Much of the talk recently has been about guys like Brian Urlacher and Henry Melton and understandably so, but an equally important area is the Bears evaluation of their younger players.
[RELATED: Decisions coming for Bears, Melton, others]
The NFL combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis and by that point, GM Phil Emery will have rated his own players currently on the roster. The future of the Bears is with the younger talent they've assembled, but is it good enough to get them to the next level? If not, where do they have to upgrade? Those are key personnel decisions and usually determine the long-term health of any organization.
Last season, several young players made significant contributions, especially on defense.
In the secondary, Chris Conte and Major Wright teamed up to play solid, but are they Pro Bowl-caliber guys? Probably not. Wright made big strides, limited mistakes and was able to stay healthy, starting all 16 games. Conte was fifth on the team in total tackles with 86. One player that could push for time next year is Brandon Hardin, who was placed on IR last season as a rookie. He's a bigger and stronger version of Conte and probably more physical.
Stephen Paea, Corey Wootton and Melton provided a huge boost to the defensive line. Melton is key to getting re-signed in free agency, but the d-line has talent along with Peppers anchoring the end. The Bears could still use another big, athletic guy to provide depth and grow into a main contributor.
Shea McClellin, last year's first round pick, is still an unknown. Are the Bears comfortable with him being the primary pass rusher opposite Peppers?
D.J. Moore looked to be a long-term answer at the nickel spot, but fell out of favor last season and essentially lost his spot to Kelvin Hayden. Moore will get a good look from the new staff.
The biggest questions are on the young offensive line. J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi have a lot to prove and neither will be guaranteed to be in the lineup in the fall. Carimi has lost each position he's been given and as a first-round pick, certainly was given many opportunities. He hasn't shown he can be a starter yet. Webb isn't nearly as bad as he's made out to be sometimes, but he too has much to work on.
How these players are evaluated along with the veteran stars on the team will help shape the Bears' focus from now through free agency and the draft.