The 2013 Chicago Bears are a bit of a chemistry kit of a football organization.  Twenty-seven of the fifty-three players who made the final cut are in the last year of their contract meaning more than half of the roster has an uncertain future beyond this season.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  In 2001 the Bears took a similar approach allowing the majority of their roster to play out the last year of their contracts together and it resulted in a 13-3 season. 

While by no means are the Bears punting on the 2013 season, it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall of Phil Emery’s office this spring, summer & fall to understand the true intention for this season from the powers-that-be.  Seeing as how I lack wings, six legs, and any resemblance to Jeff Goldblum, I don’t think the whole fly thing is really going to work for me, so we’ll have to settle for the next best thing – we’ll watch to see who gets the start at middle linebacker on Sunday.

The battle for the Mike position has come down to free agent signing DJ Williams and 2nd round selection Jon Bostic.  While Williams has missed the entire pre-season with a calf injury, he represents the steady veteran presence that often times is associated with trying to win football games.  Bostic on the other hand is the face of the future on the Bears defense, but based on his play through the first three preseason games his learning curve will be a series of peaks and valleys ranging from highlight reel plays to issues getting caught up in traffic when stopping the run. 

If management feels that they want to win now then DJ Williams is their man – lack of practice and all.  If this season is all about establishing a brighter tomorrow then Bostic should be getting every rep that he can. 

Regardless of what happens in the linebacking corps this is a time of change with the Bears.  The national media story for the past few seasons has centered around the age of the defense with Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman all finding themselves on the wrong side of 30.  While this is true, did you know they are the only three players on defense that fit that description on the active roster today?  There is a youth movement in full effect on the defensive side of the ball today and it’s time for the next generation of Bears defenders to make a name for themselves.  For the Bears to be successful this year it is going to require Chris Conte & Major Wright to become a legitimate safety tandem; Corey Wootton & Shea McClellin need to ensure the unit doesn’t take a major step backwards when Peppers leaves the field; Henry Melton needs to prove he deserves the franchise tag that was applied to him & Isaiah Frey needs to show that he belongs on the field when the lights come on. 

On offense it all comes down to the play on the line.  Since the days of the Super Bowl team in 2005-06 the offensive line has been the Achilles heel of this organization.  The list of quarterbacks who have stepped under center in the past 20 years is extensive - FOX made it famous during any game in which Brett Favre was involved.  What they never spoke of however is that when the line in front of the signal caller is constituted of swiss cheese it really doesn’t matter who’s taking the snaps.  Since Phil Emery has arrived he’s given the offense weapons in the form of a proven star in Brandon Marshall, a promising big wide receiver to develop in Alshon Jeffery, an extension to Matt Forte, a punishing bulldozer in Michael Bush, and a threat in the middle of the field in tight end Martellus Bennett.  The offense has all the bells and whistles of a suped-up automobile but it was lacking a proper engine.  So over the last eight months Emery has rebuilt the offensive line into a unit that will ideally give Cutler the time to truly compete for the checkered flag.

Now it’s early still, with the first real snap of the season still yet to take place, but I can’t recall the words “optimism” and “Bears O-Line” in the same sentence historically as often as I have these past four weeks.  Do you realize that the Bears gave out the most lucrative contract to a lineman in their history this summer (5 years and just under $36 million) and absolutely no one is talking about it’s receipient – Jermon Bushrod?  In some ways that’s a good thing as your offensive line should be like a referee or umpire - you know they’re doing their job if you never notice them.  In other words the good ones are the anti-J-Webb Nation. 

While Bushrod may be getting the paychecks, this year’s first round pick Kyle Long is getting the press.  An NFL legacy of his father Howie and brother Chris, Kyle started all of four games at Oregon last season and to the shock of many (yours truly included) was taken with the 20th pick in the draft this spring.  While many saw the pick as a reach, it just may turn out to be a stroke of genius.  Since his arrival Long has infused the entire offense with a swagger that they have sincerely lacked since the day Olin Kreutz broke Fred Miller’s jaw during a team bonding escapade.  Long is the first to celebrate a touchdown with whomever scored and the first to defend a teammate when an altercation is about to escalate.  I’m calling it now, a point will come this season where Long puts Detroit’s resident bad boy Ndamukong Suh on his back and an official message will be sent that there’s a new sheriff within the division.  Long’s wide base allows him to win the physical battles in the trenches and his athleticism lets him get out ahead of a play and block well into the second level of a defense.  His skillset is one more of a left tackle - which is probably where he’ll end up - but in the meantime he’s getting his NFL education in the trenches and putting the snarl back into the Monsters of the Midway.

The final point of change is in the man wearing the headset on the sidelines.  A lot has been written about Marc Trestman’s history and his arrival in Chicago.  He’s famous for his time running successful offenses in Oakland & San Francisco and for winning a lot of three down football up north (and reportedly he can slam a bowl of poutine with the best of them).  Most importantly however is the fact that Trestman is a thinking man.  Lovie Smith was a lot of good things - his players loved him, and in many ways his teams overachieved given their talent level.  When it’s all said and done however Lovie was defined by his Tampa-2 defense and he used it to carry anemic offenses for the past ten seasons.

Trestman offers a completely different perspective.  His résumé is built on flexibility and adaptation.  For the first time in history the Bears will be led by an innovative offensive mind.  We’ll all have a better read as to what that exactly means in the coming weeks but something just feels right about Trestman to me.  The way he speaks to both the media and his players as men, with thought out answers to their questions and reasons for his actions is just plain refreshing.  A man like him is the kind that I would want teaching my kids, running my business, and leading my community.  He’s paid his dues and is appreciative of his opportunity.  Call it a hunch but I think the Bears are onto something special here.

So change is the name of the game at Halas Hall.  In both a literal sense (the building itself is just finishing a major remodeling) and metaphorically with the philosophy of men who work there.  It should be an interesting year to see whether the offense improves and the defense doesn’t regress.  Amidst all this change I’m going to say that the one thing that matters most, their record, is the one thing that stays the same as I’m calling for a 10-6 season again (same as last year) but this time it will result in an invitation to the playoffs.  Change can be a good thing after all.

Bears Week 1 Prediction

I’ll save some time this week in keeping this weekly segment short and sweet.  I say the offense moves the ball and provides hope for the year to come but AJ Green causes serious concerns in the defensive backfield.  I think Henry Melton gets off to his typical fast start with 1.5-2 sacks for the Bears while Geno Atkins delivers a welcome to the NFL learning experience for young Mr. Long as well.  When it’s all said and done the Bears will do just enough to get the win and open some eyes around the league that there may be something special brewing by the lake this season after all.  

Prediction: Bears 27 – Bengals 24

Bears Record: 0-0

Chi-Guy Record: 0-0