- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Shockingly, the Bears are favored to win Sunday, which in and of itself should have the St. Louis Rams and everyone associated with the 1-10 team in an even deeper state of despair than they had to have been already.
How, after all, does one have any confidence in a team that has looked the way the Bears have since the bye week eight weeks ago (which, incidentally, should prompt some forensic testing, seeing as that was when the 2009 season expired)?
The Bears are poised to make changes, which is supposed to encourage us. Of course, we won't know for sure until kickoff Sunday; coach Lovie Smith employing some cagey coaching strategy by not disclosing the big Chris Williams' move from right to left tackle despite the fact that Jay Cutler, Ron Turner, Chris Williams and the guy at the guard shack have openly discussed it.
Word is also that Kevin Payne will be replacing perhaps the best athlete on the team in Danieal Manning at free safety in hopes that Steven Jackson will gain less than 300 yards against the Bears' defense.
Payne, you may recall, started the season at free safety (replacing preseason starter Craig Steltz), but was demoted after being torched on Aaron Rodgers' game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings in the season opener at Green Bay. Manning, who should have started against Green Bay but had multiple hamstring injuries, was then burned on Donovan McNabb's 48-yard pass touchdown to DeSean Jackson against Philadelphia two weeks ago, so now we're back to Payne.
There has been some general clamoring among the media and public alike, that somehow the Bears are hiding some more superstar young talent that could be getting valuable experience these last five games of the season.
Sad and hopeless as that sentiment is, you wouldn't mind seeing rookie defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, who has been glimpsed less than someone in the Witness Protection Program. And considering that defensive end Gaines Adams cost the Bears a second-round pick, it might be nice if he did a little something. Maybe give Kahlil Bell, who is averaging 20.3 yards per carry after one for 72 yards two weeks ago, a couple of carries. And if Devin Aromashodu doesn't get in for a few plays, Cutler might snap.
"Like I've said so many times, he's a different type of receiver, he's a different match-up out there, a little bit bigger guy, still has range on the deep balls," Cutler said of Aromashodu. "You can do some different stuff. You can throw the ball up, you can give him some back shoulder balls, get him down the seam, down the alleys. I'd love to see him out there but those other three guys haven't done anything wrong for them to lose their spots."
Johnny Knox has done very little wrong, but he has caught only three more passes in the last three games than Aromashodu. Then again, the offense has been on the field so infrequently lately, it's not like there has been a lot to go around.
As for the others like Gilbert, you have to figure coaches have seen enough of him in practice not to trust him yet with the big boys.
"Just play your best 11, that's my theory," said Charles Tillman, who seems to be recovered enough from his minor concussion to start Sunday.
"I saw a bright flash [of light]," Tillman said in describing what a concussion feels like, causing skeptics in the crowd to wonder if he was seeing the Bears' afterlife.
As for the best 11 theory, it's Smith's as well. But the Bears' best 11 have, if anyone has noticed, not been very good lately.
"Nothing against the young guys, but I'm not into playing for next year," said tight end Desmond Clark. "For selfish reasons, next year might not happen for me. Next year might not happen for a few of these guys, so it's all about playing for this year and we'll worry about next year, next year."
You can't blame Clark, who has caught only 11 passes all year in a reserve role, and missed four games because of injury. But Brown sees the bigger picture.
"You've got to see guys at some time," he said. "You have to see what you have with live bullets. You have to see what you have with a game on the line, not just preseason or OTAs or something like that. You have to see how they react in a real game. So if coach Smith and Mr. Angelo decide that's what they want to do, that's fine, that's what we go with, we'll see what they can do. We're going to need them to help sooner rather than later."
Unfortunately, it's too late for sooner. But it's never too soon for later.
Changes for Sunday's Bears' game, but it's not encouraging.