I think the Bears have a good a shot as any to be a Super Bowl contender. Quick turnarounds are common place in the sports world, and the Bears have a unique situation. Their anemic offense is getting a complete makeover, while their top 5 defense is remaining relatively unchanged since last year.
They do have a new play caller with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, but the personnel and scheme will remain.
They missed the playoffs last season, but they were a 10 win team. If the defense can stay up near the top 10, and the offense can makes strides under head coach Marc Trestman, the Bears will be right there in the playoff mix.
Both had some swagger to their game, and both have/had a love hate thing with the media and fans at times, but Cutler is much more talented than Rex. So based on expectations, I'd have to assume that Cutler drives more fans nuts.
We expect more from Jay, because we've seen him play at a pro bowl level in Denver. Plus the Bears gave up two 1st round draft picks to pry him from the Broncos, then you have to factor in the Kyle Orton effect.
For some reason Orton has a lot of fans in Chicago. Partly because he was the anti Rex. He was a game manager that played within his talents, while Grossman would take chances, and often cost the Bears opportunities. Which is something I could say about Cutler too. Jay is prone to make a gunslinger mistake or two as well.
Lester, I'm still not over the fact that a 10-win team fired their coach. Do you feel that Lovie was holding Cutler - and this offense - back? Do you credit the reformation (on paper, at least) of the team's o-line to Trestman?
And, given that they had double-digit wins last year, what would be considered a successful season for the Bears?
I liked Lovie Smith, but his time in Chicago was over. One playoff appearance in the last six years just isn't getting it done. His ultimate failure was not being able to put together an offensive staff that could win games.
Look at his offensive coordinators; Terry Shea, Ron Turner, and Mike Tice will probably never call NFL plays again, and Mike Martz may never get that chance again either.
Part of that failed offensive era has to fall on former GM Jerry Angelo for not building talent around the position he was so fixated on improving, quarterback.
As far as my expectations go for the team, I'm on record as saying anything less than a playoff appearance will be a disappointment.
I've heard smart football people say that, for football studs, the jump from year 1 to year 2 is usually exponential -- I'm a Texans fan, so JJ Watt is a good example -- Julio Jones and Patrick Petersen are as well.
Who's that player on the Bears that we might have heard of around draft season in 2012, haven't heard of since, but we will hear a lot more from this year?
The Bears have a few second year players that could see significant time this year. Wide out Alshon Jeffery has had a good camp so far, and he will be starting opposite Brandon Marshall. He had flashes last year where he looked real good, but he had some rookie mistakes that held him back. Working out with Marshall this off season will pay dividends.
Last years top draft pick, defensive end Shea McClellin, is also having a good camp, and even though he probably won't be starting, he will see more time than last year where he played about 30% of the snaps. He has the speed rush, and the spin move, but he's using his hands much better on his pass rush. Look for the Bears to use him in a variety of ways this season.
There are a couple others that may show good strides, but I'm waiting for the preseason to see how they look.
My level of NFC North dislike is Packers, Vikings, and then Lions. My dislike for Green Bay is engrained in my psyche after those 1980s Packer teams under Forrest Gregg played about as dirty as I've ever seen a team play. Then they had Brett Favre, and now Aaron Rodgers, and a couple Super Bowl championships, so they are the team to beat, and the team I want to see the Bears triumph over.
The Lions have been bad most of my life so I never had any reason to hate them. Plus the Bears have handled them pretty well of late, but they do have a few really annoying players, and their head coach is a piece of work.
I didn't make it out yet, one of our other writers was out there however. As far as big Chicago Bears, the biggest guy I ever saw was James "Big Cat" Williams. I stand 6'6" myself, but Williams was just a mammoth of a man, and he made me look tiny, if that's even possible.
My dad was at the famous Hail Mary game at Met Stadium in 1975 (http://www.youtube.com/watc...). He was wearing his mother's fur coat. It was so cold in the stadium that dudes were in the bathroom with their feet in the sinks to thaw them out. Whatever, that's not so gross. However, there was a limit to the number of sinks, so some dudes had their feet in the urinal trough to thaw out their feet on strangers' piss.
Unrelated: Zach is a "diehard" Texans fan. He's been yearning for Texans victories since 1975. Wait, he wasn't born. 1990. Wait, they didn't exist. Oh yeah, Zach didn't care about the Texans until 2002, but I'm sure he's built up a lot of passion since then.
