Chicago Bears: Looking Ahead

<b>LOOKING AHEAD: </b> Head coach Lovie Smith's defense certainly wasn't the problem why the team struggled so might last season. It was the offense.

Because of that, offensive coordinator Terry Shea was jettisoned after just one season. What hurt Shea's chances of returning was the fact that no receiver caught more than two touchdown passes. The offense was also ranked last in the NFL.

To turn things around, the Bears brought back a familiar face in Ron Turner who ran their offense from 1993-1996. During that run, quarterback Erik Kramer had 29 touchdown passes in one of the seasons. Turner has always worked well with quarterbacks so the team is optimistic that he'll help Rex Grossman take a big step in his career.

If the Bears can improve their offense immensely in 2005, it's not out of the question that they can compete strongly for a Wild Card spot.

TEAM NEEDS:

RUNNING BACK: With Anthony Thomas not expected to return, the Bears need a solid veteran to back up starting back Thomas Jones. While Jones has shown nice promise the last two seasons, he's far from proven so it's imperative that they have a fall back plan should Jones get hurt or becomes ineffective.

WIDE RECEIVER: Although they signed Muhsin Muhammad, he's the only proven receiver on the roster. It would help if they would have another veteran added to the group of their young and inexperienced receivers. One receiver on the roster to keep an eye on is Justin Gage who many that are close to the team say could be ready for a prominent role.

LINEBACKER: The team has an opening at strong-side linebacker. Unfortunately, the choices left in free agency aren't very good. It's possible that the team looks toward the draft to fill that need.

FREE AGENCY / OFF-SEASON:

KEY ACQUISITIONS: WR Muhsin Muhammad: UFA Browns; WR Eddie Berlin: UFA Titans; OT Fred Miller: UFA Titans; C/G Roberto Garza; Falcons.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: S Bobby Gray: RFA; CB Todd McMillon: UFA.

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Jonathan Quinn: Released; WR David Terrell: Released; OL Mike Gandy; UFA Bills.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: QB Jeff George: UFA; RB Anthony Thomas: UFA; OL Aaron Gibson: UFA.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE John Gilmore; TE John Owens; OL Steve Edwards; G Terrance Metcalf.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHT FREE AGENTS: None.


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