Just like Lovie Smith, Head Coach John Fox worked his way up through the coaching ranks after playing defensive back in college. Fox remained a Secondary Coach for most of his coaching career, apart from stints at Defensive Coordinator. Smith has worked with linebackers and defensive backs, in addition to being a Coordinator. Both Smith and Fox have a reputation for being aggressive, forcing sacks and creating turnovers.
From a personnel standpoint, the thing that jumps out most about Carolina is their defensive line. The Panthers' line is without peer at rushing the passer. This is a stark contrast with the current state of the Bears. There is hope attached to young defensive ends Alex Brown and Michael Haynes, but they are still looking to make their mark. If the Bears really want to make a splash in free agency, Jevon Kearse might make sense if they can keep him healthy and can afford the dollars he would command.
There is no evidence whatsoever of a pass rush coming from anyone on the Bears' roster at defensive tackle. If the Bears are to follow Carolina's lead, it would make sense for them to add a top-flight pass rusher from the inside. There aren't many strong candidates in free agency fitting this bill. If the Bears really want to make a splash immediately, it makes more sense to get help in free agency than the draft. Perhaps this points to Warren Sapp, who both Smith and General Manager Jerry Angelo should have great familiarity with from their days in Tampa. Brian Young of the Rams played for Smith and had 6.5 sacks in 2001. He is another free agent who could be of interest.
Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera can relate to the problems created by not having enough pass rush from the front four. Philadelphia's defense struggled to get a pass rush from their front four when they lost Hugh Douglas to free agency, and saw injuries create problems for players they were counting on like rookie Jerome McDougle and veteran Derrick Burgess. But their tackles did an excellent job, and they blitzed with enough frequency and creativity to make a difference.
The Bears and Panthers match up reasonably well across the linebackers and secondary, especially with the very active Dan Morgan in the middle being Urlacher's counterpart. Imagine how much better Charles Tillman would have looked if the Bears had Carolina's front four generating pressure. It's hard to argue, and perhaps more interesting might be how well players like Mike Brown and Jerry Azumah would have played with that going on in front of them. Azumah took great strides, and came up with 4 interceptions. Brown had a down year in both coverage and run support. A better pass rush and more stability and experience at the positions around him should help.
On offense, the Panthers are led by quarterback Jake Delhomme. The important thing to note about their quarterback situation is that they had the courage to admit when something didn't work, and acted quickly to address change. When the Chris Weinke experiment didn't pan out, they went with Rodney Peete. Peete started the season opener but was lifted in favor of Delhomme, who didn't look back. Will the Bears show the same courage with Grossman? It could depend on who is backing him up. Not having a backup plan would be foolish, especially if the Bears are planning to be a playoff contender as opposed to being in rebuilding mode.
Anthony Thomas is still something of a question mark in the Bears' backfield, although he's been productive for the most part when healthy. Thomas had an outstanding rookie season. If there was one running back I thought Thomas reminded me of most it would have been Stephen Davis, then with Washington, and now a Panther. The Panthers also have a solid complement in DeShaun Foster. Foster is capable enough to take on the starring role if Davis is banged up, and the Bears need to find that player. Wide receivers Smith, Muhammad and Proehl are a well-rounded group, providing an excellent combination of break away speed, route running, and possession types. The Bear receiving corps likely has some or all of these ingredients, although it's an easy argument that it was never properly tapped outside of Marty Booker. It would be difficult to find a discernable difference between the talent level of the receivers on Kansas City, Philadelphia, Carolina, and the Bears. It's obvious the Rams have superior wide receivers. This is one more reason to go back to looking at Thomas and how to best utilize his talents, and what follows next. With new Running Backs Coach Tim Spencer blurting out that the Bears are looking to draft a running back early, it's certainly on their minds.
The thing on offense that jumps out to Bear fans the most should be the offensive line. The Panthers have not been bashful about paying for their tackles. Left tackle Todd Steussie is a respected veteran, who the Panthers have paid over $5 million dollars for this season. Right tackle Jordan Gross was their first-round draft pick a year ago, selected with the 8th overall pick. Bear fans everywhere would probably have few qualms about moving up to select Iowa's Robert Gallery in this year's draft, or the acquisition of a free agent like John Tait or Chad Clifton. Walter Jones and Orlando Pace are out there as well, but seem likely to receive franchise tag designations. Perhaps Offensive Coordinator Terry Shea will exert some influence in bringing Tait to the Bears, or maybe Smith can find a way to help Angelo cut a deal with St. Louis for Pace? The former seems more likely than the latter.
To sum it all up, Carolina has made major investments at offensive tackle, pass rushing defensive linemen, and running back. All of these are need positions for the Bears with a possible exception at running back. For a change, the Bears have the salary cap room and the draft position available to address all of their needs and then some. Anything less is not acceptable.