A 7-9 season in 2009 nearly led to the firing of head coach Lovie Smith, but his job was saved so long as the Bears' offense got a makeover. After courting several coordinators, Chicago settled on Mike Martz, whose aggressive, pass-happy style fits in perfectly with the team's best player: quarterback Jay Cutler.
But the Bears didn't stop there, breaking the bank for the first time in franchise history by signing free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers away from Carolina. They also spent aggressively by landing rusher Chester Taylor from Minnesota and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (a Martz disciple) from San Diego. They also re-acquired safety Chris Harris from Carolina via trade. The Bears also get back linebacker Brian Urlacher from a freak wrist injury that sidelined him for all but one half of one game last year.
|Download a Draft Kit | Join a Mock Draft|
|Sign up to play FREE Fantasy Football|
Really, the Bears didn't lose much in the way of personnel as they improved their depth this offseason. Though Martz's wild scheme means that nearly everyone on offense had to start over with a new system and playbook, they've had time to adjust and learn. As for the defense, they're still under the guidance of Smith, who will call the defensive plays while acting as head coach for the second year in a row. Adding a fierce pass rusher in Peppers and an underrated safety in Harris will only make his job easier.
Sleeper ... Chester Taylor, RB
Look, the Bears didn't sign Taylor to a $12.5 million deal with $7 million guaranteed on the first day of free agency to have him watch Matt Forte regain his form. Forte might be the odds-on favorite to start and certainly will see a good amount of work, but Taylor is who my money is on to be the better Fantasy choice. Taylor hasn't taken on a ton of work over the past couple of years and should max out at around 150-to-175 total touches before the end of the year. Forte shouldn't get sizably more, yet he will be taken first in drafts -- potentially with a fourth-round pick. Taylor, meanwhile, can be had much later and be, in my opinion, almost identical in production. The catch is, both Bears running backs will take work away from each other, and Martz's track record with running backs not named Faulk is awfully spotty. But of the two, Taylor is the better value on Draft Day as well as a candidate to play better than his middle- to late-round pick status suggests.
|Player||Draft Day value|
Breakout ... Devin Aromashodu, WR
If you paid attention about a year ago, Cutler told anyone who would listen that Aromashodu was a special talent. But a hamstring injury late last preseason threw off his timetable, and the Bears didn't put him back on the field until they had to replace an injured Devin Hester. Aromashodu blew up stat boxes with 22 receptions for 282 yards and four touchdowns in four late-season games against the Packers, Ravens, Vikings and Lions. So long as Aromashodu stays healthy this summer, he'll be given plenty of opportunities to land some deep balls as part of Martz's offense. That's something that everyone -- especially Cutler -- should be thrilled with.
Bust ... Greg Olsen, TE
Martz's offense has been known for involving receivers, not tight ends. Olsen might tell the media that he's fine with his role, but unless Martz has had a real change of heart over the last couple of years we expect Olsen to take a pretty big step back this season. Not helping his cause has been the development of Hester, Aromashodu and Johnny Knox, all of whom have impressed this offseason. Heck, even second-year unknown Juaquin Iglesias has improved his game. What do they have in common? They're wide receivers, and they are expected to be the guys who catch Cutler's tosses in 2010. Not Olsen. With the wide array of tight end talent around the NFL heading into the season, it's not only sensible to pass on Olsen as a reliable No. 1 option, but it's easy, too.
The Bears have it rough in 2010, especially toward the end of the season. They have more than their fair share of tough run defenses to face off against -- the Vikings and Packers twice each, the Jets, the Dolphins and the Cowboys all offer tough challenges for their evolving offensive line and two-headed rushing attack. This simply furthers the argument that they will throw a ton, likely putting a smile on Martz's face.
Training camp topics
No one in Bears camp is badmouthing Martz's offense, but it remains to be seen which players gravitate to it seamlessly and which players struggle with it. We like the initiative some players are taking -- for instance Hester sought out Isaac Bruce and will huddle with him to break down what the receiver's role is in Martz's system this summer before camp. Hester is another player with a lot to live up to, so hopefully that meeting goes a long way.
The arrival of Taylor should push Forte to work harder. Forte has already said this offseason that he's healthier and happier than he was entering camp last year, and with hamstring injuries behind him he's ready to recapture his rookie-season form. Forte has good size and has the hands Martz is looking for from his rushers, but so does Taylor. How they split reps early on in camp might forecast some reasonable expectations for both men.
But no one has more expectations than Cutler, who arguably could have the strongest arm of any passer Martz has coached up. The impressive franchise marks Cutler set last season for pass attempts (first) and passing yards (second) might be shattered this season given the nature of the stats quarterbacks have in this downfield scheme. It will take a lot of work to make that happen, but there is no guarantee that Cutler's interception rate will drop, especially since he'll be putting the ball up a lot.
Expect the Bears defense to be asked to bail the team out of tough spots this season. In addition to all of those tough run defenses they'll face, the Bears will also take on their fair share of top-tier quarterbacks. That's going to mean that Peppers will have to do a lot of chasing around in the backfield during the year -- if he fails to deliver, the entire Bears team will suffer. But if he's as good as he's been, the defense could be one of the top units in the game. He'll have the same effect on them as he had on his mates in Carolina, and he should mesh with his new team early on this summer to create a perfect transition. The Bears can't afford to have it any other way.
Matt Forte (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Earl Bennett (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Brandon Manumaleuna (knee; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Brian Urlacher (wrist; probable for the start of training camp) ... Charles Tillman (ribs; probable for the start of training camp) ... Garrett Wolfe (kidney; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Israel Idonije (foot; probable for the start of training camp).
Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .