Much has been said of the Chicago Bears going into this season.
Some speculate this team will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, but many more have speculated that this team will be average at best. Everyone is entitled their own opinion, as well as their reasons to back it up, but until the games are played and a champion is crowned, anything is possible.
As has been the case every year in recent memory, the fate of this team is tied to Jay Cutler and the offense. Another off-season, another set of reasons as to why we think this will be the year it all falls into place.
Great defense and special teams, quality running backs, but overall questionable offense. At this point, I'm not surprised how so many people are quick to write this team off as the just same ol' Bears. The NFL is a "what have you done lately" kind of league. Following back-to-back late season collapses, it's understandable if some are hesitant to buy into the changes General Manager Phil Emery has made this off-season.
I, however, do not agree that sentiment. I feel as if the transition from our previous terrible offensive systems under Lovie Smith and his merry band of incompetent offensive coordinators, to an, at the very least, average one under the guidance of newly appointed Head Coach Marc Trestman, should be night and day in terms of production.
Yes, it's the first year of a new head coach, but this isn't like most first year situations, where the new regime is typically in the process of rebuilding a team from the ground up. They already have the talent in place for this season, and the defense & special teams aren't changing very much from what they've always done. These guys don't need to be masters of the Trestman system in order to score points. They just need to limit turnovers, balance the time of possession, and avoid unnecessary penalties. There's too much talent on the offensive side of the ball for them not to be at least average.
As much as people dog Cutler, there was a point in time where he was a Probowler, and to some, on the verge of becoming an elite quarterback in the NFL. Marshall is a top five wide receiver with the size and speed to create serious mismatches just waiting to be taken advantage of with the right complimentary receivers and play-calling. Forte is one of, if not the, best all-around back in the NFL with is pass-catching, vision and elusiveness. Those three alone should be enough to give an offense some serious pop, but we also have a number of guys in the supporting cast with very high ceilings and/or great reliability when healthy.
Martellus Bennett lit it up last year in a Giants offensive system that doesn't always utilize the pass-catching tight end. At the very least, he's still a major upgrade over any tight end we've had last two years. Hell, even Dante Rosario could be considered an upgrade over anyone we've had the last two years, at least in terms of pass-catching. Alshon Jeffery is another big, speedy wide out with great hands and the potential to be a great 2nd or 3rd receiving option for Cutler. He was limited by injuries in his rookie season, but his numbers were still pretty decent all things considered. Statistics show that receivers generally take their biggest step development in their second year. Now healthy, and with an off-season of training along side Marshall under his belt, Alshon is poised to have a breakout season. And for years now, Earl Bennett has been a reliable, albeit injury-prone, slot receiver with excellent route-running ability. Always a 3rd down favorite, Earl is a receiver that Cutler can trust. Unfortunately, they've asked him to do too much for the offense in years prior, but as a 3rd or 4th option he should excel. On top of that, you can add in the upside of Wilson, a 20 year old with tremendous talent that happened to fall to us in the 7th round for (hopefully) irrelevant reasons, and would have otherwise been a possible early round draft pick in 2014. Put it all together and you have a myriad of reasons to be excited about Cutler and the passing game.
It's also important to note that as good as Forte can be, his backup Michael Bush is nothing to turn your nose at either. He is easily one of the best backup running backs in the NFL. He's a superior short yardage/goal line specialist who can also do just about whatever it is this offense requires of him. He also allows Trestman to run 2 back sets where either guy is capable of getting the ball and turning it into a big play.
And although the offensive line has been downright terrible over the last few years, it has undergone major changes heading into this season as well. Four out of the five starting lineman are new to the team. We no longer have the inconsistency of J'Marcus Webb to be taken advantage of. We have a first round pick in Kyle Long with the potential to be an elite guard and an anchor on the line that we should be able to heavily rely on in both the running and passing games with time. We have a nice mix of youth and experience, coupled with a new zone blocking scheme being managed by one of the best offensive line coaches in football over the last four or five seasons.
I understand if people have questions about Trestman, but it's hard to question his ability to run an offense when you take a look at his body of work. The biggest criticism people have levied against him has always been his ability to lead a team and get his players to buy into his authority, regardless of how baseless that concern may actually be.
I think many of the people who haven't paid much attention this off-season don't realize that Trestman will be the offensive play caller. Even my cousin, a huge Bears fan, didn't realize that fact until I mentioned it last weekend. He'll have a few tricks up his sleeve, and his involvement with numerous dominate offenses for nearly three decades is a legitimate reason to trust that he knows how to field an efficient, opportunistic offense.
Overall, I think it's kind of ridiculous that the national media, and even many of the more cynical local guys, are so quick to write off the major changes this offense has undergone over the last two seasons. Production wise, last year was a step back, but in order to see why this offense should take a big step up this year, you have to take into account the moves made by Emery last off-season as well. The additions of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush are certainly not irrelevant. Personally, I got a little ahead of myself heading into last season, and that's a big part of why so many people are hesitant to buy into the offense now.
But therein lies the worst part of the NFL off-season: Every jackhole with a keyboard or microphone can make bold predictions about the upcoming season, and at least a few people will believe it, regardless of how absurd or unfounded it may be in actuality. Especially with football, "experts" and "analysts" frequently gloss over teams that aren't media darlings, while drastically oversimplifying the possibilities involved in a sport where twenty-two men work to leave their mark on every single play. The truth of the matter is that nobody knows how this season is going to unfold for our Bears, not yet at least. But can we honestly say this doesn't hold true for the 31 other teams in this league as well? It is that very same uncertainty that makes football so great.
Until the Bears take the field, it's all just speculation, and I speculate good fortunes are on the horizon.