2015 Season Preview: Chicago Bears

Going into the 2014 season, the Bears were thought to be a team that could challenge for the playoffs and division title. That thought ended on opening day when the Bears lost at home to Buffalo. It went downhill from there and the Bears finished 5-11 for the season. Not meeting expectations cost Head Coach Marc Trestman and General Manager Phil Emery their jobs. To replace them, the Bears hired Ryan Pace and John Fox. While Pace is young and inexperienced, Fox is a veteran head coach, and the two of them should be able to work well together. Quarterback I don’t think there is anyone who knows exactly what Jay Cutler is. He has the physical talent to be a very good NFL quarterback, but he lacks the consistency and mental toughness to play to his talent level. He is on his third head coach and fifth offensive coordinator since he arrived in Chicago, and if he doesn’t show vast improvement in 2015, this could be his final year in a Bears uniform. Behind Cutler, it’s also a question mark as Jimmy Clausen has done little since he has come into the league. The third quarterback will be either David Fales or Shane Carden. Personally, I like Fales, as I respected what he was able to do while at San Jose State. Running Back Eight year vet Matt Forte leads the running back group. He is one of the most consistent and underrated backs in the NFL. Few have the overall game that Forte brings to the table. He is a consistent runner inside and out and is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. The only negative is his age, and with that, brings the question of how much is left in the tank? Last year the Bears drafted Ka’Deem Carey to be the primary backup and he flashed. The new regime has no affinity for the previous roster, and they drafted Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford who seems like a better fit in an Adam Gase offense. WIde Receiver and Tight End One of the first things Ryan Pace did as the new General Manger was get rid of diva wide receiver Brandon Marshall who was traded to the New York Jets. Even with Marshall gone, the Bears have a fairly strong group. The receiver corps is led by former Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery has 174 receptions in the last two seasons and still is only scratching the surface of how good he can be. Opposite Jeffery will be first round pick Kevin White who has the raw talent to be an NFL superstar. Having only played two seasons of major college football, he is still in the developmental stage, but the upside is huge. The slot receiver will be free agent signee Eddie Royal who had some big years at Denver when Gase was there. His career has been a bit of a roller coaster. For depth, there is Marquess Wilson and Marc Mariani. The tight end is Martellus Bennett who has played his best football as a Bear. While he is talented, he feels that he is better than he is and stayed away from the off season program looking for a new contract. Behind Bennett, is Bear Pascoe, oft injured Zach Miller, and Dante Rosario. None are going to scare anyone. Offensive Line How the line looks now and how it looks coming out of training camp could be two different things. The present starting lineup has Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills at the tackle spots, Pro Bowler Kyle Long and veteran Matt Slauson at guard and Will Montgomery at center. Montgomery and Mills may not be starters once the season begins. The Bears drafted Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu in the third round, and he was one of the best centers in college football a year ago. Mills has been inconsistent, and the Bears could move Long to tackle and play second year man Michael Ola at guard. Ola started 12 games last year because of injuries and performed well. Long has the size, strength, length and athleticism to be a dominant tackle. The unit has to do a better job run blocking this year as most John Fox teams have strong running games. Defensive Line The Bears thought they had a top defensive end to play in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme when they signed former 49er Ray McDonald. McDonald had some off field issues while in San Francisco, and they carried over to Chicago and he was cut recently. That could leave the Bears shot on the defensive line. To replace McDonald, the Bears will most likely move outside linebacker Lamarr Houston to defensive end. Houston is coming off an ACL injury and may not be ready for the beginning of camp. If that is the case, second year man Ego Ferguson could line up at that end spot. The other end will be free agent signee Jarvis Jenkins who is more of a run down player than a pass rusher. Rookie second round draft pick Eddie Goldman from Florida State will be the nose tackle. He has the talent to be very good and could also play some end. There is not much depth, and don’t be surprised if the Bears sign a veteran off the street before camp opens. They could also look to trade for a defensive lineman once camp opens. Linebackers Playing in a new scheme, it will be interesting to see how this group lines up come opening day. One of the inside linebackers will be Mason Foster who came from Tampa Bay where he wasn’t a fit for Lovie Smith’s scheme. He can be a playmaker in Fangio’s scheme. It’s a question mark as to who will play opposite Foster. It could be former first round pick Shea McClellin, third year man Jonathan Bostic, or second year man Christian Jones. All have flashed some talent over the past couple of years, but none have played to any level of consistency. Most of the outside linebacker corps will be former defensive ends led by Jared Allen. Allen has the traits to play on his feet in this scheme and could rekindle his career after a poor 2014. The other spot will be manned by Pernell McPhee who the Bears signed away from Baltimore. McPhee has the versatility to play multiple positions. Willie Young, who had a breakout year in 2014 before tearing an Achilles tendon, will figure into the rotation as will third year player David Bass. Free agent Sam Acho also figures to get play time. Secondary This has been a problem area for the Bears for years, with safety being the biggest problem. The Bears signed Antrel Rolle during free agency, and he will help solidify things. The problem with Rolle though is that at 32 years of age, he is not the long term answer. Opposite Rolle, will most likely be Ryan Mundy. Like Rolle, he is not the long term answer. Rookie Adrian Amos from Penn State, who was one of the more athletic safeties in the draft, may be a starter before the season is half over. At corner, last years top pick Kyle Fuller will line up on one side. The Bears signed free agent Alan Ball from Jacksonville this spring, and I look for him to play across from Fuller. Former starter Tim Jennings will most likely line up as the nickel corner. Depth will come from holdovers Demontre Hurst, Al Louis-Jean and Sherrick McManis. McManis is a solid special teams' player. The Bears recently signed Tracey Porter, who has been a starter during his career. This position is still unsettled going into camp. Outlook No one is going to look for the Bears to compete for a playoff spot. They have looked too horrible the last few seasons. The key to this season is how Cutler will play under Adam Gase. If he can settle down and play to his talent level, the Bears could surprise. The problem is, it’s a big “IF”! What the Bears have going on for them is the element of surprise early in the season. No one knows what to expect from Chicago and John Fox isn't about to share what he is thinking. Expect the Bears to play things close to the vest during the preseason. If the Bears are able to challenge for a playoff spot, it will surprise every one in the league. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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