Jim Miller leads the Bears offense
The Chicago Bears took a huge leap forward last season, winning the NFC Central title with a 13-3 record after finishing last with a 5-11 record only one year earlier.
Despite the success, there is room for improvement. Last year, they lost twice to division rival Green Bay and were soundly defeated 33-19 by Philadelphia in a divisional playoff game at Soldier Field.
The strength of the team can be found on a defense anchored by Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher. No team surrendered fewer points (203) than the Bears in 2001, in spite of a pass defense that ranked twenty-ninth in the league.
On offense, quarterback Jim Miller posted average numbers (he had a 74.9 rating) but won over fans and teammates with his leadership and toughness. He'll need to make more plays, however, if the Bears are to challenge for the NFC title. That said, running back Anthony Thomas, the surprising rookie star in 2001, likely will carry most of the offensive load.
Receiver David Terrell, the Bears' top draft pick last year, began to emerge as a deep threat. Add Marty Booker, who caught a club-record 100 passes in 2001, and the return of Marcus Robinson, and Miller should not lack for targets.
2002 TOP DRAFT PICKS
- OT Marc Colombo, Boston College
3a. CB R. Williams, Tuskegee
3b. OG Terrance Metcalf, Mississippi
- DE Alex Brown, Florida
For the first time in his nine-year NFL career, Miller begins a season as his team's undisputed starting quarterback, giving the Bears stability and leadership at the position. What he hasn't been able to do is stay healthy for an entire season. Since joining Chicago in 1999, he has played in only 21 games and started 17.
Because of Miller's history, the Bears signed free-agent quarterback Chris Chandler, who tossed 87 touchdown passes as the Falcons' starter the past five seasons. Chandler guided Atlanta to Super Bowl XXXIII after setting career highs with 3,154 passing yards, 25 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 100.9. An inability to avoid injuries also has haunted Chandler throughout his career. He has never played in every game of a season.
The offense should benefit from the return of wide receiver Robinson, who spent the final 11 games of last season on injured reserve. Robinson, who caught 84 passes for a club-record 1,400 yards and 9 scores in 1999, also missed five games because of injury in 2000.
With Soldier Field undergoing renovation, the Bears will play their 2002 home games at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium.
OFFENSIVE DEFENSE: Chicago's defense tallied 37 takeaways (third most in the NFC) and scored 5 touchdowns during the 2001 regular season. In addition, the Bears defense returned an interception for a score against the Eagles in the divisional playoffs. Safety Mike Brown provided the game-winning points in overtime with interception returns for touchdowns against the 49ers (33 yards) and the Browns (16 yards) in consecutive weeks.
SECOND TO NONE: Thomas, the thirty-eighth player selected in the 2001 NFL Draft, set a franchise rookie record with 1,183 rushing yards -- in only 13 games (9 starts). The former second-round pick, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry and scored 7 touchdowns, led NFC rookies in rushing and joined running backs Gale Sayers (1965) and Ronnie Bull (1962) and tight end Mike Ditka (1961) as the only Bears to earn NFL offensive rookie-of-the-year honors. With the departure of James Allen, Thomas should play an even greater role in 2002.
Offense: 26 (17 rush, 24 pass)
Defense: 15 (2 rush, 29 pass)
Reprinted from the 2002 preview issue of NFL Insider