Two sides to Bears story

Although the Bears have missed the playoffs in eight of the past nine seasons, new head coach Lovie Smith thinks he can get the team back to the postseason right away. In order for that to happen certain areas will have to be addressed.

Lovie Smith is in a hurry to get the Bears to the next level, and he has some talent to work with on the defensive side of the ball, which is his specialty. But the 2003 season was typical of recent Bears teams in that the offense struggled to hold up its end of the bargain.

The Bears have played in the postseason just twice in the past 12 years and have one playoff victory in the past 13 seasons, but Smith thinks he already has the talent to get back there next season.

"No doubt," Smith said. "This is not a rebuilding process that we see ourselves going through. We're just adding a little bit and making that jump to be in the playoffs next year.

"I believe we have a talented group of players to make us successful. We have a promising young quarterback in Rex Grossman. We have a superstar linebacker in Brian Urlacher, and a perennial all-pro in (center) Olin Kreutz. I'm excited about the potential of other young (defensive) players like Alex Brown, Mike Brown, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, to name a few."

Smith inherits an above-average defense that could be even better with a consistent pass rush.

As disappointing as the offense was most of the season, Rex Grossman showed that he has the potential to become the Bears' quarterback of the future when he was allowed to start the final three games.

Grossman performed admirably where Kordell Stewart and then Chris Chandler failed miserably, though neither was provided with much of a supporting cast. Injuries left three of the offensive line positions in the hands of journeymen and/or young players playing out of position. Marty Booker was the only reliable wide receiver, and he missed three full games with a sprained ankle that slowed him in at least a couple other games, and he also played through a painful rib injury without missing a game.

Running back Anthony Thomas was more than adequate when he was given a decent chance to establish the run game, but Thomas never has been and never will be special.

Former offensive coordinator John Shoop's conservative play calling, lack of imagination and resistance to change, may have hamstrung the offense as much as a lack of talent. Smith intends to implement an offense similar to the Rams', but scheme will only take a mediocre bunch so far.

The Bears need to get injured offensive line starters Rex Tucker and Marc Colombo back on the field. Both missed the entire season. Tucker, a left guard with Pro Bowl potential, and Colombo, a first-round pick in 2002, both missed the entire season. Tucker's torn ankle tendon should be fine, but there is concern that Colombo's dislocated kneecap from No. 18, 2002, has taken an inordinate amount of time to heal. The Bears insist he'll be fine and that the rehab has just taken longer than expected, but there are concerns. The other concern is that despite a good supply of young talent, there is not a true left tackle on the roster. Guard Mike Gandy has started there most of the past two seasons, long enough to prove that he is not the long-term answer at that most-important position. Gandy could still be a solid starter inside.

The Bears are expected to add a back in the offseason who can provide the big-play, breakaway dimension that Thomas lacks.

Defensively, the secondary needs a big hitter, which it might already have in Bobby Gray, although the old coaching staff was reluctant to play him until Mike Green was injured. No one could figure out why. Strong safety Mike Brown had a lousy year, although, again, the coaching staff continually insisted that he was playing well. Keith Traylor, a smaller, lesser version of Ted Washington, has reached the end of the line. So, the greatest need on defense is an impact tackle, since neither Bryan Robinson nor Alfonso Boone comes close to fitting that description.

That will help Brian Urlacher, who struggled all season to get off blockers, and weak-side linebacker Warrick Holdman, who was nowhere near the player he was before last season's knee injury.

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