Holes to Fill

General manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith have to evaluate their talent and come to some kind of consensus on what they want to do in the off-season to try to turn the Bears into a contender.

The Bears appear to have made significant strides on the defense this year even though two of their best players have missed significant time because of injuries.

Safety Mike Brown had one of the most significant plays of the year when he picked up an Ahman Green fumble Sept. 19 and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown in the win over the Packers. He also went out in that game with a season-ending knee injury.

MLB Brian Urlacher pulled a hamstring during the first scrimmage of training camp this summer and was troubled by leg and calf injuries all season. While Urlacher made a significant number of big plays -- his Dec. 5 interception of Viking QB Daunte Culpepper's pass keyed the 24-14 upset, and he forced the fumble against Green Bay that Brown returned for a score -- he was also labeled the most overrated player in the league by The Sporting News.

That led to howls of protest from Smith and Bears players, but it could not obfuscate the truth. Urlacher might have a ton of speed and can propel himself like a missile into an opposing ballcarrier or quarterback, but he regularly has a hard time getting away from blockers and does not dominate against the run. He needs to get better in that area.

The Bears' biggest needs appear to be on offense. Smith is fairly happy with Thomas Jones at running back, but the Bears need to improve at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and on the offensive line.

QB Rex Grossman was anointed to the starting position during the offseason, but he went down for the year with a knee injury in Week 3 against the Vikings. The Bears did not have a competent backup, and that doomed them to a painful season. As it stands now, Grossman, Chad Hutchinson and Jeff George will go to training camp next season, but changes could be made.

The wide receiver position has been brutal this season. David Terrell and Bobby Wade have 38 receptions to lead the wideouts. Terrell has been a major disappointment since the Bears made him a first-round pick in 2001 and has caused problems with his lack of discipline. Terrell's tendency to drop the ball would be bad enough, but that weakness is compounded by his tendency to take unnecessary penalties.

The Bears have to figure out a way to upgrade at tight end -- a weakness since Emery Moorehead manned the position in the late 1980s.

They also have to do something about the offensive line. It has been a major disappointment even though the Bears added OT John Tait and OG Ruben Brown in the offseason.

Angelo knows that something has to be done at left tackle, where Qasim Mitchell started the first 14 games of the season. He was replaced Sunday by Marc Colombo, who is also scheduled to start against Green Bay. Colombo did not give up a sack against the Lions and has made a heroic comeback from a 2003 knee injury. However, nobody in the Bears organization believes that Colombo is ready to become a No. 1 left tackle in the NFL. As a result, the Bears will almost certainly address this area early in the off-season. They could move Tait to the left side, but he prefers the right side and has not dominated to the point where it looks as if that move could be made easily.

Terrence Metcalf Terrence Metcalf has started the last four games at left guard since Brown went on injured reserve, but he does not look like an answer at that position. The Bears are hoping that Brown can return next year, but he needs to show he can make a full recovery from a neck injury that sidelined him for the season in late November.

The Bears have many weaknesses on offense, and nearly every offensive position -- with the exception of running back -- will have to be upgraded if the Bears are to compete in the NFC North next season.


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