Next month’s draft is Phil Emery‘s third with the Bears. In his two-plus seasons with the team, he has tried to transform the team. He has changed the offense. He hired an offensive minded head coach. Gone is the old “Three yards and a cloud of dust” offense. In is an intricate, high-octane offense with two of the finest wide receivers, one of the top running backs, a tight end who can actually catch and block and a quarterback eager to show he is deserving of these shiny toys.
Of course, in concentrating on the offense so much, the defense started to suffer. It started to age. Injuries piled up, and went from being one of the top units in the league, to one that was one of the worst in franchise history.
Through free agency, Emery has improved the defense (at least on paper of course). This draft can help solidify the improvement. This draft can also turn the Bears into long-term playoff contenders.
The Bears had been year in and year out contenders in the past. In 14 seasons between 1933 and 1946, the team went to the playoffs eight times, making it to the championship game in every playoffs played, winning five of them. In 50 seasons between 1964 and 2013, they went to the playoffs 14 times, going to the championship just twice, winning only once.
This draft can turn the team’s fortunes around. The last time the Bears were in a position like this was in 1983.
In that draft, the team selected Jimbo Covert, one of the top offensive linemen in team history, in the first round. They then selected Willie Gault, a speedy receiver who was also a track star. In the third and fourth round, two solid, dependable defensive backs, Mike Richardson and Dave Duerson were chosen. Tom Thayer, a solid offensive lineman, was picked next in the fifth round. In the seventh round, future Hall of Famer Richard Dent was taken (seventh round!).
My point with this is that all of the above mentioned players were integral part of the team’s incredible season in 1985 that culminated in one of the most lopsided Super Bowl victories of all-time.
The Bears are playoff contenders now. They finished one game away from the playoffs the last two seasons. Last year they were one play from the playoff, even with such a dismal defense. Emery is looking to get them over the top.
NFL.com’s Gil Brandt also believes this is a crucial draft for the Bears. He wrote that “After narrowly missing the playoffs in 2013, the Bears are poised to seriously challenge for the NFC North crown. They have almost all the necessary pieces to be a true force in 2014, from the quarterback position (Jay Cutler) to running back (Matt Forte) and receiver (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery). They also helped themselves greatly in free agency, bringing aboard defensive linemen Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen.
“It’s imperative that the Bears make good on this window of opportunity, which won’t be closing immediately but also won’t be open forever.”
As we watch the draft unfold in about two weeks, Emery knows how important his choices will be. Done right, he could return the Bears to the perennial championship contenders they once were, not a team that gets lucky every few years.