Thought it would be interesting to turn back the clock a year and look at some of the storylines surrounding the Bears at that time and how they turned out.
We ran a list of 10 issues facing the organization entering training camp in the print edition last July. We'll include a short synopsis of each one.
1. QB derby. Amid swirling rumors that the Bears may have interest in Chris Simms as a No. 3 quarterback, we still don't know who the No. 1 will be. Leave it to the Bears to do this.
ONE YEAR LATER: What a difference that one year makes. The addition of Jay Cutler via trade with the Denver Broncos makes this the most-anticipated training camp in years. While quarterback carousels dominated camp news in the past the hope is that Cutler will lock down the position for close to a decade. That doesn't mean Cutler won't be a daily storyline in camp. Prepare for QB stories written every which way.
2. Defense first. The Bears plummeted to 28th in team defense last season and it's yet to be determined if it was an injury-induced aberration, or a signal that Bob Babich could be on the hot seat.
ONE YEAR LATER: That defense didn't perform a whole lot better in 2008 and injuries were not reason to blame. Babich has effectively been demoted and Lovie Smith will now call the plays on defense. This remains a valid question moving into 2009. Can the Bears' defense return to championship form? The Bears have tried changing players, they've invested heavily in many players and they've certainly shuffled through an inordinate number of coaches on the defensive side of the ball. Next to come under real fire could be the defensive scheme if things don't change. Rod Marinelli represents the fourth line coaching for Smith entering his sixth season as head coach. Babich will be the third linebackers coach in as many seasons. Jon Hoke becomes the fourth secondary coach.
3. Face of the franchise. This could all of a sudden become the No. 1 storyline if Brian Urlacher's ongoing contract squabble blows up. Even if he isn't in camp--and who knows what the chances are for this--he'll be game ready come the regular season because he's a workout warrior. Some have been concerned about a decline in play because he didn't make the Pro Bowl, but at the end of last season Urlacher was playing as well as any defensive player in the league.
ONE YEAR LATER: Urlacher's contract demands were met with an $18 million, one-year extension but Cutler could fast become the face of the franchise. Now two years removed from the Pro Bowl, Urlacher is being paid like an elite player. Perhaps he will benefit from Smith running the defense.
4. Line dance. None of the other rebuilding phases on offense will be particularly successful if the overhauled line doesn't mesh. Rookie Chris Williams will be the key and his development in the coming weeks at left tackle is critical.
ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears managed to do fine on the line last season and Williams had nothing to do with the success. Line coach Harry Hiestand has quietly done a terrific job for several seasons and there's another rebuilding project in the works that finds Williams on the right side this time. The key this time around could be keeping left tackle Orlando Pace healthy but the emergence of Williams is essential not just for this season but for the longterm. The good thing is the Bears have plenty of depth here.
5. Born to run. There certainly won't be a distraction this summer with Cedric Benson having to answer a myriad of questions unrelated to his failed efforts to live up to his status as the fourth pick in the '05 draft. Matt Forte certainly won't be under pressure to exceed Benson's production. It's about replacing Thomas Jones, remember him? Forte is a gifted runner who the Bears believe is a first-round talent.
ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears were on the money when they said Forte was a first-round talent. Preserving him will be key this season as he wore down by season's end. Forte can be one of the top backs in the league while still sharing some of the work with a rejuvenated Kevin Jones.
6. Hesterized. The company line is the Bears are never going to prevent Devin Hester from excelling at what he does best--return kicks. But there's an issue of how much he will be used as a wide receiver and how that will impact his availability for special teams. Hester is on a historic pace as a future Hall of Fame return man and you can understand the desire to get the ball in his hands more.
ONE YEAR LATER: As much as getting Hester back to form as a return man would help special teams, the Bears badly need him to develop as a wide receiver because they simply don't have many alternatives on their roster. Hester's role on offense is paramount and special teams takes a back seat.
7. Special stuff. While the Bears took a step back on defense, at least temporarily, and have never gotten their act together on offense under Lovie Smith, the one area you have always been able to count on is Dave Toub's special teams unit. There are two concerns now, topped by the dilemma involving Hester. Second, while there are a lot of potential replacements, losing Pro Bowl stalwart Brendon Ayanbadejo creates a hole on the coverage teams.
ONE YEAR LATER: With a lot of inexperienced players, Toub still managed to finish in the top 10 last season. There's no question Ayanbadejo's playmaking ability and leadership was missed. They'll continue their search for a replacement this season.
8. Catching on. Expectations are created by two things: contract status and draft position. That helps you shape your vision for the corps of receivers. None are highly paid or came highly drafted. Bernard Berrian is gone after developing into a fine deep threat and the Bears don't have a No. 1. The question is do they have a No. 2 or a team of No. 3's.
ONE YEAR LATER: As much as things change, they remain the same. This storyline is magnified now with the arrival of Cutler. Earl Bennett is being counted on for major production and after him the Bears are looking at rookies or perhaps Brandon Rideau along with Rashied Davis.
9. True leader. Veteran Mike Brown is beloved by Bears fans for all the right reasons. He's the emotional leader of the team and an outstanding player when healthy. The Bears are 14-2 in the last 16 games he's started and haven't lost a game he's started and finished since Oct. 9, 2005 at Cleveland, the loss that led him to assess that the team "sucked" at the time. But it's almost shocking the club has stuck with him as long as it has. As much as you'd like to dismiss his injuries as happenstance and bad luck, there's a track record here. He's never had a problem making it to the regular season healthy and his body must hold up. The question here is do the Bears have another free safety?
ONE YEAR LATER: We'll find out for sure this time around. Craig Steltz is being promoted by the team heading into camp but he was drafted as a strong safety. Stay tuned.
10. Return to form. As much as Brown's absence plagued the defense you can make a case the team missed cornerback Nathan Vasher more when he was sidelined 12 games with a torn groin muscle. Vasher is at full strength and should look like the Pro Bowl player he's been in the past. The defense also needs right end Mark Anderson to bounce back from a second-half slump.
ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears are still waiting for Vasher and Anderson to return to form. Vasher looks to have some positive momentum moving toward training camp. Anderson will find out what it's like to go to work for new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. If both bounce back it will be a big step for a defense looking to get its swagger back.
Some of these will no doubt wind up on the top 10 list going into camp later this month. We'll get into that more as the month moves along.