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Top 4 priorities for Bears in coming weeks

When Bears open well under Lovie Smith--as they did Sunday--it usually portends good things for rest season. | Tom Cruze/Sun-Times

When the Bears open well under Lovie Smith--as they did Sunday--it usually portends good things for the rest of the season. | Tom Cruze/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 12, 2011 12:07PM

Seven days of training camp and an exhibition game that only the NFL, NBC and members of the Canton, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce cared about. In the final analysis, that’s what the Bears lost during the 136-day lockout that ended when players approved the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement in Washington D.C. on Monday afternoon.

In other words, they didn’t lose much at all.

Like every other NFL team, the lockout cancelled the offseason conditioning program at Halas Hall. Minicamps and organized team activities were also wiped out by the lockout. Because the Bears are a veteran team with an established quarterback and continuity on the coaching staff, they won’t be hurt as much as other teams by the time away from team headquarters.

Teams with new head coaches and/or quarterbacks will suffer most. Former Bears linebacker and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, for example, will have his hands full as the new coach of the Carolina Panthers. Without the benefit of the offseason to introduce himself and his assistants to players and begin installing new offensive and defensive systems, he will be starting from scratch with training camp begins, making it that much more difficult to get No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton up to speed before the regular season begins.

Although they have players to sign and holes to fill, the Bears problems pale by comparison. Here’s a list of priorities for general manager Jerry Angelo.

1. Re-sign his own free agents. Center Olin Kreutz, defensive tackle Anthony Adams, receiver Rashied Davis, defensive back Corey Graham and linebackers Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Brian Iwuh are most important. I wouldn’t give up on punter Brad Maynard, either. He’s the type of guy you don’t miss until he’s gone.

2. The priority on the unrestricted free agent market shouldn’t be a wide receiver even though Bears fans are clamoring for a go-to guy for quarterback Jay Cutler. What the Bears need to do is find a left tackle. It appears time is running out for unrestricted free agent Matt Light in New England, especially after the team drafted Colorado’s Nate Solder. Light effectively protected Tom Brady’s blindside for a decade. He should be able to do the same for Jay Cutler until J’Marcus Webb or Gabe Carimi have proven they are ready to man the all-important position.

3. With so much focus on Cutler in the NFC Championship loss to the Packers, people forget that Aaron Rodgers attacked cornerback Tim Jennings late last season. Jennings outplayed Zack Bowman, won the starting job and played admirably for much of the season. But the Bears could definitely use some help at cornerback and free-agent Ike Taylor is an ideal fit. The longtime Steelers corner is big and physical, which is just what is needed in Lovie Smith’s scheme. At 31, he may not have a lot of years left but cornerbacks of his caliber are rarely available.

4. If the Bears want to add a receiver they should try to make a trade for Carolina’s Steve Smith, who they may be able to acquire for a third-round pick. Smith wants out of Carolina and Rivera needs all the draft picks he can get while trying to rebuild a wretched roster. Smith wants to go to a contender and the Bears should be that. Smith would fit nicely into offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s scheme, unlike many of the free-agent pass catches.

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