Briggs could join Bears by Sunday at training camp

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) -- Recent history suggests the Chicago Bears' path back to the Super Bowl could be a rocky one. Coach Lovie Smith didn't seem concerned Thursday as his team filed in for the start of training camp.

"We've heard about losing Super Bowl teams and what they're supposed to do. We haven't bought into that," Smith said Thursday, nearly six months since a rainy loss to the Colts in the Super Bowl at Miami.

When the Seahawks beat the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs last season, Seattle became the first Super Bowl runner-up since 1997 to win a postseason game the following season. The Seahawks also were the first Super Bowl runner-up to even make the playoffs since the 2001 Titans.

"What we're buying into is that we think we have our best team coming this year," Smith said.

One of the biggest potential distractions was erased Wednesday when disgruntled Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs agreed to a one-year, $7.2 million deal as the team's franchise player - after threatening to sit out the season.

"It's training camp time and he's showing up. A lot of things are said during the offseason. I don't put a lot of stock in a lot of it," said Smith, who got his own contract extension in the offseason after some testy talk from his agent.

"I put stock into when it's time to go to work, who's there? I'm excited that Lance will be here," Smith added.

Well, Briggs won't be at Olivet Nazarene until probably Sunday, Smith said. He's allowing him to miss the first two days of practice Friday and Saturday to take care of some personal business.

And once he does suit up, the Bears won't rush him. Briggs missed offseason workouts and a mandatory minicamp. "I've communicated with Lance throughout. With modern technology you can text and do a lot of different things like that. He's been in contact with his teammates and so I'd hoped he would be here," Smith said.

"First, we have to see exactly what type of shape Lance is in, so we will bring him along slowly. Once Lance Briggs gets into shape I think it's safe to say he is our starter. He's one of the best linebackers in the game."

The Bears don't really have too many position battles shaping up, although they will have to sort out their defensive tackle rotation, where talented Tommie Harris returns from a hamstring injury and backups Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone left as free agents. And, of course, there's no Tank Johnson, the troubled tackle who was finally released after he was pulled over by Arizona police shortly after offseason workouts ended. The Bears had given Johnson, who spent two months in jail and who'd been suspended the first eight games of the season by the NFL, plenty of second chances and then had seen enough.

Antonio Garay, Dusty Dvoracek and Anthony Adams will get looks in the defensive front.

"It's disappointing whenever you lose someone who has been part of your team for the amount of time Tank was. But things happen," Smith said. "That's a chapter in our life, we've closed that page and we've moved on. I'll always care what happens to Tank, and hopefully Tank can get a few things straightened out and go from there."

On offense, the Bears will have a different look with rookie kick return sensation Devin Hester added to the plan and Cedric Benson taking over for Thomas Jones at running back. There's also a new tight end in first-round pick Greg Olsen. And Smith said he expects Rex Grossman, who could be good one week and well below average the next, to be much improved in his second full season as a starter. Grossman is going into the final year of his contract.

With Briggs on his way and cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher given offseason extensions, the Brian Urlacher-led defense could see a new face starting at end, where Mark Anderson, who made 12 sacks as a rookie, might beat out Alex Brown. The Bears also welcome back oft-injured safety Mike Brown, coming off a serious ligament injury to his foot. Brown has played only 20 games the last three seasons.

"We'll find out these next coming weeks if I still got anything left in the tank, and I'm sure that I do," Brown said Thursday. And how much do the Bears have after leaving Miami with such an empty feeling last February?

"We left a lot out there, one game, and we want to be the champs," Brown said.

"NFC champs doesn't really mean anything, we want to be the Super Bowl champs. We stated it last year that we wanted to be that, didn't quite get there. This year, hopefully we'll get an opportunity to play in that game again and the outcome will be different."

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