Phil Emery spent his first off-season building the offensive line in 2013. It paid off as the Bears had one of the most prolific offensive seasons in franchise history. The Bears finished second in the NFL in scoring to Denver. They also scored the second most points in franchise history to the 1985 Bears.
Arguably for the first time in franchise history, the offense led the way. Their 445 points were only 11 behind the 85 Bears for the most in franchise history. The defense was one of the worst in franchise history. They finished 30th in points allowed, 30th in yards and gave up a franchise worst 478 points.
The point of emphasis this offseason was to rebuild the defense. Gone are Major Wright, Corey Wooten and Julius Peppers. Emery brought in Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young to the defensive line and Danny McCray, M.D. Jennings, Ryan Mundy and Adrian Wilson to the defensive backfield. Add draftees Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson on the defensive line, Brock Vereen at safety and first round pick Kyle Fuller at cornerback.
Coupled with Shea McClellin's switch to linebacker, the return of cornerbacks Isaiah Frye and Kelvin Hayden and defense will have a new look and should have some interesting battles in the pre-season.
How Well Will the Rebuilt Defense Play
The new defense is not just about Allen, Houston and Fuller. The layers behind them on the depth chart, how well McClellin does adapting to linebacker, how well Ferguson, Sutton, and Vereen adapt to the NFL and the battle for the starting safety spots should all be story lines to watch against the Eagles.
If the Bears are going to be a serious Superbowl contender this year, than how well they play on defense will be critical. They finished last in nearly every rushing statistic. Their 161 yards rushing allowed per game was 26 more than anyone else.
Houston was brought in to help stop the run from the end spot, a year of Jeremiah Ratliff, keeping Stephen Paea healthy and the additions of Ferguson, Sutton and Young should also help shore up the defense against the run. Allen provides help on the outside for a defense that finished tied for last in sacks with Jacksonville at 31. Probably not so coincidentally, Jacksonville is where Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was employed before Chicago.
Who Emerges at Safety
The Bears seem to have depth at safety, but no clear cut starters. Rookie Vereen and Ryan Mundy are listed as the starters at present.
Mundy has played in all 80 games during a five year career, but has only started 14. He has 171 tackles, with three fumble recoveries and just two interceptions. In four seasons at Minnesota, Vereen had 200 tackles and three interceptions in 47 career games.
Wilson, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray all hope to challenge Vereen and Mundy for a starting spot. Wilson is a five time pro-bowler coming off a torn achilles with New England last season. McCray comes to the Bears after four seasons in Dallas. He started 10 games in 2013. Jennings comes to the Bears after starting all 16 games in Green Bay last season and 10 in 2012.
Does Someone Make a Statement at Backup Quarterback
Jay Cutler has not played a full season since his disastrous first season in Chicago. He has missed 13 games over the last four seasons. Josh McCown saved the Bears in the five games Cutler missed last season. He had an almost unfathomable 109 QB rating.
With McCown gone to Tampa, Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen are fighting to be second string to backup Cutler.
Palmer hasn't thrown a pass in a regular season game since backing up his brother Carson in Cincinnati from 2008-10. The Bears were his third team in the last four years in 2013.
Clausen started ten games as a rookie with Carolina in 2010. He went 1-9 with a 58.3 rating and just three touchdowns with nine interceptions. Trestman seems to be high on him however. Palmer is listed ahead of Clausen on the depth chart, It seems to be Clausen's spot to lose though.
Either Palmer of Clausen is going to have to step and show that they can be a capable backup to Cutler.
Can a Backup Running Back Emerge and Get Enough Snaps to Take Pressure off of Matt Forte
Shaun Draughn is listed as the second string running back. The Bears are the third team in his four year career. He was in Baltimore last season after two years in Kansas City. In 2012 with the Chiefs, Draughn had 233 yards rushing and 158 yards on 24 catches.
Michael Ford is listed as third on the depth chart. He had only five kick returns for 37 yards last season as a rookie with the Bears. He led the Bears with 149 yards rushing in the 2013 pre-season and added 65 receiving. He also had 365 yards in kickoff returns. That included a 100 yard return for a touchdown against San Diego.
Ka'Deem Carey comes to the Bears after a storied two seasons at Arizona. He joins Lance Briggs and Eben Britton as the three Bears who have been Bear Downs at the collegiate and professional levels.
Carey was a two time consensus All-American and the Pac-12 offensive player of the year in 2013. In his final two years as a Wildcat he ran for over 3,800 yards, had over 500 yards receiving and scored 52 touchdowns.
The position seems like Carey's to lose. He was a highly productive player at Arizona who would be perfect in Trestman's offense.
Who Becomes the Third Receiver With Marquess Wilson Injured
The job as the Bears third receiver was more of less Wilson's to lose. Wilson was basically an understudy to Earl Bennett and did not receive much playing time last season. He was a seventh round steal in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Wilson had a prolific career at Washington State before being kicked off the team in 2012 by Mike Leach.
In three seasons in the Palousse, Wilson finished with 3,207 yards, 189 receptions and 23 touchdowns.
His possible replacements are equally unproven. Eric Weems, Josh Morgan and Josh Bellamy haven't had much of a chance before.
Weems came to the Bears prior to last season as a Pro-Bowl special teams player. He had only one reception for the Bears last season. In the three seasons prior in Atlanta, Weems had 78 receptions for 815 yards and one touchdown in his final three seasons in Atlanta.
Morgan has shown flashes during his six seasons with San Francisco and Washington. He has 199 career receptions for 2488 yards and 11 touchdowns with a 12.5 ypc average.
Bellamy hasn't done much with San Diego, Kansas City and Washington in two seasons. He was a pretty average player in college at Louisville.
In response to Wilson's injury, the Bears signed free agent Wide Receiver Greg Herd. He was in training camp with the Cowboys last year before being cut. According to the Bears press relaease when he signed, "Herd had 165 receptions for 2,343 yards and 17 touchdowns (in college at Eastern Michigan)'.
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