Bears Break Camp, Optimism High.................
As Bears break camp, optimism high
But while there are many positives, potential problems raise doubts
http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...8/63815109.jpg Charles Tillman. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune / August 7, 2011)
By Brad Biggs 5:47 p.m. CDT, August 20, 2011
BOURBONNAIS — Optimism hasn't run this high in Bears training camp since 2007 when the team was coming off its Super Bowl appearance.
There are enough parallels between then and now — and in each instance coach Lovie Smith received a contract extension during the offseason.
The difference this time around is the team hasn't been complacent following a successful season. After a division title and a trip to the NFC championship game, the Bears made significant personnel changes, something that wasn't done after that Super Bowl season.
The Bears brought 21 starters from that team back with the idea it was entering a period of sustained success. From there they stumbled all the way to a win-or-else campaign in 2010. Some fresh talent, a full year into Mike Martz's offense and a talented defense has the Bears thinking big.
Here are five things we learned and five we still need to find out after a 23-day stay at Olivet Nazarene, the club's 10th training camp at the school:
What we know
1. Re-tooling an offensive line takes time. Without an offseason to drill techniques line coach Mike Tice wants to make second nature, the line remains a work in progress. Change could be on the way. Even if the Bears improved here, it's not going to be the smoothest transition.
2. The defense is stacked up front. General manager Jerry Angelo always has believed in collecting linemen, and the Bears have a bevy of talent at defensive tackle. They have three talented nose tackles in Anthony Adams, Matt Toeaina and Stephen Paea. Henry Melton could bust out at three-technique with Amobi Okoye also there.
3. This is a self-motivated bunch because with few exceptions the team showed up for camp in excellent condition, erasing any fears the lockout would affect a veteran group. Quarterback Jay Cutler is in the best shape he has been in as a professional.
4. The new kickoff rule is going to hurt the Bears. Yes, Johnny Knox had a 70-yard return in the exhibition opener, but the increased touchbacks and deeper kicks are going to put more pressure on the offense to produce sustained scoring drives. They had 10 touchdown drives of 70 or more yards in 2010.
5. Reports of the demise of Marion Barber are premature. The running back appears to have at least another strong season in him if tough running in camp and the first exhibition is an indication. He has the power and burst to bring another dimension to the scheme.
1. Can the linebackers hold up? Lance Briggs will not play Monday night with a bruised knee, and Brian Urlacher missed some time at the end of camp. The fourth linebacker is Brian Iwuh and after that the Bears face the prospect of playing a rookie. If a veteran addition is made at any position, this is the spot.
2. What is the plan for Knox? It wasn't until camp ended that he got some selective reps with the starters. After a 960-yard season, he's in a lesser role that hasn't been defined. The Bears need newcomer Roy Williams to succeed for this move not to look like a personnel fumble.
3. The defense is thin at linebacker and there isn't a lot of cover in the secondary, either. A competition between Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman for the left cornerback job never materialized, and Major Wright is unproven at free safety as the last line of defense.
4. If Matt Forte's contract situation remains unresolved, will that affect his play? Based on the last three weeks, it's evident the issue is weighing on him. Forte can't set a hard deadline because he doesn't have leverage like Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has a clause in his contract that prevents the team from putting a franchise tag on him next year.
5. It's impossible to figure out why there has been a spin attempt to suggest that now-departed veteran center Olin Kreutz was holding back the development of younger linemen. Developing linemen became more difficult when he left.
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