A 6-4 finish couldn't make up for a 1-5 start to
the 2003 season, as Chicago finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs. Despite the strong finish, the Bears made some big moves in the offseason. New head
coach Lovie Smith takes over for the fired Dick Jauron, and Terry Shea takes over as the new offensive coordinator. Shea has a big job ahead of him as
the Bears' offense ranked 28th in the league last season, and quarterbacks Kordell Stewart and Chris Chandler were both released. Inheriting the
quarterback job will be Rex Grossman, who started the final three games of his rookie season in 2003.
Grossman will be handing off to both Thomas Jones and Anthony Thomas at running back, unless one of them outshines the other in training camp. The
Bears' running game will get a boost from an offensive line improved by the addition of John Tait. That boost might come at the expense of the Bears'
passing game, where Grossman has a deep receiving corps of David Terrell, Justin Gage, Marty Booker, and Bobby Wade. On defense, stalwart Brian
Urlacher sets the tone for a solid unit.
Brian Urlacher, MLB, 4th year in league, ( 6-4, 258 ), Olin Kreutz, center, 7th year, ( 6-2, 292 ), Charles Tillman, cornerback,
2nd, ( 6-1, 196 )
Adewale Ogunleye, DE, Miami Dolphins, ( 6-4, 260 ) John Tait, T, Kansas City Chiefs, ( 6-6, 315 ), Thomas Jones, RB, Tampa
Bay Buccaneers, ( 5-10, 220 ), Tommie Harris, DT, 14th overall pick, ( 6-3, 300 )
OLB Warrick Holdman, DE Phillip Daniels, DT Keith Traylor, QB Kordell Stewart, QB Chris Chandler,WR Dez White, WR Marty
Booker, and G Chris Villarrial.
Mike Brown, S, 4th year in the league, ( 5-10, 220 ), Lance Briggs, OLB, 2nd year, ( 6-1, 238 ), Alex Brown, DE, 3rd year, (
6-3, 262 ) Desmond Clark, TE, 6th year, ( 6-3, 254 ).
Much of the hopes of the Bears in '04 rest on the arm of second-year QB Grossman, who showed good poise and pocket presence in three starts as a
rookie. However, he is still very young and learning a new system, so it is likely he will have his ups and downs this year. The youngster has a
strong arm and his strengths are a good fit for offensive coordinator Terry Shae's system. Although he is not a scrambler, he has good footwork and is
very good at buying time by moving around in the pocket.
The Bears new offensive system calls for a back
with more speed and receiving ability than former Rookie of the Year Anthony Thomas has shown throughout his career, so GM Jerry Angelo took a chance
on Thomas Jones, whose potential has yet to be reached since being drafted seventh overall by the Arizona Cardinals in 2000. Jones has better speed,
strength, and receiving ability than Thomas, and he did show signs of breaking out when given a chance to carry the load with Tampa Bay late last
season. The Bears would like to use a more vertical attack this season, but they lack the speed at wide receiver needed to stretch opposing defenses.
Marty Booker is a former Pro Bowl receiver, but he's more of a possession receiver than a game-breaker. He is big and strong with adequate speed, and
he catches the ball well across the middle and in traffic, but he is probably better suited as the No. 2 guy in this offense. Second-year player
Justin Gage showed some playmaking ability in '03, and he will most likely be the second starter, but he also lacks the speed to consistently get
deep. Penciled in at No. 3 is David Terrell, who is in a make-or-break year after the Bears made him the eighth overall selection in the 2001 draft.
If he should continue to display the poor route-running and stone hands that put him in the doghouse with the Jauron regime, he could be released
before the season, giving speedy rookie Bernard Berrian the opportunity to gain some experience in the No. 3 role. Bobby Wade will also see some
playing time in multi-receiver formations.
2004 is certainly a season of change for the Chicago Bears and a lot of playing time will be dedicated toward developing many of the younger players
on the roster. With a new coaching staff and a new philosophy, there will be a period of adjustment and likely a lot of ups and downs. However, there
is a lot of young talent on this team that rebounded nicely from a horrible start in 2003. After turning it around to go 7-9 last season, the Bears
could be poised for a bit of a step backward as they build for the future, but with the continued development of Grossman and a solid running game,
this team could match its record from last year or possibly improve by a game or two.