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This Year Feels Different: Embracing Uncertainty as a Bears Fan

After several seasons of treading water or worse, the Bears are...where, exactly? Not knowing the answer might be part of the fun.

UC Davis v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Normally, this is the worst time of a football season. The draft is over. Free agency is settling down, besides one-off signings taking place in fits and starts. Training camp is still a bit away (although rookie mini-camp is soon). There might be some news about signing the rookies, but after the new CBA those stories are typically uneventful, and they are more likely to be sources of frustration than excitement. In short, May is not usually a fun time to be a football fan.

This year feels different.

Last year, I had certainty, or as close as a sports fan can get to certainty. For example, I was certain that Mike Glennon was going to falter, and I was certain that the Bears were going to be under-powered at wide receiver. Years before that, in a time I vaguely recall, I was certain that the Bears defense was going to be solid, regardless of what happened on offense. Anyone who expresses certainty in what the Bears will do in 2018 is either a much keener student of football than I am or is overconfident, if not both.

My uncertainty is not just due to the change in coaching staff, but that is part of it. I have no real evidence to lead me to think that Matt Nagy is simply going to copy the Chiefs’ offense. Even if he tries, I have not seen enough to tell me how well that is going to work out. Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, and Benny Cunningham are at least familiar faces, but it seems highly unlikely that they will be asked to do the same things in the same way--they might be employed more intelligently or in more limited roles, but they really won’t be used in the same way. I want to think that’s a good thing, but I just don’t know.

This year feels really different.

It gets more confusing when we turn to wide receivers. Allen Robinson has never played a pro snap under Nagy or Mark Helfrich. Ditto with Taylor Gabriel, Bennie Fowler, and Kevin White. Anthony Miller and Javon Wims haven’t even played a pro snap at all. If someone really thinks they know how this crew is going to come together as a collection of receivers under a first-time head coach who is retaining play-calling duties, then I want to know where that certainty comes from. I’m skeptical, especially because this crew is working under an offensive coordinator who has never coached in the pros.

Mitchell Trubisky had some great moments last year. Maybe he’ll be great. I’m a firm believer that once a certain level of talent is present, most quarterbacks are largely a product of the systems put around them. I am not worried about his hiccups under Fox and Loggains. I am not overwhelmed by his triumphs. I just don’t know, and that feels great. It feels great because I am entering this off-season with an actual sense of curiosity for the first time in what feels like ages. I do not know what the Bears have at quarterback, and that (by itself) feels kind of fun.

This year feels really, really different.

The offensive line has seen fewer changes, at least on balance, in that a number of folks will be back (Long, Whitehair, Massie, and Leno all have the potential to return), but even there there is the hope that with some continuity and some world-class coaching the familiar faces will get even stronger and the new pieces will blossom. However, if years as a Bears have have taught me anything at all, it’s that the offensive line is at its most discouraging almost exactly as soon as I start to believe in it.

Over on defense, I was as skeptical as anyone when Pace put together his assortment of defensive backs, but much to my surprise Amos and Jackson worked well together, Fuller and Amukamara limited damage, and Callahan played the sort of aggressive football I like seeing in DBs. Did I think the crew was perfect? No. I feel like they were limited, but what if that was because of the work going on in front of them? What if they just limit damage while a revamped Front 7 does the real work?

Thinking about an offense that does the work while a defense keeps time feels different, as well.

That Front 7 itself is a mystery to me. The Bears’ pass rush was surprisingly effective last season, and while I think there’s some holes both on the defensive line and at linebacker, I can’t see for certain how bad those holes are. Some of this is because I don’t know how Smith is going to transition to the pros. If he provides a spark, it could be something special. If he doesn’t, the team still has enough pieces in place to be competent.

For the first time in a long time I am neither worried about the upcoming season nor excited. Maybe the team falters. Maybe it succeeds. However, this off season, everything feels to me like the start of a single game, waiting on that first snap. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, and that uncertainty is part of what makes sports fun in the first place.

This year feels different.