Bears fans got a first look this week of what type of team they might see in 2013 under new head coach Marc Trestman. By the time the first training camp practice was over in Bourbonnais, most walked away with the impression of a fast-paced, high-tempo offense that was clearly on display, but also has some wrinkles to work out.
I wanted to give some realistic thoughts for Bears fans to think about and what to look for in 2013:
1. Evaluate an underperforming offense
General manager Phil Emery believes he has addressed all problem areas on the offense. The offensive line has been addressed with free agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans), free agent guard Matt Slauson (Jets) and first-round draft pick Kyle Long (Oregon). Long is nasty when he plays and has tremendous upside with his physical skills and untapped potential. Bushrod and Slauson are not world-beaters, but come with experience and fit with what the Bears want to accomplish offensively. Watch run and pass blocking improve with smart play calling.
The signing of tight end Martellus Bennett (Giants) addressed a huge need at the position. Again, Trestman is a west coast offense guy. That style demands productivity from the tight end position, which has been sorely lacking since the trading of Greg Olsen to the Panthers. Bennett underperformed with Dallas, but is coming off his best season with the Giants. While he wasn't featured in New York, he set career highs with 55 receptions, 626 yards, and five touchdowns. This position is vital to a west coast offense. Watch how productivity from this position alone helps keep the Bears on schedule offensively in down and distance situations.
[More: 'Old school' Bennett not a fantasy tight end]
The receiving corps just needs to stay healthy but is in place with Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett and Alshon Jeffery. All Bears fans should be excited to see what Jeffery is capable of doing in his second year. He was sidelined twice with injuries last season (broken hand, knee scope) after showing flashes of promise.
Most importantly for Emery is evaluating Jay Cutler’s performance and receptiveness to Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh. The coaches will remain in place after 2013, although Cutler may not. This is Cutler’s fourth new offense since joining the Bears. The previous three offensive coordinator relationships started with showered bouquets of flowers only to go up in flames. Emery will know by season's end if the productivity matches an offer worthy of $100 million for the Bears at quarterback.
2. Monsters of the Midway
The talent remains plentiful for the Bears’ defense to pick up exactly where it left off a year ago -- the Bears finished fifth overall in total defense last season. There is one catch, though: The Bears’ have a new play caller roaming the sidelines. Lovie Smith no longer has his defensive stamp on the team. Will the philosophy be the same or different?
New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker may have learned Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme from a terminology standpoint, but all play callers have their own philosophy when it comes to down and distance or situational play -- for example, when they like to blitz, play coverage, two-minute drill philosophy, etc. Tucker will be far different than Smith. It’s something to keep your eye on as a Bears fan.
3. Can Devin Hester return to glory?
Enough said. The wide receiver experiment is over. Hester could be used in a pinch at receiver if someone gets injured, but let him do what he does best: return punts and kickoffs for touchdowns.
I always preach about sideline etiquette. It is another aspect Bears fans should pay close attention to in 2013. Smith was crucified for mismanaging the clock, poorly utilized timeouts and red flag review challenges. This should be far different with an offensive-minded head coach in Trestman.
Analytical coaches like Trestman come with a plan already written in stone when it comes to clock management. There is an offensive chart already in place for when to call timeouts, what situations command and how to attack them for a positive result for your team. My estimation is these situations will be managed better under Trestman, but he still will be at the mercy of his coach in the booth providing crucial information on when to challenge plays. Bears fans should watch how clock management will be much improved under Trestman.
There are plenty of things to keep tabs on in 2013 for the Chicago Bears. Enjoy the season. It should be a good one.