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updated: 8/22/2011 11:59 PM

Smith thinks Bears can catch up

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Coach Lovie Smith has felt all along that with a veteran team and a stable, veteran coaching staff the Bears would be better able to withstand the difficulties that came with the lockout and the elimination of off-season programs.

How well they handled playing catch-up during training camp won't be known until the regular season gets under way Sept. 11.

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"We did miss a lot of work in the off-season, and (camp) was about catching up," Smith said. "We talk about having a veteran staff, a veteran ballclub, and I think we got up to pace pretty quick.

"It seemed like that lockout, or whatever it was, was a long time ago. I just feel like we're right about where we need to be."

Quarterback Jay Cutler says the offense may need more time to get in sync.

"We missed OTA's (organized team activities), and we missed minicamps," Cutler said. "We've got some new parts in there, some new players and new offensive linemen.

"Everyone is working through it, so overall we're heading in the right direction and we made some steps (Monday night)."

Tough sledding:

General manager Jerry Angelo believes the NFC North could be even stronger this year than it was last year, when the NFC championship was an all-North match, featuring the Bears vs. the Green Bay Packers.

"I see it as a division of contenders," Angelo said. "This is an excellent division. I thought our division going into last year was going to be very good, and it turned out that way. We were the best division in football last year.

"I think that could very well happen again this year because it's stronger. Detroit's going to be a lot better with a healthy quarterback (Matthew Stafford) and all the players that they've been able to acquire and develop.

"Minnesota, they still have a veteran quarterback in Donovan McNabb; they still have a lot of good pieces up there, a good nucleus in place. It's going to be tough.

"Our goal is always to win our division, and that will certainly be a real challenge for us this year."

Bouncing back:

Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie, whose performance in the preseason opener resulted in no practice reps for him the following Monday, drove the Bears 77 yards late in the third quarter, completing 4 of 5 passes for 33 yards and running twice for 6 yards.

But Hanie missed Marion Barber twice and the drive ended at the Giants' 1-yard line. He finished 17-for-28 for 166 yards with 1 interception, no TDs and a 62.5 passer rating.

Bouncing back II:

In preseason Week 1, right guard Lance Louis did not give himself a passing grade for his performance.

He improved Monday night, as did the offensive line as a unit.

"I just tried to focus more on my technique and relax and play within myself," Louis said. "I think I did better at that this week."

Left tackle J'Marcus Webb said he felt all eyes were on him, and Louis agreed.

"There's always pressure on the O-line to perform. We're the guys everybody looks at when things break down. That's kind of the nature of the beast.

"I think we definitely had more good plays than bad. That's our goal every week to get better as a unit, and I think we did a good job of that. We know we have to perform."

Sitting it out:

Cornerback Zack Bowman (concussion), running back Harvey Unga, linebacker Lance Briggs (knee), nose tackle Anthony Adams (calf) and defensive end Corey Wootton (knee) did not play.

Not ready yet:

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz said he wasn't comfortable with recently acquired center Chris Spencer stepping in with the starters.

"It takes a little time," he said. "I'm sure with Spence he's got a little time to go with (fitting in) as well with the calls and protections and all the different things that happen with the pressures and those kinds of things."

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