Four Downs: Will Long be impact player?
But with a new coaching staff, plenty of new faces on the roster and a quarterback facing a contract year, there are plenty of issues to address.
Our Bears writers weigh in on several during an offseason edition of Four Downs.
Fact or Fiction: Kyle Long will prove to be more of a project than impact player his first season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Long has the athleticism to be an outstanding NFL player. That much we know. But he only played in 11 games and started four at Oregon, so how can I project him to be an impact player as a rookie? There isn't enough body of work to back up that claim. And are offensive guards ever considered impact players? In a perfect world, Long stays healthy and starts all 16 games at right guard. I believe that is attainable. If that meets you criteria of "impact player," then so be it. But I think it would be wise to preach a little patience with Long. Remember, he had to miss the entire offseason program due to NFL rules. To expect Long to hit the ground running when training camp opens up at the end of July is unfair. It could some time for him to develop. But if the Bears were correct in their evaluations, it will be worth the wait.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. While there's a good chance of Long falling behind the more experienced James Brown on the depth chart in 2013, count on the Bears giving Long every opportunity to shine from Day 1. Given Long's combination of strength, tenacity and rare athleticism, he should be able to overcome some of the technical kinks he'll show as a rookie. As the season progresses and Long takes more to the coaching, he'll sharpen up his technique. Long's offseason work with Tony Wise should help as will offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who has gained a reputation for developing offensive linemen. No doubt Long is somewhat raw. But he's talented enough athletically to be able to overcome that.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears' defense under Mel Tucker will look a lot like the defense under Lovie Smith.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Why attempt to fix something that isn't broken? I fully expect Tucker to make certain changes and modifications, but the Bears had one of the top defenses in the NFL in 2012. With the majority of the cast returning, notable exceptions include linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach, the Bears need to try and squeeze at least another year out this veteran group that features the likes of Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, Henry Melton and Tim Jennings. Considering that so many players on the roster are in the final year of their contracts, this could be the last hurrah for the Bears' defense before the inevitable turnover that usually accompanies a new coaching staff and general manager. But for the Bears to be in a position to earn a playoff berth in 2013, the defense must perform near the level it did last season and suffer few key injuries. The basic responsibility of any coach is to put players in the best position to win. The Bears are built on defense to play a similar style to the one used by old coach Lovie Smith. To make drastic changes seems counterproductive.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Tucker's not going to come into Chicago and fix something that isn't broken. That's why he's gone to great lengths to make sure the Bears keep their terminology the same as it had been with Smith in the fold. That doesn't mean Tucker won't throw in some of his own wrinkles. We've already seen some of them during organized team activities and minicamp. Under Smith, the Bears disguised many of their coverages in the secondary by lining up the defensive backs one way, with them shuffling to their true alignments at the snap of the ball. Already with Tucker, we're seeing plenty of disguising and shuffling from the defensive line, the linebackers and the secondary.
Fact or Fiction: Jay Cutler is poised for his best season as a Bear.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Otherwise, he's gone. Cutler is looking to get a new contract worth monster dollars, and that alone should serve as the necessary motivation for the quarterback to turn in his best season. Sure, even if Cutler doesn't have a great year, he's still going to get paid, but not as much. The roster isn't perfect, but Cutler should have enough weapons. The offensive line remains a concern, but the club did upgrade left tackle (Jermon Bushrod) and left guard (Matt Slauson) in the offseason. Throwing tight end Martellus Bennett into the mix with wide receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett, and running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush gives Cutler a good amount of skill position players to choose from. I'm not banking on a Pro Bowl year from Cutler; he just needs to cut down on the amount of interceptions, spread the ball around and become a better leader. If Cutler can accomplish all of that, he's going to be the Bears quarterback from a long, long time. If not, it's time for the Bears to move on to Plan B, which at the moment does not exist on the roster.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. He's got protection. He's got weapons. He's got a quarterback-friendly scheme now with a new coaching staff. What he doesn't have now are excuses. Cutler will have to put together his best season as a Bear or it will likely turn out to be his last one with the quarterback set to hit free agency after the 2013 season. It's the honeymoon phase now, so Cutler and the coaching staff are saying all the right things. But let's see what happens when the quarterback and the staff hit some adversity. If Cutler buys in and develops a level of trust with Trestman and Kromer, he shouldn't have a problem putting together his best season with the Bears. Cutler has said it takes three years to master a new offense. Well, he doesn't have that much time. He's got to get it done now.
Fact or Fiction: The defense will be the biggest question mark this season, not the offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. No way. The Bears' defense, when healthy, is a proven commodity. The offense? I have no idea what to expect, even with the offseason signings of Bushrod and Bennett. On paper, the Bears' offense looks better, and should be aided by an offensive-minded head coach in Trestman. But how many times in recent years have we all fallen for the banana in the tailpipe? No, Cutler needs to prove he can run this offense, the offensive line needs to prove it can help protect the quarterback, and the skill position players need to prove they can stay off the injury report. Until then, I'll side with the Bears' defense over the offense any day of the week. .
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. The defense has a pair of Pro Bowl corners, two Pro Bowl defensive linemen and a linebacker, who has been to multiple Pro Bowls not to mention several younger stars in the making. There's no way that all of a sudden the Bears fall off on defense. That group is too skilled and prideful for that to happen. Trestman has said that the offense has won some during offseason workouts, and the defense has come out on top in others. The media isn't allowed to view all the workouts, but we'd take a guess that the defense -- as usual -- has dominated the offense all offseason. That has certainly been the case during the few workouts the media has been allowed to view. Even with Brian Urlacher out of the picture, the linebacking corps should be more athletic than it's been in the past. Up front, Melton is coming off a breakout season, and Peppers, well, he's Peppers. In the secondary, there's Jennings and Tillmann backed by a pair of safeties in Chris Conte and Major Wright who have developed strong chemistry over the last two seasons. There won't be any type of letup from the defense in 2013. It will remain the strength of the Bears regardless of what the team does on offense.
Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright cover the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.