The 2011 season may stand as the ultimate 'might-have-been' for coach Lovie Smith. A five-game win streak had the Bears at 7-3 before season-ending injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte in the span of six quarters.
For all of the criticism leveled at the organization for not knowing Caleb Hanie was bad, Smith is more interested in what the Bears are with Cutler and Forte than what they arent without them.
I think, just that in itself I think most of the teams that didnt go to the playoffs, we have an excuse for why we didnt make it there, but that was a pretty good football team, Smith said. I didnt think I thought wed be able to handle that situation better, but we didnt play with two pretty good football players and I just cant wait to get them back on the field and go through an entire season with them.
Unless Forte goes the unlikely route of sitting out the season in protest over a franchise tag, Smith should have that chance. We dont see anything major as far as injuries that were going to have to deal with coming up, Smith said.
Cutlers thumb injury was healing to the point where he was a possibility for the playoffs had the Bears reached them. Forte was recovered enough to play in the Pro Bowl.
Johnny Knoxs gruesome back injury left him and anyone who saw it frightened and then relieved. His exact return plan is uncertain but the Bears are encouraged.
Johnnys rehabbing every day, making a lot of progress and I cant wait to get him back out on the football field, Smith said.
Smith said Brian Urlacher is in perfect health after his final-game knee injury. And as far as age, Smith finds the 'your-guys-are-really-old' doomsayers amusing to a point.
In time when he cant play anymore football, five, six years, you media and I both will probably be long gone in retirement then and Brian will still be playing, Smith said.
Tackle Gabe Carimi was dubbed the Bears best offensive lineman when he went down with a knee injury in game two. Surgery was delayed until December but the hope is that he will be healed by training camp.
I dont know exactly when Gabe will be ready right now off the top of my head, Smith said. I just know I see him every day working and everything is going as planned and theres no reason to think Were excited about Gabe Carimi will bring. We talk adding pieces and I look at him as a free agent were adding to the mix. Hes a first-round draft pick who barely played for us last year.