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Annual fantasies for Bears aren’t quite so crazy this time

Working agawith old favorite BrandMarshall Jay Cutler (above) finally may be able show us everything he can do. | Charles

Working again with old favorite Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler (above) finally may be able to show us everything he can do. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: August 23, 2012 10:45AM

What would happen if the Bears ever lived up to the public fervor that precedes the arrival of training camp each summer?

You know the fervor of which I speak: the kind that makes an otherwise clear-thinking person believe that This is the Year, that 16-0 sounds perfectly reasonable and that it’s only a matter of time before Chicago will be referred to as ‘‘Football Town USA.’’

What would happen?

Critical mass would be reached. The End Times. Armageddon. Free parking in the city. Oh, wait, that would be the result if the Cubs won a World Series.

If the Bears won a Super Bowl, Chicago would lose its collective mind, but the planet somehow would live to tell about it. Is this the year? Probably not. But the wild optimism doesn’t seem out of place this time around. It seems almost — dare I say it? — rational. The Bears should be very good in 2012, good enough to make the playoffs, even coming out of the difficult NFC North.

And once in the playoffs, is it unreasonable to think . . . OK, I won’t ask the question. Let’s just say the Bears have reason to believe they’ll be in the mix for postseason success.

The first practice of training camp is Thursday in Bourbonnais, and all the reasons for public confidence will be in attendance: Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Brian Urlacher, Matt Forte, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, etc.

You start with Cutler because you always start with the quarterback. He is the biggest reason for high self-esteem levels around here. If he had stayed healthy last season, we wouldn’t have had to watch Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown throw a season away. Then again, if Cutler had stayed healthy, maybe Jerry Angelo wouldn’t have been fired for failing to have a decent backup quarterback in place. That’s called winning through losing.

Cutler should have the chance to prove he’s among the elite quarterbacks in the league. I’m not sure he had that opportunity in his first three seasons with the Bears. He has been reunited with Marshall, who was his go-to receiver when both were with the Denver Broncos.

We’ll have to wait to see what a Mike Tice offense looks like, but it’s not unreasonable to think Cutler will have a Pro Bowl-type season. That could be the Kool-Aid talking.

Cutler seems happier these days, perhaps because he’ll soon be a first-time father. But impending fatherhood won’t help his offensive line block, unless the kid’s a bruiser.

Which leads me to the three concerns. What, you thought I’d be concern-free?

 ◆ Marshall. Can he lead a peaceful life off the field? If he can, then the Bears finally have a reliable No. 1 receiver. He has gone through treatment for borderline personality disorder and says a turbulent past involving repeated violence is just that — the past. We’ll see. He recently invited a reporter to his home and ended up sounding defensive and suspicious, like ‘‘Citizen Kane’’ in Xanadu.

But there’s no doubt Marshall can catch the football, especially in a crowd. For years, the Bears have suffered from a wide receiver disorder. Not anymore.

 ◆ The offensive line. You want your line to be set in stone going into camp, but until J’Marcus Webb proves he has mastered the snap count, the Bears are unsettled at left tackle. Tim Spencer, a former center who played right guard last year, is moving to left guard. Right tackle Gabe Carimi is coming back from a knee injury that made him miss most of 2011. The good news is Cutler was sacked 23 times in 10 games last season, compared with a league-high 52 in 15 games the year before. Let’s see if Tice’s magic with the line can be expanded to include the entire offense.

 ◆ Urlacher. He recently told ESPN Radio 1000 that he’s ‘‘110 percent,’’ which is impossible, unless he grew an extra limb in the offseason. But you can see where he’s coming from — a position of unbridled enthusiasm. He sprained the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee during the last game of the 2011 season. He says he’s healthy, but he’s also a 34-year-old linebacker, which is about 50 in human years. Can he hold up physically? Will his speed still be there? Can girlfriend Jenny McCarthy be considered a performance-enhancing drug?

Lots of questions, but a lot of positives, too. One more question: Can we start the season now?

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