Are The Chicago Bears Set To Be Contenders in 2011?

April 11th is far too early to know what the Bears will look like in September, much less in December.  Predicting what a team can do in a season before free agency or the draft have even taken place is a fool's dream.  So why write this article now?  There is a method to my madness.  Follow me to the clearing at the end of the jump to discover that method...

OK, friends.  The point of this post is not to try and use some Ditka-endowed divining rod to determine the 2011 fate of Our Beloved Bears.  I'll leave that sort of premature silliness for Dionne Warwick or Miss Cleo or The Bleacher Report.  It's just not my thing.  So why the title?  Because answering the question isn't the topic.  The question itself is.

It seems to me that there are an awful lot of people that believe that the Bears are going to fall flat on their faces if they don't get this free agent or that draft choice.  Wide receivers, offensive linemen, 3techs and corners must be had for 2011 to be successful.  

I don't deny that improvement in these areas is not only desirable but necessary to improve the teams a whole.  The offensive line is understaffed, Tim Jennings was a stop gap and Charles Tillman is aging, our receiving corps is without a star and Matt Toeina isn't starting material.  Additionally, The Manatee was a disappointment, Chester Taylor was less that effective and the strong side LB spot is manned by a glass soldier and the Bears won't have Hunter Hillenmeyer any more to pick up the slack and it's possible that they won't have Nick Roach any longer either.  There is certainly room for improvement on the Chicago roster.

But that being said, I am stunned at the level of neediness that is attributed to the Bears by sports writers, TV talking heads and by the team's own fans.  The Bears were seven points back from the Super Bowl in 2010, but you would think that they were chasing the Broncos and Panthers for the top overall pick in the 2011 Draft.  The pessimism is just staggering.

Last season, Chicago had a new defensive coordinator.  The defense improved.   This wasn't a scheme change, but better management and coaching.  Rod Marinelli did a better job running Lovie Smith's defense than Smith himself did, for whatever reason.  THe offense was also under new management.  And this WAS a new system.  The results were more impressive than the statistics would indicate.  Especially when Matt Forte was used effectively, the Bears offense was better.  The offensive line, of course, was a problem, but even that seemed to come together a bit towards the end of the season as Mike Tice adjusted personnel and assignments to fit the Bears needs.  And the line responded.  

Would better tools lead to a better product?  Of course.  If Tice could manage to pull together the line last season with the atrocious personnel he was provided with, imagine what he could do if he had a couple of high talent young linemen to work with from this year's draft, or a couple of high value FA linemen, or a combination of the two.  And if Martz managed to coach Cutler and company up while dealing with that attrocious line and trying to learn a complex new offensive system on the fly, what could he do with a decent line and a shiny new #1 receiver?

But what I don't understand is the dire forecast for the Bears if they don't produce a whole bunch of new quality talent?  Will not another year in this system improve Cutler, Knox, Bennett, Olsen and Forte by virtue of repetition alone?  Will not the offensive line improve and gel by the same virtue?  Didn't the Bears defense dominate with the current personnel?

I'm not advocating business as usual.  I would love to see Tice, Martz and Marinelli given some new, high talent toys as much or more than anyone.  I'm just asking why the Bears will fall flat if they don't succeed in improving by addition?

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