Tag Archives: Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler Stops by Practice before Confronting Lazarevic

Jay Cutler stopped to talk to the press today, doing his best Nathan Drake impression.

Jay Cutler is Nathan Drake

Jay Culter: "Glad we signed Roy, sad to see Greg go, and Sully really is an ass."

Among other things, he told Dave Haugh he was glad the November 7 game in Philedelphia is a night game so he has “time to rest after finding Iram of the Pillars.”

Thanks to the Chicago Tribune for the break. You can read the real story here.

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Was Kyle Orton the Drummer for Nirvana?

A big break from my usual posts, but this is HUGE news.

So I was on Metallica.com today to listen to “Tomorrow Never Comes” (they actually have six songs up in preparation for the release of “Death Magnetic” this Friday), and there was a picture of Dave Grohl, who was doing a radio show with the Metallicatz.  And I noticed he looks just like Kyle Orton (or rather, Kyle Orton looks just like Dave Grohl).

Seriously.  Check it:

Grohl:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyle:

This is my favorite Orton pick, though he doesn’t look quite as Grohlish:
Right now I’m a bigger Dave Grohl fan than Kyle Orton.  Though if he takes on linebackers like he did Sunday night I’m open to rethinking that position.

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Da Bears 2008 Draft: A Tedious Analysis

This was an important draft for the Bears. More important than most, if only because they needed a good showing to become a contender again in only the second season since they went to the Super Bowl. As I’ve stated before, the 2007-2008 offseason has been brutal for Chicago, and I thought they needed to acquire “one running back, one offensive tackle, one offensive guard, one wide receiver, and one strong safety.” And that was at a minimum.

Well, since I wrote that the Bears did sign a couple of wide receivers; Marty Booker, who I do believe will be a valuable addition to the team, though he no longer has the skill to solve their wide receiver problems, and Brandon Lloyd, who may make a play or two but whom I do not believe will have any kind of noticeable impact.

I had my doubts about Jerry Angelo’s ability to make the Bears a contender again out of this draft. I think the Bears are pretty good at drafting players. Certainly not the best, but formidable at worst. But their forte is not drafting stars (with a few notable exceptions). What they excel at is drafting solid role players. Get enough role players and you can win a lot of games with just a few premier players. But the Bears don’t need role players. They need starters. And I was doubtful of their ability to deliver.

It’s really impossible to tell how well they did one day after the draft. In all fairness, it’s practically impossible to tell one year after the draft, regardless of how well (or bad) the draft looked through that first year. But I will say that I’m pretty excited.

I honestly think the Bears had a reasonably intelligent draft. There were a few exceptions, but in all I think they did a good job of picking players that they needed. I’m not a big fan of the philosophy that teams should always draft the best player on the board. I always thought you should draft for need first. And it seems like the Bears did pass on better players at a couple of points because there was a player who filled a more pressing need. And that made me happy.

I was a little surprised that they didn’t draft a quarterback. Not disappointed, though. I know people always want to point the finger at Grossman, but there were several more important positions than quarterback in this draft. It doesn’t matter who you draft, especially in this years weak QB crop, if you don’t have a good line and you don’t have a running game, a rookie is just not going to make a difference.

Steve Young tends to disagree. He summed up the unintelligence of the national football press succinctly with this comment on why they should’ve picked Brian Brohm instead of Matt Forté.

“So they feel better about Rex Grossman than they do about Cedric Benson? They’re already giving up on (Benson).’’

Uh, yeah! In all fairness to Young, there are 31 other teams so he probably didn’t get to watch much Chicago football. And he’s a quarterback so he has an obvious bias. But it was an incredibly stupid remark. Grossman lead them to the Super Bowl. Benson sucks and doesn’t want to work hard to fix it. This is a no-brainer, dude.

Anyway, here we go. Pick by pick:

With the first round pick, the Bears took Vanderbilt offensive tackle Chris Williams at number fourteen. I love the fact that they took a left tackle with their first pick. I was ready to give up on next year, and possibly the whole organization, if they didn’t draft an offensive lineman in the first round, and left tackle made the most sense. As I’ve heard several times already (so I can’t take credit for this idea), it allows them to move Tait to right tackle, a position where he’s much better. So it’s almost like getting two starters for the price of one. By far the smartest thing they could have done.

