By Chris Emma--
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- Over and over again, Bears coach John Fox has stressed the reality to his beleaguered bunch that nobody will come to save them during this difficult season.
Such is life for the 2-8 Bears, who are closing in on the Browns for the awful claim as the NFL's worst team. Fox has used this line plenty during this 2016 season of misfortune. There will be no rescue from this brutal run, and six more games still remain. In this season of giving thanks, be grateful that this season is almost over.
As if it couldn't get worse following the Bears' eighth loss in 10 games -- a 22-16 loss to the Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the kind of game that "kind of keeps you up at night," as Jay Cutler said -- linebacker Leonard Floyd became the fourth of the team's four most recent first-round picks with an injury, tighte end Zach Miller was shut down for the year and linebacker Jerrell Freeman was suspended for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Yes, the Bears have as many wins as they do players suspended for mistakenly taking PEDs. And then came the dagger to any semblance of positivity for this lost season -- Cutler has what's been reported to be a shoulder tear.
Fox wouldn't confirm or deny Cutler's injury as a shoulder tear, though he did state that wasn't season-ending. For the time being, the Bears are Matt Barkley's team. The former Southern Cal star is gearing up for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
"I'm going to be ready," Barkley said Wednesday after leading the first-team offense. "I'm not overthinking it, I'm not overhyped. I'm just going to be me and try to win this game."
Through it all, there's been widely reported dysfunction between Fox and general manager Ryan Pace, discord that could take center stage come the season's end. Fox has been on record in claiming unity throughout the organization. At this point, Fox's job can only be saved by reaching grace with Pace and having his young team continue to fight.
The Bears have been in disarray ever since 2013 unraveled on Marc Trestman. There was no clear turning point -- a collection of horrible events built up to this point. There's plenty of blame to go around. A record of 2-8 is entirely unacceptable for a Bears organization that boasts so much history. Even from Champaign, Lovie Smith must be laughing.
Believe it or not, though, it will get better for the Bears. In fact, improvement could come fairly soon.
For starters, has any team ever experienced attrition quite like the Bears? Their injury report for Wednesday, which ran 17 names deep, featured minimized font to include every hurt player. There are now 14 players on injury reserved, by far the most of any team in football. The Bears could at least be average with good health this season.
Should the Bears find good health in 2017, they have much of the depth chart set with young, intriguing names who could make a difference.
Defensively, coordinator Vic Fangio has laid the groundwork for for the Bears' future. Pace set the front seven with young talent, with players like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan and Floyd.
"It was really a no-brainer for me to come here and play for the city of Chicago," said Hicks, who signed with the Bears this past offseason.
"Knowing that we're going to have the capabilities on defense to be interchangeable, to do different stunts, get up the field and make plays, that was really appetizing to me. To know that all that's coming to fruition now and we're getting better as a defense, you can't put a measurement on that."
Wait until Floyd's development continues. It's been great so far, with the raw No. 9 pick looking the part of an NFL edge rusher. Pace's task this offseason will be adding talent to the secondary, where the Bears have been getting just by.
A defensive identity is closer to fruition, as Fangio has so desired. Then there's the offense.
The Bears may have their running back of the future in Jordan Howard, who keeps improving with each start. Howard's instincts are tremendous, and the play of a healthy offensive line has helped. The line is currently in flux, but the unit seems to be in good shape come 2017.
Passing the football will be another story. The Bears have been planning to draft their next quarterback come the spring. Whether it's Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky or anyone else, receiver will be the question. Alshon Jeffery's contract future is unknown, and Kevin White's twice-repaired leg is uncertain. Pace must be sure in their passing plans.
Oddly enough, through their collective struggles, the Bears haven't wavered in their hope for the future. Team strength and conditioning coach Jason George constantly reminds them of what's to come.
"Keep the focus tomorrow," said receiver Cam Meredith, relaying George's words. "Try to get better at one or two things along the way."
Development for this young roster will be the key. In the meantime, Pace, Josh Lucas, Champ Kelly and the Bears' team of scouts have another offseason to make this team better.
Look at Monday's matchup in Mexico between the Raiders and Texans. In 2013, Houston was 2-14 and drafted No. 1 overall, while Oakland was 4-12 and one of the NFL's worst teams. Now, they are two first-place teams, with the 8-2 Raiders even with the Patriots for the AFC's top mark.
Speaking of the draft, do the Bears go and get their next quarterback in the first round or wait until the second and grab a playmaker in the top five? Jabrill Peppers would look pretty good in that Chicago secondary.
Turnarounds can come quickly in the NFL through the right blend of drafting and player development. There are pieces in place for the Bears to bounce back from their current state of misery.
Nobody will come and rescue the Bears from this tough season, but there's certainly hope beyond the final six games.
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