Mini-camps start today. They don't mean much. Nothing gets accomplished outside the bare bones integration of rookies and new players into the established system and reports of how impressed the coaching staff is with Jay Cutler's arm, Julius Peppers' speed and Devin Hester's progress. (By the way, Hester was great on the phone and he now has a fan for life.)
But today, at least symbolically, marks the start of the 2010 season. A season that for better or worse will go a long way towards shaping the immediate future of the franchise we hold dear. What are the possible outcomes? The utter disaster of six wins or less will lead to an organizational house cleaning as the McCaskey Gang will spend next January auditioning new leadership. The middle ground of 7-9 wins will sound the Ho Hum Alarm and most likely have the same outcome as 0 wins. A playoff appearance and first-game loss? Debate will reign. A playoff appearance and first-game win? Contract extensions all around?
We all want to win, whether we like the fellas in charge or not. But how often do we expect to win? I expected the 2009 Bears to struggle out of the box offensively but hit something of a stride late and find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt. I never expected the rampant defensive meltdowns throughout the year or Jay Cutler's frenzy of interceptions. It took my appearance in the building on a cold Monday night in December to realize what the offense could be. (Most casually disregard the defense's porous effort in allowing Favre and company to move up and down the field at will.)
I expect the 2010 Bears to be good right from the start. I expect them to register double-digit victories. I expect them to make a postseason appearance and possibly win a game. The pressure is everywhere: Angelo, Smith, Martz, Cutler, Peppers, Urlacher...etc. They've all got to perform at their best to climb out of the NFC North's third position and back into the limelight of the league's elite. Nevertheless I expect it. Expect it in a way I haven't in some time. The money's been spent. The talent assembled.
The time is now for everybody involved. With the exception of Cutler, each other name on that shortlist's future in Chicago is entrenched in the success of the 2010 campaign. The time is now. That starts the first week of the season.