The Chicago Bears open veteran camp next week. If you're a Bears fan, this is a godsend for you. Two full months before the rest of the NFL teams conduct any mandatory workouts, head coach Lovie Smith is sending a message throughout the locker room; "get ready for super bowl XLIV".
At this moment, we're dealing with problems at offensive line, free safety, wide reciever, and probably Quarterback depending on who you talk to. That combined with the front office's unwillingness to go after a couple high profile free agents has left alot of Bears fans skeptical of the 2009 season.
But every yin has a yang, for every bad decision the bears have made, there are the good decisions. So without further ado (or adu) i want to throw out a few reminders on why if you're a bears fan, you should expect no less than a playoff run in 2009. I'll also be posting a counter piece as well.
1. Changes to the coaching staff
Jerry Angelo stated that he's depending on coaching and attitude to play a factor in the Bears playoff quest in 2009. After ranking 24th in 2008, Lovie Smith has decided to take a more proactive approach for his defense. First, he appointed himself as defensive playcaller, something he did very well when he was defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams from 2001-2003, where they ranked third in takeaways in that span.
Along with that, moved current defensive coordinator Bob Babich back to linebacker coach. last time he held that spot down, Brian Urlacher was a pro bowler. After the less than stellar play of the cornerbacks, Smith fired Steve Wilks and replaced him with Texans DB coach John Hoke, who brings two decades of experience to that spot.
But the undoubtebly the biggest change to this staff was new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who Churned out star linemen in Tampa Bay such as Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Anthony McFarland, and Chris Hovan(who was slowly dying in Minnesota). Smith has injected his coaching staff with the veteran expertise that makes ordinary teams championship teams.
2. an injury free start
A big problem since Chicago's superbowl loss was injuries being carried over into the following season. Whether it was Tommie harris, Brian Urlacher, Chris Williams, or any member of the secondary, the injury issue was huge going into the past two training camps. this season, it is not a concern at this moment, which means the Bears are in beter shape this year than last. Harris and Urlacher head into this offseason pain free, Mike Brown is no longer on board, Chris Williams is one hundred percent, and Nathan Vasher says he's ready to compete for the right cornerback spot.
3. Kyle Orton
Another problem the Bears have faced the past two seasons is the quarterback position. Even though he started all of 2006 and was the undisputed starter for 2007, Rex Grossman remained a question mark after a dizzying up and down year and an even more horrid perfomance in the superbowl. Many favored Brian Griese to replace him, which is what eventually happened after a embarrasing week 3 loss to the Cowboys. Griese did not fare any better however, going 3-3 as a starter and throwing 10 TDs to 12 INTs before being injured. Grossman came back in, and performed slightly better before being injured himself and allowing Kyle orton to step in going 2-1 in the final 3 games.
Fast forward to 2008. the QB position was not solidified going into training camp, and had to be settled by having Rex and Kyle compete to be starter. the move was damaging to whoever would had been named starter, because they had to split reps. This year, with the exception of trade rumors, all signs point toward Kyle being the starter for 2009. Orton performed solid last season and can only get better this year, unless the Bears don't shore up that line, find dependable recievers, or trade for Cutler(snicker).
4. No locker room drama
There were a ton of off the field issues these past two seasons, most of them centered around Cedric Benson. Benson, the fourth overall pick in 2005, was the subject of critisizim after a lengthy holdout during his rookie season. Then came the reports of Thomas Jones taking a swing at him and several Bears players purposely trying to injure him. Two alcohol related arrests later, he was cut. Now that he is gone, the locker players can now focus on winning games instead of downplaying incidents.
Benson wasn't the only problem these couple years however. There was Thomas Jones' ongoing feud with fellow players and front office, Lance Briggs publicly venting frustration over being franchised, and then crashing his Lamborghini and leaving the scene of the accident, the Tank Johnson gun saga, Brian Griese(who was T.O. before T.O. was T.O.) splitting the locker room in half and butting heads with Grossman and Ron Turner, and the Terrance Metcalf(who at the time I'm writing this just got released) taking the juice. It's been a PR nightmare at Halas Hall. Lovie and Jerry both are all about character players and right now, thats all that remains on the Bears roster.
5. Contract disputes
The Bears had to deal with players wanting new deals the past two years. Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher, Robbie Gould, Devin Hester, and Lance Briggs who's contract situation which got very ugly. there is virtually nobody this season who should be holding out for a new contract short of Kyle Orton, but even he has to prove he's worth a new deal. The only guy i can see trying to hold out for a new deal would be Olin Kreutz. it's still unrealistic however.