The Chicago Bears are under a new regime, and have a lot to be excited about for 2013. We chatted with SB Nation for a preview on what to expect:
SBN: Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?
Before Jay Cutler arrived in Chicago, the most notable quarterbacks in franchise history were guys like Jim McMahon from the 1980's and Sid Luckman from the 1940's. Sprinkled in every decade or so would be a guy who could be considered average, but for the most part, it's been an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
Enter: The Gunslinger. For all of Cutler's faults, he's a player who has the brains and athletic ability to break all of Chicago's passing records, but an unstable offensive line and turnstile of offensive coordinators has been too much to allow him to settle in. Cutler is now in the final year of his contract, and under the tutelage of a head coach known to be an offensive guru, so it's finally time for Cutler to show what he's got. Personality aside, I think most Chicago Bears fans will be rooting for him to blow it out of the water.
SBN: If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...
While there are plenty of big games on the schedule, Week 17 versus the Packers at Soldier Field could be the biggest of all. The Bears are hoping to keep pace with their biggest rival in the NFC North, so there's a very good chance the final game of the regular season will have significant implications. If there's one game I could attend, that would be the one.
SBN: Which veterans could be cut before the season due to salary cap issues?
As it stands now, the core veterans are likely safe and sound. Brian Urlacher is by far the biggest name from 2012 that will not be back, but as far as the rest of the vets are concerned, we don't expect any big headlines.
SBN: Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?
There are high expectations for DE Shea McClellin and WR Alshon Jeffery, both of which were inconsistent in their rookie season. Both have shown progress this offseason, and could end up being playmakers in 2013. McClellin has the speed off the edge to chase down most quarterbacks in the league, and Jeffery is a big-bodied receiver that should compliment Brandon Marshall and take some of the pressure off of Cutler.
SBN: What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?
Zero? I honestly can't imagine a scenario, outside of a complete meltdown or an arrest, where new head coach Marc Trestman gets dismissed. He's the new deputy in town, and instilling his own culture, so he's safe for at least the next couple of seasons.
SBN: What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?
Last season was WR Brandon Marshall's first season with Chicago, and he set two single-season franchise receiving records. One was for all-time single-season receptions, previously set by Marty Booker in 2001, and two weeks later, broke Marcus Robinson's yardage record set in 1999. For 2013, he could be gunning for the single-season TD reception mark, which is currently 13 by Dick Gordan (1970) and Ken Kavanaugh (1947)
Jay Cutler is already second on the Bears all-time passing yardage list, less than 2,400 yards behind Sid Luckman. There's no reason to expect him to not break that record in 2013.
SBN: Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?
The 2013 draft could shape up to be a big one for Chicago, with 1st round pick Kyle Long likely starting on the OL, 2nd round pick Jonathan Bostic competing at ILB, and 5th round pick Jordan Mills potentially finding a spot in the starting lineup. Throw in LB Khaseem Green and WR Marquess Wilson on special teams and in key situations, and the Bears are looking at a lot of playing time for most of their 2013 draft class.
SBN: Predict the order of finish in your division.
I cringe to pick the Packers to win the NFC North again, as my gut says the Bears will be better than most people expect, but with this being the preseason, I'll go with:
SBN: What do you expect your season-end record will be?
A first year head coach who hasn't been in the NFL since 2004, the fourth offensive coordinator Jay Cutler has worked with since coming to Chicago (Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice, and now Aaron Kromer/ Marc Trestman), the possibility of two rookies starting on the offensive line... On paper, it could be rough. On paper, the Bears could struggle to meet last year's win total of 10 games. On paper, they could end up around .500 -- But that defense is going to crush some folks this season, and I'll go out on a limb and say the offense will surprise.
Let's say 11-5. That's my final answer.