In less than two weeks, new Bears’ head coach, Marc Trestman, along with his boss, GM Phil Emery, assembled a complete and nearly, completely new, coaching staff. Special attention will undoubtedly be paid to offensive coaches Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh, but the hire of ex-Jacksonville assistant, Mel Tucker, as the new defensive coordinator might be the shrewdest move of all, allowing for a smooth transition from the Lovie Smith era, both on the field and in the locker room.
Hiring newly retired ex-Bears safety, Chris Harris, doesn’t hurt, either. Now the players on defense who seemed most upset over Smith’s firing, have been duly placated and the business of important roster moves can proceed, beginning with free agency in the next few weeks and culminating with April’s college draft.
A rundown of the Bears’ depth chart reveals most of the starting pieces still in place for one more year, but a few key moves need to be made before training camp in Bourbonnais come July.
Quarterback: It’s Jay Cutler and nobody else, really – at least not yet. Trestman will try to succeed with Cutler where many others have failed, i.e., make him an elite signal-caller. If he fails, this time it will be Cutler taking the fall instead of the coach as this is his final contract year with the Bears. Of more immediate concern is deciding whether Jason Campbell is worth the money and still has the chops to be the back-up who doesn’t miss a beat in the event of a Cutler injury. Last year, Campbell looked lost and there are free agents like Tarvaris Jackson who might bring more mobility at less expense.
Running Backs: Matt Forte and Michael Bush will return as a formidable 1-2 punch with more emphasis on catching the ball out of the backfield under Trestman’s West “Canadian” Coast offense. A speedy “scat-back” on third downs would be a nice addition, probably coming from either the late rounds of the draft or a cheap free agent pick-up.
Offensive Line: New O-line coach Kromer comes up from New Orleans with a reputation for making soufflé out of the usual gumbo the Bears are giving him. The line’s interior looks fairly solid and either Jonathan Scott or Gabe Carimi seems capable of holding down the right tackle spot. This coming college draft is said to be deep in offensive line talent, but picking at #20 in round one is risky and the Bears don’t seem to have what it takes to move up in order to secure a real stud with an earlier pick. Would management risk big free agent bucks on Jake Long whom the Dolphins either don’t want or can’t afford? His triceps injury doesn’t appear ready to finish his career yet, but at $12 million per annum, the stakes are high on this wager. Yet, this is a veteran team needing to get back to the playoffs and Emery’s bet on Brandon Marshall paid off, so why not?
Wide Receivers and Tight-Ends: Marshall showed he could be spectacular reunited with Cutler, yet their tandem wasn’t enough to make the offense great. Alshon Jeffery, when healthy, has terrific potential, but the need for speed in the form a Johnny Knox type deep threat is apparent. Knox won’t likely return, maybe not ever, and if the Bears sign Long to shore-up their offensive line, then they can use their top pick on a burner in the draft, similar to the Falcons finding Julio Jones. In today’s NFL, you can’t have enough dynamic receivers.
The Bears would gladly settle for just a dependable pass-catcher at tight-end, but that guy isn’t on the roster unless Aaron Rodriguez is replaced by a real fullback and allowed to return to his natural position. Free agent possibilities exist for an upgrade here.
On defense, the Bears are mostly set, ready to bring back a unit which defied age and lowered expectations last season in becoming the team’s main strength, especially during their 7-1 start. Defensive tackle, Henry Melton, must be re-signed to keep the line formidable and young defensive ends, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin, need to keep improving in order to extend the career of Pro Bowler, Julius Peppers.
At linebacker, Lance Briggs is the only sure thing, with Nick Roach likely back to cushion to blow of not re-signing Brian Urlacher. Urlacher may still be serviceable, but that’s money better spent on Jake Long. Put Roach back in the middle and draft a blitzing quarterback killer in order to transition this unit the way the front four has begun to evolve.
While it’s too much to ask cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings to be as good in 2013 as they were in 2012, becoming Pro Bowl starters each, fixing parts that aren’t broken isn’t a priority. During Smith’s tenure, the Bears always ended up drafting or signing a safety, most of them ending up busts. While not as secure as the corners, both Major Wright and Chris Conte remain the incumbents until further notice.