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updated: 7/16/2014 9:15 AM

Bears camp can't start soon enough

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  • It's just a matter of days now before quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears regroup for the opening of training camp.

      It's just a matter of days now before quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears regroup for the opening of training camp.
    Associated Press

 
 

Reluctantly, I sought out MLB's bizarre home run contest Monday night, but fortunately all my cable provider provided was a black screen.

Unfortunately, the audio was loud and clear, so I moved on.

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And just like that I was in the zone. The RedZone.

As fate would have it, I accidentally clicked on the RedZone Channel for the first time since December and in a matter of moments it had me again.

There was nothing on but a message that read, "EVERY TOUCHDOWN FROM EVERY GAME COMING IN SEPTEMBER 2014."

I stared. The orchestra played, um, something. Whatever. It sounded serious. Sounded like an NFL Sunday.

The shakes soon followed. Quick, someone get me a calendar. No, don't change the channel. How many days until the first NFL Sunday? What, like 52 or 53? How about camps? Next week? Really, next week?

Whoa. The NFL is almost here. And it can't come soon enough in Chicago, where -- until further notice -- baseball ends annually at the trade deadline.

It doesn't hurt that expectations for The Beloved are soaring after an off-season designed to rebuild a 2013 defense that was predictably bad and, by the finish, even worse.

The .500 season was apparent in August, with a much-improved offense and seriously weakened and aging defense.

But the focus on offense at the expense of defense the previous off-season was entirely necessary to determine the future of Jay Cutler with Marc Trestman, only fairly judged by first placing a legitimate offense around the besieged quarterback.

That business decided, GM Phil Emery set about piecing together enough defense to get the Bears back to merely average, or something just below it. If the Bears can improve from 30th to, say, 20th in the NFL this season, they're a playoff team.

I picked them 8-8 a year ago and already have them at 10 wins in 2014, flirting with the idea of 11 depending on season-opening health and the posture of veterans by Labor Day.

The focus this time around was on rushing defense, which finished dead last in the league, as if you've forgotten that little tidbit from 2013. But the biggest move was bringing in pass-rush specialist Jared Allen, who at 32 is being paid like a guy who can still get consistent pressure on the quarterback.

Bears fans are doing cartwheels over the acquisition, remembering his career-high 22 sacks in 2011, and 23 combined the last two seasons. Still, it's less about that number than showing up on every passing down and pressuring the QB, while demanding significant and constant attention from the opposing linemen.

If Trestman can convince Allen he's better off sitting some plays and saving his energy for when the Bears need it most, and Allen can deliver like he's a couple of years younger than he is, that changes the equation further.

Suddenly, 11-5 seems possible.

There are still many "ifs" on defense, and most of them have to do with the health of players like Charles Tillman. But with a little better luck this season in that department, and production from rookie Kyle Fuller -- who might be on the field more than you think -- and the Bears could emerge as a serious contender in the NFC.

That makes the Vegas wins totals -- currently at 8 or 9 -- seem low.

A lot has to go right for the Bears as they begin taking postseason steps again, but you can say that about every NFL team. There are no perfect squads anymore, not in the salary-cap era.

But the offense will also be improved in the second year of Trestman/Cutler, and assuming the offensive line is at least as good as it was a year ago, a move up from eighth in yards-per-game is not unreasonable.

So take a deep breath. Exhale. Training camp is on the horizon, opening a week from Friday in Bourbonnais.

It can't happen soon enough.

In the meantime, that music on the RedZone Channel is intriguing.

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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