Will change at the top be enough to lift Chicago Bears?

Michael Klein, News editor

It was a strange and disappointing 2012 season for the Chicago Bears. After a blistering 7-1 start, “Da Bears” dropped five of the last eight games to finish at 10-6: the best record among non-playoff teams. The defense was excellent most of the season, but an anemic offense failed to produce points consistently and prompted General Manager Phil Emery to shake up Halas Hall.

Despite having a respectable 81-63 record, an inability to repair the offense cost Lovie Smith his job. His subpar 8-9 record against the hated Cheeseheads did not help either.

After an extensive search, Emery hired Montreal Alouettes Head Coach Marc Trestman from the Canadian Football League. Considered an offensive genius by some, Trestman will be calling the shots on that side of the ball. Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Mel Gray comes in to run the 4-3 scheme that should resemble the Lovie’s old Tampa 2. Tucker will look to sustain while Trestman must awaken a skilled group that is always hibernating.

Chicago has sufficient ability to pair with Trestman’s creative offense. Matt Forte is a versatile playmaker at tailback while his backup, Michael Bush, is useful in short yardage situations. Both players benefit from the solid run-blocking of young fullback Evan Rodriguez. Yet under Trestman, the Bears will no longer be coming off the bus running, but rather will be looking to fly down the field vertically.

Outside of the elite Brandon Marshall, the receiving core struggled with dropped passes and inconsistency. Marshall displayed his dominance while accounting for 41 percent of the team’s receptions and 45 percent of the receiving yards. This is as much of an accomplishment for Marshall as it is an indictment on his underperforming, yet talented, teammates.

Injuries plagued Alshon Jeffery’s rookie season, but he still has all the tools to become a formidable outside threat. Although Devin Hester appears a shadow of his former self, he still has ridiculous speed and should help fill in for the recently retired Johnny Knox. Earl Bennett should also help move the chains if he remains healthy. The success of the offense will ultimately ride on one man. Jay Cutler can take the next step under Trestman’s tutelage, especially if the Bears shore up the offensive line.

The most glaring need is undoubtedly on the spotty offensive line that regularly allowed opponents to pummel Cutler. It would be foolish for the Bears not to pursue top offensive linemen in free agency. Very rarely is a dominant blindside tackle available in free agency like Jake Long will likely be. Although Long is reportedly demanding more than $10 million per year, signing him would help solidify the Bears’ biggest weakness and be a priceless addition for Cutler. Chicago Tribune’s Dan Pompei argued that Long would be too expensive for the team to sign, but he is wrong. According to the Chicago Sun Times and other league insiders, the Bears should have more than enough cap-room to make some significant moves. Time will tell what new faces makeup the 2013 roster, but a familiar face holds the biggest question mark this offseason.

Veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher has anchored the Monsters of the Midway defense since 2000. Urlacher must decide whether to accept Chicago’s new regime or opt to finish his storied career with a new team. Regardless of what he chooses, his middle linebacker position needs consideration in the draft.

The Bears must address needs at the offensive lineman, tight end and linebacker with their 20th pick of the first round.

Players deserving consideration include ILB Alec Ogletree of Georgia and TE Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame. Most scouts grade Ogletree as a better outside linebacker prospect than 4-3 middle, but his skill set and high ceiling make him an option to succeed Brian Urlacher. Drafting Eifert instead would finally take Kellen Davis off the field and give Cutler a reliable check-down option. Alabama’s standout D.J Fluker could also be a solid option at tackle.

With continued defensive dominance and an improved offense, the Bears should compete for the Super Bowl 2013. However, if Trestman cannot solve the offensive woes, the team could begin unraveling as the defense ages.