Chicago Bears Training Camp starts this week in Bourbonnais. Players report tomorrow with the first practice beginning on Friday. It will be the first camp under new head coach Marc Trestman and is expected to be a much different camp then his predecessor Lovie Smith ran. While a lot of talk is about how Trestman will run his team and will Jay Cutler finally show his true potential, there are much smaller story lines to watch during camp. Camp will not determine how the Bears play in the regular season, but it will give insight to the smaller stories. Here's the top things for fans to watch for while Training Camp is going on.
Brandon Marshall's Hip: Marshall had off season surgery on his hip. Marshall missed most of OTA's getting health for camp. Fan's will want to keep an eye on his health throughout camp and if he is limited in practice. Marshall was Cutler's number one target in 2012 with 118 receptions for 1,508 yards. Marshall needs to be healthy and on the field come Week 1 of the regular season if the Bears offense is to be successful.
Matt Forte's Role: Marc Trestman is tagged as a offensive minded coach. He runs a West Coast style offense that should take advantage of Forte's abilities. I expect for Forte to have a bigger role in the offense this year. With a overhauled offensive line, Forte should be able to find bigger gaps to run through. Forte averaged about 4.4 yards per carry in 2012. I also expect to see a increase in screen passes and check downs to Forte.
Offensive Line Overhaul: GM Phil Emery made it a priority this off season to upgrade a terrible offensive line. Emery hopes to provide Cutler with better protection to keep him from the high level of sacks he has received since becoming a Bear. Cutler will have a new left side as the Bears signed Jermon Bushrod to play left tackle and Matt Slauson to play left guard. This should seriously improve Cutler's blind side protection. Roberto Garza will return at center again. The real questions are on the right side. Will the Bears first round pick Kyle Long win a starting job? Is he a tackle or a guard? How will J'Marcus Webb transition to the right side? Will James Brown or Eben Britton be part of the starting five? This will be a story all camp long. New Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer is also the offensive line coach. Kromer has a reputation of being able to get the most out his linemen.
Linebackers: With Brian Urlacher retired, there is a big hole to fill in the middle of the field on defense. Lance Briggs will step up and call the plays on defense like his good friend Brian Urlacher did next to him for many years. Phil Emery brought in DJ Williams and James Anderson to fill the voids left by Urlacher and Nick Roach. Emery also drafted two linebackers in Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. The hope is they contribute immediately on Special Teams and be viable options at the LB position by the end of the season.
Shea McClellin's second year: McClellin has received a lot of criticism since he was taken in the first round in 2011. Many analysts felt he didn't fit in a 4-3 scheme and was better suited as a LB in 3-4. McClellin had a rough camp last year where he felt completely lost and was hard on himself. He improved through the year and showed flashes in games. He possess good speed, but needs to increase in size and strength. It's crucial for McClellin to come into camp this year stronger physically and mentally. He needs to take the next step in his career and provide a bigger impact showing he was worth being drafted in the first round.
Trestman's Practices:" Camp Lovie" as it was often referred to is over. Many said Lovie ran a "country club" compared to other NFL camps. Trestman will bring a new flavor to camp. Practices have been moved from the afternoon to the morning , which will benefit the players in avoiding the brutal heat. Expect Trestman to run practices at a faster pace and really push the offense.
Cutler grasping the offense: One story line that will run through camp and likely the regular season is Jay Cutler's extension. Cutler is in the last year of his deal and many see it as a make or break year with the Bears for him. While Trestman will run a West Coast style offense that is similar to what Cutler ran in Denver, I don't see training camp showing us how good the Bears will be offensively. What I would look for is for bad reads or miss thrown balls. If Trestman is stopping practice a lot, because of errors, it could be sign of a lack of cohesiveness. Precision and smart decision making in camp on Cutler's part would be a good building block heading into the regular season.
Depth at Defensive Tackle: One position I feel that Bears lack real depth at is the DT. Besides Stephen Paea and Henry Melton the Bears are thin there. Any injury to either starter would be a huge hit to the Bears. New Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker will stick with the concepts Lovie Smith used in his tenure here. For that scheme to be successful, they need to receive pressure from up the middle.
Devin Hester and Special Teams Unit: Devin Hester had a lack luster season in 2012. Marc Trestmen has stated that Devin will be used majority of the time as a kick/punt returner. This season could be critical for Hester's future with the Bears. He hasn't excelled as a receiver and hopefully new Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis can continue the long tradition a great Special Teams unit for the Bears. If Hester isn't productive this year, I could see Emery cutting ties with him and heading in a different direction in 2014.
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