In new General Manager Phil Emery's first offseason, he has already made major improvements to a team that look destined to return to the playoffs last season before quarterback Jay Cutler's injury.
With an emphasis on helping Cutler on the offensive side of the ball as well as adding youth to the defense, the Bears expect to once again be competing for a playoff position.
Based off of Emery's free agent signings, as well as his rookie draft, here are my power rankings for the 2012 Chicago Bears' positional groups.
Center: Roberto Garza
Guards: Lance Louis, Chris Spencer, Chilo Rachal, Edwin Williams
Tackles: Gabe Carimi, Chris Williams, J'Marcus Webb
One of the biggest struggles the Bears have had in recent seasons has been the ability to protect the quarterback. In Jay Cutler's three seasons in Chicago, he has started 41 games, been sacked 110 times—nearly once every 12 dropbacks.
With a new offense in place and with Chris Williams battling J'Marcus Webb for the ever-important left tackle position, the offensive line has a chance to be a major improvement over previous years, but until we can see the product on the field, the offensive line will remain a weakness.
Safeties: Chris Conte, Major Wright, Brandon Hardin (R), Craig Steltz, Anthony Walters
No position has fluctuated more during Lovie Smith's tenure quite like the safety position. Last year saw an opening day tandem of Chris Harris at strong safety and Major Wright turn in to Wright switching to the strong side and rookie Chris Conte getting the start at free safety, with both Brandon Merriweather and Craig Steltz also taking turns in the starting role.
After the addition of third-round draft pick Brandon Hardin, the Bears hope to have found a strong safety for the future who could possibly line up from day one opposite of Chris Conte.
With the lack of experience at the position it may be another year with a multitude of safety combinations.
Tight Ends: Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, Evan Rodriguez(R)
The NFL has become a pass-happy league and the tight end has found itself at the forefront of that change. With tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski putting up numbers similar to wide receivers, defenses find it more and more difficult to defend them.
Lovie Smith has been on record saying that he believes Kellen Davis has the ability to a difference maker in the league. With the addition of fourth-round draft choice Evan Rodriguez the Bears may have found another playmaker. Rodriguez has been likened to New England's Aaron Hernandez. Although not as fleet of foot as Hernandez or as polished, Rodriguez has the physical tools to become a very productive tight end in the league.
If new offensive coordinator Mike Tice can find a way to create mismatches with his tight ends, they have a chance to be one of the most productive groups on the team, but until they can prove themselves to be more than just run- and pass-blockers, they will remain an average group at best.
Defensive Tackles: Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, Matt Toeiana, John McCargo, DeMario Pressley
Defensive Ends: Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin (R), Israel Idonije, Corey Wootton
The Bears have arguably one of the best defensive ends in the game with Julius Peppers. In Peppers' two seasons with the Bears he has faced countless double teams and still finds ways to be productive even without the huge sack totals. However, beyond Peppers' production at the end position, there are many questions marks opposite of him.
Israel Idonije has had success at times at the end position and with the addition of Shea McClellin in the first round, the Bears hope that they have finally found someone who can force offenses to play honest and not double up on Peppers.
After letting go of Anthony Adams and letting Amobi Okoye leave via free agency, the Bears did little to improve the interior of their defensive line. Henry Melton has been productive at times, but is better suited as a third down rusher than an every-down player. Stephen Paea has shown flashes at times and Matt Toeiana has been good against the run but the Bears needed to improve at the position and find themselves only kicking the treads on veterans like John McCargo and DeMario Pressley.
If the Bears can find production from the interior as well as production from McClellin, the defensive line has a chance to have real strength, but with so many questions about who will produce other than Peppers' the defensive line could be a big let-down.
Cornerbacks: Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, Kelvin Hayden, Jonathan Wilhite, Isiah Frey (R), Greg McCoy (R)
After nine seasons in the NFL, veteran cornerback Charles Tillman made his first Pro Bowl. Tillman has long been the Bears' best cornerback on Sundays, often being matched up against the opposing team's best wide receiver.
During those nine years, the Bears have struggled to find the right fit on the opposite side of him. Tim Jennings played well at times, but lost his job to Zachary Bowman, only to reclaim it before the end of the season. D.J. Moore appears to have a grasp on the nickelback position and came up big at times, nabbing four interceptions last season.
