I am going to use the recently released depth chart as the basis for this simple analysis.
I remember once hearing a phrase something like: "If you are not getting better you are getting worse" applied towards the NFL off season. It occurred to me the Bears made some changes this past off season, but I have to wonder if the team got better or worse.
Special Teams: While the team may well miss Rashied Davis and various other backup players who contributed, the Bears emphasize special teams contribution enough that role players can be replaced. So the primary changes are the loss of D. Manning and the switch at punter from Maynard to Podlesh. Overall I give Special Teams the mark of worse. Podlesh may be equal or better than Maynard, but Maynards consistency and reliability will be missed. The big reason for the negative mark is the loss of our primary kick returner, especially at a time when D. Hester is getting more responsibility as receiver.
Defense: Major changes on the line, in our line-backing corps, and in the secondary. The secondary lost D. Manning who had a stellar season. Tinoisamoa has been replaced by Roach, and T. Harris is no longer a Bear. New faces in three (potentially four with CB in play) positions on defense leaves questions. I will stay away from questioning the age of Urlacher, but it could be a factor. So will M. Wright, Roach, and Melton/Paea be able to boost the defense? I say we got better. Last year Roach was pushing for the starting spot, while T. Harris had already lost his mojo. Loosing Manning is a downgrade, but M. Wright has the tools to develop into a quality starter. Our defensive line looks intimidating, there is an edge there that I have not seen for some time.
Offense: Everything begins with the line, but changes at Tight End, Receiver, and in the backfield are significant. The current line returns four players from the atrocity that almost killed Cutler last season. But only one player returns to their former position, and a first round talent has been added. Fan favorite TE G. Olsen was traded, and the Manatee was unable to pass the physical. That gives the Bears a new starter in K. Davis with Speath and Clark playing important roles. Olsen is an undeniably talented player, and his replacements do not measure up. However, Martz really never found a use for his strengths, so the impact will be minimal. R. Williams is an upgrade for our receiving corps. It goes beyond his on-field production, there has not been a veteran presence since the departure of M.Muhammed - no one to lead by example and show the young guns how to work and prepare for game day. Finally, our backfield is improved this year, giving more options in the playbook and allowing Forte to rest and stay healthy for the entire season. I say we improved on offense. When you add that this is year two of Martzfense, we have a skill set that matches what we want to do. So much hinges on the success of the untested line, but if the Bears manage to keep Cutler upright and give him time to throw, this offense could be scary good.
Overall, I think the Bears are a better team than they were last year. The question remains: how much better will they be?