Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Unbridled Optimism

Today, the day before training camp officially begins, is the last day I can be sure of the possibility for unbridled optimism for the upcoming season. Starting tomorrow, people can start going down, and then there's no going back. Also, people can start failing to live up to expectations, or even just succumb to the mundane realities of not being as great as they might be now. So I'm going to take this moment to list off a few things that have me feeling really optimistic about this upcoming season.

1. Devin Hester. Duh. The man is great, and this season it sounds like he'll have even more of an opportunity to wreak some of his special brand of greatness on more than just special teams. But even if that weren't the case, even if all (all?) we had to look forward to was another season of Devin Hester returning kicks (or totally fucking with the psyches of opposing teams' special teams units), what's got me feeling especially upbeat about the whole thing is that there's even a lot of room for the guy to improve. He's got such an amazing amount of pure talent that it's easy to forget how often he screwed up last season, too. There were loads of times he missed punt catches and a few times he let those squib kicks kickers have taken to serving him roll right through his legs. He had obviously cut down on these mistakes last season compared to his rookie season, so he knows how to get better at that part of his game. It's crazy to think of him actually getting better at returning kicks, but if he manages to cut down on the amount of his talent that he has to waste making up for mental errors, that's all the more effort he can put toward making coverage units look silly. And he will. And it will be awesome. Plus, like I said, he's going to be more than just a gimmick at receiver this season. He won't be the leading receiver for the team, but I guarantee he'll have impact on the offensive side of the ball this season.

2. Mike Brown is due for a break some time. Seriously. Unless he was a child molester in a previous life or something, there is no way anyone deserves the amount of bad luck he's had in his career. He's missed shitloads of games in the past few seasons to freak injuries, but none of them have been repeats of previous injuries, and none of them are the types of injuries you expect to end someone's career. It's just that he's had three or four of them. Even typing this I feel a little bit skeptical, but now is not the time for skepticism. There is a God, and Mike Brown is going to play every single defensive snap for the Chicago Bears this season. That means that what was a weakness on the defense last season, the safety position (I'd feel a little sorry for Adam Archuleta if he didn't suck so much, but he was absolutely terrible), is now going to be a huge strength. If Brown makes it through the whole season, the Bears defense will be ridiculously dominant, and Brown will be a leading candidate for Defensive player of the year. And it will be good.

3. Tommie Harris played the whole season last year, and he pretty much always dominated the line of scrimmage. So he was a strength last year. But he was also hurt the whole year, playing with a bad knee and some kind of ligament in his leg being sore for most of the season as well. Before his injuries, Harris was making plays the likes of which I've never seen. Against the Chargers, he literally beat the snap to Philip Rivers, who was under center. He might have been offsides, but he wasn't blatantly so. He's just that fast. Incredible. Since he hardly missed any time last season, he never got a chance to get back to one-hundred percent. But now with a whole season of rest, and a brand new shiny contract behind him, and tons of people declaring him the new face of the franchise, he's going to be ready to do some proving. He's the best defensive lineman in the league, and by the end of the season, everyone who watches football is going to know it.

4. Speaking of Tommie Harris, I'm just feeling really good about the entire Bears defensive line. Like the Safety position, the whole line wasn't really itself last season. Tommie Harris was sore, Dvoracek went down during the preseason, Bazuin went down, Mark Anderson was suffering through a sophomore slump and wasn't up for the increased playing time, Darwin Walker turned out not to be worth anything near what the Bears paid him for, etc. This year, the line is going to destroy. With Tommie Harris at full strength, opposing teams are going to have to invest a lot of attention his way, so whoever lines up next to him is going to be having a field day out there. If it's Dvoracek, who looked really good before injury sidelined him for a second season, teams are really gonna have a tough time protecting the middle. On the outsides, Alex Brown'll be back to starting which will be good both because he's a really great outside defender, and because it'll give Mark Anderson the opportunity to come in and totally mess with the opposing teams' blockers the way he did during his rookie season--only he'll be better at it, it being now his third season. On the other end, Ogunleye finally looked like the guy the Bears traded Marty Booker to Miami for, and I think he's going to bring that improvement into this season. Basically, the Bears D-line is going to be scary.

5. Not to mention we'll have Vasher back completing the Bears CB tandem, with possibly Danieal Manning taking over for Ricky Manning Jr. at the nickel spot. Without injury, there just isn't a weakness in the Bears defense, and there are outstanding players at every level (Harris, Urlacher, Brown, Vasher&Tillman).

6. And did I mention Lance Briggs? He was angry about his contract last season, and while the rest of the Bears defense was falling apart during the first part of the season, Briggs was showing the Bears and the league that he deserved to be one of the highest paid players in the league. But then no one bit during the offseason, apparently because they're all stupid, and the Bears are so lucky to have him back. I mean, really, I feel bad for him because he deserves to be getting so much more recognition, but the reason for that lack of recognition is because of the big names and outstanding players around him, guys who make it so teams can't really focus on Briggs. Hopefully he'll stop being mad at the Bears this year and use this season to send up a big proud finger at all the other teams who were bashful about shelling out the cash for him. If you play against this defense as perfectly as possible, Lance Briggs is still going to destroy you.

7. The offense. It is going to be better this season. Remember I said I was being optimistic? Here we go: Check out Matt Forte's highlight reel on Youtube. Kevin Jones should not have fallen to the Bears, but he's really good and we won't even need to rely on him. Marty Booker equals a younger, faster, less petulant Muhsin Muhammad. Greg Olsen has a full season under his belt and won't have to sit out the first few games of the season. Devin Hester. Rashied Davis will have a more sure role, which will only benefit both the Bears and him. And somebody, either a finally injury-free Mark Bradley, or Earl Bennett, or Brandan Lloyd, one of those guys is going to emerge as the 2006 Bernard Berrian of this season. But the main reason to be optimistic about the Bears offense this year is their offensive line. They're not going to be great, but they're going to be solid, and that'll be enough. Grossman is capable of being a much better QB when he has time behind a solid line, although I'd actually be happier of Orton won the job. I have to admit, even during this session of unbridled optimism, there aren't a lot of really sure things about this offense, except for that it will be better than it was last season. It might even be better than it was in 2006.

8. I'm getting hungry, so that'll be it for now. But before I go I have to mention the Bears special teams, which is going to be amazing yet again, under the brilliant coaching of Dave Toub. They're always fun to watch, and if nothing else, I'm looking forward to yet another season of watching other teams' special teams units flail around trying to figure out what to do about Hester, and watching the Bears solid special teams unit take full advantage. It will be exciting.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Moment to Gaze

Only five more days until training camp! But until then, all we have is anticipation and memories. So here's something to get you through the day. I just saw this picture posted over at ESPN's HashMarks blog.

Pretty much any picture of Devin Hester brings joy to my heart, but this one is especially great for containing the blurry Viking in the background, hands held out palms up in the universal expression of helplessness. The pure joy of Hester coupled with the schadenfreude of witnessing Viking ineptitude equals a perfect football moment.