Commentary

A C.H.I.C.A.G.O. primer

Lift the fog of labor talks and get up to speed on all things Bears

Updated: July 26, 2011, 9:26 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

It's been so long since we talked football -- not labor negotiations, but actual football -- I find myself muddled in a fog, rather than my usual haze.

All I know is that as long as Mike McCaskey is in charge of the family business and Jay Cutler has his best gal Kristin by his side, everything's peachy in Bear Country.

What's that?

[+] EnlargeCutler
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireJay Cutler might be the most scrutinized player in the NFL.

Well, Tommie Harris is still around to provide levity and bust skulls, right?

Hmm, this will require some work to get back to speed, won't it?

Fear not, Bears fans, I'm here to help you get acclimated to football. And like the free-agency period that's upon us, let's do it fast and furious … and with an acronym.

C is for Cutler, Jay: Of course this is where we start. One of the most interesting subplots to the start of camp is also the most obvious: How will Cutler greet the return to the limelight?

I'm guessing "uncomfortably."

Cutler hasn't spoken to a group of reporters since the NFC championship flameout, when he talked quietly at his locker for a few minutes. After that, he was gone to a world of stair-climbing, promenade walking and general vacationing with his erstwhile lady love.

Cutler needs an image makeover in the worst way. His disengagement from reality starlet Kristin Cavallari brought back the Twitter jokes that have been festering since he bowed out of the NFC title game with a knee injury.

With Terrell Owens practically a non-entity, and Brett Favre still retired (as of this writing), Cutler is probably the most scrutinized player in the NFL. Personality + picks = disaster.

For his sake (not mine, I love snark), I hope he learns how to interact with the media this season. It would make his life a lot easier.

One idea: Cutler should borrow a page from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and say "LOL" whenever a reporter makes a funny comment.

H is for Harvey Dahl: Or someone like him. The Bears need help on the offensive line in the worst way. They could do worse than Dahl, the fiery Falcons right guard who could supplant either Chris Williams or Roberto Garza in the interior line.

Cutler was sacked 52 times last year, though nine came in one game. Still, Mike Tice's group needs an upgrade. Rookie Gabe Carimi and J'Marcus Webb are the prohibitive favorites at tackle and everyone expects Olin Kreutz to re-sign at center. Dahl would be a nice addition, and a fan favorite.

One thing is for sure, the line better be addressed Tuesday and Wednesday, or it will be discussed every Sunday and Monday this fall.

I is for Incompletion: Cutler had 171 incompletions in 2010 and a career-worst 60.4 completion percentage. Naturally he needs a big, tall receiver to erase his mistakes, right? Well, sure. That would be great. But there aren't many, or maybe any, around for the taking.

Santonio Holmes is the best free-agent wideout, though he should be staying with the Jets. Steve Smith (from Carolina) is a rumored target, as are Brad Smith, Sidney Rice and Santana Moss. Rice is listed at 6-foot-4 and Smith is 6-2.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz said he's not worried about adding height and proponents of his system agree that height is overrated. But the Bears need to give Cutler another target this season.

[+] EnlargeJerry Angelo
AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenBears GM Jerry Angelo and his staff have their work cut out for them with a fast and furious free-agency period.

C is for Chaos, or lack thereof: While you can't always rely on Jerry Angelo's team to call in a trade correctly on draft night, I think his brain trust will have a better reaction to the so-called free-agent frenzy with a strong plan in place that allows them to keep the guys they want to keep and plug in the spots that need plugging.

Cliff Stein, the Bears' point man on contracts, is highly renowned, so that's a major plus in getting players in under the salary cap. He's so good, from what I hear, it makes you wonder what he's still doing here.

Despite all the talk of frenzies and "cats and dogs living together" mayhem, I think the Bears will fare pretty well this week and next week when camp really gets underway. The coaching staff has some continuity, and coach Lovie Smith exudes confidence. The core of the defense is basically set, and Cutler & Co. got some work in during lockout limbo.

Now, do they have any kind of legitimate advantage? Well, Green Bay won the Super Bowl last year, so that means you can rule them out for this season, if recent history proves correct.

A is for Anticipation: One thing this lockout drama did was create a buzz for the regular season. I know I'm 37 percent more excited, mostly because I can stop paying attention to the Cubs and White Sox.

Now, there's always excitement for the NFL, but the highlight of training camp is usually TV shots of guys moving TVs into dorm rooms and HBO's "Hard Knocks." Now, 7-on-7 drills will take on a new sheen thanks to the protracted lockout, which was covered like Nnamdi Asomugha by the football press.

I think the idea, as fear-mongered as it was, that we could lose football for a season will make fans appreciate it even more when it really returns in September. And free-agency week might destroy Twitter, and that's only from Adam Schefter's usage.

I wish the season started this week.

G is for Grunts: While we lavish attention on stars like Cutler, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Devin Hester, the Bears got some solid performances last season from the second-tier kind of players, especially the guys on the special-teams unit that helped Hester get back to prominence.

Brian Iwuh, Corey Graham, Rashied Davis and Garrett Wolfe, for example, are all special-teams mainstays and unrestricted free agents. These are the kind of players the Bears need to either keep or smartly replace. It's always about the "guy behind the guy," as "Swingers" told us 15 years ago.

A veteran like Anthony Adams, a strong performer on the defensive line, is also a free agent. For the Bears to return to the playoffs this year, they need to figure out the right formula of new players and old ones. We've seen what's happened before here with bad personnel moves, which is why they got Chris Harris back.

O is for Offense: In the pit of my stomach, I feel like the Bears are due for some regression on defense. After years of decline, the vaunted Cover-2 base defense rebounded last season with the return of Urlacher and Harris, the addition of Peppers and a full season out of Pisa Tinoisamoa.

That's why it's even more imperative that Martz's vision of a vertical offense is fully realized. It's not just about adding new players. The Bears struggled with his game plan in his first year as coordinator, and he was oddly sensitive to their plight, defending his charges all season with an odd coolness.

Some of the problems just had to do with discipline and poor fundamentals (Cutler's footwork, receivers' route running, Chris Williams' general crappiness), but a lot of the confusion probably had to do with the newness of the system. Even without minicamps, I think we're going to see a vastly improved offense this season. I'm guessing "Martz is Back" becomes a national storyline before the team heads to London in late October.

But of course, that means we'll be talking about the demise of Smith's Cover-2 scheme, because it's always something at Halas Hall.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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