However, I was a little surprised that they chose Williams. Only two offensive lineman had been taken to this point (number one pick Jake Long and twelve pick Ryan Clady) so they pretty much had their choice of the litter. Williams was the probably the most logical choice just because he was the best natural left tackle, and if Clady was still on the board my guess is they would have taken him. But Williams has had some injury issues, and the Bears have been burned by critical injuries pretty much every year but 2006 lately (and they still had their share in ’06). Many people say he’s too “finesse” to get the job done in the NFL, but he seems like a very intelligent player with talent to spare, and if he can stay healthy he should make an immediate impact from week one. But that little health caveat did set the tone for the whole draft, as the Bears almost seemed intent on sabotaging their team as they picked one injury-saddled player after another. If things work out they’ll look like geniuses for drafting players higher teams took passes on. If the 2010 team consists of twenty five or so Mike Browns, it may not have one Lovie Smith or Jerry Angelo.

In between the Bears first and second round pick the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall. Everybody in Illinois felt gypped. I’m glad they didn’t spend the fourteenth pick on him, but would it have killed them to trade up just once? Just this one time?

However, they did draft a running back with their second round pick, Matt Forté from Tulane. I’m not sure I ever watched a Tulane football game before, but he seems like a solid pick. Keeping with the “if he stays healthy” motive, he does have some health concerns, but is extremely versatile. Part of the Bears offensive problems last year wasn’t just that the running game couldn’t get going, it was that the running backs couldn’t do anything else right when they weren’t carrying the ball. Cedric Benson can’t catch and doesn’t seem interested in blocking at all (though in fairness he doesn’t really seem interested in doing much other than collecting money. He would have been a great first round pick . . . for the IRS). Adrian Peterson is a better blocker but certainly not an every down back and can’t catch. And Garrett Wolfe seems like a great player but is too small to block and not elusive enough to play a majority of snaps. So teams pretty much don’t have to worry about the backfield.

Forté should give them reason to worry. He is not an elusive back, but the Bears don’t require one for their offense. Their offense is based upon a tough, between the tackles, downhill running back. But Forté was an excellent blocker and receiver in college, essentially giving them another lineman and an extra option in case things go south in a hurry. And I heard he can sell the fake handoff very well. Jerry Angelo isn’t making any bold predictions about him being a “special back” (thank goodness), but does seem to think he can play three downs. I would still like to see da Bears make a real effort to sign Shaun Alexander, but if he’s right, and if both Williams and he stay healthy, the offense will improve immediately.

With the seventh pick in the third round, they chose Williams’ teammate, wide receiver Earl Bennett. Like Forté, he was projected to go much lower in the third round. His big knock against him is his lack of athleticism and speed, which would certainly seem to be crucial in the NFL. He was very successful in college, but many questioned whether he would be able to get enough separation at the pro level to be a solid wide receiver. NFL.com did project the Bears would pick a WR at this spot, but they thought it would be a speedy deep threat to take the place of Bernard Berrian.

Bernard Berrian was overpaid by Minnesota (even though I said his loss would “cripple the Bears”). But he was much better than anything the Bears are going to get in the third round, especially in the short term. But the Bears biggest problem is not the deep pass. Grossman and Orton both have strong arms, and Devin Hester and Mark Bradley can beat most corners deep. Their biggest problem in the passing game was, by far, a lack of a possession receiver who would force the cornerbacks to play inside, take the attention of a linebacker or two, and give Rashied Davis room to roam. They did a good job of buffering that problem with the addition of Marty Booker, but they still needed help. Bennett may not be a player who would be all the team needs, but when combined with Marty Booker he seems like a player who can make an immediate impact. Despite a lack of speed, he utilized excellent route-running, instincts, and catching abilities to become the SEC’s career leader in receptions . . . without playing his senior year.
Here’s what Sprint’s NFL Mobile has to say about the 70th player chosen in the draft: “Often characterized as one of the 2008 draft’s top possession receivers, Bennet shows too much wiggle and strength in breaking tackles after the catch to be lumped into this category.” Pretty hard not to be excited by that.

Suddenly I feel a lot better about the Bear’s offense.

