Off-season Wish List

While the Bears were genuinely happy with the progress of the defense in 2004, finding a new coordinator to run the offense is just the beginning of a major overhaul.

A veteran backup quarterback is still a priority although the Bears have made noise about going into next season with Chad Hutchinson and Jeff George behind Rex Grossman, who will begin running later this month and is expected to be 100 percent recovered from his torn ACL before the start of training camp.

GM Jerry Angelo doesn't seem inclined to become a major player in free agency, and he probably can't afford to be, but the Bears have to find an offensive left tackle and at least one quality wide receiver in addition to a veteran backup quarterback. Giants QB Kurt Warner's name keeps coming up. The Bears passed on him last year because they wouldn't give him a chance to compete for the starting job, but with Grossman coming back from a series knee injury, who knows?

The Bears have no firepower among their receiving corps and no No. 1 go-to guy. It's possible that none of their receivers would see the field at all on some teams. At tight end, Desmond Clark has never lived up to expectations.

An offensive left tackle is critical to a team that allowed a franchise-worst 66 sacks. The possibility of moving RT John Tait to the left side still exists. OT Marc Colombo made it back this season after rehabbing a dislocated kneecap for two years. Colombo looked extremely rusty in the season finale while allowing Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila to get three sacks.

The offensive line, seemingly talented and deep heading into the season, was neither. This unit's performance was horrible despite the $33 million addition of Tait, who missed three games because of a knee injury, and the presence of four-time Pro Bowl C Olin Kreutz.

The successors to Grossman held the ball too long or were unable to escape. In order, Jonathan Quinn, rookie Craig Krenzel and Hutchinson were sacked 61 times in 13 games.

In the final weeks of the season, both coach Lovie Smith and Angelo had conceded that injuries to the offensive line played a part in the Bears' offensive failures. Ten offensive linemen started at least one game, and seven different alignments were used up front. But Smith and Angelo both refused to accept that injuries were enough of an excuse for an offense that scored the fewest points in the league, an average of just 14.4 points per game.

Defensively the Bears played well and show great promise for the future considering the youth of the group. Everyone who matters on defense is back for at least the next two seasons, and all but one are 27 or younger. Six different defensive players scored touchdowns for the Bears.

While the defense provided hope for the Bears and fueled the three-game win streak that briefly sparked playoff talk, it played a miserable final game against the Packers in the season finale.

Smith identified one position of need -- linebacker.

"Missing Brian (Urlacher) hurt a lot, but Lance Briggs established himself as one of the linebackers in the league, and we still need the other guy to step up," Smith said.

Urlacher missed seven games with injuries to both hamstrings and one calf. The Bears lost all seven games and showed an inability to stop the run in Urlacher's absence.

Smith also criticized place-kicker Paul Edinger.

"We know we have to do better job with field goals and kickoffs," Smith said.

Then Bears were tied for last in the league in field-goal percentage, and Edinger had nine misses, more than any kicker in the league. His 62.5 percent success rate was the worst of any kicker with a starting job.

Edinger's short kickoffs have always been a problem, but they were overlooked while he was hitting 78 percent of his FG attempts in his first four seasons despite some tough obstacles and elements. He will have competition this summer.

FEELING A DRAFT
The Bears have to find a left tackle and at least one quality wide receiver. They should get one of those gaping holes filled with the No. 4 pick in the draft and could use the 36th pick to shore up the other problem area. Former USC WR Mike Williams makes a lot of sense in the first round for a team that lacks size and play-making ability in the passing game.


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