With just under two weeks left until training camp starts, the Chicago Bears are forming their new identity, and the fans are slowly getting a look at the new team. Head coach Marc Trestman has his staff in place and has been working with quarterback Jay Cutler in hopes to send the quarterback back to the Pro Bowl.
One thing we already know about the Bears is that mediocrity will not be accepted in Chicago any longer.
Lovie Smith won 10 games and still ended up getting fired the Monday after the season ended. With that in mind, Trestman must rally his players and get them to the playoffs soon into his tenure in Chicago, or his stint with the Bears may be short lived.
The Bears went out and got some new players this offseason. However, there is a core of players that was on the team last season that must step up this year if the Bears are going to have any sort of shot at making the playoffs out of the NFC North.
Cutler threw for over 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012, a feat that isn't a small accomplishment in the NFL. However, he also threw 14 interceptions and fumbled the ball eight times, stats that are unacceptable for a quarterback who is expected to lead a team to the playoffs this season, and who has been expected to do so for quite some time.
It's not all Cutler's fault, though. He has had three different offensive coordinators and three different systems in the last three years, and every time he is expected to learn the new system and come in to the regular season looking better than ever.
Not only that, but he was sacked 38 times in 2012, 23 times in 2011, and a whopping 52 times in 2010.
Cutler has also seen his running game take a hit in recent years because of the amount of injury concern for the quarterback. Last season was the first time since his rookie year in which he didn't score a single rushing touchdown in a season.
Cutler has been good for the Bears, but this is his contract year, and it's finally time for him to be great. He needs to step up and take control of this offense and make it his own. It's time for him to stop yelling at his own players on the field and assume the absolute leadership role on this team.
If the Bears are going to make the playoffs in 2013, it all starts with Jay Cutler stepping up to take control not only of the offense, but of the entire squad.
Despite playing in just 10 games last season as a rookie, Alshon Jeffery managed to catch 24 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Due to the hype surrounding him coming into the season, most fans were disappointed that he didn't have a better season, but given his injury battles all season long, those numbers weren't bad.
This season, though, he needs to be better.
The Bears already have their No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, who caught 118 passes and scored 11 touchdowns last year. Plus, the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett will help Chicago open up its passing game even more in 2013.
If they want to have an elite scoring offense, however, Jeffery is the man who is going to have to step up and get it done this next season.
For starters, he needs to stay as healthy as possible so that he can see a maximum amount of playing time and help the offense to get into and stay in a groove throughout the season.
Secondly, he needs to catch the passes that are thrown his way. He did catch 24 passes in 2012, but he was targeted 48 times. He needs to catch what comes to him in order to take defenders off of Marshall and Bennett.
Lance Briggs had a good season in 2012. He recorded over 100 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and two touchdowns. He has made the Pro Bowl seven times and has always been integral to the success of the Chicago Bears.
This season, however, he will be in a whole new place.
For the first time, Briggs will be without the 13-year veteran Brian Urlacher next to him. Urlacher announced his retirement this offseason, and as a result, Briggs has become the undisputed leader in the middle of the field for the Monsters of the Midway.
Briggs has managed to put up some pretty impressive numbers as a member of the Chicago Bears. He has also worked very well alongside Urlacher, and the two of them have wreaked havoc on the rest of the NFL for years. Now, with Urlacher gone, it's time for Briggs to step up and assume the leadership role on the defense.
The focus on the team has shifted from defense to offense, and with no more Lovie Smith running the defense for the Bears, it means even more leadership is needed on that side of the ball so that the offense can run smoothly with its new system.
Briggs has had an outstanding career with the Bears playing alongside No. 54. Now, it's time for him to step into the spotlight and take over the defense for the Chicago Bears.
In 2006—his rookie season—Devin Hester piled up 600 yards on 47 returns and scored three touchdowns.
In 2007, Hester had 651 yards on 42 returns and put up four touchdowns.
Last season, Hester had 331 yards on 40 returns with zero touchdowns.
Lovie Smith and Devin Hester were close, even though Hester saw his demise under Smith's reign in Chicago. After smith got fired, Hester started talking about retirement and the speculation started flying about what his future would be with the Bears.
Now, Hester will focus just on returning kicks and punts and is trying to get back to the phenom that he was in his rookie year and the year after.
When Hester was on his return game, the entire team benefited. We all have our own special Hester return memories, from helping the team come back and beat the Arizona Cardinals without the offense even scoring a single point, or him returning the opening kickoff of the 2006 Super Bowl for a touchdown.
Hester's explosive return game not only excited the fans, but it gave the offense great field position, even when the opposing team refused to kick to him.
If the Bears want to get back to their old ways of explosive football, they are going to need to improve on special teams as well, not just offense.
For the Bears to make the playoffs in 2013, Devin Hester is going to have to step up and be the quick-footed player he was in his younger days.
McClellin only totaled 14 combined tackles in 2012, but 2.5 of those were sacks. Not bad for a rookie who saw very limited playing time in 14 games.
This season, though, he is going to need to step up and help lead the charge on defense while assuming more of a leadership role and proving to coaches and fans alike that he was worth the 19th overall selection that the Bears used on him in the 2012 NFL draft.
This season will prove to be more challenging than last, with Israel Idonije gone off the line. McClellin will still have the help of eight-time Pro Bowl selection Julius Peppers, as well as Pro Bowler Henry Melton, who the Bears used the franchise tag on this year.
That being said, McClellin will still have his work cut out for him in 2013. General Manager Phil Emery has already said that he expects his sophomores to be stepping up this season, but in what way is yet to be seen.
The Bears lost some talent on the defensive side of the ball with Urlacher and Idonije leaving. If they want to remain a force on defense and give their new offense a legitimate shot at success, Shea McClellin is going to have to step up and play like a real first-round selection, not like the first-round selections that the Bears are used to having.
Roberto Garza has been in the league for 13 years now, and he has become the center of the offensive line in Chicago. Normally, that wouldn't be a good thing, considering the way the Bears have played on offense in recent years.
Now, things are different. The Bears went out and got Jermon Bushrod and hired former New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer to be their offensive coordinator. And with that new identity of the offensive line comes new responsibility for center Roberto Garza.
Back when the Bears had a solid line, it was led by Olin Kreutz, who made the Pro Bowl six times in his tenure with the Bears. The reason that the line was able to hold together was because of the rock they had at center for so many years.
Garza may be aging, but he is still able to lead an offense. For this new system to work, they are going to need a leader down in the tranches who has their back no matter what, just like Kreutz did.
In order for the Bears to have a successful line this year, it all comes back to Garza.