Where These 5 Chicago Bears Stars Must Improve in 2014-15
2013 had its fair share of ups-and-downs for the Chicago Bears. The season began with a 3-0 start before the team was decimated by injuries and the team sputtered during the middle of the season before losing to the Green Bay Packers in Week 17 when they had a chance to clinch the NFC North title.
Many players took giant leaps in 2013, including wide receiver Alshon Jeffery who finished sixth in the league with 1,421 yards receiving, as well as first round pick Kyle Long, who had a solid season and was named a Pro Bowl alternate (h/t CBS Chicago).
Despite the progression of players like Jeffery and Long, there are still plenty of positions on the Chicago roster that need to be improved next season.
Here are where five Chicago Bears stars need to improve in 2014.
Shea McClellin: Shedding Blocks
Earlier in the week I took a look at how the Bears could get the most out of Shea McClellin next season.
General manager Phil Emery noted at his end-of-the-year press conference that McClellin has not been used properly saying, "What we have to do with Shea is find ways to use the unique talents and skills of the players that we have," Emery told Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. "Putting him at defensive end, that's on me, not giving him the ultimate opportunity to succeed."
The team hinted at moving him to linebacker, but whether or not he makes that move or the team continues to use him as a defensive end, he will need to improve his ability to shedding blocks.
At the collegiate level at Boise State, McClellin was very good at shedding blocks, but he quickly has realized that he cannot simply rely on his speed at the NFL level.
In order to be successful next season, McClellin will have to add other elements to his game in order to get better at disengaging from blockers, regardless of what position he plays.
Martellus Bennett: Penalties
For the first time since Greg Olsen's tenure in Chicago, the Bears in 2013 had a legitimate pass-catching tight end in Martellus Bennett.
Bennett had a career year in 2013, notching career highs in catches (65), yards (759) and tying his career high in touchdowns with five.
While his pass-catching ability was often on display, he also was a crucial component in Chicago's running game, making key blocks to help spring Matt Forte on long runs.
Despite Bennett's solid season, he did struggle with penalties in 2013. He the Bears with seven penalties on the season, three holding infractions, three false starts and one pass interference, accounting for 55 yards in penalties, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
It may sound like nitpicking, but it is an area that the Bears want to improve on, as Marc Trestman told HubArkush.com, “My biggest concern always as a head football coach is being a disciplined football team. That is No. 1. Discipline translates connectively to each and every phase of our football."
The Bears hope to get similar production from Bennett in 2014 but would also like to see his penalties decline.
Jordan Mills: Consistency
One thing that Jordan Mills did not lack after the Bears drafted him in the fifth round last April was confidence. As he told the Chicago Tribune after he was drafted, "(Bushrod) on the left side, me on the right side, that’s going to be an offensive line to reckon with and me with Kyle Long also."
It did not take long for Mills to displace J'Marcus Webb at right tackle, and he ended up starting every game game for the Bears in 2013. He did injure his left foot in Week 17 during the first offensive series against the Green Bay Packers but is expected to make a full recovery for 2014 (h/t Chicago Sun-Times).
Despite starting all 16 games, Mills was far from a polished product. The line was much improved from the 2012 season, and the offense was built around getting rid of the football quickly, helping reduce the number of sacks on Bear quarterbacks.
While Mills did not give up many sacks, he nonetheless consistently give up pressure, forcing either Jay Cutler or Josh McCown to often get rid of the football quicker than planned.
Playing all 16 games in 2013 will go a long way toward Mills' development, but he will need to work on finding consistency in 2014 to help better protect Chicago signal-callers.
Julius Peppers: Effort
Few would disagree that Julius Peppers had a bad 2013 season. He did lead the team in sacks with 7.5 but was invisible at times on the field.
The Bears have a decision to make on Peppers this offseason. He is scheduled to make $18 million for the 2014 season, so the team could ultimately let him go, try and restructure his contract for the second straight year or opt to keep him at the same salary.
As of now, it may seem logical to cut him, but there is no way of knowing what Bears general manager Phil Emery wants to do with him moving forward.
If Peppers does return in 2014, he will have to work and improve on his effort, as he seemed to disappear for games at a time. While some of that could be attributed to him simply getting older and wearing down, it still looked at times as if he was not putting forth the necessary effort.
He will need to do that to prove to the Bears organization that he can still compete.
Jay Cutler: Consistency
2013 was another season that was marred by injury for Jay Cutler, but he showed enough development under Marc Trestman for the Bears to re-sign him to a seven-year, $126 million contract.
While some fans have complained about the length of Cutler's deal, the likelihood of him seeing all seven years is pretty unlikely.
Under the tutelage of Trestman this season, Cutler notched a career high in quarterback rating with a 89.2 but still struggled with interceptions, throwing 12 in 11 games.
Cutler has always been a risk-taking quarterback, not afraid to throw the football down the field or to try and split defenders and force a ball to his wide receivers.
Trestman, along with quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, worked on Cutler's delivery and footowork, and Cutler showed improvement early in the season. At times he still fell back into the trap of forcing the ball and making bad decision and he will need to work on becoming a more consistent decision maker this offseason.