BOURBONNAIS - With the fate of the coaching staff and possibly the front office at stake, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo believes the performance of youthful and somewhat inexperienced players at wide receiver and on the offensive line will be critical this season.
"What we need to see is the younger players make the step at receiver and at the offensive-line positions in particular," Angelo said. "We've got a new scheme on offense that plays into the strengths of our players.
"But on offense the coordination and the continuity is very, very important because there's a string attached to all of them. I've been looking at those positions in particular."
The Bears' top three wide receivers are Devin Hester, Johnny Knox (23) and Devin Aromashodu.
They have started a total of just 23 NFL games: 20 by Hester, three by Aromashodu and none by Knox.
The starting offensive line against the San Diego Chargers in Saturday's preseason opener includes right guard Lance Louis (25), who has never played in a regular-season NFL game.
Third-year left tackle Chris Williams (24), who will be protecting Jay Cutler's blind side, has played just five NFL games at that position.
Right tackle Frank Omiyale started 12 games last season at left guard but was benched at one point for ineffectiveness. He has never started an NFL game at right tackle.
But the Bears also will depend on highly paid veteran players to do a lot of the heavy lifting if there is to be a big bounce back from last year's 7-9 disappointment.
Comeback seasons from middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and defensive tackle Tommie Harris would be a start.
"That would be huge," Angelo said. "Your core players - and obviously that's Brian, Tommie, Lance (Briggs) and Julius (Peppers) on defense - have to play to their level for us to be the kind of defense we want to be.
"Charles (Tillman) has come back off the injury (fractured ribs, bruised lung) extremely well, and we're hoping to see (Zack) Bowman take another step, and obviously we've seen some of that (already)."
"That's what makes a very good football team, that the players you're building (with) have their best years."
Angelo is well aware of the prevailing perception that this season is a win-or-else situation, maybe even for himself.
That might be a benefit in creating a sense of urgency, and it might be a distraction, but Angelo believes it might be best ignored.
"A lot is being said about it, and I understand that," Angelo said. "You could use it from a players' standpoint to fuel them to go harder.
"But I don't like saying it that way because it might sound like, well, they haven't gone hard (in the past).
"They have gone hard. Our issues have not been that. Our issues have been execution. We need to execute better and then, by executing better, we can become more consistent.
"We haven't been as consistent as we need to be and certainly as what we can be.
"That (do-or-die scenario) is media creating the perception of that. But our focus is on what we can control and what we believe in.
"We've looked at the season, we're excited about the goal, and that's winning the championship. That's where our focus is.
"If you start looking in the rearview mirror, if you start listening to that, it just distracts you from the task at hand, and the task at hand is to be a champion."
The question now is, does this team have what it takes to be a contender, especially in a division that includes the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers, who were a combined 23-9 last year and could be even better this year.
"Minnesota, with or without (Brett) Favre, is going to be a very good football team," Angelo said. "But I'm more focused on us being the best we can be and, if we're that the wins take care of themselves.
"There's no reason for us to accept anything less than getting into the playoffs."