Unfortunately, the good-fuzzy feeling came to a screeching halt. The Bears had a second third round pick twenty spots later, which they used on Arkansas defensive tackle Marcus Harrison. I understand why they felt the need to draft a defensive tackle. This position, which two years ago looked like one of the finest collections of players ever assembled for one team, has been in constant flux. Tank Johnson was in so much trouble the Bears finally released him, Dusty Dvoracek was being counted on and promptly got hurt, and Tommie Harris, one of the best tackles in the league, never really fully recovered from his season-ending injury in 2006. So it certainly makes sense to add some depth here. But it didn’t make any sense at all to do it with this guy. He seems talented enough; if ability was all he was drafted for he probably would have gone in the first half of the second round. But he started with one strike against him, as many felt he didn’t always play as hard as he should have. And then he started getting hurt (surprise, surprise). In 2006 he hurt his knee and had a concussion, and in 2007 he injured his ACL. Soon after his ACL injury he was arrested for possession of marijuana and ecstasy.

I don’t want to be judgmental. Certainly there are worse things than being caught with these two relatively minor drugs, as Pacman Jones can attest. But some would question the sanity of a person trying to add depth to a position plagued by injuries and legal problems by drafting someone who’s been hurt and in trouble with the law.

With their fourth round pick, Chicago picked up Craig Steltz with the 120th pick in the draft. I would have preferred they take a safety with their previous pick, as strong safety is a mess and Mike Brown can’t seem to get through a full season. But only two safeties were chosen between Harrison and Steltz, so I guess Angelo thought it wouldn’t matter too much to wait an extra pick. Steltz does seem like a solid player; he was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award, and played for LSU so he went up against some pretty stout offenses. His college career showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time; he intercepted six passes last year and in 2006 became the first player in LSU’s prestigious history to intercept a pass in four straight games. He also had a sack and five tackles for losses last year, so he can be used as an extra rusher if the need arises.

I was optimistic that Adam Archuletta would play well for the Bears last year, and he didn’t. It was probably one of the biggest reasons why the defense was so bad. With the Tampa-2 defense, if you don’t have solid safeties the “bend but don’t break” defense turns into allowing one first down after another. It does bother me that someone both Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were so high on could be such a mistake; we’ve come to expect that somewhat on offense but defense is supposed to be the strength of the ball club. Hopefully they did a better job of analyzing Steltz or it will be a long season for the Bears defense.

With their first sixth round pick, the Bears chose corner back Zackary Bowman out of Nebraska. Another pick I don’t understand at all. First, corner back is one of the Bears’ best positions. They have two starters who have become perennial Pro-Bowl candidates in Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman, Daniel Manning could be a starter on most teams, Trumaine McBride is a prospect any team would be proud to have, and Corey Graham is very solid on special teams and looks like he might end up being a pretty decent CB in his own right. So I’m not sure exactly what they want to do with Bowman. And he’s yet another player with injury problems (for those of you keeping track at home, this is the fourth out of six players). In the last two years he’s had a torn ACL, ruptured right patella tendon, and a hamstring injury. The Bears have been very good at using these types of picks to bolster one of the league’s best special teams units. My only thought is that was the purpose of this pick. Otherwise it seems to be more or less a wasted pick to me (of course, that’s what we thought of Trumaine McBride and Corey Graham).

Their next pick pretty much falls into the same category. With the 158th pick, and their second of the round, they chose Michigan State tight end Kellen Davis. The Bears already have one of the best tight end combinations in Desmond Clark and future star Greg Olsen. And even though Kellen Davis is a large, strong individual with a lot of natural skill, he’s not very fast and has poor work ethic. This pick just screams “return blocker” to me.

The Bears did not have a sixth round draft pick, but did take five – five – out of the seventh round. Most of these seem to be prospects for depth, which is pretty much the going assumption even if you don’t know anything about them. Ervin Baldwin is a defensive end from Michigan State who is very fast and played very well in the Big Ten. However, many feel he is too small to fight against the NFL’s O-lineman in the trenches. Look for him to be used primarily on passing downs and try to use his speed to run around the corner to get to the quarterback.

Chester Adams is a guard from Georgia who can also play tackle. Probably selected for this versatility, he’s small and doesn’t always play with passion. I’m a little disappointed that this was the only guard they drafted.

