Changes have come for the Chicago Bears roster of late. How does this affect the latest projections for their starting lineup?
Quarterback: Jay Cutler
The Bears just forked over $126 million over seven years to keep Jay Cutler as their quarterback. Besides that though he’s easily the most talented passer on the team. Chicago has a winning record with him on the field. He’s entering the second year in the same offense under Marc Trestman. Things look all systems go.
Running back: Matt Forte
He’s 28-years old and coming off his second Pro Bowl. Matt Forte doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. He remains one of the best dual-threat running backs in the NFL and is also one of the most durable. Rookie Ka’Deem Carey will challenge for touches, but mostly as a way to keep Forte fresh.
Tight End: Martellus Bennett
Proving his 2012 season in New York wasn’t a fluke was why Martellus Bennett signed with the Chicago Bears. He wanted to show his time in Dallas wasn’t about his ability. He entirely succeeded, becoming a sturdy, dependable option in the passing offense as well as a solid blocker.
Offensive Tackle: Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills
At 30-years old and boasting a couple Pro Bowls to his credit, Jermon Bushrod remains the confident rock at left tackle for the Bears. It was the rise of Jordan Mills as a rookie at right tackle that caught people by surprise. He started all 16 games and didn’t look half bad. Another off-season can only help him get better.
Offensive Guard: Matt Slauson and Kyle Long
Shoulder surgery aside, the Chicago Bears brass expressed their deepest confidence in Matt Slauson when they handed him a long-term extension follow his solid 2013 campaign. So the fact that Kyle Long outperformed him as a rookie and went to a Pro Bowl can only mean good things.
Center: Roberto Garza
This is likely the only offensive line position that might be contested at the starter level. Roberto Garza remains a sturdy, reliable option at age 35, not to mention a team captain. However, the Bears brought in some competition when they signed former Saint Brian De La Puente, who is younger, has experience and is familiar with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Garza should secure his job, but beyond 2014 is another story.
Wide Receiver: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson
As a wide receiving corps goes, it doesn’t get much better than what the Bears have going. Brandon Marshall is one of the best in the business, and his understudy Alshon Jeffery outpaced him in yards last season on his way to the Pro Bowl. Throw in the 6’3″ Marquess Wilson as a third option and Cutler has a Redwood forest to throw to.
Defensive End: Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston
Finishing last in sacks almost guaranteed the Bears were going to overhaul their defensive line and that prediction came true. It all centered around the defensive end spots where they added All-Pro veteran Jared Allen and the big and powerful Lamarr Houston. Together they should form a nice blended tandem of pass rush and run stuffing.
Defensive Tackle: Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea
More than the ends, it was the defensive tackles that took the beating in 2013. Henry Melton and Nate Collins tore their ACLs. Stephen Paea battled turf toe. It was a huge reason why their run defense collapsed. Now Paea is back healthy at nose tackle and four-time Pro Bowl veteran Jeremiah Ratliff is set to return full-time next to him.
Outside Linebacker: Lance Briggs and Shea McClellin
Lance Briggs suffered his own injury problems last season but he remains the best linebacker the Chicago Bears have. The bigger question is who will take over on the strong side. Of the young guns vying for the spot, Shea McClellin has the best shot. He has the size-speed combination. Plus his pass rush ability will be welcomed as an extra attacker for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
Middle Linebacker: Jon Bostic
This may become the biggest surprise of the off-season. Most conservative estimates have veteran D.J. Williams reclaiming the starting job he lost last season after he tore his pectoral. However, it will turn out to be second-year man Jon Bostic, whose speed and better feel for the new system who ends up taking the checkered flag in the middle.
Cornerback: Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings
They may have taken a corner in the 1st round of the draft, but the Bears have no intentions of breaking up the tandem of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings at cornerback. Together they are among the best in the league at forcing turnovers. As long as they’re healthy, they will stay on the field.
Safety: Chris Conte and Ryan Mundy
The real hot mess to sort through for the Bears coaches is at safety. Both starting jobs are up for grabs with two intriguing battles developing at them. Former starter Chris Conte must hold off surging rookie Brock Vereen at free while longtime reserve Ryan Mundy tries to outpace aged former All-Pro Adrian Wilson. Based on reasonable expectations, it’s hard to see Conte not getting another shot and Mundy simply has time and health on his side.