With the useless preseason games finally in the books, it's time for the Chicago Bears to prepare for the regular-season opener against Indianapolis. Although Chicago saw some encouraging signs in the preseason—especially from rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery—there are also good reasons for concern at Halas Hall.
Here are the three biggest issues that Love Smith and his staff need to hope they've resolved as the NFL season gets underway:
1. Can the safeties be trusted?
For a team that must face Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford in divisional games twice a year each, defending the deep ball is a huge priority. The Bears didn't exactly come through in that department last season, ranking 28th in the NFL in passing yards allowed.
Among the biggest culprits were a collection of safeties who feature great run-support skills but questionable coverage ability. The talent pool this year hasn't changed much, and with presumptive starter Chris Conte fighting a separated shoulder, it looks like Charles Tillman and the other cornerbacks are going to be working without a net again in 2012.
2. Is the offensive line finally settled?
The Bears can't afford another season of allowing Jay Cutler (pictured) to take the fifth-most sacks in the NFL. A full season—fingers crossed—out of Gabe Carimi at right tackle will help, but the biggest question mark is on Jay Cutler's blind side.
Although Lovie Smith has steadfastly avoided naming an official starter at left tackle, J'Marcus Webb started ahead of Chris Williams in the first three preseason games (neither played on Thursday night). Webb, who has played all over the line in his two NFL seasons, can only be helped by getting a single defined position, but it's far from certain that he's ready to be the linchpin of the Bears' pass protection.
3. Will the defense have enough depth?
The Bears have loads of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but whether they'll all play up to that potential is another question. Brian Urlacher (knee) and Stephen Paea (ankle) are already banged up in addition to Conte, and Julius Peppers is playing through a foot problem.
All of which is to say, expecting 16 games from all the defensive starters would be foolish, and the Bears have not exactly stockpiled a loaded bench. The defensive line is largely an exception (thanks in part to promising rookie Shea McClellin), but such undistinguished backups as linebacker Nick Roach and safety Anthony Walters will be in serious trouble if an injury forces them into significant playing time.