2006 season recap
Close, but not quite there
A gritty defensive unit earned the Bears a trip to Super Bowl XLI in spite of an offense that ranked only in the middle of the NFL pack. The inconsistent play of quarterback Rex Grossman had Bears fans holding their breath every time he let the ball fly, but the special teams added a boost with rookie return man Devin Hester, who had six returns for touchdowns in the regular season.
Key camp questions
Will Lovie Smith be able to prevent a post-Super Bowl letdown?
For guiding the Bears to the Super Bowl in his third season at the helm, Smith was rewarded with a lucrative contract extension. Now the team begins the long road back to the top, and history indicates the chances of its ascent are slim. Five of the last six teams that lost the Super Bowl did not make playoffs the next year. Smith lost five assistant coaches and four key members of his defense in the offseason, and all three of Chicago's NFC North division opponents should be improved.
Do the Bears still have the NFC's best defense?
Despite a bit of offseason chaos -- DT Tank Johnson was released, DTs Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone left in free agency, LB Lance Briggs held out and finally signed -- the Bears' defense should fare well again. Pro Bowl tackle Tommie Harris will be back after missing most of last year with a hamstring injury. Linebacker Brian Urlacher is the best in the game, and the secondary, undervalued in the Bears' scheme, is in solid shape with CBs Charles Tillman, Nate Vasher and Ricky Manning Jr. and free-agent FS Adam Archuleta.
Should the Bears make better use of Devin Hester and use him on offense, too?
Hester returned three punts, two kickoffs and one missed field goal for touchdowns in the regular season and, with his 92-yard dash against the Colts, he became the first player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. His one-man 42-point contribution from special teams has spawned rumors that Hester could make the move to wide receiver to help the Bears' struggling offense. It's not a sure bet, however. Another flashy return man, Dante Hall, made the switch in Kansas City and returned less than spectacular numbers as a part of the receiving corps.
Key position battle
Alex Brown vs. Mark Anderson
The Bears are happy to have both pass rushers on their roster, as they collected nearly 20 sacks between them in 2006. As a rookie, Anderson used his quickness speed off the edge to record 12 sacks in limited playing time. While Brown is equally talented, he must keep his cool on the field and not allow opposing players to get into his head.
TE Greg Olsen
The lanky first-round pick out of Miami has the size and quickness the team has been looking for in a tight end. Even though Desmond Clark is coming off his best year as a Bear, Olsen is quicker and will give Rex Grossman another big target down the middle.
Player on the spot
QB Rex Grossman
With running back Thomas Jones traded to the New York Jets, the streaky Grossman will be under even more pressure to carry the offense. If Cedric Benson can't make defenses honor the running game, Grossman will have to get comfortable carrying the load all by himself. And he showed last year that he is at his most inconsistent when he tried to force the issue, rather than take whatever the defense gives him. At least Grossman can count on good protection from one of the league's most experienced offensive lines.
A speedster with the skills to stretch defenses, Berrian posted career bests in receptions, yards and touchdowns last season. While he can be inconsistent from time to time, Berrian does have the skills to be a solid contributor and is a viable No. 3 or 4 fantasy wideout.