Bears players to watch, on the hot seat

The Bears are looking to recapture the magic of years gone by with new personnel and a new offensive system. Who are the players to watch at training camp and who is on the hot seat?


  • Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher: The six-time Pro Bowler entered the 2009 regular season healthier than he had been in years, thanks to a surgery-free offseason. But he didn't make it to halftime of the season opener before suffering a dislocated wrist that sidelined him for the remainder of 2010.

    Urlacher will enter training camp fully recovered from the wrist injury with no restrictions, but he hasn't been to the Pro Bowl since after the 2006 season and, at 32, there's a good chance that his best years are behind him. But the Bears are still a much better defense with Urlacher on the field, and he does not have a history of being injured. Prior to last season, he had played in all 16 games in eight of his first nine seasons, staring 135 of 137 games.

  • Tight end Greg Olsen: Olsen led the Bears with 60 receptions last season, but new offensive coordinator Mike Martz has traditionally not incorporated the tight end position into his explosive passing attacks. In order to get on the field often enough to catch another 60 passes, Olsen will have to demonstrate that he is a better blocker than he has been in his first three years in the league. Martz wants his tight ends to be blockers first and pass catchers second. Martz admits Olsen is more skilled as a receiver than the tight ends he coached in St. Louis, and the coordinator of his scheme is flexible enough to get the ball to the tight end, but he will not compromise on the importance of blocking at that position. For his part, Olsen is adamant that he can block well enough to suit Martz and remain the Bears' No. 1 tight end despite the addition of massive tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, a Martz favorite from his days in St. Louis, who was brought in as a free agent.

  • Quarterback Jay Cutler: The "franchise quarterback," didn't play like one last season, leading the NFL with 26 interceptions in his first year with the Bears.

    But the man with the golden arm did fling eight TD passes while allowing just one interception in the final two games, as a young WR corps showed signs of maturing. All the top pass catchers are back this season, and the arrow on each of them is still be pointing up. But, in order for Cutler to return the Bears' investment, he and his receivers will have to have a firm grasp of Martz's thick playbook from the get-go. Cutler will also need better protection than he had last year, and it remains to be seen if the offensive line is improved.

    Hot seat: Head coach Lovie Smith. Three straight years out of the playoffs has made the Super Bowl XLI appearance a distant memory and created a warmer seat than Smith has experienced in his first six seasons. The uncharacteristically expensive foray into free agency only turns up the heat on Smith and a coaching staff that has to win right now or begin looking for new jobs.

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