The Bears will open training camp at the end of July with high expectations. The team will look to put last season's disappointing turn of events in the rear view mirror. With many new options on both sides of the ball, there will be many players looking to make an impact on the season.
It's one thing to go out and have a successful season. It's another to shock the world by doing something nobody thought you were capable of.
The Bears have a few players who can go out this season and do just that. The list is small because while many can perform well, only three can shock the world.
Anybody who has followed the Bears over the last couple of years knows the safety position has been an issue. Since Mike Brown's departure, the back end of the secondary has been a revolving door. The Bears finally have a cornerstone to build on.
Brandon Hardin is a dynamic athlete and will be a star for the Bears. During OTAs he has lined up at the free safety position, but given his 6'3", 217 lb frame, he will frequently line up as a strong safety in the box. What scared most people was the shoulder injury that caused him to miss all of last year. Hardin is healthy now and more than ready to take control.
The former corner has the coverage skills needed to keep up with receivers and tight ends. What makes him so dynamic is his ability to lay the wood on anybody who comes within a five-foot radius of him. In Lovie Smith's defense, he will have free rein to make on-the-ball big plays and cause many turnovers.
His past injuries should not put a weak label on him. Instead, it shows his toughness and commitment to the game. He worked hard to come back from his shoulder injury, and in 2008 he played with a broken hand while dealing with a sprained wrist on his other hand.
Hardin should be an all-rookie member next season, and could have a career similar to former Dallas Cowboy standout Darren Woodson.
The obvious choice on this short list is Jay Cutler. You can say the majority of the offseason was spent towards making Cutler a better player. No more Martz, hiring Jeremy Bates, elevating Mike Tice, trading for Brandon Marshall and all other offensive personnel moves made in free agency and the draft were for Cutler.
Last season, Cutler showed a different kind of leadership and poise. More specifically, he seemed to grow as a leader and resonate with Bears fans during the Monday night game in Detroit. Although the team lost, Cutler proved to everybody his toughness and ability in a hostile situation while getting pummeled physically.
After that game, the team seemed to rally around Cutler and went on a run where they won five games in a row before Cutler's season-ending thumb injury. This is his team and he is ready to take it to the next level.
Statistically, Cutler can put up close to 4,000 yards with over 30 touchdowns. However, stats will not tell the entire story. It will be winning battles against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Matt Schaub during the season on the way to a playoff run that will shock people around the league.
Let's hop in a time machine. Take it back to a year that seems so long ago. Take it back to 2003 where Mike Tice was the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. During his time as the head man there, Tice was heavily involved in a highly productive offense.
Over the last 10 years, the Bears have scored over 400 points in a season once. It was the year they went to the Super Bowl. Sadly, you have to go back to 1997 to see when else they did it. During his four full years as head coach, Tice's offenses did it twice and put up 390 points in another season. Tice may not look like an offensive mind, but he is.
Tice did not call the plays back then, but he was an intricate part of the offense. Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was calling the plays for three years during Tice's tenure, but it was molded out of what Tice envisioned for his team.
Expect Tice to take his shots down field using the strong arm of Jay Cutler and size of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. It could look a lot like Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss when they were at their peak.
The Bears only attempted seven passes over 40 yards last season. Compare that to an average of 20.5 a season during Tice's head coaching tenure. Yes, he loves the zone blocking run scheme but he also enjoys the big plays that come with taking shots down the field. Last season, the Bears averaged 7.07 yards per pass attempt while Tice's Vikings averaged 7.63.
People are prematurely typecasting Tice into a ball control coordinator. He will be the kind of signal-caller who loves to throw on first down, use play-action passes and take shots down the field. Tice will not only keep teams on their heels during the season, but he just might shock the world with his offense.