STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Bears were arguably the biggest disappointment in the NFL in 2007 after entering the season as the defending NFC Champions. They lost three of their first four games and ended up 7-9, becoming the sixth Super Bowl loser in the last eight years to miss the playoffs the following season.
When looking for where things went wrong, it really starts on defense. After leading the league in takeaways and allowing the third-fewest points and fifth-fewest yards, the Bears registered 11 fewer takeaways in 2007 and ranked 16th in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed. The unit simply didn't seem as opportunistic as it was a year earlier.
On offense, the loss of Thomas Jones in the offseason resulted in Cedric Benson entering the season as the unquestioned starter at running back. He responded to the opportunity by totaling exactly one 100-yard game and finishing the season with 674 yards on 196 attempts, an average of 3.4 yards per carry and just one fewer fumble (three) than touchdowns (four). His season ended when he broke his ankle Week 12 against the Broncos. The offensive line got old in a hurry and looked nothing short of embarrassing on certain weeks. Bears quarterbacks were sacked 43 times, ninth most in the league.
Speaking of the quarterbacks, Rex Grossman followed his dreadful performance in Super Bowl XLI by throwing six interceptions to just one touchdown in his first three games of the 2007 season and was benched in favor of Brian Griese. Griese started six games and played marginally better than Grossman but gave the reins back after getting hurt in Week 10. Before the season was over, Kyle Orton got three starts, and Bears quarterbacks combined for 17 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and a 6.51 YPA, good for 22nd in the league.
One positive from last season was Devin Hester, who continued his assault on the record books. He returned four kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns, breaking his own record of five set in 2006.
The outlook for 2008 doesn't seem to be bright, as the Bears appear to be running third at best in the NFC North behind the Vikings and Packers. Their first two picks in April's draft, left tackle Chris Williams from Vanderbilt and running back Matt Forte from Tulane, figure to be fixtures in the offense. Their new-look receiving corps does not include Bernard Berrian (Vikings) or Muhsin Muhammad (Panthers), as they've been replaced by new-old Bear Marty Booker, Brandon Lloyd and third-round pick Earl Bennett. Expect a season of more downs than ups and a record similar to last year.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (14) Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt
Ideally will anchor the line at left tackle for years to come.
2. (44) Matt Forte, RB, Tulane
High-upside running back could start in rookie season.
3. (70) Earl Bennett, WR, Vanderbilt
Could log significant time on receiving-thin team.
3. (90) Marcus Harrison, DT, Arkansas
Fills void after team lost three DTs over past two seasons.
7. (208) Ervin Baldwin, DE, Michigan State
Provides depth for system predicated on rotating ends.
7. (222) Chester Adams, G, Georgia
Necessary pickup to bolster aging offensive line.
7. (243) Joey LaRocque, LB, Oregon State
Strictly a depth guy.
7. (247) Kirk Barton, OT, Ohio State
See Adams, Chester.
7. (248) Marcus Monk, WR, Arkansas
Has a chance with few established options ahead of him.
Muhsin Muhammad, WR (Panthers)
Back to team where he led league with 16 TDs in 2004.
Brian Griese, QB (Buccaneers)
Grossman, Orton remain to battle for starting job.
REX'S LAST STAND
Rising: Greg Olsen has all the tools to be an elite tight end in the NFL.
Brian Urlacher, LB
Contract squabbles aside, he's still one of the best in the game.
Lance Briggs, LB
102 tackles in 14 games slightly above career per-game average.
Charles Tillman, CB
75 tackles, three interceptions, four forced fumbles, has a knack for getting his hands on the ball.
RotoWire Rank: 14
Article first appeared 6/03/08