Questions to answer

With the start of the season days away, the Bears have several concerns. If answers can't be found to three questions <!--Default NodeId For Dick Jauron is 834622,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:834622]>Dick Jauron</A> could be heading into his last season with the Bears.

An offense that was shaky to begin with suffered another jolt when left guard Rex Tucker was lost for the season with a torn ankle tendon. A mediocre group of running backs and new quarterback Kordell Stewart operating behind a patchwork offensive line is probably not a great recipe for success.

The defense has the potential to be very good as long as a deep defensive line and talented linebackers can keep the pressure off a suspect secondary. The defense will almost certainly have to carry the offense, at least in the early going until Stewart is comfortable in a new offense and with new personnel. That will be especially true early, when the Bears face the 49ers, Raiders and Packers in three of their first four games. That stretch is followed by road games against the Saints and Seahawks.

A 1-5 start is entirely possible, and the inevitable speculation of an impending coaching change could make a bad situation worse.

Three key questions for the season:

1. Can the offensive line hold its own?

Converted right tackle Steve Edwards has been moved into Tucker's spot after the starter suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Edwards has been strictly a tackle throughout his football career, dating back to high school. Converted guard Mike Gandy is playing left tackle and twice-released Aaron Gibson is playing right tackle. Gibson is a huge question mark because of his questionable endurance. At 380 pounds, there is great concern that he will wear down and be a weak link late in games.

2. Will Anthony Thomas return to his 2001 offensive rookie of the year form?

Thomas averaged 3.4 yards per carry and was no threat to make a big play last season. He will lose carries to other players if he isn't clearly a better player. That includes Adrian Peterson, who will get a much greater opportunity to be the change-of-pace back or to spell Thomas than he did last season. Peterson provides more wiggle and make-you-miss ability than Thomas, who gets what's there and a little more when the blocking is there but doesn't do much on his own.

3. Will talented linebackers Brian Urlacher and Warrick Holdman be the play-makers they're expected to be without Ted Washington occupying multiple offensive linemen?

Holdman will never get the publicity Urlacher does, but he was greatly missed when he was lost for the season with torn knee cartilage in the fourth game last year. Holdman has great speed and range, can rush the passer, play the run and drop into coverage. Urlacher may be asked to contribute more to the pass rush, and he has been effective in that capacity in the past. He has the best closing speed of any middle backer in the game and makes plays sideline to sideline, behind the line and down the field.

Player to Watch: Linebacker Lance Briggs -- The third-round draft pick got a long look when starter Bryan Knight was out with a sprained knee. In the second preseason game, Briggs had 10 tackles, including a sack and blocked a field goal.

Touting the Top Picks: Defensive end Michael Haynes, Penn State -- The team's first of two first-round picks will see time behind both starters and could be a regular in nickel pass rush. He showed ability to rush the passer with several quarterback pressures in preseason play and also made some plays against the run.

Quarterback Rex Grossman, Florida -- The second first-round pick showed good command and accuracy, although the plan is for him to spend his first season watching and learning.


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