The Chicago Bears weren't given a chance to make the playoffs in pre-season rankings for 2008, and they fell just short of making them in a heartbreaking loss to the Texans, in the final game.
Now that their season is over, just how do the Bears stack up for next year? Josh Warren grades the Monsters of the Midway, and breaks down how they can improve for the next year.
Quarterbacks: C+. Kyle Orton wasn't exactly stellar in his first year as the Chicago Bears starter, and Rex Grossman was hardly given a chance to return to form.
With Jerry Angelo talking about continued position battles and possibly adding another potential starter, it would seem that the Bears just aren't content to have the same guy start more than two years in a row.
How they can improve: All signs point to Angelo wanting another veteran presence at QB, and that's a fine idea, but he needs to step back to the here and now.
Rex has been in the system long enough to understand it, and Kyle has a fair share of experience. The Bears would be smart to let Rex and Kyle battle it out for the starting job again, while grooming Caleb Hanie to be a starter in the future.
Running backs: A-. Matt Forte turned out to be a bargain for a second round draft pick, and he made his mark on the Bears organization, quickly emerging as a starter in training camps, and becoming a great all-purpose back in no time at all.
The void left by Thomas Jones' departure has been filled, and with Kevin Jones, Garrett Wolfe, and Adrian Peterson backing him up, this is a solid corps of backs that has a wide variety of running styles, and a proven starter.
How they can improve: There really isn't much of a need to improve the running back situation in Chicago, so hopefully they won't waste any picks on running backs in this draft class.
Wide Receivers: D+. I think that the plus sign after that "D" might be a little bit generous. The Chicago Bears simply refuse to pay for a top-dollar wide out, and what they've been working with just isn't working.
Devin Hester could turn into a decent deep threat, but his spot was as a return man, and now that his skills have declined in that area, they have no choice but to try and force him to be a No. 1 receiver.
Brandon Lloyd could be a nice compliment, if he could just stay healthy.
How they can improve: Give some of the younger guys in the Bears system a chance to go for it. Hester and Lloyd will likely remain their two top receivers for at least another year, but that isn't saying much.
One can only hope that a young star rises above and carries the team in this area, because it is highly unlikely that they'll sign someone to do the job for them.
Tight Ends: B. This grade isn't being too generous, but I feel it fair, as the Bears tight ends did a good amount of contributing to the Bears passing game, but by the same token, they could do a world more than they are.
Desmond Clark is getting old, but still has great hands, and makes for a good possession guy.
Greg Olsen needs to watch his fumbles, but he can make almost any catch, and is good as a deep threat. He has great speed for a tight end, and can only keep getting better.
How they can improve: The tight ends themselves can only improve on their skills and play, but the Bears would be wise to use more two tight end sets, as well as splitting Olsen out for three-receiver sets.
Integrating the tight ends back into the passing game more often can only be a good thing for the Bears.
Offensive Line: C. This is an aging group, and an attempt to add Chris Williams to the mix in order to give it a youthful burst backfired when his back was injured, requiring surgery and taking him out for nearly the entire season.
Still, the old guys up front played about to the ability one should expect of them, and they may have just one year left in the tank. Some of Kyle Orton's sacks were his own fault, so the line can't be blamed for that.
How they can improve: Get Chris Williams healthy and start him. Beyond that, adding more youth to the mix is necessary, but you can't throw that much inexperience in front of a quarterback that quickly.
Work the rookies in slow, and give them time to develop, to make the line a mix of youth and experience.
Defensive Line: C+. What happened? Where was the pop that this revamped defensive line was supposed to bring?
There was quite a bit of talk that this would be the team's strong point, but Tommie Harris never quite played up to his potential, Mark Anderson seemed to fall off the map, and Alex Brown and Ogunleye had middle ground seasons.
Still, this group can get its act together, and put pressure on any quarterback, if they all play up to their abilities.
How they can improve: Force these guys to work harder in mini camps next year. This is a solid group that is fast and tough, and has enough depth to stay fresh, if they want to work for it.
Drafting one more defensive lineman or defensive end might help to spur the veterans on a bit to go that extra mile next year.
Linebackers: B-. Brian Urlacher is starting to show his first signs of age, Lance Briggs can still do a little better than he did, and the emergence of Nick Roach added even more depth to this linebacker corps, but they can easily improve upon their work next season.
Then again, the entire Bears defense was more than a little disappointing this year, and one can only hope they'll play up to expectations next year.
How they can improve: Keep Brian Urlacher healthy and get him some therapy for that injured neck.
Lance Briggs is fine, and the tandem of Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach works well, when switching out on running and passing plays.
There's no need for another linebacker to be drafted or signed to Chicago...yet. In the next couple of years, though, expect to see that become an issue.
Defensive Backs: D+. I know that Nathan Vasher was injured. I know that Corey Graham was young and lacking experience, just like Kevin Payne.
But honestly, with Mike Brown healthy as long as he was, Tillman healthy just about all season, and plenty of time for the young talent to get into the groove of things, this secondary simply underperformed. They have a lot of work to do before next season starts.
How they can improve: With the exception of Chris Harris, this is basically the same secondary that went to the Super Bowl in 2006.
The Bears need to keep these guys healthy, and the veterans have to rub off on younger players like Kevin Payne and Corey Graham. Keeping the starters fresh by mixing players in every couple of downs is great, too.
The one thing that absolutely needs to stop is blown coverages, and with enough practice, that should not be a problem.
Special Teams: A+. Who saw this coming? Daniel Manning emerged as an explosive return man and ousted Devin Hester from his job.
That was one of the most pleasant surprises of the whole season for the Bears, who were once again able to count on their special teams all season long.
It's a shame these guys don't get more credit for the Bears' success. Robbie Gould was excellent, Brad Maynard had the most punts inside the 20-yard line of any punter this year, and the special teams coverage on kicks and punts was fantastic.
How they can improve: Good question. I don't think it's possible.
Coaching: B-. I can handle that Lovie has almost no emotions when he speaks to the media. That's probably a good thing.
I can handle that Bob Babich had a bad first year at defensive coordinator, because that would be a tough role to fill, since Ron Rivera did such a fantastic job.
I cannot handle that Ron Turner is still running this offense. If we had an offensive coordinator with any sense of how to run an offense, there is a good chance the Bears would be in the playoffs right now, despite their defensive shortcomings.
How they can improve: Fire Ron Turner. Hire Rod Marinelli, or another offensive coordinator who actually knows how to run an offense. Let Lovie keep being Lovie, and if Babich doesn't do a better job with the defense his second time around, beg Ron Rivera to come back to Chicago.