The 2013 offseason has been somewhat rough for Bears fans compared to recent years. Last year there was a coaching search and then a new coach brought in with a new system; it made every little bit of news exciting and kept the offseason going pretty quickly. Two years ago there was a new general manager: the search for him, and then watching every roster move with anticipation.
This year, though, has been considerably slower paced. GM Phil Emery got all the contract extensions done within days of the end of the season, meaning there was no parceling out that news to keep the winter exciting. This also led to a slightly less exciting free agency period because the Bears had most of their own locked up.
The Bears then got their big fish signing out of the way quickly when they landed Lamarr Houston. The most exciting part was the unexpected signing of Jared Allen.
Then there was the longer-than-usual wait to the draft which was pushed back two weeks. The anticipation for the draft was huge as always, and the Bears took solid players who should contribute, but there wasn't necessarily a player that made fans go "Whoa, that guy is going to change the team as a rookie!"
Since then, though, there has been nothing much to report. It was a nice, quiet offseason but that is bad because this team, though they were 8-8 last year, has given fans a tantalizing taste of greatness and excitement. The Bears' arrow is pointing up for the first time in a while and, while all the offseason moves were exciting, it only made the wait for the season opener that much more excruciating.
We want to see what this team can do on the field. There is no more analyzing roster moves or what the coaches and players are saying about the system or the team.
It's time to put up or shut up.
For fans it's playoffs or bust in 2014. The offense is in place, the defense appears to be retooled.
And now it's finally time for the final push to the season. Everything starts in Bourbonnais this week.
The major concerns heading into the season are:
1) The defense: The defense was the main letdown for the Chicago Bears last season, ranking near the bottom of the league in nearly every category. The defense must be better for the Bears to get to the postseason.
2) Injuries: Always a concern, while the Bears are a relatively healthy team heading into camp, injuries snowballed to derail the team a year ago. Older players like Charles TIllman, D.J. Williams, Jeremiah Ratliff, Adrian Wilson and Lance Briggs are going to be counted on this season after each missed significant time last year; they need to remain on the field for the team to improve.
Now the major storylines to watch in camp:
-Back-up quarterback: It wasn't Lester's No. 6 most important Bear for this year without reason. The battle between Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer might be the most watched in camp. Don't forget about rookie David Fales either.
-Safety battle: The Bears need to find two consistent safeties from Adrian Wilson, the recovering Chris Conte, rookie Brock Vereen, Craig Steltz, Ryan Mundy, Danny McCray and M.D. Jennings. Safety has been a liability for too long in Chicago.
-Linebacker battle: D.J. Williams, Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic will be battling for two positions. Can Khaseem Greene earn a spot? What about undrafted free agent Christian Jones? This could be the second-most watched battle after QB and could be the most-watched defensive battle.
-Receiver depth: There's no battle at the top with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall established and the third spot appears to be Marquess Wilson's to lose. But behind him it's wide open between Chris Williams, Josh Morgan, Terrence Tolliver, Chris Belamy, Michael Spurlock, Armanti Edwards and Eric Weems.
-Special teams: After years of consistency the Bears appeared to take a step back in 2013. There will be a punting battle in camp, as well as the task of finding someone to replace kick returner Devin Hester.
-Tight end depth: Like receiver, the starter is set with Martellus Bennett but the Bears need to find a contributor behind him from Matthew Mulligan, Dante Rosario, Zach Miller and Jeron Mastrud.
-Running back contributors: Matt Forte is entrenched but he isn't getting any younger and in order for the offense to be at its best, Forte has to be fresh. So, who can earn some carries behind him?
These are the most well-published storylines and concerns surrounding the Bears as they pack for training camp. What are your concerns? Which storyline will you be following the closest?