WLB Lance Briggs
Briggs proved as a rookie that he's a starter in the NFL, but he took a giant leap forward in year number two. He led the team in tackles with 168 and became the first player beside Brian Urlacher to do that since Barry Minter in 1999.
The 6-foot-1, 238-pounder was also named a first alternate to the Pro Bowl, which means he has earned respect around the league that could net him a trip Hawaii after next season.
DT Tommie Harris
Rookie defensive tackles often take time to develop, such as second round pick Tank Johnson. That was not the case with Harris, who was one of five players to start all 16 games. He produced 3.5 sacks and consistently got into the backfield. At 20, he's just scratching the surface of his potential and is already talking about going to the Pro Bowl next season.
DT Ian Scott
After the team spent their first two draft choices on defensive tackles it looked like Scott would have a hard time making the roster. However, he improved more from the beginning to the end than any other Bear. He led the d-line in tackles (77) and started the last 13 games of the year.
CB Nathan Vasher
Despite having a limited opportunity to be on the field, the fourth round pick led the team in interceptions with five. He started 7 games, but his primary role came in nickel situations. With Charles Tillman and Jerry Azumah missing 11 games combined, Vasher was forced to develop quickly and has made the secondary a deep unit heading into 2005.
The Defense as a Whole
Although the unit saved their worst performance of the year for the season finale, the arrow is pointing up for the defense. The Bears finished tops in third down defense, forced 29 turnovers and nearly doubled their sack production from a year ago.
All eleven starters are back next season, which allows the team the fortune of spending the entire off-season trying to improve the worst offense in the NFL.
P Brad Maynard
Maynard got plenty of work this season netting an average of 38.7 yards on his 108 punts. He booted 34 balls inside-the-20, which is the second highest total in his eight-year career.
Obviously, when the punter is a bright spot for a team there is something else wrong.
The offensive line
The unit surrendered 66 sacks and set a new franchise record for total number allowed. That tally surpassed the previous mark by 11. Center Olin Kreutz was the only member of the o-line to start all 16 games, which broke any continuity that was built in training camp.
Not only did the group not protect the quarterback, the running game ranked 26th in average yards per carry at 3.8.
The Bears had to go through Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel to find Chad Hutchinson. Believing Quinn was ready to step in if Rex Grossman struggled or went down with an injury proved to be a fatal mistake. He quickly showed why he hadn't thrown a pass since 2001.
Krenzel was never expected to play this season and he's a long shot to be back with the team next year.
Hutchinson proved to be the best of the bunch, it's just a shame the coaching staff didn't realize it until the final month of the season.
PK Paul Edinger
Considering the problems on offense, any miss by Edinger was going to be magnified. He converted 15-of-24 attempts this season, which is a success rate of 62.5 percent. He hit on just 2-of-5 attempts between 30-39 yards after converting 77.7 percent of those chances before this season. Kickoffs have never been Edinger's strong suit, yet it was overlooked because of his accuracy on field goals. With that now in question, he will face competition in training camp.
WR Justin Gage
As a rookie, Gage averaged 19.9 yards on his 19 catches. A lot of that had to do with his ability to jump over opposing corners and snatch the ball out of the air. He went into training camp expected to challenge David Terrell for a starting role, which never materialized.
By the end of the season, Bernard Berrian became a more viable option in the coaches' eyes. Gage finished with 11 receptions with an average of 6.6 yards per catch.
Granted, this is something the Bears couldn't control. By season's end 12 members of the team were on Injured Reserve. Every team needs a little luck in this category to have a successful season. The Bears are hoping for their fortune to change in many areas in 2005.