Gettin' Trendy: Sleepers, surprises and flops come out in camp
The trendy pick: The Chiefs are on their way back
Why this pick makes sense:
Pioli is easily among the best personnel in the business. If he says quarterback Matt Cassel is worth a six-year, $63 million contract, then he probably is. It is a huge risk putting so much faith in a mostly unproven backup quarterback. But Pioli and first-year coach Todd Haley, who has Super Bowl experience with the Arizona Cardinals, are establishing an entirely new football culture within the organization and trusting themselves with Cassel.
Gone are the country club days of not holding all players to the same standards of professionalism. The perfect example: It took 2008 first-round pick Glenn Dorsey five days to pass the conditioning test that allowed him to begin practice. While his teammates practiced, the $22 million out-of-shape Dorsey had to go through humiliating conditioning drills on the sideline. The message was clear. No matter who you are or how much money you make, if you slack, you sit.
Also gone are the days of hiring re-tread coaches. And the Carl Peterson front-office that got passed by a younger, hungrier, more eager NFL generation is gone, too.
Let's not forget the importance of 44-year-old Clark Hunt, either. The son of Chiefs patriarch Lamar Hunt, Clark inherited the title of Chairman of the Board of the organization when his father died in 2006. He definitely has the ambition and energy to put his own stamp on the franchise.
Why it may not fly:
There has been a lot of attitude and complacency on this team, a product of the previous regime. That doesn't get better overnight. Veteran players are griping, Larry Johnson is hinting at wanting a trade and the talent holes are gaping.
The offensive line is mediocre: Gone is Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, the secondary is pitiful and the linebacking corps has been fortified with Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas -- proven players and leaders who are on their last NFL legs.
The club's sponsor should be Band-Aid.
And did we mention that the $63 million franchise quarterback never has started a playoff game or been a regular NFL starter?
So, will it happen?
The trendy pick: The Bears are going to shock the NFL world
This is a team that has needed only the slightest of jolts to make the leap from good to great. And Cutler is looking like he's it.
Because of a couple of off-field stories involving Cutler's uneasy departure from Denver and rumored squabble with Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher -- a name-calling episode that both players said never happened -- people forget about Cutler's talent.
He's the most productive quarterback the Bears have had since Jim Harbaugh in the early 90s (Yeah, it's been that bad for the Bears at the most important position on the field. Who'd you think I was going to say, Peter Tom Willis or Steve Walsh?) And he's possibly the most talented, ever.
On an otherwise good team, a quarterback can indeed make a huge difference, especially when that team plays defense and has a terrific running back, like the Bears do in Matt Forte. Simply put, if teams put eight defenders in the box like they did last year to stop Forte, Cutler will torch them.
Despite quarterbacking a bad Denver team, Cutler still threw for more than 9,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, while completing better than 60 percent of his passes.
Yes, Brandon Marshall sure helped, but Cutler is the real deal. The Bears could be, too, especially with the addition of Orlando Pace to protect Cutler, Forte available for play action and that defense shortening the field.
Why it may not fly:
It was the biggest question the Bears faced going into camp, the biggest question now and likely will be the question until someone proves otherwise.
Devin Hester can impact a game and Forte is decent out of the backfield. Tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen are efficient, but otherwise there's 2008 third-round pick Earl Bennett, who couldn't find the field last year, and the talented and unproven rookies, Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox. The Bears wideouts will scare no one.
One other thing. The Bears pride themselves on always playing great defense and certainly have Pro Bowl talent all over the field, with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nathan Vasher, Alex Brown, Charles Tillman and Tommie Harris.
It was that kind of talent that helped the Bears rank No. 1 in the league in scoring defense in 2005, and No. 3 in 2006, when the Bears advanced to the Super Bowl. But where has that defense gone? The last two seasons, the Bears have dropped to 28th and 21st in the league.
So, will it happen?
Award-winning Houston columnist John P. Lopez writes a blog and hosts a daily sports talk show on 790 AM in Houston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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