Time for optimism

Trying to put last season's descent to 4-12 from 2001's 13-3 division title, Bears G.M. <!--Default NodeId For Jerry Angelo is 834647,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:834647]>Jerry Angelo</A> expressed optimism that his 2003 team is capable of a return to the playoffs.

"As easy as it is to go south, it is to go north, and we see that around the league," Angelo said. "I anticipate us challenging (this) year. Obviously our initial goal is to win the division, and I say that in all likelihood we could do that. We have a good nucleus. I feel good about our football team."

But the Bears need better luck in terms of avoiding the injuries that plagued last year's team. Like most NFL teams, they cannot afford injuries to key players. The Bears used 15 different starting lineups on offense in 2002 and 11 on defense. Forty-seven players started at least one game last season.

"Health is a very, very important criteria to any wining team," Angelo said. "It's more important now because of the parity in the league. I'm not making excuses; we've (also) got to get better at some things."

Offensively, the Bears need to improve a running game that produced a league-worst 84 yards per game in 2002 and was second worst with a 3.5-yard average gain per attempt. The Bears were also 29th in total yards, 28th in first downs and third-down efficiency and 27th in scoring.

Three of the Bears first four games are against 2002 division champions who had a combined record of 33-5 last season. They open on the road against the 49ers (10-6) and Vikings (6-10) and then, after a bye in Week Three, the Bears christen the new Soldier Field against the Packers (12-4) on Monday night, Sept. 28. The following Sunday, the 11-5 Raiders visit the Bears' new home.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're operating, I like to think, with a vision in doing what's right for our future. We all know our future's now, we understand that, but there's a common sense factor in this too, so we're looking big picture." -- Bears general manager Jerry Angelo

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