Photo Source: Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

2013 Bears Training Camp Report

With a  new coach, offensive line, playbook, and a…well, different looking defense, the Bears enter the 2013 season with both experts and fans alike undecided on how the season will turn out.

Some experts cite a younger, rebuilding defense anchored in a veteran core as enough to keep up with the new, supposedly high-flying offense to come under new coach Marc Trestman as reasons why the Bears can keep up with the Packers, Vikings, and Lions and make the playoffs.  Others say the defense is now weakened, the offensive line still unproven, and that Trestman needs to prove he can hold his own as an NFL coach on both sides of the ball.

While the Bears are almost universally chosen to be at least .500 or so, the fact that they play in the NFC North complicates things.  The Packers and Vikings both made the playoffs last year winning 11 and 10 games, respectively.  Although the Lions won just four last year, they started off 4-4 and have enough talent on the roster to make the playoffs as they did in 2011.  The NFC North is the best division and it doesn’t help that the Bears have to play their division rivals a total of six times this season.

Photo Source: Matt Koch/Chicago Bears

Photo Source: Matt Koch/Chicago Bears

But for the good or the bad, the Bears will be look and feel different in 2013.  Here are a few reasons how:

  • Marc Trestman.  Fans have already classified Trestman as a CFL coach due to his five years as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, but he actually has 17 years of NFL coaching experience.  And while he does come in with an impressive resume, including rave reviews from quarterbacks like Steve Young, it represents a huge culture shift for the Bears.  Lovie Smith is a defensive genius and was hired after perfecting the Tampa 2 defense with Tony Dungy and having success with it in St. Louis.  The biggest knock on Smith was that he couldn’t run a powerful offense consistently.  Trestman comes in with all offensive accolades and prowess but his defensive skill is somewhat of an unknown.
  • Rebuilt offensive line.  Three years of O-line futility saw GM Phil Emery make drastic moves this offseason to ensure the 2013 Bears won’t be plagued by the same problem.  He signed two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod, 28, and former Jet Matt Slauson, 27.  Slauson was drafted out of Nebraska with a sixth-round pick in 2009 and surprised many with solid play.  Emery also pulled off a draft surprise with Oregon’s Kyle Long, a tall beast who should develop into a solid starter.
  • Defense minus Urlacher.  Early reports out of training camp are that Trestman has the team constantly running fast-paced drills as opposed to the normal laid-back Lovie Smith camp.  While many players are adapting to the change, surely some are skeptical of the new coach’s strategy.  That’s where veterans like Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, and Julius Peppers come in.  Those veterans are the unquestioned leaders of the defense without Urlacher around, and especially Briggs at the linebacker position.  If Trestman earns the trust of those guys, it will be exponentially easier to win over the rest of the team.  Because if there’s anything Lovie philosophy taught young players, it’s to respect team veterans and keep team issues within the team.
  • Martellus Bennett.  For the first time since the Greg Olsen days the Bears should have a tight end who is a major factor in the passing game.  After four years with the Cowboys where he didn’t see much playing time, the Giants let him lose in his only year there.  He recorded 55 catches, 626 yards, and five touchdowns.  That’s easily more than the effort put forth by Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth, and Evan Rodriguez combined last season and doesn’t come with the countless number of crucial drops Davis committed.  Jay Cutler loved throwing to Olsen and to Tony Scheffler in Denver, so there’s no reason to think Bennett won’t have a big year.
  • Devin Hester…?  The Hester wide receiver experiment lasted the better part of six seasons.  Trestman put it to an end in one of his first major decisions as head coach but it already felt like the experiment had run its course.  He’s got the speed and elusiveness, but Hester’s problem has always been route running and actual catching the ball.  And when he went deep from the wideout position it sometimes seemed like he was just trying to draw a flag, lacking confidence in his catching ability.  While he doesn’t score as many touchdowns any more, he led the NFL in average punt return yardage in 2010 and 2011.  Not having to worry about his shaky receiving skills should allow him to focus on getting past his bad 2012.

There’s no telling just how good this Bears team will be.  This could be a defining year for Emery and Trestman, both of whom are still new enough to earn the benefit of the doubt from many fans.  But major underachievement this year would bring on a shower of criticism and scrutiny all the way to ownership.  Here’s hoping our Bears get everything together under new leadership and can power their way into the playoffs!

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