Back to the Bears:
Lester, Jay Cutler hasn't played a full season since 2009. In the last three years the Bears are a playoff team when he's on the field (combined record of 27-13), but thanks to his injuries the past two seasons (and a 1-6 record in those games), the Bears have missed the playoffs each of the last two years. Assuming that Cutler continues to miss some time with injuries at some point this season, how are the Bears going to win in his absence? Josh McCown was so bad in 2011 that he dropped to third string behind Jason Campbell last year. Is he Cutler's primary backup again?
There was the Dallas Texans way back in 1952, and I hope I'm never so cold that I'd need to have someone pee on me!
About Cutler, hopefully he's hit/scaked less this season with the West Coast Offense in place, and he's sliding down when out of the pocket scrambling. He clearly gives the Bears their best chance to win.
Josh McCown will be the #2, and I think he'll be OK with the revamped offense of the Bears.
McCown hasn't played much with the Bears, but in 2011 when he did play, the game didn't appear to be too fast for him. He had a couple starts late that season, and he was competent. That can't be said for some of the other backs ups employed in Chicago.
They were a top 5 defense last year, and they are keeping the Tampa 2 scheme under new coordinator Mel Tucker. The big change this year is obviously losing Brian Urlacher, but he was a shell of his former self in 2012, so it can be argued they upgraded the middle linebacker spot this season.
There are still enough play makers on the Bears D, that opposing offenses will need to be cognizant of. If Tucker adds enough wrinkles to the scheme, it could really throw teams off as well.
A good offense will beat a good defense most of the time. That's just the nature of the sport, especially with the recent rule changes that benefit the offensive side of the ball.
When playing against quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees, or running backs like Arian Foster or Adrian Peterson, you just hope to contain them as best as you can.
The hope in Chicago is that with a head coach that is offensive minded (finally!), that they can score enough to keep up with the really good teams, and that their defense will still be good enough to keep them in games.
As any Bears fan knows our 2 biggest problems during the Cutler era have been INTs and having an O-Line made of rice paper. What has Trestman done to address these issues and do you think what he has done is adequate?
Trestman is implementing the West Coast Offense, that in and of itself leads to the ball getting out quicker. His offensive philosophy will help Cutler immensely.
From a coaching standpoint, word out of camp is Jay's mechanics look as good as ever, but the key for him is maintaining that once the games are live. And a big key to him maintaining good fundamentals is having the o-line play better. It's hard to make 'textbook' throws when running for your life.
With veterans Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson now manning the left side, and rookie Kyle Long competing at RG, the Bears are trying to make improvements along the o-line. After RT J'Marcus Webb had a less than stellar preseason debut, he was benched. I expect him to eventually work his way back to RT, but hopefully a message was sent.
Marc Trestman will field the 5 best guys on the team for the o-line. and I think whomever they end up starting in 2013, that group will be far better than the group they had in 2012.
I have limited knowledge of the West Coast Offense ("WCO"), after all - I'm a Bears fan. But from what I do understand it will use Forte's ability to catch the ball more than ever. First, do you think Forte is ready for this work load? How do you think his running game will be this year? And how do you think the city of Chicago will adjust to it's first "passing offense"?
If you're not familiar with the WCO, the Saints and Sean Payton run it, the Eagles under Andy Reid ran it, the Packers and Mike McCarthy run it, Mike Shanahan and the Redskins run it. It's generally described as a pass first offense, but not all schemes are the same.
Bill Walsh of the 49ers developed and popularized the system, and it uses short passes, a lot of horizontal routes, crossing patterns, a lot of backs out of the backfield, and slants to set up some deeper shots.
While Trestman was an offensive coordinator his tailbacks have had a lot receptions, Charlie Garner had 91 in 2002, Michael Pittman had 73 in 2000, Larry Centers had 69 in 1998, and Derek Loville had 87 in 1995. A strength of Matt Forte 's game is his receiving ability, so I expect him to flourish in the system.
The Bears will call some running plays, but Jay Cutler will have the freedom to audible. One of the reasons there were so many passes from Jay in his limited snaps against Carolina in the preseason game, is he audibled out of runs to the slants. He took what the defense gave him.
As far as Chicago embracing a passing offense, I think if the wins are there, all will be fine, but if the offense is struggling, we can expect a lot of angry fans.