THE BOTTOM LINE
By John Clayton, ESPN.com
The Bears gambled that Rex Grossman, in his third season, could start building an offense mired in the bottom 10 since the turn of the century. Grossman's broken ankle ended those hopes. Rookie Kyle Orton is now the starter for a franchise that has started 20 different quarterbacks since 1990.
It's a shame. The offensive line is much more solid with John Tait and Fred Miller as the tackles. Muhsin Muhammad is a big possession target and second-round choice Mark Bradley is showing signs of becoming the starter on the other side. Ron Turner's smart running offense is a perfect fit for Thomas Jones' speed and decision making. That running game will be augmented by rookie Cedric Benson, who recently ended his holdout.
The Bears have the makings of a top-10 defense. Charles Tillman is a Pro Bowl-caliber corner. The front four of Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris, Ian Scott and Alex Brown will grow more fierce in their second full season together. Brian Urlacher should thrive behind that front. But if the offense can't stay on the field, the Bears will struggle.
By Joe Theismann, ESPN.com
The Big Question?
Can they recover from the loss of quarterback Rex Grossman? This team looked like it may have had a chance to be dangerous in its division with a potentially strong running game and the addition of a game breaker at receiver with the signing of Muhsin Muhammad. Now they are relying on rookie quarterback Kyle Orton and are hoping he has the strength and maturity to lead this team.
By Scott Engel, ESPN.com
Sleeper: WR Mark Bradley
The rookie has been the Bears' most productive pass catcher during the preseason. Fellow rookie Kyle Orton might be very inconsistent as a first-year starter, but he'll throw downfield enough to keep defenses on alert. The Bears are looking for someone to take hold of the second receiver job across from Muhsin Muhammad, who will face a lot of double teaming. That could be Bradley, who has outplayed Justin Gage and Bernard Berrian during the preseason.
Bust: WR Muhsin Muhammad
He got the money he wanted after a career year with the Panthers in 2004, but now he could find unhappiness on the field. Muhammad will be playing with a rookie QB and no proven complement at the No. 2 WR spot. Expecting anything more than decent No. 2 WR numbers won't be realistic.
From ESPN the MAGAZINE
The Big Number10 Da Bears have had 10 starting QBs since 2000. But if you think that's bad, try this: They had 10 starting O-linemen in 2004 alone. That turnstile let in an NFL-worst 66 sacks. Comin' through!
STRENGTH --> SEVEN UP
The Bears have invested many dollars and draft picks to bolster their front seven. This season, it pays off. LBs Urlacher (left) and Lance Briggs make backs run wider than they'd like, and DEs Adewale Ogunleye, Alex Brown and Michael Haynes make QBs think faster than they'd like. Throw in DTs Tommie Harris, Ian Scott, Tank Johnson and Alfonso Boone, and you get sacks, fumbles, INTs -- and more hurt than anyone can stand up to.
WEAKNESS --> ONE DOWN
For the second straight season, the Bears' QB of the future will be talked about in the past tense: Broke his ankle sat out until December he was good in college, right? And the man in charge now that Grossman is gone again? Why, it's rookie Orton, who was throwing passes at Purdue last season. Call the offense a wipeout.
Watch Moose -- and no, that's not a stalking strategy. Not exactly, anyway. "Whenever we look at film," says new O-coordinator Ron Turner, "I say it over and over."
Muhsin Muhammad's new teammates watch him outside of the meeting room, too. And learn. The two-time Pro Bowler -- whose Arabic first name means "one who does good deeds" -- is routinely the first nonkicker on the practice field, already stretching and catching a half-hour early. Too bad the guy throwing the extra passes won't be Grossman.
So once the games begin, Moose won't come close to matching last season's NFL-leading 1,405 receiving yards. That's OK: the Bears signed him with a higher calling in mind. Says head coach Lovie Smith: "Last year, we didn't have a leader like him." If only he weren't the only game in town.