While my full-on football mode doesn’t typically start until after the Hall of Fame game in Canton, I am intrigued by this year’s Bears team and training camp in general. Now I’m not exactly know for prescience, and hopefully I will (yet again) be found lacking on this one, but I suspect that this new regime in Halas Hall will harshly indoctrinated into the NFL. I predict a 7-9 Bears team will miss the playoffs and be a third-place team in their own division. This is particularly damning given that the division is one of the weaker ones in the NFL. That being said, there are several key elements to this years camp and preseason.
The biggest question revolves around the backup quarterback position, which on paper is occupied by Josh McCown. As an 11-year pro, McCown has not exactly wowed during his career. This is a key position battle because Jay Cutler’s health tends to be put at risk. A long 16-game schedule with a revamped O-line does not tend to inspire confidence in Cutler’s mere human abilities to withstand constant onslaught.
The Safety position is also up for review. This caused some problems last year when the Bears started to fade down the stretch. Chris Conte, Major Wright, Brandon Hardin and Tommy Z are projected to get regular playing time at Safety. The Bears were repeatedly beat over the top and down the middle of the field in some of last year’s most agonizing defeats. The loss to Seattle was a perfect example, as a relatively inexperienced Russell Wilson was consistently able to find the open man in coverage and gashed the Bears for big plays. This position must do a better job of supporting the shutdown corners of Jennings and Tillman.
There are second-year players who really need to step up. Shea McClellin was a top-20 pick two years ago and needs to start producing. Julius Peppers is only as effective as his bookend, and whether McClellin’s got his hand on the ground or is standing up, his pass rushing performance in his first campaign was atrocious. Alshon Jeffrey should almost certainly have a breakout year to form a terrific duo with Brandon Marshall. We got a limited view of his prospects last year due to injuries, but you could see the talent was there when he was able to play. Jeffrey’s a big body who needs attention over the top and can be a decent route runner. He and Marshall will help to open up seams for both the newly-acquired Martellus Bennett and Earl Bennet, who’s a lot better than his number have indicated with the addition of Marshall.
Chicago’s season isn’t a wash just yet, but the Bears have their work cut out for them getting through Lambeau and the Metrodome’s final act.