- Ken Moll, Scouts Inc.
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As the NFL draft approaches, "SportsCenter" is putting every NFL team with a first-round pick "On the Clock," and Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering.
Coach Lovie Smith's team still has many of the core players, especially on defense, who led the Bears to the Super Bowl two years ago. But injuries to key players led to the Bears' tumble from defensive prominence last year and contributed to their disappointing 7-9 record. There have been few notable changes in the offseason and it appears Smith and the front office have decided to stand pat in a few key areas, including quarterback, which means the Bears have many questions going into this season.
The Bears signed wide receivers Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd to help fill the void left by the departure of WRs Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. Booker is a good football player, but is also 31 years old and his best years are likely behind him. Lloyd has the raw talent to be an explosive target in the Bears' offense but has been inconsistent throughout his career. Re-signing key players was as important to Smith and his staff as signing high-priced free agents. Keeping LB Lance Briggs and young safety Brandon McGowan have solidified the defense, but re-signing the much-maligned Rex Grossman did not solve the quarterback situation and may have muddied the water even more.
There were several key departures on offense this offseason, but none more important than Berrian's. He was clearly the Bears' most explosive perimeter target and it will be tough to replace him. Plus, losing a physical, tough, experienced red-zone receiver like Muhammad shouldn't be underestimated. Veteran offensive linemen Ruben Brown and Fred Miller are also gone, but their departure should not set the offense back too far because both were aging and there were concerns about their durability and diminishing skills. Losing TE John Gilmore should not affect this team either, because he only added depth to the position and the Bears are very solid in this area, led by starter Greg Olsen. There were also several departures on defense, namely DTs Darwin Walker, Antonio Garay and Jimmy Kennedy and LB Brendon Ayanbadejo. However, this shouldn't be cause for concern because all were merely role players for coordinator Bob Babich.
There are many questions to be answered, but the biggest is at quarterback. Taking veteran Brian Griese out of the mix narrowed the decision, but choosing between Grossman and inexperienced but promising Kyle Orton doesn't appear to be an easy choice. Another big question is whether the offense can establish a consistent ground attack, which is crucial in the NFC North. The huge stumble from 2006 to 2007 can be attributed in part to an ineffective running game. Will this year's offense incorporate explosive WR Devin Hester more often and can fellow wideout Mark Bradley live up to his early hype and elevate his play to become a featured target? Those two play a huge role in the Bears' passing offense, and even though Hester is still raw in many ways his athleticism and ability to put pressure on a defense means he needs to be a much bigger part of the offensive philosophy. Finally, can the defense bounce back from a big dropoff and regain its once-dominant form? The Bears aren't too far removed from a trip to the Super Bowl, but how these questions are answered will determine whether they return any time soon.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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