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2012 NFL Season Preview

CBSSports.com Staff
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By Mike Freeman | National NFL Insider

Offense

The Bears have introduced poison into their system -- willingly, gladly taken the needle and promptly injected with everyone watching. That's what the Bears did when they signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The risk is obvious. The potential reward is obvious. But the odds are, based on Marshall's past and predictable behavior, this move could blow up the offense and the team.

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There's no need to go down the list of Marshall's issues. They're well documented. The main thing you need to know is that the Broncos and Dolphins, both starved for talent, put him in an ejection seat. Marshall will do what Marshall does. He will score, be awe inspiring, demonstrate again that he's perhaps the second most physically imposing wide receiver in football behind Calvin Johnson. There will be ooohs and aaahhs, big catches and the usual pronouncements that his troubled days are behind him until the trouble comes back. And it always comes back.

The question, as always with Marshall, is when.

Defense

Coordinator Rod Marinelli transformed this unit from subpar to top 10, at least. There are the usual points and questions. Will Brian Urlacher's knee hold up? (Yes.) Will Julius Peppers still wreck offenses? (Yes and yes.) Can the defensive line get pressure on the thrower? (last year no -- this year probably). And there is no true clue to what the secondary will be like.

Most of this is positive for Chicago but in the end only one thing truly matters. Can the Bears stop Green Bay? It's the end-all question for this defense. And the answer is not yet.

Key changes

Roster Additions: WR Brandon Marshall, QB Jason Campbell, RB Michael Bush, LB Shea McClellin, WR Alshon Jeffery.

Roster Departures: RB Marion Barber, QB Nathan Enderle, DT Anthony Adams, OT Frank Omiyale.

Staff Additions: Phil Emery named general manager. Chris Ballard promoted to director of pro scouting. Marty Barrett promoted to director of college scouting. Coaching staff: Mike Tice named offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates quarterback coach, Tim Holt offensive line coach.

Staff Departures: GM Jerry Angelo. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

The team's two top draft picks in McClellin and Jeffrey were solid ones and could contribute immediately (and not just a little). What makes the Bears interesting to watch is that on the field while the team did add a dangerous piece of dynamite in Marshall, the roster of players remains mostly stable from last season.

The huge changes with the Bears are among the front office and coaching staff. This franchise is headed in a different direction and quickly. Gone are the reckless Martz offensive blocking schemes that get quarterbacks concussed, which means a protected Jay Cutler could have a huge year. In fact, if he stays healthy, that's almost a lock.

Coach Lovie Smith has pulled out all the stops with his staff and I think for the better. The Bears will be an aggressive offense and defense but, particularly on offense, they're going to play smarter.

X-Factor: Matt Forte

He's a total professional and that fact led to Forte never getting overly bitter about his contract situation. This is what we know about Forte: he's good, productive, a workhorse and is the perfect complement to Cutler. Forte keeps Cutler from becoming the Cutler of old where he slings the football into triple coverage. Forte gives Cutler an outlet, and if you combine Forte with that potentially explosive receiving group and a calmer Cutler you have the makings of an offense that could be one of the most dangerous in football. But only if Forte is there.

Lovie Smith

I've said this for years -- he's a very underrated coach. He often doesn't get much credit because of his soft-spoken nature and full-on embrace of the cliché. He doesn't play the media game and in some ways Smith pays a price for this. If he was a jackass or funny or bragged about stories of his coaching prowess (or leaked them) he'd get mad crazy respect. Instead, Smith is a quiet plodder: a Super Bowl run, playoff bursts here and there, conference title game appearances ... Smith consistently wins, yet he's rarely mentioned as one of football's better coaches when he certainly is.

The old nemesis

The Packers are always part of Chicago's storyline. As long as there is an NFL this will be true. The Bears are now in a race to catch the Packers and that was part of why the team took the risk of signing Marshall. While the Bears remained stodgy and slow the Packers became, almost overnight because of Aaron Rodgers, incredibly explosive. This made Chicago desperate and they remain so. The new regime will have to be extremely careful because desperate teams often make rash decisions that come back and bite in the ass.

The left tackle spot

It remains a huge issue. J'Marcus Webb will likely win the position but he's fairly terrible. Last season, according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 12 sacks. He was also flagged for basically one penalty a game.

