Mapping out the Blueprint for a Bears Super Bowl Run in 2013
This Sunday night, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens will clash in Super Bowl XLVII, with one culminating their season with a championship, while 31 other teams are left wondering what they need to do to capture that feeling next season.
The 2012 season saw the Bears start off 7-1, but they struggled for a stretch and finished with a 10-6 record, missed the playoffs, and head coach Lovie Smith was let go.
Despite their 10-win season, there are still many areas of concern for this team. The defense is getting older and their offense has yet to get on the same page as the other high-powered offenses around the league.
General manager Phil Emery set out to find his guy, and hired long time NFL assistant and CFL head coach Marc Trestman to take over for Smith.
A new coach is just the beginning of what should be an interesting offseason in Chicago.
Here is a blueprint for what the Bears need to do to make a Super Bowl run in 2013:
Get Jay Cutler to Buy into New Offense Scheme
Once the hiring of Marc Trestman became official, it was understood that the Bears would come out of the dark ages and find themselves as not only a team that prides itself on its defense, but also on its offense.
Trestman has made it clear that he will be calling the plays and that quarterback play is of the utmost importance, saying (h/t Chicago Sun-Times):
The quarterback in this league has got to play at an efficient level. It’s our job as coaches to get him to do that.
His offense is rooted in the West Coast offense, made famous by San Francisco 49ers legendary head coach Bill Walsh, and more recently by the Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.
The West Coast offense puts an emphasis on the short, horizontal passing game, which has the ability to stretch the defense and allow you to throw the ball down the field.
The most important aspect of the West Coast offense is a quarterback that can make quick, smart decisions and be accurate.
Jay Cutler has never been a quarterback that has excelled with his accuracy, and his mechanics have struggled throughout his career. In order for the offense to succeed and function at a high level, Jay Cutler will need to buy into Trestman's offense.
If Trestman can get Cutler to improve his accuracy, work on his mechanics, and buy into his scheme, the sky is the limit given Cutler's untapped potential.
Re-Sign Henry Melton
Selected as a defensive end in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, Henry Melton has emerged into one of the best young defensive tackles in the game. He is set to become a free agent and should be a top priority on Phil Emery's offseason to-do list.
The 2012 season was his most productive, notching career highs in tackles (43) and sacks (6) en route to his first career Pro Bowl appearance.
The Bears defense in 2013 likely will not have any drastic philosophical changes with the move from Lovie Smith/Rod Marinelli to new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, meaning the role of the three-technique defensive tackle (Melton's position) will still be of importance.
Melton's great burst off the line of scrimmage, coupled with the pressure from the defensive ends on the outside, provides pressure without having to use many blitzes and allows more defenders to drop back in coverage.
At just 26 years old, Melton conceivably has not even hit the peak of his career. He spoke with ESPN 1000's Waddle and Silvy Show in the middle of January, saying (h/t ESPN Chicago):
We were talking during the season. I expressed my interest in coming back and staying here. We didn't get anything done. All the coaching changes and all that have delayed it. Hopefully we can get back on schedule of getting something done. We were getting somewhere, but we couldn't really come to a deal. Hopefully we can get back on track, because I do want to stay in Chicago.
Melton clearly wants to return to Chicago, but with all things, its dependent upon the money involved. His price tag will likely be very high, but given what he means to this defense, he will be worth every penny.
Re-Sign Brian Urlacher
Even though he was limited on the field at times this season, Brian Urlacher still remained a driving force for the Bears' relentless defense.
He returned from a knee injury that he suffered at the end of the 2011 season, and although he was not the same player he once was, he played well enough before a hamstring injury in early December against the Seattle Seahawks ended his season.
On ESPN's "Waddle and Silvy Show" early this week, Urlacher said he realized that if he wants to return, it will have to be at a discount (h/t Chicago Tribune):
When you look at my age and everything, it's going to be hard to not give them a discount.
If the money is right and he can prove he is healthy, it makes sense to bring him back, considering that they will run a similar style of defense with new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
He clearly is not the same player he once was, but given how well he knows the defense inside and out, he can help make the transition from Smith to Tucker that much smoother.
Improve Offensive Line Through Free Agency and the Draft
It is no secret that improving the offensive line is one of the top goals of the offseason for the Bears.
Shortly after being named as new head coach of the Bears, Marc Trestman wasted little time to assemble his staff, and worked quickly to get his biggest hire, former New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, to sign on as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.