Joey LaRocque is an outside linebacker from Oregon who was an integral part of their rushing defense. He thinks of himself as a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, but lacks the top speed necessary to excel with that skill in the NFL. The Chicago Tribune thinks this was a special teams pick.

Kirk Barton is an offensive tackle from Ohio State, the fightin’ Buckeyes! He started all four years of college; pretty impressive when considering two of those four teams went to the BCS Championship Bowl. He’s more of a pass blocker than a run blocker and apparently didn’t have great combine numbers but makes up for it with heart and toughness. Another one of the Bear’s injury gambles, a surgically repaired knee probably kept him from going higher. Sprint’s NFL Mobile thinks he “will challenge for playing time early in his NFL career, if the opportunity arises.” For being taken at such a low pick, he has the potential to be a real steal for the Bears. I’m excited about this pick.

Finally, the Bears last pick was Marcus Monk from Arkansas. A large, strong wide receiver, he starred in the SEC but is relatively slow and had some knee injuries, which almost kept him from being drafted. However, he could be a valuable addition as a specialty player in the red zone. He may not make a name for himself in the NFL, but he’ll probably be on a highlight reel or two before his days are done. A very solid pickup for the fifth to last person drafted.

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The Starting Rotation and Tampering with Briggs

Well, in case you noticed (and you probably didn’t) I completely blew it.  My prediction was dead wrong.  Entirely incorrect.  Not even remotely accurate.  That’s right; my preseason pick for the final two starting spots was bad.

I said Lieber and Marshall would get the spots, Dempster would end up in the bullpen, and Marquis would be out the door.  Dempster and Marquis won the two positions.  Oops.

So the rotation is Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Hill, and Jason Marquis.  Not too shabby.  Of course, Rich Hill is really the number 3 starter, but he’s going to pitch in the fourth spot to separate the two lefties.  That’s smart.

And there are options in case this whole thing goes awry.  Lieber is going to be the long man in the bullpen, and I’m sure the Cubs will hold on to him.  And Sean Marshall didn’t have a bad spring, 3.65 ERA with 9 Ks and 6 walks in 12 innings, so he could be a good call-up (or trade bait) later on.  And that’s good, because I’m still not sold on Marquis and Dempster hasn’t pitched 100 innings since 2003 and hasn’t pitched 200 innings since (gulp!) 2000.  That’s a shoulder injury waiting to happen.

In all, I’m happy that Dempster’s getting the chance to start, and Marquis has had a great spring, so things are looking good for the Cubbies’ front five.  And Wood is going to close, so at least I got that one right.

Finally, da Bears may have had a rough year, but at least they did better than the 49ers.  Turns out they tried to illegally sign Lance Briggs by talking to him before he was a free agent.  This is going to cost them a fifth round pick, and they have to swap third round picks with the Bears.

What’s worse than getting caught engaging in illegal conversations with a free-agent target?  Not being able to sign him once he hits the market.  Ouch.  That’s like getting a penalty for holding the guy who sacks the quarterback.  At that point, you just can’t do anything right.

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Why Losing Berrian Cripples the Bears

Jerry Angelo’s good graces are quickly wearing out.

I don’t hold letting Thomas Jones go against the Bears.  It was obvious he would not be back before the ’06 campaign began and I understand why they had to stick by their #4 draft pick.  But I thought that Angelo had gambled this season on the assumption that Benson was going to be, in his words, a “special back.”  And I had serious doubts about Benson’s abilities and durability.  Sure enough, he sucked and got hurt.

And he’s not going to get better.  He let everybody know he was offended by the fore-coming competition in next year’s camp, and repeatedly claims he was just starting to “turn the corner” before he got hurt.  If it takes you over ten games a year to start to “turn the corner” then you are a worthless primary back.  There’s just no other way around that.

So the offense is seriously handicapped by a poor runner who has made it very clear he is not motivated to work to get much better.

Now Jerry Angelo, in all his infinite wisdom, has let Bernard Berrian, the only real receiving threat we had, go.  To Minnesota, no less.  After he sent Muhsin Mohammad, our second best receiver, packing.  So not only did we lose the only two real good receivers on the team, but the premier receiver went to a division foe, whom we already lost to twice, so we can see him run all over us two more times every year until 2014.  Smart.

And while the Bears waited to see if Berrian would re-sign, every other receiver on the open market capable of taking his place signed with other teams.  There are few good ones left to sign, and probably not any number one receiver, which means the Bears now have to either trade for or draft one.

