Last offseason, the Bears jumped from a below-league-average/league-average offense to one of the top offenses in the league under second-year general manager Phil Emery, and the defense took a massive nosedive due to a variety of factors - injuries, a potential downgrade at coordinator/playcaller, the reduced effectiveness of some players needed to become key contributors, et cetera.
If you're one of the fans clamoring for Phil Emery to turn around the defense like he did the offense last offseason, prepare to be disappointed.
When Emery "turned around the offense" last season (and the offseason before), here's a quick summary of the changes the Bears made, with the key change highlighted in bold.
- Drafted Kyle Long
- Drafted Jordan Mills
- Signed Martellus Bennett, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson (since extended)
- Continued development of Alshon Jeffery; continued chemistry between Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall
- Hired Aaron Kromer and a whole new offensive coaching staff
- Hired Marc Trestman
That last one is probably the biggest key of all. Consider: Let's say the Bears don't replace Lovie Smith after the 2012-2013 season (or at least don't replace him with an offensive-minded coach). Do the Bears still rise to number two overall in points scored?
The names are irrelevant; the fact is one of the Bears' main offseason moves the past year included a change to an offensive head coach from a defensive head coach, which may have meant as much to the Bears' sudden offensive surge as any of the four offensive line starters the Bears added that offseason.
Let's also factor in the team's offensive core was in place - Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall (and, as discovered, Alshon Jeffery). With your starting quarterback, starting running back and starting two receivers in place, it creates a fairly nice offensive foundation to build from.
Flip to the 2013 defensive side of the football. Is such a core in place? The Bears replaced two position coaches - will they have the same impact as replacing the head coach or even the defensive coordinator?
One can't really say the Bears have a core on defense anymore to build around - Lance Briggs is around, as is Tim Jennings, but Julius Peppers is everyone's favorite cap casualty and a half, Henry Melton missed most of last year with injury and might not be as effective (or around), and Charles Tillman is lined up to hit the free agent market. Every safety save for Chris Conte is a free agent. Shea McClellin's being bumped back to linebacker, which will be interesting to watch, but who knows if it'll be effective.
Is the coaching in place? Mel Tucker's first year as a Bears' defensive coordinator put the team in the bottom of the league in defense, but with a core, can Tucker be the coach he needs to be? Or will a new defensive coordinator have better luck once a new core is in place?
Free agency hasn't started yet, and the Bears will be certain to add some key defensive parts, but don't expect Phil Emery and the Bears to be anything close to elite on defense in 2014.