LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- We take a brief break from Lovie/Turner watch 2010, to give you five reasons why the Bears could be a playoff team next season. Please note the major emphasis on the word could. Any theories regarding the Bears making the postseason requires at minimum a small leap of faith.
1. Jay Cutler will be a much better quarterback in 2010. How could he be any worse? Cutler finished the season with eight touchdown passes, one interception and 549 passing yards in the final two games. The new offensive coordinator must be able to highlight Cutler's strengths (arm strength and mobility), while making sure the he buys into the system and cuts down on the careless turnovers. The Bears have every possible motivation to make a good hire, and if they do the offense should be much improved just because of Cutler alone.
2. Devin Aromashodu, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett give the Bears talented, young depth at wide receiver. Yes, the Bears should go out and sign another veteran to complement this group, but all three showed promise in 2009. While Bennett may end up being more of a possession-type receiver, Knox and Aromashodu have big-play potential. If the Bears ever figure out how to get the most out of Devin Hester, then maybe they’ll have something cooking at wide out.
3. A healthy Brian Urlacher will only bolster an underappreciated group at linebacker. Can we please give Bob Babich credit for a job well done in 2009. Did you notice all the injuries suffered at linebacker? Despite losing Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa, Babich's unit played the best football of any group on the defense. Hunter Hillenmeyer, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams picked up the slack, while Lance Briggs made his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl. It will be interesting to see what the Bears do at strong side linebacker next fall, but the talent level at this position remains solid.
4. Special teams continue to flourish under Dave Toub. You want dangerous return men? Take your pick: Danieal Manning (assuming he's back), Johnny Knox and Devin Hester. You want excellent kickers? Take your pick: Robbie Gould and Brad Maynard. You want an emerging Pro Bowl-caliber guy on coverage teams? I give you Tim Shaw. As long as Toub is calling the shots, the third phase will always be a major strength of this organization.
5. Lovie Smith's contract will turn out to be a blessing for Bears' fans. For all of you upset Smith's contract prevented (we assume) the Bears from giving the head coach a pink slip after 2009, the one year remaining at the end of the 2010 season guarantees Smith will do whatever it takes to win. NFL head coaches are masters at self-preservation, and that should be crystal clear to everybody when the team reports to training camp. A high-priced veteran doesn't want to work hard? Bench him. A high-priced veteran can't play anymore? Get rid of him. It's time for Smith to stop letting star players operate under their own set of rules. Because really, what else does he have to lose?