Five keys as Bears open camp

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2016 Bears open camp

As the Chicago Bears embark on their 2016 season with the opening of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, here are five things to watch as a shortened (ten-day) camp run begins:

1. How much is the defense improved? General Manager Ryan Pace, head coach John Fox, and respected defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spent considerable time, resources, and contacts to improve a leaky unit that has allowed too many yards and points. Can free agent additions Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, and Akeem Hicks bolster a front seven that needs increased pressures and more playmakers?

The Bears deep patrol is also a major question mark. Beyond starting CB’s Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller, the cupboard is bare. Chicago continues to look for another safety to pair with Adrian Amos, last year’s rookie starter who played beyond expectations.

One area of strength should be LB’s, though the Bears will hold their breath that first-round pick Leonard Floyd’s injury on opening day of camp isn’t severe. Besides Trevathan and Freeman, the position is stocked with veterans Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, along with Pernell McPhee, last year’s free agent prize who suffered through an injury-plagued second half. In fact, McPhee is still recovering from offseason surgery and may be limited through preseason.

Fox and Fangio are renowned for their ability to drastically improve defenses after an initial break in period. We’ll see if an influx of new bodies and familiarity with the system helps.

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2. Will Dowell Loggains make Bear fans forget Adam Gase? The diminutive (5’5″) Loggains takes over for the reins of the offense after Gase departed to coach Miami. He’ll be tasked to continue the improvement in Jay Cutler’s ball security and mold a retooled Bears offense missing Matt Forte (more on that later) and Martellus Bennett.

Loggains welcomes back Alshon Jeffery and a healthy Kevin White, so he has some toys to play with. He’ll need to mesh Fox’s preference for a smash-mouth ground attack with a desire to attack downfield.

3. Will O-line stay intact? Last year’s offensive line struggled through injuries and inconsistency. Kyle Long has moved back to guard, his preferred spot, and Bobby Massie assumes the right tackle spot after leaving Arizona in free agency. Chicago seems enthused with the play of Charles Leno at LT, though he’s still unproven, and will pick from rookie Cody Whitehair, veteran Ted Larsen, and second-year man Hroniss Grasu at guard and center respectively.

4. Who takes over for Forte? The Bears lose a valuable weapon in Forte, an under-appreciated talent both running and receiving. In a tough decision that involved age, money, and opportunities for younger players, Chicago allowed Forte to walk away and will now hand the ball to promising second-year man Jeremy Langford. Langford had his moments in his rookie year but displayed some rough spots as well. He’ll need to become a more consistent receiver and blocker to assume the mantle of fulltime starter. Look for fifth-round rookie Jordan Howard to push Langford hard by mid-season. Ka’Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers provide veteran support.

5. Can Zach Miller stay healthy? Miller surprised everyone with his pass-catching skills and abilit

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y to get down the seam. The former college quarterback is a talented athlete with good hands. However, his issue has always been staying healthy for a lengthy period of time. He’ll need to in 2016 because the Bears have little behind him except for unproven players and undrafted free agents. The Bears did sign veteran Tony Moeaki in June to add blocking support.

Eyes will be on former Harvard grad Ben Braunecker, a size/speed/hands project who is highly regarded by many as a possible breakthrough player at the spot, but the Bears may be challenged to come up with an effective combo that replaces the production of Martellus Bennett.

 

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