The Chicago Bears are looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. They have a shiny new head coach, who has a track record of taking teams to the Super Bowl after he comes into the fold. They have Jay Cutler, who despite throwing 28 touchdowns, was benched during the regular season. They have a defense that desperatly needs saving, and will be making the transition to a 3-4 scheme. Can all this change cultivate into a winning culture sooner than later for the team from the Windy City?
Hree are some storylines to follow as the Bears open training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.
Can John Fox right the ship?
Fox takes over a Bears team that went 5-11, as head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were both relieved of their duties. Fox has his work cut out for him, but this isn’t the first time he has stepped into a difficult situation. Fox turned a Carolina Panthers team from bottom-dwellers to NFC champions in under 24 months. Fans hope that Fox can get the Bears team back on track and compete in the meat grinder that is the NFC North. On the bright side, the Bears do have two Pro Bowlers, and neither is named Alshon Jeffery.
Is Jay Cutler the answer at quarterback?
If the Bears are going to have success, they will have to rely on Cutler to not turn the ball over as much. Cutler, while he threw a career-high 28 touchdown passes last season, also threw 18 passes that ended up in the defense’s hands. Popular belief is that under a new system, Cutler should find success with weapons like Jeffery, first-round pick Kevin White, and Pro Bowl-caliber tight end Martellus Bennett. If Cutler can return to his Pro Bowl form, the Bears will contend for a playoff spot in a division that many analysts have multiple teams getting into the postseason.
How much did the Bears' defense improve?
With a new head coach, also comes a new defensive coordinator. Vic Fangio makes his way over to Chicago from San Francisco where he was the architect of a defense that finished in the top 10 in the NFL in both yards and points allowed all four seasons. The 49ers also played in three straight NFC Championship Games from 2011-13. Now with the Bears, Fangio takes over a defense that will be making a change to a 3-4, a switch that should eventually produce positive results. That being said, it isn’t that hard to improve from being the second-worst defense in points allowed. Then again, things don’t get any easier when you have to play prolific offenses that feature quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford (as well as the emerging Teddy Bridgewater) two times each.
Do the Bears have the best WR duo in the division?
It would take two individuals who have exceptional talents to overtake the duo of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as the best wide receiver tandem in the NFC North. That said, Jeffery and White might be the two to take the title away from the Packers' productive pairing. Rookie wide receivers were the toast of the NFL last season, and White might be the best one out of this year’s draft class. If Cutler can adapt quickly to and thrive in Fox and cooridnator Adam Gase's offense, White and Jeffery could put up big numbers in a pass-happy division.
Is Matt Forté going to slow down at all?
Forté is the definition of consistency at the running back position in the NFL. The man has rushed for over 1,000 yards all but twice in his career, and both of those seasons he was within 100 yards of getting there. In 2014, he broke the record for catches in a season by a running back and scored a total 10 touchdowns. The question is, can he continue to do what he has done both rushing and receiving? Forté will turn 30 years old towards the end of the season. That age has been a death sentence for running backs, and Forté has logged tons of time on the field over the past eight seasons. Cutler has plenty of weapons at his disposal, but none have been as durable or reliable as Forté.
— Written by Josh Koop, who is a part of the Athlon Contributor Network and Director of New Media with the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Koopsnet.