As we enter the second week (first full week) of Bears training camp, some things are starting to clear up, but much more is still foggy.
With that in mind, here are five questions still lingering from week one (and no, we didn't really expect to get answers in four days).
We've had a taste of some answers, but not enough.
How Will Shea McClellin Fit in?
Any Bears fan should get a little chill down their spine when they hear "Peppers, Idonije and McClellin"—this trio of defensive ends can be that good.
It's not there yet, though, as McClellin still has some way to go before he really has a shot at cracking the rotation. He's had his moments, both good and bad, and reviews have been mixed—also some good and some bad.
McClellin himself was unhappy with his early performance, and that’s a good sign—no rookie should be complacent no matter how good they think they are.
Part of his slow start can be attributed to the three-point stance the Bears have him in. He didn’t play with his hand in the dirt much at Boise, but the Bears believe the three-point stance gives players a bit more speed, the better to overcome tackles at the edge.
It’s a big change, though, and that’s going to take time for him to adjust to.
I agree with Kevin Seifert over at the ESPN NFC North blog that McClellin begins the season as a situational pass blocker and gets more involved as the season goes on.
When McClellin gets going, he gives the Bears a phenomenal rotation of defensive ends, with Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
How he is used before then will be interesting to watch.
H ow Will the Backfield Carries Be Split?
Yes, Michael Bush was insurance against a longer Matt Forte holdout, but he was always intended to be so much more.
Paired with Forte, Bush gives the Bears the best backfield combination in the division, and arguably the best in the league.
How they keep both guys happy—or use both guys most effectively—is a key question.
Bush is definitely someone the Bears see as a short-yardage/goal-line back, among other things. He’s not thrilled, but that’s how it goes when you are a big guy. Of course, he’s a more complete back than that, and you won’t see him disappear between the 20s any more than Forte will never be seen in the red zone.
If the team finds the right mixture of carries for them, these two will be ultra-hard to stop.
How Will the Offensive Line Shake out?
Maybe a better question is: How much will Mike Tice’s new scheme help the line?
Ultimately, an offensive line is the sum of more than its parts. Even a group of mediocre linemen can have success and shorter drops, and a simpler scheme should help the Bears offensive line quite a bit.
However, there is only so much you can do with average talent. So the question does become: Who ends up where?
Webb has been playing well so far, which likely means Chris Williams ends up at left guard. It’s too early to name a victor, though, and the team could move Gabe Carimi to left tackle if the other guys stumble.
Also, we know the line can run block effectively, the question becomes holding up under pressure on a pass play.
The thing is, the best pass-blocking lines have at least one or two very good players who can help hold up the more average guys when they have issues.
Do the Bears have those guys? The team believes they do.
The season could hinge on whether they are right.
Will CutIer and Marshall Recreate Their Success?
So far, so good. It’s hard to look at their work so far in camp and not get carried away, because the potential for these two is phenomenal.
While the offense is a bit different than in Denver during their previous pairing, it’s not so far removed that it’s alien.
While people have worried about Marshall’s drops, I have said before I believe his work in therapy will reap huge benefits this season, including (but not limited to) cutting his drops.
The more stable you feel, the better the level of concentration—and so much of catching the ball is concentration.
Also, for the first time in a long time, Marshall has other worthwhile receivers around him. If you double him up, Earl Bennett, Kellen Davis, Alshon Jeffery and even Devin Hester will make you pay. Not to mention the running backs.
Cutler is more comfortable in this offense as well, and the only thing that could hold these two back might be having too many mouths to feed.
That would still lead to a successful season for this pair—sometimes things like that aren’t on the stat sheet.
Did the Bears Do Enough to Close the Gap ?
This is a very long-term question—one which won’t be answered in camp and probably not until the end of the year.
So maybe this question is a bit of a cheat.
That said, you look at the offensive weapons they have added—Marshall, Bush and Jeffery—as well as the defense they retain, and you have to like their chances.
On the other hand, the secondary still has a few questions, and the offensive line is still up in the air as well.
Of course, the Packers didn’t stay treading water, adding defensive talent in the draft (and free agency though Anthony Hargrove will be a non-factor most of the season due to suspension). Neither did the Lions.
Neither team is perfect, though, and if the Packers fail to produce a pass rush and the Lions have issues on the line or secondary—well, the window is there.
It all comes down to the one thing they didn’t add talent to—the offensive line. If Tice’s improvements to scheme bear fruit then yes, the Bears will have closed the gap.
If the line falters, all bets are off.