Both Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite came to the Bears this offseason via free agency and they hope Hayden can reclaim his old form and push Jennings for the number two cornerback position.
The additions of Isiah Frey and Greg McCoy in the draft were likely for developmental purposes, with neither expected to see the field in anything other than a special teams role.
If Hayden can find his way back to his old form and Jennings can improve on his ball handling skills, the cornerbacks have enough depth to compete with many of the daunting NFC North wide receivers.
Running Backs: Matt Forte, Michael Bush, Kahlil Bell
Fullback: Tyler Clutts
There is no doubt that the running backs would be ranked much higher if the status of Matt Forte was more well known. After not being able to agree upon a long term deal last offseason, the Bears have decided to place the franchise tag on Forte for the 2012 season. Forte has held steadfast in his belief that he deserves to receive a long term deal and has yet to sign his franchise tender.
Many believe that Forte will eventually either sign the tender or get a long term deal before the start of the season, but if not, the Bears find themselves prepared with their signing of Michael Bush.
Bush provides the bruising inside-the-tackle running style that Forte has not really shown in the past. If Forte does not hold out and is there for the full season, the combination of Forte and Bush could be one of the best in the league.
Kicker: Robbie Gould
Punter: Adam Podlesh
Long Snapper: Patrick Mannely
Returners: Devin Hester, Eric Weems, Devin Thomas, Greg McCoy (R)
Special Teams Ace: Blake Costanzo
With the greatest return man in NFL history as well as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history and one of the best long snappers in the game, the Bears have one of the most solid special teams cores in the NFL.
Special teams coach Dave Toub is often viewed as one of the best in the league and continues to get the most out of his players year in and year out.
With the additions of both Eric Weems and Blake Costanzo, both the return game and the coverage teams immediately get better.
Often overlooked in the grand scheme of things but without strong special teams play, many of the league's best teams wouldn't be viewed as the best.
Quarterbacks: Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, Josh McCown, Nathan Enderle
In years past the Bears would have been lucky to have found a capable quarterback once every five years. After the injury to Jay Cutler last season, it was painfully obvious that the Bears needed a viable backup. Caleb Hanie struggled as Cutler's replacement and he was eventually replaced by the veteran Josh McCown who showed some encouraging signs towards the end of last season.
New GM Phil Emery found his backup in veteran Jason Campbell. Campbell possesses the ability to win football games if Cutler happens to miss time again. McCown and second-year player Nathan Enderle are expected to fight it out for the third quarterback spot, but given McCown's performance last season, the Bears could find themselves with a number two quarterback who could start for many teams in the league as well as a number three who can win you a game in a bind.
Wide Receivers: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery (R), Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Devin Thomas, Eric Weems, Dane Sanzenbacher, Johnny Knox (injured)
Last season the Bears' wide receivers were plagued with injuries (Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox) as well as poor play (Roy Williams). Phil Emery made it a priority to improve the Bears offense and did so by trading two third-round picks for Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall's prior history with Jay Cutler has Bears fans filled with excitement. With the addition of Alshon Jeffery in the second round of this year's draft, the Bears finally have two big target receivers to compliment the speedy shifty receivers (Bennett, Hester).
With the ability to now plug in players alongside the proven Marshall, guys like Bennett and Jeffrey have the opportunity to put up huge numbers in this offense. As long Jeffrey acclimates himself quickly to the offense, the Bears finally have a wide receiver core that can compete with the likes of Green Bay and Detroit.
Middle Linebackers: Brian Urlacher, Dom DeCicco
Outside Linebackers: Lance Briggs, Geno Hayes, Nick Roach, J.T. Thomas, Blake Costanzo
When thinking of the Chicago Bears defense, two names immediately pop to mind: Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
Quite possibly the best linebacker tandem in the league, Urlacher and Briggs have been mainstays at the linebacker position since 2000 (Urlacher) and 2003 (Briggs). Pro Bowl favorites nearly every year, the duo has played great football together for nearly 10 seasons.
With Urlacher and Briggs manning the middle linebacker and weakside linebacker positions, Geno Hayes and Nick Roach are expected to battle for the position during training camp.
Regardless who lines up besides them, Urlacher and Briggs remain two of the best players on not only this team, but they are two of the best players at their positions in the league.