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’ Mark Potash weighs in on the team’s most pressing questions.
1. Entering the opener, the Bears are trending . . .
MARK POTASH: Downward, but toward a light at the end of the tunnel. With their top four receivers still out, a big question mark at right tackle, unproven players at almost every position on defense and a tough early schedule, the Bears are going to take a step backward before moving forward. They still have to prove they not only can get healthy, but stay healthy.
2. One thing we learned during the preseason . . .
POTASH: Fox will tell us nothing about injuries. Really, outside of that, we know virtually nothing about this team personnel-wise, except that Kyle Long is really good, and we knew that already. From Pernell McPhee to Jared Allen to McClellin to Kyle Fuller to Jay Cutler to Alshon Jeffery, this team is almost totally undefined and devoid of an identity.
3. Jay Cutler will be . . .
POTASH: More efficient than he’s ever been, but less prolific than he’s ever been. The Bears are going to run the ball no matter who is at wide receiver. If recent practices and one preseason game without Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and the still unproven Marquess Wilson are any indication, Cutler will not try to force the issue and will make avoiding turnovers his No. 1 cause this season.
4. The defense will be . . .
POTASH: Different at the end of the season than it is in the beginning — in personnel if not production. As John Fox said, the coaches still are learning what they’ve got and the first six games of the season will tell them more than the previous six months. Outside of Pernell McPhee, no position is secure.
5. Biggest strength . . .
POTASH: The coaching staff. John Fox’s experience, patience and steadfast belief in what he’s doing has had a positive — though not quite obvious — effect on the Bears already. Fangio isn’t a miracle worker, but his impact on young, inexperienced players is evident. Adam Gase has shown signs of harnessing Cutler and de-emphasizing his role in the offense.
6. Biggest area of concern . . .
POTASH: Can the Bears stay healthy? John Fox and Ryan Pace are off to a rocky start with injuries. They could be growing pains for a team in transition. If not, the Bears will struggle to match last year’s 5-11 season.
7. Consider me . . .
POTASH: Hopeful that the Bears have their feet on the ground. The Bears might not be very good this season — especially in the first half — but with a leadership upgrade under Ryan Pace and Fox, it’s much more likely they’ll be laying a foundation instead of falling apart at the seams.