The Five Chicago Bears Who Absolutely Must Step It Up In 2009
This off-season has been one of the most noteworthy the Bears have had in a very long time, creating an eagerness for the upcoming season that has been lacking ever since Super Bowl XLI ended in crushing defeat.
But, as we know (alert the cliché alarm) championships aren't won in the off-season. While the newly acquired talent is cause for excitement, it doesn't conceal the fact that there were a great deal of returning players who underperformed last season. They cannot repeat the disappointing outputs they displayed in '08 if the Bears hope to make a deep playoff run.
Compiled here is a list of the five players whose improvements I feel are the most crucial if the Bears wish to take the necessary steps forward this season.
5. Kevin Jones
Before Jerry Angelo completed his metamorphosis from knuckle-dragging lack wit to GM extraordinaire, the most puzzling off-season move he made was re-signing Kevin Jones to backup Matt Forte one season after he was deemed unworthy to do so.
This I still don't fully understand, but Jones has played sparingly well in the past, so perhaps there is hope. And one year removed from ACL surgery and a second season in the system can only help.
As great as the idea of Matt Forte never leaving the field may sound now, it won't seem so great if several years of carrying the workload he carried last year ends his career prematurely.
If Jones can spell Forte without creatng a substantial production drop, there's no reason to think this couldn't be an elite running game.
4. Nathan Vasher
At the Bears Fan Expo in May, I was surprised at the high number of Nathan Vasher jerseys I saw. It really made me nostalgic for the days when he was good.
Over the last two seasons, Vasher has barely seen the field due to injuries. What's worse is what he's seen during the rare occurrences he has suited up: receivers burning him up and down the field.
Now he's hardly the only player in need of increased pass defense productivity, as improvements are needed by the pass rush and fellow cornerback Charles Tillman. But Vasher, a former Pro Bowler, hasn't even sniffed his once high level of play.
Even getting half way back to his 2005 form would be a noticeable improvement, and it still wouldn't be good enough.
I can't think of anyone on the roster with more to prove. Knowing his pedigree, he should probably be higher on the list, but of all parties mentioned, he's the player I'm closest to giving up on.
Prove me wrong, Nate. Please.
3. Earl Bennett
Much of the talk with Bears receivers surrounds Devin Hester's need to prove he can be a No. 1 option.
Bennett has a greater hill to climb,as he still has to prove he can catch an NFL pass.
The overall talent around Jay Cutler is far from great, but there is some real potential. Greg Olsen is ready to explode, Desmond Clark is very reliable, Matt Forte is one of the leagues most diverse backs, and Hester, while still rough, has great speed, which will compliment Cutler's arm strength nicely.
A major missing piece is a solid possession receiver who can make tough catches in the middle of the field. Bennett hardly needs to be spectacular. He just needs to fill this role, which could go a long way to opening up the passing game.
If he can't do it, he may find himself out of a job come next season.
2. Tommie Harris
There are multiple members of the D-line who must improve this season (the names Anderson and Ogunleye instantly come to mind), but much of the unit's success is dependent on Harris.
Injuries and personal problems have limited Harris' productivity over the past few seasons, preventing him from being the dominant force he can and needs to be.
Hopefully Rod Marinelli is as much a guru as the organization has dubbed him in the off-season, and he can get steady play out of the ends and at least a few of the 38 or so defensive tackles currently on the roster.
But above all, he needs to find a way to revitalize Harris, who has no doubt underperformed in recent seasons. If he can avoid injuries, a big "if" mind you, it is absolutely crucial for the defense that he is the beast he is capable of being.
1. Brian Urlacher
While I think most people will remember Brian Urlacher as a great player when he retires, there seems to be a healthy contingent that, for whatever reason, will peg him as overrated, which is total crap.
That being said, he has done very little over the past two seasons (especially last year) to win over his critics.
The organization did a great thing for both him and Lance Briggs by bringing in Pisa Tinoisamoa, who will prove to be a significant upgrade over Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach.
With a great pair surrounding him, if Urlacher can't get his game near the level of a few years ago, it may be time to face the fact that his days as an elite linebacker are over.
I really hope this isn't the case. One, because I've always loved watching him play, but most importantly because, as great as Briggs is, the defense still revolves around No. 54.
He has more naysayers than he deserves, and a great comeback season would be a great way to shut them up.