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updated: 5/9/2014 5:14 AM

Bears fans have reason for optimism

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  • Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, the Bears' top draft pick at No. 14, intercepts a pass from Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in a game last season.

      Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, the Bears' top draft pick at No. 14, intercepts a pass from Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in a game last season.
    Associated Press

 
 

That was more than the warm breeze of summer blowing through the Chicago area Thursday.

That was victory.

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The winds finally shifted from the cold misery of Lake Michigan and her frigid waters, to the southwest winds that offer warmth and a hint of better times.

It is our recompense for having survived the worst winter of our lives. A pleasant stroll minus the layers, a sweet run in shorts or maybe a good walk spoiled.

Yes, a reward. Let's face it, Chicago, we earned it.

Bears fans were thinking similar thoughts Thursday night, feeling the draft in more ways than one and embracing a No. 14 pick as their reward for having witnessed the worst defensive season that most could remember.

On the first night of the NFL draft, the Bears added another piece to the renovation during an off-season of heavy lifting, bringing in a much-needed defensive back in Kyle Fuller, and in the next couple days they will undoubtedly address more needs throughout the defense.

No, this is not nearly a finished product -- but at least it's a product again.

Since season's end, the Bears have either re-signed or brought in on the defensive line Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Jeremiah Ratliff, Nate Collins and Israel Idonije.

They are seriously thin at linebacker, where they have only two starters at the moment, and they still need a pair of safeties, unless they plan to move Fuller or Charles Tillman, which GM Phil Emery said Thursday night was not part of the plan.

And Shea McClellin was a defensive lineman, period.

The Bears took Fuller while passing on Calvin Pryor (18th, Jets), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21st, Packers) and Darqueze Dennard (24th, Bengals). An argument could have been made for any of them, with the Bears needing corners, nickel help and safeties, so Fuller will start somewhere for the Bears in Game 1.

There is still work to do after the Bears dropped to 30th in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed, 25th in third-down percentage and dead last in rushing yards allowed by an impossible 410 yards.

But considering where they were when the season ended, a defense in complete tatters and with so many holes to fill, the Bears have made significant progress toward becoming a top-20 defense again.

And that's really all they need to do based on an offense that was very good in 2013 and figures to be even better in 2014.

Instead of having to learn new personnel, Marc Trestman knows the strengths and weaknesses of his people, and instead of having to learn yet another new system, Jay Cutler and all his weapons can improve on a season in which the Bears second in the NFL in points scored.

They set franchise records for passing touchdowns, passer rating, passing yards, total yards and first downs, and they ought to take another significant step forward in 2014.

The forecast here was for 8-8 in 2013, based on the premise that Bears management knew it had forsaken the defense in favor of an off-season spent building an NFL offense worthy of this century.

The Bears had to determine whether they had their quarterback, and they couldn't do that until Cutler first had a legitimate offense, coaching and skill around him.

This off-season they have turned toward the defense, and have already done enough to make themselves 2 wins better. After all, a few live bodies would be better than what they had in some spots on defense a year ago.

A couple more good days of drafting and maybe they'll have done enough to merit a 2014 forecast of 11-5 -- or maybe even a notch higher.

After starting 3-0 and 5-3 a year ago, the finish was not easy for Chicago to watch, but it was predictable given the amount of injuries, inexperience and poor performance on defense.

The Bears are still in the rebuilding process, but it's enough to start thinking about the postseason again, and given a fair amount of health it's not an unreasonable expectation.

Yes, the warm winds of a better time graced Chicago on Thursday, and not a moment too soon after the insanity of these many Siberian months.

If, as a Bears fan, you detected the waft of winning as well, no one should consider you crazy.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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