More than any other time in recent years, It seems likely that the Bears will be one of the teams making the playoffs, and possibly going further. Jay Cutler got his man in Brandon Marshall. The Matt Forte contract situation will hopefully be resolved soon. The Bears have strengthened the roster with the signings of running back Michael Bush and backup quarterback Jason Campbell. Linebacker Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have at least a couple more seasons left in the tank. Granted, the offensive line still needs some work, but do the Bears have any excuses if they don't hit the big time this year?
All the pieces seem to be in place. The position that players and fans alike wanted to be addressed has been. The Chicago Bears now have a definitive number one receiver in former Dolphin Brandon Marshall. Over the last few years, attempts have been made to give Cutler the target he needs, but most of those have failed. Roy Williams, anyone? And as hard as they've tried, Devin Hester just hasn't progressed as mush as they would have liked him to at the position.
The one downside is the recent news that Johnny Knox might not even make it back to play any football this year. Knox has excellent speed and was developing into a more than competent wide out. But if Earl Bennett can get going, and if Kellen Davis is everything Lovie Smith thinks he is, then the Bears have the strongest depth at receiver than they have in a long time.
Even if the worst was to happen, and Matt Forte does holdout, the Bears now have Michael Bush to call upon. Couple this with the emerging Kahlil Bell, and even without Forte, the Bears should be able to move the ball on the ground. Hopefully this duty will primarily fall to Forte as he and the Bears look to get a deal finalized that satisfies both parties.
Defensively, there are some question marks. Is Julius Peppers the only real threat up front? The Bears tried in vain to sign Mario Williams, obviously recognizing the need for another high caliber player on the defensive line.
Israel Idonije has resigned with the Bears and needs to step up and show the rest of the league what type of player he is. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher can still play at a high level, but it is concerning that there appears to be no one ready to take the reins once they decide to call it a day. Did anyone else think it was a mistake when they let go of Brian Iwuh, or is that just me?
Of course, I have left mentioning the offensive line until last. This has been the Bears Achilles heel for some time now, constantly shuffling players around, trying to find a formula that fits. Do the Bears draft an offensive lineman with their first pick? There are quite a few good ones this year, but how many of them are still available by the time the Bears are on the clock remains to be seen. Lets just say, that once again, the offensive line needs to improve.
It's all well and good giving Jay Cutler targets to throw the ball to, but it's a waste of time if he's still getting sacked too much.
Lovie Smith might be feeling the pinch in all of this. Could this be a make or break year for him? Does new GM Phil Emery expect results now or is he willing to wait?
One thing is certain; the Bears should find themselves with every chance of at least competing for the NFC North title this year. If they have a strong draft and make the most of the talent they possess, there is no reason why they shouldn't at least make the playoffs.
The time for excuses in Chicago is over.