So yesterday, I did my annual (2 years running!) "Reasons for Concern" post on the 2012 Bears. So it's only fair I follow up with what's got me pumping sunshine and lollipops this season.
It's not all hate around these parts.
I may look back at this post at the end of the season and laugh, or heck even midway through the season and begin uncontrollably sobbing, but I'm convinced Zach Maynard will have a better year. Convinced.
I've seen nothing from Maynard that suggests to me that he'll be an elite quarterback, but I've seen and heard enough from him to make me think that he'll finish in the top half of the conference in QB efficiency which should be enough to help the Bears improve to a better record.
I'm not going to rehash the whole Maynard was awesome the last four games of the season (Texas never happened) bit, though it is worth noting the stat line: 67% completion %, 5 TDs, just 1 INT, no fumbles, 149.5 QB rating, with season highs of 167.1 and 162.3.
It's more than that though. Maynard was visibly better in the second half of the season. His footwork was better, his pocket presence was improved, and he was utilized better as a rusher.
The depth at the QB position is also arguably the most talented that it's ever been, and I think the Bears' coaching staff is going to allow for Maynard to take more risks running the ball this year as a result of that. Also, I think Maynard felt a bit of a need to prove that he wasn't simply a tuck-it-and-run type of quarterback last year, and felt the need to try buy time out of the pocket instead of picking up a few extra yards on the ground. I believe we'll see that shift this year like we did more with Kevin Riley during his junior and senior season.
And if anything, Maynard just has to be better, right? I mean it's been a historical trend for nearly every senior starting QB in the conference. He's been in the offense for a year now, he's developed rapport with his teammates, and he must have spent time addressing his biggest weaknesses as a QB (presnap checks, reads, and detection of pressure) this off season, right?
I'm inclined to believe you're going to see a Kevin Riley type of progress from Maynard. Not quite the astronomical jump that some would have liked, but a steadier, more consistent force under center, and I really do believe that should lead to more wins.
Before I get into this, I thought I'd share a somewhat troubling statistic on Cal's rushing production the past few years.
2008: 186.23 yards per game (28th in the nation) with 22 TDs
2009: 169.31 yards per game (42nd in the nation) with 27 TDs
2010: 158.83 yards per game (51st in the nation) with 19 TDs
2011: 154.85 yards per game (62nd in the nation) with 25 TDs
That's right. The Bears rushing offense has dropped continually each year. And that's with Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen as your starting runningbacks back from 2008-2010.
But this is a reason for optimism post!
As stated above, I think we're going to see more efficient quarterback play this year. I do think there are going to be higher standards for the Bears' offensive line this year, and we're going to see better numbers from Maynard which is going to result in better numbers for Cal's backs. But this doesn't even mention what I consider to be the biggest factor as to why you're going to see some solid rushing numbers this year.
The Bears are stacked at runningback.
Just over a week ago, Tedford was quoted in staying that the RB spot was very competitive and he saw each of his four running backs (Senior Isi Sofele, senior CJ Anderson, sophomore Brendon Bigelow, and freshman Daniel Lasco) being capable of being the starter.
Now I fully expect Sofele to take the opening day first snap barring any injury, but when I look at the talent at the position, I'm inclined to believe Tedford that these guys are that good.
Sofele surpassed many people's expectations when he had one of the best single rushing seasons ever with 1,322 yards, 10 TDs, and averaging over 5 yards a carry. He visibly improved over the course of the year, and his shiftiness in certain plays were flat out spectacular. He still has more fumbles than I would like, and isn't as steady a force rushing in between tackles, but he's more than convinced me that he's a solid back.
I've become increasingly impressed with CJ Anderson as well. I don't think he's an elite talent of a runningback, but he's so well rounded and provides such a refreshing level of physicality and balance at the runningback position. He was also the best threat out of the backfield last year for the Bears.
I've been big on Bigelow and Lasco for a while now, and though they may not get many carries this year, I'm convinced they're going to make the best of them. I'm praying the coaching staff finds some creative ways to get Bigelow the ball, as the idea of a healthy Bigelow has the potential to bring entertainment unrivaled since the craziness that was Jahvid Best. I think Lasco is a solid option to run the ball late in games to wear down a defense. You're going to see some good things from them this year.
All four backs have my attention, and I feel confident with any of them carrying the ball right now. It's a bit contrary to whole fear with unproven players, but I think they're all going to make some plays this season.
Secondary Play I'm not going to go out on a limb and say that the Bears will again lead the conference in passing defense, but I think there's a good shot that we might actually be better in the secondary this year.
For as much as some have ripped on Marc Anthony, I think he's easily the most physical cover corner the Bears have in quite some time. He lacks the elite speed to keep up with burners, but he'll do a nice job of jamming up some of the more physical wideouts in the conference. He may not shut them down, but he's going to get them to work for their yards.
Steve Williams, is legit though. This guy has great cover skills, nice speed, and smooth hips. He doesn't quite possess the lock down type of cover skills in the vertical passing game, but he's capable of making huge plays in nearly every part of the field.
In addition to have three year starters at both DB positions, I also like the move to safety for Josh Hill. He may still actually play nickelback in those situations, but he's a smart player with good instincts capable of putting up some solid numbers this year. I'm thinking bigger numbers than DJ Campbell, but shy of the explosion that was Chris Conte's performance at safety.
There's also a great deal of potential in the secondary. I've been waiting for the light to turn on for Alex Logan, and that's reportedly been the case. Both he and Avery Sebastian can lay the wood. I think Michael Lowe is a good enough athlete to do some nice things in coverage, and I'm loving what I'm hearing about the depth at DB with Adrian Lee and Kameron Jackson who really came on towards the end of the year.
In short, we've got one of the better defensive back duos in the conference, and some good depth behind them.
Defensive Line Dominance
This one is a bit of a gimme, but the injury bug at defensive line had me hesitating. But I simply can't not say this unit has me giddy (that's what she said.)
Cal's defensive line has been so solid over the past few years, and we've got a group that's genuinely two deep this year with a group of guys I'm convinced could start on the majority of teams in this conference.
The idea of Jalil, Payne, Coleman, Barr, Moala, King, and Tipoti as a utility-live-in-the-backfield-and-drink-your-milkshake type of defensive lineman comforts me into thinking that this group is going to make it much easier for this entire defense.
It just might be the difference between Oregon's running game having their way or Matt Barkley through for over 400 against the Bears.
Now, just stay healthy fellas.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 7:03 AM