Chicago Bears take next step toward next season
The NFL's new league year kicks off annually the second week in March with the beginning of free agency, but for most of us it really gets going in mid- to late-May when the 32 clubs can all begin their organized team activities and players actually return to the football field -- albeit in helmets, T-shirts and shorts.
The Chicago Bears began their OTA's Tuesday, and on Wednesday the activities will be open to the media for the first time.
While these activities are voluntary, so is going to the doctor when you're having a heart attack. Other than a handful of the biggest stars and a few players with contract issues and/or concerns, everybody shows up.
It is now that we begin to get answers to the biggest questions/concerns facing every NFL team.
For the Bears, there still are at least five important questions to be answered or puzzles to be solved.
They are, in order:
1. Can Mitch Trubisky take the next step and become the reason the Bears win most weeks rather than the conductor managing the game?
Beyond any other concern the Bears face, a significant improvement in production and points from the offense is the key to the Bears being better in 2019 than they were in 2018.
They've reloaded for Trubisky with exciting new weapons in David Montgomery, Mike Davis, Kerrith Whyte, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley Ridley, Marvin Hall and some fascinating undrafted rookie free agents, while Jordan Howard is the only significant loss.
But if Trubisky doesn't improve at reading the field, reading defenses, his accuracy from the pocket and his deep-ball completion percentage, it may not matter.
I've seen enough to believe he can, but only Trubisky can make it happen.
2. How much if at all will the defense miss Vic Fangio, and how long will it take for Chuck Pagano to make it his defense and have his players trusting and performing for him as they did for Fangio?
Personally I believe Fangio made a mistake taking the head job in Denver, but there is no way you can fault him for fulfilling a lifelong dream and validating everything he has worked for the last 35-plus years.
Once the decision was made with the possible exception of Todd Bowles, who went to Tampa, Pagano was clearly the best fit and choice for the Bears.
He's a 3-4 guy who has coached current and future Hall of Famers, including Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dwight Freeney and Terrell Suggs, to name a few, and he should have no trouble directing the Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson show.
But I'll give you odds that no matter how good a job every member of the Bears' defense does, they won't have 37 takeaways again this year and will take awhile to get their mojo back.
3. Do the Bears have a starter at tight end, if they do who is it, and if they don't where can they find one now?
There are no two ways about it, the pressure is on Adam Shaheen. Trey Burton is one of the best move tight ends in the game and should be even better this year.
But without a No. 1, both the run and pass games will suffer, and Shaheen has shown no signs yet of being that guy.
4. Was the problem with the Bears' ground game last season Howard or Matt Nagy's offense and play-calling?
Nagy knows how to run the football. Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing for him at Kansas City in 2017.
But Nagy raised the possibility himself on a couple of occasions last year that issues with the run game could be as much the coaches getting a feel for it as Howard and Tarik Cohen toting the rock.
If they're not better on the ground, the offense will struggle to improve no matter what Trubisky does.
5. Did the Bears sign the 2014-2016 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or the 2017-2018 version?
The question is self-explanatory: Do they have a Pro Bowler or a castoff?
And lastly, I didn't forget the place-kicker, but haven't we talked about it enough?
It says here that Eddie Pineiro will not only be the answer, he's going to be a good one.
• Hub Arkush, the executive editor of Pro Football Weekly, can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.