Is this a make or break year for Matt Forte?

After Matt Forte racked up 1,715 total yards and 12 touchdowns his rookie year in 2008, the Bears felt as though they had a star in the making. He drew comparisons to Edgerrin James, given the backs’ similarities in balance, body control and burst.

But then something happened in Forte’s second year. His play dramatically fell off and while some like to chalk it up to a sophomore slump, the issues were deeper than that. The offensive line struggled to open holes for him and somewhere along the way he lost his confidence. He also had his knee scoped after the season, which might suggest that he played hurt too. It wasn’t just one thing that affected his play – it was a culmination of factors that limited him to fewer than 1,000 rushing yards and only four total touchdowns.

Whether Forte is due for a bounce back campaign or not, there will be one significant change this year than there was in 2009. And he goes by the name of Chester Taylor. The Bears didn’t have an answer for a slumping Forte last year, but this season Taylor is ready and willing to take over at the drop of a hat. The former Viking isn’t a one-man wrecking crew, but he has proven to be an effective back over his career and won’t hesitate to seize the moment if Forte struggles.

While suggesting that this is a make or break year for Forte is a bit extreme (after all, he’s only in his third year), he now has competition for touches. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe the presence of Taylor will help Forte stay fresh throughout the season and instill some of that confidence that he lost in ’09.

Of course, no matter who runs the ball, the offensive line must do a better jump opening up holes. There’s reason to believe that the Bears’ O-line will be just as bad as it was last year, as GM Jerry Angelo did nothing to address the massive issue in the offseason. The additions of Taylor, defensive end Julius Peppers and safety Chris Harris certainly make this team better, but sliding Frank Omiyale from guard to right tackle doesn’t constitute fixing the offensive line. So it’ll be interesting to see if Forte can build off the success he had in his rookie year, or if the Bears’ running game will once again fall apart at the feet of their offensive line.


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The good, bad and the ugly of the Bears signing Julius Peppers

If you’re a Chicago Bear fan, you’re probably going through a wave of emotions right now after learning that your team just signed free agent Julius Peppers to a six-year deal. So allow me to play NFL physiologist for a moment and break down what the signing could mean for the Bears.

The Good:
Peppers is a freak – a true athletic marvel. He’s averaged over 10 sacks a year in his eight-year career and racked up 25 QB takedowns in his past two seasons. Without question, the Bears needed to fill a massive void along their defensive line by adding a premier pass rusher, which they did by signing Peppers. He’s someone whose mere presence alone will make his teammates (Tommie Harris anyone?) better around him, by freeing them up to make plays. He was the crown jewel of the 2010 free agency period and he gives hope to a fan base that has been utterly dejected after the Bears crashed and burned in 2009 despite having high expectations following the Jay Cutler trade. Along with the deal for Cutler, the Peppers’ signing might also signal a new era for the Bears, one in which a once cheap organization will become more aggressive when it comes to acquiring new players.

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Redskins nearing deal with Julius Peppers?

Here’s a shock: Daniel Snyder might be ready to throw a ton of money at an unrestricted free agent.

According to sports talk show host Lance Zierlein of 1560AM in Houston, the Redskins are “charging hard after” Julius Peppers. Zierlein writes that today’s “bloodbath” in which the Redskins released 10 players will help pave the way for the team to sign Peppers by tomorrow.

Zierlein brings up a good point that Washington took similar steps last year, right before signing DT Albert Haynesworth to a mega-multi million deal. Although I don’t know how Zierlein would have inside information on the Redskins seeing as how he works in Houston, nobody will be surprised if Snyder signs the biggest free agent of the offseason. (And for that matter, nobody would be surprised if Peppers signed with whatever team offered him the most money.)

12:15AM ET Update: Zierlein writes on his Twitter page that the Bears aren’t going to let Peppers get away from them.

Bears to make a play for Peppers and Marshall?

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears met with the player rep for free agent Julius Peppers last weekend. While this might be music to fans’ ears, if this is true then the meeting could be constituted as tampering.

Teams like to meet with player reps before free agency kicks off in order to establish a relationship with the rep’s client. Technically, teams can’t start negotiating with free agents until March 5, but deals always happen at midnight the day of, so clearly teams are in communication with reps and agents before then. The problem arises when the team gets caught negotiating before that time, so chances are the Bears will deny the Tribune’s report, whether it’s true or not.

On a related note, Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that at least one NFL source believes that Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall will end up a Bear in 2010. Hayes didn’t go into much detail outside of noting that the NFL source wagered a “steak dinner” on Marshall landing in Chicago.

Marshall is a fit for the Bears just based on the relationship he has with quarterback Jay Cutler. Plus, Mike Martz would certainly love to reunite the pair in his offense.

But the problem is that the Bears don’t have a first or second round pick in this year’s draft. So unless Denver is willing to take a third rounder and a package of air fresheners in exchange for Marshall, Chicago would either have to sweeten the pot with a player or two, or hand over a pick in the 2011 draft.


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Bears to spend big this offseason?

Bear fans may finally get something they’ve been dying to see for almost a decade now: GM Jerry Angelo opening the team’s wallet.

According to a report by Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times, Angelo has been authorized to spend up to $25 million in guaranteed money this offseason. That kind of loot would certainly be enough to lure Julius Peppers to Chicago, if the free agent defensive end wants to play for the Bears that is.

Angelo has a history of being thrifty in free agency and building his roster almost solely via the draft. But after trading their first round pick in this year’s draft to Denver for Jay Cutler and their second round pick to Tampa Bay for the late Gaines Adams, the Bears don’t have a selection in this year’s draft until the third round. It’s hard for a team to fill voids along the offensive and defensive lines when they don’t make a selection until midway through the third round.

The problem for Angelo is that even though he’ll have the money to spend in free agency, there aren’t many attractive offensive line options. Bobbie Williams (Bengals), Kevin Mawae (Titans) and Chad Clifton (Packers) are all 33 years or older and wouldn’t offer Chicago long-term solutions. The real value at the position lies in the restricted free agent department. Jahri Evans (Saints), Logan Mankins (Patriots) and Jared Gaither (Ravens) are all young and productive players, but depending on what each player was tendered at, the Bears won’t be able to put a decent trade package together because they don’t have any draft picks.

Angelo has a long history of shopping in the clearance section during free agency and until he proves otherwise, I’m not buying that he’ll all of a sudden become Daniel Snyder of the 2010 offseason. That said, it’ll be interesting to see if the Bears do make a strong run at Peppers and what they’ll do to address their needs along the offensive line. Either way, it looks like it’ll be an interesting offseason in Chicago.


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