The Chicago Bears are a little over a week away from the start of the 2013 training camp down in Bourbonnais Illinois and it will be a completely revamped set of practices as a result. The Bears have moved on from the Lovie Smith era and begin anew with the Marc Trestman era, an era of uncertainty. Trestman has never been a head coach and has been out of the NFL since 2004. Trestman did the wise thing and surrounded himself with three strong assistants to help him run a team that should compete for a playoff spot in 2013.
The Bears won 10 games in 2012 and there is no reason to expect that they won't win a minimum of 10 games during the 2013 season. Despite a tough season schedule the Bears don't face a juggernaut of offensive teams like they have in years past. The toughest offensive team the Bears face in 2013 would the game against RGIII and the Washington Redskins. The Redskins ranked 6th overall in offensive efficiency according to FootballOutsiders in 2012 so that will serve as the stiffest test for the defense all season.
Four of the Bears' final six games are on the road and they close out the season with the Packers in Soldier Field. That game as always could decide who wins the NFC North crown. That is the goal as it is every year, beat the Packers and win the division and earn an automatic bid to the playoffs.
On offense the Bears need to see one thing, and that's more points and improved play from Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. You know Brandon Marshall is going to catch a ton of balls, but his production should be no where near the absurd levels it was last year. If it is, consider 2013 a failure because the Bears need to spread the ball around.
Goal number one for Jay Cutler in training camp is he needs to improve his fundamentals so there is in turn an improvement in his accuracy. The West Coast based offense that the Bears will run requires timing and accuracy at the highest levels of QB play, all thing Cutler is horrible at. Cutler needs to stay balanced on his feet, hold the ball higher and deliver it quicker. He needs to eliminate his hesitation hitch which often looks like a pump fake. Too often Cutler looks unsure in the pocket and that will be a key for his success this season, develop his confidence so he can deliver the football quickly and efficiently.
If one thing is going to help the entire offense go it will be the utilization of Matt Forte as the workhorse of the offense. No longer can the Bears afford to treat Forte with kid gloves, he needs to get around 300 carries a season and around 50 receptions a season. Forte should be well rested by now given he hasn't crossed the 300 carry threshold over the last three seasons in Chicago. In addition the Bears need to find a way to improve their short yardage game with either Forte, Bush or both. Can a revamped offensive line help the Bears in short yardage situations? The Bears have a solid one two punch at the RB position and teams often succeed utilizing two RBs, but the Bears need to let Forte get in a rhythm. He'll do his best damage late in the games and Kromer's rushing attack is designed to best utilize his skills.
At wide receiver and the TE position three players need to either meet or exceed expectations in the passing game. Martellus Bennett doesn't need to be an All-Pro or even a Pro Bowler, he simply needs to be consistent and a reliable target in the offense. Cutler and him need to continue to improve their trust in each other and learn to exploit coverages with Cutler having a big consistent down the field target. Earl Bennett needs to show why he still belongs on the roster given his lack of consistency even in the slot. Joe Anderson needs to continue to improve to show his ability as a wide receiver. Can he overtake Bennett as the number three wide receiver? If he does it would be a very welcome surprise.
Alshon Jeffery needs to continue to polish his route running and show he can gain separation from coverage. What I want to see from Jeffery is that he can be a top 15 to 20 wide receiver in the NFL, a number two with clear number one ability. We've seen the flashes from Jeffery now take the next step towards becoming great so he can be counted on to be an integral part of the future of this passing game. There's no reason to believe that Jeffery can't develop into the best wide receiver in the history of the franchise.
And of course there is the offensive line with four new starters, okay three but Webb needs to learn how to play the right tackle spot so that counts as new to me. I'd like to see this offensive line learn how to communicate and better pick up line stunts blitzes and better slide their protections. So often we've seen this line fail at the most basic of fundamentals at all five positions, not just J'Marcus Webb but everyone. Can this change? Will the Bears be able to field a unit that comes out and protects the passer on a consistent basis? How about Matt Slauson, can he keep his starting job over an up and coming Jame Brown who is seeking to hold on to the number one spot in training camp? The interior of the offensive line will need to keep a clean pocket for Cutler so he can step up and deliver the football, Long Slauson and Brown will be the key.
The bottom line is this offense needs to finally come together and win some games by putting points on the board and stringing together consistent drives. There are at least three games from the 2012 season you can point to in which the defense won the game because the offense didn't do enough to score points. The Cowboys game from a year ago stands out with it's 34-18 score, two touchdowns by the defense and five turnovers forced overall. Were it not for the two TDs by the defense and five turnovers the Bears don't win that game against the Cowboys. That's not the brand of football Chicago can continue to play and in win. The offense needs to consistently put up points on a week to week basis, likely at a level not seen since the '85 Bears. Is this finally the year where things come together for the offense? Training camp is the place where it's all going to start for the 2013 Monsters of the Midway.