We hit fellow blogger, Jeff Berckes, over at Windy City Gridiron with some questions about the Chicago Bears this year. The Denver Broncos will travel to Chicago on Thursday for the first preseason game of 2016.
The Bears seem like they have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot each year, but they have come up short. Here is the outlook in some key areas.
MHR: What are the expectations for the offense with Adam Gase now in Miami?
WCG: The departure of Adam Gase comes as a surprise to no one as he was a hot Head Coach candidate last year and most expected him to move on if he could show success with Jay Cutler. John Fox hired Dowell Loggains from within the organization to retain some continuity of the offense. Loggains is only 35 so the book on him is largely unwritten. Cutting veteran fan favorite Guard Matt Slauson and drafting a more athletic replacement in Cody Whitehair indicates a real commitment to a zone blocking run game - although losing second year Center Hroniss Grasu to a torn ACL doesn't help. The passing game should be more explosive if Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White can stay on the field - both motivated for a big year for different reasons. Jeffery is playing under the Franchise Tag, looking for a big pay day at the end of the year, while the ultra-competitive Kevin White has been stewing for over a year to breakout and justify his #7 overall draft position.
MHR: How will they try to replace Forte and Bennett?
WCG: The trade of Martellus Bennett to the Patriots was almost certainly an "addition by subtraction" move by General Manager Ryan Pace. Fox and Pace have made other moves like this that indicate they are not interested in malcontents that can divide and spoil a locker room. Bennett is a big personality and came under scrutiny by wanting a new contract with multiple years left on his deal and body slamming then-rookie CB Kyle Fuller in practice. When the grumblings started again, he was gone. The problem with moving Bennett is counting in Zach Miller to fill the void. Miller broke out last year with some big plays and a nose for the end zone but he's had an incredibly difficult time staying healthy. If he can't keep himself on the field, the depth chart behind him is dangerously thin.
The other move - declining to bring back Matt Forte - is harder to answer. Forte was Mr. Everything for the Bears for 8 seasons. The decision to let him go during an offseason where the Bears were flush with cap money polarized the Windy City fan base. The Bears have invested draft capital in each of the last 3 seasons, presumably planning for this day. Second year back Jeremy Langford is the presumptive starter with third year man Ka'Deem Carey and rookie Jordan Howard battling for roster position this preseason. The conventional thinking is a running back by committee approach, with Langford and Howard leading the way, but each guy has his fans and critics. The best case scenario is for the Bears to copy the Bengals with Howard to emerge as a Jeremy Hill-type back and for Langford to fill the Giovani Bernard role.
MHR: How has the defense improved from a season ago?
WCG: This is probably the question Bears fans want to know the answer to more than anything else. Chicago's history is defined by great defense and the post-Lovie Smith era has been tough to watch. John Fox and Vic Fangio showed real improvement last year with very little talent on the roster. By adding actual professional interior linebackers in Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, the Bears attacked their biggest weakness and turned it into a strength. Add to that a year of development for star-in-the-making DT Eddie Goldman and the drafting OLB Leonard Floyd to pair with the violent force that is Pernell McPhee, and the front 7 all the sudden looks legit.
MHR: What is the biggest challenge the Bears will face in the second season under Fox?
WCG: Can John Fox get the second year bump that he was able to accomplish in Carolina and Denver? To do so, the Bears are going to need to take care of business within a division that holds two teams with legitimate playoff aspirations in Green Bay and Minnesota. The Bears end the year on the road in Minnesota and the goal for this team has to be that the game is meaningful with playoffs on the line. Talent wise, the biggest challenge will likely be sorting out the secondary. Hopefully the improved front 7 will alleviate some of the concerns that were revealed last year.
MHR: How is Kevin White looking?
WCG: More than any other player on the Bears roster, the regular season can't come soon enough for Kevin White. He's an ultra-competitive guy and the shin injury that derailed his rookie campaign is not expected to be a long-term issue. Early returns in training camp are positive and he appears to already have a good rapport with Cutler on and off the field. Even better for this season is that he won't be expected to be a #1 WR with Alshon Jeffery on the opposite side of the field. Expect to see some highlights this season.