Kromer was very successful in New Orleans helping to develop guys like Jermon Bushrod, Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans into Pro Bowlers.
The Bears' offensive line suffered through injuries and constant changes throughout much of the 2012 season, with only left tackle J'Marcus Webb and center Roberto Garza starting all 16 games.
Right tackle Gabe Carimi struggled throughout much of the season before losing his job to veteran Jonathan Scott, but was thrust back into the lineup at right guard following injuries to Lance Louis and Chris Spencer.
Louis will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but considering his injury last season, the Bears will likely be able to sign him cheaper than originally expected.
The biggest question mark will come at the tackle positions. Clearly there is a need for improvement at left tackle, and although many are slated to become free agents (Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Branden Albert) most teams do not let good left tackles walk out the door.
Long has made it known that he wants upwards of $10 million a year, and that will likely price him out of the Bears range.
Left tackles like Bushrod and Will Beatty of the Giants could be more cost efficient options if they want to go the free-agency route.
Another option is looking at the draft. Oklahoma's Lane Johnson has been shooting up draft boards after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, and could be an ideal pick for the Bears at No. 20. Other options outside of the first round could be Oregon tackle Kyle Long or North Carolina's Jonathon Cooper and Kentucky's Larry Warford, both guards.
In an ideal world, Emery would sign a Pro Bowl talent at left tackle and guard, and find other pieces in the draft but most things do not go according to plan. If they can find a left tackle and another guard through a combination of the draft and free agency, they can start to build a better-functioning offense around Jay Cutler.
Sign a Pass-Catching Tight End
In recent years, no position in the NFL has become more dynamic than the tight end. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have become not only elite tight ends, but elite receivers in the league.
This Sunday, the Super Bowl will feature arguably one of the most complete tight ends in the league, Vernon Davis of the 49ers, and an up-and-coming receiving threat, Dennis Pitta of the Ravens.
Last offseason, Lovie Smith insisted that Kellen Davis was the answer at tight end and had the ability to do everything all of the good tight ends in the league can do. Davis struggled mightily all season, leaving open the door for the Bears to pursue an elite-level tight end.
The free agency market is set to be littered with talented tight ends; Jared Cook, Fred Davis, Dustin Keller, Brett Meyers, amongst others.
If they were able to sign one of these tight ends, they would then have a player that could help in the middle of the field, something they lacked throughout the 2012 season.
Jay Cutler was almost too reliant on Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and finding a talented tight end that he can make a connection with, would help take some of the burden off of Marshall's shoulders.
Maintain Defensive Philosophy
The one constant during Lovie Smith's tenure in Chicago was his dominant, opportunistic defense. With his departure, new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is set to take over the reins of a defense that continues to get older.
In recent years, the defense has done its fair share of bailing out the offense, going as far as scoring more points than the offense on occasion.
The window is slowly closing on this aging defense, but Tucker has the experience of running a similar Cover 2 scheme, which will greatly benefit the defense with continuity.
Tucker has been known to be a bit more simplistic in his defensive approach, relying heavily on the base Cover 2, while last season saw the Bears defense under Rod Marinelli do a lot of blitzing and different alignments out of their base defense.
He will no doubt put his own spin on things, but in order for them to be successful, they will have to rely on the things that have made them so successful in the past: create takeaways, pressure the quarterback, and score when they get the football.
If they can at least maintain the philosophies that have been effective for years, they still have the personnel to be one of the league's best defenses.
Win with Offense
In 2012, the offense yet again struggled, finishing 28th in the league in yards per game (310) and often had to rely on their defense to win them games.
First-year play caller Mike Tice struggled to find a rhythm offensively and greatly underutilized running back Matt Forte.
Lovie Smith's inability to hire an offensive coordinator that could succeed during his tenure ultimately led to his firing at the end of the season. New head coach Marc Trestman brings a wealth of experience in the NFL and has had offensive success everywhere he has been.
Having players like Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte should allow the Bears offense to be effective.
With a likely addition at tight end, coupled with Alshon Jeffery gaining more experience and Earl Bennett hopefully getting back to his old form, the offense should be more about putting up points to win and not hoping they've scored enough and placing the burden on the defense to limit the opponent.
If they can make some key additions along the offensive line, add a pass-catching tight end, and utilize Matt Forte better than last season, the offense, for the first time, can be the one guiding the Bears to a Super Bowl and not just the defense.