"There will be some guys gone obviously, and just like every year, there will be a lot of turnover, but I don't think we're very far away," middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "You've seen this year when we're healthy what we can do. We're pretty close to being one of the better teams in the NFL. We've just got to stay healthy and stay together and keep playing hard. The consensus in our locker room is that we're pretty close to being where we want to be."
Urlacher was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl this year, one more than outside linebacker Lance Briggs, who has been picked seven years in a row.
Briggs agrees with Urlacher that rebuilding makes no sense.
"It wouldn't solve anything," Briggs said. "It's not going to solve anything if you get rid of all of the folks who put this team together. This year was unfortunate for us; for us all. Even though we didn't get in the playoffs, we are a championship-caliber team, and we'll get there, it's just not going to happen in the season of '11."
Even though Urlacher is 33, Briggs 31, Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman is 30, and defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije are 31, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli still believes in the core group of players.
"We've got high expectations for them," Marinelli said. "We've just got to go out and execute; all those things. I believe in them. They're talented men, and I think they play very well together."
JOB AUDITIONS vs. VIKINGS
As much as Bears coach Lovie Smith wants the sole focus Sunday to be on winning strictly for winning's sake, there are players who will be auditioning for jobs next season.
That starts in the backfield with quarterback Josh McCown and running back Kahlil Bell, both of whom were afterthoughts a little over a month ago, but will play key roles Sunday against the Vikings. McCown was coaching a high school football team and Bell was buried on the depth chart behind 2011 Pro Bowl pick Matt Forte and backup Marion Barber.
But McCown and Bell will be on center stage Sunday at noon in the Metrodome against the Vikings, a week after both brightened their futures with their performances in a 35-21 loss to the Packers.
"It is not an audition time," Smith insisted.
But it is evaluation time, and there's nothing left after Sunday's game except next season.
"Some of the guys that played well last week, you want to see them do it again, just to confirm what we saw from that one game," Smith admitted. "And it's not just guys like that. For veteran players, you want to see them perform a certain way. You can tell a lot when playoffs and all that have gone by the wayside. You can tell a lot about how guys fight just because you're competing. It should be like that. I think I have an idea though how the guys will play."
McCown believes if he performs his assignments, the future will take care of itself.
"I'm just looking at winning," he said. "You want to finish strong and, if you're a competitor, you just want to win. So that's my goal, and generally, especially at this position, if you play well, you put yourself and your team in a position to win, and all the other stuff takes care of itself."
While McCown just wants to prolong an NFL career that was on hiatus for nearly two years, Bell is looking to elevate his status on a full-time basis, not just when someone in front of him is injured.
"I'm not interested in that," he said of a backup position. "I never woke up in the morning and said, 'I'm going out here to work to be the No. 2 running back' for any team that I have ever been on. My goal is to be a starter in this league and that is what I'm shooting for. I'm not settling for anything else than that."