The Chicago Bears were a few tough breaks away from a playoff season last year. A key loss to Seattle at home proved to be just enough for Seattle to get into the playoffs and leave the Bears watching from their homes in January. It also meant the firing of head coach Lovie Smith. While Smith was known as a player’s coach, he led the Bears to their first Super Bowl since the days of Mike Ditka. The hiring of Mark Trestman as the new head coach gives the Bears an offensive minded head coach who could work magic with the weapons the bears currently have at their disposal. However, will the weapons, new coach and all the changes lead the Bears to the Promised Land or another early winter break.
The Bears offense still has the same weapons they had last year. Jay Cutler, could be primed for a big season with Trestman’s tutelage molding the oft erratic quarterback. Cutler is commonly talked about by sports personalities as having the arm to make any throw in the game and has proven it time and time again on the field. The knock of Cutler has always been his footwork and gunslinger mentality, a trait that can bring highlight reel plays or give the offense fits as they are forced to chase a defensive player who just intercepted another pass.
Matt Forte and Michael Bush lead a running attack that when healthy, gave the Bears a one-two punch that allowed Forte to use his burst and Bush to use his head to break long runs and have a short yardage ability that has been lacking. Injuries slowed the Bears attack near the end of the year, but health and a more wide open attack could lead to better results.
The Devin Hester project is over! The Bears receiving core will look to Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett and Alshon Jeffery to lead the way as the starters for the season. Cutler has great rapport with Bennett from their college days and with Marshall, who is easily Jay Cutler’s favorite target to throw to since he probably learned to play catch in the backyard. While the bears still lack a field stretching player, the off-season addition of Martellus Bennett gives the Bears a TE who can actually catch a ball. He is also able to stretch the middle of the defense giving more areas for Cutler to throw, but catching the ball is a vast improvement over the Bears’ former TE Kellen Davis.
The biggest key for the Bears is still the offensive line. While I am certain Jason Campbell is still having nightmares about being sacked by San Francisco DE’s, Cutler should be sleeping a little easier about his chances to stay upright from the 2013 version of the line. The signing of Bushrod at LT means they have a pro-bowler protecting Cutler’s blindside. Matt Slauson is also a quality guard who should replace Lance Louis who signed elsewhere this offseason. Plus the Bears still have C Roberto Garza, who is entering his 13th season, but is still a quality lineman in the league. Questions still exist about the rest of the line and while 3 spots feel safe, last time I checked, it still takes 5 quality players to stop a defensive lineman from throwing Jay Cutler into a fit of rage. Expect rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills to push for starting positions this year and possibly end up with a significant amount of playing time should veterans struggle early.
No Lovie Smith, no Rod Marinelli, no Brian Urlacher. Defensive concerns are all around for the Bears. New coordinator Mel Tucker is keeping some of the Tampa-2 scheme that Lovie brought to the Bears, but even Tucker will have his own variations to the defense as he is a former player himself, he may be able to create new ways to use the talent the bears have.
The Defensive Line should be as good as Julius Peppers’ season goes. When Peppers is playing like the “freak” he is, the rest of the defense gets to see the best defensive player out there do his thing. He can cause teams to have to commit an extra man to block him or a TE, which means one less person to cover in the field. The same could be said for Henry Melton, the first time pro-bowler. The rest of the line will be a work in progress with 2012 first round pick Shea McClellin and Corey Wooton rushing on one end and most likely Stephean Paea manning the other tackle position. The Bears have the talent on the line, but will miss the 7.5 sacks that Isreal Idonije gave them last year as he remains a free agent.
The Bears linebacking core will be missing their leader for the last 13 seasons with the retirement of Brian Urlacher. As Lance Briggs moves into the role the Bears have a more than capable player to call out the defenses, but there was something about Urlacher on the field that gave the Bears a comfortable feeling that will not be the same this year. D.J. Williams and rookie Jon Bostic will battle for the starting middle linebacker spot and James Anderson and rookie Kasheem Greene will battle for the other outside backer position opposite Lance Briggs. The loss of Urlacher and Nick Roach will leave the Bears with linebacker questions any new head coach would much rather not have.
Cornerback Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, 2012 pro bowl players, are safely entrenched in their spots in the Bears secondary. If the Tampa-2 does its job, the Bears corners are usually in positions to make plays, much like they did on a regular basis last year when Tillman (3) and Jennings (9) combined for 12 interceptions. Sadly, the safety position is still a revolving door for the Bears. Major Wright, Chris Conte, newly signed Tom Zbikowski and Craig Steltz will man the safety positions. Much will be decided in training camp regarding the safeties and who will be starting come Week 1 of the regular season.
On paper, the Bears were a team that had the advantage of picking the best player on their draft board during the NFL Draft in April. They signed a LT in Bushrod and TE in Bennett during the off-season, which gave them a little freedom on who to pick. The Bears are hoping the pick of Kyle Long will bring in great future dividends, but the Bears may not know for a season or two whether Long’s athleticism will be the game changer the Bears are hoping for.
The new coaching staff gives the Bears a chance to show off the offensive weapons they have put around Jay Cutler this year. The Bears started last year 7-1 and averaged 29.5 points per game over that time. However, it proved to be fool’s gold as many points were provided by defensive touchdowns and the offense cooled off as they finished 3-5 down the stretch averaging just over 17 points a game. The failures to make the playoffs in the end cost Lovie Smith his job as GM Phil Emery continued to overhaul the Bears during his second offseason.
Will the new coaching staff and new starters be able to fit together and be running at full speed at the start of the season. A quick look at the first seven weeks of the season before the Bears’ bye week doesn’t do them any favors as they open with a scrappy Cincinnati team, then have games against Pittsburgh, New Orleans, the NY Giants and Washington Redskins, who should have QB RG3 back by then. Looking at the schedule as a whole it is very possible the Bears can manage another 10 wins, but just as likely to only win 7. Without knowing how the pieces click in Chicago it is too hard to predict what kind of team that will be on the field this year. I’m remaining optimistic that Cutler and the new linemen won’t get into shoving matches on the sidelines and the fresh faces on defense step into their roles and play great football, but it may be October until we really know who the Bears are in 2013. I really hope “They are who we thought they were!” Chicago is a lively town when the Bears are winning, and Phil Emery is playing against the norm by hiring Trestman out of the CFL. His brazen choice will either blow up in his face or easily be seen as one of the top moves of the off-season. We will simply have to wait and see.