The Bears' formula for building a Super Bowl winner fell short last year, and their plan fell apart this year.
They accumulated enough impact players on defense to win a Super Bowl: Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Tommie Harris, for sure; Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman on a good day; Mike Brown when he was healthy.
But they were never able to develop any impact players on offense to complement their difference-makers on defense before they started to diminish in number and skill.
Still, with the right moves, the Bears, who have shown signs of offensive firepower this year, are closer to bouncing back into title contention next year than they are to remaining in the NFC North cellar.
Urlacher appears to have peaked, but a better effort up front from a healthier defensive line would do wonders for his aching back. Briggs will be difficult – if not impossible – to re-sign, but the Bears can get it done if they really want to. Harris may or may not retain his impact status. It depends on if he forgets about piling up individual stats like sacks to secure his financial future and focuses on rushing the passer and stopping the run.
If the Bears keep those three core players healthy and happy for another couple years, or even another year, it might be enough for the young offensive standouts to mature and contribute toward another Super Bowl run. Other important defensive components like Vasher, Tillman, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Mark Anderson, Darwin Walker, Ricky Manning Jr. and Anthony Adams are already locked up for at least the next two years.
Rookie tight end Greg Olsen appears to have everything necessary to attain impact status, except maybe an impact quarterback to get him the ball. Devin Hester gives the Bears the bonus of being an impact special-teams player, and he could also make an impact at wide receiver as he continues to learn the position. But by then it will be too late, unless general manager Jerry Angelo can figure out a way to reload rather than rebuild defensively.
RB Darren McFadden
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With Hester and Olsen, the Bears have started to build a base of difference-makers on offense. If they can hang on to their impact defenders, they could climb back up the hill with either an impact quarterback or running back.
Quarterbacks don't go from the free-agent market or college campus to impact status. But the Vikings have proved this season with Adrian Peterson that a rookie running back can have an instant impact and make a bad team dangerous almost overnight.
If Arkansas junior Darren McFadden comes out early, as expected, he's the type of runner the Bears mistakenly thought they were getting with Cedric Benson. The Bears would probably have to trade up to get him, but maybe not the way things are going.
If Angelo is hesitant to mortgage the future, he can ante up for Michael Turner. The former North Chicago High School and Northern Illinois University stud is too expensive for the Chargers to keep behind LaDainian Tomlinson, but not too expensive for a team desperate to re-open the window of opportunity.
NEWS & NOTES
QB Brian Griese has 16 completions of 20 yards or longer in five starts this season, more than tripling Rex Grossman's total of five 20-yard completions in three games. Of Griese's seven longest completions, six have been to different receivers. … RB Cedric Benson is coming off his second-highest per-game average (3.8 yards) as he heads into Sunday's game against the Raiders, who are No. 30 in rushing yards allowed. … TE Desmond Clark has caught three or more passes in six of eight games this season but was held to just one catch for 11 yards in Week 8. … WR Bernard Berrian has had four or more catches in seven of eight games this season, but he has just one touchdown reception. … WR Muhsin Muhammad has just one game this season of 50 or more receiving yards. … CB Nathan Vasher (groin) is participating in practice following a five-week absence, but his status Sunday probably won't be known until just before game time. … LB Lance Briggs has nine or more tackles in six of the seven games he has played this season and leads the Bears in total tackles (78), solo tackles (48) and tackles for loss (4) despite missing a game and a half with a hamstring injury. … DT Tommie Harris leads the Bears with seven sacks but is just 11th with 25 total tackles, and he has only nine solo tackles – also tied for 11th. … WR Rashied Davis has just four catches for 23 yards in the last four games combined. … WR Devin Hester has five catches for 141 yards (28.2-yard average) in his last three games.
- Comparing Urlacher to Butkus and Singletary
- "New" Soldier Field vs. "Old" Soldier Field
- Reliving the 61-7 win over Green Bay in 1980
- An excerpt from Cindi Dammann's Tailgating Tales
- Getting to know LB Jamar Williams
All of that plus much more in the latest issue of ...
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