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Five Things Bears Fans Should Look Forward To (Draft-free Edition)

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Is it possible to talk about professional football this week without relying on the d-word? Yes. Even if the Bears were simply playing in 2016 as they are now, there is plenty to look forward to.

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So, I really, really intended this article to be about how combine numbers match up to actual performance in the NFL. I will try to get back to that next week. However, I think I speak for many football fans when I state that I need a break from the draft to look forward to actual football. Therefore, even with the draft a little under two weeks away, here are five things I'm already looking forward to for the 2016 Bears season, regardless of who Pace ends up drafting:

1). Marc Mariani playing hard. He had five starts at receiver last season, and 19 of his 22 receptions went for first downs. All 11 of his third-down catches were converted into first downs. He fought for yards instead of feet and he made the most of every opportunity he had in front of him. More than one of those first downs came from him making second and third efforts. I understand that he is not the sort of game-breaking playmaker that Alshon can be, and I know that he is not the blazing speedster that defenses fear, but when he was in last year he had a way of making opportunities count. He seemed like the kind of guy who appreciated the chance that was in front of him, and I am looking forward to seeing more of that.

2). Learning more about Bobby Massie. I've seen videos. I've read the tweets. I have even checked out what Revenge of the Birds has to say. Ultimately, though, I want to see how Massie plays on the Bears offensive line. How does Massie work alongside Long, and how does the offensive system of the Bears play to his strengths (or not).

Few fan bases are ever actually pleased with the state of their offensive line, and Bears and Cardinals fans seem to be no exception. However, I have had enough blue-and-orange Kool-Aid this off-season that I am excited about what Massie might be bringing to the table.

3). Robbie Gould proving me wrong. I have been one of Gould's more relentless critics, largely because of his struggled with touchbacks. However, Gould seems to be taking steps toward covering his limitations. He is kicking earlier and, more importantly, working on adding strength and weight. I sincerely hope that this year Gould goes from being accurate to being powerful as well, and that he can earn every penny of his (for a kicker) high salary.

It should also be interesting to watch the team rally around Gould. It's obvious that he's beloved in the locker room, and if he can just add some boom to his leg, he might make a lot of people (myself included) eat crow. That would be a good thing.

4). Kyle Fuller developing as a corner. Over the last five years, barely 11% of pro bowlers at cornerback were in the first two years of their careers. In fact, the average pro bowl corner selection in that time had a hair over four years of experience. Do I think that Kyle Fuller is a future pro-bowler? I don't know. However, I do know that it takes time for corners to develop, and at times he has shown flashes of the player he might become.

Fuller led the Bears for interceptions last year, and he was second on the team for passes broken up. With six interceptions and three forced fumbles over his first two seasons, he is on the right track. I look forward to seeing him mature as a player.

5). Pernell McPhee being Pernell McPhee. A team captain in his first year on the Bears and the team leader in quarterback pressures, McPhee has been a goldmine of lines about the team, ranging from his advice on how to win games to his more inspirational messages about team play.

Now that he finally has more help in the linebacking corps, it should be great to watch McPhee terrorize other teams. The vitality with which he plays his position, and the passion he brings to the game, make it fun to be a fan.

Well, there they are. Five reasons to look forward to the return of football that have nothing to do with the draft. What are you looking forward to? Tell us all below.