Bears’ prolific offense ready to rebound, but ‘D’ is in disarray
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter December 30, 2013 10:17PM
Updated: December 30, 2013 11:01PM
After literally picking himself up off the cold, hard Soldier Field turf Sunday, Brandon Marshall can’t wait to get started on 2014.
‘‘I’m getting old, so I was going to take off a few months,’’ said Marshall, who will turn 30 in March. ‘‘But that feeling of that cold ground when [Packers cornerback Sam Shields] picked the ball off, I felt that — and I’ll continue to feel it, so I’m going to start up Monday after the Super Bowl.
‘‘That’s what I’ve done the first few years that I’ve been in the league, and I thought I was going to change that [and] rest my body and my mind. But this just added fuel to my fire.’’
Linebacker D.J. Williams, a free agent, can’t wait either — even though he’s still about six weeks away from being fully recovered from a ruptured pectoral muscle.
‘‘I’m ready to talk [contract] now,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I don’t want to play games [with negotiations]. I’m ready. If they want me here now, they’ll express it, and we’ll start negotiating.’’
Therein lies the difference on each side of the ball for the Bears. Marshall is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he caught 100 passes for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns. But Williams played only six games before suffering a season-ending injury and doesn’t even know if the Bears want him back.
After a 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers that cost them the NFC North title and a playoff berth, the disappointed Bears entered the 2014 offseason as virtually two different teams — a defense in need of an overhaul and an offense eager to take another quantum leap to elite status in the NFL. But as a team, the Bears have a lot to prove.
‘‘I felt a lot of disappointment in the locker room, from coaches and players, but every guy is different,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘Like coach [Marc] Trestman said [Monday], some guys will get over it quicker than others. And the way guys deal with that, whether it’s working harder or working smarter, it’s on them.’’
The Bears’ defense, which finished 30th in total yards and 32nd and last in rushing yards allowed (more than 400 yards worse than the 31st-ranked Falcons), is in a total state of flux. Except for linebacker Lance Briggs, every starting position is in question. To wit:
End Corey Wootton, tackles Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff, linebackers James Anderson and Williams, cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman and safety Major Wright are free agents. Melton, Tillman, Collins and Williams are coming off season-ending injuries.
End Shea McClellin, safety Chris Conte and rookie linebacker Jon Bostic are signed for 2014, but their starting spots will have to be earned after uneven or subpar performances.
And if eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers returns, it likely won’t be with the $18 million cap number he is slated for in 2014 after Peppers had his least effective season in the NFL.
‘‘The locker room is never the same, and it’s not going to be the same next year,’’ McClellin said. ‘‘It will be interesting to see how things shake out.’’
The offense, on the other hand, is in position to reach another level after finishing eighth in total yards. Jay Cutler was the only starter to miss a start. Cutler, guard Matt Slauson and center Roberto Garza are the only free agents.
‘‘We had five guys play together and get better every week,’’ said Garza, a 13-year veteran. ‘‘It’s the start of something really, really good. Hopefully we can continue to build on that.’’