So hours before the deadline for Franchise Players to reach a long-term extension, the Bears and Matt Forte came to an agreement on a new 4 year contract. With Matt Forte now signed for four more seasons, the Bears can now concentrate on the 2012 season and beyond. The Bears front office and fans has a lot to look forward to in both the short-term (on the field) and long-term (off the field).
In the short-term, the Bears will feature the best team that they've has in a few decades with the additions of Michael Bush, Brandon Marshall, Shea McClellin, and Alshon Jeffery while not losing any key players from either side of the ball. The Bears will be one of the few teams to have a Pro Bowl (and top 10 ranked at their respected position) at each of the three key playmaking positions on offense in Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall. Like many others, I feel this team (on paper) is most likely the Bears best team that they've had since the late 1980's or early 1990's. This franchise hasn't featured this many playmakers on their roster (especially the offensive end) since the end of the Ditka Era. I feel if the Bears answer a few key questions during the season, then they might be one of (if not) the team to beat in the NFC this season.
1. The Offensive Line:* The O-Line needs to make sure they can give Jay Cutler enough time to survey the field so he find his playmaker down field and isn't running for his life each play. As the season progressed onward, the Offensive Line started to show signs of improvement as Lance Louis, Roberto Garza, and Chris Williams looked like they were becoming a solid group as the season progressed on. In addition to those 3 players, the Bears will have 2011 1st Round Draft pick Gabe Carimi back in the fold making this O-Line that much better next season. The biggest question lies within the Left Tackle position as the Bears hope JaMarcus Webb can take the next step and become a reliable Left Tackle for the Bears in 2012. If Webb's able to take the next step, than there'll be that much more running space for the running backs (Matt Forte and Michael Bush) while also allowing for Jay Cutler to bootleg out of the pocket allowing for him to become an elite Quarterback.
2. Tight End:* In addition to the offensive line, the Bears need to receive contributions out of the Tight End position. During the offseason, the Bears decided to resign Kellen Davis to go along with Matt Speath and rookie Evan Rodriguez on their roster. If KellenDavis (or one of the other 2 Tight End's) can make a few key receptions downfield, the the other wideouts will be able to find single coverages against other defenses.
3. Defense's Age:* Like I said above, the Bears have a number of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball (Urlacher, Peppers, Briggs, and Tillman) however, each player is over the age of 30. Since Urlacher injured his wrist during the first game of the 2009 season, Chicago's defense has been fortunate to stay relatively healthy on the defensive side of the ball. I don't feel any of these players have "lost a step" however, I do worry about are the injuries and if someone gets injured how they'll be able to recover from the possible injury. If they stay healthy, I feel these 4 players as good as ever during the 2012 season.
4. The Young Defenders:* In addition to their key defensive players over 30 years old, I feel the Bears feature a few key younger players on the defensive side of the ball in Henry Melton, Major Wright, Chris Conte, along with rookies Shea McClellin (1st Round) and Brandon Hardin (3rd Round). If Henry Melton can become a reliable interior defensive tackle, and bring pressure from the inside of the defense, then Julius Peppers won't see as many double-teams and the linebackers will be able to drop back into coverage. The same goes for Shea McClellin as if he's able to prove that he can be true Defensive End that can get after the Quarterback, then the Bears will feature a solid rotation from the Defensive End position in Peppers, McClellin, and Israel Idonije. As for the other three players, they were the franchises last 3 third round picks: Major Wright (2010), Chris Conte (2011), and Brandon Hardin (2012). If two of the three young safeties are able to solidify that position in 2012, then the Bears defense would be that much better in 2012.
*Those are the 4 keys surrounding the Bears in the short-term. So what are some of the long-term issues surrounding the Chicago Bears?
Within the next 2 years, the majority of the Bears key players will be free agents and the team will have to decide who to sign and to let go. Within the next 2 off-seasons, the following key players will be Free Agents: Jay Cutler, Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, and Robbie Gould. With that said Bears fans should look forward to the start of the 2012 and not too much at the future as the Bears have a chance to do something special in 2012 and early 2013.
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