The Bears had a tumultuous season in 2009 as they struggled on offense during quarterback Jay Cutler’s first year in the Windy City. Cutler’s propensity for turnovers doomed the Bears offense, and his presence failed to lift the performance of the team’s receivers as Bears management anticipated when they traded two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and incumbent starter Kyle Orton to acquire Cutler and a fifth-round draft choice.
Mike Martz was brought in to coordinate the offense, and the Bears and head coach Lovie Smith are counting on Martz and Cutler to lift the team into playoff contention. Otherwise, Smith, Martz, and general manager Jerry Angelo will likely be looking for employment elsewhere in 2011.
Martz brings his high-flying offensive philosophies to Chicago where he gets a chance to work with Cutler, who he has described as the most talented quarterback he has ever worked with. While that may be the case, Cutler has a long way to go to reach the heights Kurt Warner and, to a lesser extent, Marc Bulger reached while working with Martz.
It also doesn’t help that the Bears don’t have a pair of wide receivers as talented as the Rams former duo of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
Nonetheless, the Bears do possess emerging talent at wide receiver in Devin Hester, Devin Aromashodu, Johnny Knox, and Earl Bennett. While none of the foursome has proven yet to be a consistent producer, each has achieved some marginal success in the league. The Bears are hoping for at least two of them to emerge as consistent threats in 2010.
Greg Olsen is an emerging talent at the tight end position but may see his role reduced this season. While Martz has talked openly of developing a solid role for Olsen, he did the same in San Francisco and failed to develop Vernon Davis. Traditionally, the tight end position has been more involved in a blocking role in the Martz offense, and it won’t be a surprise if that occurs again this season.
The running back position will be handled by Matt Forte and free agent acquisition Chester Taylor. They are similar players, most effective running between the tackles and catching the ball out of the backfield. Neither is considered a power runner or exceptional at breaking long runs. Regardless, both players have proven to be more than reliable when called upon and figure to have productive, if not outstanding, seasons.
With playmaking defensive end Julius Peppers on board, the Bears have added one of the premier pass-rushing talents in the league to help out on defense. If the defense, particularly middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, can remain healthy and hold up its end of the bargain, Cutler and the offense will be in a better position to manage the game, as opposed to being forced to play from behind. That would go a long way in reducing Cutler’s turnovers and giving the Bears an opportunity to earn a playoff spot in 2010.
QB Jay Cutler
After a disastrous season in 2009, Cutler hopes to rebound under a new offensive system and the tutelage of former Rams head coach Mike Martz. Martz is a great offensive mind that has turned around offenses in St. Louis, Detroit, and San Francisco, so it seems likely he will make the Bears a more dynamic offensive team in 2010. Unfortunately for Martz and Cutler, they are going to have to live with the team’s current crop of wide receivers since the front office failed to improve the unit in 2010. There is potential on the Bears wide receiver depth chart, but the unit lacks a proven, consistent playmaker. Cutler threw an astounding 26 interceptions last year, with many of them coming in the red zone and late in games. He needs to improve his decision-making to succeed in Martz’s offense, but the talent is clearly there. With Martz calling plays, look for Cutler to be a viable fantasy starter with the potential for 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns.
RB Matt Forte
While Forte isn’t an overly talented runner, his lack of production during his sophomore year can be chalked up at least partially to injuries and ineffectiveness along the team’s offensive line. While he has recovered from the knee and hamstring issues that slowed him last year, the offensive line remains a question mark entering the season. Forte’s rookie production was as much about the number of touches he had (379) as his overall ability. He has the chance to rebound in 2010, provided he can relegate free agent acquisition Chester Taylor to a receiving-back role. Forte shapes up as a boom or bust candidate based on whether he can retain his starting role and earn the team’s short yardage work. He should be drafted as a high-end fantasy backup with upside and is more useful in PPR leagues given his solid pass-receiving ability. He’s also a great option in flex leagues.
