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1 Chicago Bears
Tim Layden
September 04, 2006
Coach Lovie Smith continues to emphasize defense, but it's time for Rex Grossman and the offense to pull their weight
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September 04, 2006

1 Chicago Bears

Coach Lovie Smith continues to emphasize defense, but it's time for Rex Grossman and the offense to pull their weight

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A defense that ranked second in the NFL last season will be even stronger, controlling games with speed and takeaways. The offense, which was effective on the ground in 2005 (eighth best in the NFL, led by Thomas Jones's 1,335 yards) but laughable in the air (31st, with overmatched rookie Kyle Orton at quarterback), will be revitalized by Rex Grossman, who has missed most of the last two seasons with injuries after Chicago drafted him in the first round.

Offense, the draft gods whispered to the Bears' brass and coach Lovie Smith last spring. This is my team, Smith told the gods. "All I heard was, 'You've got to draft all offense,'" Smith says. "Well, you know what? We like the way we're doing things, and we're going to keep doing them the same way." Chicago built defensive depth with its first five picks, sending the clear message that Smith's core philosophy of defense and running the ball remains in place.

The defense has played two full seasons in the Tampa Cover 2 system Smith learned while a Bucs assistant from 1996 through 2000 and then used as defensive coordinator of the Rams the next three seasons. The Bears believe in the scheme--during an eight-game winning streak last season they allowed only 8.5 points a game--even after it failed them in a 29--21 divisional playoff loss to Carolina last January.

"I hope teams think they have us figured out," says fifth-year defensive end Alex Brown, who had six sacks a year ago. "We're confident, we have a swagger, and it's hard to find a weak point on our defense. We expect to be dominant."

That starts with middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who has mixed feelings about the system. "The Cover 2 is not my favorite," says Urlacher. "Twenty-five or 30 times a game the middle linebacker has to drop 30 yards downfield, which is not fun. I feel that takes me out of the play sometimes. But I'm 6'4", and that makes me hard to throw over. And look all around at our defense: Man, speed kills. Everybody can run; everybody can make plays."

Yet it's delusional to assume that Chicago can win the North again without a passing game. The need to develop offensive balance became more urgent after Jones and fellow running back Cedric Benson, a 2005 first-round draft pick, went down with minor injuries and missed chunks of training camp.

Grossman, who has only seven NFL starts, is being counted on to produce and stay healthy. (He tore an ACL in '04 and broke an ankle in '05.) If he doesn't, veteran Brian Griese was acquired as a backup, dropping Orton to third on the depth chart. Olin Kreutz, the ninth-year center, says, "I haven't seen enough of Rex in games to tell you what he can do. What I can tell you is that when he walks in the huddle, people believe we're going to score. He's got the arm, the attitude. That thing they say good quarterbacks have? He's got it."

The Bears need it.



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