The Pressure will be on Next Season

The heat will be turned up a few degrees on the Bears next season. After a 5-11 record left them in last place in the NFC North, defensive coordinator Ron Rivera put it succinctly.

"There are no more excuses," Rivera said. "You can't say we're a new defense, a new scheme, a bunch of new players. That is not true anymore. We will be ready next season."

Rivera was speaking about the defense, but the concept applies to the entire team. While none of the players publicly employed the excuse of a "new system" since this was Lovie Smith's first year as head coach of the team, it was the underlying theme of the entire year -- at least when it came to dealing with the media.

Nearly every coach in his first year is allowed a grace period. Criticisms can be leveled, but they are always tempered by the fact that a staff is in its first year with the team. For the Bears, that ended the day after the last game of the season.

As a result, the standards will be much higher for the Bears in 2005. If Smith has any hope of climbing the ladder in the NFC North, they must show some life on offense.

"First, I think as you look on the offensive side of the ball I just really think that we need to add a little more life into the offense," Smith said. "The one thing about finishing as low as we did, we're going to get the opportunity to pick up a good player on one side of the ball or the other.

"I think we could use a little bit of firepower on the offensive side of the ball, one of the skill positions. I think I could say that without evaluating the situation a lot more. I think you really kind of start from there.''

The Bears' offensive line was abominable in 2004, which led the firing of Terry Shea. They gave up nine sacks to the Packers -- not exactly a defensive juggernaut -- in the season finale. That raised the season total to a team-record 66 sacks allowed.

No matter what kind of talent the Bears can bring aboard on the offensive side, none of it will matter if the Bears don't plug the holes in their sieve-like offensive line.

The left tackle position is the indicator of where this franchise will go next year. Qasim Mitchell started for the first 14 games, and Marc Colombo played the final two. Colombo gave up four sacks to Packers DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Colombo looked slow, and Mitchell was basically a turnstile. If the Bears don't bring in a new left tackle, that position is likely going to cause more heartache in the future.

"I'm not going to sit here and be a coach and tell you what that is, but whatever it is we're going to get it done,'' GM Jerry Angelo said about what needs to be done to improve the team. "We're not going to have to sit here and go through this again.''

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