Well, that came up fast.
The Chicago Bears report to training camp on Wednesday at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais
After such a letdown of a season a year ago with the Bears compiling a 5-11 record in Marc Trestman's final season as the head coach, the focus is strictly on football.
Trestman is gone after just two short seasons and veteran head coach John Fox is in along with first-time general manager Ryan Pace and talented coordinators OC Adam Gase and DC Vic Fangio among many new positional coaches.
Change is good for a team that was so up-and-down over the past two years and quite frankly dysfunctional in 2014 as things didn't go their way much.
With players settling in on Wednesday and meeting with reporters in the afternoon, they will get time to relax before the tough road ahead. The Bears' first practice will be held on Thursday morning and just 14 days later they travel to Miami to face the Dolphins in the preseason opener.
Here are five things to watch as the Bears officially open camp in Bourbonnais and get ready for a preseason and soon thereafter home regular season opener against Green Bay on Sep. 13.
1. Jay Cutler's demeanor with Adam Gase
The often-criticized quarterback enters his seventh season with the Bears since coming over in the 2009 blockbuster trade with Denver. Cutler has been inconsistent to say the least. At times, he's looked like the quarterback everyone believes he can be. He has one heck of an arm, but it backfires on him much too often.
Offensive coordinators Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice and Aaron Kromer all lost their jobs after working with Cutler. Cutler had the best success of his career under Martz (2010-11), winning 17 of his 25 starts, tossing 36 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Since then, he's posted a 20-21 record under Tice (2012) and Kromer (13-14).
It remains to be seen if the new regime actually believes in Cutler. Right now with his contract and the situation they find themselves in, he is the best option. Having a new offensive coordinator in Adam Gase, a guy who should help limit Cutler's turnovers and mistakes will be big. Let's see how they mesh at training camp.
2. Kevin White and Eddie Royal's roles
It takes time for rookie wide receivers to learn the entire route running tree and ins-and-outs of the NFL. However, expect No.7 overall pick Kevin White to pick things up quicker than most rookies in the past. Training camp will be huge for the West Virginia product.
Last year's wide receiver class is proof that smart and talented rookies can be successful. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin all totaled 1,000 yards for the season for their respective teams. Sammy Watkins came close with 982 yards for Buffalo and Jordan Matthews reeled in 872 yards in Philadelphia.
With that being said, the Bears have other receivers that know how to put up numbers in the NFL. Alshon Jeffery is now the No. 1 option with Brandon Marshall in New York. Slot guy Eddie Royal signed this off-season which should be a boost. Royal is a big addition considering his past chemistry with Cutler in Denver, where he recorded career-highs in catches (91) and yards (980) along with five touchdowns in 2008.
The 2008 season is a while back, but the Bears haven't had a legitimate No. 3 slot receiver in quite some time and Cutler should be happy to have Royal back on his side. Jeffery, White, Royal and third-year man Marquess Wilson are the top four receivers right now. The Bears have 12 receivers at camp and their depth is very solid.
3. Outside linebacker competition
Perhaps the hardest position to figure out is outside linebacker. The Bears have six guys who are battling it out at outside linebacker. That's excluding Shea McClellin, who will be tried inside and Cornelius Washington, who seems destined to be a defensive lineman in Fangio's 3-4 scheme.
Off-season prize Pernell McPhee is penciled in as one of the two starting outside backers with Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Sam Acho, David Bass and Willie Young all competing for the other spot.
Allen, Bass and Young might fit in best as a situational pass rushers in the 3-4 shell and in 4-3 fronts when the Bears bring the heat. That leaves Acho and Houston to fight for the starting job. Both players, who starred together at Texas have experience in the 3-4.
Acho has played all four of his NFL seasons with Arizona, where he was in the 3-4 scheme. Houston got a chance to play in the 3-4 briefly in Oakland before arriving in Chicago last off-season. Acho and Houston should be considered the frontrunners for the job opposite McPhee, but Acho might have a little bit of an edge with his smarts and vast experiences in the defense.
4. Cornerback depth
It will be strange not seeing Charles Tillman donning his No. 33 Bears jersey for the first time in 12 years. He will instead be wearing a No. 31 Carolina Panthers uniform after reuniting with former defensive coordinator now coach Ron Rivera.
Instead of Tillman in the starting lineup, the Bears will have second-year riser Kyle Fuller as the No.1 corner. Fuller is expected to have a breakout year under Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell.
10-year veteran Tim Jennings is still around and seems to be a forgotten man after failing to record an interception for the first time since 2007 a season ago. He could be a slot corner in Fangio's scheme if they opt to take him off as the No. 2 corner opposite Fuller.
The Bears also brought in veterans Alan Ball and Tracy Porter. They still have Sherrick McManis, Demontre Hurst, Al Louis-Jean, who will be vying for playing time. Second-year man Terrance Mitchell and three undrafted rookies (Bryce Callahan, Jacoby Glenn and Qumain Black) round out the group.
We will soon find out where everyone fits in. Right now the No. 3 slot corner spot is anyone's for the taking. Ball should be the frontrunner, but the competition will be fierce at camp.
5. Starting defensive line
Defensive lineman in a 3-4 scheme are much different than in a 4-3, hence why the Jared Allen's of the world are switching positions.
One of the oldest players on the Bears, 11-year veteran Jeremiah Ratliff will be a starter at one of the three down linemen spots. The other two starting jobs will likely be taken by second-year man Ego Ferguson and veteran run stuffer Jarvis Jenkins.
Second round rookie Eddie Goldman should be a key rotational piece at 6-foot-4 and 336 pounds. Goldman is the widest defensive lineman the Bears have.
Also on the roster is second-year Arizona State product Will Sutton. Despite his size, 6-0, he should be able to find a role in Fangio's defense. Brandon Dunn and Washington are back from last season while undrafted rookies Terry Williams and Olsen Pierre look to earn roster spots.
27-year-old UCLA product David Carter signed a one-year deal with the Bears on Tuesday after they waived linebacker Jonathan Brown. Carter is the tallest lineman at 6-5 and was originally a sixth round pick in 2011 by Arizona.
Much like the outside linebacker position, the Bears have a slew of players transitioning to a new defensive ideology. However, the talent level isn't high. The hope is Goldman breaks out sooner rather than later alongside Ratliff and Co.
Keep checking back for all the latest Bears' training camp news right here on Bears Backer as the season inches closer and closer.
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