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Mixed Bears Season Had Surprises, Disappointments

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The Chicago Bears were hopeful of a return to the playoffs in the 2012 season, but their progress would be measured in small steps when all was said and done. They posted 10 victories in the highly competitive NFC North, two more than 2011, only to fall short of their stated goal once again.

While there were several individual disappointments along the way, most of them on the offensive side, there was enough progress elsewhere to merit some hope for the future.

The busts and breakouts of last season:

  • Bust: Pick an offensive lineman, almost any o-lineman. The unit ranked 14th in yards per rush attempt, 25th in sacks allowed and dead last in Pro Bowl candidates.
  • Breakout: Tim Jennings. Opponents who avoided Charles Tillman on the right side found the other Pro Bowl cornerback to be no less effective. Not only did Jennings lead the league in interceptions (nine), but the team lost both games that he sat out because of a dislocated right shoulder late in the season.
  • Bust: Devin Hester. For only the third time in his seven seasons, the veteran failed to return a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown. His 1,200 all-purpose yards were the second-lowest total since his rookie season.
  • Breakout: Henry Melton. On the heels of a solid 2011 campaign, the defensive tackle proved to be more than a one-year wonder. He posted 6.0 sacks, 44 tackles and two forced fumbles, which resulted in his first trip to the Pro Bowl and increased value in the free agent market.
  • Busts: Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth. Despite promises of more production at the tight end position, it was more of the same again. The duo didn't catch more than three passes or gain more than 62 yards in any game.
  • Breakout: Brandon Marshall. His size and athleticism were no secrets when he arrived from Miami last summer. After all, he has three Pro Bowl appearances on his resume already. Yet to see see a Bears wide receiver catch 118 balls and score 11 touchdowns in one season dropped more than a few jaws locally just the same.
  • Busts: Earl Bennett. Even though opponents focused on Marshall at all times, the second option could do no better than 375 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Bennett sustained a concussion late in the season but hadn't been a factor before then.
  • Breakout: Stephen Paea. In his first season as a starter, the three-technique tackle helped anchor a defense that ranked third in touchdowns and eighth in yards allowed on the ground. The Oregon State product also had 2.5 sacks for good measure.
  • Bust: Brian Urlacher. After arthroscopic left knee surgery in the preseason, the 34-year-old linebacker was shell of his former self. His 68 tackles and one interception confirmed that his Pro Bowl days were well behind him. He also failed to record a sack for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
  • Breakout: Corey Wootton. At 25, the defensive end showed signs that he would become a fixture at the left side. In 16 games (seven starts), he recorded 27 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles. The fourth-rounder also scored a touchdown on a blocked punt versus the Tennessee Titans in Week Nine.