After a disappointing finish to the 2011 season, Chicago made several big changes over the summer. As the 2012 preseason opens this week, the expectations are high for a big season from the Bears. Chicago fans will see a lot of new faces this year, as well as many old faces with new opportunities.
While the sky is the limit for the Bears this season, there are many questions that Chicago fans have about what this team will look like this year.
Here are 20 questions that the Bears will answer over the next several weeks as their team begins to take shape for a playoff run.
Under Mike Martz, Jay Cutler was constantly under pressure from opposing defenses. Over the last two seasons, Cutler has appeared in 25 games, and he has been sacked 75 times. The Martz offense left quarterbacks vulnerable to a strong pass rush and took away Cutler's ability to audible at the line if he didn't like opposing defenses.
Under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice and quarterback/passing coordinator Jeremy Bates, Cutler will have the handcuffs taken off. There will be designed roll-outs and moving pockets to take advantage of Cutler's ability to improvise.
He'll also have the ability to change the play at the line. With new weapons and a new offense, it will be interesting to see how Jay Cutler is adjusting to this new system.
Matt Forte finally has a long-term contract, and his importance to the Bears can't be stressed enough. But to get that contract, Forte had to hold out for several months. He missed all of the summer minicamps and has not been with his team since the end of last season.
In fact, Forte missed the final four games of the 2011 season due to a knee injury. He played a short time in the Pro Bowl, but he hasn't seen any real contact since Week 13 of last season. While he claims to be healthy (ESPN Chicago), it will be interesting to see if the hold-out has had an impact on his game.
When Forte went down last season, the Chicago running game took a huge hit. Marion Barber couldn't hold on to the ball, and Kahlil Bell was good, but not great, as their No. 3 back. The Bears knew that they needed to upgrade their running back depth, if they were going to improve for the 2012 season, especially with Matt Forte holding out.
Enter Michael Bush. Bush was a backup RB in Oakland last season but took over the starting role when Darren McFadden went down for the season. Bush cranked out almost 1,400 yards from scrimmage last season and will split time with Forte in the Chicago backfield this season.
With Forte now under contract, it will be interesting to see how he and Bush share the carries for Chicago this season.
Unless you're living under a rock, you now that Chicago's biggest offseason move was to trade two third-round picks to the Miami Dolphins for Brandon Marshall. Marshall brings his string of five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to a team that hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2002.
Marshall is a big part of the new Chicago offense. The chemistry that he has with QB Jay Cutler is a key reason why the Bears brought in Marshall. His importance to Chicago cannot be overstated. This preseason, it will be interesting to see how quickly he makes an impact for the Bears going into the season.
If Brandon Marshall is the biggest offensive veteran whom Chicago acquired this year, Alshon Jeffery is the biggest offensive rookie. Jeffery was the second-round pick for Chicago this season, and the Bears expect him to have an immediate impact for the Chicago offense this season.
The top two receivers for Chicago last season were Johnny Knox and Roy Williams. Neither will be with the team this year. With Brandon Marshall anchoring one side of the offense, the other side is a wide-open competition this year. Most people expect Jeffery to be that guy by the end of the season, and we'll finally get to see him in action in just a few days.
The Chicago Bears have always been looking to get Devin Hester move involved on offense for several years now. Shortly after Mike Tice was named the offensive coordinator for Chicago, we began to hear about "The Devin Package." The Bears seem absolutely determined to prove that Hester is more than just a return man.
As we head into training camp, we're going to get our first look at how the Bears will use Hester on offense. We probably won't get to see the full spectrum until the regular season starts, but we'll finally get to see what all of the fuss has been about.
Throughout the summer minicamps, we have heard a lot about newly acquired free agent Brandon Marshall. We've heard plenty of speculation as to how rookie Alshon Jeffery will contribute this year.
We've heard a lot about the new "Devin Package" for Devin Hester as well. We've even heard about how Johnny Knox will probably miss the entire 2012 season, according to ESPN. The one guy who we haven't heard much about is Earl Bennett.
Earl Bennett signed a big five-year contract in December 2011. The Bears committed $9 million of guaranteed money and a $6 million signing bonus to Bennett, showing that he is an important part of the Chicago offense moving forward.
With all the hype about Marshall, Jeffery and Hester, it will be interesting to see where Bennett fits into the offense this season.
On the wide receiver depth chart, the top five slots are locked in. Even if we don't know their exact roles yet, we know that Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and return specialist Eric Weems will all make the 53-man final roster this year. The No. 6 spot, though, will be hotly contested this offseason.
Dane Sanzenbacher contributed to the 2011 team, but his drop rate makes him questionable to make the team this year. Special teams expert Devin Thomas is a second-round pick who was expected to be a stud receiver for Washington back in 2008.
However, despite playing for three different teams, he has never contributed more than 25 receptions in any season. Can he do more than return kicks for Chicago this season? Rookies Chris Summers and Brittan Golden also have some potential as well.
It's a well-known fact that Mike Martz does not use the tight end position in his offense very much. Despite having a guy like Greg Olsen for a tight end, the reception total for Chicago tight ends dropped from 88 receptions for 832 yards and 13 TDS in 2009 to just 48 receptions for 478 yards and seven TDS in 2010 under Martz.
Last season, the Chicago tight ends contributed only 25 receptions for 256 yards and seven TDS.
Under this new pass-friendly offense, all of the attention has fallen on the wide receivers. Between Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester, we don't really have a good handle on how Kellen Davis and the other Chicago tight ends will do for the offense in 2012.
Without a doubt, the biggest training camp battle this year will be at the left tackle position. Chris Williams was a first-round selection for Chicago from 2008. J'Marcus Webb was a seventh-round selection for the Bears in 2010. Both have spent time at left tackle, and neither has distinguished themselves as a starter.