The problem with trading is that’s not really a viable option.  There’s not anybody on the team who is simultaneously dispensable and tradable for a starter.

The problem with the draft is there just aren’t enough picks to solve their offense problem.  We need a new offensive line.  Badly.  There are several tackles that are legitimate number one picks, so I felt decent that we could at least do a decent job there.  But now one has to wonder if the Bears are going to be able to spend a number one draft pick on them because there are so many other holes to fill.

The reason why losing him makes so much difference is because it’s like losing two players.  Berrian forces the defense to go man-to-man and keep a safety in the area.  This makes Bradley, Hester, and Davis (especially), all more effective.  He would ease some of the strain from the offensive line by forcing a linebacker into coverage to make up for the safety going deep.  And he would allow a better running back, but not a necessarily great running back, to have more room to roam.

The problem isn’t really that we don’t have good receivers, it’s the receivers we have won’t work without some serious reordering of the offensive alignment.  We’re left with three capable choices; Mark Bradley, Devin Hester, and Rashied Davis.  None of these are possession receivers.  There’s some thought that Bradley could replace Berrian as a deep threat, leaving only a possession receiver position to fill.  But Bradley has underperformed so far and is prone to injury.  I’m not buying it.  Hester is going to take some more time in the oven before he becomes the receiver he’s capable of becoming.

Rashied Davis is the closest thing we have to a possession receiver, but he is most useful as a third or fourth receiver on the field.  I like this guy a lot.  But his best work is running options and finding an open spot, and in order to accomplish that the field must be spread out.  That means you have defenders focused on deep receivers, a possession receiver, and a receiver around the line of scrimmage, causing holes in the secondary for Davis to exploit.  Bradley and Hester can be covered man-to-man downfield (at least for now; eventually Hester will command more attention but I don’t think that will happen this year), allowing the safeties to concentrate on zone defenses in the mid-field.  But what’s worse, the Bears don’t have much of a short-field threat to occupy the linebackers.

Their best options to get the defense to focus on the passing game near the line of scrimmage are their tight ends.  The Bears do have very, very good tight ends.  But they can’t use them in three receiver sets.  Benson is terrible in the passing game all-around; he can’t catch and he can’t block.  So since Benson can’t catch or block, you’re almost required to have fullback Jason McKie stick around in the backfield to help with pass protection.  This is especially true if the offensive line isn’t fixed.  But he’s not much good catching; since he can’t be counted on to run quick-outs and screens consistently well he is of no help keeping defenders occupied near the line.  And with both a half-back and a full-back on the field, you don’t have enough players for three wide receivers and a tight-end.  So you’re left with two choices; do you keep Benson in the backfield all by himself so you can occupy the middle of the field with a tight end, even though that probably won’t allow Davis enough time to find an opening?  Or do you keep Benson and McKie in the backfield together, essentially leaving the entire middle of the field to Davis alone?  Neither of these are choices conducive of a successful passing attack.

The result is that right now defenses can focus man-to-man down the field, let their safeties zone in the mid field, and let their linebackers zone closer to the line.  Since the Bears don’t have a running game good enough to worry the linebackers, the area between the line and Bradley/Hester is going to be pretty crowded with defenders.  Davis doesn’t work so well in these situations, and relying on Olsen/Dez Clark is going to make the offense one-dimensional and predictable.

The good news is the Bears re-signed Lance Briggs.  Excuse me if I don’t jump for joy.  Lance Briggs is a good player, and we would have missed him if he left.  I’m glad he stayed.  But we have a good linebacker to take his place, Jamar Williams, and another good linebacker just in case, Michael Okwo.  Optimally both Briggs and Berrian are signed, but we certainly needed Bernard Berrian much, much more.

The Bears are obviously thinking their defense will be able to carry the team.  But they have done nothing to improve it.  They have kept the status-quo, and that didn’t work last year so it’s moronic to think it will this year.  I like the Bears defense, but it’s simply not good enough to carry a poor offense, as it was in 2005.  Strong safety Adam Archuleta is terrible, so if Mike Brown gets hurt again (and going on precedent that’s more of a “when” than an “if”) their safeties are in trouble.  The problem is their offense is in such shambles it’s hard to justify a high pick for any defensive player.

