Much has been said about the Chicago Bears' 2009 offseason so far. It would seem that no other team in the league has gone through such a radical transformation, and the consensus seems to be that the Bears' new additions to the roster and coaching staff should put them over the double-digit win mark this coming season.
But fans and Bears personnel alike need to take a step back and look at what their goals are for 2009.
Of course, every year, every player and every coach on every team says that their goal is to win the Super Bowl.
Likewise, every year, millions of Americans make the New Years Resolution to "get back in shape". But everyone knows these kinds of goals are more realistic for some than they are for others.
If you went 0-16 one year earlier/weigh 400 pounds, I think it's pretty safe to say you won't be holding up the Lombardi Trophy/showing off your six pack abs the following February.
But the Bears were a team on the cusp of the playoffs in 2008 and their offseason moves should put them into the playoff-caliber category without needing to change much else. But there are three issues that need to be addressed if they want to be a team that can win in the playoffs and realistically compete for a Super Bowl.
After all, over a third of the league will see playoff action, and when we think of this season's expectations in those terms, it gives us some perspective into what makes a playoff team versus what makes a great team.
1. Defensive Line
The Bears' pass rush was all but nonexistent throughout much of the 2008 season. The front four does not appear to change much in terms of position. The company line seems to be that the addition of Rod Marinelli to the coaching staff will suffice in re-establishing consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
But most fans understand that the success of the defensive line, and the entire defense by extension, walks hand in hand with the performance of Tommie Harris. If Harris cannot revert to Pro-Bowl form, expect the Ghosts of 2008 to continue to haunt this once-stellar defense.
2. Wide Receivers
The addition of Jay Cutler figures to improve the Bears passing game, but questions surround the largely-unproven receiving corps. Many NFL analysts are predicting that the lack of a viable No. 1 downfield threat on the roster will be the team's Achilles' Heel.
Yet the GM, coaches and even Cutler himself have all been steadfast in their answers to questions from the press that have begun to circulate since news of star wideouts Plaxico Burress and Brandon Marshall's possible availability this season first surfaced.
It's fairly safe to say that Marshall, while probably the better of the two options given his age and existing rapport with Cutler, will not be on the Bears' roster come September.
The organization already gave up so much to acquire Jay Cutler from Denver, it appears that they lack the ammunition needed to snag a star player who's still under contract with another team. If the Bears had enough left to sacrifice by way of draft picks, they probably would have already made a play for Arizona wideout Anquan Boldin.
But Burress is a free-agent and the team should seriously consider bringing Burress in for a workout. His impact on the Giants was massive, best evidenced by their fall from grace last season when he was no longer playing.
3. Free Safety
With the departure of veteran Mike Brown, the Bears are left with a massive whole right in the middle of their beloved Tampa-2 defense. Not only do they lack a consensus starter at the position, but they're also missing an emotional leader who can take command of the secondary.
Since Brown was released, the discussion over who will play where in Bears' secondary has been like a game of musical chairs. Charles Tillman, Josh Bullocks, Corey Graham, Zack Bowman, and Craig Steltz have all been seriously considered for the starting free safety position, but none of them has much, if any, NFL experience at the position.
One player who may emerge in training camp as the Mike Brown of the future is rookie Al Afalava. Clearly Afalava has a checkered past, and his sixth-round draft status, and sub-BCS collegiate competition may raise a few eyebrows. But his workout was as good as any safety in the draft, and lest we forget, four years ago the Bears drafted another safety in the sixth round who went on to make an interception in the Super Bowl.
Clearly the Bears have vastly improved on paper. But as Lovie Smith said following their last OTA, they still need to come together as a team.
If they can answer these questions before or during training camp, the sky could be the limit for this team, and Bears fans could be rejoicing next February. While Lions fans make up their minds to "get back in shape".