Time for a Laugh

What' s left to say at the conclusion of a season that began with such high expectations and ended with a distinct thud? ‘Wait Until Next Year' usually works, but then again Cubs fans seem to have the monopoly on that one.

5-11. Who would have guessed that Lovie's first year on board would yield a sub .500 record? But Smith certainly shouldn't shoulder all of the blame. There's always Terry Shea, who was offered an early exit from Halas Hall. Can Ron Turner do better in the offensive coordinators slot? Let's hope so. There's a lot of competition right now in the NFL for top quality coaches. The Bears never seem to be in the right place at the right time to snag the best candidates, but this time they bet out the Ravens for Turner's services.

Best-case scenario for 2005: Rex Grossman returns completely healed and better than ever. Grossman takes the job away from any competition early in camp and leads the offense as he was expected to in 2004. Chad Hutchinson finally has enough protection from the offensive line to give a full indication of his capabilities. His strong arm and surprising mobility give Grossman a contest for the #1 slot, but in the end proves to be a dependable backup. Jeff George is perfect for the third string role, working patiently with the younger quarterbacks. But keep looking for a top #2 or #3 just in case, Lovie.

Worst-case scenario: Grossman isn't ready for training camp, which will leave the Bears scrambling for answers and lure Jonathan Quinn out of retirement. Turner finds Shea's playbook under his desk and uses it.

Best-case scenario: The offensive line learns how to block. They stop getting penalized and making careless mistakes. Qasim Mitchell is not a starter. Desmond Clark and Dustin Lyman suddenly accelerate their development and become playmakers, or are replaced by tight ends that already have the necessary talent. John Tait remains in his dependable role at right tackle or is shifted to the left side. Terrence Metcalf continues to improve. He may not be the most personable guy in the roster, but if he can block, who cares?

The wideouts have a breakout year. David Terrell capitalizes on his few good plays from 2004 and returns to specialize in deep routes to the end zone. He transforms into a model citizen, speaking only when spoken to and declining the spotlight in favor of his teammates. Bobby Wade continues to be the go-to-guy on third down, which becomes his specialized role because the Bears add a receiver in the draft or free agency. Bernard Berrian keeps going deep and this time the refs won't take away a touchdown catch. Turner realizes Justin Gage plays wide receiver and puts him on the field.

Anthony Thomas is gone but Thomas Jones showed enough to deserve the starting role. Adrian Peterson gets the chance to backup Jones. But Turner knows the team will need to add depth at running back.

The same can be said for virtually every offensive position. Free agents? Draft choices? Whatever works. Look for the best available player at every position.

Best-case scenario: The defense remains a dominant force. They're young and tremendously talented. They carried this team through much of the past season, doing much more than their share in bringing home the few victories, and continue to do so.

Great individual performances by Alex Brown, Ian Scott, Tommie Harris and Lance Briggs will continue. Tank Johnson matures to become a third down pass rusher from the inside. Nathan Vasher builds on his surprising rookie campaign to battle for a starting role. Brian Urlacher, who missed nearly half of 2004 because of injury, is healthy once more and has something to prove to his critics. And he vows that he'll never be called 'overrated' again. Mike Brown's return gives the secondary a boost of leadership, which makes them among the best in the league.

Worst-case scenario: Playing on his injured ankle for much of the end of the 2004 season permanently hampers Adewale Ogunleye. The Bears rush defense doesn't improve because the speed of the defense doesn't compensate for their lack of size.

Best-case scenario: Brad Maynard doesn't have to be MVP because the offense can get the occasional drive going. Paul Edinger reverts to previous form and with a little luck the wind is with him on his kickoffs.

Worst-case scenario: Let's see more fake field goal. That certainly fooled the Green Bay defense. Edinger can't turn things around and doesn't make the team. Maynard is overworked and has to go on IR from exhaustion.

Best-case scenario: Continuity returns to the locker room with all the starters back and healthy. The same faces are seen from week to week both on and off the field. Players are available during press conferences and are eager to reconnect with their fans through the media.

Worst-case scenario: Locker Room Roulette continues with an unending parade of "Who's that?" Most of the players are surly even on a ‘good' day. Confusion continues with adhesive taped names replacing the more upscale permanent name signs on every locker. Lower level players share tiny closet like spaces, crowding with helmets, padding, shoes, and uniforms are in a barely recognizable heap. Ever heard of Jason Shivers? Jerrell Pippens? Neither had I until I ran into them sitting near packing boxes sent by their former teams to Halas Hall.

New year, new beginning. Maybe the Bears will make it to the playoffs in 2005, just as Lovie has told us they will. Heck, he promised two wins over Green Bay this year and he was half right. But I wouldn't be buying those post season tickets just yet. First, let's see what the off-season brings. There are a lot of ‘if's' still to be reckoned with. But realistically there's no place to go but up, and why shouldn't 2005 could be the Bears year. Stranger things have happened. Just ask Boston Red Sox.

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