This has been an offseason of major change for the Chicago Bears, as the two faces most associated with the franchise over the last decade are gone.
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was allowed to become a free agent and then retired after 13 seasons.
Coach Lovie Smith was fired after the Bears missed the playoffs, finishing 10-6 after a 7-1 start.
Both moves were controversial, but it was clear Chicago’s brass was ready for new leadership.
The Bears replaced Smith with an intriguing hire in Marc Trestman, who spent the last five years as coach of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League and whose previous NFL experience was working with quarterbacks.
Now he’ll get to work with Jay Cutler as the team’s franchise quarterback plays for his next contract and works in his fourth offensive system as he begins his fifth season with the team.
“Jay’s been in so many offenses recently; I’ve been totally impressed with how he’s handling a little bit of new language, a little bit different way of looking at things,” Trestman told news reporters during minicamp. “I think he’s handled it extremely well.”
Trestman has worked with Steve Young, helped Rich Gannon to an MVP season with the Oakland Raiders and has gotten results from the likes of Bernie Kosar, Scott Mitchell and Jake Plummer.
“His work ethic is unparalleled, as good as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Trestman said of Cutler. “His details of the offense are as good as anybody I’ve been around. He’s doing all the right things. It’s not easy when you’re starting over one more time.”
Cutler expressed similar admiration for his new coach.
“He understands quarterbacks, he understands working with them, how to protect quarterbacks,” Cutler said. “He’s not going to send you out there with plays that aren’t going to work or plays that are going to work against some defenses and not others. He’ll give you a lot of answers and make it simple enough that everyone else can understand it.”
The challenge will be how quickly the Bears can get acclimated to what Trestman, who will call the plays, and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer want to do.
“It’s a three-year process to learn an offense,” Cutler said. “It takes time. It’s hard to go out there Year One and blow the doors off. But we’re trying to learn it the best we can in the time allotted.”
Defensively, the Bears were fifth in total defense and were opportunistic in converting turnovers into points. Four of their losses were by eight points or fewer.
The Bears signed former Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams and drafted Jon Bostic to replace Urlacher.
There is plenty of pressure on Cutler. Few doubt his physical talents and potential to be a franchise quarterback, but the Bears have made the playoffs once since he arrived via a trade with the Broncos.
The top of the depth chart remains unchanged, with starter Matt Forte and backup Michael Bush. Forte had his third career 1,000-yard season last year despite battling through three sprains of his right ankle and returning from a knee injury suffered late in the 2011 season.
Brandon Marshall met, if not exceeded, the high expectations set for his first season with the Bears as he was reunited with Cutler.
The challenge for the Bears is to get Marshall to continue to play at a high level and get second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery more involved to diversify the offense.
One of Chicago’s biggest moves in free agency was to sign former New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys tight end Marcellus Bennett to give Cutler another receiving option. The Bears have little depth or experience behind Bennett.
Chicago started the offseason needing an upgrade at left tackle, and they hope they found it in Jermon Bushrod, who signed as a free agent from the New Orleans Saints. Matt Slauson, also signed as a free agent, will play left guard after the Bears traded 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. J’Marcus Webb will move to right tackle, and rookie first-round pick Kyle Long is a projected starter at right guard. Let’s see if those moves help keep Cutler off the grass. The Bears allowed 44 sacks last season, eighth in the league, and Cutler has been sacked 153 times in his four seasons with the Bears.
The team practiced this spring with a coach counting aloud trying to encourage the quarterback to get rid of the ball, and Trestman indicated he intends to have a clock at training camp. Trestman’s West Coast offense is predicated on precision throws off three- and five-step drops.
PHOTOS: Minicamp action around the NFL
Defensive end Julius Peppers is coming off an 11½-sack season, his most since he had 14½ for the Carolina Panthers in 2008. He will be paired with Corey Wootton, with Henry Melton and Stephen Paea returning as starting defensive tackles.
Weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs is the remaining familiar face in this group. Briggs will be joined by D.J. Williams at middle linebacker and James Anderson at strong-side linebacker, two veteran starters who signed one-year deals as free agents and could be used to help groom Bostic and fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene.
Cornerback Charles Tillman was in the discussion for defensive player of the year last year, and he returns along with the rest of the starting secondary — corner Tim Jennings and safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte. The Bears will need to find a new nickel corner to replace D.J. Moore, who signed with the Carolina Panthers.
Kick returner Devin Hester did not take Smith’s dismissal well, saying at the time he might retire. That hasn’t happened, and as long as he’s on the roster, Chicago has one of the league’s best special-teams weapons. Trestman has said return duties will be Hester’s focus, so expect to see less of him in other facets of the game.
Kicker Robbie Gould and punter Adam Podlesh are reliable and consistent.
It will be interesting to see what Trestman brings to the NFL after five years in Canada.
For now, the Bears are hoping he will be able to establish a good relationship with Cutler and help revamp the offense
- Gannon: Cutler-Trestman relationship ‘vital’ (espn.go.com)
- Trestman speeds up the clock on Cutler (espn.go.com)
- What Can We Expect From Brandon Marshall In 2013? (bleacherreport.com)
- Projecting the NFC North: the Chicago Bears’ Brandon Marshall (acmepackingcompany.com)
- Jay Cutler: ‘Marc Trestman cares about his players’ (sportsmole.co.uk)
- Who Would You Rather Keep: Jay Cutler or Matt Forte? (windycitygridiron.com)
- Chicago Bears depth chart projection series: Quarterback (chicagonow.com)
- Who is your #1 Fantasy Football Chicago Bears draft pick? (windycitygridiron.com)
- Bears Quick Hits: Cutler Must Trust In Trestman, and Briggs Discusses Urlacher (windycitygridiron.com)