Everything seems new for the Bears. New head coach. New wide receiver. New tight end. And a new pass rusher who has boosted fans’ enthusiasm from the usual “16-0 doesn’t seem unreasonable!” to “No, really, this time I mean it!”
By now, anyone with even minimal interest in football has heard about the Bears’ acquisition of linebacker Khalil Mack. The monster trade has been the talk of the NFL for a week. It has been the dominant theme heading into the Bears’ opener in Green Bay on Sunday night. From Decatur, where the Bears originated, to Packwaukee, which might be the most Wisconsin town name ever, lots of people are talking about a strange creature that has been seen stomping around. It’s a bear. It looks like a real one, the kind to be avoided.
Is it? No one can be sure yet. Chicago has been led down this path before. In 2009, the Bears traded two first-round picks to get quarterback Jay Cutler, just as they did to get Mack. Cutler turned out to be more stuffed animal than omnivore. In 2010, they signed Julius Peppers to a massive contract and got two good years and two mediocre years from him.
But this feels different. Cutler came with baggage, most of it tied to his attitude. Peppers came with a reputation for taking plays off. Mack comes with nothing but a ferocious appetite for uncooked quarterback.
Is it just another tease? No. The only thing that could separate the Bears from having a top-five defense is injury. If you think a blown-out knee ligament for Mack would be the ultimate cruel joke on an ill-fated franchise, well, I can see you’ve been following this team for the past 30 years.
But the real question – the exciting question – is what the Bears have on offense. Everything still hinges on that. Can new head coach Matt Nagy coach? Has wide receiver Allen Robinson, the team’s top offseason signing, recovered from knee surgery that forced him to miss most of last season? Is tight end Trey Burton, a third-string tight end for the defending-champion Eagles last year, as good as advertised?
Oh, and the quarterback, Mitch Trubisky. If you listen to his coaches and his teammates, you know that he’s the most talented, kindhearted, competitive, earnest and organized player to ever grace this planet. And, who knows, all of those things might be true. But if you put all of it aside for a second, you’ll admit to yourself that you don’t have enough information to go on.
That’s why there’s so much anticipation for Sunday’s opener. We’re desperate to start the process of knowing. Last year was filler, with a flavorless coaching staff sending out a rookie quarterback with express instructions not to make mistakes. He didn’t play a whole lot this preseason, sitting out the last two games along with most of the starters.
Now comes the real stuff, and what better place to find out about the kid than at Lambeau Field against the rival Packers?
There’s no doubt that Trubisky wants to be great and that he puts in the effort to be great. Don’t dismiss those as thin compliments. Plenty of NFL quarterbacks lack the desire or the energy to be great. Perhaps you can search your Bears memory bank and find one.
But we need to see greatness make an appearance now and then. It’s time to start seeing hints of it mixed in with the struggles that come with being a 24-year-old quarterback. That we don’t even know if greatness is there is a measure of how unproven Trubisky is and how talent-poor the Bears’ offense was last season in his 12 starts.
But won’t it be fun to find out? Out of that unknowing can come something excellent. If you’re like me, you think Trubisky can be good but aren’t quite sure of it. The arm strength is there. Is the accuracy? The decision-making skills?
No one knows, not even the players and coaches who are around him daily. All of us — the believers, agnostics and doubters, are about to begin to find out. If I said I couldn’t recall as much anticipation for a Bears season as there is for this one, I’d be lying. There’s always a massive amount of anticipation in Chicago for a Bears season.
But I can say that this season feels new and fresh, with a 50 percent chance of spring breaking out as autumn approaches. Not a bad time to be in Chicago. Or Green Bay.