RB Chester Taylor
Taylor joins the Bears after serving as Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota for the last three years. In Chicago, he will battle Matt Forte for playing time but enters training camp behind him on the team’s depth chart. Taylor will turn thirty-one during the season, but he should have plenty of tread left since he has topped 200 touches only once during his eight year career. With a new offensive coordinator on board in Mike Martz, Taylor will be given a fair shot to supplant Forte in the starting lineup. However, look for the younger Forte to retain the starting position since both players have very similar attributes. However, if Forte were to go down or Taylor were to win the starting job, Taylor would immediately become worthy of fantasy backup status or as a solid flex option in leagues that employ the position (especially if he wins the short-yardage work).
WR Devin Aromashodu
Earl Bennett is a little slow, Johny Knox is a little small, and new offensive coordinator Mike Martz has said Devin Hester is best suited for the slot. Although head coach Love Smith disputes Martz’s version of where Hester will line up, Martz is nothing if not stubborn, and he will be given free rein over the team’s offensive play-calling. Add it all up and Aromashodu might be the receiver to gamble on, benefiting the most from Martz’s presence in Chicago. Arosmashodu doesn’t have elite speed, but he is fast enough to succeed in Martz’s offense and possesses good size at 6’2” and 201 pounds. He emerged as quarterback Jay Cutler’s main target over the Bears final four games of last season with 39 targets. Over that span he posted 22 receptions for 282 yards and four touchdowns, with 196 yards and three touchdowns coming in the Bears final two games.
WR Earl Bennett
After a rookie year of inactivity, Bennett ended the 2009 season as one of the Bears starting wide receivers. He posted decent numbers with 54 receptions for 717 yards and two touchdowns, benefiting from the team’s lack of depth at the position and his familiarity with quarterback Jay Cutler from their time together at Vanderbilt. However, Bennett faces an uphill battle in holding on to his starting position in 2010. He is not the prototypical wide receiver for a Martz offense given his lack of speed, and he doesn’t have the shiftiness to be useful in the slot. Bennett is also recovering from minor knee surgery. While he is entering his third year in the league, when receivers often make a major leap in production, the odds seemed stacked against Bennett making such a leap this year in Chicago.
WR Johnny Knox
Knox is an intriguing option for fantasy purposes. The Bears fifth-round pick of the 2009 draft (acquired in the Jay Cutler trade) had a surprisingly solid rookie season with 45 receptions for 527 yards and five touchdowns. Coming from tiny Abilene Christian, Knox was not expected to contribute much, if at all, as a rookie. He has good speed and his 11.7 yards per reception average belies the number of big plays he made during the season. Knox is worth monitoring in the preseason and could be a solid contributor to the Bears passing attack, provided he can crack the starting lineup. He is worthy of taking a flier on in the late rounds of most leagues and is a decent prospect in dynasty leagues, considering the Bears lack of proven pass catchers.
WR Devin Hester
What to make of Devin Hester and his role in the Bears offense? Hester clearly has upside as a wide receiver, and he posted decent numbers over the last two years, topping 50 receptions in each year. It’s also encouraging that he sought out tutelage from former Ram and future Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce. On the downside, Hester really didn’t show much explosiveness last year, he now has to learn the Martz offense, and there are indications the Bears want to increase his use on special teams. He has just six touchdowns since concentrating on the wide receiver position beginning in 2008 and has averaged 13.0 yards per reception over that time—hardly an exceptional number given his speed and ability to make defenders miss. Hester has the talent to break out in 2010, but it seems a 50/50 proposition at best. Monitor his preseason performance and average draft position as your draft or auction approaches, but don’t reach for him. He should currently be viewed as a fantasy backup in all but the largest leagues.
TE Greg Olsen
Olsen is a talented tight end coming off a career year in 2009, but new offensive coordinator Mike Martz has a well-earned reputation for not utilizing the tight end position. Look no further than the case of Vernon Davis. Forgotten by Martz, Davis became a Pro Bowl tight end once Martz left the 49ers. Tight ends in Mike Martz offenses have never topped 380 yards in a season, so if you grab Olsen, you will have to bank on touchdowns for fantasy production. Fortunately, quarterback Jay Cutler loves to look Olsen’s way in the red zone. He ranks as an upper echelon backup for fantasy purposes.