6 questions facing Bears offense at training camp
The Bears are scheduled to arrive at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais by midnight Wednesday for training camp, which begins with unpadded practices on Friday and Saturday.
Expectations are understandably elevated for coach Marc Trestman's team. The offense returns every significant player from a unit that was No. 8 in total yards last season in the NFL and No. 5 in passing yards. The horrendous defense of 2013 has been bolstered by an infusion of talent across the board.
But many questions remain on both sides of the ball and also on special teams, which will see a massive turnover of personnel.
In this first installment of a three-part series, we take a closer look at questions facing the high-powered offense.
Q. Will Jay Cutler stay healthy for 16 games?
A. Cutler missed five full games last season and parts of two others. He missed six games in 2011. But if Cutler is healthy all season, the Bears are likely to play more than 16 games because they should be in the playoffs.
However, any significant injury to the starting quarterback will undercut the Bears' postseason prospects. Josh McCown is not around to rescue the offense as he did last season, when he posted a much higher passer rating than Cutler (109.0-89.2), while filling in for five starts, going 3-2 in the process. McCown played in eight games overall when Cutler suffered groin and ankle injuries. He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent.
This season Cutler will be backed up by some combination of Jimmy Clausen, Jordan Palmer and rookie David Fales. Not one of them has taken an NFL snap in the previous three seasons. Palmer was around for the second half of last season, serving as McCown's backup while Cutler was sidelined, but he never played. Palmer has a grasp of the Bears' offense, but he has thrown just 15 passes in his NFL career and none since 2010.
Clausen was the Panthers' second-round pick in 2010 and started 10 games, but he hasn't played since then and missed all of last season with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
Fales, a sixth-round pick out of San Jose State, is a project who may be destined for the practice squad.
Q. Is this the year Cutler moves into the elite class of quarterbacks?
A. If it doesn't happen this year, it probably never will. The Bears' quarterback is surrounded by Pro Bowl talent at the skill positions, and the much-improved offensive line returns intact.
Cutler also has the security of a $126 million contract that includes $54 million guaranteed and the level of comfort that comes with a second consecutive season in the offense under head coach Marc Trestman and coordinator Aaron Kromer. Such continuity has been rare in Cutler's career.
"He's been in so many different systems," Trestman said. "But just to be able to go back-to-back in the same environment, the same coaching environment, the same players around him, the way we do things and the way we say things, I think can allow him to enjoy more flexibility at the line of scrimmage and understand what we're trying to get to."
Q. What is the status of players coming back from injuries?
A. Clausen (torn labrum, right shoulder) says he will be ready to go, and he performed well enough in a few days of the off-season to earn an opportunity to compete for the No. 2 job behind Cutler. A strained pectoral muscle idled Palmer for parts of the OTA program. but he's expected to be 100 percent.
Veteran left guard Matt Slauson started all 16 games in his first season with the Bears and was rewarded with a $12.8 million, four-year contract. But he had right shoulder surgery and did not practice in the off-season.
Right tackle Jordan Mills fractured his left foot in the final game last season. He was a limited participant in the off-season program but is expected to be 100 percent for camp.
Q. Can the offense be even better than it was in 2013?
A. It's going to be difficult to improve on last season's franchise-record 6,109 total yards, but the group is confident.
"Guys are much more familiar with what the concepts are and the formations and everything," Cutler said. "That's definitely going to be a help; less thinking and able to go fast."
Q. Who will be the No. 3 wide receiver behind Pro Bowlers Brandon Marshal and Alshon Jeffery?
A. Marquess Wilson, the 2013 seventh-round draft choice, is the heavy favorite after showing progress late last season and performing well in the off-season. At 6-foot-4, Wilson gives Cutler another big target, along with 6-foot-3 Jeffery, 6-foot-4 Marshall and 6-foot-6 tight end Martellus Bennett.
Wilson is still just 21, having left Washington State with two years of eligibility remaining, and he needs to continue to get stronger.
Wilson's primary competition should come from Josh Morgan, who has 199 receptions in six NFL seasons. Canadian import Chris Williams is the wild card. He put up huge numbers in the CFL as a slot receiver. Journeymen Eric Weems, Armanti Edwards and Michael Spurlock are also in the mix, but they are considered return specialists more than receivers.
Q. Who will back up Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte?
A. Fourth-round pick Ka'Deem Carey is the front-runner. He rushed for 3,814 yards and averaged 5.9 yards on 652 carries in his last two seasons at Arizona. The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Carey also caught 77 passes for the Wildcats; 62 in his final two seasons.
Michael Ford, an undrafted rookie last year out of LSU, second-year free agent Shaun Draughn, and undrafted rookies Jordan Lynch and Senorise Perry might all be competing for one spot.
• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.
If you goHere are some fast facts for Bears fans visiting training camp. Hours and schedules can change daily, so visit chicagobears.com for the latest schedule before traveling to Bourbonnais.:
Directions from the suburbs: Tri-State Tollway (294) south to I-80 west. Take I-80 west 3.6 miles to I-57 South, then 29.3 miles to Bradley/Bourbonnais Exit 315. Follow the exit ramp as it curves to the right onto Rout 50 south. Turn right onto Armour Road. At the second traffic light (the stop-and-go light for Packers fans), turn left onto Convent Street, which is also Rout 45/52. There is a Speedway gas station on corner. Follow the curves past the side entrance to Olivet Nazarene University campus on the left and continue to the main entrance that is lined with 10 flags.
Cost: Admission and parking are free.
Hours: The gates to training camp open at 9 a.m. for morning practices. For 3 p.m. practices (Aug. 4 and 10), gates open at about 2:30 p.m.
Parking: Lots will open one hour before the gates open.
Practice segments: The "team" portions of morning practices (when the offense runs plays against the defense) will begin at about 10 a.m. Players will be stretching and running "individual/positional" drills from 9-10 a.m.
Activities: Camp grounds will stay open about one hour after practice. Activities include family-friendly events such as a kids interactive area, radio remotes with local and national sports radio stations, a pro shop, and promotional areas with games and prizes from Bears partners. There are autograph opportunities with Bears players and coaches.
Concessions: Food and drink are available at stands located between the fan entrance and the practice fields.
Bears training camp scheduleFriday, July 25: 9 a.m. practice (NO PADS)
Saturday, July 26: 9 a.m. practice (NO PADS)
Sunday, July 27: 9 a.m. practice
Monday, July 28: 9 a.m. practice
Tuesday, July 29: OFF
Wednesday, July 30: 9 a.m. practice (Ladies Day)
Thursday, July 31: 9 a.m. practice
Friday, Aug. 1: 9 a.m. practice (Blue & Orange Day)
Saturday, Aug. 2: 6:45 p.m. practice at Soldier Field (Family Fest)
Sunday, Aug. 3: OFF
Monday, Aug. 4: 3 p.m. practice (Armed Forces Day)
Tuesday, Aug. 5: 9 a.m. practice
Wednesday, Aug 6: 9 a.m. practice (Youth Football Day)
Thursday, Aug. 7: OFF
Friday, Aug. 8: Bears vs. Eagles, preseason game at Soldier Field
Saturday, Aug. 9: OFF
Sunday, Aug. 10: 3 p.m. practice (Run with Staley)
Monday, Aug. 11: 9 a.m. practice
Tuesday, Aug. 12: 9 a.m. practice (final training camp practice)
Thursday, Aug. 14: Bears vs. Jaguars, preseason at Soldier Field