Now that free agency has gone dormant and the post-Draft hangover has finally worn off, it is time to assess the off-season and look towards training camp and the season beyond. Last year I authored my first FanPost assessing the offseason and concluding that the 2011 Bears were a more complete team than the 2010 team.
So what about the 2012 Chicago Bears? With an active off-season and a unexpected Draft, have they improved upon the Mid-season team that showed playoff promise? Or did they simply put on a coat of paint to cover the blemishes that were exposed in a weak opening and the dismal end to last season?
Special Teams: Like last year, there will be some key pieces of the ST unit missing. Along with the departures of Corey Graham and Zack Bowman, injury will likely sideline Johnny Knox and we have some uncertainty with the recovery of super-manly super-Bear Patrick Mannelly. I believe that the addition of Weems and Thomas plus the development of other players on the roster should minimize the damage. Podlesh and Gould are still top players at their positions, and as long as we have the evil genius coaching special teams, the Bears will continue to reside at the top in terms of Special Teams. EVEN.
Defense: The first round pick of Shea McClellan is the most prominent change on defense going into 2012. Along with our new DE, the Bears picked up a potential contributor in the 3rd round with Hardin and substantially upgraded our depth by adding Nate Collins, Kelvin Hayden, Geno Hayes, and Jonathan Wilhite. Meanwhile, the Bears cut Anthony Adams, lost the bidding war on Amobi Okoye and watched both Graham and Bowman leave. At this point the real question is how will the core of the defense stand up to Father Time? Can Urlacher, Briggs, Tillman and Peppers continue to play at the level Bears Fans have come to expect? While on paper the overall talent was slightly upgraded - especially in the backfield, until the line shows it can produce consistent pressure there will be some questions on defense. IMPROVED (slightly)
Offense: New GM Emery has made his headlines on offense. Adding two big receiving targets in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall immediately inserts the Bears into conversations about who has the best receiving corps in the NFC North. Upgrades in depth at both the quarterback and running back positions give the bears a starting quality 2nd string. There are still question marks at Tight End and along the Offensive Line. Along the line, the Bears are holding tight to the belief that they have the talent they need on the roster and that players returning from injury and continuing player development will allow them to field a serviceable line. Much will be learned at training camp about this unit, fans are praying that the coaches know what they are talking about. IMPROVED
I still believe that the game of football is won and lost on the line. Unfortunately the line - on both sides - represents the biggest unknown for the Bears. If - and that's a really big if - the offense can protect Cutler and give Forte some running room, the Bears may score more points than any team in Chicago Bears history. If - and that's a really big if - the defense can put pressure on Ponder, Stafford, and Rodgers they can shut down our NFC foes - only Minnesota presents any real threat on the ground. The last wildcard is injuries. After a 2011 that was shut down by key injuries, if the Bears can avoid major injury problems in 2012 I believe they will own the NFC North.