It's that time of the year. Time when off season moves take a temporary pause while players and coaches get ready for Training Camp and the upcoming season. Time when football (and I'm not talking soccer) fans suffer through the intense anticipation of good times ahead while feeding on unsatisfying scraps of articles and tweets in hopes of surviving until the season begins.
This is the season of the Optimist. Optimists thrive in the warm, humid days of mid-summer. They feed on the unsubstantiated hopes of draft picks. They bask in the comfort of players who are recovering "ahead of schedule" from injuries. They find energy in the promise of new schemes and the glory of newly acquired coaches. Optimists clearly see the unfulfilled potential of free agent acquisitions and the inherent value of trades, understanding the need some players have to find a new setting to fully utilize their athletic skills and talents.
Unfortunately - as any Cubs fan can tell you, the realities of life rarely reflect off-season fantasy. So, as a public service, this guide will help Bears Fans to understand the obstacles that still remain and the questions that must still be offered. Obstacles are problems that already exist for the team and must be corrected, while questions represent potential hazards.
Obstacle 1: The Offensive Line
I don't have to list the details here, you are familiar with the situation. While changes to scheme and Carimi's return from injury may bring improvement, the development of the Bears line represents the largest obstacle that needs to be overcome for any real success this season. Even if the starters prove to be acceptable, the absolute lack of depth means that any injury to key players could derail the entire season.
Obstacle 2: The Red Zone Offense
Over the past few years, Robbie Gould has had too many short FG attempts and not enough extra point attempts. Scheme and Line development are key, but Bush, our new free agent RB, needs to earn his keep. The hole in talent at the Tight End position is also an important consideration here, Davis must develop.
Obstacle 3: The Defensive Line
Lovie's defense relies on QB pressure for success. Peppers is a beast, but there are four men on the line - he can't do everything by himself. Last year's production was not enough and exposed the secondary. With young players expected to fill the roster, development is necessary. Injury at this position will expose a lack of proven depth.
Obstacle 4: The Defensive Backfield
Our safety position gave up too many big plays last year, especially considering the defense is built specifically to eliminate big plays. Jennings looks good on paper, but he was exposed last year. Stability and consistency is necessary to succeed in an increasingly pass-orientated league.
Question 1: Depth at Linebacker
Urlacher, Briggs, and Roach represent a top LB corps. Behind them are question marks. What happens if even a minor injury sends a starter to the sideline?
Question 2: Offensive Scheme
Tice is still a relatively unknown commodity as OC. Can he design a scheme that masks the Bears' weaknesses while maximizing the talent he has?
I am still cautiously optimistic that the Bears have made significant upgrades to a team that (far a few weeks at least) looked like a contender before injuries derailed them. I will be attending Training Camp and watching the preseason to see how the team is addressing the above concerns. Until then, I plan to keep my feet on the ground...