Chicago Bears: Biggest Questions Heading into Training Camp
The Chicago Bears already look nothing like the 10-6 team last season that just missed the playoffs by one game. With a change in coaching, players and front office personnel, this team has a lot of buzz surrounding them in the city of Chicago and all around the NFL.
Believe it or not, July 25 is right around the corner. That's when the Bears will report to Bourbonnais to start training and practicing as a team at training camp. That's when the new-look Bears will take over, and that's when everyone will finally get a look at what this whole turnover in Chicago will look like.
The team is trying a mix of old and new to hit the sweet spot and make the Super Bowl. They've moved Devin Hester back to a return-only player, and they've put the focus back on Jay Cutler. However, the team looks more new than old, and with changes come questions as to how the team will perform next season.
These are the top questions that still loom over the heads of the players and coaches in Chicago and will continue to loom until everyone finally gets a look at the new team July 25.
How Will the Offensive Line Come Together?
We all know how bad the offensive line has been in Chicago over the past few years. No team has been worse than the Bears when it comes to protecting the quarterback, and nothing they have done has seemed to work.
Mike Tice has been fired, along with Mike Martz on the offensive front. Former first round draft pick Chris Williams was cut, and fellow first rounder Gabe Carimi was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Then, Phil Emery decided enough was enough. He went out and hired offensive-minded head coach Marc Trestman, who then hired offensive line-minded Aaron Kromer to be the offensive coordinator in Chicago. Plus, with the fact that Trestman has said that he will be calling the offensive plays this season for the Bears, Kromer will have all the time in the world to work with his new offensive line.
That line now includes something that it hasn't in a while: Pro Bowlers. The team went out and signed free agent Jermon Bushrod from New Orleans to come play under his former offensive line coach. Then, they drafted guard Kyle Long in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft to play on the line with Bushrod and center Roberto Garza.
It seems that for the first time in years, the Bears are finally taking a serious look at their offensive line and making the necessary improvements to finally have a solid line.
There is still one main question left to be answered on the line for 2013, though, and that question is how this line will come together and play under Trestman and Kromer. The front office has made all the moves they need to in order to look good on paper, but paper only takes a team so far. If the line can perform, the team will follow suit and have a good season. If not, however, it will be more of the same come playoff time in Chicago, and that doesn't sound good for a team who has made the playoffs just once in the last five years.
What Impact Will New Coaching Staff Have on Veterans?
Lovie Smith was a players coach; there's no way around it. Players loved to play for him, and certain people, like Devin Hester, were not happy when he was fired by the front office at the end of last season.
Now, Trestman comes in and brings with him a whole new coaching staff who will take over in the Second City and try to reverse the downward playoff trend that the Bears have going for them.
It remains to be seen, however, how the players will respond to a new coaching staff and a completely new style of thinking and playing. Before, Smith was running the show, and he had control of one of the best defenses in the league.
Now, the team will focus mainly on offense and try to keep up with offenses in their conference that feature some of the best skill players at their positions, such as Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson.
Some people think that the new style in Chicago is the right way to go, and others think it's foolish to focus so much on the offense instead of the defense.
The question remains to be answered on how the coaching staff will be able to come in and teach a new system in Chicago, but one thing is for sure. As Bob Dylan once said, "The times they are a-changin." In the NFL, no other team represents that better than the Bears. It still remains to be seen, however, how well the new system will work.
How Will the Aging "Monsters" Do Without Urlacher?
The Monsters of the Midway will be back again this year. However, they will be without one key piece they have had for the last 13 years.
Brian Urlacher officially announced his retirement this offseason, after the Bears gave him an offer of just one year and $2 million.
Besides the fact that the eight time Pro-Bowler will be missing from the middle of the defense this year, there are other factors that make this defense a big question mark for the Bears.
First of all, with Smith gone, the defense will have a different role on the team than they are used to having. Trestman will be working with Cutler and calling plays for the offense, and that means that for the first time in a while, the defense won't be the main priority on the team.
Secondly, the defense isn't getting any younger, and the clock is ticking on certain players like Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs. Nobody knows how many years they can continue performing at the level that they have been for some time.
The Monsters of the Midway will be back again this season. The question still remains, though, how they will do without Urlacher under a new system with a new coach.
Will Sophomores Have a Big Impact on the Team?
Emery has already said that he expects to see more impact out of his first draft class this season, saying that he expects them to "contribute at a higher level" in the upcoming season.
The question isn't whether they will get more of a shot at contributing, but how they will impact the team as just sophomores in the NFL.
Last season, Alshon Jeffery caught 24 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns in just 10 games for the Bears. This year, he is expected to be healthy all season long, and the Bears have added other weapons to help him and Brandon Marshall on offense, like the addition of TE Martellus Bennett.
On defense, Shea McClellin managed to get 2.5 sacks and 14 combined tackles while seeing limited playing time, but that playing time is expected to increase with the loss of defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who recently signed a new contract with the Detroit Lions.
One sophomore not all that talked about is safety Brandon Hardin, who missed the entire 2012-13 season due to an injury suffered before he even played one regular season snap. Hardin is expected to be back healthy in 2013 and will get his shot at playing time just like his fellow sophomores on the team.
The Bears have a huge pool of young talent on their team that is ready to step up and make plays for the team in big games. The question is, will they rise to the occasion or fall in the ways of Carimi and Williams?
How Will Cutler Do with Third System in as Many Years?
First it was Mike Martz. Then, it was Mike Tice. Will Aaron Kromer be the third offensive coordinator chased out of Chicago in as many years? Or will his system, in conjunction with Trestman, finally be the golden key to unlocking Cutler's potential that the team has been looking for since they traded with Denver to get him in 2009?
The relationship seems to be getting off to a solid start between the two, as Trestman works to speed up the release time of Cutler's throw.
On the other side, Cutler said that "he really takes care of his players in the locker room, which is different." He went on to say, "Offensively, he wants to protect the quarterback, which makes me happy to hear that."
Cutler has been neglected in the past by coaches preoccupied with how the defense is performing. Now that he finally has a coach who makes the quarterback his first priority, Cutler may finally be able to get the attention that he needs and unlock his full potential, the potential that took him to the Pro Bowl when he was with the Denver Broncos.
Cutler finally has as good of a shot as he's had with the Bears to make the Pro Bowl and be a top quarterback in the league. The question is, will he and Trestman work well together to improve upon his skills? Or will one of them be shown the door at the end of the season?