Can the Bears compete for a playoff spot?

After last year’s joke of a season, you wouldn’t find too many people who would bet on the Chicago Bears making a run for the playoffs in 2016. After two preseason games, I am not about to anoint them, but they are a much better team than many are thinking. Why do I say that? Head Coach John Fox is a veteran coach who has a history of turning teams around quickly. He hired a veteran staff of assistants, all with strong resumes, and these coaches know how to get a team ready for the season. There is no question that there are still some holes in the roster, but the NFL is a coach's league and strong coaching can make up for an overall lack of talent. As long as key players stay healthy, and they get just above average quarterback play, they could have a chance. Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler has been the whipping boy of the media the last few years. He has gotten criticized (and rightly so) for his indifference and pouting on the sideline and for his poor play at inopportune times. This year, I have seen a different Jay Cutler. He is more relaxed, and his interaction with coaches and teammates has been excellent. The most important relationship he has to have right now is with offensive coordinator Adam Gase, and to date, the relationship seems very strong. In both practice and games, Cutler seems to be more at ease, and I haven’t seen the huge mistakes we have gotten so used to seeing. On offense, right now, I feel the biggest need is to solidify the right tackle position. Jordan Mills started the first preseason game and struggled. Charles Leno played with the first unit on Saturday night, and he also had some problems. If that position can get straightened out, the offense will be fine. There has been talk of moving Kyle Long to tackle, but then who plays the right guard slot? I have always felt that the choice at right tackle is second year man Michael Ola, but that is for the coaching staff to decide. First round draft choice Kevin White, the speedy wide receiver from West Virginia, will miss at least half the season with a stress fracture in his right leg, and that will hurt. Even with White out, the Bears have talent at the wide receiver position led by Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal. Third year man Marquess Wilson who, has been injury prone his first two years, needs to step up while White is out. Unlike the last two years, the Bears offense will not be a pass happy scheme. Fox would like to be able to run the ball and control the clock. The Bears have been successful with that the first two games, rushing for over 330 yards. If the Bears can continue to run well, life will be easier for Cutler as he won’t be asked to do things he can’t do. The defense will be much better than the unit we have seen the last two years. The Bears have gone to a base 3-4 scheme and are playing a much more physical brand of football. I don’t think they need to worry that this defense will give up 50 points in games like last year’s defense did. The pass rush is much better both from inside and outside, and there is more talent and confident play in the secondary. One of the surprises of camp has been the play of inside linebacker Shea McClellin. The former first round pick is now playing his third position in four years but seems to have found a home. He has made a number of plays in the first two games and is also calling the defensive signals. If the strong play continues, McClellin will resurrect a career that looked close to being over. Up until now, he has been labeled a bust The big question is: have the Bears improved enough to challenge for a playoff slot? This will most likely will be answered in the first month of the season. The schedule makers didn’t do Fox any favors. The Bears first three games are Green Bay, Arizona, and Seattle. Fortunately, both Green Bay and Arizona are home games. The Bears have to come out of those three games with a 2-1 record to have a shot. If that happens, this team will develop some confidence and could make a solid run. If they start out 1-2 or 0-3, it just might be the same old Bears. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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