Since the Chicago Bears collapsed after a 7-3 start to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs, it has been one change after another. Halas Hall looks very different this season, and Chicago fans are excited.
With the 2012 training camp about to open, expectations are very high. Many fans are talking about a 10- or 12-win season. There are a lot of things to be happy about this year, and we'll break down the top 10 changes that happened since the end of last season.
A big part of why Chicago missed the playoffs in 2011 was the lack of depth at some key positions.
General manager Jerry Angelo had long been criticized for his inability to consistently bring in talent to provide a level of insurance in case of injury. Instead, Angelo frequently overpaid for free agents who were beyond their prime, and the Bears paid the price for it last season.
When Angelo was fired, it was a sign of big things to come, and new GM Phil Emery has been cleaning house since he walked in the door. Emery has been directly responsible for many of the other slides in this article, and he represents one of the most important changes that the Bears have made this summer.
Out with one Mike, in with another. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz was often criticized for his unwillingness to change.
Despite the obvious weakness on the offensive line, he continued to call plays with seven step drops, and Chicago quarterbacks paid the price. Martz also refused to allow the quarterback to call an audible at the offensive line, contributing to the 49 sacks that the Bears gave up last season.
When Martz was removed at the end of last season, few fans or players shed a tear. Offensive line coach Mike Tice was promoted to OC, and he promises new changes to the Chicago offense. From moving the pocket around to create additional time for receivers to get downfield, to allowing the quarterback to call an audible if the play doesn't look good, Tice represents another big change in the Chicago offense this season.
Chicago's biggest move on offense was trading two third-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for Pro-Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall and his consecutive string of five straight 1000-yard seasons fill a big hole on offense: giving the Bears a true big-play receiver.
Marshall is also reunited with his former Denver Bronco teammate Jay Cutler. Cutler and Marshall started their careers together in Denver, and in their last season playing together, Cutler threw for 4500 yards and 25 TDs. Marshall accounted for 1265 yards and six receiving TDs of those numbers, and if they can recapture that bond for Chicago this season, the offense will take a huge leap forward in 2012.
The topic on everyone's mind this summer has been if Chicago will re-sign Matt Forte to a long-term deal.
Despite being very vocal about his contract through most of 2011, the Bears continued to play hard ball and applied the franchise tag to Forte at the end of last season. Forte responded with public criticism and skipping the summer mini-camps. but Chicago held firm.
While fans were on both sides of the argument, as the franchise tag deadline loomed, many fans wondered if the deal would get done. However, with just hours to go, Forte and the Bears agreed to a new four-year contract, and he will be in camp when the Bears open the preseason next week.
Forte brings a lot to the table, and with his return, Chicago is in a great position to be successful this season.
One of the biggest reasons that Chicago missed the playoffs last season was the lack of depth at running back. When Matt Forte went down to injury, Chicago lost a huge part of their offensive firepower. Neither Marion Barber nor Kahlil Bell came close to putting up Forte's numbers, and the Chicago offense suffered for it.
Michael Bush is familiar with that role from his days in Oakland. Last year he started the season as the No. 2 back but took over the lead role when Darren McFadden was lost for the season. Bush responded to the call, posting almost 1400 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns for Oakland last year.
While he's not an exact clone of Forte, Bush's ability to hit the hole and catch the fall out of the backfield give Chicago another solid weapon at RB and provide a way to give Forte a breather at points during the game or step in and take over if Forte has to miss some time due to injury.
Without question, the biggest gap in the Chicago offense was the lack of depth at quarterback. When Jay Cutler went down to injury, the Bears went on a five-game losing streak.
The disaster at QB showed a huge hole in the Chicago offense, and they filled it during the offseason by signing former Washington Redskin and Oakland Raider starting QB Jason Campbell. Campbell brings 71 games of experience to the table and has over 14,000 career passing yards and 74 career passing touchdowns.
While he may not challenge Cutler for the starting job, Campbell represents a big insurance policy that Chicago has lacked for several years now.
Chicago's top two receivers from 2011 were Johnny Knox and Roy Williams. Williams is no longer with the team, and Knox sustained such a severe injury against Seattle last year that he is expected to miss most, if not all of this season as well.
Brandon Marshall adds a big-play receiver, but Jeffery represents another key addition to the Chicago receiving corps. Jeffery is expected to compete with Earl Bennett and Devin Hester to become Chicago's No. 2 receiver this season.
Jeffery may not begin the season as the starter, but by the end of the year, you can expect that he will contribute more to the 2012 offense than Knox and Williams did in 2011.
The Bears surprised a lot of people in the draft this year by passing on several top-shelf offensive linemen to draft Boise State "tweener" Shea McClellin. While many felt that his skills were better suited to an outside linebacker position, Chicago immediately began working with McClellin as a defensive lineman.
His speed and constant motor make McClellin a dangerous guy to have on the DL opposite Julius Peppers. If McClellin can adjust to being an outside pass-rusher in the NFL, he and Peppers are going to wreak havoc on opposing teams this season.
While McClellin represents the future of the defensive end position on the opposite side of the field from Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije represents the present. McClellin will take some time to get up to speed, and until he's ready to become a full-time starter, Idonije will be the starter. He'll probably move inside, or split time with McClellin after that as well.
Idonije isn't an elite defensive end, but he brings nine years of experience to the table, and he has been a veteran presence for Chicago since 2004. After Matt Forte, he was probably the most important guy that Chicago re-signed this off-season, and he will see a lot of time on the field this year again for Chicago.
Gabe Carmi was drafted in the first round in 2011 to fill a huge gap on the offensive line. He played just five quarters last season before being lost for the year due to an injury. Chicago brought him along slowly, and he saw limited action during the summer mini-camps.
However, all indications are that Carimi will be at full strength when Chicago opens training camp next week. Carimi represents an anchor at right tackle, and having him back will help close a big gap on the offensive line. If he can finally play up to his full potential this season, the Chicago offense will have taken a big step forward.