After nine years with Lovie Smith at the coaching helm, the Chicago Bears began a new chapter Wednesday when players officially reported and Marc Trestman ushered in a new era as the 14th head coach in the storied franchise’s history.
A series of six 50 yard shuttle runs will greet players as part of the new staff’s conditioning approach, but on-field practices will start Friday, albeit in shorts and shells. The collective bargaining agreement between players and teams mandates a gradual ramp-up approach to camp, meaning Sunday is the first day of more physical, padded practices.
Trestman and General Manager Phil Emery met the media Wednesday afternoon, with the meatiest news being that the Bears will not offer any new contracts or extend deals during the season. Therefore, Jay Cutler, entering the final year of his contract, and a number of defensive starters who are also in the same position, have a lot riding on the 2013 season. Both Trestman and Emery want the focus on the field, not to mention the Bears have limited salary cap space to maneuver. “It’s about winning games and winning championships and if they put their best efforts forward and continue to improve as players, they’ll be rewarded,” Emery said. “So it’s to their benefit. I’m sure if you polled them, the majority would want to remain with the Bears. This is a good place to play. It’s the best town in the league, it’s the best city in the league it’s the best fans in the league, so they’ll be rewarded. It’s a plan that we’ll have to work through, but it’s a plan we’re focused in on executing in 2014, not now.”
Trestman, meanwhile, will be challenged to get the most out of Cutler and devise schemes to keep him upright. A retooled line, led by free agent acquisitions Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson, should help. The Bears potentially have a skilled set of playmakers with Brandon Marshall, second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery, free agent import Martellus Bennett, and Matt Forte expected to share touches.
If the offense needs time to click, the Bears will rely heavily again on defense. In speaking with season ticket holders during a conference call, Trestman pointed to the hire of new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker as a key to keeping the Bears D at a high level. Tucker will look to a stable of experienced players to perform at a high level again. Lance Briggs steps in for former teammate and sidekick Brian Urlacher in calling defensive signals. He’ll be joined by a pair of new linebackers as both Urlacher and Nick Roach are gone. Veterans D.J. Williams and James Anderson are on one-year deals, trying to hold off rookies Jon Bostic, an athletic and aggressive looking second-round pick, and fourth-rounder Khaseem Greene.
Pro Bowl corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings will be hard pressed to improve on last year’s play, but each will be counted on to anchor the secondary.
The mercurial Trestman, a highly intelligent and organized football man who has paid his dues through the coaching circles, wants the Bears to adjust quickly to the regular season schedule. He’ll oversee mostly morning practice sessions, a radical departure from previous coach Lovie Smith’s preference for late afternoon and evening practices. He also hopes to make use of a condensed training camp schedule. “There has to be a sense of urgency because there are so few practices in comparison to times before,” Trestman said.