One year ago, Chicago Bears fans were hoping that new head coach and offensive guru Marc Trestman would be able to work some magic with the Bears' 2013 offense. An offense that historically had been near the bottom of the rankings. Fans also were hoping that the holdover Lovie Smith defensive unit would be able to remain near top 10 status with new play caller Mel Tucker running the show.
Trestman did his part as the Bears' O was one of the best in the league, but Tucker's D was bad. Like really bad. He was calling Lovie's Tampa 2, but he lost a lot of his talent through injury and they were never able to gel. I'm not going to list out the numerous injured Bears again -- you can Google that one if you really want a refresher -- but the defensive side of the ball in 2013 was a disaster with plenty of blame to go around.
Last offseason Bears GM Phil Emery finally assembled a solid offensive line to protect Jay Cutler. A couple of free agents and a couple of draft picks filled in around veteran center Roberto Garza. He also added the top tight end on the market to go along with playmakers Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall, and 2nd year wideout Alshon Jeffery evolved into a bona fide stud.
This offseason Emery was tasked with reloading on the defensive side of the ball. He brought in players at every level of the defense, but his best work was done on the line. Veteran free agents Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Jared Allen and a healthy Jeremiah Ratliff along with rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, figure to improve the terrible run defense. They should also be better at harassing quarterbacks.
The 2014 Bears D should be much improved up front.
But there are still plenty of questions at linebacker and in the secondary, and it's because of those questions I think the Bears' defense will be bad again.
But that's OK, as long as they aren't allowing backs off the street to rush for 100+ yards and they're able to get after the quarterback, the 2014 defense will be better than last year.
I'm fairly confident in the D-Line coming through, but if anyone says they feel good about the linebackers or secondary they're either blinded by the new-season optimism or are truly delusional.
I believe that you build a team from the trenches out, so I expect a better line will lead to better play behind them, but the questions still remain.
Are you really confident about Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic, D.J. Williams or a 33 year old Lance Briggs coming off an injury-plagued season?
While I'm hopeful Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings can play to a Pro Bowl level, Tillman ended the 2013 season on injured reserve and Jennings is learning how to play nickelback. He's sure to have some growing pains. Number one draft pick Kyle Fuller has a lot of upside, but rookie corners tend to struggle.
Emery brought in a bunch of safeties, but in my opinion the ceiling on all of them is middle of the road. Expected starters Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte are just a couple of guys. Danny McCray is a guy. Brock Vereen is a rookie, but until proven otherwise, he's just a guy too. I'm not trying to say the safety play will be as horrible as last year, but I'm not expecting these guys to be in a Pro Bowl either.
But again, that's OK.
The 2014 Bears don't need the defense to be great, they just need the D not to suck. They need to be able to rush the passer when teams are trying to keep up with their high powered offense. They need to be able to slow down the Brandon Jacobs of the world. They don't need 11 All Pros; they need consistent effort, they need some good luck in the health department and they need to cut down on the mental errors that plagued them in 2013.
While I'm not expecting Mel Tucker's unit to be cracking the top 10 in 2014, I'm also not expecting them to be ranked 30th in the NFL. Their defense can still be bad, yet be better than last year, and that will be a step in the right direction.
The defensive cupboard was too bare this offseason to expect a miraculous turnaround à la the 2013 Bears offense. To borrow a Wannyism, the pieces were in place for Emery to plug in some better offensive linemen to boost the production of the offense last year.
I think the best the Bears could hope for would be for the defense to meander up somewhere in the neighborhood of 20th overall. Chicago just has too many "ifs" for me to expect anything more from them. If veterans Briggs, Tillman, Ratliff, Williams and Allen all stay healthy and play to their potential, and if Stephen Paea, McClellin, Bostic, Conte, and the rookies all start making plays, then this team could make an astronomical leap.
I just don't think it comes together that fast.
But that's OK.