The Bears' search for a coach seems to be winding down, but that's only going to be the start of the off season work for Chicago.
Of course, they need to get the coach in so they can attack everything else. Free agency isn't open and the draft process is just getting started, so it's not like the search is holding up the process or anything.
However, even just starting the process requires having your head coach in place.
So getting him in place (something GM Phil Emery said he wanted to do by the start of the college All-Star games) changes the game for the Bears.
There are a lot of changes which could be in play despite a 10-win season, because new coaches by virtue of being new, change things.
On a meta level, that's the main story in Chicago this offseason. Change—what it will look like and when it will come.
If there's a theme to the Bears' January through August, it's that. We know it's coming—other than that, we've got no clue.
Here are five potential changes which I'll be focusing on the most this offseason.
1—Improving the Offensive Line
For me this is No. 1 by a huge margin. Not only is No. 2 not close, it's not even in the same area code.
Yes, the offensive line had more than a few moments where it played well. It was helped by shorter drops and quicker releases by Jay Cutler, but give credit where it's due—it improved.
It didn't improve enough, though, and Cutler was once again one of the most heavily sacked players in the NFL.
Of course, I hear the argument that Aaron Rodgers is sacked and hit more often but wins more games, but that's a separate article. The fact is, he gets hit too often.
The talent level on the offensive line is too low. Far too low. While I think holding onto J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi for positions at guard or as backups is the way to go, I'm not yet sold they should be starting tackles.
The rest of the line is OK, but it's not a great offensive line.
It needs help.
Free agency? Draft? Digging up players from under rocks?
The head coach will have a lot of input but this will be, in my opinion, ultimately where Emery makes his mark as a GM.
Whether that's a good mark or bad one remains to be seen.
2—Can a New Coach Get More Out of Jay Cutler?
Can anyone? I've recently heard some murmuring from fans about Cutler perhaps not being the right guy for the Bears. We'll deal with that in another piece this week, but for now, understand that Cutler is your quarterback.
So now the question becomes, can he do more?
Way back at Emery's end of the year press conference, he said that Cutler was here to stay and any coach who came in has to get more out of him.
So can anyone? Cutler has more weapons than ever before and a very good (if often ignored) run game but even after a full season of games, his numbers were average at best and his touchdowns down from his last healthy season in 2010.
Cutler was recently labeled a "coach killer," which I think is quite unfair. I don't think it's his fault Shanahan was fired in Denver and it's definitely not his fault Lovie Smith was let go.
Whoever comes is going to be best served by working the scheme around Cutler rather than forcing the quarterback into whatever his "scheme" is.
That's why I loved Mike McCoy, who is now with the Chargers. He isn't a big bag of ego, trying to force Cutler into his offense.
Hopefully whoever ends up as coach will do the same.
3—What Changes to the Offense Beyond Cutler?
Aside from the issue of Jay Cutler, the rest of the offense needs tweaking. Not wholesale changes, but little alterations here or there.
Of course, a new coach could take it to the extreme and go for major changes as well.
However with Brandon Marshall and Earl Bennett, as well as a (hopefully healthy) Alshon Jeffery, there isn't a ton to do with the receivers save from to keep working on them.
The Bears do need to find a way to use Matt Forte and do it consistently. The offense was all over the place with the running back position this year, and while it appears offensive coordinator Mike Tice is remaining (who knows?), a new head coach can change that.
How will he do so? That's a big story we'll watch.
4—Will There Be Changes to the Defense?
It's certainly not broken, so why fix it?
There are age issues (for example, our next entry) and replacements have to be brought in and groomed, but this has been a highly successful defense.
Why monkey with it?
Yet that is what new coaches do. They mess with things, sometimes things that don't need to be messed with.
It's the one area that Bears fans might be worried about.
Certainly, it will be something to watch as the offseason progresses.
5—Is Brian Urlacher Done?
More than "should he be back as a Bear," this is the question to ask. Urlacher played well this year, all things being equal, but is up for a contract, is old, is hurt, is old, has clearly lost a step and, in case I haven't mentioned it, is old.
Also, he's old.
Yet Urlacher is in many ways the heart of the defense. What he does is manage the defense on the field, make adjustments, help disguise the defense's intentions.
You don't replace that easily, something we saw evidence of this year once Nick Roach replaced Urlacher.
Again though, he doesn't have much left and depending on how much cash he wants, could be a waste of money. The return on investment has to be weighted in the club's favor.
It's hard to know when to say "when" on a player who has been the face of a franchise like Urlacher has been for the Bears and the defense.
They need to figure it out though.
Other Worthwhile Storylines:
Here are some more stories we will be watching this offseason.
- What do you do with Michael Bush?
- Can Alshon Jeffery stay healthy, take a step forward?
- Do the Bears need a better tight end than Kellen Davis?
- How much free agency maneuvering will Emery do?
- What's the next step for Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings?
- Is the Soldier Field Turf ever getting better?
- How can Shea McClellin get better?
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