And they can’t really win with the number one draft pick.  It has to go to either a running back or offensive tackle.  But if you don’t draft a running back number one then you’re probably left with Benson, who’s a detriment to both the running game and passing game.  And if you don’t draft a tackle number one then you’re dooming your running back to failure.  It’s a catch-22.  Again, with Berrian it wasn’t so much a problem.  You draft a tackle number one and find a serviceable running back.  But now serviceable probably won’t cut it.

So let’s do the math:  starting-caliber players required are one running back, one offensive tackle, one offensive guard, one wide receiver, and one strong safety.  All the good free agents are gone.  There’s not enough depth to trade for these positions without opening another hole just as big somewhere else.  And you probably only get two people capable of starting right away from the draft (if they’re better at the draft then they’ve been previously).

And this is a conservative estimate.  It is based upon the assumption that:  a.) either Grossman or Orton are going to be a viable quarterback, b.) only two new starters on the offensive line will make it good again, c.) Urlacher’s back won’t be as problematic next year as it was last year, d.) Bradley doesn’t get hurt and does end up being a viable deep threat, e.) Mike Brown stays healthy, and f.) the defensive line finally stays healthy for a whole year.  I’m not entirely confident in any of these assumptions.

Jerry Angelo said he didn’t want to pay too much for Bernard Berrian because it might handicap them in a few years.  But without him it may be a few to overcome the handicap of not signing Berrian.

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Many Words about the Cubs and Bears, and Some Love for Grossman

I’ve been talking a lot about politics lately, and I’m sure I’ll have some more stuff to say after tonight’s debate.  But I haven’t spent much time at all on sports, and it’s been a busy week for sports in Chicago.  No, I’m not talking about the Ben Wallace trade.  An NBA man I am not.  Rather, da Bears have been active, and it’s spring training.

I must say that I’m pretty excited about this coming baseball season.  I’m not sure Dempster’s World Series prediction is completely justified, especially with the Mets being the Mets (then again, the Mets are the Mets), but they should have a pretty decent shot of making the playoffs as the division champion or wild card.  It’s always hard to say a team’s a lock for the playoffs in baseball, because the season is so long and the playoffs are pretty exclusive, especially when you compare baseball to other sports (you have to be pretty bad to not make the playoffs in hockey and basketball).   But I it’s obvious the Cubs are better this year than last, when they won 85 games and the Central Division Championship.

The fifth spot in the rotation worries me a little bit.  Right now there’s competition for the fourth and fifth starters between Ryan Dempster, Jon Lieber, Jason Marquis, Sean Gallagher, and Sean Marshall.  Like I said before, when you have a lot of competition for a spot, it usually means there’s not a solid choice.  A team will usually spin it to say there are several strong candidates, but that’s typically not the case.  I certainly don’t mean to imply that a couple of good players competing for a spot is bad; competition usually makes the winner more productive and depth is often just as important as who’s starting.  However, when you start getting three or four players competing for a spot then usually there’s not a solid starter between them.  Most teams are not going to have three starting-caliber players for a position.  It doesn’t make sense; it’s a waste of money, and at least one of those is not going to get much playing time and will probably start to get disgruntled.

Pitchers are a little bit different than position players, because you need so many of them.  But to have five guys trying to pitch into two starting spots makes me nervous about the quality we’re going to get from the winners.  I’m sure out of the five at least one of them will have a solid year, so the fourth spot doesn’t concern me much.  But the Cubs already had Dempster, Marquis, Gallagher, and Marshall, and still found it necessary to sign Jon Lieber, so I think even they have their doubts about what kind of contributions they can expect out of the five spot. Fortunately, most teams’ fifth starter is kind of a “mop up” guy, and overall the Cubs do have an above average, if not excellent, rotation.

My preseason prediction, and mind you that there hasn’t even been an exhibition game yet so don’t hold me to it, is Sean Marshall will be the fourth starter, Jon Lieber will be the fifth starter, Gallagher will go back to the minors in case Lieber gets hurt (he has been hurt a lot the last few years), and Dempster will end up back in the bullpen.  Marquis’ days in the Cubs organization are probably numbered; though he might end up in the ‘pen he will probably be traded or released at some point.  He is an inning hog, but there’s not really room for him and he’s no better than any of the other four, so there’s not really any reason to keep him and he could be a valuable addition to a team lacking a fifth starter right now.  Also, Marshall is a pretty solid prospect and Gallagher does show promise, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of them get traded by the end of the year.

