Clouds of uncertainty remain for the Chicago Bears as the preseason approaches. Which ones bear watching the most?
Is there enough depth behind Martellus Bennett?
Chicago had a stroke of good luck last season in regards to health on offense. Tight end Martellus Bennett did not miss a game and was easily their most productive player at the position. Expectations are for that to continue in 2014 but a more pressing problem is not Bennett but the situation behind him on the depth chart. The Bears really have nobody of note in reserve who could step up should Bennett go down. Dante Rosario is a special teams guy. Matthew Mulligan is more of a blocker. The only real player with any offensive potential was Fendi Onobun and his trouble with dropping footballs forced the team to cut him. Bennett seems like a man on an island, which could become bothersome if he goes down for any length of time.
Can Brock Vereen hold off Chris Conte at free safety?
Day after day, week after week the Chicago Bears coaches become more and more impressed with rookie safety Brock Vereen. His intelligence and athleticism have flashed frequently during OTAs and minicamp practices, which is why he has gotten all the starter reps. His steady progress has many thinking he could start opening day. The question is whether he can hold off veteran Chris Conte. The fourth-year man had a terrible end to 2013 and subsequently fell to the side of the “wide open” competition at free safety to rehab a surgically repaired shoulder. Still, he’s expected back for the preseason, which will be ground zero for deciding who will get the starting job. Vereen is eager for the challenge. His winning the job would be a most telling sign.
Will improved strength and bulk keep Jay Cutler healthy?
Marc Trestman didn’t mince words regarding what his number one goal is for the Bears offense in 2014. That is keeping quarterback Jay Cutler upright and injury free the entire season. After suffering groin and ankle ailments last season, Trestman claimed Cutler worked tirelessly in the off-season to bulk up his body to better withstand the typical NFL pounding. Will that be enough? The team hopes they don’t have to put it to the test. Trestman and the coaches fully expect an offensive line that is returning every starter from a season ago and finished 6th in sacks allowed will keep their quarterback safe.
What effect will Reggie Herring and Paul Pasqualoni have?
Mel Tucker was under the gun following the 2013 season after his Chicago Bears defense finished 30th overall in the league and set some dubious franchise records for yards allowed. In danger of losing his job as defensive coordinator, the team instead elected to follow his off-season plan for retooling from the top down both the scheme, the roster and even his staff. To that end the Bears hired veteran coaches Paul Pasqualoni and Reggie Herring. Pasqualoni takes over the defensive line. A widely experienced coach at both the pro and college levels, he has had success over the years at developing players. The same goes for Herring who left an excellent staff in Houston to coach the linebackers for Chicago. He inherits a young group rich with speed and athleticism but lacking a firm hand to guide them. Fans are anxious to see what their impact will be on a front seven that underwent a lot of turmoil last season.