Coming off a 10-win season, expectations should be high in Chicago. Instead, there is more cautious optimism as the Bears prepare to open training camp without Lovie Smith as head coach for the first time since 2003. Smith was fired after a 10-6 season, with former Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman taking over.
Between the ushering in of a new coaching staff and an eventful free agency period, the Bears will have a noticeably different look than the team that just missed the playoffs last season. Heading into training camp the Bears will have to prove change was for the best and not simply just for the sake of making a change.
Here's a closer look at the Bears as they prepare to open training camp.
The Bears made a change on the sidelines, but Smith's absence won't be the only noticeable one in Chicago next season. Brian Urlacher, one of the best players in franchise history, retired after 13 seasons with the team. Urlacher became a free agent this offseason and after some tense negotiations, he and the Bears decided to go their separate ways. He was linked to a couple of other teams before eventually deciding to retire. Urlacher was a shell of his former self last season, but there will still be an adjustment at middle linebacker without him.
Although Smith and Urlacher are no longer around, the Bears were active in free agency, adding several key pieces to the roster. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod was the headline acquisition with Chicago attempting to solidify its offensive line. The Bears paid a steep price to acquire Bushrod and spent their first-round pick on guard Kyle Long.
Protecting Jay Cutler should go a long way to improving Chicago's offense. The signing of tight end Martellus Bennett should also help, giving Cutler another weapon to throw to. The Bears added only one skill player in the draft, seventh-round wide receiver Marquess Wilson.
Defensively, the Bears' biggest change comes at linebacker. Urlacher and former starting outside linebacker Nick Roach are gone. Chicago signed D.J. Williams and drafted Jonathan Bostic in the second round and Khaseem Greene in the fourth round. Either Williams or Bostic is likely to take over at middle linebacker and he will have big shoes to fill.
Training camp location and schedule
For the 12th consecutive year, the Bears will hold training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. The 2013 edition is even sponsored by RC Cola.
When camp begins, players will have to adjust to a new practice schedule. The Bears practiced in the afternoon under Smith, but Trestman moved the schedule up and the team will now practice in the mornings most days. Windy City Gridiron has more details on training camp, including a few of the special events. Here is a look at the complete practice schedule, via the team's official website.
|July 25||No practice|
|July 26||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|July 27||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|July 28||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|July 29||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|July 30||No practice|
|July 31||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|August 1||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|August 2||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|August 3||6:45 pm - 8:45 p.m. (Soldier Field)|
|August 4||No practice|
|August 5||3:15 - 5:00 p.m.|
|August 6||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|August 7||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|August 8||No practice|
|August 9||No practice|
|August 10||No practice|
|August 11||3:15 - 5:00 p.m.|
|August 12||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|August 13||9:00 - 11:30 a.m.|
|August 14||Break camp
Chicago has a talented roster and there aren't many glaring holes to fill heading into the season. Sorting out the offensive line and linebackers will be the biggest tasks of camp.
Right guard - Long is likely the future at one of the guard spots, but that doesn't mean he'll start from Week 1. He's less experienced than most first-round picks, with just four career starts at Oregon. His main competition for the starting right guard job appears to be second-year player James Brown. Brown saw minimal playing time as a rookie early last season, but started three games late in the year. He struggled against Minnesota and Green Bay, then played well in the season finale against Detroit, earning a plus-2.3 Pro Football Focus grade. Long is the favorite to win the job, but it won't be handed to him.
Middle linebacker - The Bears signed Williams, then drafted Bostic early and now the two will battle it out for the right to replace Urlacher. Williams has experience on his side, although he is 31 and coming off a season when he played just seven games due to a suspension. Bostic is likely the future starter at middle linebacker and could unseat Williams with a strong camp. Free agent James Anderson is currently penciled in to start at outside linebacker, but Williams has played all three spots during his career. If both Bostic and Williams impress in training camp, it's possible Williams could slide outside.