Throughout the summer minicamps, both Webb and Williams have split time at left tackle. The Bears have said that one of these guys will be the starter, and one will be the backup. Whoever wins the job will have the task of protecting Jay Cutler's blind side for the 2012 season.
We probably won't find out who wins the job until the final week of preseason, but it will be interesting to watch the battle.
Gabe Carimi was the first-round selection for Chicago last season. The Bears hoped that he would take over as the starting right tackle for many years to come. Unfortunately, he played just five quarters before being lost for the season.
During the summer minicamps, Carimi has been brought along slowly. He saw limited action for a couple series, but he has not been tested at full speed yet.
When the preseason opens, it will be important to see if Carimi is 100 percent and if he can cement his position as the starting right tackle for Chicago for 2012 and beyond.
Chicago surprised a lot of people by passing on several top-rated offensive linemen to draft Shea McClellin from Boise State. Many people had McClellin rated as a second-round pick, and his game matches more with an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense than a defensive end in a true 4-3 defense.
McClellin has good speed, and his motor seems to have no "off position." He's being brought in to rush the passer opposite Julius Peppers, and the Bears are confident that he can be an impact rookie this season.
For now, McClellin will start with the second team, and he will need to earn his way into the starting lineup. Can he be that immediate impact rookie that the Bears need or will it be a season or two before we truly see what he can do.
Israel Idonije has spent his entire career with the Bears, and he recently signed a one-year extension for the 2012 season. He posted solid numbers last year, 42 tackles, 11 assists and five sacks, and he remains the starter, despite Chicago drafting Shea McClellin in the first round this year.
There's talk that if McClellin can prove himself, Idonije will move inside to the DT position. For now, that's just speculation. Until McClellin proves he can be a starter, the job is Idonije's to lose.
Where he fits into the Chicago defense will be an interesting question that will be answered in the coming weeks.
Brian Urlacher has been a staple of the Chicago defense for the last 10 years. However, he sustained a knee injury in the final game of the 2011 season and has been a spectator for much of the summer minicamps.
"110 percent, I'm good to go. The vet days that we get every once in a while, we'll take those when we can, but other than that, I'm good to go."
Urlacher is a key component to the success of the Chicago defense this season. Is he ready to go?
We'll learn the answer to that question very shortly.
Chicago spent their third-round pick this year on defensive back Brandon Hardin from Oregon State. Hardin was a solid talent when he was in college but broke his shoulder and missed most of his senior year.
The Bears have struggled at the safety position for the last several years, and the hope is that Hardin can come in and finally provide some stability down the middle of the field.
One of the key questions that Chicago will answer is how quickly can Hardin contribute, and is he the answer to their problems at the safety position?
Charles Tillman is cemented as a starting cornerback for Chicago. Despite entering his 10th season, he's still one of the top corners in the league.
Tim Jennings spent a lot of time as the starter on the opposite side of the field from Tillman last season, but his mental mistakes cost Chicago at multiple points throughout the season. He will begin the preseason as the starer, but his job is by no means safe.
Kelvin Hayden comes to Chicago after spending last season with the Atlanta Falcons and the previous six seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He finished last season on IR and has not played a full 16 games since 2007. He hopes to return to full strength and compete for the starting job with Jennings this year.
During the summer minicamps, Hayden and Jennings shared the starting role. Jennings has the inside track, but we'll see how well Hayden can play when the pads are on.
Blake Costanzo joins the Bears after a solid season in San Francisco. Costanzo gives the Bears much-needed depth at linebacker, and he was an excellent special teams player for the 49ers last season as well.
Geno Hayes is another linebacker who was added this offseason. He was a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, and he'll immediately complete with Nick Roach for the starting job in Chicago. It could very easily become a split of playing time between the two of them, with both also playing on special teams.
While Chicago seems committed to make Devin Hester an offensive threat, they have spent the offseason adding guys who specialize in returning kicks and punts.
Last week, Chicago added return specialist Lorenzo Booker from their division rival Minnesota Vikings. Booker has almost 900 career return yards over the last two seasons, averaging 23.8 yards per return.
If the Bears are determined to take the ball out of Devin's hands in the return game, we'll learn who his replacement is over the next few weeks.
Chicago has drafted 13 defensive backs in the last five years. The safety position has been a revolving door of players for several years now.
Major Wright has 61 solo tackles, 20 assists and three interceptions over the last two seasons. He'll begin the season as one of the starting safeties, but his job is far from secure.
Chris Conte was a third-round pick for the Bears last season, but he had 24 tackles, seven assists and an interception for Chicago last season.
Craig Steltz was a fourth-round pick for the Bears in 2008, but he never had more than 18 solo tackles since last season.
DJ Moore was a fourth-round pick back in 2009 and has 67 solo tackles, 19 assists and eight interceptions over the last two seasons.
Jonathan Wilhite is now with his third team in five seasons. He has just over 100 tackles, 19 assists, two sacks and four INTs for his career.
All of these guys will compete for time in the Chicago secondary this season. Expect to see all of them at multiple points throughout the preseason and in different roles, as the Bears try to determine what their secondary looks like for this season
Mike Martz is gone. Mike Tice is in. Many of Chicago's offensive woes have been blamed on Martz over the last two seasons.
His offense gave up too many sacks. He ignored the tight end position. He refused to change his scheme, even if it wasn't working. With Martz out of the picture, the sky is the limit for the Chicago offense this season—at least we hope so.
Tice has installed a new offense designed to play off Jay Cutler's strengths. Can it make a difference?
We're about to find out.