From notable absences to defensive end Ray McDonald’s quick dismissal to players learning new schemes, the Bears haven’t been short of storylines in coach John Fox’s offseason program.
More will be learned about what Fox is building at training camp, but two minicamps and three weeks of organized team activities provided some glimpses.
Here are 10 things we think we know about the Bears as they break before reporting to Bourbonnais on July 29:
BY ADAM L. JAHNS
1. The Bears won’t miss Brandon Marshall.
Variety is a good thing when it comes to receivers, and the Bears have a better blend with the additions of Eddie Royal and Kevin White.
Looking to earn a new contract, Alshon Jeffery has wowed his new coaches throughout offseason training. With Marshall gone, he also has spoken about taking on more of a leadership role.
Marshall’s absence can be good for quarterback Jay Cutler, too. Cutler has a new offense to learn, and he no longer has Marshall’s imperious ways to deal with daily.
2. The Baltimore Ravens will miss outside linebacker Pernell McPhee.
The Ravens never let their best, most valuable players leave in free agency, and most of the time, they end up looking wise when former players struggle elsewhere. But McPhee can change that. Unlike other former Ravens, he has Vic Fangio, a renowned defensive coordinator, to thrive with in Chicago.
The versatile McPhee will be a full-time starter for the first time and arguably is the most vital cog in Fangio’s defense.
3. The Bears’ defense will be something fans have never seen.
Fangio is learning where everyone fits best in his 3-4 scheme. What he’s installing is a world different than what former coach Lovie Smith and former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker ran.
The Bears no longer will be easy for the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and other quarterbacks to scan and dissect. Fangio’s ‘‘D’’ will confuse and attack. Every player is a potential blitzer on every down.
“I can’t tell the secrets,” McPhee said, “but [Fangio’s] got us where you don’t know who’s dropping, you don’t know who’s rushing. It’s just different.”
4. Shea McClellin finally has a position – and confidence.
Inside linebacker — McClellin’s third position in four seasons — suits him. He appears to have every measurable Fangio wants, and he has connected with Christian Jones next to him.
The Bears also have shown confidence in McClellin, which will be important for the 2012 first-round pick, who has struggled mightily. He’s handling the calls for Fangio for the first-team defense.
“It’s definitely a new breath of life,” McClellin said.
5. Tight end Martellus Bennett has some fences to mend.
It’s clear Bennett knows he has soured some at Halas Hall by skipping most of the offseason program because of a contract dispute. It definitely didn’t look good that he didn’t open the playbook until the first day of minicamp. His comments about always wanting a new contract likely didn’t help, too.
If Bennett wants new money, he needs to show up to camp and start down the path of proving he’s truly a top-tier tight end — and that includes off the field. One Pro Bowl honor in a 5-11 season won’t cut it.
BY PATRICK FINLEY
1. Jay Cutler will have some freedom.
It would be foolish to give Cutler the same responsibilities as Peyton Manning, the greatest line-of-scrimmage play-caller in NFL history, but Cutler will have some control in coordinator Adam Gase’s new offense.
Gase, who spent the last two years running the Denver Broncos’ attack, will start off giving Cutler some flexibility at the line. How much more he gets depends on the results.
2. Kyle Long will play tackle at some point this year.
The two-time Pro Bowl guard is happy being just that if the Bears decide to keep him there. Long, who played tackle the last two weeks of the offseason program, has wowed his teammates with his athleticism.
“You see somebody that big, and you’re like, ‘Man, how can he move like that?’ ” Royal said.
The Bears must do what’s best for the team two or three years down the road. That, we suspect, is moving Long to tackle either before or during this season.
3. Jared Allen is a poor man’s Julius Peppers.
Leaving for the Packers’ “Elephant” linebacker position at age 34 reinvigorated Julius Peppers’ career. On a smaller scale, we could see the same for Allen, who, at 33, is moving to outside linebacker.
Say this: Allen has been willing, and the Bears were confident enough in him — and Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, Sam Acho and McPhee — not to draft an outside rusher.
4. Cornerback is a problem.
Last year, the Bears finished 30th in the NFL in yards allowed per pass attempt. The year before, they were 25th.
How will they get better?
Tim Jennings, 31, might move to slot corner after a brutal season, and 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller will improve. Beyond that, it’s hard to see a dramatic upgrade — or huge upside — from the veterans who are trying to replace Charles Tillman.
Alan Ball has been hampered and is 30, Tracy Porter will be 29 when the season starts and Sherrick McManis is 27.
5. Matt Forte won’t be a distraction.
Forte has heard those who say his age (29) precludes a contract extension beyond the last year of his deal. It motivates him. At the end of minicamp, he said he felt as good as ever.
Forte believes the Bears will run more, and more efficiently, than last year.
Predicting another steady season on the ground is hardly a reach. Forte has totaled between 1,038 and 1,339 rushing yards in all but one of his seven seasons.