|Lance Briggs, like longtime teammate Brian Urlacher, could use more young talent around him. (Getty Images)|
The Bears were 7-3 and looked to be playoff quality when Cutler suffered the injury that shelved him the rest of the way. The Bears lost their next five games.
It didn't help that running back Matt Forte suffered a knee injury in Week 12 and didn't play again.
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Both Forte and Cutler are expected back in 2012, but this is a team that has age creeping in at key spots, especially on defense.
This is a big draft for the Bears. They already made one big move this offseason by trading for receiver Brandon Marshall. He will help liven up the passing game -- as long as Cutler is on the field.
QB: Cutler bounced back from the bad 2011 NFC Championship Game that saw him watching from the sidelines with a knee injury to have a nice start to last season. He looked much more comfortable than the year before, even without good receivers. Cutler had 13 touchdown passes and seven interceptions when he got hurt. Caleb Hanie came off the bench and really struggled. He just never looked like he adjusted to the speed of the game. That's why the Bears went out and signed veteran Jason Campbell to be the backup. Campbell is capable of handling things if Cutler were to go down for any length of time. The other two quarterbacks are Josh McCown and Nathan Enderle. But let's face reality: Cutler has to stay healthy.
RB: There is no doubting Forte's value to the offense. But he is coming off an MCL injury and he isn't happy about the team putting the franchise tag on him. Forte is a good receiver as well as runner, which is why he is so valuable. But he's a back. And paying backs is tricky. The Bears signed Michael Bush to protect themselves in case Forte holds out. Forte will be there. Nobody misses games anymore in holdouts. Getting Bush gives the Bears a nice power option. He isn't an explosive back, but he has been productive when given chances. It will be a nice one-two punch. Khalil Bell and Armando Allen are the backups. The fullback is Tyler Clutts. This unit is all about Forte's return.
WR: The Bears really struggled on the outside. They had a ton of drops, didn't have a go-to guy and the passing game suffered. That's why they traded to get Marshall. He isn't a burner down the field, but he is a No. 1 option. He also has a great rapport with Cutler. Trading to get him was a risk worth taking. There is a lot of uncertainty around him. Devin Hester hasn't made himself into the receiver many expected when he devoted more time to it. But he's listed as the other starter now. Earl Bennett will push for time as well. The Bears like what they saw from Dane Sanzenbacher as a rookie. But he is more of a slot guy. Johnny Knox suffered a serious back injury last season, so his status is uncertain. His deep speed would be missed. The Bears did sign Devin Thomas and Eric Weems as free agents, but they are more complementary pieces who will be special-teams players. They could use help here.
TE: The Bears lack a star tight end, which would be a nice addition for the offense. Kellen Davis is the starter and he caught just 18 passes last season. That's not close to being good enough. Backup Matt Spaeth had seven catches. At a time when teams are using the tight ends more and more, the Bears have to find one to help this offense. What they have now just isn't good enough.
OL: The line has been an issue for a while. It is still filled with uncertainty. The Bears moved J'Marcus Webb from right tackle to the left side and he struggled. He does have athletic ability, so he has a chance as he matures. Right tackle Gabe Carimi, a first-round pick, was limited to two starts and spent most of his first season on IR with a dislocated knee. He is expected back this season and will start. That position was a disaster after he went down. Lance Louis, a converted guard, struggled there. Louis is the leader to start at right guard. Roberto Garza is solid at center after moving from guard, while Chris Williams, a converted tackle, is the left guard. He played just nine games last season. Veteran Chris Spencer, who started at guard last season, is a valuable reserve. Edwin Williams is another reserve. This is an area in need of an upgrade.
DL: This unit starts with end Julius Peppers. He is one of the game's best. Peppers had 11 sacks, but he also played the run well and got plenty of pressure. He was much more valuable than the 11 sacks. Israel Idonije, the other end, had five sacks and proved to be a nice compliment. He was re-signed as a free agent. The top backups are Corey Wootton, a player with a lot of potential, and Chauncey Davis. On the inside, Harry Melton proved to be a pleasant surprise. Melton had seven sacks from his down position, but needs more consistency. Matt Toeaina did a nice job next to him, mostly as a run player. Amobi Okoye is a free agent who might not be back and the Bears cut Anthony Adams for cap reasons. That leaves Stephen Paea, a second-round pick last season, as the top backup. He flashed at times late last season.
LB: The Bears' linebackers are led by the one-two punch of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. They might not be as good as they were when they were younger, but they still play at a high level. Urlacher is the man in the middle and the leader of the defense. He bounced back from a 2010 injury to play well in 2011. Briggs is steady as the weak-side linebacker and led the team in tackles. Nick Roach started 15 games on the strong side and did a decent job. The backups don't offer much in terms of experience. Dom DeCicco was good on special teams. Blake Costanzo will join him as a top reserve and special teams player. Patrick Trahan and Jabara Williams are the top outside reserves.
DB: Charles Tillman went to his first Pro Bowl last season, playing well on the corner. He is a big player who can play man coverage. But he's not a kid anymore. That has to be a concern. Tim Jennings started most of the season on the other side, and was picked on. He was benched at one point for Zack Bowman, who is now with Minnesota. D.J. Moore played well as the nickel corner, but the Bears are thin behind him. Major Wright can't seem to stay healthy at strong safety, being limited to 11 starts. He's a decent tackler, but seems to get caught out of position too much. Chris Conte played well at rookie free safety, starting nine games, but he missed the final two games with a foot injury. Craig Steltz lacks coverage ability, which shows up when he's on the field. The Bears need help at corner.