August 22, 2012

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Sizing Up the 2012 Chicago Bears

By: Matt Bowen

Chicago Bears’ fans got their first taste of their re-tooled roster recently in preseason Week 2 against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.

Quite simply, the Bears first-string offense looks phenomenal.

Long known for their defense, the offense could be what powers the Bears this season.

Everybody knew heading into the offseason that the Chicago Bears were at a make-or-break point as far as their offense was concerned. Behind running back Matt Forte, quarterback Jay Cutler didn’t have anyone else to rely upon.

The frustration on Cutler’s face, along with the Bears’ faithful was evident and the Bears’ ownership realized that the entire organization needed a breath of fresh air. The team hired Phil Emery to take over as GM and he wasted little time making drastic changes.

Out was offensive coordinator Mike Martz, in was Mike Tice. Martz has long been known for his elaborate schemes on offense which didn’t necessarily cater to Cutler’s liking. In the end it seemed like it was Martz and Cutler, and it is much easier finding an offensive coordinator who will get along with the franchise quarterback than it is to find someone of Cutler’s caliber.

The team then set out on a mission to improve their offense ad they did just that. Emery quickly made a trade with the Miami Dolphins for star wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is familiar with Cutler from their playing days with the Denver Broncos.

Emery then signed Michael Bush, who was the best backup running back available in free agency. Bush is similar to Forte in the sense that he can not only run for a solid average, but he has a steady pair of hands that are to be trusted by Cutler. The Bears combination of Forte and Bush gives them the 1-2 punch that every NFL team desires. Within their division, they now have the best rushing attack in the NFC North.

The Bears weren’t satisfied with just one receiver, so they drafted a second. The Bears committed highway robbery when they stole receiver Alshon Jeffery with the No. 45 pick of the second round this year. Jeffery is a big, physical receiver who should make his living in the red zone. He was the icing on the cake and Bears’ fans have big hopes of eating it, too.

So, how good will the Bears offense be exactly? By all indications from their first game together in preseason Week 2, the Bears will contend for the Super Bowl. Sure, they’ve played less than a half of preseason football together, but they looked pristine.

Bush only had five carries, but he scored two touchdowns. Marshall and Jeffery didn’t find pay dirt, but their combined five catches for 123 yards looks downright scary to opponents. Who are opposing defenses supposed to guard? Don’t forget about Forte, who can do it all and will remain fresh throughout the season because of Bush.  Another member of the Bears who will reap the benefits of the new and improved team is Devin Hester, who will be the dagger to many opponents this season.

Whether you like the Bears or not, it’s time to get excited to watch them play.

November 21, 2011

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One Man’s College Football All-American Ballot (Part II)

By: Anson Whaley

As a member of the Football Writers Association of America, one of the unique things I get to do is provide input on the organization’s All-American Team.  Last week, I shared my ballot for the defensive side of the ball. In Part II, I provide my ballot for the offensive squad and special teams.


Robert Griffin III (Baylor): There are a lot of good candidates for All-American here including Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, and Houston’s Case Keenum, to name a few. But my choice is Griffin, who is not only leading Baylor to a respectable season, but is having a great individual campaign as well. His 29 touchdowns to only five interceptions heading into this weekend’s game against Oklahoma is one of the best ratios in all of college football. But the thing that separates Griffin from the others is his ability to run with the ball. He has nearly 500 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on the season, making him nearly as deadly with his feet as he is with his arm.

Running Backs

Trent Richardson (Alabama): Richardson has been in the spotlight all season, leading the way for the Crimson Tide, one of the top teams in the country. He has more than 1,200 yards on the season and 18 touchdowns. Richardson’s also capable of catching the ball out of the backfield as evidenced by his 25 receptions for 318 yards and is really a dual threat of sorts.

LaMichael James (Oregon): When James went down with an injury earlier this year, it wasn’t known how much time he would miss. But even despite sitting out two games, he still has more yards than Richardson on the season. On my ballot, he barely beat out Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, who with 1,242 yards and 22 touchdowns, is having a monster season. But James’ numbers despite the missed games are pretty significant and heading into the weekend, his Ducks were still alive for the National Championship game.

Wide Receivers

Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State): Blackmon is regarded as one of the nation’s best receivers and his 1,242 yards on the season ranked him fourth in the FBS. The Cowboys lost their first game of the season on Friday night against Iowa State and that may have knocked them out of the National Championship picture. But Blackmon still starred, catching ten passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. He leads the nation in receiving touchdowns with 15 and is second in catches with 103.

Jordan White (Western Michigan): Sure, go ahead – chalk up White’s big-time numbers (a nation-leading 108 catches for 1,389 yards and 14 touchdowns) to lesser competition if you want. Thing is, though, that his Broncos have squared off against several BCS AQ conference teams including Michigan, Illinois, and UConn. White didn’t play in the season opener against Michigan, but in games against the Illini and Huskies, he had 26 catches for 205 yards and three touchdowns. That proves he’s the real deal and worthy of a spot on my All-American team.

Tight End

Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame): Eifert leads all tight ends in the FBS in receptions with 51 on the year and is second in receiving yards with 589. The fact that he’s done it against some pretty stiff competition in games against Michigan, Michigan State, USC, and several other BCS AQ conference teams, is even more impressive.

Offensive Linemen:

Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin): Zeitler is the top offensive lineman on a line that’s allowed the Badgers’ Montee Ball to run wild to the tune of 1,200+ yards and 23 touchdowns. Wisconsin’s rushing attack is ranked tenth in the nation and Zeitler’s ability to open up holes is a big part of that.

Nate Potter (Boise State): It’s easy to forget that the Broncos are still in the hunt for the National Title, but with only one loss, they’re not yet out of it. That’s largely due to quarterback Kellen Moore, and Potter and the Boise State linemen have ensured he gets plenty of time to throw as Moore has only been sacked five times this year.

Barrett Jones (Alabama): Jones helped anchor a line that paved the way for 2010 Heisman candidate (and 2009 Heisman winner) Mark Ingram at Alabama. He’s now doing the same for Trent Richardson, who could be a candidate for the award this year and has given the Crimson Tide one of the nation’s best rushing attacks.

Barrett Jones has helped current NFL running back Mark Ingram (pictured above) and future NFL running back Trent Richardson find the endzone on many occassions.

David DeCastro (Stanford): DeCastro has quietly helped the Cardinal to a 9-1 record this season and as a senior, has protected quarterback Andrew Luck about as well as can be done. Luck has only been sacked 19 times in his entire career and only seven times this season.

David Molk (Michigan): Molk and the Wolverines have one of the hardest jobs in college football trying to not only protect athletic quarterback Denard Robinson, but also get out and block for him if he takes off running … which happens quite a bit. Robinson’s legs have helped Michigan to the 11th best rushing attack in the country, but Molk has also protected him when passing as he’s been sacked only eight times all season.


Bobby Cowan (Idaho): Cowan leads the nation in total punting yardage with nearly 4,000 and his average of 47 yards per punt is good for third. The Vandals are one of the lowest scoring teams in college football and Cowan gets plenty of work because of that.


Caleb Sturgis (Florida): Sturgis has been one of the most accurate kickers in college football this season, hitting more than 90% of his field goals (19/21). He hasn’t missed one within 40 yards all season and is 2/3 from distances of 50 yards or greater.

Kick/Punt Returner

Jamal Miles (Arizona State): Miles hasn’t had many opportunities to return kicks or punts this season, but that makes his three returns for scores even more extraordinary. Those three touchdowns from returns are tied for the lead in the FBS.