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
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
"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."
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