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Just what can we expect from the Bears? 8-8 looks about right
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff

Lovie Smith's current - and possibly last - Bears team inspires ambivalence more than anything else.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

With a crew of receivers benefiting from another year of experience, Jay Cutler will have the opportunity to play up to the potential the front office envisioned when they traded for him last year.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/5/2010 8:57 PM

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Wins and losses don't matter in the preseason.

But blocking and tackling do - and the Bears didn't do either particularly well the past three weeks.

Maybe once the regular season begins Sunday at Soldier Field against the Lions, the Bears will be better at everything they failed to do while stumbling to their first 0-4 preseason since 1998.

Or maybe not.

Lovie Smith's current - and possibly last - Bears team inspires ambivalence more than anything else.

They should be better defensively just because of the addition of Julius Peppers, who is an absolute difference maker. And it's reasonable to assume that Brian Urlacher will be healthy for more than the 30 minutes of football he was able to play last season.

But will Peppers make enough of an impact to make up for the loss of both of last year's starting defensive ends, Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye? And you can't count on good health.

Three of the team's top four linebackers - Urlacher (calf), Lance Briggs (knee) and Nick Roach (knee) - all sat out the final preseason game. And the status of safeties Craig Steltz (ankle), and Major Wright (finger), backup quarterback Caleb Hanie (should) and wide receiver Earl Bennett (hamstring) at the start of Week 1 is questionable.

Despite the additions of safeties Chris Harris and Wright, it remains to be seen if that position, an area of weakness in 2009, is any better. If missed tackles are any indication, the answer is "no."

But the Bears' offense does have the potential to be more explosive with creative Mike Martz calling the shots and a healthy Matt Forte, who is quicker and faster than a year ago, when he was banged up. With a crew of receivers benefiting from another year of experience, Jay Cutler will have the opportunity to play up to the potential the front office envisioned when they traded for him last year.

But that potential will never be realized if the offensive line doesn't do a better job of protecting Cutler than it did while allowing him to be sacked 10 times in 51/4 quarters of preseason play. The Bears hope this year's line will be better than a year ago, but the key word there is "hope."

"It's a concern," general manager Jerry Angelo said of keeping Cutler upright. "Are we going to have to help protect the passer (by keeping a back or a tight end in)? We may, but we need to figure those things out, we need to see that."

They still need to figure it out because that question wasn't adequately answered in an inconclusive preseason in which the key players were expected to see more action than they did.

"We're trying to figure out who we are, what we can do and what we can't do offensively and defensively," Angelo said before the final preseason game.

Very few questions were answered during cameo appearances by most key players in that final warm-up.

So for now, the Bears figure to be an 8-8 team, which should get them third place in the NFC North and a spot on the couch for the playoffs.