All things considered, the Bears would probably be content to enter the alleged 2011 season status quo on defense and special teams.
The offense is another matter.
While the defense was top 10 in most of the significant categories, and special teams finished fourth overall in the Dallas Morning News comprehensive rankings, the offense did not rank above 21st in any key category.
That being said, the offense was decidedly better at the end of the season than it was on opening day. And considering the circumstances, the offense showed some encouraging signs for the future.
"It just has to come together," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "I feel good about what the offense did given we had a first-year coordinator (Mike Martz) coming in here, a new offensive line coach (Mike Tice), a whole new offense, (and) a new cast of young players.
"It wasn't a veteran offensive group. I thought the guys came together pretty good."
The offensive line struggled all season to protect quarterback Jay Cutler, and it stumbled through some difficult games against top teams. The Bears scored just three points in a 14-point loss to the Giants in which Cutler was sacked nine times - in the first half. And they were held to seven points in a 29-point loss to the Patriots and just three points in the regular-season-ending loss to the Packers, in which the defense permitted just 10 points.
RB Matt Forte
But running back Matt Forte had his best season yet, averaging a career-high 4.5 yards per carry, and he came on strong in the second half of the season when the patchwork offensive line jelled.
The Bears also scored 78 points in back-to-back victories over the Vikings and Jets and hung 35 on the Seahawks two weeks later in a divisional-round playoff game.
"They had their moments," Angelo said. "Not all of them were great moments, but there were a lot of good moments. We won a lot of football games, and it wasn't solely because of the defense. The offense did its share, and special teams, too.
"So we feel good about the foundation that is in place. Obviously we have to continue to get better. There are probably going to be a few new faces in there somewhere."
The most likely positions to receive facials are the offensive line and wide receiver. On the line the Bears need an infusion of talent and youth; at wideout, a big, physical weapon would complement the youthful speed that already exists.
"I think all teams would want their offense and defense to both be a top-five team," coach Lovie Smith said. "I think we made a lot of progress this year (on offense). In order to win 12 games (counting the postseason) in this league, you have to have some power on the offensive side of the ball.
"As we look at our future, I'm excited about the direction our offense is going. Our defense ... we have some special players on that side of the ball. We made a stand this year to get back on top and hopefully all three phases we'll be talking about next year."
--While it may not have been in the best interests of advancing Mike Tice's career, the Bears' refusal to grant the Tennessee Titans permission to talk to him about their offensive coordinator vacancy was the right move for the Bears.
Head coach Lovie Smith has usually been in favor of his assistants taking better jobs, even when it meant losing talented coaches, but Tice's situation is unique. He has been instrumental in converting a mediocre group into a unit that was good enough to help the Bears get to the NFC Championship Game.
But there is still much work to be done before the Bears' offensive line is a championship-caliber group.
Tice did excellent work last season, especially with seventh-round draft pick J'Marcus Webb, who started the final 14 games, including two in the playoffs and showed excellent potential. And, with the Bears expected to choose at least one offensive lineman early in this year's draft, Tice's experience and expertise will be needed again.
In addition, at this late date, the Bears would find it impossible to hire a replacement with anywhere close to Tice's qualifications. And, with a work stoppage a virtual certainty, the last thing an offensive line that is still a work in progress needs is a new coach.
Keeping Tice on staff was the right thing to do for the team.
Giving Tice a new contract - and a raise - was also the right thing to do for him.
--The Bears are guaranteed to have continuity in 2011, at least on the coaching staff -- assuming there is a season.
All three coordinators remain under contract and seven of the eight position coaches are expected to be back under coach Lovie Smith. Since the end of the 2010 season, three assistant coaches whose contracts had expired have re-signed: running backs coach Tim Spencer, linebackers coach Bob Babich and defensive backs coach Jon Hoke, who interviewed late last month with the Philadelphia Eagles for their defensive coordinator position.
The Bears lost assistant special-teams coach Chris Tabor, who joined new head coach Pat Shurmur's Cleveland Browns staff as special-teams coordinator, and defensive line coach Eric Washington, who left to take the same position on new Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera's staff.
Mike Phair replaced Washington. Tabor was replaced by Kevin O'Dea, who held the same position with the Bears in 2006 and '07, when they finished No. 1 overall in special teams both years.
With only two departures, this would be the least amount of turnover on Smith's staff from one season to the next since he was hired in 2004.
--Head coach Lovie Smith didn't waste any time or words when asked about the job that offensive coordinator Mike Martz did in his first year in Chicago.
"Mike was our offensive coordinator that helped us win 12 games," said Smith, who was Martz's defensive coordinator in St. Louis from 2001-03 when Martz was the Rams' head coach. "We brought Mike in here for a reason, and I thought he did a great job all year."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Even though we didn't finish again the way we wanted to, to go from 7-9 to finish up 12-6 is a step in the right direction. We look forward to hopefully taking another step next year." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith.
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