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Bears’ minicamp: 6 things to watch

Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler

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Updated: May 17, 2013 6:33AM



All the introductions are done. The playbook has already been distributed. The locker room has been reconfigured. And there are new names on office doors.

Now, it’s time to really get to work.

The Marc Trestman era takes to the field on Tuesday when the Bears’ voluntary three-day minicamp — every player should be there — begins at Halas Hall.

It’s the most important and intriguing minicamp in years. No one will be coasting through it.

The Bears are evolving from a defensive-driven team into one that has made a commitment to finally modernize its offensive schemes and game plans. This minicamp will offer ample glimpses of Trestman’s offense.

Here’s a touchdown’s worth of aspects to watch as everything ­unfolds:

1. IT’S JAY’S DAY

With linebacker Brian Urlacher gone, it would seem the stage is set for quarterback Jay Cutler to ­become the new face of the franchise, but that’s not guaranteed.

“Well, I don’t know if that’s a designation, but that’s something somebody either works into or doesn’t,” chairman George McCaskey said recently. “So we’ll see. We’ve got a lot of leaders on our team.”

But let’s be clear: 2013 is all about Cutler.

Cutler has to earn his next ­contract through his play and has zero excuses. He’s got a noted quarterback guru for a coach (Trestman), a coordinator with a history of improving offensive lines (Aaron Kromer), a new freak-of-an-athlete for a tight end (Martellus Bennett) and a Pro Bowler to watch his back (Jermon Bushrod) to go along with his favorite target, Brandon Marshall.

Trestman said at the owners meetings that Cutler can improve his mechanics, but has an arm that might be the strongest he’s ever coached. Their relationship and Cutler’s production is the main ­story line for the season. It’s a make-or-break year for No. 6.

2. THE NO. 1 WEAPON

No player stands to benefit more from Trestman’s West-Coast-offense background than running back Matt Forte. Trestman raved about him at the owners meetings, saying “he has a skill set that goes full spectrum of what you want.”

Forte will be utilized in numerous ways. In Trestman’s first year in charge of the Montreal Alouettes in 2008, receptions for running backs increased from 45 to 104.

“Matt has the entire scope and ability to be able to run all different kinds of runs with him, and you can make all the different kinds of throws to him,” Trestman said. “And he’s a willing blocker, which is critically important.”

3. RIGHT-SIDE BATTLE

Let the games begin.

The competition at right tackle ­between J’Marcus Webb, Gabe Carimi and Jonathan Scott embodies the revamped offensive line.

Bushrod, a two-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints, was signed to protect Cutler’s back at left tackle. Veteran Matt Slauson should be slotted in as a starter at guard.

4. THE ‘BLACK UNICORN’

The Bears have added plenty of players through free agency. But it’s watching how Bennett, a colorful character, assimilates to his new team that takes precedence.

Bennett, a three-down player who has declared his love for blocking, will have a crucial role in the new offense, providing Cutler with a weapon he didn’t have before.

5. McCLELLIN MATTERS

The best way to tell what wrinkles new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has in store for the defense is how second-year defensive end Shea McClellin is used. He’s really a hybrid player — good enough to rush the passer from a three-point stance and athletic enough to be used in space and in coverage.

Tucker has said that he wants to maintain what the Bears did last season. But Tucker does come in with 3-4 experience and defenses are changing all over the NFL to combat all the pass-happy teams and the rise of the read option.

6. A LOOK AT THE LBs

The most significant changes for the defense are veteran linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson replacing Urlacher and Nick Roach. Williams said he would be disappointed if the Bears’ linebacker corps isn’t one of the best in the league.

This week, they get to work with Lance Briggs.

“[It’s] to first start building, bonding and jelling together and building relationships ­being out on the field for the first time,” Williams said.

Extra point

Expect plenty of talk about moving on without Lovie Smith and Urlacher this week.

Smith left his mark on plenty of the returning players, notably Briggs, cornerback Charles Tillman and returner Devin Hester. Smith was the only coach they’ve ever had, but they are being counted on to be leaders. What they do can make the transition to Trestman better for everyone.



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