Hope is flying high for Bears fans. The offense was addressed during the off-season in a manner of which Bears fans are not accustomed to. Jay Cutler is healthy, for now, and certainly has the most talented group of offensive players around him since he came to Chicago. Many see the Bears as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, so why has no one predicted disaster yet?
While I expect the season to be an enjoyable run, Chicagoans seem to have decreasingly shorter memories. Less than a year ago, the 7-3 Bears had playoff talk running rampant throughout the city. This was followed by a 5-game losing streak, before the team salvaged their final game of the season, to end at 8-8. Most fans were clamoring for the removal of the head coach, GM and President. Hope remained because GM Jerry Angelo was removed and fans were treated to some logical moves during the off-season, but this swelling optimism may yet turn out to be far too presumptuous.
Lovie Smith is still the head coach. While it could be argued that Lovie is now one of the most important coaches in Bears history, where are all the fans that asked for his head after last season? The acquisitions of Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and Jason Campbell do not make Lovie a better coach. By week two of this season, the same fans will likely begin criticizing the out-dated cover two defense that he will clutch to his chest till death. The defensive roster is full of the same names that have caused frustration in the cover two for the past two seasons, only they are all older. Further problems persist as well.
Brian Urlacher's health concerns have been widely discussed. There is no reason to assume the lack of consistent play from the safeties on the roster in years past will be any better this year. Julius Peppers will still be waiting for anyone else on the D-line to take advantage of his monstrous, speedy presence on the ends and, furthermore, there is still Lovie's notorious in-game decisions, which frequently baffle even the most ardent Lovie-supporters... yet, much of Chicago has started its Super Bowl parade already.
On a positive note, Lovie usually is capable of getting the most out of his players. For whatever reason, he certainly earns the respect of the players, and this usually translates into a surprise or two on the field. If Lovie can once again patch-together and motivate this defense to be better in areas for concern than it should, then things are looking up. But looking too high up can quickly put a football-sized pain in your neck.
Simply put, I ask Bear fans to keep their expectations modest. There is no reason to assume that Jay Cutler will have his best year ever, Urlacher will remain healthy and lead a productive defense all season, every one of new GM Phil Emery's moves will turnout for the best, and that Lovie will be able to put all of it together in the same year, making a delicious Bears Super Bowl Meatball for us to devour. It could happen, but why would Bears fans seem to be counting on it?
If all, or most, of the Bears' key issues turn out positively for them, this should be a fantastic team. Bears fans have plenty of reason to hope for this, but letting that hope stray, and evolve into expectation, is a lesson in masochism. Injuries alone, as last year showed us, can quickly dismantle any hope a team has for a productive season. Kudos to Emery for attempting to forgo the same fate as last season by adding QB Jason Campbell and RB Michael Bush, but the offensive depth that was added will do nothing to help an aging defense if it is that side of the ball that succumbs to the injury bug.
Regardless of what any of us predict now, the Bears are on the cusp of a new era this season. If Lovie leads the team to the payoffs again, expect to see him re-signed as head coach. This alone would have to put Lovie in the conversation, after Ditka and Halas of course, as historic Bears coaches. A new era in Bears history would then begin; with Lovie looking on to a ninth season (plus more depending on the length of the contract) as Bears head coach, with a talented offense to complement his ability to make the most of his defensive roster.
Assuming things do not go peachy-keen for the Bears this season, and they miss the playoffs, Lovie would have to go. One must believe that Emery would like to pick his own coach, after following the McCaskey's "must keep Lovie" rule this off-season. Anything less than a playoff birth would be an utter disappointment, and it seems reasonable that ownership would finally let Lovie take the fall, with no better scapegoats left to take the heat (Jerry Angelo, Mike Martz, Ron Rivera etc). Bears fans would then be looking at plenty of reform: a new coach, a new system, and, likely, no more Urlacher. Considering his age, declining health and expiring contract, 2012-13 will likely be the last season for Urlacher as a Bear, regardless of the team's success or lack thereof.
Either way, next season will be the beginning of something new for the Bears. Whether it be a completely new beginning, or a reboot and revival of Lovie, Bears fans will be somewhere new and strange next year. Let us just enjoy this season- one which hasn't even begun yet- before we get so far ahead of ourselves that we ruin the whole ride.