The Chicago Bears open up training camp today down in Bourbonnais, Illinois, with their first practice of the year scheduled for tomorrow. With the contract talks of Matt Forte behind them, the Bears are able to focus on football from day one.
Last season, the Bears started off well and seemed destined for the playoffs. That was all before quarterback Jay Cutler and Forte went down. The Bears went on to finish the season 8-8 and were on the outside looking in during the postseason.
This season, there are no excuses for the Bears. Regardless of how good the NFC North will be this season among the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, the Bears need to be good enough to make the playoffs.
One person who needs a playoff appearance more than anyone is head coach Lovie Smith. When general manager Phil Emery was brought in this offseason, it was understood that Smith would remain the head coach of the team, for now. But as any GM would, Emery certainly would like to be able to bring in his own staff, and a losing season for Smith and the Bears would give him the opportunity to do so.
The Bears seemingly have a better team than they did last season. Many of the same pieces are returning on both sides of the ball, and the additions on offense, especially wide receiver, should make them more of a force in not just the NFC North, but around the league as well.
One of the key pickups is wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who had previously worked with Cutler while they were in Denver. Expectations will be high for both of these guys, and now that Cutler has himself a big number one receiver, Bears fans are expecting great things from the 29-year-old quarterback.
Now that Forte has gotten the extension he has wanted for over a year, he can finally focus on the game. With a four-year, $32 million deal, Forte is expected to be as good as he has been over the past couple of seasons. He had a lot of fan support while looking for a deal, but that could all go south if he isn’t up to par statistically this season.
On defense, cornerback Charles Tillman and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are all returning. Neither of them are getting younger, and their chance for a Super Bowl ring is starting to deplete. Their best years are likely behind them, but their level of play is still good enough to be elite in the NFL. Add that to Julius Peppers, who the Bears hope will be a force in the opposing backfield, and this defense can have a huge year.
Even with the talent of the Packers and Lions, coach Smith knows the spotlight will be on this team from the start of practice on Thursday. The expectation will be to win and make a playoff appearance. And I’m sure many of the players would love to get back on the field and get the sour taste out of their mouth caused by losing five of their last six games. For Bears fans, the excitement is palpable and expectations are high. Let’s see how long that feeling lasts.
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