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BEARLY BEGINNING P photos by Warren Wimmer

story by Dustin Beutin

re-season games have the feel of sitting in the stands at your nephew's little league season opener: the only way to make it palatable is to drink a lot of beer and hope it ends quickly. And if the little slugger happens to be on the winning side, all the better; but really you're just hoping you can head back to his parent's house for dinner without him crying in the backseat or in the emergency room with a bat splinter in his finger. Reliant Stadium is a nice place. The Texans are nice kids. The beer was plentiful and the entertainment palatable. The Bears, though, are on a whole other level. I couldn't imagine what Darius Walker, former Notre Dame running back - who this off-season passed on a contract from the Bears as an un-drafted free agent only to sign with the Texans -- was thinking as he watched (and carried twice for eight yards) in this game. Probably that he at least had a shot to move ahead of Samkon "I'm the last string running back on a crappy team" Gado for some real playing time in the fall. Because really, the difference between these teams was so palpable, it was like watching a smug cat toy with an innocent mouse. There were the Texans, who actually cared about this game: bless their little hearts, they came to play some football.

They rolled out their shiny Texan-toys: Matt "I bailed on Atlanta before Vick could push the flush-lever on the season" Schaub, Sage "I couldn't start in Miami" Rosenfels and Mario "I was drafted ahead of Reggie Bush a year ago and sat at home during the playoffs" Williams. The crowd respectfully clapped, parent-like, in the stands. The Bears? They came out for about 1 series, threw the ball around, made a couple tackles, then

sent in the 30 Bear-hopefuls who are scrapping for the five or so roster spots left over on a Super Bowlquality team built with care and depth. This was EXACTLY what you wanted to see out of the Bears coming off the Super Bowl and into a new season. Rex looked sharp. And that's all you can ask in the first live game. The defense didn't make any huge plays, but they looked solid. Just fine for the first time they actu-

ally get to hit people and don't have to hold off from pounding the quarterback into the grass. Receivers looked like they understood their routes, and dropped passes were at a minimum. And Lovie, with the wisdom of a fourth-year coach, let some of his most important pieces - Urlacher, Tait and Harris - sit the night out, rather then bang them around against a group of nincompoops in a game that counted for nothing other than pride.



Warren Wimmer

Warren Wimmer


PUBLISHED BY: Chicago Sports Review


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Warren Wimmer

CONTRIBUTORS Glenn Anderson | writer Andrea Beavers | writer Dustin Beutin | writer Phil Meyers | writer

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July 30, 2007

Brilliance. There were some flaws on this gem of a night though, and Lovie's staff of stone-polishers will have to set to work this coming week. Special teams - which we Chicago fans have taken for granted over the last few years - gave up some big returns, missed a field goal and looked shockingly shoddy. While it's to be expected in the first pre-season game - when you consider that special teams practice in training camp always takes a backseat - it is worrisome to think that perhaps the rough special team play came from a post-Super Bowl laziness. Defensive play calling also seemed a bit suspect, but again that thought must be tempered by remembering this was Bob Babich's first game running the defense. Still, it's scary to realize that one of the Bears' greatest attributes from last year - the confidence in and experience of Ron Rivera as coordinator - could turn into a weakness if Babich has a hard time making the right adjustments. Garrett Wolfe worries me as well. He looks like a pinball out there, and to be fair he is a rookie in his first pre-season game. But he didn't dominate in the open field, and he inevitably goes down on first contact. It is certainly something to keep an eye on; last year, the Bears needed all three of their running backs. If Wolfe isn't up to the task, it could get rough in the backfield.

Most importantly, the QB controversy between Orton and Griese heated up a notch, with Griese being Jekyll and Hyde (interception, then a sharp TD drive) and Orton being under-whelming, though effective considering he was working with the team's lowest grade of talent. The Bears had to have hoped Orton would light it up against the blithering Texans, but unfortunately he did little to separate himself from Griese (other than look better than most other third-string quarterbacks). Griese isn't the answer for the Bears: he is an old journeyman who can be effective when necessary, but won't be the long term solution if Grossman is hurt this year or let go in free agency. If the Bears are to feel truly secure at the QB position looking ahead, it would be nice to see Orton's shaggy head smiling back with the ability to be a genuine starter. These issues - a fight between second and third QB, cleaning up a historically great special teams unit, warming up to play calling and whether a third-string scatback can produce - are great problems to have, and indicative of how July 30, 2007


