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Bears embrace lofty expectations

Caption
(AP photo)
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has a few more weapons around him this season in running back Michael Bush (center) and receiver Brandon Marshall (15). The team’s mission is to make it to the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. It gets under way against the Indianapolis Colts in the regular-season opener today at Soldier Field.

LAKE FOREST – Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs stood in front of a bank of TV cameras and summarized the Bears’ 2012 goal into four words.

“Super Bowl or bust,” Briggs said.

The mission starts in full today.

Forget an injury-wrecked 2011 season. Disregard a dull preseason.

The Bears believe they can be a championship team, starting today at Soldier Field and ending with the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

“Top to bottom,” 13th-year linebacker Brian Urlacher said, “this is the deepest team I’ve been on, and the most talented as well.”

Yet those words will mean nothing without wins.

If the Bears are serious about being Super Bowl contenders, they must win games against lesser opponents. Today, they will host the Indianapolis Colts, a one-time powerhouse that finished last season tied for the worst record in the NFL with two wins and 14 losses.

The Colts feature a new general manager (Ryan Grigson), a new head coach (Chuck Pagano), new coordinators (Bruce Arians and Greg Manusky) and a new starting quarterback (Andrew Luck). The group’s goal is to recapture the franchise’s golden era when Tony Dungy called plays and Peyton Manning fired spirals, but such a project could require years.

Meanwhile, the Bears’ Super Bowl mission is far more urgent.

A stout defense is one year older, and 30-something players such as Urlacher, Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman might not be able to play at an elite level for much longer. They should be helped this season by a new-look offense that includes Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and bruising running back Michael Bush.

Another new arrival, cornerback Kelvin Hayden, won a Super Bowl ring with Indianapolis six years ago. He said the Bears showed many of the same characteristics as his Colts team that won a championship.

“This is a veteran group, we have depth everywhere, so there’s kind of no gray areas – my personal opinion,” said Hayden, who grew up as a Bears fan on Chicago’s South Side. “So, expectations are high. …

“We definitely have goals set as far as winning the division, taking care of business in the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl. But it’s a process, and we’re going to take it step by step.”

Speaking of steps, look for Jay Cutler to take less of them as he drops back to pass to Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and other receivers. Cutler’s quick releases will relieve pressure on the offensive line to pass block for more than a few seconds against the Colts’ blitzing schemes.

However, Cutler said, the offensive line still had a tough job to do.

“We can only do as much as they can handle,” Cutler said. “If they can only block three-step drops, we can only throw three-step passes.

“We’re limited to what they can do, and as of now, they’ve been holding up really well. It’s been able to open up our playbook and be a little bit creative on how we design plays.”

Yet those successes took place during the preseason, when rosters were filled with extra players and win-loss records didn’t matter. Today, the pressure is real and the outcome is crucial.

“It’s a tough situation for us, going into [the season] with all the expectations and stuff,” said Bears center Roberto Garza, the veteran leader of the offensive line. “But we’re ready for it.

“We had a great camp. We put a lot of good work in. I think it’s time for us to go out there and prove what kind of team we are. It’s a big challenge for us, but we’re ready for it.”

Bears bits: The Bears promoted running back Armando Allen to the 53-man roster Saturday and placed running back Lorenzo Booker on injured reserve because of a head injury. … The Bears also waived linebacker Patrick Trahan from the 53-man roster.

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