Training camp is still about three weeks away. So while the Bears live up the final days of their summer vacation, let’s discuss what has to go right this season in order for the Bears to return to the playoffs and to ultimately have head coach Lovie Smith and Co. keep their jobs.
Ironically, when I think of what must go right in 2010, I think about the three phases of the football team: Offense, Defense and Special Teams.
In Chicago, we have a Fourth Phase, the wonderful diehard fans who are more than just spectators. The Fourth Phase will always hold up their part of the bargain and need not be discussed in this article.
As for the other three......
First Phase: Of course we need running backs Matt Forte & Chester Taylor to back up Coach Lovie and keep his running philosophy going, we also need the men in the trenches to prove that Mike Tice was a solid hire and we need the receivers to grow up fast. But I think the number one must for our new look offense is that Jay Cutler has to cut down on the interceptions.
With new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the Bears finally have a professional caliber play caller and offensive coach. Looking back on Cutler’s 2009 season, his total yards and touchdown passes is exactly what we Bears fans have been hoping for. A few close losses last year may have been prevented if there was just a little more ball security. If the interceptions drop, Cutler is in the Pro Bowl and the Bears are in the playoffs.
Second Phase: We in Chicago are used to mediocre, sometimes even bad, play from the offensive side of the ball. But when the defense starts to fall off, there is a problem. With the addition of Julius Peppers and hopefully a healthy Tommie Harris, the defense’s most valuable unit, the defensive line, should be able to hold its own. The questionable secondary has been upgraded and with a disruptive pass rush, the defensive backs should be capable of generating turnovers. So I think the number one must for our hungry defense is that middle linebacker Brian Urlacher stays healthy all season and returns to All Pro form.
We have talked and talked about how much Urlacher’s physical play was missed last season. We have also talked and talked about how much Urlacher’s mental play was missed last season. This is what hurt the Bears the most. Every player at the NFL level is gifted athletically. It’s the mental aspect of the sport that sets you apart. With new members on the defense and a first time defensive coordinator, Urlacher’s brain will be just as important as his healthy wrist, back and neck.
Third Phase:The Bears third phase is like its fourth phase; always dependable. The one area of the team that is always hit with player turnover has been the backbone of the team for the last few years. With special teams coach Dave Toub running the show, the Bears third phase has finished in the top third of the league for the sixth straight season.
We know that the Bears will produce good coverage teams and more than likely will once again lead the league in blocked P.A.Ts/field goals.
Specialists Tim Shaw, Robbie Gould, Brad Maynard and Patrick Mannelly all have a special place in our hearts. Daniel Manning and Johnny Knox are probably setting wagers on who will be invited to Hawaii at season’s end as the NFC’s kickoff returner.
But one area of the Bears special teams needs to return to form. I think the one must for our special teams to help this team return to dominance is Devin Hester. It may be unfair to say it’s on Hester, maybe I should rephrase that. It is on whoever returns punts. When Hester was relieved of his kickoff duties, many Bears fans were upset. How does the only man to return the opening kickoff in a Super Bowl get taken off kickoff return duties? Then Manning and Knox did their thing.
But a game changing punt returner has not been seen since ’07. In Hester’s first two seasons the Bears enjoyed tremendous field position; either by Hester taking the punt for a big gain or the opposing team being too scared to even kick to #23 and the ball being shanked out of bounds. This type of play when an opponent is punting could change the entire game around. It gets the defense hyped to get off the field in hopes of a big play and great field position, or it gets the offense hyped to get on the field and score with great field position. Momentum is a glorious thing in football when it works in your favor.
So in conclusion; if Cutler cuts down on the picks, opponents asses Urlacher kicks, and Hester’s punt returns produce six…we're in the Championship!
What do you feel the Bears must do to contend in 2010?