Rate your confidence level for Bears’ prospects in ’13
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org July 23, 2013 7:55PM
CHICAGO, IL- OCTOBER 22: Charles Tillman #33 of the Chicago Bears reacts after the Bears recovered a fumble against the Detroit Lions in the third quarter on October 22, 2012 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Updated: September 25, 2013 6:10PM
No matter how you feel about the Bears — whether you think they’re going to win the Super Bowl or plummet to a new low — you could be right.
Few NFL teams have had the range of success and failure as the Bears the last two seasons. In 2011, they were 7-3 when Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb. They lost five consecutive games and didn’t make the playoffs. Last season, the Bears were 7-1 but finished 10-6 and out of the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, costing coach Lovie Smith his job.
New coach Marc Trestman inherits a team with five Pro Bowl starters, a one-time Pro Bowl running back in Matt Forte and the most talented quarterback in franchise history in Jay Cutler. In Trestman’s first season with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League in 2008, he inherited an 8-10 team and went to the Grey Cup.
But Trestman also inherits a team that has a defensive core with stars 30 and over: Julius Peppers is 33. Charles Tillman is 32. Lance Briggs will turn 33 in November. If Cutler is no better than he’s been and the defense shows its age, the Bears could be in no-man’s land by 2014 — with an over-the-hill defense and a quarterback they can’t win with and without.
And while Trestman has a history of quick fixes, let the record show that none of the eight head coaches who have followed George Halas has had a winning season in his first year. Neill Armstrong — like Trestman, a former CFL coach — inherited a 9-5 playoff team with Walter Payton in his prime and went 7-9 in 1978.
Your optimism or pessimism is well-founded. Which side are you on? Take our annual test to find out. Rate these categories, with 10 points for an optimistic vote, minus-10 for a pessimistic vote and zero for a neutral vote.
90-100: Lay off the Kool-Aid.
70-80: Must be new in town.
20 to minus-20: Seeing is believing.
Minus-30 to minus-40: Sports-radio listener.
Minus-50 to minus-70: Waiting for Ditka’s return.
Minus-80 to minus-100: Packers fan.
Optimist: Newly married with a family to support and a Joe Flacco-type contract to earn, the 30-year-old Cutler is more mature and more motivated than ever to reach his potential and will blossom under a meticulous, bright coach who thinks offense first.
Pessimist: He’s 30, married and more mature, but he’s still Jay Cutler — the same easily distracted, easily annoyed guy who sparred with Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice and doesn’t have what it takes to overcome obstacles and lift a team on his shoulders.
Optimist: As an offensive-minded coach in an era of offensive football, Trestman’s soft-spoken approach and ability to teach, mentor, organize, delegate, adapt and think on his feet will be a perfect fit for a team built to win.
Pessimist: This ain’t the CFL. And it ain’t Montreal. Trestman will find that a lot has changed in the NFL since 2004, and he’ll be faced with the Gary Crowton syndrome: What worked for him in Canada won’t work in the NFL, and the intense scrutiny in a real football city ultimately will consume him.
Optimist: With two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod at left tackle and J’Marcus Webb back at right tackle, the Bears finally will have healthy players at their best position. With Jay Cutler expected to get rid of the ball quickly, the Bears will allow their fewest sacks since the Super Bowl season of 2006 (25).
Pessimist: With Bushrod at LT, Webb at RT, Matt Slauson at left guard and rookie Kyle Long or James Brown at right guard, the Bears will have newcomers learning a new offense at four of the five spots. That never works out well.
Optimist: After unfulfilling seasons in 2011 and ’12, Forte will flourish as one of the NFL’s best all-around backs in an offense designed to take advantage of his pass-catching skills.
Pessimist: With Brandon Marshall and a tight end in Martellus Bennett who can catch the ball downfield, and with Michael Bush getting the ball inside the 5-yard line, Forte never will play the starring role he craves. He’ll languish as a second and third option and sulk his way through the season.
Optimist: A better player than even he thinks, Briggs will emerge from the shadow of Brian Urlacher and reach a new level as a defensive leader — calling plays, making teammates better and making sure he’s not snubbed for the Pro Bowl again.
Pessimist: A much better Robin than a Batman, Briggs will struggle to adjust to the leadership role without Urlacher around. He’ll find out the hard way how much of his success was due to Lovie Smith and Urlacher.
Optimist: Not getting a long-term deal will be the best thing to happen to the 26-year-old defensive tackle coming off a Pro Bowl season. He’ll be more motivated than ever to take the next step.
Pessimist: Far from a finished product, Melton still has a lot of growing up to do. He’ll try too hard to earn a long-term deal and take a step back without the leadership of Brian Urlacher and Israel Idonije.
MEL TUCKER’S DEFENSE
Optimist: Tucker is an up-and-comer, a leader of men whose tweaks to Lovie Smith’s cover-2 scheme will provide upgrades at every position. The Bears won’t score more on defense, but they’ll beat Aaron Rodgers.
Pessimist: The core of this defense was so mentally tethered to Lovie Smith that any change is bound to have a negative effect initially. The players miss not only the leadership of Urlacher, but Israel Idonije, too.
Optimist: The still-improving Pro Bowl wide receiver will be even more comfortable in his second season with Jay Cutler and will reach elite status in a more diversified offense.
Pessimist: There’s a reason Marshall has been to four Pro Bowls but has yet to play in a postseason game. As his numbers diminish in a more diversified offense, his mood will become more and more problematic.
Optimist: All six draft picks could be contributing by the end of the season. Right guard Kyle Long and linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene could be starters by midseason. Offensive tackle Jordan Mills might start if he gets the chance. Defensive end Cornelius Washington and receiver Marquess Wilson could be productive situational players.
Pessimist: Phil Emery drafted a lot of great athletes, but how many football players? Long, Bostic and Greene might upgrade the special teams, but they’ll have too much to learn too soon to make an impact with a new coaching staff.
Optimist: With their top five tacklers returning, an influx of athletes and the return of Devin Hester (above) to dedicated kick-return duty, the special teams will regain its elite form under Joe DeCamillis, a 25-year veteran who has done this before.
Pessimist: The coverage units should be solid, but the specialists bear watching. Approaching 31, Hester is not the kick-return threat he was in his prime. Robbie Gould is recovering from a mysterious injury. Adam Podlesh finished strong but took a step back overall in 2012.