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Thursday, June 12
Updated: June 18, 12:01 PM ET
 
Offseason Overview: Chicago Bears

By Brian P. Kelly
ESPN.com

2002 RECORD: 4-12
TEAM RANK (NFL): Defense (25th); Offense (29th)
ADDITIONS:
Free agents -- TE Desmond Clark (Dolphins), QB Kordell Stewart (Steelers).
Draft picks -- 1a. DE Michael Haynes (Penn State); 1b. QB Rex Grossman (Florida); 2. CB Charles Tillman (Louisiana-Lafayette); 3. LB Lance Briggs (Arizona); 4a. FS Todd Johnson (Florida); 4b. DT Ian Scott (Florida); 5a. WR Bobby Wade (Arizona); 5b. WR Justin Gage (Missouri); 5c. DT Tron LaFavor (Florida); 6a. LB Joe Odom (Purdue); 6b. RB Brock Forsey (Boise State); 7. G Brian Anderson (Pittsburgh).
SUBTRACTIONS:
QB Jim Miller (released), OT James Williams (released), LB Rosevelt Colvin (Patriots), OL Kevin Dogins (Falcons), WR Marcus Robinson (Ravens), S Damon Moore (released).
Team news | Roster | More on Bears draft

Tue., June 17
Is Stewart the answer or will Grossman start sooner than expected?
If the Chicago brain trust was really convinced the erratic Stewart was the solution for the long-term, it would have rewarded him with more than a two-year contract that is valued at less than $5 million total. And the Bears would not have flirted with the idea of signing Brian Griese, who clearly would have challenged Stewart for the starting job, two weeks ago. Early word is that Stewart, who essentially remains unchallenged for the starting spot now and will go to camp a clear No. 1, has not been particularly sharp in the offseason. And the absence of consistency, Bears sources say, has been both physical and mental. It doesn't help that offensive coordinator John Shoop, whose ball-possession paradigm can be constraining, has not augmented his playbook with the kind of elements that might take some advantage of Stewart's skills outside the pocket. So does all of this combine to get Grossman into the starting lineup sooner than everyone anticipated? Probably not. General manager Jerry Angelo no doubt realizes the job security of some folks in The Windy City means its imperative to win in 2003. But he is still committed to creating a foundation for the future, and Grossman is one of those building blocks, for sure. Even given his advanced football acumen, the rookie won't be ready to play until later in the season, when perhaps fortune and circumstance might dictate he get a few starts. Until then, the Bears will stick with Stewart and, if he falters, will go to Chris Chandler.

After a surprising 13-3 season in 2001, spirits and expectations were at a high for the 2002 edition of the Bears. A couple of early season wins had the team setting its sights on another division title, but then the team ran off eight straight losses, including six of those by a touchdown or less.

Injuries clearly played a part in the Bears downslide, but that doesn't completely explain how the team fell so hard in the rankings on both offense and defense. The offensive sluggishness, resulting in the team going from No. 11 in the NFL (21 points per game) in 2001 to No. 27 (17 ppg) in 2002, can be partly attributed to the constant quarterback shuffling. But the defense went from No. 1 in the league in 2001 (13 ppg) to No. 25 (24 ppg).

What they've added?
The Bears came into the offseason needing an upgrade at the quarterback position. After Jake Plummer turned down more money for an offer from Denver, the team inked Kordell Stewart to a two-year contract. In the April draft, the team traded down from its No. 4 perch, acquired a pair of first-rounders (Nos. 14 & 22) and selected Florida Rex Grossman as its quarterback of the future with the latter pick. A sign that the Bears might not be completely sold on Stewart: The team talked with Brian Griese when the Broncos cut the veteran quarterback earlier this month.

The Bears defensive line registered just 12 sacks total last season and lost their leading sackman, linebacker Rosevelt Colvin (10½ sacks) to the Patriots in free agency. With that in mind, the team selected defensive end Michael Haynes, who registered 15 sacks alone last season for Penn State, with its first pick. Perhaps the biggest addition to the defensive line will be the healthy, and in some cases trim, returns of Ted Washington, Keith Traylor, Phillip Daniels and Bryan Robinson. Robinson reportedly has fully recovered from the two broken wrists he suffered two seasons ago, regaining the strength he was missing last season.

A quick glance at the Bears' roster shows that they had nary a cornerback over six feet tall, causing the team troubles against the league's bigger receivers. Second-round selection Charles Tillman is listed at 6-foot-1 and has impressed early in mini-camp. If he can develop quickly, not an easy task for a rookie corner, he'll help ease the burden on starters R.W. McQuarters and Jerry Azumah.

Homefield advantage is back. After spending all of last season on the road (homes games were played in Champaign, Ill.), the newly renovated Soldier Field will be re-opened on Sept. 29 for a Monday Night Football contest against the Packers.

What they're missing?
Last season the Bears were dead last in rushing -- even behind the expansion Texans. After a 1,183-yard season in 2001 that netted him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, Anthony Thomas sophomore slumped badly to the tune of 721 yards and a 3.4 average. This might be the A-Train's make-or-break season and the former Michigan star seems to understand that. Thomas showed up at mini-camp with a more chiseled physique, staying around the same weight but shedding some fat for muscle. Thomas is going to need every advantage he can muster as coach Dick Jauron has stated publicly that second-year back Adrian Peterson will have an equal shot at winning the starting tailback position.

Fantasy Focus
The Bears may be playing in a remodeled football stadium, but their running attack needed to be revamped, too. Incumbent Anthony Thomas ran poorly in his second season, rushing for only 721 yards and a 3.4 average in 12 games. He regressed by missing open rushing lanes and running weakly. His season ended prematurely when he broke his finger in Week 13. Adrian Peterson is competing for the starting position, but the second-year pro brings little experience against top competition. He only had 19 rushes last season and played collegiately at Georgia Southern in Division I-AA. However, Peterson's aggressiveness offers a better option than Thomas' softness heading into training camp. Bypass Thomas in fantasy drafts and grab Peterson as a late-round sleeper.
-- Roger Rotter, ESPN.com fantasy editor

The Bears were in flux last season on the offensive line and they've looked in-house for a solution. Mike Gandy was adequate at left tackle last season and will remain there after being moved from guard. Marc Colombo, who faired poorly in his left tackle audition last year, will switch to right tackle.

On defense, the obvious loss is Colvin. Second-year man Bryan Knight moves into the starting role with veteran Mike Caldwell possibly battling with sixth-round pick Joe Odom for the backup spot. To help make up for Colvin's departure, look for Über-linebacker Brian Urlacher to be more involved in the pass-rush.

What it all means?
A lot of the Bears success this season will depend on the play of Stewart. Will he be the Kordell that was being talked about as MVP just two seasons ago or the one that barely completes half his attempts? Of course this might all be a moot point if the Bears can't get a consistent ground game out of Thomas or Peterson. With production out of the backfield, much maligned offensive coordinator John Shoop will have the chance to expand his dink-n-dunk offense, a must if the Bears plan on putting more points on the board.

On defense, the team likely overachieved in 2001 and severely underachieved in 2002, so a finish somewhere in the middle is probable. But if Urlacher can garner a few more sacks and quarterback pressures -- and why not he does everything else -- the Bears could approach the upper-echelon of defenses. Of course, as they found out last season, a healthy squad is a must.

Brian P. Kelly is an assistant editor for ESPN.com.





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