Despite the competition “problem” that often manifests itself in a crowded field, there are three people (Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, and Bob Howry) competing for the closer’s spot, and I feel very good about this.  First, all three of them are going to be valuable out of the bullpen, so it’s really more like a competition for the number one spot in the rotation then, let’s say, starting at second base.  I also think all three will do a very good job.  Lou Pinella is going to reward the position based upon spring training performances, but I think Kerry Wood should just be given the job.  I have a lot of faith that Kerry Wood will be an exemplary closer.  I also have a lot of faith that Bob Howry would be exemplary, but he is probably the best pitcher in the bullpen and I would hate to see him pigeon-holed into the closer’s role.  Many people feel the best reliever should be the closer, but there are many times in a game which you need a big out just to get to the closer.  If the game is close and bases are jammed with one out in the seventh, I’d much rather have Howry coming in than sitting there waiting for a lead in the ninth.  I think Carlos Marmol is an extremely talented pitcher who can compete with Howry for “best in the pen,” but he’s still very young and closing is the most mentally and emotionally challenging position in baseball.  If you have a one bad inning, you probably just single-handedly lost a game your team should have won.  And you might be expected to come out tomorrow with the game on the line again.  Closing can kill a kid’s confidence, and sometimes his whole career, and veterans should fill that role with very few exceptions.

Honestly, though, I really think Dempster should just close, as he’s done for three years now.  People claim he’s too inconsistent to close.  If you examine his performance, that’s simply not the case.  Dempster had 28 saves in 31 opportunities last year.  28-3 in close situations is not inconsistent.  Any team would love to have a closer who’s 28-3, and most don’t.  Over the last three years, he has 85 saves in 99 opportunities.  Compare that to the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, widely considered the best closer in the game right now, who has 107 saves in 118 opportunities (the Yankees have 56 more wins than the Cubs during that time, by the way).  That’s not a bad comparison at all.  Dempster got the “inconsistent” label because he struggled when he pitched in non-save situations.  The solution to that is easy; only pitch him in save situations.  Not getting enough work?  Have him throw BP.  Put him in during a blow-out.  I don’t really care how he gets his work in, but anybody who was 28-3 in close situations should be the closer the next year.  But I guess Dempster wants to start, and Pinella is rewarding his efforts with the opportunity.  He has worked very hard to for it, and I do hope he’s successful.

Overall, I feel very good about the pitching this year, and there are very few weak spots in the field, too.  Starting second baseman, Mark DeRosa, has had arrhythmia and might need an operation.  This is bad news, but the Cubs are pretty deep in the infield (I have no problems at all about starting Mike Fontenot), so as long as he’s not lost for very long (which he shouldn’t be) they’ll be okay.  The Cubbies have been entertaining trading for Brian Roberts all winter, and this may convince them to finally give up what the Orioles want for him.  He would be a great addition to the team and really push the Cubs over the edge, but he might only be around for a year or two and would probably cost Matt Murton and a couple other young guys to get him.  Murton doesn’t have a spot in the outfield right now, which makes me sad.  I love this guy, and hope he gets a chance to be the everyday right fielder at some point in the future.  Soriano in left, Fukudome in center, and Murton in right is an outfield that I would love to see for years to come.  Murton does have to work on his defense and show a little more consistency at the plate, but man, do I like him.

Center field is probably going to be weak offensively.  I just don’t think that Pie is going to turn into the player the Cubs have been touting him as for the last couple of years (Corey Patterson comes to mind).  But he is a great defensive player, so I’m happy to give him a shot.  The Cubbies should have a good enough offense to make up for him even if he drastically underperforms at the plate, and it’s important to have a strong defensive center fielder.

