6 Ways The Bears Got Better This Offseason
The Chicago Bears made some major adjustments to both their front office and coaching staff this offseason. Take a look at the three biggest changes below:
- Hiring Phil Emery: After 10 years the Chicago Bears decided to part ways with former GM Jerry Angelo. Team President Ted Phillips interviewed several candidates before eventually announcing Phil Emery as the Bear's general manager. Phillips stated that Emery landed the position because the "depth of his plan" for returning the Chicago Bears to a championship caliber team far exceeded that of the other candidates. Since his hiring, Emery has been responsible for many of the additions you'll see below.
- Promoting Mike Tice: In addition to Angelo, the Bears also parted ways with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Under Martz, the Bears offense struggled, in part due to the fact that Martz refused to veer from his offensive scheme. The Bears then promoted offensive line coach Mike Tice who will now take over as offensive coordinator. With Tice at the helm, expect the Bears offense to play to their strengths and not a scheme.
- Bringing in Jeremy Bates: Bears QB Jay Cutler put up his best two seasons in Denver while Jeremy Bates was serving as quarterback coach there. Chicago hopes to use the familiarity Bates has with Cutler's skill set to assist Tice with his offensive game-plan, hopefully allowing the Bears to fully utilize Jay.
A major reason Jerry Angelo was replaced as general manager of the Chicago Bears was the fact very few of the players he drafted made long lasting contributions to the franchise. Fans and front office alike are hoping that with Phil Emery in charge we will begin to see that trend change. Here is a look at Emery’s first group, the 2012 draft class:
- Shea McCellin: Drafted in the first round with the 19th overall pick, Shea McCellin is a defensive standout from Boise State capable of playing both defensive end and linebacker. The Chicago Bears have stated he will start off playing on the defensive line, splitting time with Israel Idonije opposite Julius Peppers. If McCellin can prove to be productive putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it should allow the Bears to rush the passer with 4. This allows linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to drop into coverage on passing downs – something that usually results in interceptions and incomplete passes.
- Alshon Jeffery: Possibly the most exciting pick of the Bears draft class is wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. During his time at South Carolina, Jeffery was explosive - highlighted by a 2010 All-American season where he racked up 88 catches, 9 touchdowns and over 1,500 yards. While the young wide-out will likely end up at the number 2 or 3 position on the depth chart, there is very little pressure on him to perform at a high level early on. This should allow Jeffery to concentrate on doing the little things right, which will pay dividends in terms of his long term development.
- Other Picks (in order): Free safety Brandon Hardin, tight end Evan Rodriguez, cornerback Isaiah Frey, cornerback Greg McCoy
Outside of Julius Peppers, many of the Bears’ off-season free agent signings over the last few years (Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Chester Taylor, Frank Omiyale) haven't panned out . However, they have a reason to feel pretty optimistic about this class of signings. Take a look at these promising additions below:
- Michael Bush: The last several years have been full of failed experiments at the number 2 running back position for the Chicago Bears. Guys like Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber all came and went with very little success. Michael Bush looks to break that streak and provide a one-two punch on the ground alongside Matt Forte. Bush was very productive with the Raiders in 2011, accounting for 977 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns. If he can match his per carry averages from last year this season with the Chicago Bears, fans will have a whole lot to cheer about.
- Jason Campbell: The Bears started off a very promising 7-3 last season before a season ending injury to Jay Cutler. The lack of a capable backup QB caused them to go 1-5 through the last 6 games and miss the playoffs. The signing of quarterback Jason Campbell, who has started for multiple teams in his NFL Career, was a huge relief to Bears fans. If a situation arises where Cutler can't play, the offense is in good hands with Campbell.
- Eric Weems: The signing of Eric Weems improves the Bears in more than one way. Weems adds depth to a talented receiving corps and while he should see some time on the field there, his biggest contribution will likely come on special teams. The Bears already have the best kick returner in NFL history in Devin Hester, and with the Pro-Bowl caliber returner that Weems is, it looks like no one will want to kick to the Bears this season.
- Other notable signings: Linebackers Geno Hayes and Blake Costanzo, defensive tackle John McCargo, running back Lorenzo Booker, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and guard Chilo Rachal.
While free agency and the draft were huge for the Chicago Bears this offseason, their biggest addition came via trade with the Miami Dolphins:
- Brandon Marshall: In exchange for a pair of 3rd round draft picks, the Chicago Bears got themselves a true number 1 receiver, something the organization hasn't had in over a decade. What makes this trade even more exciting, and likely a determining factor in getting it done, is the fact that the player they traded for (Marshall) is a good friend and former favorite target of Bears QB Jay Cutler. If this reunion goes as well as expected, the Bears offense will be among the league's best.
In addition to bringing in new players, the Chicago Bears did a great job settling contract disputes with current players and resigning other Bears who were set to become free agents:
- Matt Forte: After a Pro-Bowl season in 2011, running back Matt Forte was determined to finally get the contract he deserved. Although the negotiations took all summer the Bears and Forte came to terms on a 4-year/32 million dollar deal. Forte has been a huge part of the Bears offense for the last 4 years and with this deal in place, it looks like he will be for the next 4 years as well.
- Lance Briggs: On several occasions over the last couple seasons linebacker Lance Briggs has given the Bears’ organization the ultimatum - "add more years to my deal or trade me". While Briggs has never had any real leverage to force the Bears’ hand in this situation, the front office decided to make their star happy by giving him a 1-year contract extension which will keep Briggs in Chicago through the 2014 season.
- Other resigns: Safety Craig Steltz, defensive end Israel Idonije, tight end Kellen Davis, cornerback Tim Jennings, running back Kahlil Bell and Josh McCown
The demise of the Chicago Bears last year was the amount of injuries the team sustained. As the season progressed more and more starters and subs alike were being added to the team's injury reserve list. Below is a list of Bears starters who are back healthy and are looking for a productive 2012 campaign:
- Offensive lineman Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams, quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte, safety Chris Conte and linebacker Brian Urlacher.
- The status of wide receiver/kick returner Johnny Knox, who suffered a serious back injury last December, is still yet to be determined.
All Photos Credited to ChicagoBears.com