by Carlos Nazario,
On Wednesday, the Chicago Bears opened up training camp and their 2012-2013 season. They not only are looking to improve on last year’s 8-8 record, but also looking to show they are a team to be reckoned with.
After enduring an injury plagued season last year, the Bears had a makeover. GM Jerry Angelo was fired, Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz retired, Mike Tice went from Offensive Line Coach to Offensive Coordinator, and Jeremy Bates, who worked with QB Jay Cutler with the Denver Broncos, became the quarterbacks coach. That was just with management.
The Bears also made over the team it will field. New GM Phil Emery’s first move was to reunite Cutler with Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall. The two played in Denver and had great success. In Marshall, Cutler has a big, fast target that he and the Bears have sorely needed.
The last Bear to go over 1,000 yards in a season was Marty Booker in 2002. Marshall himself has gone over that mark for 5 straight seasons.
Emery was not through making over the offense however. He drafted WR Alshon Jeffrey, another big, fast target for Cutler. Jeffrey was runner up for the Fred Biletnikoff Award given to the best WR in the NCAA.
Emery also signed QB Jason Campbell to back up Cutler. Last season, when Cutler’s season ended in Week 10 with a broken thumb, the Bears had no one who could take the reins. Campbell is a proven NFL starter who can be counted on in a pinch.
Another pickup made by Emery was RB Michael Bush. Bush will be part of a potent running back combo with Matt Forte. In his 4 seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Bush was known for being a short yardage specialist, especially around the red zone. He had 977 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns last season.
Speaking of Forte, the Bears finally rewarded his terrific running with a 4-year, $32 million contract. Having a happy Forte in the fold and not having him miss any time was crucial for the Bears to have any hopes for a great season.
On defense, Emery drafted DE Shane McClellin in the first round. McClellin can be a combo player, playing on the line, but could also play some LB. Some think he could eventually be a replacement for MLB Brian Urlacher, who has expressed a desire to play about 2 more seasons before retiring. Also, S Brandon Hardin was drafted in the 3rd round. Hardin will try to solidify a position that has been a revolving door of players for the Bears over the years.
The one spot of contention on the Bears that most experts still are concerned about is the offensive line. Cutler has spent a lot of his time in Chicago on his back, and in order for the Bears to make noise this season he must be healthy. With the departure of Mike Martz, however, a big reason for the line’s problems will be removed.
Martz has always had his quarterbacks use a 7 step drop. That requires the line to block for a longer period of time. Now they will be instituting a 3-5 step drop, getting the ball out of Cutler’s hand as quickly as possible. This will alleviate a great deal of pressure on the line. When Cutler went down last season, Martz gave Tice a chance to run the offense. With Martz running the offense last year, Cutler was sacked 23 times in 314 attempts (1 every 14 attempts).When Cutler went down, Tice was allowed to take over the play calling and Bears’ QBs were sacked only 5 times in 164 pass attempts (1 every 33 attempts). If Cutler gets that protection this season, he will lead a high powered offense.
Even Urlacher echoed the sentiments of many on the o-line. “Offensively, I think we’ll be able to run the football. They’ll be able throw with Brandon. If we just protect our quarterback, we should be all right.”
Making over the Bears has not only brought enthusiasm for the fans, but Cutler as well. “Getting new guys around us on offense is like Christmas,” Cutler, a native of Santa Claus, IN, said. “There are a lot of new weapons, new toys for us to play with.”
Usually, uncertainty reigns supreme at Bears training camp. Two seasons ago, the Bears made it to the NFC Championship, but at camp that season, Urlacher got into a war of words with Hall of Famer Gayle Sayers, who said he was not impressed with that season’s team. This season, most people seem to agree that this team should make some noise. One question should be asked-will the Bears wilt under the pressure of all that expectation?