Pompei; Warm Fuzzies for Bears Not There This Year..........
Different feel for Bears this season
2010 luck unlikely; personal agendas could be concern
Dan Pompei On the NFL 9:14 p.m. CDT, September 8, 2011
If it's warm and fuzzies you are looking for, you will not find them here.
I have a few thorns and pricklies for you.
Lovie Smith says this is the best team he has had in his tenure as Bears coach.
On paper, it's a pretty good team. Not as good as some, like the Packers, but better than most.
The Bears have potential difference-makers at quarterback, defensive end and linebacker.
The team's biggest problem area in 2010, the offensive line, looks significantly better than it did the last we saw the Bears play in a meaningful game.
The coaching staff is strong, very strong.
It will have to be.
No one expects the Bears to face a parade of third-string quarterbacks/hamburger flippers this time. It is unlikely their opponents will drop an NFL-high 46 passes, as they did last year, according to Football Outsiders Almanac. The Calvin Johnson touchdown that wasn't won't happen again.
The Bears might be a better team and have a worse record.
More powerful enemies dot the schedule. And more dangerous enemies lurk within the Bears' own huddles too.
A team's fortunes are determined by more than just talent and coaching. You have to look at what's inside the helmets, what's beneath the jerseys and how the individuals are connected to one another and the NFL universe.
Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I'm not sure I like the vibe around the 2011 Bears.
This is a team that was kissed by good fortune in 2010, but it acts as if good fortune couldn't help but kissing such a gorgeous face.
Winning always invites problems in the NFL, because too many people think they were the reason for it.
Jimmy Johnson, who won three Super Bowls in Dallas and now is a commentator for Fox, talked about the downside of winning in a recent conference call with reporters.
"Everybody says, 'Give me more money, give me more accolades, give me more publicity, give me more of everything,' " he said. "That hurts the team concept."
The Bears didn't win it all, but they went far enough to feel some of the effects of winning.
Matt Forte was complaining about his contract before the ink was dry on the new collective bargaining agreement. And he's still not happy he doesn't have new paper.
At a time when all oars were needed in the water, Lance Briggs started waving his oar around in the hopes that the team would throw him a life vest stuffed with cash. They did not.
Greg Olsen was boxed up and shipped out in part because he wanted to wet his beak with one year left on his deal.
There are other chemistry issues too.
Hired gun Roy Williams, who has underachieved for most of his career, was brought in and treated as if he were Brian Urlacher. Young, promising Johnny Knox was demoted before Williams took a snap.
This will not be provided as an example of effective team building at your next organizational development seminar.
A little internal strife isn't always a bad thing. But these Bears might not be as prepared to weather a storm as they were one year ago.
Olin Kreutz, the most forceful leader their locker room has seen in decades, was run off. Or he ran himself off. Whatever. The players were stunned.
You can debate whether or not the blocking will be better without Kreutz, but you can't debate whether or not the leadership will be.
Kreutz was not the only fiber guy who was not brought back. Desmond Clark, the conscience of the locker room and an eight-year Bear, didn't make the cutdown to 53. Rashied Davis, as tough and industrious as anyone who has worn a Bears uniform, went to the rival Lions.
We are left with Jay Cutler as the leader of the Bears.
He has shown some signs that he may be maturing. He had better be, because he won't have Kreutz in his grill anymore if he steps out of line.
Maybe none of this matters when the kickoff flies off the tee at noon on Sunday and the special teamers go screaming down the field in search of that first collision.
The bottom shouldn't fall out. The Bears should hang around, compete for a playoff spot as long as they aren't wrecked by injury. There is good reason to believe they can go 9-7.
But 11 wins like last year? NFC North title?
Can't see it. Or more accurately, can't feel it.
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