well-prepared the Bears seem to be heading into 2007. Overall, the best part of the night could be that the Bears seem to have their heads in the right place. They didn't go out trying to prove the Super Bowl was a fluke by destroying the Texans with complex packages and extended minutes for starters. They didn't suffer critical injuries that could be attributed to the dreaded "Super Bowl Curse" (yet) and they didn't really break a sweat. They just went into Houston, worked out some kinks, won the game and went home for ice cream. -CSR Though other sportswriters in Chicago might still be unpacking their carpetbags, Dustin Beutin is a born and bred Chi-town sportswriter. Heading into the heart of the Big Ten (Purdue) broadened his sports views, and it was during the Jauron era that he lost the innocence of blind love for Chicago sports and began looking for an outlet to vent his frustration. A trip out west to USC for a Master’s in writing was only tolerable with high doses of ESPN and Dodgers games, though it gave him a respect for the national perspective. Now in the early stages of a sports-writing career, Dustin hopes to give back to the city of Chicago everything it gave him: opinions and heartburn. Page 3


By Dustin Beutin

SONG Photos by Warren Wimmer

f you were to take a poll of national sports and media writers, you might be surprised to find that the 2007 Bears are thought of as a group of bungling, smelly fur rugs ready to be trod upon the moment they start the season. Any possible success this current team will achieve this year has already been written off as the accidental consequence of playing in a division unfit to wipe the behinds of the AFC West. To put it bluntly, according to the national media, the Bears will be the worst NFL team of all time‌ to win a Division. And while it's amusing to think what that opinion means about the Vikings, Packers and Lions, it really is somewhat insulting when you consider that the 2007 Bears will return everyone from their Super Bowl XLI run except three defensive tackles, a safety and a backup's backup cornerback. Maybe there is something to the curse of the Super Bowl loser - after all, we know a lot about curses in Chicago - but it seems hardly fair to immediately write off the Bears as mediocre simply because they lost to the Colts while fielding essentially a rookie QB and a defense missing two pro-bowlers. Part of the misconception stems


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from the difficulty the media outside of Chicago has understanding this team. The Bears are the opposite of the NFL standard in virtually every way: they are built with unknown college players, set-up to

win on defense and (now that a certain criminal offender has been released) have no players or coaches who lend themselves to the stage-light of national media. And so, somehow, someway, the


Bears enter the 2007 season as an underdog. A good thing if you ask me, since Chicago fans and teams take to the roll of the underdog like grilled onions take to a polish sausage.

July 30, 2007

That said, the real story of the 2007 Bears' season will have only a little to do with Rex, Urlacher and Lovie - it will have everything to do with Jerry Angelo. A few days ago, Jerry Angelo pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Chris Harris to the Carolina Panthers. In terms of NFL events, the move was a bland, vanilla trade that sent a productive, though unspectacular safety to the Carolina Panthers for a second-day draft pick. Really, the equivalent of a mouse farting in a cheese shop as far as the NFL was concerned. But the move highlighted something very, very telling: this year is the Year of the Jerry. The players, methods and visage of the McCaskey and Mark Hatley eras have disappeared with the exception of a couple of high-caliber stars who continue to benefit the Bears greatly. The Bears are now loaded with and thus completely dependent on young draftees who bear the mark of Jerry Angelo's selection process. The off-season was marked

July 30, 2007


entirely by Jerry Angelo's ability to prune and sculpt the Bears for another run. The trade of Thomas Jones was a historically gutsy move for a team whose next option is a yet-unproven, possibly fragile, young running back. The standoff with Briggs was considerably arrogant in the face of the drama, effort and distraction it tolled on the Bears. The trade of second-day draft picks for Darwin Walker and Adam Archuleta have banked the future on the now. And let's not forget how the off-season began: Angelo trying to find a way to keep his Super Bowl-quality head coach from becoming a lame duck But look at each of these issues further. The Thomas Jones trade resulted in three draft picks when everything was said and done and, if history bears true on Angelo's ability to find talent outside of round 1 (Hester, Orton, Anderson, Tillman, Vasher, Briggs, D. Manning and Berrian, to name a few) the trade of last season's leading rusher may be brilliant; provided Benson holds up and proves worthy of a fourth-overall pick. The standoff with Briggs, despite all the ups and downs for fans, resulted in a pro-bowl linebacker returning to the Bears for this season, and essentially on time for the start of training camp. Trades for Darwin Walker and Archuleta added quality, veteran depth to the two positions of fragility on the defense, allowing Angelo to ship Chris Harris (and probably, ultimately, Dante Wesley) for future draft picks and reload after an exciting off-season. Lovie Smith was brought into the fold for years to come, adding quality and stability in coaching the likes of which the Bears haven't known for more than a decade. At every position this season, the Bears are dependent on Angelo's wisdom for success. The defensive line will see if second-year starter Mark Anderson - one of Jerry's gems from last year's drafts - can truly live-up to the hype of his 10-sack season in 2006. It will watch with baited breath to see if Tommie Harris becomes a perennial injury problem and another Angelo first-round bust, or if returns to the dominance the Bears need on the inside. Brown and Ogunleye - both capable starters on any other team - will fight for one position; and one of Angelo's trades (Darwin Walker) and one of his draftees (Dusty Dvoracek) will look to fill the hole after Angelo's attempts to work with Tank Johnson failed. At linebacker, the story is less