Insider's Take

From an AFC scout: "There will be no average with this team. They are either going to be really, really good or implode. They're the only team in the NFL that I can see either in the Super Bowl or win four or five games. Some people think that about the Detroit Lions. That's not the case because they have a mentally stable guy at quarterback. I don't trust Cutler but I also recognize his incredible ability. Problem for Chicago you have one guy in Cutler who could implode and another guy in [Marshall] who could do the same."

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

The Chicago Bears moved away from the Mike Martz seven-step drop passing game that puts quarterbacks in harm's way, turning the offense over to Mike Tice. Tice will run the ball and throw from the three- and five-step drop game. Cutler has been sacked 75 times in 25 starts for the Bears -- it's a wonder he's still standing. Newly acquired wide receiver Brandon Marshall will command some form of rolled coverage about 50 percent of the time and Cutler will get more chances to run the ball or go the other way with the passing game.

Bears' Rivals: NFC North

2012 Preview • Schedule
Lions @ Bears: 10/22 (8:30 p.m. ET)
Bears @ Lions: 12/30 (1 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Packers @ Bears: 12/16 (1 p.m. ET)
Bears @ Packers: 9/13 (8:20 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Vikings @ Bears: 11/25 (1 p.m. ET)
Bears @ Vikings: 12/9 (1 p.m. ET)

RB Matt Forte and Michael Bush should see 350 run plays between them and Forte should top his 52 receptions from last year with a check-down game underneath the vertical stem of Marshall. Forte led the team in receptions last year but should be the third leading receiver on the team behind Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery hasn't beaten out Earl Bennett yet for the spot opposite Marshall, but whoever gets the assignment will see lots of off and soft coverage.

The offensive line gets criticized for poor pass blocking -- especially at left tackle -- but will be better under Tice's more conservative offense. Last year after Cutler went down with an injury Tice had a much bigger influence on the play-calling with backups Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown under center. The interesting thing about pass protection with the backup QBs is they were only sacked five times in 164 pass plays (1 for every 33). If Cutler gets that kind of protection he will have a career year.

The Bears 4-3 defense is the pride and joy of the Midway but was ranked 17th in the league last year and 28th against the pass. Julius Peppers sets the protection scheme and opponents will slide to him wherever he lines up. Look for more "spinner" looks in passing situations where Peppers is free to float around and rush from anywhere. He can really challenge the protection calls in this package.

The addition of first-round pick Shea McClellin to rush the passer opposite Peppers is a key to improving the defense. To get the most out of the rookie he needs to be a situational player and let Israel Idonije handle the run downs. The Bears gave up more than 100 yards rushing in eight games last season and went 3-5 in those games.

Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs can't do it alone, especially when you consider the Lions had 261 yards on the ground in two games vs. Chicago and they were the league's 29th-ranked rushing team. Two years ago the Bears got six sacks from Urlacher and Briggs but none last season. I expect the Bears to heat up the inside linebackers even in run situations to attack the running game behind the line of scrimmage and improve the pass rush.

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

New general manager Phil Emery took over for the fired Jerry Angelo and promptly put together a strong draft class.

Bears Draft Analysis

The Bears reinforced one of their strengths by adding a high-motor speed rusher to complement Julius Peppers on the defensive line with first-round pick Shea McClellin at No. 19 overall. While certainly overshadowed at Boise State, McClellin was a consistent difference-maker, moving back and forth between the defensive line and linebacker depending on where the Broncos needed him on that particular play.

I wasn't the only one impressed by his play on the strong side at the Senior Bowl. Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, who now coaches the position for the Vikings, worked with McClellin throughout the week of practice and was quite taken with the Boise State star.

Bears fans should be equally excited about the team's second-round pick, South Carolina wideout Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery posted spectacular numbers against elite SEC competition, but due to limited speed and agility as a route-runner he's best suited to operating as a possession receiver on the outside and as a complement to a playmaker. The trade for 2012 Pro Bowl MVP Brandon Marshall, of course, gives Chicago that playmaker, leaving Jeffrey to beat man coverage with his extraordinary body control and sticky hands.

The rest of the Bears' picks:

1st Round - No. 19 overall - Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State
2nd Round - No. 45 overall - Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
3rd Round - No. 79 overall - Brandon Hardin, S, Oregon State
4th Round - No. 111 overall - Evan Rodriguez, FB, Temple
6th Round - No. 184 overall - Isaiah Frey, CB, Nevada
7th Round - No. 220 overall - Greg McCoy, CB, TCU

 
 
 
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