Does Bears mini-camp bring answers or more questions?

When first-year Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman convenes his first official mini-camp Tuesday, the Bears will already have a vastly different look.

Gone is defensive leader and perennial Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher, who continued the great legacy of Bears middle linebackers with his rare athletic skills over the past decade. Underrated outside linebacker Nick Roach also departed via free agency to Oakland. Rising guard Lance Louis, knocked out for the season with a knee injury on a questionable hit by Minnesota’s Jared Allen, decided to move on as well, signing with Miami as a free agent.

Trestman will pick-up the pieces of a club that finished 10-6 overall, but faltered badly after a 7-1 start.  Trestman will start to learn whether Jay Cutler is the franchise quarterback the team has been seeking for decades, or an inconsistent thrower destined to entice with his arm, but disappoint with his decision-making. Cutler enters the last year of his contract with an uncertain future and working with his fourth QB coach. He’ll need to demonstrate  if he can rise above the excuses of the past—poor rapport with coaches, limited playmakers, and a sub-par offensive line, to become the leader the Bears envisioned when they acquired him from Denver. Behind Cutler, however, there’s little depth, as veteran journeyman Josh McCown serves as the current chief backup.

Trestman will also be challenged to get the most out of versatile running back Matt Forte, who struggled  through an up/down season in 2012 and wasn’t utilized in a pass receiving role as much as in prior seasons. Martellus Bennett is a certain upgrade at tight end over the likes of Kellen Davis, and should aid the Bears ability to open up the field.

The redux on the offensive line is left up to Trestman’s right-hand assistant and offensive coordinator , former New Orleans line coach Aaron Kromer. Kromer will welcome a familiar face in Jermon Bushrod, the ex-Saint who is one of the Bears big off-season free agent signings. Bushrod is expected to anchor the left side, with J’Marcus Webb and vet Jonathan Scott competing for the right tackle spot. Experienced Matt Slauson should take over one of the guard positions, and either Gabe Carimi, James Brown, or another newcomer could fight for the remaining guard slot.

On defense, new coordinator Mel Tucker has promised to keep the basics the same from the previous regime. However, Lance Briggs will line up with a pair of new running mates at the linebacking corps, free agent signees D. J. Williams and James Anderson.  Williams may inherit Urlacher’s mike man position, and offers more athletic ability than Urlacher does now. Williams is a low-risk, high reward addition, as he is probably on his last chance to continue his NFL career after numerous off-field issues.  Anderson is a steady veteran who was highly productive in Carolina. Still, it could take time to mesh. Up front, the Bears will hope for a bounce back season from defensive end Julius Peppers, who played through foot pain much of 2012, which limited his sacks. Does Peppers have much left, or is Father Time slowly eroding his tremendous athletic skills? Inside, Henry Melton will need to live up to his reputation and franchise tag money. He’s flashed impressive talent, but doesn’t always finish and goes through periods of rather uninspired play.

The Bears face a quandary as well with returner/part-time WR Devin Hester. The explosive Hester has been reduced to a ordinary, at best, return man while splitting duties at wide receiver—an experiment that resulted in few results. The expectation is that Hester will shift his focus solely to returns in an attempt to regain the form that made him one of the NFL’s best return men ever. New special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is assigned the task of rejuvenating Hester’s career and smoothing his fragile psyche.

While Trestman will oversee the play on the field,  General Manager Phil Emery will orchestrate the roster. The Bears, facing an aging defensive roster with few up and coming playmakers,  along with the Cutler question, will need to maximize their five picks in the upcoming NFL draft.  The 2013 schedule may not begin for a few months, but the foundation for the Bears season is starting to take shape.

the slant


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