Da Bears I’m not so optimistic about.  They did not franchise Bernard Berrian, and I am very worried he won’t be back.  This could be fatal for them next year.  The Bears did sign Rex Grossman to a one-year deal to give him another shot (which I love, and will explain why in just a second), and I think that’s going to go a long way in convincing Berrian to stay.  But if he ends up leaving via free agency there’s not a lot of people for Sexy Rexy to throw to. (Or Kyle Orton.  What’s a good name for Orton?  Old Style Kyle?  He does look like a drunk.  If the Bears hadn’t released Muhsin Muhammad I’d go with “Orton Sees a ‘Moose’”, but most people probably wouldn’t get it anyway.)  They did resign Dez Clark, and between him and Greg Olsen have one of the better, if not one of the best, tight end groups in football.  Devin Hester is going to be a great wide receiver someday.  Someday.  I think he’ll always have problems dropping the ball, and you just don’t go from defense to great receiver in one year, especially if that one year is in the NFL.  Mark Bradley is a good receiver, but he’s hurt a lot and any team which lines even a healthy Bradley as their number one option is in a world of trouble.  Rashied Davis has made a few huge catches for the Bears, but he seems like a specialty receiver who’s really only effective in three or four receiver sets.  I think Bernard Berrian over-estimates his skill level, but he’s the best the Bears got, and by a lot.  Plus, he seems like a team guy.  Nobody ever complains about him, and he doesn’t have that WR affliction of running the mouth that seems so prevalent in the NFL today.

I appreciate that the Bears organization does not want to overpay for anybody.  I really do.  It makes good football sense and as a fan I’m happy they won’t be handicapped for years by a stupid signing in the heat of passion.  But the Bears need to just pay the guy what he wants, or at least let him test the market and start matching offers.  It’s going to be very, very difficult for them to get all the new people they need to be successful, and I’m one of the few individuals who’d actually be happy with Grossman, Orton, and Griese back next year.  On the Bears list of “needs” is a starting running back, at least one starting offensive tackle and one starting guard (and they could do with three new starting O-linemen), a solid backup safety capable of starting, (since Mike Brown’s always hurt) and a solid linebacker (Lance Briggs is as good as gone; they do have a couple of guys in place who can start, but you need a good contingency plan when you lose a guy like Briggs).  The draft is loaded with good offensive tackles; they should do well there.  But most teams could use a good starting running back or offensive linemen, so it’s not like we get our pick of the litter here.  It’s going to be tough to fill all these positions with quality people, let alone to do it and find a number one receiver.

I can just see it now; they lose Berrian, Benson takes 75% of the snaps, they aren’t able to adequately fix the offensive line, and then when the offensive sucks more than Monica everybody says they made a huge mistake staying with Grossman.  You almost have to wonder why he would want to be back.  People, Grossman is not the problem.  The QB play in general is not the problem.  But since everybody seems to have an anti-Rex bias, let’s try a little “hypothetical” thinking exercise, shall we?

Let’s say you’re the general manager of a football team, and you have to rebuild your offense.  Now let’s say last year the passing game was ranked, oh I don’t know, fifteenth in a league of thirty-two teams.  And let’s say your running game was ranked 30th, just for shits and grins.  And let’s say you have the oldest offensive line and NFL.com ranked them second to last in the conference and 29th overall.  Now, would you be in panic mode trying to get a new quarterback?  Would you think the reason why your offense is sub-par is a crappy passer?  There is no reason why almost any team should have a passing game ranked in the middle of the pack when they have no offensive line and no running game.  None.

Let me put it this way; teams with good running backs, good offensive lines, and bad quarterbacks don’t get their passing game ranked fifteenth in the league.  Teams with bad quarterbacks, bad offensive lines, and bad running backs get ranked at the very bottom in passing.  The very bottom.  We’re talking as low as, well, as low as the Bears offensive line and running game was ranked last year.  Teams with bad quarterback situations just don’t end up doing as well as the Bears did last year under the conditions which they had to work with.

Of course, that’s not going to stop people from complaining about the quarterback play because, let’s face it, people want to believe two things about the NFL:  First, the quarterback is a magical player who will transform any group of twenty-one other guys into a world champion just by showing up and giving a good motivational speech during half time ever now and then (the premise for every football movie ever made, save “Rudy”).  Secondly, the Bears will never, ever, ever have a quarterback who is good enough to play on a professional football team.

I’ll tell you this much though.  If the Bears let Berrian go, don’t find another number-one running back, and don’t dramatically improve the line in the offseason, Jesus Himself couldn’t quarterback this team to the playoffs unless somehow Jerry Angelo can convince Durga to play wideout.

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