A couple years ago, linebacker Jamar Williams appeared to be on the fast track to a starting job, especially when the Bears' contract talks with Lance Briggs became contentious.
After being drafted in the fourth round in 2006 out of Arizona State, Williams played in all 16 games the following season and started once. When Briggs suffered a hamstring injury just before halftime against the Cowboys in 2007, Williams stepped in and made a career-best 12 tackles.
But last season, Williams appeared to regress. He was passed on the depth chart by Northwestern's Nick Roach, who replaced Hunter Hillenmeyer as the starting strong-side linebacker. Williams was relegated to special teams, where he finished as the Bears' second-leading tackler.
Now it appears as if Williams is back to form. He has been arguably the Bears' most impressive player in the off-season.
"You can see the athlete that he is," general manager Jerry Angelo said on the team's Web site. "It's his awareness and confidence levels that stand out."
Angelo said last year's decision to move Roach past Williams was a difficult one.
"To me, it was a photo finish," Angelo said. "We've always liked Jamar. I think he's a three-down player. He's bright, he's athletic, he's fast and he's tough. There's nothing not to like about him. What we're seeing now is what we saw when he was in college and what we drafted."
Williams has made coaches take notice on an almost daily basis during OTA practices.
"He had three picks in five days," defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Babich said. "He's made some big plays. He's really progressed. This is his fourth year in the system, so we expect Jamar to do those type things."
Return to greatness: Despite improving from 20 receptions in 2007 to 51 last season and increasing his receiving yardage from 299 to 665, Devin Hester was disappointed in his 2008 performance overall.
He did not have a single return touchdown after scoring seven times on punt returns and four times on kickoff returns in his first two seasons, and his punt-return average of 6.2 yards was less than half the 14.1 yards he had averaged previously.
As a consequence, he lost the kickoff-return job to Danieal Manning midway through the season.
"I hate to say it, but the season I had last year wasn't up to my high expectations," Hester said. "This year I'm coming out trying to be better than I was the first two years. My goal is to just come out and make big plays like I normally do."
The proof of Hester's subpar 2008 has been staring him in the face all off-season.
"I was kind of getting upset because when they show commercials on ESPN and NFL Network, I'm not one of the players they show," he said. "I know there's a reason why - because of the season I had last year. This year, hopefully during the middle of the season, I'll be on some of those commercials."
Waiting game: As enthused as Ron Turner is to have Jay Cutler running his offense, the Bears' offensive coordinator realizes that the quarterback's assimilation is a work in progress.
"I'm excited, but I also realize that it's not going to happen overnight," Turner said. "It's not all of a sudden going to come together. It's going to take time. It's going to take a lot of work. ...
"We need a lot of reps. We're not going to be as good Sept. 13 as we will be later on in the year, but we'll be good enough to go out and execute and move the ball and score some points hopefully."