State of the Franchise
During the first half of the 2012 season, the Bears looked like championship contenders, going 7-1, a run capped by a 51-point outburst against the Titans in Week 9. However, they went on to lose five of their next six games to finish the season at 10-6 and out of the playoffs. It was a showing that cost coach Lovie Smith his job. Like the team, QB Jay Cutler had an up and down campaign, throwing for a modest 202.2 yards per game, with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. On the plus side, in his first year with Chicago, WR Brandon Marshall caught 118 passes (on a whopping 192 targets) for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns. Meanwhile, the teamís backfield was fairly productive, as Matt Forte managed 1,094 rushing yards in 15 games, though he was held to a career-low 44 catches. For his part, the bruising Michael Bush ran for 411 yards on 114 carries, while scoring five times. That skill position quartet returns in 2013, with a new coaching staff and a potentially more pass-friendly system in place.
Now at the teamís helm is Marc Trestman, who most recently coached the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League and led that team to back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010. Heíll be assisted by Aaron Kromer, who served as the Saintsí interim head coach to start the 2012 season. He is now set to serve as Chicagoís offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Trestmanís background as a successful quarterback coach for the Buccaneers, Browns, Vikings, 49ers, Lions, Cardinals and Raiders suggests that he could help the often-maligned Cutler maximize his potential. The offensive line has been the Achillesí heel of the Bearsí offense for the last couple of years. Bringing in Kromer, who enjoyed good results as the offensive line coach in New Orleans, should help the team out on that front. The unit will be further buoyed by the offseason additions of former Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and first-round draft pick G Kyle Long.
The 2012 Bears boasted a stingy defense with a knack for creating turnovers, so look for the team to maintain schematic continuity on that side of the ball. En route to forcing a league-high 44 takeaways and a plus-20 turnover ratio, the Bears racked up a staggering nine defensive touchdowns. While those numbers will be difficult to match, coordinator Mel Tucker still has a talented group of players to work with in spite of the departure of long-time leader Brian Urlacher. With the signings of fellow linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson, the Bears seem content to move forward without Urlacher. Moreover, LB Lance Briggs, DE Julius Peppers and the cornerback duo of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings return to lead a defense that should remain one of the leagueís stoutest. The foundation is there for Trestman to get the Bears back to the playoffs and compete for a championship, but for that to happen, the teamís offense will require both added balance and improved line play in front of Cutler.
Jermon Bushrod - OT, Saints
Together with Kyle Long, he should help improve the teamís beleaguered offensive line.
Kyle Long - G, Oregon
(Round 1, 20th overall)
Has the size and footwork to become an immediate starter.
Martellus Bennett - TE, Giants
Gives Jay Cutler a pass-catching threat from the TE position in an offense that could open up.
James Anderson - LB, Panthers
Racked up 145 tackles with the Panthers in 2011 and will now man the strong side for the Bears.
D.J. Williams - LB, Broncos
Has been an IDP factor in the past and manning the MLB slot, he could eclipse 100 tackles again, health permitting.
Brian Urlacher - LB, Retired
As the long-time emotional leader of the Bears, his leadership will be missed, but D.J. Williams is a capable replacement.
Israel Idonije - DE, FA
Remains unsigned at press time; his 7.5 sacks could be hard to replace.
Kellen Davis - TE, Browns
His departure is offset by the addition of Bennett.
THE HUNT FOR A NO. 2 RECEIVER CONTINUES
After trading for top wideout Brandon Marshall last March, the Bears thought they were able to address their No. 2 receiver issue when they drafted Alshon Jeffery. Unfortunately, while he showed flashes of promise, he was largely inconsistent as a rookie, recording 24 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games. Meanwhile, Earl Bennett had just 29 receptions for 375 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. However, with Jefferyís blend of athleticism and size, he has the potential to become a legitimate second option in coach Marc Trestmanís offense. Moreover, TE Martellus Bennett, who hauled in 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns as a Giant in 2012, is another player who could blossom in Chicago if he develops a good rapport with QB Jay Cutler.
The Bears have been criticized in recent years for their inability to protect Cutler, who absorbed 38 sacks in 15 starts last season. Overall, the 2012 edition of the offensive line allowed the teamís quarterbacks to be sacked on 44 occasions and hit a total of 87 times. Thatís after the unit posted very similar numbers in 2011, allowing 49 sacks and 87 quarterback hits. Itís painfully obvious that the line has to protect the teamís franchise quarterback far better in order for the Bears offense to truly click. To that end, the signing of left tackle Jermon Bushrod and the drafting of left guard Kyle Long should improve backside protection for Cutler. Plus, the addition of Aaron Kromer to the coaching staff further signals a commitment to addressing the offensive line issue. The combination of an improved line and Trestmanís presumed emphasis on the passing game could mean huge passing numbers for Cutler in 2013.
Jay Cutler TIME?
Fantasy owners are still waiting for Cutler to approach the sort of numbers (4,526 passing yards) he racked up in his last year with Denver, prior to being dealt to the Bears before the 2009 campaign. The hiring of coach Marc Trestman, who is viewed as a QB guru, coupled with an offseason focus on bolstering the teamís previously woeful pass protection bodes well for Cutlerís chances of meshing better with his top weapons. While his chemistry with the prolific Marshall is obvious, if Jeffery progresses as hoped and Martellus Bennett proves to be an upgrade at TE over Kellen Davis, the Bears could boast a productive and balanced passing attack. Especially, if Matt Forte, who caught 63 passes as a rookie in 2008, sees more targets out of the backfield in what figures to develop into a more pass-happy attack under the new regime in Chicago.
Rising: In an offense likely to throw more, Jay Cutler has a new weapon in Martellus Bennett, a superstar wideout in Brandon Marshall, plus an improved offensive line.
Declining: Devin Hester didnít really pan out as a receiver, with his value resting primarily in the return game.
Sleeper: Alshon Jeffery is big, fast and drafted to be the Bearsí No. 2 receiver. Itís time for him to step up in the teamís new offense.
Supersleeper: Marquess Wilson didnít leave Washington State on the best of terms, but the lanky receiver could emerge as threat for the Bears once he grows in his 6-3 frame.
Lance Briggs - LB
A near lock to top 100 tackles; there are few safer IDPs.
Charles Tillman - CB
Has taken five picks to the house over the last two seasons and forced 10 fumbles last year.
Julius Peppers - DE
Remains a sound IDP option after racking up 11.5 sacks and 39 tackles in his third year as a Bear.
RotoWire Rank: 4