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one of competition than of how Angelo handles the position in the long term. Urlacher is underpaid by current league salary standards and Angelo must know he has to do something to rectify that situation. Hillenmeyer is bound to start getting impatient for more money if he continues to perform on the strong side. And Briggs - well, enough has been said about him to fill a small novel.

to bring in, but who has no real replacement should he go down; a Vegas-sized roll of the dice by Angelo. Miller and Ruben Brown are pro-bowl players in their twilight, who at any moment could succumb to the ravages of a long NFL career. Olin Kreutz is the best center in the NFL, and there is no replacement for him to be found anywhere this side of the Hall of Fame, be he's no spring chicken

Peterson proves to be a great number two and Wolfe shows the burst he had at NIU, everything is fine. If Benson goes down early in the season with another leg problem, Peterson proves too mediocre for starting duty and Wolfe too small for the NFL, well‌ look out. And finally, that silly QB position. Rex is in the final year of his contract. Most teams would be crazy if they didn't wrap-up a quar-

ventional wisdom and timely trades. If it turns out to be a dud of a season, marked by the inability of players to carry over their success from one season to the next, the blame will rightly land on Jerry for playing games and being gimmicky. This year marks the turning point in the Bears under Angelo. Is his regime one of steady, constant success with wily draft picks, sage

The real story of the 2007 Bears' season will have only a little to do with Rex, Urlacher and Lovie - it will have everything to do with Jerry Angelo. In the secondary, Tillman and Vasher will be the running advertisement for Angelo's stated ideology of rewarding the players currently on the Bears. Mike Brown is being given a final, un-NFL-like third chance to prove he is durable enough and Adam Archuleta is being given a chance to prove he isn't as bad as he looked getting benched in Washington. Behind them? Rickie Manning - a Bear with legal troubles - and several draftees from small college programs, a testament to Angelo's willingness to take risks. On the other side of the ball, everything starts with the line. The veteran group is absolutely in its last days of NFL glory. Tait is the free agent who required big money Page 6

either. Left guard continues to be the weak link in Roberto Garza. And depth? Again, un-proven draftees and mediocre "swing tackles" who may or may not bring Angelo glory. The receiving corps is a crosssection of how Angelo does business: unheralded draftees (Berrian, Bradley); slowing down, veteran free agents (Muhammad); reclamations (Rashied Davis); and unconventional draft picks (Hester). The ability of this group to succeed or fail this season will in many ways define more than any other if Angelo's tactics work. The running back situation will sharpen the praise or criticism of Angelo. If Benson proves to be a bruiser of a first-round pick,

terback who led them to the Super Bowl, but nobody would fault the Bears. Angelo is handling the situation like a steely-eyed missile man, waiting to see if Rex can pull through and become a rare firstround success or if he will be another bust. In the wings are Griese - a proven, yet aging and erratic, veteran; and Orton, the kid who won 10 games two years ago when all seemed lost. If Rex goes down or melts down, it will be the maligned vet or the criticized kid who steps in to take the heat. When you add it up, the picture for 2007 is rather clear: if this season is a rousing success and culminates in another Super Bowl run, the credit goes to Jerry for building a team with quality depth, uncon-


veteran acquisitions and solid cap management? Or is it a continued litany of first-round draft busts, strange trades of successful players and arrogance in rewarding probowlers? We'll soon find out who's laughing: Jerry Angelo or the rest of the league. -CSR Though other sportswriters in Chicago might still be unpacking their carpetbags, Dustin Beutin is a born and bred Chi-town sportswriter. Heading into the heart of the Big Ten (Purdue) broadened his sports views, and it was during the Jauron era that he lost the innocence of blind love for Chicago sports and began looking for an outlet to vent his frustration. A trip out west to USC for a Master’s in writing was only tolerable with high doses of ESPN and Dodgers games, though it gave him a respect for the national perspective. Now in the early stages of a sports-writing career, Dustin hopes to give back to the city of Chicago everything it gave him: opinions and heartburn.

July 30, 2007

“Find the good. It’s all around you. Find it, showcase it, and you’ll start believing in it.” JESSE OWENS (1913-1980) Olympic track and field athlete

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July 30th, 2007