Things could have gone better for the Chicago Bears last season, but a 10-6 record and a close encounter with a playoff berth is no reason to panic.
At least it shouldn’t have been.
Despite what many teams would consider a successful season in a tough division, The Bears weren’t willing to accept anything less than a playoff appearance from their head coach. On Dec. 31, Chicago decided to cut ties with Lovie Smith, later to bring aboard 2009 Canadian Football League Coach of the Year Marc Trestman (formerly with the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals, among others) to fill Smith’s shoes.
The Trestman hiring drew the ire of many Bears fans who either wanted Smith to remain at the helm of the franchise or weren’t thrilled with hiring a CFL coach to replace him. Either way, it’s in the past. Now is a time to look forward.
Or at least it will be. For now, we’ll do a little more reflection.
Along with hiring Trestman to take the reins, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli saw his way out the door—another former Detroit Lions coach who, along with embattled offensive coordinator Mike Martz, didn’t make it in Chicago.
Tucker’s Jacksonville defenses didn’t exactly flourish, and it will be interesting to see how the 41-year-old adjusts to a much more talented unit in Chicago.
While defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Mike Phair will return for the 2013 season, it was nearly a complete house cleaning of the Bears’ coaching staff. And the changes didn’t stop there.
In free agency, second-year general manager Phil Emery made several solid acquisitions, namely signing former New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod to a five-year, $39.9 million deal. He also added tight end Martellus Bennett on a four-year contract and a bevy of veteran defenders, including safety Tom Zbikowski and linebacker D.J. Williams.
Bushrod and Bennett were easily Emery’s two biggest signings of the offseason, but there were also some notable departures.
The face of the Bears franchise won’t be in Chicago next season after a tremendous 13-year career at the center of its defense. With Brian Urlacher’s contract having expired following the season, Emery made nothing more than a feeble attempt at bringing him back.
As Urlacher told Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears offered him a one-year contract worth $2 million (only half of it guaranteed) and wouldn’t be open to counter-offers:
It wasn't even an offer, it was an ultimatum. I feel like I'm a decent football player still. It was insulting, somewhat of a slap in the face. They came back with the offer and said, "This is what it is, take it or leave it." It was, "If you want to play for the Bears, you'll play for this. If not, then you're not playing for the Bears."
Regardless of the reasoning behind the acrimonious split, Urlacher won’t be around to lead Chicago’s defense in 2013, and someone has to step up to fill his shoes.
That someone could very well be Williams or 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic, though it will take a preseason position battle to decide that.
Bostic was arguably the most intriguing selection of an otherwise bland draft class for the Bears. Emery filled some positional needs with his six selections, but his overall draft class was far from stunning.
But the Bears weren’t exactly in desperate need of a massive infusion of young talent. Apart from a shaky offensive line, Chicago already had a solid foundation in place for another 10-plus-win campaign in 2013.
That foundation includes Pro Bowl signal-caller Jay Cutler, six-time 1,000-yard receiver Brandon Marshall and versatile three-down running back Matt Forte—not too shabby for a unit that finished 28th in the league last season in total yards.
The biggest reason for Chicago’s underwhelming 2012 offense was an offensive line that needed some serious work this offseason. Ranked 24th in pass protection by Football Outsiders, it was painfully obvious Emery would need to focus on bolstering the Bears’ offensive line this offseason.
Emery did just that in both free agency and the draft, but it remains to be seen how quickly the infusion of fresh faces will turn things around for Chicago’s offense. For now, all we can do is speculate.
We’ll take a closer look at many of those offseason moves and also break down some key position battles to watch as the 2013 season approaches. Read on.