The Chicago Bears will be out of Bourbonnais this week and heading back to Halas Hall. Changes in management, coaching and player personnel has brought optimism to the 2012 season. From aging veterans to young stars, this team has the pieces to be a premier NFC franchise.
Lovie Smith doesn’t show many of his cards during camp or the preseason, but simple observation of the execution on the field can give us a glimpse as to how the team will fare this year.
The offense has tons of potential to put points on the board. The Martz offense is gone and most say good riddance because of the problems it caused. Mike Tice is the offensive coordinator, but his job as line coach is where he needs to shine. The Bears still have tons of questions about their offensive line, including the left tackle spot. They still don’t have a No. 1 at the position and Tice said he is losing sleep over who will protect Jay Cutler. Against Denver, the protection was in question. What fans have to remember is that line had to face Elvis Dumervil as well as Von Miller. They might have not looked worthy of praise, but facing players of that caliber can be an essential learning experience.
The left tackle spot is the definitive position in the new era of the pass happy NFL. The offensive line will have to face Detroit’s vicious frontline plus a Packers' 3-4 defense that loves to put pressure on the quarterback early and often.
Many could argue that the Bears have an even deeper receiving corps than the Packers. The Bears have a true No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall. He is just as dynamic as a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald and has chemistry with Cutler. Devin Hester right now is the No. 2 receiver on the depth chart but that could change very soon. Alshon Jeffrey is a quiet man, but his play on the field speaks loudly. Rumors are that he could be a starter sooner than later due to his size compared to Devin. With Justin Blackmon having so many off the field issues, he could end up being the best rookie wide receiver in the draft. Earl Bennett has been Cutler’s favorite target in sticky situations. That might not be the case this year having far fewer opportunities with so much talent at the position.
What is the biggest question for the Bears?
The offensive culture of Bears football has definitely evolved from years past. Three yards and a cloud of dust is hopefully behind this team’s offensive philosophy. While they won’t being running a spread offense, Jay Cutler could have a career year from a yardage standpoint with so many weapons for defenses to spotlight week to week.
Not much has changed from a defensive philosophy, but time brings age and experience. The experience is great, but the mind doesn’t always agree with the body.
Brian Urlacher is showing his age. He originally thought the knee would get better early in camp, but father time showed its ugly face when he had arthroscopic surgery. It will most likely sideline him at least until Week 1. Lance Briggs looks very sharp in camp. A big rumor going around the media is; if Urlacher doesn’t have the explosiveness to play laterally in zone against the pass and run, Briggs will move to middle linebacker. Even though Nick Roach has tried to replace the star veteran, he has openly admitted that he isn’t even close to what Brian brings to the team from being a vocal leader to the years of experience calling plays against more and more complicated offenses. Only time will tell how the pieces will fall for the defense.
The secondary has improved since last year and look to lock teams down inside the red zone. Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore will take some of the pressure of an aging Charles Tillman, who helps lead and coach the secondary.
There are some key factors the Bears will have to address to make a run in January.
One is getting consistent protection and actually naming a left tackle. The second is how to balance the run and pass so teams will have to guess what their game plan will be week to week. Another factor is the Cover-2 base defense. If the Bears can’t stop teams from making long drives down the field, an aging defense might falter towards the fourth quarter in close games.
The Chicago Bears have improved since last year in many aspects, but some of the same questions will be there once they break from training camp. No matter what the outcome, the team will be an entertaining watch in all three phases of the game.