liked in the locker room. But the Bears will probably wait to see how they address defensive line in free agency and the draft before they make a final decision on the still-recovering Wootton. He could be off the market before the draft concludes in early May, but the Bears don’t seem to be in a rush.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Because of everything going on at the NFL combine, we had to push back the Bears Twitter mailbag to Monday.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.

Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:

Countdown to Combine: Bears

February, 19, 2014
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With the NFL combine starting Feb. 22, here's a look at Chicago's positions of need and which prospects the Bears might be taking a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance.

Position of need: Safety

The Bears made changes in the starting lineup at the safety position more than 50 times under former coach Lovie Smith prior to last season, but it was expected in 2013 the turnover would finally come to an end.

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Wright
It did last season -- which was expected to be a breakout year -- with Major Wright and Chris Conte starting all but one game together. But the numbers say the Bears perhaps should've considered changes at the position because both safeties struggled tremendously. A team source said after reviewing tape from the season that there was "no explanation" for Conte and Wright's inconsistency.

"I saw with our safety play, and I'm sure that Major and Chris would agree, they did not play at the ability and capability level throughout the season that we would have expected," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I think they would be their own worst critics in this area; that they would have wanted more out of themselves."

Opposing quarterbacks generated a passer rating of 104.5 on passes thrown in Conte's coverage area, according to Pro Football focus, and the safety allowed a 21.5-yard average on 22 completions while surrendering four touchdowns, including the 48-yard scoring strike on fourth down from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb, which essentially ended Chicago's season. Wright performed worse, allowing a 77.8 completion percentage as quarterbacks produced a passer rating of 146.8 on throws his direction for five touchdowns.

In addition, Wright and Conte combined for 31 missed tackles.

Wright is a pending free agent, while Conte enters the final year of his original rookie contract. So it's almost a given the Bears will target at least one safety in May's NFL draft, while possibly adding to the position in free agency as well.

Three players Bears could be targeting

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: Played at a big-time program at Alabama, and Bears general manager Phil Emery has an affinity for SEC players because of the level of competition they face on a week-to-week basis. Clinton-Dix is already well-versed in directing somewhat of a pro-style defense, and is considered instinctive and fluid. The knock on Clinton-Dix so far has been a perceived lack of physicality, but he'll likely be a first-round pick, which might be too rich for the Bears.

Calvin Pryor, Louisville: Perhaps one of the more rounded safeties of this year's class, Pryor entered the draft early. Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong says the safety is one of the best players he's ever coached. Pryor produced 75 tackles and intercepted three passes last year, and possesses range comparable to Clinton-Dix. But he is perhaps a more physical player that will mix it up at the line of scrimmage against the run. Pryor might push Clinton-Dix to be the first safety taken, which again, might be too rich for the Bears at No. 14.

Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois: Not as big as the safeties listed above (5-11, 193), Ward caught the attention of scouts at the Senior Bowl and was named most outstanding defensive back of the week. Atlanta's staff lined up Ward in multiple spots, and the safety didn't disappoint. An aggressive hitter, Ward picked off seven passes and broke up 10 more at Northern Illinois, and has started games at cornerback. He projects as a second- or third-round pick, which might be the ideal range for the Bears.
With the season over and the cupboard bare in terms of Chicago Bears news, I decided to try my first Twitter mailbag to answer some of the questions you guys had.

Throughout the offseason, we'll try to knock out at least one of these per week.

So let's get into this:


Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 15
Preseason power ranking: 13

Biggest surprise: The Chicago Bears' offensive line didn't exactly set the world on fire, but for the first time in recent memory the group wasn't the weak link of the team. The Bears revamped the offensive line by adding four new starters: Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson. The group's efforts, combined with a more quick-hitting passing game, resulted in just 19 sacks for QB Jay Cutler, his lowest total since 11 with Denver in 2008. The offensive line in 2013 displayed more consistency than any at other time in Cutler's time in Chicago, but the group struggled at inopportune times and often was aided by Cutler and Josh McCown getting rid of the ball quickly. Still, this year's group laid a foundation it can build on.

Biggest disappointment: New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will unfairly take criticism for the defense's failures in 2013. Coming off a 2012 campaign in which the defense ranked No. 5 overall and in the top 10 against the run and the pass, the unit in 2013 surrendered the most rushing yards (2,583) and points (478) in franchise history. Injuries played a major role. They cost the team a combined 72 missed games, 43 among starters alone. In recent history, the defense was the one facet that Chicago could always count on. But that wasn't the case in 2013. What's most surprising is how quickly the defense's decline came after being the team's backbone for so many years.

Biggest need: The defense is badly in need of a total makeover, and the bulk of that work should be done on the defensive line. It's safe to say now that former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin hasn't lived up to expectations and franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton is overrated. The Bears also have to decide whether to move forward with Julius Peppers, who is expensive and starting to show his age (will be 33 on Jan. 18), while finding a way to bring back Corey Wootton. The back end needs help, too. The deals for cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are up, as is the contract for safety Major Wright. The Bears also need to bring in competition to push underperforming safety Chris Conte.

Team MVP: Running back Matt Forte quietly put together his best season as a pro, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,933) and career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches, 594 yards). Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may have made flashier plays, but make no mistake: Forte is what makes the offense go. Cutler called Forte the best all-around back in the league, and he definitely made a strong case for it in 2013. A true three-down back, Forte threatened defenses as a runner and a receiver. On passing downs, Forte was also key in the team's protection schemes.


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