In the 37 days between the start of training camp and the completion of their final preseason game, the Bears watched some of their most high-profile players get injured, a top draft pick head for surgery and their quarterback settle into a new offense.
After going 3-1 in the preseason, what do we know about the Bears now?
It depends whom you ask.
With the season opener on the horizon — against the Packers, no less — the Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley weighs in on the team’s most pressing questions.
1. Entering the opener, the Bears are trending . . .
PATRICK FINLEY: Downward. Their Pro Bowl receiver is hurt, as are Jeffery’s two running mates. Their No. 1 draft pick just had shin surgery. Their best defensive lineman, Jeremiah Ratliff, is hurt and suspended, while his backup, Goldman, still is recovering from a concussion. Jeffery, running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett want new contracts. And Ray McDonald was the first piece of disastrous news this spring.
Other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
2. One thing we learned during the preseason . . .
FINLEY: That the Bears will run, and run well. Coach John Fox is committed to the ground game; they averaged 134.2 rushing yards, fifth-most in the league. Matt Forte is Matt Forte, and his backups have been, at times, electrifying. A good run game will, at least, keep the Bears from the blowout final scores that killed morale last season.
3. Jay Cutler will be . . .
FINLEY: The least of their worries. On the laundry list of issues, where does Cutler sit, 28th? With healthy weapons around him, Cutler will remain a good-but-not-great quarterback who can’t be counted on to win games all by his lonesome. The Bears will take advantage of his athleticism, and he’ll benefit from throwing on the move. Despite the carnage around him, he’ll have an above-average season.
4. The defense will be . . .
FINLEY: Looking for all the help they can get. Releasing Tim Jennings and placing Ryan Mundy on injured reserve opens up spots for young players. And that’s the point. If the Bears are going to struggle this season, it’s best that they learn what cornerback Terrance Mitchell, safety Adrian Amos, linebacker Christian Jones and others can do.
5. Biggest strength . . .
FINLEY: Pass rush. Pernell McPhee is probably their best defensive player, while Jared Allen, a future Hall of Famer, has done an admirable job converting to outside linebacker, a position he’d never played before. Their veteran backups can be dangerous and have the resumes to prove it. Combined with Vic Fangio’s designer blitzes, the Bears might have something.
6. Biggest area of concern . . .
FINLEY: Offensive line. It’s not that the Bears can’t find a capable right tackle that worries me as much as the fact they might move Kyle Long — at the last minute — as a result. The two-time Pro Bowl player is the best thing the Bears have going. Don’t screw it up.
7. Consider me . . .
FINLEY: Realistic. The Bears wouldn’t have cleaned house if they were close to that Super Bowl they say they strive for every season. They’ll need years, not months, to close the talent gap. In the meantime, they’ll be able to move the ball and benefit from a creative defensive coordinator. Their tiny margin for error gets smaller with each injury.
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley