STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bears need to get younger and better along the offensive line, which could go a long way toward making apparent problems at running back, quarterback and wide receiver go away.
The O-line is an overaged and overpaid group that underachieved in 2007.
If unrestricted free-agent LG Ruben Brown comes back for one more year after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery in November, he will be 36. C Olin Kreutz will be 31 and in his 11th season next year, although he still performs at close to a Pro Bowl level. RT Fred Miller turns 35 in a month, and he played like he was on his last leg in 2006. LT John Tait will be 33 later this month and would be best served by a move to the right side. The baby of the group, RG Roberto Garza, turns 29 in March and isn't anything special.
Terrence Metcalf, a six-year veteran, was given the chance to claim the LG job after Brown was injured, but it took him just four weeks to play his way back to the bench, leaving John St. Clair, an adequate backup tackle, as the temporary fill-in. He'll be 30 before the next season starts.
Better performance up front would have allowed injured starter Cedric Benson and his backup, Adrian Peterson, to rush for more than 3.4 yards per carry. Neither of them is a difference-maker, although Benson, a former fourth-overall draft pick, should be given a chance to run behind a competent group before he is labeled a bust.
Lovie Smith is insistent that he wants his staff back intact unless any of them gets an opportunity to better their position, which is doubtful after a 7-9 season. Asked specifically about offensive coordinator Ron Turner and defensive coordinator Bob Babich, Smith responded with a vote of confidence even though both units nose-dived statistically in 2007.
FREE AGENT UPDATE
LB Lance Briggs is history. Even though he's a productive player he's not getting Brian Urlacher money from the Bears, and his off-the-field problems with driving and paternity haven't helped endear him to the organization.
WR Bernard Berrian had a problem with drops in the first half of the season, but he put up impressive numbers considering the QB situation. Chicago would like to have him back but the feeling may not be mutual, and the Bears will not get into a bidding war for him.
QB Rex Grossman may want a fresh start after the intense scrutiny he's had to deal with for the past two years. If the price is right, the Bears will keep him since they were impressed with the improvement he displayed in his second go-round this year after an early-season benching.
S Brandon McGowan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo wants to be the highest-paid special teams player in the league – about $2 million a year – but certainly won't get that kind of money from the Bears, who have too many other excellent special-teamers to overpay for a 31-year-old that will never see the field on defense.
S Brandon McGowan finally stayed relatively healthy and showed that he could compete for a starting position and be an intimidating presence.
TE John Gilmore has a solid niche as the No. 3 guy and the blocking tight end, but he may want more than that with Greg Olsen emerging as the future at the position and veteran Desmond Clark still playing very well.
WR Rashied Davis is ideally a No. 4 receiver but is content to be a role player, and he flourished late in the season on special teams. He won't attract much attention elsewhere, so he could be back.
LG Ruben Brown, a 13-year veteran, is expected to retire but said he would like to play another year for the Bears.
FEELING A DRAFT
The Bears draft 14th and must upgrade the offensive line, although they need to provide competition for disappointing and injury-prone RB Cedric Benson, and they will be without a No. 1 wide receiver if Bernard Berrian flees. Safety is also a concern if they decide they can't count on or afford always-injured Mike Brown.
Offensive tackle: Fred Miller's production didn't come close to matching his paycheck, and the 12-year veteran could be released. LT John Tait would be better off at right tackle.
Offensive guard: Ruben Brown will probably decide that 13 years are enough, and Terrence Metcalf, the apparent heir, was a bust after Brown needed shoulder surgery. Young backup Anthony Oakley and 2006 fourth-round pick Josh Beekman never even got a chance after Metcalf flopped, an indication that they aren't ready to play.
Quarterback: To get back to the Super Bowl, the Bears need a difference-maker at quarterback. Rex Grossman didn't make any strides this season, and they can't count on Kyle Orton being any better.
DT Tommie Harris is expected to have a minor arthroscopic procedure on his sprained knee.
RB Cedric Benson had the cast removed from his fractured ankle Dec. 31 and said he should be running in eight weeks.
DT Dusty Dvoracek is three months into the rehab on his torn ACL, as is S Mike Brown.
G Ruben Brown's surgically repaired left shoulder should be sound by training camp, but it's unsure if he will play another year.
CB Nathan Vasher won't need surgery on the partially torn groin muscle that kept him out of 12 games.
DT Anthony Adams is still in a sling following surgery for a torn triceps, but he expects to be 100 percent well before training camp.
All of that plus much more in the February issue of ...
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