Forget for a moment that Jim Miller is an immobile journeyman
quarterback with a history of fragility. Ignore the fact that
four teams gave up on him before he arrived in Chicago in 1998,
and only one, Pittsburgh, had ever named him to start on opening
day. (Miller lost the job before the first game of the '96 season
was over.) As for reports that Chicago was interested in
acquiring Drew Bledsoe in the off-season, forget them too.
All you have to know is this: The Bears believe in Miller. He
won't dazzle anybody with his skills, and he long ago stopped
trying to. What he will do is take the blame for any offensive
misfortune, study every nuance of the offense, and never try to
do something he knows he can't do. He is the Everyman
signal-caller, competing in an era in which gritty, team-first
quarterbacks like him are winning Super Bowls. Baltimore won in
2000 with Trent Dilfer, New England took last season's title with
Tom Brady. Now the Bears will try to go all the way with Miller,
who admits, "I know I'm not going to break any records in this
league. I just want to win some games."
In that department Miller has done pretty well. The Bears were
11-2 in games he started last season. Still, the common
perception was that the offense was the weak link--after all, the
defense gave up only 21 touchdowns, second fewest in the
league--and that Miller's main contribution was simply avoiding
errors. This year he must contribute.
That should be easier because Miller finally can play without
looking over his shoulder. Though his 2001 passer rating (74.9)
ranked 12th among NFC quarterbacks, his career highs in attempts
(395), completions (228), yards (2,299), touchdowns (13) and
games played (14) earned him a five-year contract potentially
worth a reported $20 million. To make Miller feel even more
comfortable, Chicago released Shane Matthews, last season's
opening-game starter. As a backup, the Bears signed 15-year
veteran Chris Chandler, whom Miller played behind in Atlanta in
'97. Though Chandler is more talented and experienced than
Miller, he also is comfortable supporting his close friend.
"They're similar guys," says Bears coach Dick Jauron. "They work
hard, and they're students of the game. I watch them in practice,
and they're always talking about what they see and why they made
certain decisions. They really push each other."
Miller shouldn't lack for targets. The first option is Marty
Booker, who set a team record last season with 100 receptions.
Marcus Robinson is coming off reconstructive left knee surgery,
but in '99 he had 1,400 receiving yards. Speedy third-year
receiver Dez White might be ready to break out, and David Terrell
spent the off-season refining his route-running, an area of
criticism in his rookie year. An improved passing game might take
pressure off running back Anthony Thomas and make the attack less
Last year, Miller swears, the offense was unfairly knocked. "What
people don't understand is that we were one of the least
penalized teams in the Bears' 80-year existence," he says. "We
lost eight fumbles and had only 17 sacks [a league low]. Plus, I
was coming back from an Achilles tear, David and Anthony were
rookies and we lost Marcus. An offensive coordinator needs to
trust his players, and we had lots of guys moving in and out of
the lineup. We're a lot more mature now."
So is the defense, which has nine starters returning to a unit
that should again be among the league's best.
For Miller, the only major concern is at left tackle. After
releasing Blake Brockermeyer, Chicago is hoping either Bernard
Robertson, who didn't play last season, or first-round pick Marc
Colombo can be an effective successor.
Whoever the starter is, he and the rest of the line will
concentrate on protecting Miller, a beloved figure because of his
work ethic and reluctance to complain while holding clipboards
behind Matthews and Cade McNown. "We've all watched over the
years as people said Jim would start, and then somebody else
would get the job," says offensive tackle James (Big Cat)
Williams. "It had to put stress on him. But he's our Number 1 guy
now, and he has to feel good knowing that." --J.C.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER A sharper receiving corps should help the middling Miller earn a passing grade.
COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS COLOMBO
Look for second-year running back Anthony Thomas to display
more versatility. Although last season he rushed for 1,183 yards,
he caught only 22 passes, primarily because third-down back James
Allen was so effective as a receiver. The Bears want Thomas on
the field for every snap so foes won't automatically think pass
on third down.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Bears
"Their linebackers are the strength of the whole team. If the big
guys up front let them make plays, they'll be tough to stop. It's
going to be critical for Keith Traylor and Ted Washington to stay
healthy and in shape because they've both been around the league
for 11 or 12 years. Phillip Daniels and Bryan Robinson are solid
run-stopping ends, and Keith McKenzie will help their pass rush
if he's healthy.... At cornerback, Roosevelt Williams is going to
have to play well for them even though he's a rookie. To me, they
only have one legitimate cornerback, and that's R.W. McQuarters.
They have to find somebody to help him or that's going to be a
weakness.... I like big, physical receivers, and they have
plenty. Dez White needs to start doing something. He doesn't have
confidence. You can tell on film that he doesn't think he's a
starter. He doesn't have natural hands, and he's a bit stiff as a
route-runner, but overall he's just too talented to not be better
than he is.... Anthony Thomas isn't a special back, but he's
powerful, fast, durable and has a lot of qualities you want in a
running back. If he goes down, though, they're in trouble. Leon
Johnson is only good as a situational back.... The strength of
their offensive line is in the middle. Big Cat [James Williams]
is getting old, and they lost Blake Brockermeyer. Marc Colombo is
a tough kid who's known for his pass-blocking, and they really
need him to step up at left tackle."
Sept. 8 MINNESOTA
15 at Atlanta
22 NEW ORLEANS
29 at Buffalo
Oct. 7 GREEN BAY (Mon.)
13 Open date
20 at Detroit
27 at Minnesota
Nov. 3 PHILADELPHIA
10 NEW ENGLAND
18 at St. Louis (Mon.)
Dec. 1 at Green Bay
9 at Miami (Mon.)
15 N.Y. JETS
22 at Carolina
29 TAMPA BAY
Home games played in Champaign, Ill.
NFL rank: T25
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .477
Games against playoff teams: 8
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics
COACH: Dick Jauron; fourth season with Chicago (24-24 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 13-3 (first in NFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 17/24/T26; defense 2/29/15
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Jim Miller 104
395 att. 228 comp. 57.7% 2,299 yds. 13 TDs 10 int. 74.9 rtg.
RB Anthony Thomas 23
278 att. 1,183 yds. 4.3 avg. 22 rec. 178 yds. 8.1 avg. 7 TDs
RB Leon Johnson 247
20 att. 99 yds. 5.0 avg. 1 rec. 0 yds. 0.0 avg. 4 TDs
FB Daimon Shelton 363
0 att. 0 yds. no avg. 12 rec. 76 yds. 6.3 avg. 1 TD
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Marty Booker 26 100 rec. 1,071 yds. 8 TDs
WR David Terrell 179 34 rec. 415 yds. 4 TDs
WR Dez White 206 45 rec. 428 yds. 0 TDs
TE Fred Baxter 217 22 rec. 148 yds. 2 TDs
K Paul Edinger 231 34/34 XPs 26/31 FGs 112 pts.
PR Leon Johnson 247 28 ret. 9.1 avg. 0 TDs
KR Leon Johnson 247 14 ret. 20.4 avg. 0 TDs
LT Bernard Robertson 6'3" 310 lbs. 0 games 0 starts
LG Rex Tucker 6'5" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Olin Kreutz 6'2" 293 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Chris Villarrial 6'3" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT James Williams 6'7" 332 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Bryan Robinson 37 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
LT Ted Washington 26 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
RT Keith Traylor 27 tackles 2 sacks
RE Phillip Daniels 44 tackles 9 sacks
OLB Rosevelt Colvin 59 tackles 10 1/2 sacks
MLB Brian Urlacher 89 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Warrick Holdman 93 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
CB Jerry Azumah 49 tackles 1 int.
SS Mike Green 63 tackles 3 sacks
FS Mike Brown 55 tackles 5 int.
CB R.W. McQuarters 64 tackles 3 int.
P Brad Maynard 87 punts 42.6 avg.
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)
"Anthony Thomas isn't a special back, but he's durable. If he
goes down, they're in trouble."