BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) — Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery understands expectations are soaring. He's not backing away from them, either.
The Bears are aiming high, hoping to return to the playoffs after missing out for the sixth time in seven years, going into their third training camp under Emery. Practices start Friday.
"Our goal as an organization is to win championships," Emery said Wednesday. "We have fallen short since I've been here. That doesn't mean we're going to change our goal. That's what we're focused on. We're very aggressive toward attaining that goal and we're very accountable as an organization to make the necessary adjustments to stay on path toward our goal."
That will hinge largely on how a rebuilt defense that now includes five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen comes together. The Bears couldn't stop anyone last season, and it added up to an 8-8 record and a spot in front of the TV when the postseason started.
Now, they anticipate bigger things.
They see a defense with star power and depth after bringing in Allen. And they see an offense that excelled in its first year under coach Marc Trestman returning all its starters. And they see no reason not to aim high, not to think they can overtake Green Bay in the NFC North and advance in the postseason.
That's not to say Emery is ready to plan the championship parade just yet.
There still are some holes at linebacker and safety, and if quarterback Jay Cutler gets injured again, the Bears won't have Josh McCown to turn to this time. What they do have, however, looks promising.
"We recognize as a football team, the excitement around our team, the community's excitement around our football team and what I (describe) as the noise that goes on around us," Trestman said. "For us here in Bourbonnais, we've got to stay focused on the process. We've got to keep our feet on the ground."
The Bears return all their starters from an offense that ranked among the most prolific a year ago. Only Denver scored more points last season, and with Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte leading the way, Chicago appears to be in good shape on that side of the ball.
The backup quarterback spot is a question mark with McCown now in Tampa Bay and Jordan Palmer trying to hold off Jimmy Clausen and David Fales. The same goes for backup running back, a spot that Emery said is "very unsettled."
The big question is the defense, which ranked 30th overall last season. Allen, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman are all in their 30s.
The safety spot is a big concern after Chris Conte and the departed Major Wright struggled last season. Briggs aside, linebacker remains a question mark for the Bears.
But if the rebuilt line can apply pressure and stop the run, it will take the load off the other parts of the defense. That starts with Allen, who replaces the departed Julius Peppers. The Bears are counting on him to ignite a non-existent pass rush after tying Jacksonville with a league-low 31 sacks. Chicago also ranked last against the run.
But that defense has a decidedly different look now. Besides Allen, they brought in defensive end Lamarr Houston and added to their secondary, drafting cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round and adding Adrian Wilson, Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings to the mix at safety.
All those moves sent expectations soaring.
"We try not to let it affect us," Cutler said. "But obviously being out in the city and being around people you can tell how excited they are, how ready they are for this season. We can't let that kind of 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."
NOTES: Emery said RG Kyle Long has a viral infection and won't be ready for the start of practices on Friday and will be re-evaluated next week. LG Matt Slauson (shoulder surgery) and RT Jordan Mills (broken foot) are cleared, and S Craig Steltz, who had groin surgery, is expected to be ready for the first practice. Emery also said Conte, coming off shoulder surgery, will not start practicing until after the first preseason game.
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