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Bernstein: Confounding Bears Make A Mess Of Expectations

By Dan Bernstein-- senior columnist

(CBS) It wasn't long ago that John Fox and Ryan Pace were telling us how happy they were about their last-place team, after it finished 6-10 in the first year of their partnership leading the Bears back to contention.

Back in January, the coach and general manager were smiling and on message, with Pace insisting, "When I think bigger picture, I am excited with what we've got going here."

And then he got almost giddy.

"I'm excited about our staff," Pace said. "I'm excited about our younger players. I'm excited about our culture, kind of the foundation of what we have. The whole building really feels like everything is going up, and that's a genuine, sincere feeling, so I'm excited about that."

Pace talked about the offseason and adding more talent to the roster, specifically "playmakers to help us finish close games, and we'll do that."

Fox is proud of his record as a franchise fixer, particularly his ability to turn a non-winner into a playoff team in his second year in both Carolina and Denver. It's belief in that ability that presumably keeps that whole building buzzing like Pace described and fuels reasonable expectations for a team even as troubled as the Bears have been to become newly competitive.

Yet it's nearly eight months later, and there's little to show for anything that's been done since.

Injuries are the primary reason, not only negating hundreds of man-hours of critical training camp practice time but making that time less valuable as players are forced to take on unforeseen new roles or switch positions entirely. When every day is a fire drill, it's hard to get quality work done.

Pace's critical second draft looks too much like his first already, with the top pick hurt and all but invisible. Edge rusher Leonard Floyd was only believed to be ready in a part-time specialty role regardless, but he now appears further from mattering than initially thought. We were told that Kevin White's missed season would let him learn the pro game, soaking up information to be a more polished and prepared NFL receiver, but we still wait for any evidence of that.

The regime's free-agent splash was linebacker Pernell McPhee, who played half of last season on a bad knee, then had surgery and now can't play. Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long has a shoulder problem. There's no viable or dependable tight end, at a time when the position has become a critical offensive weapon. Part of the staff that so elated Pace left to coach Miami, so Dowell Loggains became the offensive coordinator.

The only new idea we know Loggains introduced that diverged from Adam Gase's philosophy was the increased use of a fullback in an effort to reduce the formation and allow for power-run looks that set up play-action. It was an interesting thought, but it has so far resulted in nothing, with no actual person emerging to play the position.

And as Loggains will learn soon enough, an ineffective offensive line makes for a coordinator who regularly looks like an idiot.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is trusted to get more production out of a front seven bolstered by veteran free agents, but any of that may be undermined by a failure to improve a weak defensive secondary.

Still no games that count have been played in 2016, only glorified scrimmages that allow for guidance in determining how well we think this team will do and whether any of January's boundless optimism will prove justified. It's not the outcomes of these exhibitions that are important, but the performances that help us calibrate our standards.

Nothing is real yet. When it is, it could be real bad.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score's "Boers and Bernstein Show" in afternoon drive. You can follow him on Twitter  @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.


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