Self Evaluation

The 2002 Bears are a team with a mission. After a surprising 13-3 season featuring seemingly impossible come from behind victories that had most local pundits and fans scratching their heads, this year's team needs to address the question: was the 2001-2002 record the result of an abundance of luck combined with some good plays, or was it the result of skilled players stepping up and coming together to achieve more than anyone had thought possible?

The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. It would be difficult watch a replay of safety Mike Brown's interceptions against San Francisco or Cleveland and not consider that a higher power might have helped a little in the victories.

On the other hand, Dick Jauron has been named Coach of the Year, Anthony Thomas is currently the Rookie of the Year, and a number of offensive and defensive players had career making seasons. Defensive tackle Ted Washington, center Olin Kreuz, offensive tackle James Williams, special teams player Larry Whigham and linebacker Brian Urlacher represented the Bears well in the Pro Bowl. Defensive tackle Keith Traylor wowed everybody with his speedy, if brief , charge for the end zone.

Although wide receiver David Terrell didn't have quite the blockbuster season that had been expected, his progress was good as his confidence grew. Cornerback R.W. McQuarters was alert to the plays and always quick on his feet. Punter Paul Maynard and kicker Paul Edinger were for the most part flawless.

If there is room for improvement, it probably would fall in the offensive category. An early injury to quarterback Shane Matthews brought popular Jim Miller into the lineup for the remainder of the season.

It would be difficult to overlook Miller's consistent, workmanlike contributions to the team. He has the respect of his players and coaches. While not a spectacular playmaker, he reads the field well and seems to be the one who can get the job done.

The hit from Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas not only put Miller out of the crucial Philadelphia playoff game with a severely separated shoulder but again spotlighted the Bears' overall vulnerability at the quarterback position. With backup Danny Wuerffel now with the expansion Houston Texans, the Bears must address the quarterback position either in the upcoming draft, or through free agency.

With both Trent Dilfer and Drew Bledsoe available, might GM Jerry Angelo consider signing one of these impact players? Possibly. There is room under the salary cap and each has a good track record of sparking offenses.

If the Bears pursue either Dilfer or Bledsoe, does that mean Miller's days with the team are numbered? Again, it comes down to a question of confidence and trust. It has been made clear both to the media and to the fans throughout the past season that the Bears players simply like playing for Miller. Is this the best time to take a chance on somebody who is relatively unfamiliar to many of the younger players? Can either of these quarterbacks fit seamlessly into the Bears organization?

Another factor to consider is the upcoming move of all home games to Champaign. The resulting upheaval in travel schedules and pre game routine are undeniable. A proven leader such as Miller would seem to be a wise choice with so many other changes looming both on and off the field.

Might it make more sense for Angelo to consider one of the draft ready quarterbacks like Joey Harrington of Oregon or Kurt Kittner from Illinois? Nobody wants a repeat of the McNown debacle. But a smart young quarterback could be brought into the system while allowing the veteran Miller to continue his winning ways.

What about needs at other positions? Although it might be difficult, center Olin Kreutz should be re-signed if at all possible. He is the lynch pin of the offensive line. Marcus Robinson's future with the team is also uncertain. He was missed during the past season, but not as much as most had expected. If an impact player on offense is available and falls under the salary cap, an offer might be in order.

Overall, however, it would seem that most of the pieces are currently in place for the Bears. Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache is onboard, Dick Jauron's contract extension is moving along slower than expected, but should get done. Offensive coordinator John Shoop seems to work well with his players and should improve even more as he gains confidence.

The time for the Bears to succeed is now. The pieces seem to be in place and the integrity of the team should be preserved. If, and that is a big if, the Bears can hold on to their playmakers, add where necessary with free agency, and fill in from the draft, 2002-3 could equal or surpass this past season. The next few weeks should give fans an indication of exactly what Angelo's priorities are and where this team might be headed.

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