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SportsMonday: Bears Preview

What we need is a preseason checklist: 1. Make fun of Bears offense in general. 2. Make fun of Jay Cutler's interceptions in particular. 3. Make fun of Bears defense in general. 3. Make fun of Bear defender . . . nah, let's make it "Make fun of Brett Favre." On second thought, I think we'll have to make that, "Make fun of the people who have been making fun of Brett Favre."

Then again in this space, we always look for reasons for optimism - especially before the games start. And there is one gigantic reason for Bears fans to have a shiny, happy feeling when looking forward to fall Sundays: Julius Peppers. It is already clear that the defensive end the Bears signed for gigantic dollars in the offseason isn't just good enough to pile up sacks, he's good enough to enable multiple teammates to pile up sacks.

If he can stay healthy, he will force opponents to game plan for him in particular. And the Bears haven't had a defender like that since Brian Urlacher was at his sideline-to-sideline best earlier this decade.

Peppers' abilities might even enable the Bears to overcome their unbelievable unwillingness yet again to make a significant upgrade at safety. More on that later in the inevitable slide back toward pessimism.

This team is working on a streak of three failed seasons in a row, after all, and yet still hasn't been willing to bring in any new managers who matter, i.e. a new head coach or a replacement for any of his direct supervisors.

And so we start with the offense. I love the concept that offensive line coaching superstar Mike Tice will make a big difference. Sure he will - just like Rod Marinelli made such a big difference working with the Bears' defensive line last year. And you might ask the Cubs how hiring superstar hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is working out.

You either have the horses or you don't. The big question for the Bears is whether Lance Louis is a horse. If he can step in at right guard and be a physical presence, he can make Frank Omiyale's shortcomings as a run blocker less glaring. After last year's failed experiment at guard, Omiyale has moved back to right tackle this preseason and it is clearly his best position.

If the line can't protect Cutler, the interceptions will pile up again. But even if Cutler is being sacked three or four times a game, there can't be a return to the ridiculousness of last year's 26 picks, the third highest single-season interception total for any NFL quarterback in the last 15 years.

Plenty of Cutler's picks were due to pressure in 2009, but plenty more were due to pique. You could just see Cutler entering brat mode and firing stupid passes in the vicinity of receivers who "should" have been open but weren't. If it wasn't sub-standard receivers holding Cutler back, it was a sub-standard game plan.

Well the game plan excuse is out the window now. Cutler could not have asked for a smarter offensive coordinator more committed to an aggressive passing attack than Mike Martz. I am actually not optimistic about the Bears' chances in general but I am optimistic about Cutler improving. The thing I come back to is his undeniable intelligence. And Cutler knows that more than anything this year, he needs to avoid the big mistakes that demoralize his team and make the lowlight reels.

As for the Bears defense, well, the front seven will clearly be better but I don't see how anyone can be confident about the secondary covering anyone. Peanut Tillman is old. Zachary Bowman has yet to prove he can stay healthy for a whole season, let along be an impact corner. And who the hell knows who is going to play safety for this team.

You can justify trying to save a few bucks at a few positions (most teams do so at safety first on defense and at guard on offense) when salary cap concerns exist. But there is no cap this year. So there is no excuse for Jerry Angelo adding only a draft pick (Major Wright) to the safety corps this year. Does Chris Harris really count as an addition? We've seen what he could do a few years ago before the Bears traded him away to Carolina and if I'm not mistaken it was pretty clear to Lovie and everyone else that he wasn't good enough.

The Bears primary addition at safety last season was also a rookie. Is Al Afalava, who began last season as the starter, still even on the roster? Atrocious.

Finally, folks do love dumping on Brett Favre don't they? And his end-of-career "will he retire or won't he?" dance has gone on about 100 times longer than usual. But the guy believed he could still play when Green Bay pushed him out in 2008 and he was good with the Jets until late-season injuries dragged him down. And then last year all he did was throw 33 touchdowns versus only seven picks.

All sorts of folks were all over all sorts of media last week talking about how Favre has "held the Vikings hostage" with his indecision about whether to play this year. Except it isn't indecision - it is the standard aftermath of an injury, in this case, an ankle injury.

Also, this notion that if Favre had communicated better, the Vikings would have signed another quarterback during the offseason is farcical. The guy is 40 years old! You need to have at least one back-up plan, if not several. If the Vikings feel they need a different quarterback than Tarvaris Jackson to contend for the Super Bowl this year if Favre can't go, they of course should have signed one regardless of what Favre was telling them.

Ah, football. Other than ever-mounting evidence that an ever-growing cross section of players significantly damage their brains during the routine activities involved in playing the game, other than the relatively tiny qualms that result from that information, is there a more entertaining and stimulating pastime than following this great game of ours?


Jim "Coach" Coffman brings you SportsMonday (nearly) every Monday in this space. He welcomes your comments.

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