Defense will be key for Bears

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The Bears open the season Sunday night in Indianapolis with the unproven Kyle Orton lining up at quarterback behind a retooled offensive line, handing off to a rookie and throwing to an overhauled receiving corps. Sure there are questions surrounding the

The Bears open the season Sunday night in Indianapolis with the unproven Kyle Orton lining up at quarterback behind a retooled offensive line, handing off to a rookie and throwing to an overhauled receiving corps.

Sure there are questions surrounding the offense. Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs basically says: So what?

“This is the city of Chicago,” Briggs said. “In Chicago, we are known for defense. Hats off to the offense. I want them to play well and be one of the top offenses – the top offense – in the league. But as far as I’m concerned, this is where the buck stops. This is where we need to be dominant.”

The Bears were anything but dominant last year.

With soaring expectations following a run to the Super Bowl, they limped to a 7-9 record behind a long list of injuries and poor play overall. Now, with a revamped offense and a healthy defense, they expect to return to the playoffs.

“You’ve got superstars at almost every position on our defense,” tackle Dusty Dvoracek said. “Our offense has great players, good veteran leadership with Olin (Kreutz) and that offensive line. We’ve got good skill position (players). Special teams, you’ve got Devin Hester, (kicker) Robbie Gould, (punter) Brad Maynard. We’re a very solid team all around.”

And yet they’re a team with plenty of questions.

On defense, the only one that really matters is this: Can they stay healthy?

They didn’t last season, and a once-dominant group allowed 354.7 yards per game while ranking 28th overall. Former Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown and Dvoracek both ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments in their left knees in the seasonopening 14-3 loss at San Diego, and the hits kept coming.

A groin injury limited cornerback Nathan Vasher to four games, and Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive end Mark Anderson, safety Adam Archuleta and tackle Darwin Walker all missed at least one.

Star linebacker Brian Urlacher and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris weren’t healthy, either, although neither missed a game. Urlacher had an arthritic back and underwent minor neck surgery after the season, while Harris was limited by a sprained knee after suffering a season-ending hamstring injury in 2006.

On offense, a long list of questions starts with the quarterback.

Coach Lovie Smith named Orton the starter over Rex Grossman, even though neither excelled through the first two preseason games.

“It wasn’t based on just the preseason games or just training camp, not one thing – just a lot of different things,” Smith said.

Orton called it “a relief.”

“Now it’s just all about the (offensive) unit and knowing what everybody’s going to do and just kind of tailoring things to the way that we like it,” he said.

Orton completed 63.2 percent of his preseason passes (12-for-19) for 99 yards but had no completions longer than 17 yards. Grossman went 13-for-23 for 118 yards and a 25-yard touchdown pass.

The decision wasn’t a shocker given Grossman’s struggles at Seattle in the second preseason game and the message the Bears sent in the off season when they resigned him for just one year while giving Orton an extension through 2009.

It was clear the Bears were losing patience.

The offense ranked 27th last season, and only three teams gave up more interceptions than the Bears’ 21. Chicago also ranked 27th in completion rate (57.5) and 15th in yards passing (209.8). It didn’t help that a once-dominant line showed age, allowing 44 sacks – ninth most in the NFL.

AP

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Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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