Alshon Jeffery came from nowhere in 2013 for the Chicago Bears, posting a Pro Bowl campaign in his second season. Who follows his lead in 2014?
Yes, he’s been with the Chicago Bears a long time but nobody would say they’ve seen anything resembling a breakout year for Jay Cutler. He has never thrown for more than 3,700 yards or 30 touchdowns in a Bear uniform. However, with improved protection, coaching and weaponry around him Cutler has the best chance he’s ever had to showcase his unmistakable talent. The key will be staying healthy. If he can, those two marks should fall this year.
By that same token a surge by Cutler would also life the ship of second-year receiver Marquess Wilson. Like Jeffery before him he was a 6’4″ kid with speed and talent but had a rather nondescript rookie season. So in order to improve he spent the off-season working with Jeffery and Brandon Marshall in Florida, adding strength and learning how to be a pro. It’s still early, but source hint the improvement is already noticeable. All that is left is taking it to the field.
In the mind of third-year man Shea McClellin, the shackles are finally off. No longer is he imprisoned at defensive end where his lack of bulk and size were telling after two season of limited pass rush production. Now the Chicago Bears coaches have moved him to strong side linebacker where his speed and athleticism are much bigger assets. Having endured criticism for two years, McClellin worked very hard in the off-season to prepare. He looked fluid and fast in practice thus far and his size is actually on the bigger side for a linebacker. That bodes well provided he earns the starting job, and fans may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Similar improvements were not necessarily expected from Jon Bostic, at least not at the position he’s vying for. Last year the 2nd round rookie draft pick was forced to replace an injured D.J. Williams for most of the season. Bostic made some flash plays but more often than not struggled with consistency. Strangely it’s not a switch in positions that will help him, it’s a switch in schemes. While the Bears will maintain their 4-3 alignment, tweaks by coordinator Mel Tucker will put the linebackers in more man-to-man type situations, very similar to what Bostic excelled at in college. It’s already showing in his practice performances.
For three years safety Chris Conte has either been dismissed as a non-entity or ridiculed as a villain for the Chicago Bears. His lack of eye-popping impact plays befitting star safeties along with his struggles last season have led many to think he’s on his way out as a starter. In truth it’s more likely he’s on course for a revival. Conte is still just 25-years old and statistically had his best season as a pro in 2013. With a vastly improved front seven in front of him, there should be ample more chances for him to make plays. Being completely healthy will only help that process.