BOURBONNAIS -- Cautious optimism best describes the Bears' mindset as they continue preparations, starting with Friday's first training camp practice, for what they hope will be just their second postseason appearance in eight years, and the first since 2010.
Coach Marc Trestman may have said it best Wednesday afternoon as players trickled into their dorm rooms at Olivet Nazarene University. Trestman was asked if he feels better about this team than he did a year ago about his inaugural Bears team that finished 8-8.
"I think we feel better on paper, just because we've got some perspective on what we had and what we have now," Trestman said. "Our players have said it, and we've said it. We see what we've got, and the talent is better.
"We've got to turn paper into performance and excellence."
Only the Denver Broncos scored more points than the Bears' 445 last season and, with the exception of backup quarterback Josh McCown, everyone who matters is back.
But quarterback Jay Cutler warned against assuming that the Bears only have to show up to light up scoreboards around the NFL, even though he and his offensive teammates have the comfort of playing in the same successful scheme for a second straight season.
"I think you've got to be careful with that," Cutler said. "We've still got a lot of work to do. We've still got a lot of things to prepare on. Everyone in the NFL is confident right now. Everyone likes what they have on paper. Everyone likes their roster. That includes us.
"But that doesn't guarantee us anything. We've still got to go out there and perform. We've got to get better each day."
Offensively, the Bears were No. 3 in yards per play, No. 4 in fewest sacks allowed and No. 5 in passing yards. There were spectacular individual seasons from Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte. But there were no playoff games, so Cutler dismissews the notion of overconfidence.
"We haven't had a lot of success, so I don't think it's that hard," he said. "It's not like we're coming off monster season after monster season. I still think this is a hungry group. There's a lot left that we want to prove."
Cutler said players are aware of the buzz around town and the high expectations. That's good and bad.
"We're glad they're excited," Cutler said. "But we try not to let it affect us. Being out in the city and being around people, you can tell how excited they are, how ready they are for this season. (But) we can't let that seep into our mindset. We haven't done anything yet. We've got to take this camp seriously and get out of it as much as we can."
No one in the front office or the coaching staff or in the locker room would admit that they'd settle for the offense playing as well as it did in 2013. All of them believe the offense is capable of more. But truthfully, similar offensive production coupled with defensive improvement would be an effective playoff formula.
And the defense has almost unlimited growth potential after last year's horrendous performance. A number of additions, young and old, make defensive improvement likely.
General manager Phil Emery has plenty of reason to expect much better than last year's group, which allowed a franchise-worst 478 points.
Reason No. 1?
"The players, the level of players," Emery said. "Obviously Jared (Allen) is an accomplished player. Lamarr (Houston) is a player who is accomplished and still improving. He was No. 1 among all D-ends last year in number of tackles. Willie (Young) is starting to come into his own. I see the challenge more as, 'Let's try to make sure we got the right players on the field.' I like the quality of the players."
The Bears believe those three defensive ends more than offset the loss of Julius Peppers and the addition of defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, the second- and third-round picks, respectively, should make the Bears deeper despite the free agency loss of Henry Melton.
Turning an impressive team on paper into a playoff team on the field begins in earnest with Friday's first training camp practice. Trestman is not underestimating the task.
"We have a lot of expectations for our football team," the Bears' coach said. "(But) our guys' past performance is no indication of where we're going. We want to be the best in all three phases, and we want to be the best team we can possibly be, and that starts (Friday).
"We want the expectations. We have high expectations. Our players have said it. Our players feel it. But it's not going to happen because we think it's going to happen. The work has got to take place. So we've got a 30-day competition for our 53-man roster."
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